Frieda

Thank Frieda it’s Friday.

It has been a very long week; a whole seven days since my mum’s neck began to cause problems.

Today, I thought I’d write but having read a couple of things to drive me slightly loopy with frustration, I think I’ll have a day with my nose buried in a book. Some arguments don’t deserve a sincere response.

What I suppose I find so frustrating is the right are screaming about “freedom” when it suits them. I just noticed on Twitter than Priti Patel might back a scheme to force all big employers to test their staff for drug use. The hypocrisy is startling. “Freedom” is such a fetish for the right (as identity is a fetish for the left) yet what exactly does it mean? The same people demand fealty to the Queen because, to quote a famous philosopher, “some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me”. Libertarian has come to mean “my right to do whatever I want and screw whatever you want” rather than a sensible approach to how government can remain small yet meaningful in people’s lives.

The other bit that struck me as worth commenting is how certain Tories are snorting through their brandies about Biden. His emergence, this last week, as the devil incarnate is, perhaps, unsurprising. Biden, after all, has dared to speak about the ongoing Brexit negotiations which has left Tory MPs at each other’s throats.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” he tweeted. “Any trade deal between the US and the UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

It is always worth repeating the plain truth that, often, politics is neither a sophisticated nor complicated game. The big stick is balanced by a bigger carrot and here it’s pretty obvious which is which. In other words, peace in Northern Ireland is more important to American politicians than, let’s say,  importing Old Masters – yes, I found it surprising that “works of art” are the fourth biggest export to the US from the UK.

So, what exactly is the problem? That an American politician, in the middle of a particularly toxic election campaign, realises which side of his bread his butter is spread? British ears might hear pro-Irish sentiments, but it was ever thus. In Britain, we’d think it odd if Boris Johnson turned up in Wigan and started to pretend that he was from the North. Americans have no such reservations. The nation is so big that there’s always a sentimentality about origin stories. Biden is playing to the Irish lobby this week. Next week it might be the Jewish lobby, followed a week later by the Catholic lobby, and then he’ll be down in Florida cosying up to the Hispanic lobby. Both candidates do it and both candidates move on. It’s called electioneering.

The real problem, one suspects, is that Biden has unashamedly pointed at Brexit’s Gordian knot and noted that it is as knotty as it ever was. Without the notional single European market to make borders seem notional, the island of Ireland can no longer live under the pretence that there is a singularity. Two trading nations can’t allow goods to cross the border freely, so there has to be a hard border.

But, no! That invalidates the Good Friday Agreement! So, there can’t be a border…

But, no! That invalidates Brexit, which requires that the UK and the EU have their own arrangements so there can’t be a free flow of goods, so we need checks…

But, no! That’s a border and that invalidates…

The other reality that Biden has made evident is genuinely sobering, though I can’t say I need to be much more sober at the moment. Britain had more influence as part of a large powerful trading block than it has alone. There might well be other benefits to Brexit but nothing I’ve seen convinces me that we’re not made smaller by this. Reality is beginning to bite and instead of facing that hard reality face on, the government are beginning to snap at each other.

6 thoughts on “Frieda”

  1. I’m clearly not going to get mired into a discussion about Brexit, beyond clearly saying I think that Johnson is completely wrong in what he is doing and that a trade deal with the USA is a Chimaera. What I will touch on though is this idea of influence and being smaller. Do I sense a bit of nationalism there?.

    I have always cocked an eye at the pompous British politicians who come out with statements such as “we would be like Switzerland”. These people have obviously never been to Switzerland, a country that comes above us on almost every single measure of wellbeing and development. Yet they never had an Empire, aren’t on the UN security council aren’t in the EU and don’t perpetually have their forces engaged in conflict somewhere. Other highly developed nations, not in the EU or NAFTA are also available in place of Switzerland. Punching above our weight in the world!, another pompous term, why?. I think this country has done quite enough punching for one epoch. If you told me we would never see our forces fire another bullet in anger as long I live, I would be very happy with that. I you told me I would never hear another British politician holding forth on the internal affairs of another country, again I would be very happy with that. When Northern Ireland finally votes to join the Republic, it will in my view be a very good day, the closure of another less than glorious chapter in our history, not something to bemoan.

    As for British influence as part of the EU, well, we didn’t get anything out of the US as part of the EU and we won’t get anything from them outside either. The difference being, it will be us that can’t stomach their trade demands this time rather than the French not stomaching them on our behalf.

    1. Nationalism? How so? In suggesting that we were once bigger than we are? That feels more like historical reality. We had an Empire, we lost the Empire, but we lost none of the pretentions that came with the Empire (hence all the rubbish written and said around the Proms). We are a self-constructed nation because England made the most of our small size by pragmatically forming a union with our neighbours. Nationalism now is believing the old myths of Britishness. Myself, I just shrug when I hear about Scottish indepdendence. I don’t like it but I can hadly be hypocritical and say they can’t do it given what we did with the EU. When I hear the US making demands before a trade deal, I shrug. I’d hope our history would mean something but I also know it means very little. American politicians put American interests first. All nations do that and I don’t have any doubts that they’ll want to get the most out of us.

      That’s the thing. I agree with everything you’ve written, just not the solution. People are creating little narratives about what we can be without really making a good case for what we are. That has always been my argument. Love it or loathe it (or do both), we had a place in Europe that meant we were a player. Now, I think we’re just becoming a laughing stock. Don’t get me wrong. I would love Brexit to be a success (I do want us to succeed as a nation) but everywhere I look I see it running into political reality, not least around the problem of the Irish border.

      I know that I’m probably very one dimensional in my thinking. At essence, my core belief is that I don’t believe in miracles, magic, or anything that’s supernatural. Brexit has always felt like magic to me. I would love to be proved wrong and discover there are elves or aliens living in my garden. I still stand out at night looking for the signs but I can’t never see any. I just think we’re all now running the risk of getting very cold by pursuing these dreams.

  2. You seemed to treat us being smaller as being a negative thing that’s why I asked.

    We are a laughing stock because of our government. Brexit will be positive, negative or neutral depending on how this and future governments play it (which is a sobering thought in fairness). Anyone who expected to wake up and see the streets paved with gold was an idiot. Equally anyone who thought that staying in the EU would be like entering some form of warm, risk free stasis, was deluding themselves too. Risks and benefits staying in, risks and benefits leaving. Unless we enter some kind of crazy trade war though the economic risks in leaving are relatively small, which is one reason Johnson is a berk to ratchet up tensions, better to simply have no trade deal. The IFS predicts the economy will grow by 0.9% less per year for three years if there is no deal, but it will still grow. Put that into context, the economy actually contracted by 25% because of Covid, the no deal implications are insignificant in comparison.

    The really worry with no deal would be the governments lack of preparation causing a shock to the system which could well happen, but that won’t be the fault of Brexit, it will be the fault of the government.

    When I see comments on sites like the Washington post it seems the Americans hate Britain because of its history and Empire, they think we are arrogant and self important, they are right, even if it is the pot calling the kettle black.

    1. I have no problem with us being smaller because that’s how I do tend to think of us. We astutely used our position to gain influence, which is why I did like us being part of the EU. I also admit it’s part of my idealism. That’s why it’s never really been about the economics which, in truth, I don’t fully understand, nor wish to understand. It’s more of a philsophy to me. I don’t like any kind of provincialism. That’s why the whole “freedom” argument grates with me. I’ve lived my life making concessions in exchange for freedom, as I think anybody has to do if they really want it. The EU was one such concession. Brexit feels like a retreat into something else, not least the Westminster bubble. All politics is filled with charlatans and worse (though in my better moments I know I shouldn’t really think this) but there’s something particularly rank about British politics, especially the class system.

      Not sure any of that made any sense but, again, I’m no economist. I suppose my opinions are more rooted in the psychology of the country and how Brexit affects the way we think of ourselves.

  3. Well, that makes of two us that found the economic arguments to be secondary. I think like anything it can be a blessing or a curse, we can either sort out our politics and stop hiding behind the scapegoats everyone made of the EU or we may well descend into something worse as you say. You do get into crystal ball gazing and I’m not sure many people would have seen the last few years panning out in the way they have. I do honestly think though that Brexit will very much now play second fiddle to the effects brought about by covid, though I would expect people to conflate the two. I think we are heading back to the 70’s personally, (because of Covid rather than Brexit) so get your flares out of storage!.

    1. I think quite a bit of this was predictable. The N. Ireland problem was never solved — May should never have done Article 50 before we had a clear solution — and then the whole Union problem was one of the arguments I and I’m sure many others kept making in the run up to the referendum. Hard to say English nationalism is a good thing and then tell the Scots that they can’t feel the same about their nation. I agree that Covid is now the bigger issue, which makes us doubly screwed, imho. I don’t believe any politician can handle more than one emergency at a time, or, at least, history suggests as much. We have only so much bandwidth and so do they.

      Back to the 70s? Maybe but this feels different. Our politics needs to get serious (and boring again) when all I see is the influence of QAnon rising, populism still not diminishing, and the cultural divisions deepening. Seeing the likes of Nick Clegg (Facebook) and Tom Watson (some betting company) selling their expertise to big business makes the political class look shadier than they already are. Then, of course, we’ll eventually have another election which will be largely driven by the media, effectively choosing who we vote for by making a monster out of one or the other side, or campaigns playing the “focus group” game, discovering which fear they can exploit the most to win the swing seats. In some ways, we feel like we’re 10 years behind the US where, perhaps, they’re beginning to see the dangers of the deeply toxic Fox News approach to politics.

      I don’t see how we dig ourselves out of this hole.

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