Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Hardened Brexit position will ‘collide with reality,’ says UK minister

LONDON — The hardening of the positions of Tory leadership candidates Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson on Brexit will “collide with the reality,” Amber Rudd said Tuesday.

Speaking at POLITICO’s Playbook Live event in London, the work and pensions secretary said she had been surprised by the candidates’ apparent unwillingness to rule out any compromise on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop — the mechanism negotiated as part of the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid the need for a hard border.

At their final head-to-head debate on Monday evening, both candidates declared the backstop “dead” and rejected the idea of a hypothetical five-year time limit (even though such a compromise is not on offer from the EU).

Rudd, a key figure in the Remain campaign who is backing Hunt to be the next prime minister, said: “I was surprised by what they both said and I think their views will collide with the reality when whichever one wins starts negotiating and starts dealing with parliament, which may be more difficult than they think to engage with.”

But the Cabinet minister said she believed there would be a “window” of opportunity for the new prime minister to make progress on the Brexit impasse. “I do think that a new prime minister will get a hearing. They will get a hearing from parliament and a hearing from the EU,” she said.

Rudd recently dropped her opposition to a no-deal Brexit to give the new prime minister “leverage” in negotiations with Brussels. She had previously worked with Cabinet colleagues to prevent it and predicted that MPs would in any case find a way to block it.

“I do know that we have an activist speaker, we have a lot of people who are very committed to finding a way and there is legislation and procedures evolving all the time,” she said.

Rudd said she had spoken to her natural allies around the Cabinet table before she changed her position and a lot of them had been “very supportive.”

“It is about compromise and I think it was the right thing to do. I do feel circumstances had changed,” she said.

Rudd also warned any new Tory leader against doing a deal with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, urging the candidates to stick to their pledge at a hustings event in June organized by the “One Nation” group of moderate Tory MPs.

Some Brexiteers have warned that Johnson would be left with no choice but to form a pact if MPs intent on stopping a no-deal Brexit force a general election.

But Rudd said: “Both the final two candidates ruled it out [at the hustings] and so I hope they will stick to that … I think a deal with Nigel Farage would be a mistake. The Conservative Party is at its best when it is at its center, liberal, conservative place,” she said.

In the hour-long discussion with London Playbook editor Jack Blanchard, Rudd — who is one of only five women to have held one of the four main offices of state, having served as home secretary from 2016 to 2018 — also revealed that she had not always aspired to be an MP, but joked that she thought her career would be modeled on the fictional adventuring archaeologist Lara Croft.

“I had [a] sort of Lara Croft image of myself once, that is true, that is very embarrassing,” she said.

“I have always wanted to be involved in government of some sort, but I didn’t think I was going to be a member of parliament. I thought maybe an ambassador or something like that would be good.”

‘Speaking truth to power’ in Select Committees: what is the experience like for external evidence-givers?

In recent years there has been increasing interest in how the evidence-gathering process works in Parliament, especially with Select Committees. A particular focus has been on how representative of different groups in British society are those submitting evidence. Some measures to improve the diversity of witnesses have been stimulated directly by this research. However, there has been little or no investigation of what the experience of giving evidence is like for witnesses – and this is the gap that the LSE GV314 Group addresses, led by Ed Page. Using a survey of witnesses their research sheds new light on the gains and the stresses for witnesses, and their (generally favourable) perceptions of the value of giving evidence.

A lot has been written about how far Select Committees are up to the task of helping shape policy and holding government and other powerful bodies to account. We know quite a bit about who gives evidence (interest groups, government officials, and men dominate) but we know less about why they give it. For the government officials this is easy enough to answer; when called it is part of their job to appear. For the rest the answer is not so obvious. So, in March 2019 we set out to survey a wide range of those involved – the methods note at the end of this piece gives some key details of how we went about this. Suffice to say here that we had a great response from over 990 people.

Giving evidence can involve serious work. The average piece of written evidence took our respondents a day to write, with over one-third taking over two days. Statistically, writing evidence was rarely rewarded with an invitation to appear in person (we calculate in only 11% of cases at most in the Committees we studied). Those giving evidence in person (440 respondents) spent on average three hours preparing for their appearance and 47% of them had to travel to London from outside the South East. Some people give both oral and written evidence, which was true of a third of all evidence-givers in our sample.

So what’s in it for them? At a personal level, quite a lot. Very few expressed any substantial dissatisfaction with the experience. Very few (under 2%) would try and avoid giving evidence again, while 74% would actively volunteer to do so. By all accounts it is exhilarating to appear before a Committee. Over 90% of those who gave oral evidence found it ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ enjoyable. However, 53% also said it was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ intimidating. Yet only a small fraction (14%) of those feeling intimidated did not enjoy the whole experience. Over four-fifths of oral evidence-givers agreed that they had been given the opportunity to put their points across and that the chair guided the session well; over two-thirds believed their session to be ‘very’ focussed and well-organised, the remainder thought that only that it was ‘somewhat’ so. Those who only sent in written evidence were even more keen to give evidence again (81%) than those who appeared before a Committee (67%).

To some extent what is in it for different people probably depends on who they are and what they are looking for in the process. While our survey could not reach many of the private citizens who offer (mainly written) evidence, 62% of our respondents gave evidence on behalf of an organization (private firms and charities were the most common) and 28% were academics and professionals. Overall, 69% overall believed that giving evidence enhanced the status of their organization. Evidence-givers from trade associations, trade unions, charities and think tanks were especially likely to think so, but those from private companies were less likely. Interestingly, academics and other experts were also less likely to believe that giving evidence enhanced their professional standing (60%).

The feeling that evidence-giving has an impact appeared to be main cause of satisfaction overall. These feelings were much stronger among those who appeared in person before the committee. Not surprisingly, 58% of oral evidence givers believed their evidence had a moderate or big impact on the Committee’s report, compared with 22% of those submitting written evidence only. Even so, in light of the fact that the Committee inquiries we surveyed had dozens or even hundreds of items of written evidence, it is remarkable that only 23% of written evidence-givers believed that the Committee had paid no attention at all to their evidence. For oral evidence givers this number was much lower at 6%.

Of course, there were many negative views about the whole Select Committee system among those that submit evidence. Public criticism has focused most on frequent allegations of a gender imbalance, London dominance and the preponderance of ‘usual suspect’ elite individuals and organizations amongst those called to give evidence by Select Committees. However, perhaps surprisingly, the narrowness of the views consulted by Committees was not a particularly important reservation among our respondents – 16% agreed that the range of evidence before the Committee was too narrow. Paying too much attention to some witnesses at the expense of others (30%) was a more common criticism. And among oral evidence givers, 25% of our respondents believed that MPs had a clear view of the conclusions they would reach irrespective of the evidence presented.

Negative views of the process seemed to be significantly related to the impact that evidence givers felt they had on the overall report. We looked at those respondents who said negative things about the Committee inquiry (too narrow in its evidence base, unbalanced assessment of the evidence, disagreed with the thrust of report it produced). These sentiments seemed closely related to people’s perceived impact. Amongst respondents who felt their evidence was not taken into account 87% of those expressed some form of negative opinion compared with 25% of people who claimed a moderate effect on the report. Amongst respondents claiming that their evidence had a big effect on the outcome only 10% expressed one of the three criticisms above. Those who saw their own impact on the report as less substantial were also far more likely (46%) to regard Select Committees in general as ‘political theatre’ than those who believed their evidence had a big impact (4%).

Moreover it is the perceived impact on the Committee of the evidence giver rather than the impact of Select Committees on policy that appears to be most important here. Asked about the impact on policy of the Select Committee’s report 75% of evidence givers estimated it as small or moderate, with 11% saying it would have no effect. Just 7% said it would have a big effect. Yet this ‘realism’ did not have as strong an impact on overall views of the process as perceived impact on the report.

When thinking about reforming Select Committees a wide range of suggestions have been put forward, mainly covering attracting or selecting the right sorts of witnesses – especially so as to increase diversity, and attract the best experts. There are also views on how to make the process of receiving and giving evidence more efficient and enjoyable, and how Select Committee reports might be given greater influence over government action. Much of what we know and believe about how Committees work is heavily influenced by the single largest group of evidence givers, namely civil servants and other government officials. When we cast aside the shadow of this group we see something rather different and generally quite upbeat. The upbeatness, incidentally, extends to a better gender balance among external witnesses. Without the male-dominated Whitehall and Westminster contingent, the proportion of women witnesses is 42%, rather than the 34% generally quoted.

Keeping these external witnesses onside is the key to developing Select Committees’ future effectiveness as a crowdsourcer of expertise and ideas. Showing respect for evidence-givers – by Committee chairs and members acknowledging their contribution to the Committees’ finished work – appears to be the key to keeping wider publics keen to participate. This respect appears to be more readily shown to the oral evidence-givers invited to Westminster than to the written evidence-givers.  But still they come.

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Note: In March 2019 The LSE GV314 Group conducted a survey of those from outside government, excluding MPs, ministers and civil servants working directly for national government. It looked at those giving evidence to House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committees which had more than 30 witnesses in the year from autumn 2017, and three House of Lords Committees with large numbers of witnesses reporting in the same period. The response rate was 56% with a yield of 919 responses (733 referring to the House of Commons and 186 to the House of Lords).

About

The LSE GV314 Group is a group of final-year undergraduate students at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In each academic year the Group members conduct a new survey on a policy-relevant aspect of UK governance as a quarter of their final year in BSc degree.

Ed Page is the Sidney and Beatrice Webb Professor of Public Policy at the Department of Government, LSE, and runs the GV314 ‘Empirical Research in Government’ course. His most recent book is The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Public Policy and Administration (co-editor).

 

 

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Tory leadership love-in creates more warmth than light

LONDON — Billed as the “final showdown” between the two men vying to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, the last Conservative leadership hustings turned out to be more sickly love-in than gladiatorial combat.

For Conservative Party members who will choose the next prime minister still wavering over whether to back Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, in the final reckoning on Monday, there was little to divide the two privately educated senior Tories.

With their positions and debating lines now well rehearsed after nearly a month of clashes, the evening generated more warmth than light.

Both made it clear they would not accept a hypothetical five-year time limit to the Northern Irish backstop (even though the EU is offering no such change to the Brexit deal). Both agreed that the U.S. has taken the wrong approach to the Iran nuclear deal. And both condemned President Donald Trump over his attack on four congresswomen of color — although they refused to call it explicitly “racist.”

Voting in the Tory leadership contest begun 10 days ago, meaning many of the 160,000 Conservative members have already cast their ballots ahead of an announcement on July 23. Johnson is the strong favorite, according to several polls of party members, but for those who are yet to decide, it will likely come down more to character as opposed to any stark policy dividing line between the two candidates.

On course for no deal

With eyes on a largely pro-Brexit Tory electorate, both candidates at the event hosted by the Sun newspaper and TalkRADIO took a hard line on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Johnson repeated his vow to leave on the Brexit deadline of October 31 come what may while Hunt stuck to his more flexible stance on that deadline. But as the race has gone on, the foreign secretary has hardened his rhetoric on other aspects of the U.K.’s departure from the EU.

One route mooted by some in the Tory party as a way to get MPs to back the backstop would be to give it an expiry date. But even if such a time limit could be negotiated with Brussels — a doubtful proposition — neither candidate said it would make the deal currently on the table more palatable.

Asked if he would accept a five-year time limit on the Northern Irish insurance policy, Johnson answered “no to the time limit, or unilateral escape hatches or all of these kind of elaborate devices, glosses codicils and so on you could apply to the backstop,” which he went on to describe as an “instrument of our own incarceration within the customs union and the single market.”

Hunt, who supported May’s deal with the backstop, declared the “backstop as it is is dead.”

“I agree with Boris, I don’t think tweaking it with a time limit will do the trick,” he added.

Message to Trump

The two men also agreed on their approach to Trump. Perhaps chastened by accusations that last week that he had not stood up to the U.S. president over his attack on British Ambassador to Washington Kim Darroch (Trump had called the diplomat a “pompous fool”), Johnson was more forthright over Trump’s latest Twitter blast.

The former foreign secretary condemned Trump’s attack on Democratic congresswomen of color at the weekend as “totally unacceptable,” adding that he could not understand why the U.S. president had made it.

Trump tweeted Sunday that the four women, who “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” should “go back” and fix issues in those countries before telling him how to run the U.S. government.

Trump’s tirade was directed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, who were born in the U.S., and Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the country as a refugee from Somalia aged 12.

“It is totally unacceptable in a modern multi-racial country which you’re trying to lead,” Johnson said of U.S. president’s remarks.

Asked multiple times whether he thought the remarks were racist, Johnson refused to condemn them as such. But he said: “You can take from what I’ve said what I think about Mr. Trump’s remarks.”

Hunt also refused to describe the comments as racist, but said it was “totally offensive … that people are still saying that kind of thing.”

Those comments may come back to haunt both candidates with a president who has shown he rarely forgets or ignores a crossed word from overseas partners.

And both men acknowledged several times the importance of the relationship with Washington. Earlier, Johnson said he wanted to do a quick trade with the U.S. and suggested that such an agreement would be an opportunity to raise standards in U.S. agriculture.

Asked if he would accept chlorine-washed chicken from the U.S. into U.K. markets, something that is highly controversial with British consumers but the U.S. has made clear it wants, Johnson said he would not.

“I’m not in favor of importing anything from the U.S. that involves lower animal welfare standards or lower hygiene,” he said.

“We should use [a trade deal] as an incentive to lift their standards to match ours,” he added.

Most trade experts expect a post-Brexit U.K. as the far smaller economy to have a weak bargaining position in trade negotiations with the U.S. and so be forced to accept most demands from Washington in order to do a deal quickly.

Immigration clash

The most stark difference of the night between the two contenders was over immigration.

While Johnson, who led the Vote Leave campaign with a pledge to “Take Back Control,” refused to “play a numbers game” when asked about immigration levels, Hunt said people had voted Brexit “with an expectation that overall levels of net immigration would come down.”

“I believe that people would think we were betraying the spirit of that Brexit referendum if we didn’t find a way of bringing down overall numbers,” he said.

With Johnson the clear favorite to take the keys to No. 10 Downing Street, Hunt — perhaps with a view to keeping his job as foreign secretary — appeared to pull his punches rather than go after his rival.

At one point, Johnson was being grilled over whether his partner would move into No. 10 with him. Hunt tried a joke about the Brexiteer figurehead moving in next door to him if Hunt won the top job — a reference to the traditional residence of the U.K.’s finance minister, the chancellor of the exchequer.

Despite the bonhomie, the olive branch did not pay off for Hunt. Johnson refused to return the favor of an implicit senior job offer.

Boris Johnson: Trump’s ‘go home’ attack was ‘totally inappropriate’

LONDON — Boris Johnson, the former U.K. foreign secretary, said Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Democratic congresswomen of color was “totally unacceptable,” adding that he could not understand why the U.S. president had made them.

“It is totally unacceptable in a modern multi-racial country which you’re trying to lead,” he said of U.S. president’s remarks at a Conservative party leadership debate hosted by the Sun newspaper and Talk Radio, although he refused to condemn the tweets as “racist.”

Trump tweeted Sunday that the four women, who “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” should “go back” and fix issues in those countries before telling him how to run the U.S. government.

His tirade was directed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, who were born in the U.S., and Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the country as a refugee from Somalia aged 12.

Asked at the debate multiple times whether he though the remarks were racist, Johnson — who is the front-runner in the contest to be the U.K.’s next prime minister — refused to condemn them as such. But he said: “You can take from what I’ve said what I think about Mr Trump’s remarks.”

“You simply cannot use that kind of language,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, a spokesman for Theresa May said: “The prime minister’s view is that the language used to refer to these women was completely unacceptable.”

Johnson’s rival for the leadership, Jeremy Hunt, who is the current foreign secretary, said it was “totally offensive … that people are still saying that kind of thing.”

The final debate of the leadership campaign was a largely chummy affair, with both candidates agreeing more than they clashed. At one point, Johnson approved of a point Hunt had made on Brexit. “I like the way you’re talking, Jeremy,” he interjected, before Hunt joked back: “Good, good. Join my Cabinet, Boris.”

Earlier, Johnson suggested that a post-Brexit trade deal with America would be an opportunity to raise standards in U.S. agriculture.

Asked if he would accept chlorine-washed chicken from the U.S. into U.K. markets, something that is highly controversial with British consumers but the U.S. has made clear it wants, Johnson said he would not.

“I’m not in favour of importing anything from the U.S. that involves lower animal welfare standards or lower hygiene,” he said.

“We should use [a trade deal] as an incentive to lift their standards to match ours,” he added.

Most trade experts expect a post-Brexit U.K. as the far smaller economy to have a weak bargaining position in trade negotiations with the U.S. and so be forced to accept most demands from Washington in order to do a deal quickly.

UK ministers fear prison riots after no-deal Brexit

The U.K. government is concerned that a no-deal Brexit could lead to prison riots over food and medicine shortages, according to a consultancy contract awarded by the Ministry of Justice.

The document raises the prospect of “severe consequences” if contingency measures are not carried out by civil servants.

The concerns are revealed in a Brexit consultancy agreement worth £458,000, seen by POLITICO, that was awarded to the consultancy firm Ernst & Young in January but only published by the government last week. Yet the document, detailing advisory work on “successful mitigation of risks of EU Exit,” was not properly redacted by officials, meaning that sections intended to be cut from the text released publicly could still be read.

The improperly redacted sections laid out that Ernst & Young would work with the department and other areas of government to push forward contingency plans for either an orderly Brexit with a withdrawal deal or a no-deal scenario.

In the event of no deal, it said: “Not progressing these actions plans could have severe consequences for MoJ Operations, e.g. unrest in prison because of undersupply of foods or medicines.”

“This shocking revelation is yet more evidence of the threat a no-deal Brexit poses to our justice system” — Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon

“A clear understanding of the ‘real’ operational impact of a ‘no deal’ is necessary to prioritize mitigation actions. Refining the focus of planning efforts is imperative to ensure that the most critical contracts can continue undisrupted post EU Exit,” the contract reads.

The redaction error also revealed the names of civil service personnel working on the contract, including the commercial director who signed it off.

After POLITICO approached the department with questions about the contract, the link to the document was removed from the government’s contracts database.

Former Justice Minister Phillip Lee, speaking on behalf of the anti-Brexit People’s Vote campaign, said: “It’s clear that no deal would be disastrous for our country, and it would be a democratic outrage for any prime minister to try and force this on us without the consent of the people. Botched redactions like this just show how desperate the Government has become.”

He added: “No one voted for unrest in prisons, shortages of food supplies or any of the other indignities that could result from a disastrous no deal. This is yet another example of how the Brexit being delivered is a million miles away from the one that was being promised in 2016.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “This shocking revelation is yet more evidence of the threat a no-deal Brexit poses to our justice system.”

“From ending access to the European Arrest Warrant, to our prisons being up for grabs by American corporations in a post-Brexit US trade deal, it is clear that a no-deal Brexit risks further damaging our justice system which has already been weakened by nearly a decade of cruel Tory austerity.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke last week told the Commons a no-deal Brexit risked “significant impacts across the justice system, including potential disruption to goods and services to our prisons.”

A spokesperson for the department did not directly address the concerns about the potential for violence in prisons, but said: “The Government has responsibly been preparing for ‘no deal’ for the last three years, including to ensure the continued supply of food and medicines in such an event.”

“The very purpose of this contract and our wider planning is to minimize disruption to the justice system.”

Ministers have laid out a scheme to reserve shipping capacity for medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which it believes will allow for uninterrupted supply assuming everything goes to plan.

Justice Secretary David Gauke | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The department also pointed to the resilience of the food supply chains when hit by adverse weather and transport issues, and noted that officials had been meeting regularly with industry to ensure Britain is prepared for Brexit.

The contact between the MoJ and Ernst & Young was signed in January under the assumption Brexit would happen on the original exit date of March 29. It was later updated after the departure was delayed to state that it would last “as long as necessary” up to March 2020.

Previous Brexit-related government contracts have included monitoring consumer trends of evidence of stockpiling, diplomatic training for civil servants and extra ferry capacity (from a company that had no ships).

Ernst & Young did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

FROM BEHIND THE PAYWALL – Cats and Dogs

FROM BEHIND THE PAYWALL – Cats and Dogs

There are times when even a snarky sketch writer hits one of those proverbial nails on the head and deserves the accolade of figuring in our “FROM BEHIND THE PAYWALL” rubric. 

Moreover, as it’s the weekend of the Wimbledon Finals – and didn’t the marvelous Roger Federer do well to reach the final yet again, and that at age 37! – and as we’ve had enough of the relentless Remain machinations, we deserve a little humourous respite. 

So without further ado, here’s what Michael Deacon, the Parliamentary sketchwriter of the Daily Telegraph had to say. The title hints at letting cats out of bags: “Sorry Boris, but Britain won’t reunite after Brexit. If you want to know why, ask a cat” (paywalled link) – but if you thought it was advice about Boris having a chat with Larry of 10 Downing Street, never mind roping in Palmerston, the cat of the Foreign Office or even Gladstone, the cat of the Treasury, then you’d be wrong. So – see this:

“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have both promised to “unite the country” after Brexit. This will of course be impossible, for a simple reason. The referendum didn’t just divide us politically. It divided us by personality type. You can no more unite Remainers and Leavers than you can unite cats and dogs.

I say cats and dogs, because that, more or less, is what Remainers and Leavers are. Take dogs. Dogs love family and home, and feel a strong sense of loyalty and duty: their instinct is to protect and to serve. As a rule they’re happier in the countryside than in crowded, bustling cities. They’re sociable, but wary of outsiders. Essentially, their values are conservative. Dogs are Leavers. Leavers are dogs.

Cats, by contrast, are solitary, aloof, and fancy themselves as elegant and urbane. By their own estimation, they are far more intelligent than dogs, whom they regard as dimwitted and easily led. They love cities, and insist on freedom of movement. Essentially, their values are metropolitan liberal. Cats are Remainers. Remainers are cats.

Come to think of it: I would bet any sum you care to name that conservatives are more likely to own dogs than cats, and that liberals are more likely to own cats than dogs. Some enterprising young sociologist should research it.

If you’re wondering which domestic animal represents the Corbynista Left, incidentally, the answer is the goat. Vegetarian, bearded, terrible temper.”

Nice one about goats representing the Corbynista Left, especially as goats tend to leave nothing behind when let loose in a garden or veggie patch: it’s tabula rasa. They devour the fruit of the gardeners’ and growers’ labour, just like all socialists.

Before we descend into the inevitable cat-and-dog fight about which one is best, let’s spin this game of animal representation a bit further.

Sheep would represent the metro-elite, the dwellers inside the M25 who know best but are in fact just like the bleating flocks who follow wherever the current leading ewe goes. And of course they keep on bleating loudly to make us all aware of their existence. 

But what animal represents the dwellers inside the Houses of Parliament? I’ve compared them to peacocks. Perhaps that’s too pretty, but let’s stick with it. Anyone who has been exposed to peacocks’ mating cries will know that the comparison is apt.

Our ‘leaders’, the Whitehall Mandarins, are of course donkeys. What else could they be!

We must also give honourable mention here to the squirrells. They proliferate in the headlines of the MSM and in social media but their antics have become predictable and boring by now. 

That brings us to the question: are Remainers really cats and are Leavers really dogs? It is tempting, at first glance, to concur with Mr Deacon’s findings, but after a second glance I do not agree. 

Cats simply cannot be Remainers because they are indeed individualistic. Yes, they fancy themselves as urbane, elegant and intelligent – but it’s precisely these attributes which preclude them from being like the herd-like Remainers.

And are Leavers really like dogs, ‘easily led’? Any dog owner knows full well that dogs are anything but ‘easily led’. They know that, generally, it’s the dog who has trained their human. Still, dogs are indeed thoroughly conservative and won’t take lightly to any changes.

Like cats, you cannot herd dogs. Just you try! Collies who might consent to produce a show, giving the impression that dogs can be ‘herded’, do so only because it pleases their humans, demonstrating what excellent show-offs collies can be.

So – what animal then represents us Leavers?

Well, there’s only one, isn’t there! We’re the lions, going quietly and sometimes lazily about our business, but when called by necessity: hear us roar, and never ever mess with us.

Enjoy the weekend!

 

 

The post FROM BEHIND THE PAYWALL – Cats and Dogs appeared first on Independence Daily.

Beer, Boris and Brexit

LONDON — It’s shortly after midday and Playbook is in the pub with Boris Johnson, just as news breaks that Kim Darroch has resigned. To his credit the man who, barring a miracle, will shortly be confirmed as Britain’s next prime minister still has a pint at the ready. He waggles a finger at one of his aides to get me a drink. “I’m not having a pint if Blanchard’s not having one,” Johnson says good-naturedly.

The pub is the Metropolitan Bar by Baker Street station, and Boris is here as part of his campaign tour to meet Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin — a fellow veteran of the Vote Leave campaign. When did Johnson last have a pint at lunchtime, I wonder? “More recently than you’d think,” he chortles into his glass. “Don’t put that in.” He drinks half and leaves the rest.

Booze meets news: The interview was meant to be focused on beer and Brexit. But just as we’re sitting down, the dramatic news breaks that Kim Darroch has resigned as British ambassador to Washington. Johnson gives a hurried statement to the BBC team recording the visit, praising Darroch’s record and condemning the leaker who brought him down. It’s a fresh crisis for his campaign team, and as the afternoon pans out he will be blamed by his opponents for failing to back Darroch to the hilt in the previous night’s TV debate. But Boris is unfazed, and in no mood to back down. He defends his approach to the crisis when we discuss it at length, and even voices support for Donald Trump’s aggressive tweets. More of that in a moment.

First things first: First we talk pubs, obviously. Along with Nigel Farage, Johnson frequently tops polls of politicians people would most like to go for a pint with. Given his celebrity status — not to mention the enormous security detail standing by the door — can he actually still go to a pub if he wants to? “Oh yes,” Boris says, clunking down his pint. “There are times when you can basically get away and do your own thing.” Does he have a favorite pub in London? Boris doesn’t exactly strike me as a Wetherspoons kind of guy. “That’s a bloody good question. The pub in London where I’ve spent the happiest, longest …” Johnson trails off wistfully. “There’s a wonderful pub right next to the Spectator. I’m going to get its bloody name wrong — it’s something like the Duchess of York or the Duke of York. It might be the Duke of York. (It might also be the Two Chairmen or the Westminster Arms.) “We used to go round and have lock-ins there when I was editor of the Spectator. Because that was a job which was eminently compatible with drinking a pint at lunchtime. It was essential.”

Weighting game: Johnson says he’s enjoyed a long and happy relationship with alcohol, and rues the six weeks he gave up drinking last year. His chief complaint while sober was dealing with other drinkers, and “how long it takes people to get to the point of their jokes” after a few glasses. I wonder if it at least helped him shed a few pounds? Not enough, apparently. “I’ve got to lose weight,” he says. “I need to get back on the treadmill … My bike is now a pathetic object propped up against the railings of Portcullis House.” Being prime minister is not going to help, I suggest. “Well, we’re not measuring the curtains or discussing the …” An aide interrupts the well-rehearsed line, handing me a pint of lager in a continental-style glass. Boris is not impressed. “That’s not a pint. Is it? Oh it is. Well, cheers.”

Playbook had liquid lunch with the man set to be Britain’s next prime minister  | Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images

Beer or wine? “I’m a wine man really,” he says. Can he recommend me a good bottle? “Yes I can,” he says instantly, bubbling with enthusiasm. “It’s called … erm …” He stops. “Erm … ahh… Oh god. Wait a mo, wait a mo, wait a mo, wait a mo, wait a mo. It’s absolutely amazing. Bugger bugger bugger. It’s gone completely out of my head. It’s Italian. Wait — I’m going to find it for you.” Johnson pulls out his iPhone and hunts manically on Google. “It’s not Tempranillo. But it’s some word that ends in ‘illo.’ Hang on. Not pillow, brillo. Hang on, hang on. Wait a mo. It is absolutely delicious.”

Fit for a princess: The answer, when it comes, is not focus-group approved. “Someone was trying to … Someone bought me a crate of it, and I had no idea how expensive it was, and I was just, you know, glugging it back.” He stops. “Erm, I should be careful what I say.” “Drinking moderately?” an aide suggests helpfully. “Drinking it moderately,” Boris nods. “And it turned out that it’s literally £180 a bottle. It’s extraordinary stuff. But I mean it was delicious.” The wine in question, he says, is called Tignanello, a favorite of the Duchess of Sussex. “I discovered later that it was the favorite wine of Meghan Markle,” Johnson says excitedly. “I discovered it by Googling. I was so amazed by this wine, I thought — what is this stuff? And it said it was Meghan Markle’s favorite.” The venn diagram of things popular among both Boris Johnson and Meghan Markle must be quite small, I suggest. “Yes,” he chuckles. “I don’t know what conclusions you can draw from that.”

Sin tax error? Johnson has no plans to reduce alcohol duties, however. “I think I’ve made enough tax-cutting pledges in the last few days,” he says, a little wearily. The look on his face makes you wonder if the £3,000 tax cut for high-earners — heavily criticized by Jeremy Hunt in Tuesday night’s leadership debate — has landed quite as he had hoped.

Un-populism: By now, other punters in the pub have clocked who’s in here. One shouts an excited hello as he walks past, another collars Boris after the interview for a jovial chat. But I wonder if the public reaction in this Remain-voting city is always so rosy. I vividly recall watching a crowd of drinkers outside the Red Lion shouting abuse at Johnson as he cycled out of parliament, midway through the 2016 referendum campaign. Johnson is philosophical about the reactions he inspires. “It’s got better,” he insists. “London, interestingly, has got better. You’ve got to remember about political popularity and unpopularity, they’re both — as I think someone like Rudyard Kipling once pointed out — equally specious. Popularity is as unearned and undeserved as unpopularity, in the end. What you are doing is standing up for a certain set of views or ideas, and those will be unpopular with one lot at one moment, and then you’ll win people over.”

Unity candidate: Johnson clearly believes he can still be a popular prime minister, despite the extreme reaction he triggers in, ooh, about 48 percent of the population. He recalls the negative response when he launched his run for London mayor in 2008, and how it switched over the course of the campaign. “People were really quite nasty to me in the street,” he says. “And then that all changed. It goes up and down.” I tell him all the polling shows he is now both extremely popular and extremely unpopular at the same time. He starts to laugh heartily. “That’s, erm, that’s probably true of most relationships,” he says, presumably talking about his own. “That’s how human beings often relate to each other.”

The pub is the Metropolitan Bar by Baker Street station, and Boris is here as part of his campaign tour | Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Brussels: There are places where Johnson is definitely not wildly popular. Brussels, for example; plenty of other EU27 capitals, too. Yet Johnson has made renegotiating Theresa May’s Brexit deal the central platform of his Brexit plan. Why on earth does he think EU leaders will bend further for him than they did for May — a woman they actually quite like and respect? “For several important reasons,” he says. “First of all, politics has changed since 2016. They know Britain has to come out now, they know we are serious about no deal. They know they have now got 29 Brexit MEPs in the European Parliament — I’m not certain they want to have Ann Widdecombe lecturing them about their deficiencies. They have the incentive of the £39 billion [divorce bill payment].

And there’s more: “They also have a government in London which is willing to think very differently. Don’t forget the backstop was very much a construct that proceeded from the brains of the Treasury and those who fundamentally wanted to keep us in the customs union and in the single market. That was its intellectual origin. I approach this from a very different perspective — a much more open-minded view of how we can come out. I don’t think we need to be lashed to these institutions in the way that Theresa’s government did.”

From Russia with love: I start to ask another question, but Johnson is piqued by the idea he is disliked in Brussels. “I love Brussels!” he interrupts. “And all these people in Brussels who say …” He pauses. “It’s not true. I had great friends in Brussels, I had great relations with people around the table at the European Council.” I point out the various quotes from senior figures angry at his 2016 referendum campaign. “Well, lots of people slag me off — but look at all the deals we did with them,” he says. “To get 153 Russian spies expelled — the French, the Germans, the Italians all came to the table. And that was a big thing to ask. For a country that’s leaving the EU, asking them to incur the wrath of the Kremlin is a big thing to ask, and they did it. And they knew I had been specifically charged with doing it. If they really had something against me … I had to spend hours on the phone to all of them, and we got it done.”

The grand tour: Johnson will not confirm he is planning a tour of European capitals in the first weeks of his premiership — though you’d think some whistle-stop diplomacy must surely be on the cards. “I don’t want to raise expectations about how we do it,” he says. “We will be very humble and very, very firm. Whether that means doing another great tour, I don’t … We will work out our position and if I’m lucky enough to be elected we will offer them a great deal, and we’ll get ready for no deal.” No-deal preparations, he adds, will start in earnest on day one of his premiership.

So what’s his message to EU leaders? “The United Kingdom is passionately pro-European, but we do not seek continued membership of the EU institutions and we want to leave,” he says. “We want to devise a new partnership based on friendship and intensified bilateral relations with Germany, with France. In some ways I think the bilateral relations have been hollowed out because everything is done through Brussels. Let’s rebuild those partnerships, let’s be much more positive about it.”

No-deal preparations, Boris Johnson says, will start in earnest on day one of his premiership if he’s elected | Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images

Now let’s get serious: We get onto the meat of the interview. Why did he not voice more support for Kim Darroch in Tuesday night’s TV debate? “No, I did,” Johnson protests. “I said I believe very strongly that civil servants should not have their views leaked.” But you didn’t say you’d keep him in his job, I tell him. “No, but I think it’s totally, totally wrong to drag the career prospects of a civil servant into a political debate,” Johnson says. But maybe people want to see a leader sticking up for their own side? “I made it very clear that under no circumstances would anybody else take a decision about who is going to represent the U.K. I was absolutely categorical about that. And for the record I am a long-standing admirer of Kim Darroch. And I say furthermore that if Donald Trump can make friends with Kim Jong Un, then he can make friends with Kim Dar-roch.”

Kindred spirits: I move onto Trump’s extraordinary tweets about Theresa May, which Johnson has also failed to condemn. “Well, I haven’t actually studied them,” Johnson says. I am  incredulous — but Johnson insists he does not follow Trump’s utterings on Twitter. “The honest truth is I am not a great Twitter person,” he confides, quietly. Then he suddenly springs into life. “What did he say? Tell me what he said! Come on, what’s the worst thing he said?” Caught off guard, I get my phone out and start to hunt for the offending tweets. He, erm, he said her Brexit deal was a disaster, I venture, stalling for time as I scroll through my phone. Johnson chortles: “Well, I can’t dissent from that. What else?”

The Don: I read out the offending tweets — May’s approach was “foolish,” the outcome a “mess,” her “wacky” U.S. ambassador a “very stupid guy.” I want to know if our next prime minister is going to respond to that kind of attack from the president of a foreign power. “I think most people feel …” Johnson begins to flannel. What do you feel, Boris? “I feel … I don’t want anybody else telling us what to do. Or anybody else criticizing our government, I suppose is my feeling. But if you ask me whether I think the Brexit negotiations have been brilliantly handled, I don’t think so.”

Modern-day diplomacy: Is it appropriate for the president to talk about our prime minister like this? “Look …” You’re not going to stick up for her? “No, erm. I think the president was clearly being undiplomatic. But he has strong views about Brexit and he has strong views about the deal.” Aren’t you taking Trump’s side? “No — I think, probably, from the point of view of those of us who want to get Brexit done and make a great success of it, it would be fair to say this is a debate that’s best conducted within the U.K. … But you know – the president has his style and his approach. We all have our style and our approach. If you consult the record I have said all sorts of things about all sorts of people around the world. But when it comes to the context of what the president has said about the Brexit deal, I find it hard to disagree.” Welcome to the new world order.

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