Comrades! What would you not do for Brexit?

Ah, remember those fond, heady days when Theresa May was Prime Minister… Those days when we thought things couldn’t get any worse. How naïve! In Brexit Britain, things can always get worse!

Now the British public waits on tenterhooks. Will Jeremy Hunt be our new PM? Or will it be Boris Johnson?

Luckily this weighty decision has been taken out of our hands and delegated to 150,000-ish card-carrying members of the Tory party.

Governed by oddballs

So who are these responsible, thoughtful individuals who will take this decision for us?

According to BBC statistics they look as follows: 70% are men, 97% are white, 60% are southern, 86% are of higher social classes, their average age is 57, and a high proportion are no longer in work. Six out of 10 want the death penalty back.

In short, they look like a retired, white, southern, upper-class male aged 57 who believes in hanging. As the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee points out, these are oddballs.

It is clear on what basis the oddballs will make their choice: they will choose the candidate most likely to bring about a no-deal Brexit. In fact, so great is their hunger for Brexit that they are willing to sacrifice almost anything to bring it about. A recent YouGov poll showed the following:

When I saw this, I was vaguely reminded of the scene in Nineteen-Eighty-Four when O’Brien asks Winston and Julia how far they would go to bring down the Party.

‘You are prepared to give your lives?’

‘Yes.’

‘You are prepared to commit murder?’

‘Yes.’

‘To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?’

‘Yes.’

‘To betray your country to foreign powers?’

‘Yes.’

I imagine the YouGov poll followed a similar pattern:

‘You are prepared to break up the Union?’

‘Yes.’

‘You are prepared to destroy the Conservative Party?’

‘Yes.’

‘You are prepared to inflict significant damage on the UK economy, causing disaster for millions of innocent people?’

‘Yes.’

Or something like that. The difference being that in this case it will not be the Tory party members who end up in Room 101. It will be the rest of us. But who cares! At least we’ll have Brexit!

Too far

The only thing the Tory members will not countenance is Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. To paraphrase Meatloaf, they would do anything for Brexit, but they won’t do that.

“I would do anything for love”

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A slightly late 2019 New Year roundup

I had meant to post this back in January, oops. Still, it’s never too late to say Happy New Year, right?

Until yesterday it had been over 12 months since my last New Year’s roundup, and about 7 months since my last post on this blog. Not that nothing Brexit-related had been happening. Rather, most of it had been too tedious and frustrating to bother writing about. Yes, I may have been suffering from that new syndrome called ‘Brexit fatigue’.

In previous episodes of The UK…

My last post of 2018 marked David Davis’s resignation. Ah, happy times… Since then, Boris Johnson has also resigned (good riddance, though I’d have preferred to see him fired!) and Dominic Raab has both entered and exited the role of Brexit Secretary, to be replaced by Stephen Barclay (who?). In December, Theresa May dithered over putting her Withdrawal Agreement to a vote, and then postponed it to January, only to suffer a crushing defeat in the Commons. She then won a motion of no confidence, in which the same people who had sunk her Deal decided she was still the best person for the job. In normal times, all of this would be a national crisis. In Brexitland, this is par for the course.

The Dutch news reporting on Theresa May’s ‘slag’ or ‘blow’ in parliament.

Heroes or Traitors?

At the time of writing, the first pebbles of what may turn out to be a defection-rockfall have started to tumble. Eight Labour MPs and three Conservative MPs have left their parties, among them my own personal political heart-throb Anna Soubry (Anna for PM!) to sit as an Independent Group in parliament. Whether this comes to anything, I don’t know. If enough Tory MPs quit (i.e. 7) then the government will fall. However, I doubt any Tory MP wants to be known as the defector who collapsed a Tory government, so who knows if that will ever happen. I am intrigued, but not hopeful.

Meanwhile in Brussels

So where does this leave things in Brussels? Up in the air, is the best answer. Last month, the Commissioner for personnel held a meeting with all UK employees of the European Commission. The message was largely reassuring: the majority of them will be allowed to stay. This is because most of them have been here for years and years, and have permanent contracts. Their chances of promotion will be negligible, but they will not be asked to leave.

The situation is less clear for newer members of staff like me, who do not hold a permanent contract. For UK employees on a contract like mine, a decision will be taken in each case on whether the individual staff member will be allowed to stay, based on the individual merits of the staff member. While the Commission encouraged its Directors to ‘show generosity’ when making such decisions, there is no obligation to keep UK staff members and no indication whether ‘generosity’ will be shown in all cases.

Deal or No Deal?

The point at which decisions on UK staff will be taken depends on whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal. If there is a deal, the future of affected UK staff will be decided at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). If there is no deal, decisions will start being made on Brexit Day, i.e. 30 March 2019, i.e. in a month’s time. This means that if there is a no-deal Brexit, I could be out of a job before the end of the year.

And then what? I have not been in Belgium long enough to receive permanent residency. Will I be allowed to work at a normal company as a non-EU national? And if I don’t find a new job fast, will I be allowed to stay in Belgium at all? Yesterday’s Q&A with the British Ambassador was not exactly reassuring on any of these matters.

Three ex-Tories. It’s never too late to be a hero!

But, in the end, what can one do. Like most people involved with Brexit, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ll hunker down and hope for the best. Happy New Year!

Requiem for David Davis

David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, has resigned. No longer shall he be collecting his six-figure ministerial salary; no longer shall he be thrashing out deals with Michel Barnier. Though it’s not clear whether he ever did. The Financial Times reported that Davis spent no more than 4 hours face-to-face with Barnier this year.

Au revior, Davis.

This resignation comes after Theresa May’s crunch away day at Chequers with her full cabinet. I’ve been on office away days before, and even compared to those, the Chequers trip sounds rubbish. Over the course of the day she finally got her ministers to agree to her version of a soft Brexit. It seemed unity had been restored. Until now.

Some might think it cynical that Davis chose to resign only this morning. Cabinet members were warned not to resign during the Chequers meeting, because it would mean they’d lose their ministerial car and have to make their own way home across the meadows to the nearest train station.

But after being driven home, Davis must have had a moment of clarity. ‘I wouldn’t have done a good job’ of delivering May’s Brexit plan, he explained after resigning. Very perceptive. Especially given the pig’s ear he’s been making of the negotiations so far. What made him think he’d be any worse at this?

One can only feel for the civil servants he leaves behind at the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU to those in the parlance). Having seen a few resignations myself, I presume this means there will be a goodbye cake in the office kitchen, and possibly a sad sip of sparkling wine with colleagues, who all profess that they’ll miss him, and promise to stay in touch.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of Davis’s DExEU colleagues – a guy who did the Commission traineeship at the same time as me, and has since left for the bright lights of London. According to him, about 80% of the people working at DExEU are pro-Remain and are just having to suck it up and do the job. I’m sure they’re having a whip-round for a goodbye gift and a card right now.

Anyway, enough about Davis. The question is: who’s next? Who will replace him? And who will be next to resign? Will we see the collapse of the May government? Who knows?

Either way, after months of tedium, Brexit has suddenly got interesting again.

R.

The Commonwealth Will Save Us

Ah, the Commonwealth – that quaint relic of British imperialism. Or, as some Brexiters see it, the panacea to our Brexit woes. Surely our loyal former colonies will help us fill the trade gap caused by leaving the EU?

If this is the UK’s plan, then it is going about it in a strange way. Shouldn’t the Government be trying to drum up goodwill among Commonwealth countries to lay the groundwork for a boost in trade?

Theresa May looking characteristically uncomfortable during a trip to India, the Commonwealth’s most populous nation

But no. Instead, the Government has been deporting elderly people to Commonwealth countries they’ve never set foot in. These are people of the so-called ‘Windrush’ generation, who were invited to Britain in the late 1940s to help rebuild it after WWII. Their children are now being asked to prove that they’re here legally.

A minor error, easily cleared up with a bit of diplomacy, you might think? The sort of thing that could perhaps be smoothed over at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week?

Again, no. With trademark cluelessness, Downing Street ‘has rejected a formal diplomatic request to discuss the immigration problems experienced by some Windrush-generation British residents at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government, rebuffing a request from representatives of 12 Caribbean countries for a meeting with the prime minister’. So, a big British two fingers up to the Commonwealth before the meeting has even started.

Undaunted by her own incompetence, Theresa May then opened the CHOGM with a call for increased trade between the UK and the Commonwealth nations. ‘Give us your trade but take back your people,’ was basically the message.

This ties in with analysis by Philip Murphy, the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, who views UK plans to substitute EU trade for Commonwealth trade with derision. He writes:

…when it comes to the genuinely vast potential of the Indian market, a UK government driven by the anti-immigration agenda of leave voters is unlikely to make great strides in that direction. For example, India seems likely to want a relaxation of visa restrictions on its nationals in return for trade liberalisation. Certainly, the issue of immigration overshadowed Theresa May’s visit there in November 2016, leading to accusations that the UK wanted India’s business, but not its people. And whatever the future holds, invoking the name of the Commonwealth is unlikely to oil the wheels of any trade deal.

Put simply, free trade often goes hand in hand with the free movement of people. That this should be any different when trading with Commonwealth countries as opposed to EU countries is symptomatic of the Brexiteers’ fantasy that you can get something for nothing. Still, at least the Commonwealth Games should be fun.

R.

Thank Goodness for Distractions

Last week, the UK and EU agreed a Brexit deal so embarrassing for the UK, that Theresa May must have been glad of the distraction of impending nuclear war.

It seems that the UK has agreed to leave Northern Ireland in the single market if no other solution can be found. The UK will also have a transition phase of 21 months (lasting from the end of March 2019 to the end of December 2020). During that period, the UK will have to abide by EU laws on fishing, and any EU citizens who arrive in the UK will have the same rights as EU citizens who were there before. Apparently this arrangement will be reciprocal. By which I mean GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN, Brits! Nobody wants to be on that last boat from Dover on 31 December 2020, escaping from Brexit Britain like the last chopper out of Saigon.

To cap it all, we also learned that the new blue British passport will be made by a Franco-Dutch firm. The rival plucky British firm was outbid. Embarrassing! Where is a proud Brexiteer to hide?

A sexy burgundy passport on the left, and an uncool, unfashionable blue passport on the right.

Luckily There Was Russia

Luckily we didn’t have to focus too hard on Brexit, thanks to all the sabre-rattling between London and Moscow. Are we getting a taste for how cold the world might be outside the EU? Is this perhaps the wrong time to be isolating ourselves from our democratic friends in Europe?

Surely not. As we all know, the real enemy is not Putin and his nukes, but rather the cheese-munching bureaucrats of Brussels. Get your priorities right, Remoaners!

Cambridge Analytica

Even Putin could only do so much to help Theresa May’s government save face. Now we are learning that Facebook data may have been unlawfully used in election campaigns, possibly even in the Brexit referendum. Hence why you may have seen the annoying advert below in your Facebook feed.

Very sneaky. Making it look like Brexit is pro-immigration and anti-racist. I wonder how many people fell for it.

And what about funding? Apparently funds were misused by Vote Leave. And according to an insider who worked in the pro-Brexit youth organisation BeLeave, the people at the top of the Leave campaign all knew about it. Did this make a difference in the referendum outcome? Sadly, I fear not. But it’s still pretty naughty.

The Remoaners of UKREP

Last weekend I spoke to someone with direct personal knowledge of the mood at UKREP. UKREP, of course, is the UK’s embassy in Brussels and its point of contact with the European Institutions. You may remember I visited their offices as a trainee, where I was spun the party line about how hard all the Brexiteers had been thinking about Brexit, and how it wasn’t just a mad exercise in self-delusion.

According to my contact, the mood these days at UKREP is grim. The people working there are mostly Remain voters. Now they are having to break apart all the progress and agreements made during the UK’s 40-odd years of EU membership. Morale is low. There is a high turnover of staff. Politicians are flown in from London to tell them what a great job they’re doing and how this will be a Good Thing for Britain. Even Boris Johnson was here this week to give them a pep talk. On top of this, Theresa May micro-manages every file, every document, but is unable to make up her mind about anything. She dithers.

The only good news from UKREP is that they will probably be hiring soon. With all the extra work they have to do thanks to Brexit, there are rumours that UKREP will have to double in size. Maybe they’ll keep a chair warm for me when I lose my Commission job in 2 years’ time?

R.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, my fellow Europhiles. Or as they say here: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar and Bonne Année! What does 2018 hold for us in terms of Brexit? Will we have our cake? Will we eat it? Does anyone know?

I’ve been quiet on the blog of late. Mostly because, surprisingly, no one in Brussels tends to share confidential Brexit details with me. Nobody has sidled up to me in bars to whisper European secrets into my ear. As such, I don’t really have much to share except my own views and opinions. But that, of course, is why online blogs were invented!

Farage, Davis and Barnier

You have to feel for poor Michel Barnier. On Monday he had a meeting with Nigel Farage here in Brussels. Farage’s stated aim was to put across the views of the 17.4million Leave voters, whom he feared were not being represented in the negotiations. Strange. Mostly I’ve felt like it’s ONLY the views of the Leave voters that are being represented in the negotiations. The view of most Remainers, probably, would be not to have any negotiations at all.

Afterwards, Farage stood outside the Berlaymont building wearing a naff hat, and gave his account of how the meeting had gone. Mr Barnier, he claimed, didn’t understand why Brexit was happening, and was ‘surprised’ to hear that the main reason people voted for Brexit was because of EU migrants to the UK. And you know what? Nigel is probably right on that. It is worth reminding ourselves that a huge factor in the success of the Leave campaign was xenophobia. Global Britain, I think not.

In this disturbing image, Nigel Fartage (left) is wearing a hat.

The other crumb of Brexit news is David Davis’s leaked letter to Theresa May, complaining that the EU is warning British companies about the risks of a no-deal scenario. The EU has warned businesses to prepare for Britain being a ‘third country’ (i.e. not an EU member state) as of March next year. ‘This is discrimination!’ says Davis.

Pardon? Didn’t the UK vote to be a third country? Why is he surprised?

The EU is doing what the UK should in fact be doing, and preparing for all eventualities. Theresa May has repeatedly threatened to walk away without a deal if the negotiations don’t go well. Excuse the EU for taking her seriously and preparing for just such an outcome.

But what does my opinion matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to David Davis.

I’ll just have to content myself with reading Nick Clegg’s How to Stop Brexit and sending fan mail to Anna Soubry.

The Remainers’ Bible

R.

 

Eurospeak: Foreseeing the Glash

I was reading about Brexit on the Guardian the other day (as I often am). And who should I stumble across but my dear friend Guy Verhofstadt? You may remember he sent me a very kind email to say that he was doing everything to protect my future.

Anyway, in the Guardian he was suggesting that Theresa May would make an intervention around 21st September which could delay the Brexit negotiations. What is she going to announce? Has she discovered she has an Irish granny? Guy Verhofstadt said:

Apparently there will be an important intervention by the British prime minister in the coming days, it is foreseen on the 21 September.

Brexit aside, one aspect of his statement couldn’t escape my notice. You may have heard of ‘Eurospeak’ – that strange mix of English, French and jargon in which employees of the EU institutions become fluent. Other former trainees have also written quite savagely on the topic of ‘Eurospeak’. ‘Foreseen’ is a common example of Eurospeak.

“Verhofstadt. Guy Verhofstadt.”

At every meeting I’ve attended, somebody has used the word ‘foreseen’ in a way that an English native speaker would not. ‘Our next meeting is foreseen for next Tuesday,’ for example. My guess is that this is a direct translation from the French ‘prévu’, meaning ‘planned’. Or, indeed, a direct translation from the Dutch ‘voorzien’ (Guy Verhofstadt is Flemish). In which case, whenever an EU politician or bureaucrat says ‘foreseen’, he or she probably means ‘planned’.

However, in the first few weeks I thought that nobody knew for sure when the next meeting would be, but that someone had ‘foreseen’ Tuesday as the most likely date whilst gazing into their crystal ball. The first weeks of my traineeship were spent in confusion.

The Joy of Being an English Speaker

Harmless infractions against the English language are just one of the joys of being an English native speaker abroad. Whether you work at the European Commission, or at any company where the majority are not native English speakers, your command of English instantly assigns you the role of ‘chief proofreader’. Colleagues are generally willing to accept your opinion on what is and what isn’t correct English.

The chief proofreader receives another proofreading request.

It is not all plain sailing though. Sometimes your advice is received, and then discarded.

In times gone by I used to work for an online fashion retailer in Germany, where my job was to write descriptions of shoes in English (in retrospect, one of the best jobs I ever had). One day, the company was preparing to launch a new fashion range, and the managers decided to come up with a creative English-sounding name to market it. They asked the small group of UK employees whether they should call the new range ‘Glash’.

The German managers had clearly never seen an episode The Inbetweeners. As such, they were oblivious to the hilarity that this label would cause to their British customers. They didn’t see the problem.

The Inbetweeners. A UK cultural institution.

However, to the members of the UK shoe-description team, the horrible repercussions of releasing ‘Glash’ upon the UK market were very much ‘foreseen’.

But who knows? Maybe after Brexit, European companies won’t bother trying to market things to us at all.

R.