Thursday, 30 November 2017

Poor little Britain

It’s cold out there at the moment.
Sean Bean in Game of Thrones: “winter is coming”
Still, it is November, in the Northern Hemisphere, so we have to expect temperatures to be pretty uncomfortable. And at least we know that there are only three weeks to go before the days start to grow longer again. While the cold will be even more bitter, at least the lighter evenings will contain a promise of better times to come.

So much, at least, for the physical weather. When it comes to its status in the world, the cold has only just started to grip Britain. It will deepen a great deal further in the coming years, and not start to recede until British people at last emerge from the illusions behind which they prefer to hide.

Most central among these is the sense that their country is still a world power. A lion whose roar is heard around the globe. Some will cling on to that belief for a long time, but others are beginning to take the tough object lessons reality is delivering to them.

For many months, the hard Brexiters in government have been insisting that they will not move on the amount Britain will have to pay the EU on leaving. This is the so-called ‘divorce bill’. While a member of the EU, Britain entered into a number of commitments many of which involved the payment of money. Among other things, there are people who have retired from the EU Civil Service, to whose pensions Britain pledged to contribute. There is a sense in Brussels that these commitments have to be honoured despite Britain’s departure.

The hard Brexiters have been insisting that the figure should be low.

Take the case of Priti Patel. She had to resign from her post as International Development minister earlier this month, having demonstrated her humility in public service by conducting her own foreign policy while on holiday in Israel, where she had meetings with senior ministers including Benjamin Netanyahu, without reference to any other member of the government including the Foreign Secretary. Demonstrating the diplomatic self-control which make her such a loss to foreign affairs, she announced at the weekend that the EU could just “sod off” with their demands for a divorce bill.

It must have come as quite a blow to find that her erstwhile boss, the Prime Minister Theresa May, is now talking about paying as much as £50bn, perhaps twice the sum many had hoped. Ultimately, of course, there will be a compromise and a sensible figure will be agreed, whether near the £50n level or not. The key point is that Britain blinked first, and had to. In a doubtless unwelcome reminder to Brexiters, May had to admit that Britain is not in the driving seat, it can’t call the shots, it has to move towards the EU before the EU will move towards us.

Then came the affair of the Trump far-right Tweets. When Britain leaves the EU, it will be more dependent than ever on the US. President Trump (it still feels slightly unbelievable to write those two words together) early on made it clear that he was keen to offer Britain a trade deal, a piece of news Brexiters reacted to with glee. Sadly, Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary was in the UK at the beginning of this month. He stressed that the US was ready to give Brexit Britain a trade deal, but we might just have to make a few minor accommodations. Like giving up on European-style regulation – shorthand for our having to abandon our unreasonable demands for our food to be edible.

Just over two weeks later his boss, the President himself, decided that it would be judicious to retweet three tweets with Islamophobic videos attached.

Even the most elegant of houses has to have a sewage system. All nations have to have their political cesspools. Britain’s is called ‘Britain First’, a neo-Fascist grouplet of no significance in our politics. Indeed, the woman who put up the tweets the President chose to pass on, chalked up the triumphant total of 56 votes in a run for parliament. Just to give some perspective on that figure, the winner of the election took 16,897 votes.

She is now facing criminal charges for religiously aggravated harassment and for using threatening and abusive language.

This is the person whose views the President decided to endorse.

In another example of our unreasonable attachment to certain standards, many of us in Britain rather resented this behaviour. The Prime Minister isn’t famed for her courage in standing up to Trump – she was the first head of government to visit him in the White House and issued him with an invitation to a State visit immediately, without the customary waiting period we generally like to take to see what kind of a President we are dealing with.

Yet even she felt she should speak out this time, telling Trump explicitly that he had been wrong. His reaction? To tell her to mind her own business.

When Home Secretary Amber Rudd spoke to the House of Commons about the Trump row, she repeated her boss’s rebuke to Trump. But then she went on to remind her listeners that the relationship with the States is vital. Which is true, and particularly now. But does she mean that we have to be careful what we say about him – even when he endorses our Fascists?

Many have been asking whether the invitation to Trump for the State Visit would be cancelled. It looks as though what Britain’s going to do is leave the invitation out there, but simply fail to set a date for it. Which, if you’re feeling generous, is a classic British compromise; if you’re feeling a little more severe, you might view it as something more like moral cowardice.

But what choice does Britain have? We’ve chosen Brexit which means we’ve chosen dependence on the States. Even under Trump.

Game of Thrones got it right. Winter is coming, and it’s going to be cold. For a very long time.

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