If Donald Trump carries out even a small proportion of the promises on which he was elected, his presidency will be a disaster. Yet we have our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary falling over themselves to go and meet him. Would it not be more dignified, and less likely to end in humiliation, to delay the visit until we have a clearer picture of how he will behave in office? After all, we have at least two years before we can even begin any trade negotiations. There is no need to rush.
Boris Johnson’s volte-face regarding President-elect Donald Trump set me thinking of the words of an 18th century song we were taught at school called “The Vicar of Bray”. This satirical song follows the oscillations in ecclesiastical allegiance of the eponymous vicar during the religious upheavals following the reformation. I’m sure Boris is familiar with this classic, but I’m not so sure he would recognise himself in the satirical content.
First there was Make Britain Great Again. Now we have Make America Great Again. Next year it's likely to be Make France Great Again. Can’t be long after that before we have Make Italy Great Again. We’ve had for some time, of course, Make Russia Great Again. The Spanish will surely want to Make Spain Great Again. Will the Germans fall in line, do you think, with Make Germany Great Again in a year or two?
Bound to be more and more after that all heeding the siren call to “take back control” of something or other from our new straight-speaking breath-of-fresh-air leaders. Then there will be lots of lots of countries following the Brexit path we opened up leading towards happiness and prosperity, all wanting to be great and vying for supremacy. It’s going to be great, isn’t it?
But I wonder where it all might lead? Of course, history doesn't show us – so any Brexiters out there care to enlighten us all?
Of course nowadays we are surely not to be surprised by anything at all, so therefore a win for Marine Le Pen in the French elections next year and then similar for Geert Wilders in the Netherlands will seem quite commonplace. The next thing not to surprise me will be Nigel Farage jumping ship and taking control of a right-wing Conservative Party post-Brexit, and the eventual demise of the EU. Then prime minister Farage, say in 2022, proposes a cross-border agreement (not a union, perish the thought) of like-minded people to help progressive right-wing governments across Europe. Finally, the English football team win the World Cup. Now who on earth will believe that?
Theresa May’s own Government created the working poor
Theresa May has been speaking of the many poor – those on low incomes, those using food banks – who have been losing out over recent years. Would it not be worth strongly reminding her that she was a major figure in the Government that presided over that losing out, while the wealthy became wealthier? Indeed, would her eyes have remained conveniently closed to those losing out, had the Brexit vote not happened?
Slow down, Brexiteers
What is driving the imperative to trigger Article 50 by the end of March? There are cabinet splits on Brexit and there is no Brexit strategic plan in sight. Clearly, the Government is unlikely to have a detailed plan, or to be properly resourced to take the Article 50 process forward, for some months to come. The Government’s appeal against the High Court decision is pending. It deserves to lose on both legal and constitutional grounds. Germany and France face elections in 2017, and their attention will turn towards these, and the growing challenge to the establishment from the right.
As soon as Article 50 is triggered, the initiative and negotiation strength passes to the EU. The reality is that 27 countries could agree their offer, put it forward to the UK and refuse to amend it to any significant extent. If the Government then maintains its line on freedom of movement, the country will face the economic fallout of a hard Brexit.
We live in irrational times. Reason suggests that the UK should not trigger Article 50 until it has its ducks in a row. At the moment, many of the ducks are not even in the river.
You report that the doom-mongers Open Britain claim that “£1.2bn a year ... would be the cost of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU’s Free Trader Agreements with more than 50 countries”, but surely the simplest way round that particular problem is to agree with each of those countries that the terms of those agreements remain in force until such time as any necessary renegotiation is completed. No falling off the cliff, just a gentle step off the kerb.
The idea of European citizenship, although a concept given expression by the Treaties since 1993, has been nourished primarily by the European Court of Justice since 1962 when it declared that the EEC, as it then was, was intended to confer upon nationals of its member states, “rights which become part of their legal heritage”. While it is clear that nationality of a member state is a prerequisite of attaining rights of EU citizenship, the burning question seems to be whether those rights, once acquired, survive the loss of the qualifying nationality. The EU Treaty is silent on the question of surviving rights, and although usual source of guidance on Treaty interpretation (the 1969 Vienna Convention) clearly states that termination “does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”. The provision refers to rights acquired by the states’ signatories, and not by their citizens.
The EU treaty is distinct in having created a direct legal relationship between the treaty and the citizen, which confers rights irrespective of an intervention by a member state. The directive states explicitly that those rights are fundamental and personal, and emanate directly from the treaty, without the need for any administrative act, and the UK Government has already accepted the survival post-Brexit of rights to permanent residence in the UK acquired by other member states’ nationals. If those rights survive, so, logically, should the entire package of rights acquired by citizens up to the point of the UK’s departure.
In political as well as legal terms, the survival of EU citizens´ rights makes sense. Indeed, Brexit may present an opportunity for exponential advance of the European idea through a reinterpretation of its basic principles in light of the current mood.
Europe has a general interest in preserving and fostering the sentiment of Citizenship: it might ultimately be down to its citizens to keep the flame alive.
What does pro-life mean now?
US Secretary of State John Kerry says “the world’s scientific community has concluded that climate change is happening beyond any doubt. And the evidence is there for everybody to see”. Will those who voted for Donald Trump, on the grounds of his pro-life stance, now convince him that pro-life means not condemning generations of the unborn to the disastrous consequences of climate change?
Canon Christopher Hall
Peace at last
I checked my emails this morning. NHS mail is still not working, and it’s wonderful. No emails from management demanding immediate attendance at crisis meetings, no “distribution all” offering places on a course with an acronym I can't decipher, no November update report. Just peace and quiet to get on with my job – the thing I trained for and the thing I still enjoy. It's like an early Christmas; the two weeks around the holidays when the managers disappear, well known among clinicians as the most efficient two weeks of the NHS year. To the person who crashed the system: thank you. Thank you very much.
A spiritual soundtrack to life
Leonard Cohen studied philosophies and religions and offered an inquisitive, spiritual soundtrack for life – music as a sanctuary with a rabbinical/Buddhist core; self-investigation (not posturing and self-indulgence), to convey intimacy and engage with the audience; putting contemplative, soulful poems put to music, with musings on sensual yearnings, compassion, sorrows and mortality – and usually with a wry smile. It’s all there in his final album You Want It Darker.
Philosophers, psychologists, academics and others have pondered for years on the question “What is happiness?” I'm no academic but taking a seat in my local greasy spoon early this morning the waitress brought my order. I sipped my frothy latte, picked up my knife and fork and shook a little pepper on my poached eggs on toast before tucking in. I thought, “Ah, this is happiness!”