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A question of power

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by Matthew Paul

For anyone who stood as a candidate for ChangeUK in 2019, and watched over the course of the six-week European Parliament election campaign as mild enthusiasm on the part of the British public cooled into vague embarrassment before crystallising into disgust, it’s nice to see the Remoaners on the rebound. Brexit is back in the news, and causing big trouble for Boris Johnson.

“But Brexit”, you exclaim, “is done! Didn’t we have a General Election to sort that out? Didn’t our MPs vote for an oven-ready deal, back on 20th December last year?”

They did, but if the deal was supposed to be oven-ready, Boris left the plastic bag full of giblets inside and it is causing a terrible stink. Those unpalatable entrails are the ongoing and irreconcilable tensions between wanting our own laws and trade arrangements, and  maintaining an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The United Kingdom is one single market; Wales cannot exclude or impose tariffs on goods from Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, and vice versa. This was the case for nearly three hundred years before the UK joined the EEC in 1973; when it did join, UK citizens swapped one single market of (then) 56 million for a single market that grew to ten times that size. The advantages of this, to our exporting economy, were obvious. 

Leaving that wider single market creates a problem, which is also obvious. There is a land border between the UK and Ireland, which international law (the Good Friday Agreement) says must remain open. If the UK uses its freedom from EU tyranny to strike new trade deals and to remove ‘foreign laws’ around food safety and product standards –which was the whole point of Brexit– it compromises the integrity of European product standards by allowing chlorinated chicken etc etc to pass, unchecked and untaxed, into the EU.

There is no reason why the EU should put up with this, and throughout Brexit talks the Commission made it clear that retaining an open border in Ireland is non-negotiable. There is only one straightforward alternative: a customs border in the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. In June 2018, Theresa May was leaning in that direction, but this proposed solution –breaking up the territorial integrity of the UK to protect the integrity of the EU single market– was so detestable to the Spartans of the ERG that they passed a law specifically to stop May from doing it.

Fast forward to December 2019, and the same Spartans, cowed by Boris’ ruthless public execution of the 21 Remainers who rebelled against his Government’s Brexit policy, followed the PM like sheep through the Ayes lobby to endorse his oven-ready deal with an Irish Sea border as its defining characteristic. Boris said at the time that this would not create paperwork for businesses exporting goods from NI to the rest of the UK. He lied: the deal dictates that the UK keeps the NI/ ROI border open, implements the EU customs code in Northern Ireland, and obliges exporters to fill in declarations on goods going between NI and the rest of the UK.

Perhaps Boris just thought no-one would notice, even though everyone did. Perhaps he thought the EU would quietly back down on imposing the customs code. If this was the Government’s plan, it reinforces the impression that the Government is incapable of planning past lunchtime. The EU continued to insist stoutly on the terms of the deal being honoured. Finding himself well down in the game, Boris kicked over the card table. He presented the House of Commons with the Internal Market Bill, section 45 of which gives the Government power simply to ignore or override the Northern Ireland Protocol, to allow seamless trade and consistent regulation between all constituent parts of the UK. 

M’learned friends, blanching at the idea of tearing up treaties, were the first to cry foul. The government’s top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, walked out of his job in despair. On Wednesday Lord Keen –the Government’s law officer for Scotland– resigned too, rather than adopt the intellectual contortions necessary to support the Bill. Even Robert Buckland, the likeable if impressionable Lord Chancellor, who previously mounted a sorry-faced hostage-video defence of Boris’s prorogation of Parliament and would be about as likely as the woolsack he sits on to rebel against Government policy, is shuffling uncomfortably. It’s not just the Remoaners, either; unless dark Lord of the Sith Michael Howard, and former Attorney-General and basso-profondo Brexithorn Sir Geoffrey Cox are now to be classed as Remoaners. 

Some of the pearl-clutching over the sanctity of international law is misplaced. As De Gaulle observed, “Les traités, voyez-vous, sont comme les jeunes filles et les roses: ça dure ce que ça dure.” The EU regards any emanation of international law that questions the acquis Communautaire with withering contempt, and owes zillions of dollars in WTO fines for breaching international law with state aid to Airbus. 

It comes down to a question of power, to a clear-headed assessment of whether or not you are going to win, and to whether the prize to be gained offsets the reputational damage of reneging on international obligations. Tearing up a treaty signed only months before is crass and looks weak. Kicking over the card table when you’re losing isn’t a great move if the other player then shoots you dead.

If the Government really wants to scare people about the effects of the Coronavirus, it could do worse than loop videos of Boris in December compared to Boris now. The hoo-ha over the Internal Market Bill is one more unforced mistake; the thickening miasma of incompetence and bad judgement is weakening this Government like a nasty dose of the Covid. On Tuesday, Boris fiddled with his phone through PMQs while Ed Miliband –Ed Miliband!– cut the hopelessly depleted Prime Minister to bits in front of a drolly amused House; Boris put up less resistance than a bacon sandwich.

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Comment: Badger and The Great Escape

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HELLO, readers!

Has it ever occurred to you that there’s just no pleasing some people?

Since the first asylum seekers arrived in the semi-mothballed Penally Training Camp’s palatial splendour, several groups have complained about their presence.

Now they’re being moved on elsewhere, some people are still moaning. Not that they’re moving, but that they’re even in the country.

The groups concerned can be divided broadly into three.

Firstly, those who live near the Camp. They were hit by the lack of notice and consultation. They were, understandably, alarmed by the turn of events thanks to misinformation, disinformation, and a lack of information. After all, readers, if their local MP – a Cabinet Minister – didn’t know what was going on, how could they?

Secondly, some understood the Camp was unsuited to accommodating asylum seekers due to its location and condition. They might have had better impulses but preaching to the choir loses the congregation.

Finally, there were volatile and violent arm-lifting bigots. They exploited the asylum seekers’ presence to push their own hateful agendas of division, racism, and Tommy Robinson-lite PayPal patriotism.

The whole affair revealed an essential truth about Pembrokeshire and some of its inhabitants.

As part of a new tourism campaign for Pembrokeshire, Badger proposes the following snappy slogan:’Pembrokeshire: a warm welcome if you’re white. Badger’s suggestion has a particular benefit for a tourism campaign: it’s true.

Forget the sweeping views of the coast; the images of the Preselis; families enjoying themselves on our beaches. Leave out the pitch for coffees overlooking rural landscapes, tents pitched on cliffs, and people enjoying fish and chips in the sunshine.

Cast them aside.

Instead, picture a gang of thugs chanting hate and congregated outside Penally Camp. It more accurately captures the sort of warm welcome that awaits those who don’t meet the desired racial profile of Pembrokeshire’s guests.

The only thing that’ll have to be photoshopped into the image is a flaming cross and a lynched corpse hanging from a tree.

People will come from as far afield as Milton Keynes, Swansea, and Manchester to holiday in Pale Pembrokeshire to practise a form of ‘Apartheid through Leisure’.

And if that sounds a bleak and harsh assessment: good!

It’s meant to be.

The whole series of events at Penally has revealed the worst of Pembrokeshire. Insular, bigoted, racist, cowardly, nasty, bitter, mean-spirited individuals seized by a sense of entitlement and innate superiority have come to The Herald’s social media pages and vented their spleen or spewed their bile. Quite frankly, with a million visits a month, it’s been the devil’s own job to police the filth and remove comments and ban users for persistent trolling and offensiveness.

Free speech is free under the law. Free speech is not a licence to incite hatred or encourage violence, whether directly or indirectly. The idea – the very notion – that Neil Hamilton made a point of coming to Penally to lie through a loudhailer is as loathsome as his presence in the Welsh Parliament. He’s got about as much to contribute to Pembrokeshire as he does to Wales. Sod all.

It is proof that when it comes to UKIP and the rest of the fringe right, getting to the top demonstrates that shit floats and it isn’t only the cream that rises.

The presence of far-right anti-migrant activists and their capacity to pander to certain personality types demonstrates equally that some will say anything, do anything, and agree with anything to get attention.

It’s like listening to a lousy tenor warming up: ‘ME-ME-ME-ME-ME’.

Jesus wept, readers.

And if he’d read the hatred hurled over our Facebook comments, he’d have cried a river.

So-called Christians – they aren’t, of course – claiming some sort of moral authority for their bigotry.

People demanding that our brave ex-servicemen on the streets should be housed first. Yeah. Stick the same ex-servicemen in a hostel near them and see what happens to their ‘compassion’.

Plans for such a hostel in Carmarthen were withdrawn by an armed forces charity after it got planning permission because locals were so opposed and unwelcome. Pembrokeshire wouldn’t be any different. If a proposal came forward to put such a hostel on a leafy street in any town in Pembrokeshire, there’d be an outcry. Locals would fulminate against it. The usual online trolls – hello Fishguard and Pembroke – would go dull.

‘House our own homeless first!’ Well, that’s a laugh. They moved homeless people into Johnston and Fishguard during the first lockdown. The result was non-stop whingeing and the demonization of every person who found themselves stuck in intolerance central.

Along the way, it’s struck Badger that there is no law so clear that people can misunderstand it and – in most cases – deliberately misrepresent it.

The law on asylum is unambiguous. Asylum seekers apply for refugee status. Those whose claims are approved get refugee status. Only at that point are they given limited permission to stay in the UK. Of those who do not get refugee status, some might be ‘economic migrants’. That’s, however, a determination for the end of the process, not the beginning. And only the decision-maker in the process can make that judgement: not ‘I’m not racist, but Bob (or Beryl) on social media.”

Besides, there is no legal requirement for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first ‘safe’ country they land in. That is simply a lie. A lie. A lie. A lie. The UK’s own case law says it’s a lie.

The hard of thinking, wilfully ignorant, brainwashed, and bigots appear to believe the contrary proposition is true. To them, Badger suggests reading the law or – better – get someone to read it to them. In small and easy to understand words.

These short words would be a start: “People who come to the UK and apply for asylum have rights under UK law. What you want to believe isn’t true. What kippers and other fringe ding-dongs say isn’t true.

“Don’t listen to lies. Some people will lie to get you to lie. They feed off the hate they incite in you when you spread their lies. Others have used the Camp to boost themselves. They are vermin.”In the Second World War, your grandad probably went to Europe to shoot people who thought as they do.”

Badger has written this column for almost eight years now.
From the first edition in 2013 to this week, he has used this space to pick and probe and mock. Never has he felt the urge to say that Pembrokeshire would be better off without some people.

And it’s not the asylum seekers.

They’ve had a great – and lucky – escape.

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