Monday, 14 October 2019

Brexit today

Mr. Macron and Mrs. Merkel had dinner together last night in Paris, presumably to discuss Brexit. I wonder in what language they spoke to each other.

Angela Merkel does speak English, but rarely does so in public. Growing up in East Germany learned Russian is her second language. In February 2014, when she addressed both Houses of the British Parliament she delivered the first half of her speech in English. Mr Macron however speaks English and German well, so I imagine they spoke in German.

Boris speaks French and Italian well and German and Spanish reasonably well, since you ask.

Is Boris's proposal a reheated version of Mrs May's custom partnership as so many people hostile to him are saying? No, because it would enable the UK to make free trade agreements with non-EU countries.

But all is fiendishly complicated.

Jennifer Rankin of the Guardian in her Twitter thread

"What if, EU officials are asking, “chicken (chlorinated perhaps) is imported into NI and then made into ready meals that are sold in the EU market. In this case, how do you make distinction between goods entitled to enter the EU market and those that are not?”

Oliver Wright in the Times says:

“In a move that will put more pressure on No. 10, the EU said that it was prepared to back the plan in principle even if a legal text could not be finalised in time for the summit — provided that Mr Johnson gave ground. This could lead to the prime minister returning from Brussels with a political deal that could be put to a vote in the Commons on Saturday, with a legal agreement to be finalised afterwards.”

Alex Wickham and Alberto Nardelli, writing for BuzzFeed, surmise that

“If the EU accepted in principle Johnson’s customs partnership for the Northern Ireland proposal without a backstop, but said it needed more time to iron out the details, Johnson could agree a three month technical extension to Article 50.”


'In normal times, and don't they seem a very long time ago, all our would have been focussed on today's Queen Speech.. '

Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4's Today programme just now.

Apart from Brexit, as the Government has a majority in the House of Commons of minus 40 the proposals in the Most Gracious Speech stand absolutely no chance of being enacted before an election. Her Majesty is therefore reading out the Tory election manifesto. I am a bit surprised that she is reading it herself. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to do so regularly and it was part of her reinvention of the monarchy.

When Harold Wilson came to power in 1964, Private Eye put the monarch, reading her speech, on its cover with the speech bubble: “And I hope you realise I didn’t write this crap” but this is the case every year.

Trump's foreign policy is neither isolationist nor interventionist, but America First

Trump's foreign policy is neither isolationist, as Pat Buchanan and Paul Gottfried would like, nor warlike as John Bolton and the neoconservatives would like, but finds a midway path between the two. This does not mean it has no logic. Its logic is 'America First' and, if you like, nationalism. What it certainly is not is about values and Trump has saved a lot of American blood and treasure by, for example, not going to war against Syria or helping the Saudis against Iran. 

This time Trump has made a very bad move, though the real story behind his decision is one that we do not know and probably is linked to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where a nastier war is taking place in which the UK and US are complicit.

Few Republicans support the President's action but one who does is Sen. Rand Paul who tweeted that Trump was fulfilling “his promises to stop our endless wars and have a true America First foreign policy.”

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Kurds turn to Syrian government and Russia to save them from Turkey

Jenan Moussa, reporter for Arabic Al Aan TV, says Turks invading Syrian territory have been welcomed by pro-Turkish Islamists. The Kurds, with no choice, have asked help from Syrian government and Russians. 

Turkish-backed Arab militias have been executing Kurds, say US military officials.

It is the end of their statelet, Rojava. 

They would have done better to have made a deal with the Syrian government sooner. They could not remain on the Turkish border indefinitely without Syrian and Russian help, nor could they indefinitely rule Arab areas.

I have blogged before about the links between the Turkish government and the Islamists. I also said years ago that Britain and America should leave Russia and Iran to sort out Syria, which has been in Russia's sphere of influence for fifty years, rather than make things worse by interfering. 

Keeping out of Syria is what Obama appeared to do, although covertly there were many Anglo-American troops in the country. Trying not to be the world's policeman is a big thing he had in common with his nemesis Trump.

In the end though, Obama armed and backed the PKK against ISIS.  Had Hillary won the election she had said that her top priority was regime change in Syria. This would have infinitely worse than the disaster we see today.

She intended to use the Kurds to overthrow Assad, just as Trump did use them to defeat ISIS. The Kurds therefore failed to see that the Americans would stop protecting them, though it should have done so.

But though leaving Syria made sense in theory, since the Americans had a thousand troops in Syria they should have used this to leverage an agreement involving the various parties, rather than this grand guignol. 

The curiously shabby and ill thought-out way in which Donald Trump decided to remove troops from two towns, immediately followed by a Turkish invasion, may hurt him very much in Congress and at the election next year. The Kurds include Christians and Yazidis though these are often spoken of as separate. The  Christian Right in America will not take kindly to persecution of Christians at the hands of Turks.

This, from Patrick Cockburn in 2018, is prescient.

Retired General John Allen, who supported Hillary at the last election, wrote this in an email to Jake Tapper of CNN:

"This unfolding humanitarian catastrophe was completely foreseeable. The US green lighted it. There was no chance Erdogan would keep his promise, and full blown ethnic cleansing is underway by Turkish-supported militias. This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats.
"I said there would be blood, but could not have imagined this outcome. There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies.
"His gesture of $50m in aid is hollow. Who’s going to administer it and for whom? Hundreds of thousands are fleeing and the relief agencies are on the move. 
"NATO and the UN have to take up this matter immediately; UN as to whether or not to endorse Turkey’s invoking Article 51* and NATO and the EU to demand Turkish clarification of Erdogan's threat to release 3.6m refugees -- a direct threat to Euro stability and NATO security."

I do not usually read Ron Paul but shall start doing so. I do not trust many people who write about world politics but I see that his view of the world is close to mine. He is one of the very few genuine American republicans with a big and small 'r'.

Here is what he wrote four days ago and it makes sense to me. 
"Trump’s detractors in Washington have denounced his decision as a “betrayal” of the Kurds, accusing the president of abandoning the force that the Pentagon has used as boots on the ground against IS in eastern Syria. Recall that it was the Kurdish-led “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) that liberated Raqqa – “capital” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) – in October 2017.

"Thing is, the Obama administration sought to create some kind of parallel government in those territories, in line with its policy of demanding regime change in Damascus and the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
If Kurdish leaders thought this would somehow translate into support for statehood, or dominion over traditionally Arab-majority territories, they were dangerously deluded. Trump has made it clear from the beginning of his presidency that he had no interest in “nation-building” anywhere, and has tried to put that info effect despite constant pushback from the US establishment.

"What happened in August 2016 should have also been a clue – and offers a possible way out of the present conundrum. Back then, Turkey invaded from the north in 'Operation Euphrates Shield,' attacking the Kurds from the rear just as the SDF was launching the major push against Raqqa. The US did nothing to stop this. Only when the Syrian Arab Army – accompanied by Russian observers – stepped in to create a buffer zone between the Turks and the SDF, did the invasion stop.

"While Ankara thinks nothing of attacking the Kurds, it is hard to imagine it would dare open fire on Syrian troops – or the Russians fighting alongside them. The obvious solution for the Kurds is to make a deal with Damascus and secure the protection of the Syrian government that the US could never provide. This would keep them safe, while keeping Damascus happy and Ankara without grounds to object.

"The only ones displeased by this would be regime-change advocates in Washington – but that’s their problem."

Pope Francis canonises St John Henry Newman

Here is the clip.

St John Henry Newman, as Catholics must now think of him, said to a friend when he became a Catholic priest, 'I no longer have the right to be considered a gentleman'.

This is the Irish Prime Minister's comment which makes no sense. 

Leo Varadkar

Canonisation of Cardinal Newman is significant day for all Catholics and for Ireland. Left remarkable legacy here including founding UCD, and changed our idea of education. One of finest writers of his time, and committed to ecumenical cooperation between churches
'Ecumenical' in Newman's day referred to Councils of the Catholic Church only. Ecumenism in its modern sense was invented in the 20th century and St John Henry Newman would not have approved of it until required to by the Second Vatican Council. His attitude to the Church of England after his conversion was not in the least 'ecumenical'. I imagine he thought Anglicans could be saved from hell by their invincible ignorance that the Church of Rome was the True Church.

He wouldn't have approved of Mr Varadkar's sex life, either. The Church thinks it an unnatural mortal sin that deserves damnation.

Cardinal Burke, a leading critic of Pope Francis, told the 'Daily Telegraph' that he was praying to Newman to “intercede” to protect the Church from error.
Here are more things St John Henry Newman said.

'To be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant.'

'The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the

The Arab-Israeli dispute is a religious dispute more than an ethnic one

I want to read Israeli historian Benny Morris's 1948 and the book he recently co-authored about the Armenians  “The Thirty-Year Genocide.” 

The quotation below from the former book makes clear his conclusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a religious one, rather than an economic or nationalistic one, on the part of the Arabs. This is the view of Bernard Lewis, the Jewish American historian whom I greatly respect as a scholar and historian, though I dislike his neo-con politics, his support for invading Iran and his exaggeration of the danger posed by Iran. The contrary view was argued by Edward Said, the Christian Arab American scholar who made 'orientalist' a term of abuse. Him I do not respect at all.

The Arabs' hostility to the State of Israel and anger at the expulsion in 1948 of many Arabs to make way for it (something Benny Morris establishes did happen, despite the myth that the Arabs left of their own free will) is perfectly understandable from any point of view, but the point of view from which Arab Muslims see things is primarily a religious one.

Arab Christians, whom Arab Muslims like to say share their views on Palestine, of course see things in a different and much more nuanced way.
'The Jewish rejection of the Prophet Muhammad is embedded in the Qur'an and is etched in the psyche of those brought up on its suras. As the Muslim Brotherhood put it in 1948: "Jews are the historic enemies of Muslims and carry the greatest hatred for the nation of Muhammad."

Robert Tombs: 'Misguided Remainers do not understand European history'

There's another corker of an article in today's Sunday Telegraph by my quondam supervisor Professor Robert Tombs.

Some quotations.

'If Europe needs a security guarantee for some of its borders, it comes from NATO, of which Britain remains the leading European member. But the real guarantee of European peace is that its states are democracies. Democracies do not go to war with each other. The only threat to European peace is whatever threatens its democratic stability, which I fear today includes the EU itself.

Can a government led by Bercow unite the British nation? Do me a favour

Since September 11th 2001 world politics has resembled a cheap novel that has little regard for plausibility. That is why, after all, Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party. According to the Sunday Times today, he has told allies that he will step aside and allow someone else to become prime minister if Boris is forced from office, thus denying him a wonderful opportunity to campaign against a pro-IRA Trotskyite Prime Minister put in office by Remainers. 

His choice would be a Government of All the [Remainer] Talents, led by the Speaker, John Bercow, whom the sainted Rod Liddle aptly described in last week's Sunday Times as
"Everything you loathe about our current parliament — its narcissism, its contempt for the voter, its bumptiousness, its idiocy — all wrapped up in one tiny little bundle. For comedy value, that has its attractions."
Speaker Bercow was a Tory MP who had moved a long way to the left after he married and had been expected to cross the floor before Labour MPs made him Speaker. They did so to annoy the Tories, a plan which has succeeded better then in their wildest dreams.

A letter to the Sunday Times says

“A puppet government, led by a noisy garden gnome, will unite nobody”
but a Government of National Unity led by him might unite the country because few people can stand him.

But then a 'government of national unity' is a deceitful name for a government formed to impose the view of 48% of the people over 52%, so unity is beside the point.

John Bercow would be the third Speaker to be Prime Minister, the other two being Henry Addington, who replaced Pitt the Younger from 1801 till 1804 and signed the Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon, and William Greville who, following Pitt's death in office in 1806, headed the previous "Ministry of All the Talents". 

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was offered the Speakership and considered accepting it while Liberal leader but this would have meant ceasing to be leader of his party. Instead he became Prime Minister when the Tory Prime Minister A.J. Balfour resigned unexpectedly in 1905, the last time a political party has come to power in the U.K. without a general election.

Why would Boris be forced from office? Ostensibly to prevent him somehow taking the UK out of the EU on Hallowe'en, in reality to make sure a referendum is held before an election because this is the best chance Remainers have of preventing Brexit altogether. 

Very recently they simply wanted to prevent the country leaving the EU without a deal. Now thanks to the long campaign by Tony Blair, Sir Keir Starmer and others, they see a good chance of stopping Brexit altogether.

Very recently they simply wanted to prevent the country leaving the EU without a deal. Now thanks to the long campaign by Tony Blair, Sir Keir Starmer and others, they see a good chance of stopping Brexit altogether.

A second referendum is always called a 'People's Vote', as if dogs and cats voted in the last one, the result of which has not been implemented. Like 'government of national unity' it's the technique of the Big Lie

To be or not to be, that is the question

An anonymous source in the EU told the Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times that the chances of a deal between the EU and the UK were 50-50. Presumably it was another anonymous source who told the Andrew Gimson of the Independent that there was no chance that the EU would accept Boris's proposal.

John Rentoul in the Independent today:

'I do not know how likely a deal is, but I observe that the interests of the parties are aligned. There is a majority for a deal in the House of Commons, including the Democratic Unionist Party. And the EU27 want a deal, including the Irish government. If there is something that satisfies both Arlene Foster and Leo Varadkar, it will happen.'

Daniel Hannan, in today's Sunday Telegraph, does not expect a Brexit agreement and blames Remainers :
'You can hardly blame the EU for behaving as it has. Once it became clear that most British MPs, and a fair chunk of the electorate, would applaud its every action, right or wrong, it toughened its position. Each new Commons vote was met with incredulous joy in Brussels. “You mean if we keep saying ‘non’, you’re legally not allowed to leave? OK, then: ‘Non!’”

'Which brings us to the latest negotiations, and the speculation about a new breakthrough based around some sort of all-Ireland economy. I am less optimistic than most commentators about an agreement. As long as Eurocrats believe that a failure to strike a deal will result in our staying in, they have little incentive to engage. I reckon we are headed for an impasse, an extension, an election and a victorious return for a turbo-charged Boris Johnson.'

 Here is a source who is not anonymous, quoted by Adam Boulton in the Sunday Times.

'The Hungarian MEP Klara Dobrev, who is a vice-president of the European parliament and wife of Hungary’s former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, told me there was a real possibility that her country’s premier, Viktor Orban, will veto any extension for the UK at the summit, not so much to please Johnson as to please Vladimir Putin by fomenting disorder in the West.'
She however is a daughter of the Communist nomenklatura, a social democrat and not privy to Viktor Orban's thoughts. 

Saturday, 12 October 2019


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

"It is a misfortune," thought Augusto, "that we need the service of things and have to make use of them. All beauty is marred by use, if not destroyed. The noblest function of things is that of being contemplated. How beautiful is an orange before dinner!"
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Mist

“Fame is not really real. Nobody is real except the people we're close to.” 
Allen Ginsberg, quoted by Michael Rectenwald

“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.”

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”

"A man loses contact with reality if he is not surrounded by his books."
François Mitterrand

Free Speech on the Internet: the Empire Strikes Back

'The former Belgian prime minister’s choice of the word “empire” — with its connotations of conquest — was unfortunate. The EU is an empire by invitation. Nobody is forced to join. And, despite the difficulties of Brexit, any member is free to leave. It would be more accurate to say that the EU can and should aspire to be a superpower — one of four or five major global powers, capable of shaping the world order. That aspiration is eminently achievable. Indeed, in important respects, it has already been achieved. Last week provided an interesting illustration when the European Court of Justice ruled that individual countries can demand that Facebook take down defamatory content, on a global basis. The ECJ ruling was made in response to a complaint from an Austrian politician — and prompted an immediate and concerned response from Facebook. If this had just been a ruling by an Austrian court, the Californian internet giant would have been able to brush it off. But the ECJ has sway over a market of more than 500m people — compared with the 9m in Austria.'
Many do not recognise the European Union as an empire that is easy to leave, but let's leave that aside 

Gideon Rachman, writing in the Financial Times on October 7, 2019, rejoiced that criticisms of politicians on Facebook can now be banned worldwide by courts in European Union countries. 

Although a journalist he is pleased about restrictions on free speech. Many journalists these days are. I heard an FT man deplore 'breaches of privacy' by the Daily Mail.

This is the story about Facebook. On April 3, 2016, a Facebook user posted a news article with the headline,
“Greens: Guaranteed Minimum Income for Refugees Should Stay”

Said by Professor Michael Rectenwald

“The politics that most clearly aligns with the world-wide global interests of monopoly corporations is contemporary left-wing politics.”

“But the governmentality of Big Digital is now engaged in directing, constraining, and framing of online behaviors. As such, Big Digital may be a means by which the oversight and control functions that were formerly the province of national governments have been delegated to the market.”

"But “racist” is to the contemporary U.S. what “enemy of the people” was to the Soviet Union. Social justice ideology is the religion of the state and “racism” is the chief heresy."


'There is in all democratic power, a fortiori in all pure democratic power, a hidden oligarchy, which is at the same time contrary to its principles yet indispensable to its functioning.'
François Furet, Penser la Révolution française, 1978

Robert Kaplan on the Chinese

'The American foreign policy elite does not like to talk about culture since culture cannot be quantified, and in this age of extreme personal sensitivity, what cannot be quantified or substantiated by a footnote is potentially radioactive.… Anyone who travels in China, or even observes it closely, realizes something that the business community intuitively grasps better than the policy community: the reason there is little or no separation between the public and private domains in China is not only because the country is a

Friday, 11 October 2019

An exhibit in Malmö's Museum of Movements, focusing on democracy and migration

Acknowledgments, Pelle Noroth Taylor. More here.

Tony Blair is fighting very hard against Boris to prevent Brexit

'“She was the most divisive prime minister of modern times.” As I go round talking about the new (final) volume of my biography of Margaret Thatcher, variants of this sentence are the most common opening line of questioning, especially on the BBC.' 
Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher's official biographer, talking about her in the Daily Telegraph this week, to plug the third and final volume of the biography.

She was the most divisive Prime Minister of the post - war era until the Brexit referendum, but since then Tony Blair working behind the secrets has been even more divisive, using all his influence to persuade people who voted Remain to try to prevent Brexit - and to persuade the EU that Brexit can be prevented.

Freddy Sayers in a very good article explains how he helped scupper Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement and has almost defeated Boris too.

'On 1 February 2017, the House of Commons voted to trigger Article 50 by 498 votes to 114, supported by more than 75% of Labour MPs. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg wrote an analysis entitled “Past the Point of no-return” in which she concluded, “tonight, for better or worse, few will believe that our journey to the exit door can be halted …the moment for turning back is past.”

Jacques Attali: 'Support for national sovereignty is nothing but the new name of anti-Semitism'

Wikidictionary: sovereignism (uncountable)
  1. A doctrine which supports acquiring or preserving political independence of a nation or a region. It opposes federalism and approaches independentism movements.
  2. The defence of the sovereignty of individual European countries in the face of broader European or European Union integration.

Tweet by Jacques Attali✔@jattali 9:00 AM - Oct 4, 2019
“Sovereignism is nothing but the new name of anti-Semitism. Jews and Muslims, who are both threatened by it, must unite against the fantasies of the great replacement.”
His tweet links to an article he has written in which he says:
'There is no invasion of France by Islam or Africa. Non-European migrants do

David Goldman (Spengler in Asia Times) talks about China

'Coming from a younger and also reasonably successful culture, which is the Jewish culture, I look at the Chinese in awe. They should never be underestimated. What makes China China? What is it? How does it understand itself? Until the Jesuits turned up in the 16th century, Matteo Ricci and his colleagues, China simply understood itself as civilization. China was a civilizing principle. It was a means of unifying different ethnicities on the basis of a very different principle than Rome or Alexander or the Holy Roman Empire or any entity in the West or its antecedents, and I think that’s best illustrated by what it’s like to be a Chinese child.

Europe is in steep decline

From Fraser Nelson's article today in the Daily Telegraph is another element in the history of the decline of Europe and, by implication, Western civilisation.

'Now and again, we hear reports about the readiness of Europe’s various armies. They’re invariably terrifying. The Dutch admitted recently that half of their army vehicles won’t start. Two months ago, all 53 of the Bundeswehr’s attack helicopters were declared unfit to fly. France does a bit better: at the last count 160 of its 460 military helicopters work. Military readiness costs

Thursday, 10 October 2019

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars

The summit between Messrs Johnson and Varadkar yesterday took place away from the eyes of the press and was followed by a joint statement saying they could “see a pathway to a possible deal.” 

This was surprising and promising. Did they mean it or is each trying to look as if a breakdown in talks is not his fault? 

Few people were there and so we know little about what was said.

A piece in the Times says they looked at proposals “that would have had Northern Ireland staying in both the U.K.’s customs union and the EU customs union.”

The Irish Times says it would amount to a version of “the customs partnership” proposed by Theresa May (which sounded like the customs union under a different name) but applied only to Northern Ireland.

It would mean the U.K. levying customs rules on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but people in 
Northern Ireland who received those goods getting the money they had paid back, since they are in the U.K. 

That would mean the entire U.K. leaving the customs union, as promised by Boris, but with an administrative customs border in the Irish Sea. 

The DUP, that represents most of the Ulster Protestant Unionists, would be very stupid indeed not to agree, as it will help the Northern Irish economy in general and Protestant farmers in particular. Boris is keeping very close to the DUP. If they don’t agree Boris no longer needs them as much as Theresa May did, as he no longer has a majority in the House of Commons even with them. If they oppose the deal some in the European Reform Group, the hardcore Brexiteer Tory MPs, may find it hard to support it, but I think they will. For them there will not be a better chance.

Michel Barnier has now agreed, after meeting Stephen Barclay this morning, that the negotiations can move to the “tunnel” (intensive secret negotiations). That means this might work, but time is very short indeed.

If it fails, what next? Boris will remain in office but not in power until eventually an election or referendum is called. If it is an election he must campaign with a proposal and, as an alternative, leaving with no deal.

The Tory party obviously cannot win an election saying, 'We want to leave the EU but will not countenance no-deal'. Clearly a deal is impossible unless leaving with no deal is on the cards.

If the Tories win, leaving with no deal will be likely, but that is only a stop on the path to a deal.

Remaining in a customs union with the EU, as Philip Hammond suggests, 
with the right for the UK to leave this customs union by giving one year's notice, in some ways makes sense at least temporarily. It would take us out of the EU and let an election decide whether we should stay in the customs union, but Nigel Farage would (unfairly) call it Brexit in Name Only and this might well sink the Tories, leading to a Corbyn (Trotskyite, hard left) government backed by the Scottish Nationalists in return for a promise of another referendum on Scottish independence.

But my feeling is that the new proposal may work. I hope so and so do most people, apart from those irreconcilable Remainers, like Tony Blair and Sir John Major, who want to prevent any Brexit, despite the referendum result. They probably make up 20% of the population. 

7 p.m. Bucharest time: More hopeful news. A statement is issued by Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, advocating "a balanced and sensible deal" that makes no criticism of the putative dual customs system for Northern Ireland. This sounds very much like she backs the plan.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Old-Time Religion

The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.
Hilaire Belloc

Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.
G. K. Chesterton

With respect to religion: for me, Judaism is not a religion. In my identity, Judaism is a people, an ethnicity, a national culture, that manifests itself in a set of behavioral rules that have been constructed by others, or by non-members, as how religion functions for them. But Judaism is not about religion; it’s not about belief. There is no “I believe” in the Trinity; there is no al-Shahadat (which says “I witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is His Prophet”). There is no credo. In the Bible we get the Torah, stating “we’ll do and we’ll listen.” First, there’s the deed. So, Judaism is a legal culture that pervades the life of the community. But it is not a religion in the sense of a creed, a belief. The idea of Judaism as a religion is a construction of modern Western Judaism, designed to enable “Germans of Mosaic persuasion” or “American Jews” to avoid having a double identity.
Professor Yochai, Israeli-American writer, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School.

It’s a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.
Masha Gessen, Russian-American journalist, biographer of Vladimir Putin and "Russia's leading LGBT rights activist".

'No, Brexit hasn't made the UK economy £60 billion smaller than if we'd voted to Remain'

Economics is not what interests me, nor do I really understand it, but this is important enough for me to blog about. 

Someone called Paul Johnson, director of something called the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said on the BBC Radio Four programme Today yesterday that the British economy is £60 billion smaller than it would have been had we voted to remain in the EU. 

£60 billion is a lot. £60 billion here and £60 billion there and soon you are talking about serious money.

It turns out, though, that it is not true - all is explained in this article by Ross Clark.

The UK performed well compared with European countries, 'despite Brexit' as the BBC would say. We performed much worse than the USA, but this is because Donald Trump's election victory made the US economy spring up. 

The lesson is that electing right-wing governments encourages economic growth.

I think we can all guess how Paul Johnson voted in the Brexit referendum. 

What will happen to Sealand, after Brexit?

For all the exhaustive coverage of Brexit, its impact on one small country has hitherto been ignored.

I speak of Sealand. Now the Daily Telegraph has put this right with news from the plucky, embattled island.

'Seven miles off the Suffolk coast, it is officially the smallest micronation in the world. For more than half a century, Sealand – a wind-lashed, Second World War naval fort whose main platform, some 60ft above the North Sea, can only be reached by being winched up by crane – has seen off not only German advances but also those from the British government.

'Now, with increasing uncertainty about Brexit on the UK mainland, the sovereign state is receiving hundreds of applications for citizenship each week. According to Michael Bates, the principality’s 67-year-old prince, would-be Sealanders are inspired by the ruling family’s “desire for freedom from authority” – as well as its black passport, embossed with two crowned sea creatures.'  

I draw this to your attention in order to tell you that my father knew not Lloyd George but King Roy, who used to live in the next street to us in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, when not in residence in Sealand.

So did the novelist Robert Nye, who used to come into my father's garden shed to listen to Dick Barton Special Agent, before I was thought of. Mr and Mrs Nye disapproved, for some reason. 

His first novel was full of caricatures of local people and I should read it. I wish I had got in touch with him before he died.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

It has come down to a choice: No Brexit or Brexit with No Deal

It is clear now that there will be no deal between the UK and the EU that involves customs or other checks on the British border with the Republic of Ireland.

Therefore there will be no deal.

This is the decision of the Irish Government, which the EU supports.

No deal will hurt everyone, but it is a consolation that it will hurt the Irish Republic more than any other country.

Perhaps there never was any possible deal that did not leave Northern Ireland in a
customs union with the EU and we were all misled by Theresa May.

In an interview shortly after his resignation from Theresa May’s cabinet on 15 November 2018, Dominic Raab, who had been Britain’s Brexit Secretary and is now Foreign Secretary, said: “There were certainly swirling dark forces in the commission, which you would hear rumbling that Northern Ireland was the price the United Kingdom must pay for leaving the EU…  The trail always seems to lead back to Martin Selmayr.”

The backstop was unacceptable unless time-limited. In fact, I believe that Eire would never have allowed the UK to get rid of the Backstop. Why should they have done so?

But it seemed otherwise a few weeks ago when Angela Merkel told Donald Tusk that a deal must be found that Boris could agree to.

Since then the Benn Act became law and Boris’ lost the power credibly to threaten to leave with no deal, though paradoxically the chances of his doing so are higher than ever.

The other very big news is the long text message (SMS) sent to James Forsyth of the Spectator by an anonymous “contact inside No. 10” whose prose style suggests it is Dominic Cummings, Boris’s Svengali.

Please read the whole thing, if you have five minutes.

Anonymous says 

"The negotiations will probably end this week. Varadkardoesn’t want to negotiate. Varadkar was keen on talking before theBenn Act when he thought that the choice would be ‘new deal or nodeal’. Since the Benn Act passed he has gone very cold and in the lastweek the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold.Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments — he said if we movedon manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he justattacked us publicly. It’s clear he wants to gamble on a secondreferendum and that he’s encouraging Barnier to stick to the line thatthe UK cannot leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind."

He adds that if Boris’s suggested deal is rejected then the Tories
will fight an election on a no-deal ticket. 

“We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.”

Reading between the lines they hope Hungary will veto a further delay to Brexit and slice the Gordian knot.

Theresa May made so many mistakes and gave away so many positions. Her worst mistake was when, at the start of her premiership, she agreed with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in September 2016 to find “creative and imaginative” ways to deal with customs checks. 

This was not wrong in itself but she was reported to having agreed to no hard border, meaning a border without checks.

Speaking after a meeting at 10 Downing Street the Taoiseach said that he spoke for both when he said, 

“A hard border in normal circumstances means customs posts and customs checks in various places. There will be no return to the hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland of the past, which included towers and military equipment, obviously for different reasons. So I do not favour, I do not agree to a hard border, with a whole range of customs posts, and neither does the prime minister.”

I was persuaded by customs experts in Dublin who said customs checks could be made remotely by electronic means. But now I see that if this were true why do Sweden and Norway not do something of the sort and why does no border in the world use these means of avoiding customs checks? Instead, even though Norway is in the single market, in Schengen, accepts free movement of citizens of EU member states  and has close regulatory alignment with the EU, lorries wait around twenty minutes at the border.

In a phone call between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel this morning, she is said to have said that ‘a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely’ because ‘the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union forever’. 

But did she say it or is the British government trying to place the blame for the breakdown of talks on her?

The British Government no longer needs the DUP because it no longer has anywhere near a majority, but it will never in effect leave part of the country in the EU when it leaves. So, though there may well be a delay to Brexit and a general election, if the Tories win this will very probably mean the UK leaving without a deal. This is because Boris does not want to lose votes to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

The polls suggest the Tories will win, but nobody believes the polls after what happened in 2015, 2016 and 2017. If they do so they will be running against the grain of recent history. Just as the Irish Home Rule Party made the UK's two party system a three party system from 1886 to 1918, the Scottish National Party has done the same thing starting with its landslide Scottish victory in 2015. 

In Scotland the 2014 referendum on independence completely remade the political landscape. The 2016 Brexit referendum looks likely to do the same for the whole of the UK, from Londonderry to Thurrock and Ramsgate.

Hunter Biden's money - is this a scandal or propaganda?

I have a journalist friend who bombards me with stuff about the Ukrainian affair, making out that Trump is blameless and Biden very much to blame. I don't find time to read it all or even most of it, but I have done a little internet research myself. 

As far as I can make out, Mr Trump should not have spoken to Ukrainian President Mr Zelensky in the way he did, asking for an investigation into Joe Biden's activities when Ukraine depends on US aid and support. Still, I don't see that this justifies impeachment. After all, the Department of Justice said the President committed no crime.

On the other hand, impeachment is a purely political matter, not a legal process, so Democrats can disagree with me. 

Mr. Obama ordered the killing of an American citizen abroad without being impeached or his action being questioned in court. Compare what happened with Donald Trump's misnamed 'Muslim ban'. 

What seems to me as important as the telephone call to Mr Zelensky is that  U.S. banking data show Joe Biden's son, Hunter’s American company received monthly payments of usually more than $166,000 from the Ukrainian oil company Burisma, owned by a shady oligarch, on whose board he sat, from spring 2014 till the autumn of 2015, a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine. 

Hunter Biden was put there because the owner wanted to buy influence but that doesn't mean he did buy it. Many have given huge sums to the Clinton Foundation hoping to get something back but that does not mean they did. 

A person I knew at the top in Big Tobacco in America told me Obama "takes the money and does nothing for it". 

Vice President Biden boasted openly about getting prosecutor Viktor Shokin fired by Ukraine and this is said to be because he was ineffective about dealing with corruption, not because he was investigating Burisma. The prosecutors' office where he worked say that Mr Shokin had nothing to do with investigating the Biden family, but he has contradicted this. 

The media say that Mr Shokin was clearly lying and the EU wanted him to go, as well as the US. 

I actually see no reason to think Joe Biden is corrupt, but it is a gift to Donald Trump and to the man in the street it looks terrible. 

Jane Meyer in the New Yorker this weekend said:
'By May, the mainstream media, including the Times, had picked up on the story about Biden and Ukraine. Although the Times’ piece ran under a headline pointing out that that the scandal was being “promoted by Trump and Allies,” and, midway, noted that there was no evidence of criminality, critics attacked the paper for reprising the Uranium One playbook. “It’s precisely what we saw in the last election,” Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and the co-author of the recent book “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” told me. Benkler argues that when a publication with the Times’ credibility pays any attention to a fringe conspiracy theory, it “provides enormous validation” just by covering the story. “I don’t fault the Times for doing a story,” he said. “But it’s not like the nineteen-sixties anymore, when there were just three TV networks. You live in a country where a large part of the population is susceptible to propaganda. There’s a new editorial responsibility to be much more careful and not bury the denial.”'
Professor Benkler has his axes to grind - he describes himself as very much the product of a socialist Zionist family. 

Everyone has axes to grind. I do. You do. 

The truth is that the mainstream media are also producing propaganda, of course.  

One example: journalists said that stories about Hillary's poor health were baseless until she collapsed. Fortunately someone caught her doing so and recorded it on a telephone, which is how we found out that Breitbart, etc., might be on to something.

It cuts both ways - there is probably much more to be written about the business dealings of Ivanka Trump and her husband than about Hunter Biden.

The real estate company Cadre, owned by Jared Kushner, his brother and a friend, has received $90 million in investments from Saudi Arabia and a "Goldman Sachs entity" in the Cayman Islands since his father-in-law became President.

Middle Eastern money enabled the family to get out of the $1.4 billion debt that they owed on the mortgage for 666 Fifth Avenue, a property that was worth much less and which Jared had unwisely bought. 

The Qataris had no idea that the President's son-in-law was involved when they paid a high price for the property.

Ukraine is a a mysterious, spy-ridden, corrupt place where many conspiracies are hatched and developed and the truth about Ukraine's relations with the USA since Viktor Yanukovych's government fell will not be known soon.

People who believe in theories that lose Democrats votes are called conspiracy theorists, but some conspiracies do happen. For example, a bipartisan mixture of people in the FBI (and MI6, I think) did try to find a way to prevent Donald Trump becoming President and after he won to eject him from the White House. This isn't even a theory but a fact.

During Watergate no-one believed the official spokesman and everyone believed the anonymous source. That's something that hasn't changed. 

Talking of which, was Watergate a coup by the CIA too? I imagine it was, actually.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

'It's not really 2020 is it, to be challenging a black man and the Muslim mayor?'

The BBC's Justin Webb this morning on Radio 4 asked Rory Stewart
'You mention that you are proud of the diversity of the mayoral race in London, you are a white guy and Old Etonian - it's not really 2020 is it, really, to be challenging a black man who is the conservative candidate and the Muslim mayor?'
Mr. Webb's question created a lot of anger on social media but was perfectly fair. This is how things are now and things will become much more riven by identity politics and cantonised in the future.

We are living through a revolution.

Mr Stewart replied, like the politician he is, 

A British 'government of national unity'

A British 'government of national unity' is an odd expression for a government formed to impose the view of 48% of the people over 52%, but this is what journalists in London are talking about.

A second referendum is the next step and is always called a 'People's Vote', as if dogs and cats voted in the last one, the result of which has not been implemented.

Back in the USSR - EU comparison game

In the mad world of political correctness some people can be compared to the Nazis and others (Mrs Soubry for example) cannot. 

It's all about, to quote something Lenin didn't say, who whom. 

Boris, by implication, was deemed to have compared the EU to the Nazis and was roundly chastised by idiots.

Not as bad as the wrong people comparing the wrong people to the Nazis, but still very bad, is the wrong people comparing the wrong people to Communists.

Michael Gove was in trouble for this offence, but was acquitted when Douglas Murray proved with a recording that he had certainly did not say anything that could be construed as comparing the opening of the Berlin Wall with Brexit.

To many people in England, though, that comparison seems valid. 

To me, for example. And plenty of others I know. 

An English academic first made the comparison to me. He was required to keep his vote to leave a secret at work, he told me. People in East Berlin who welcomed the opening of the Wall were free to say so.

There is a fake quote going around on Twitter that Gorbachev made the USSR-EU comparison but the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovksy did so in this interview

Can Viktor Orban save the Hulk?

Most of what I have to say Brexit today has been said for me by James Forsyth here.

He is right that Theresa May has sold the pass and made an acceptable deal immeasurably harder to obtain. He is right that Boris's
new Brexit proposal is a big move, but it still isn’t enough for the EU and Dublin. They still object to anything that leads to checks on the island of Ireland, as the UK scheme would do.

I'd add that I think that if the Theresa May withdrawal agreement had passed the House the Irish Republic would never have let the UK get rid of the backstop. Why would they? They could have forever held the old enemy captive and secured a pan-Irish economy.

We'd have been in a permanent customs union, something Theresa May secretly accepted.

Jeremy Corbyn should have accepted her deal with left-wing tweaks about conforming to EU employment, equality and environmental legislation, had he really wanted to honour the referendum result and prevent leaving with no deal. But he cared nothing about either and, naturally, did not want to lose half his voters to save Theresa May.

Harold Wilson in 1972 and John Smith in 1993 similarly suppressed their own views and tried to sink the Tories. This is life.

It came to me, as I saw the Government pledge to the Court of Session in Edinburgh that they would obey the Benn Act and at the same time repeat that we would leave the EU on 31 October, that the only way to square the circle is to ask Viktor Orban of Hungary to veto Brexit.

He would rightly demand a very steep monetary price indeed to make up for any EU subsidies he would lose by incurring Western Europe's displeasure, but Boris might think any price cheap, assuming he does want to leave with no deal and immediately call an election.

I intend to write and think much less about Brexit, if I can pull myself away. It is the fundamental principle of Toryism or conservatism that politics is much less important than other things. Lord Hailsham said that the foolish Tory thought hunting more important and the wise one Christianity.

Hunting was made illegal in England by Tony Blair and Christianity will cease to be the biggest religion in England in around 30 years' time, but let's leave it there.