I started my Brexit Diary on Facebook in September 2016. I renamed it my Remainer’s Diary when Sarah Olney defeated a prominent Brexit supporter in the Richmond Park by-election and gave me hope. I am re-homing it here. I plan it to be a record of the biggest folly my country has committed during my lifetime.
Diary Day 669: what is the origin of the term “fifth column”? I thought it was the right day to find out. It comes from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Francisco Franco had staged a failed military coup against the elected Republican Government. When the Government resisted, Franco resolved to take Madrid by force. On 2 November, the Francoist (Fascist) rebel General Mola with his four columns of Moroccan and regular Spanish troops had fought their way to a suburb of the city. Mola remarked to an English journalist that he would take Madrid with his four columns outside the city and his “fifth column” composed of right wing sympathisers inside it.
The term “fifth column” became a synonym for a subversive faction working from within a group to help its enemies.
Mola was right that there were sympathisers inside Madrid, but he did not expect the strength of the Republican resistance. Madrid did not fall to the Francoists until 1939, and it did not fall because of the fifth column.
Incidentally. Franco is in the news again because the Spanish Government is planning to remove his remains from the Valley of the Fallen, a huge basilica and burial site north of Madrid. It was built by Republican prisoner slave labour and contains the remains of about 33,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War, including the remains of many deceased removed from mass graves to the site without their families’ consent. Francoists are in the habit of holding protests at the site, illegally making Nazi salutes, and did so again at the weekend, prompting debate about what on Earth a decent democracy does with such people.
Catholic authoritarianism, practised by Franco, is not unlike what I see emerging in Britain.
An important moment happened at Westminster today. This day the self-styled European Research Group revealed itself as a fifth column within the Conservative Party’s own MPs. It is a party within a party. Almost incredibly, it has set up its own shadow whips, who have been contacting MPs to orchestrate a defeat for Theresa May. The subject of all this manoeuvring was the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which is about enabling the creation of an independent customs policy.
The result of the fifth column’s efforts was that Mrs May accepted four amendments the ERG had put forward. This so infuriated some of her other MPs that they voted against. Anna Soubry said that Jacob Rees-Mogg was running Britain.
There is no loyalty to one another within the Conservative Party, only a shared fierce hostility to outsiders.
This mess of a party has no majority in Parliament. That it still runs Britain is due to the venal DUP, to the empty seats of Sinn Féin who for historical reasons do not take up their Westminster seats and to the disarray Labour is in.
The amendments were, or two of them were (it’s hard to disentangle all the Byzantine details of this) passed by a majority of only three, equal to the number of Labour MPs who rebelled against their own side and voted with the Government. They were the usual suspects: Kate Hoey, Frank Field and Graham Stringer.
Specifically, an amendment that prevents the UK from collecting taxes on behalf of the EU, unless the rest of the EU does the same for the UK, was won by 305 votes to 302 with 14 Tories rebelling. An amendment to ensure the UK is out of the EU’s VAT regime was won by 303 to 300, with a Tory rebellion of 11.
MPs eventually voted 318 to 285 in favour of the Bill as a whole.
Justine Greening, a Tory MP, called for a People’s Vote in the Brexit deal, but another Tory MP, Alan Duncan, said it would be impossible to get another referendum bill through the House of Commons.
Is that right though? All turns on what Labour MPs do. Will they side with the SNP, Lib Dems and sole Green and do the right thing?
Hubris, overweening pride, is always followed in Greek tragedy by nemesis. Nemesis is the goddess of retributive justice, and her name means distribution of what is due. If life were really like that, Franco would not have ruled Spain for 39 years and died at the age of 82 still in power, in his bed in a palace.
I would mind more if Theresa May’s whole compromise package were not a non-starter anyway.
In Brussels, they are deliberating over the White Paper. An EU diplomat told the Evening Standard: “In Wonderland it was the Mad Hatter who said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. That’s this paper.”
In Helsinki (not Moscow as I had thought) Donald Trump met Vladimir Putin and afterwards, at a press conference, defended him against accusations of having interfered in the 2016 elections, casting doubt on the conclusions of official US investigations. Americans from both Republican and Democrat camps expressed horror.
Known GOP critics of Trump were scathing. Even Ari Fleischer, a Trump defender, tweeted: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.”
John Brennan, who ran the CIA under President Obama, tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic House Minority Leader, said: “President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially or politically.
“This is a sad day for America, and for all Western democracies that Putin continues to target.”
Diary Day 668: a sizzling hot weekend. A confused weekend in which people spent a great deal of time puzzling over Donald Trump’s bizarre outpourings, including about Brexit.
Just before the President met the Queen, in Washington special counsel Robert Mueller filed criminal charges – grand jury indictments – against 12 Russians, all operatives of the GRU intelligence agency, for hacking and leaking the emails of senior Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign. This relates to the leaking of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s private emails just after Mr Trump, then a candidate, had said in a campaign speech: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens, that’ll be next.”
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy US attorney general, said at a press conference in Washington that the 12 accused had “corresponded with several Americans through the internet”, including an associate of the Trump campaign.
Mr Trump did not meet any royals other than the Queen. Apparently they declined to meet him. He went off to play golf in Scotland, from where he tweeted that the hacking incident had happened under President Obama’s presidency and sought to blame him for not doing anything about it. (In fact, Mr Obama had done something about it but was obstructed by Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate.)
Theresa May, who is looking increasingly under threat from her own party’s enemies within, said on the BBC’s Marr show that the President had told her to sue the EU.
Why? What for? In what court?
That 62,984,828 Americans voted for this man is a reproach to America.
Anyway, the President left the UK, amid an outpouring of bile against minorities from the likes of the white supremacist Steve Bannon, who for some reason was given airtime, and an outpouring of wit from the good people of Britain who turned up to demonstrate just how much Mr Trump was not wanted here. Some of the placards were a delight.
His next stop is Moscow where he will meet Mr Putin.
Earlier in the week the Information Commissioner’s Office issued an interim report on the Cambridge Analytica affair and announced a £500,000 fine against Facebook, the maximum it could impose, for letting personal data be leaked on a massive scale.
The Observer reported that Britain’s information commissioner Elizabeth Denham and her deputy James Dipple-Johnstone spent last week with law enforcement agencies in the US including the FBI. Mr Dipple-Johnstone told the Observer that “some of the systems linked to the investigation were accessed from IP addresses that resolve to Russia and other areas of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]”.
It was a recent discovery, he said, but an explosive one.
The Observer stated that the newly discovered IP addresses are “potential evidence of a direct link between the company at the heart of the Trump campaign – and files holding information of 220 million US voters – and the Russian government’s disinformation campaign.”
One American citizen, Professor Carroll, whom I’ve read about before, has used UK law to sue over the use of his data, gathered in the UK, to target him in the US election in 2016. (He could not invoke any US law on this issue, as none exists.) This claim brought the ICO into the investigations into US politics.
Links between the meddling in the US presidential election and the meddling in the referendum will come down to data trails, and there’s no dismissing those as fake news. They are just data trails.
France won the FIFA World Cup, beating the valiant EU newcomer Croatia, while Belgium beat England in the contest for third place. Nigel Farage, who had expressed the opinion that Belgium was not a real country, will have to work out for himself how that happened. The Wimbledon ladies’ singles final was won by a German and the men’s by a Serbian. All very disappointing for English exceptionalism.
In London there was a violent demonstration calling for the release from prison of a far right activist, who calls himself Tommy Robinson. Thugs wielding baseball bats injured police, surrounded and damaged a tourist bus and intimidated the driver, a woman.
Some moron put a picture of crowds in Tahrir Square on social media and claimed it was a picture of Robinson supporters in London.
As the prisoner admitted contempt of court and is being punished for it, it is not clear on what basis he could be released early, even if the Government wished it.
Diary Day 666: more lost time. David Davis explained his resignation from DExEU. I was not interested. Just glad he’d gone.
He was swiftly followed by a deputy, Steve Baker, whose poisonous views on the EU were captured on video, I recall. Good riddance to them.
Then at about 4 pm on Monday Boris Johnson resigned from the foreign secretary’s role and the world heaved a sigh of relief.
We hoi polloi were left wondering how they could resign over proposals they had all backed only the previous Friday. But that’s mere detail. And the proposals are not a runner anyway.
Absurd posturing from various Brexiters, including BoJo himself, explaining how significant all this was and that they would bring down Theresa May. We are to expect a vote of no confidence followed by installation of one of their true believers, apparently.
Anyway, excitement switched to the FIFA World Cup in which England’s young, talented team had progressed to the semifinals. Some beautiful moments of athletic skill. Off the pitch, not so good as beer and tribalism generated aggression and moronic behaviour. There was quite a bit of singing, roaring, fighting and driving around with St George flags attached to cars. It was strangely incongruous that a horde of unfit, overweight, repulsive Nazi-saluting English nationalists, who represent retrogression to something primitive and destructive, had travelled to Russia to cheer Gareth Southgate’s multi-ethnic team which represented everything they were not: youth, talent, inclusiveness and hope. Anyway, the team lost to Croatia, who will play France in the final. There were fights in the street outside the pub nearest my house after the defeat. But most just went home subdued.
The Government at last published its white paper, containing the proposals Davis, Johnson etc would not accept and the EU had warned they would not either. A major political and constitutional crisis is approaching fast.
In other news, President Trump flew in. He had come from Brussels where he had thrown a tantrum and cancelled meetings. He landed by helicopter at the US Embassy in London. Later he was flown out of London again. Theresa May, wearing a dreadful dress with a slit at the back, flapped across to greet him, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire I think. She wore red in homage presumably to the Republican Party, but it looked odd rather than the British Labour Party (they share red as their party colour). They dined, after he kept the other guests waiting while he was shown round an exhibition by the Duke of Marlborough.
The authorities are keeping him away from London because London’s streets are packed with protesters against his policies, his visit and himself.
Her Majesty the Queen gave him tea at Windsor. A photograph was released of the President grinning like an idiot on one side of the diminutive Queen, and Melania Trump on the other. That picture was probably the main thing he came for.
He had given an interview to the Sun in which he criticised Theresa May’s policies, saying he that had advised her “how to do Brexit” but she didn’t listen, and Boris Johnson would be a great prime minister. He then denied saying it and was confronted by a recording of his own words. He gave a joint press interview with Theresa May in which he praised Boris Johnson again. The man is a walking disaster. And yet they voted for him in their millions.
We are far, far better off in the EU than negotiating a trade deal with this appalling narcissist. Decent Americans must feel so ashamed at the moment. Can we please just stop?
Some schoolboys trapped by floods were rescued from a cave in Thailand. What courage from both the boys and the rescuers! And an amazing feat by the rescuers.
Diary Day 661: more lost time. The country continues to bake in a heat wave.
The Cabinet met at Chequers. No minister resigned that day. In the evening “HM Government”, which means Theresa May’s aides I suppose, issued a three-page statement. It is on the Government website. It bangs on about four “main elements”.
First is a new UK-EU trade area for goods with a “common rule book” for goods and agricultural products, excluding services. It proposes that this common rule book cannot change without the approval of the U.K. Parliament.
Second is a “fair trading environment” achieved by “strong reciprocal commitments” to open and fair trade in any future trade agreements, maintaining “high regulatory standards”.
Third is a “joint institutional framework” for the “consistent interpretation and application” of these rules. This would be done in the UK by UK courts and in the EU by EU courts. (Comment: there is only one UK court surely – the Supreme Court, all the others being of the separate jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and only one EU court – the Court of Justice of the European Union or ECJ, all others being national courts of the member states, some of which are federations and have multiple state jurisdictions within them.) Dispute resolution is to be via a “joint committee and in many areas through binding independent arbitration”, with a “joint reference procedure” to the European Court of Justice “as the interpreter of EU rules” but “founded on the principle that the court of one party can not resolve disputes between the two”. (Comment: in most disputes the parties are individuals or companies. The EU in such cases is not a party. So this can only refer to disputes with an EU institution. Surely the EU is not going to agree to go to a joint committee or arbitration.)
Fourth is a “new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if a combined customs territory”. We have been down this road before.
The EU will not accept it and everyone knows it, and we are nearly at the end of the road Mrs May is still kicking the can down.
One of the self-styled Economists for Free Trade, who is not an economist at all but a barrister, namely Martin Howe QC, rushed out an 18-page “briefing memo” which found its way into the hands of a journalist at The Times, probably by being put there by the author I should think, and was published on Twitter. The author recognises that the proposals are cherry picking and will not be accepted by the EU. He warns that they will lead to a “worst of all worlds “Black Hole” Brexit” in which the UK will be a permanent “vassal state” of the EU and has lost its vote and veto rights.
The “briefing memo” is a curious document that muddles political prejudices with cold legal analysis. At one point the author worries about the “political prospects of the Government and the Conservative Party”, while at another he forecasts that terminating an agreement after Brexit would generate “Project Fear 3.0 and the same hysterical nonsense that the country would be crashing out over the cliff edge into the abyss”. So far from being an objective assessment the document is actually a polemic. And unsurprisingly, the author does not draw the obvious conclusion. It is better to stay than to leave. Why will you not say it, Mr Howe?
It is cherry picking, it is a mess, and it begs the question ever more loudly why the Government is stubbornly ruling out second thoughts.
Meanwhile Belgian news first reported that Dutch electronics firm Philips had warned that it might move its UK operations out of the country. It employs about 1,500 people in Britain, most of them at Glemsford in Suffolk. They voted Leave in that area.
The CEO, Frans van Houten, said: “I am deeply concerned about the competitiveness of our operations in the UK, especially our manufacturing operations. We estimate that the cost of the exported products will increase substantially under any scenario that is not maintaining the single customs union.”
Perhaps Mr Howe might like to comment.
As I began writing this, late on Sunday night, the news came through that David Davis had resigned. He as an individual will not be missed, as his performances were an agonising national embarrassment. But it means that Theresa May’s position is even weaker. And the split in the Tory Party, very thing that the referendum was supposed to mend, is wider than ever.
Diary Day 656: my part of the world wakes daily to the same blue sky, dry air and heat. Not having changeable weather is the change. We are not used to knowing there is no need for a jacket and umbrella in case it turns chilly or wet. The World Cup football tournament drags on interminably. These things benefit beer sales but a shortage of carbon dioxide to put bubbles in lager and fizzy drinks worries the hospitality sector.
Politically there is a curious absence of things happening. There is just waiting. We wait for the Prime Minister and her rebellious rabble of a Cabinet to meet for a blood-letting at Chequers. We wait for publication of the long-touted White Paper which is to set out the Government’s positions on Brexit.
EU officials are rumoured to have seen a draft and already rejected it as “cake”, a word that is now a portmanteau expression for any unrealistic or far-fetched demand. As before, essentially the UK Government seeks to get the benefits of three pillars of the Single Market without the fourth, namely freedom of movement for people, and without ECJ supervision.
It is all cake, the whole Brexit concept that was sold to the British public for decades by the ill-informed, intellectually lazy, ideologically obsessed Tory Right. Admittedly at the time when the narrow majority of British voters bought this dodgy product they were assuming that they would have someone rational in the White House in Washington DC to negotiate a free trade deal with. But that has turned out to be cake as well. Donald Trump’s idea of America First turns out to be to pick fights with America’s allies, such as its loyal friend and neighbour Canada, start a trade war and force the Wisconsin motorcycle maker Harley Davidson to move manufacturing for European customers to Europe. His attempts to divide and rule the EU were crass. The prudent response is to do what the EU is doing – stick together and face down the bully. All except for the UK. It’s not looking good for the little UK on its own after Brexit.
The Electoral Commission has not yet announced findings that Vote Leave broke the law when it passed £600,000 to BeLeave, but the Vote Leave Director Matthew Elliott, now of the propaganda outlet Brexit Central, has gone public with the Commission’s initial findings before the Commission had finalised its work. The best form of defence, he doubtless thinks, is to get his attack in first. Well, he knows a thing or ten about unfair tactics. In September 2016 I saw him smile impassively when accused by a roomful of journalists of selling a pack of lies in the Vote Leave campaign. Which of course he had done. He’d be an interesting psychological case study.
Diary Day 652: the European Council summit ended with no progress on the Brexit negotiations.
The President, Donald Tusk, stated that the leaders had reached an agreement on migration. It included “disembarkation platforms outside Europe, a dedicated budgetary tool in the next MFF to combat illegal migration, as well as boosting EU support for the Libyan Coast Guard.” They also agreed the Franco-Italian proposal of controlled centres on EU territory, in countries that are willing to build them. “All the measures in the context of these centres, including relocation and resettlement, will be taken on a voluntary basis.”
They also agreed to launch the next tranche of financing for Turkey and to transfer 500 million euros of development money to the EU Trust Fund for Africa. (These are measures to encourage people not to come to Europe.)
He also announced that the Euro summit agreed to progress on the completion of the Banking Union and to strengthen the European Stability Mechanism.
On Brexit, however, Mr Tusk said: “The EU27 has taken note of what has been achieved so far. However, there is a great deal of work ahead, and the most difficult tasks are still unresolved. If we want to reach a deal in October we need quick progress. This is the last call to lay the cards on the table.”
This echoed Mr Barnier’s words earlier. He said “huge and serious divergence” remained, in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Mr Barnier said the EU had to base the future partnership on “our values and principles, respecting also the UK red lines. That means for us integrity of the single market, indivisibility of the four freedoms, autonomy of the decision making of the EU, and protection and respect of the fundamental rights of EU citizens.”
So no cherry picking, no special deal for goods, no rejecting ECJ jurisdiction then.
He said he hoped the UK white paper would “contain workable and realistic proposals”, but that time was very short.
Workable and realistic? The civil war in the Conservatives will prevent that.
So where do we go from here? The paralysed Conservative Government has got to go before it does any more harm.
What a mess.
Meanwhile the Washington Post revealed that in April President Trump had suggested to France’s President Macron that France leave the EU in return for a better trade deal. Another report stated that earlier this week Mr Trump, speaking in North Dakota, had claimed that the EU was set up to take advantage of the United States. CNN stated that he had been trying to divide European allies, making the same offer to Germany’s Angela Merkel, as well as to Britain.
Obviously European leaders are not that stupid. Oh hang on…
Actor Danny Dyer’s outburst of bewilderment at Brexit and fury at David Cameron went viral on social media. “How come he can scuttle off? He called all this on. Where is he? He’s in Europe, in Nice, with his trotters up, yeh, where is the geezer? I think he should be held account for it.”
He has a point. How should Mr Cameron be held to account for all this?
Diary Day 651: more lost time. Theresa May’s rival, foreign minister Boris Johnson, was overheard saying “Fuck business” in response to the news that Airbus had issued its warning. Those shocking words have continued to reverberate as the business community, stalwart supporter of the Conservative Party, digests the fact now in plain sight that the Conservative Party does not care about business, but only about itself. And a bunch of reckless ideologues has taken it over.
Why does Theresa May not resist? It is not just down to her notorious rigidity and stubbornness. Some sort of Machiavellian calculation is going on. For her, this is all about delivering her promise to reduce net immigration to below 100,000 a year. Having hoovered up UKIP supporters’ votes with that pledge, she, or someone she listens to, has calculated that this will keep her party in power. So we will end up with Ghanaian shoe manufacturing in place of participation in the supply chain of cutting-edge European manufacturing. In 21st century terms, Ghanaian shoe manufacturing means fracking, I suppose.
The list of restive business leaders prepared to speak publicly is lengthening. BMW warned that a no deal Brexit would mean it pulling out of Cowley, near Oxford, where it makes Mini cars. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that uncertainty over Brexit had halved new investment in the UK car industry in the first six months of the year as the government plans for post-Brexit trade with the EU were widely perceived to be unrealistic. Chiefs of car makers must be privately furious that the unpublished letters of comfort Mrs May sent to Nissan and others are turning out to be worthless.
In the Observer, Will Hutton, who was on the big march, made an impassioned plea for a rethink and a People’s Vote.
The summit in Brussels of the leaders of all 28 EU member states loomed. The big issue is migration, which has led to the election of populist regimes in Hungary and Italy.
David Miliband, now CEO of the New York-based International Rescue Committee, wrote that Brexit “does not alter our geography or international legal responsibilities of states towards refugees and migrants.” It was in Britain’s interests that the EU found a solution. Out of the EU, Britain can’t contribute to the Europe-wide discussions about how best to do this. But even out of Europe, Britain should do the right thing.
Firstly with regard to resettlement of especially vulnerable refugees who fled to countries that cannot meet their basic needs, Mr Miliband argued that Britain should increase fourfold the number accepted – currently only six per parliamentary constituency per year.
Second, governments, including Britain, needed a fast, yet thorough system for processing asylum claims. They also needed to share responsibility and not expect Italy, Greece and Spain to take sole responsibility for new arrivals, simply because of their Mediterranean coastlines. Those who qualify for protection need effective integration into their new homes. Those who do not need to be supported to return home safely.
Third, he wrote, there was an opportunity to set the standard for refugee integration in Europe, with much to learn from the US.
Finally, Britain had a continuing role in aid and diplomacy to deal with the root causes of the record flows of people. “Retreat from the world’s problems will not make them go away. That is the false allure of the isolationists and the nativists. Quite apart from the abandonment of responsibility such an approach presents, it won’t work in a connected world, where if governments are not in charge, bandits, militias and people smugglers will be.”
Council president Donald Tusk said the issue of migration was providing ammunition to opponents of liberal democracy around the world.
“There are voices in Europe and around the world claiming that our inefficiency in maintaining the external border is an inherent feature of the European Union, or – more broadly – of liberal democracy…
“More and more people are starting to believe that only strong-handed authority, anti-European and anti-liberal in spirit, with a tendency towards overt authoritarianism, is capable of stopping the wave of illegal migration.
“If people believe them, that only they can offer an effective solution to the migration crisis, they will also believe anything else they say. The stakes are very high. And time is short.”
Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag before leaving for the Brussels summit. She was heckled by the far-right AFD. She is facing internal dissent from her CSU allies whose interior minister Horst Seehofer recently announced a controversial plan to turn asylum-seekers away at the German border.
Mrs Merkel said that a European arrangement to solve the problem of asylum applications had not yet been reached. Two points of a seven-point plan being hashed out with European partners remained controversial and would need to be resolved over the next two days. One was the EU directive on granting and withdrawing international protection, where members still needed to find common standards for providing asylum. The other was the re-organization of the Dublin Accord, which regulates where asylum applications have to be dealt with, and how asylum-seekers are distributed across the bloc.
It has just been announced that after an all-night meeting the 28 EU leaders have reached agreement on the new plan. All of them.
Record flows of people will continue whether member states leave the EU or not. The leaders know that. But the EU gives the capability to reach acceptable solutions by discussion and implement them in cooperation. The sensible response to problems is not to flounce out, but more discussion and cooperation.