The Brexit update, with queens and cash and prime ministerial groping

Okay, the title included a bit of clickbait. We’ve only got one queen involved. And the cash? It was a grant, not folding money. Sorry. I’ve gone sleazy and commercial.

Before Britain’s supreme court ruled that it was illegal for the prime minister to shut down of parliament, the lone queen in question asked for advice on whether and in what circumstances she could fire a prime minister. That may not sound like much, but this is Britain. The queen’s supposed to be above politics. She gets to to wave vaguely at the masses as she wafts from ceremonial occasion to ceremonial occasion. She allows prime ministers to fawn on her and then does what they tell her to.

Sorry–advise her to do.

But.

According to the i, “It is a quirk of the British constitution that the Queen retains a number of personal discretionary powers which include the right to appoint the prime minister and other ministers. A House of Commons select committee established in 2003 that these powers also include a right for the sovereign in a ‘grave constitutional crisis’ to act contrary to, or even without, ministerial advice.”

Tuck that possibility away at the back of your head and wait to see where it leads us.

And now a brief interruption while I offer a bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re starting a newspaper, don’t name it the i. You’ll end up with reporters writing phrases like “i understands” and “i has now been told.”

You has been warned.

What else is happening? Parliament’s back in session and members of parliament are being threatened with murder and rape. The MPs who get the most threats are women, especially if they’re black or from some other minority group, and especially if they speak out much, although black and other minority group men get them too. In 2016, an MP, Jo Cox, was both shot and stabbed by a man who considered her a traitor to white people, and her death hangs over parliament–or at least over the MPs who are being threatened. I can imagine that some who aren’t targets think the ones who’re complaining are just being emotional.

You know what women are like.

One MP said the threats she receives echo Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit rhetoric about surrender and betrayal. When challenged about ramping up tension, Johnson said the best way to honor Jo Cox was to get Brexit done. 

Cox was a remainer, making it a Trumpian moment. It doesn’t matter what you say as long as you say it with confidence.

In the meantime, Johnson has been telling the world at large on the one hand that he’ll obey the law and on the other that the country will leave the EU by the end of the month. Since the law he’d been asked about says he has to ask for a Brexit extension by October 19 if he doesn’t have a deal with the European Union, and since getting a deal’s about as likely as him standing up to sing Faustus (and singing it well, mind you) in the House of Commons, you might wonder how he thinks he can manage both. 

The answer, according to some observers, is likely to be the Civil Contingencies Act, which New Labour passed in 2004. It gives the prime minister special powers in a national emergency. 

What’s a national emergency? Well, children, it’s a situation that threatens “serious damage to human welfare” or the environment in the UK. That includes war or terrorism that threatens “serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom.” The threats could include disruption to transportation or to the supply of food, money, energy, or health services.

Are any of those threats on the horizon? There are suggestions that Brexit could cause some of them, but pre-Brexit I don’t see them happening. Still, a feller can always hope, and I expect Johnson is hoping.

What kind of powers are we talking about? Power to create emergency regulations that “may make any provision which the person making the regulations is satisfied is appropriate for the purpose of preventing, controlling or mitigating an aspect or effect of the emergency in respect of which the regulations are made.” 

The act has more detail and some restrictions, but we’re civilians here. That’s close enough. Or if it isn’t, you can follow the link and read more.

The wording strikes me as broad and the limitations badly defined–especially that business about what the person making the regulations is satisfied is appropriate. If I happen to be prime minister (I’ll sing Faustus if I ever am, although I don’t promise to sing it well) and if I’m out of touch with everyday reality (which I’ll prove by singing etc.), what I’m satisfied is appropriate isn’t going to be much of a guide to responsible action. 

What I’m satisfied about also can’t be demonstrated. Haul me into court for dropping bombs on rival parties’ conferences and I can shrug my shoulders and say I was satisfied it was appropriate. No one else was inside my head, so who can prove otherwise?

MP Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative and a former attorney general, said it would be a “constitutional outrage” to use the act in the current situation.  But assorted cabinet ministers have warned, with a gleam of hope in their eyes, that Britain can expect civil disorder along the lines of the French gilets jaunes protests if the country doesn’t deliver Brexit by the end of October. 

Opposition figures have accused them of trying to whip up exactly what they’re warning against. 

While all that’s been going on, Parliament refused to take a break for the Conservative Party conference. That sounds spiteful, and it is, but as the Scottish National Party pointed out, parliament’s never taken a break for their convention, only for the ones held by the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats. So okay, fair enough. If you piss off enough MPs, they’re going to take their revenge any way they can.

That didn’t stop the Conservatives from holding a conference, it just left the major players shuttling awkwardly between the conference and parliament.

Outside the crumbling halls of parliament (and that’s not a metaphor; the building’s falling apart), a scandal from Johnson’s days as mayor of London has crawled out of the archives. An American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, received thousands of pounds from a government agency that Johnson controlled, and he made sure she went on trade missions with him that other participants say she was clueless about. In giving Arcuri’s company a grant, the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport waived a rule that no grant could be for more than half of the company’s revenue. 

It’s also supposed to give grants only to companies based in the U.K., but although her company has a U.K. address it has a California telephone number, calling into question where it’s based. Reporters showing up at the address were told it had only just moved there.

Arcuri told friends (who apparently told the press, as friends will, but only if they’re true friends) that she and Johnson were having an affair. 

Johnson could have declared an interest when the grant was considered, taken himself out of the voting, and come out of this squeaky clean, but he didn’t. And so he isn’t and the whole thing’s been referred to the police.

Arcuri lent her company £700,000 just before it won a £100,000 government grant and it’s not clear where the money came from. The company had almost no income and her other companies are either in the red or have been dissolved. And she’s being sued in the U.S. for an unpaid student loan. 

Johnson’s financial backers are also hitting the headlines. His sister said, “He is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit–and there is only one option that works for them: a crash-out no-deal that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.” 

So there’ve been calls to investigate that as a conflict of interest.

Not enough scandal for you? Have no fear, we have one more lurking at the bottom of the bag. A journalist, Charlotte Edwardes, has accused Johnson of groping her under the table at a lunch when he edited the Spectator. Afterwards, she told the woman (we don’t know who that was–yet) sitting on Johnson’s other side what had happened and the second woman said he’d done the same to her. 

Johnson denied doing any such thing. 

Tune in next week (or tomorrow; or the day after; I have no idea when enough insanity will pile up to justify another post) for the next exciting installment of Brexit Britain.

73 thoughts on “The Brexit update, with queens and cash and prime ministerial groping

          • Let’s get them testifying or dodging and feinting in public, under oath. Then we will see who wants to risk their reputation and future life for this failed mafia don.
            I just looked up the book Entitled. Does not seem easily available in California so I’m adding it to my trip book list along with the last part of Tim Pears’ trilogy, The Redeemed, and anything else I can find in charity shops by Pears. In 2012 I grabbed three sale books in a shop on Market Jew Street (I bring up that name as often as possible in conversation just to hear the gasps; turns out to have nothing to do with Jewish people but is like so many British names just a mishmash of ancient words) in Penzance and ended up learning a great deal about post-war Poplar and the Docklands area from Call the Midwife but the TV series doesn’t make me happy. Pears paints an interesting picture, both brutal and warm, of rural Devon and Cornwall in the early 1900s. I’m right in the middle of the middle novel, The Wanderers. I’m sure Entitled will give me a good look at the filthy rich once I get my hands on it. Hoping for a good used book shop in Alfriston and/or Lewes. My son had an encounter with the privileged children from the distant parts of the royal family about 20 years ago in Cambridge when he was on a business trip to London. He’d been shown an office and offered a job but after that trip up to Cambridge he happily turned it down but would never detail exactly what happened. Mention it to him and disgust is written all over his face. Maybe Entitled will clue me in. Now turning my attention back to the two rescue kitties I’m enjoying for another day before I go home and do nothing but trip prep. One last scattershot comment: about 30-40 quail come waltzing along each evening here and spend 30 minutes or so hanging out on the patio. Oh boy! Do the kitties think that is riveting!!

            Liked by 2 people

            • I never have figured out the origin of the name Market Jew Street. I wince at it anyway, just on the assumption that I wouldn’t like it if I did know. I can’t help it.

              Entitled’s a fairly recent book, so not a good bet for used bookstores. It starts before the Norman conquest, so liking it depends on a fascination with background. Have a great trip.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Love background. Really love it. I saw that it was published in June but I’ll do a little used snooping first. I’m sure it is at Foyle’s, maybe not Hatchard’s. :)

                Liked by 1 person

  1. England ,has never really gone in for Hallowe’en celebrations. Certainly not to the American extent .But with the Johnson promise of ending the Brexit debacle by the end of this month, I think we could have the Yanks knocked into a cocked hat when it comes to this year’s tricking or treating.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Things are not that great over here on the west side of the pond either.

    I still don’t understand how an unwritten constitution can have anything in it at all, least of all quirks, and if it does, how does anyone know. And how two people could agree on what it said, when , since it is unwritten, it does not say anything.

    But on the other hand, we have s written constitution and no two people can agree on what it says, or means, either.

    But all of my ancestors left Great Britain between three and four hundred years ago, do I am somewhat out of touch with how things operate there.

    Thanks for the update, and I look forward to the next one.

    With baited breath. Or not.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, the unwritten constitution thing baffles me to. It’s not exactly unwritten, though. It consists of judicial precedents, assorted agreements, other stuff–in other words, lots and lots of writing. The problem is, which bits of writing? Where does it start and stop? But you make a good point about the problems of a written constitution.

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      • I know they have court decisions and laws they go by. I was just wondering why they call it a constitution? More tradition, I suppose.

        I am really surprised that they may get the queen to fire the prime minister. I know she asks the prime minister to form a government, and she signs all new laws. Now you say if she fires him the parliament and the nation will abide by her decision. That all just amazed me.

        If it is in the constitution, I guess it is true.

        Whatever works.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I never thought to wonder why they call it a constitution. It’s a good question. I’m not even sure where and when the idea of a constitution originated.

          I expect that whatever the queen does, people will accept. Don’t ask me. She’s the queen. People seem to take that seriously.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for making me smile about a situation which really is laughable, were it not for the fact that it is so serious. If you’re going to hell in a handcart you really don’t need a crazed buffoon driving the cart, but that’s what we have. He seems to following the Numpty Trumpty playbook very closely, so no doubt we’ll be having threats of civil war in the next day or so. But it’s good to know that our sex scandals are beginning to match the USA’s grab them by the….. and all that.

    On a lighter note, I love the irony that the Tory conference is taking place in a building across which they have plastered their ‘Get Brexit done’ mantra – a building which was part-funded by £3.7m from the EU 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Politician pays tart from public funds…why not resurrect the far more damaging cronyism of Johnson when Mayor of London, ignoring scientific advice and introducing an age limit for taxis 1n 2012 with the excuse of limiting pollution….the new taxis – shown to be equally polluting – supplied by a firm headed by his friend and fellow Tory Tim Yeo. A lot more than 100,000 quid at stake there, but no tart involved so no press interest.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Because it’s a scandal people can get their heads around, I suspect. Those are the ones that bring politicians down. I’m glad you mentioned the cab story, though. I hadn’t heard a word about it.

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        • My partner, who in some ways has more patience than I do, has made herself listen to a variety of people explaining the reasons behind their votes and political beliefs. Some of them would make you weep. Everything from the clothes politicians wear to what someone’s father used to say–and the someone in question is around 60 by now and, you’d think, old enough to develop a few thoughts of their own.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Well that’s that. I’ve tried ever so hard to think Boris was just a bit superior, smarter, more likely to refrain from corrupt practices than Trump because he had a superior education which I assumed he took seriously. I’ve known this is a flawed view but, as a child of parents who quit school after tenth grade and being the first and only one of a lot of cousins who went to college and a pretty good university at that, I had to believe that education was about more than learning to extract wealth from my fellow humans. It had to be about, oh, you know, building a better world, etc. These two louts and all their cronies just make me feel distraught with all the damage they are doing to the world while they feed their big egos and fill their personal coffers, not to mention how hard they make it for me to cling to my view that education can make you a better person (stupid and naive, I know). I think I’ll stick to cream teas and museums when I arrive in a week, probably with fingers in my ears and a few tears of naive disappointment. Greta Thunberg said it: How dare they?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cream tea. Museums. A street market or three if you’re that way inclined. In spite of the government, which seems dead set on wrecking it, it’s a wonderful country.

      I’ve been reading a book about the aristocracy, called, appropriately enough, Entitled. It would convince you, if you need convincing, that they’ve never been about anything but enriching themselves and expanding their power. I don’t know if this still applies, but there was a time when a gentleman was expected to get a C grade. Anything more–well, I expect it would make him look like he’d put some effort into it.

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  6. First of all, God Save the Queen – for all the faults of the monarchy, apparently she still has a brain to her name. Making her more aware than a third of her Former Subjects Over Here.
    The comparisons are SCARY. Even down to the groping…and the threats against and murders of Those Damned Others.

    Liked by 1 person

      • No problem. They were slightly different, so I thought, what the hell, let ’em both through.

        Listen, a friend just let me know that WP is asking her to sign in to leave comments. It shouldn’t–the comments are set so they’re not supposed to do that. Could you email me (ellenhawley@yahoo.com) so we can work through what’s going on? I’m hoping to put together enough information to let them figure out what’s going on. Thanks.

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  7. God Save the Queen – because, for all her faults (and that of the monarchy in general) she apparently still has some functioning brain cells – more than about a third of her Former Subjects Over Here-in wondering about getting rid of the PM. There are other comparisons that are scary indeed – from the threatening and even killing of Those Damned Others to the groping. Trick or Treat indeed !

    Liked by 1 person

    • What, the woman who was groped? There are a thousand reasons people don’t speak up at the time, and a hundred thousand to speak up when you’re ready to. Or have I misunderstood you?

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    • Greenland, as far as I can figure out, left in an entirely sane way, with treaties and agreements and cooperation. We seem to think we can just flounce out the door as if it was a party and someone had spilled wine on us and the next morning everything will be the way it always was except that our imports and exports will be stuck at the border and–oh, you know, all that stuff.

      That doesn’t address the question of whether we should leave at all. A lot of our protective legislation–environment, food, working conditions, human rights–are European. Replacing all that hasn’t been addressed, and I’d guess that a lot of Leavers don’t want it replaced. And then there are all the EU citizens who aren’t being given leave to remain, although many of them have lived here for years and have British families. The process has been arbitrary and callous. I’d love to say shockingly so, but really it’s pretty much what you’d expect. I wish I could be shocked by it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Seems to me a second referendum on the whole Brexit idea could give many politicos an easy out–but maybe their financial schemes are more compelling than being seen as responding to public opinion. I am betting (God willing and the Queen don’t rise) if Boris just plunges on, Scotland will vote to secede. Kind of a domino process but, oh well, given history, who could blame them? Sorry, not much humor, but “such a parcel of rogues in a nation”…

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      • It should not have happened, he was a good Prime Minister especially in reforms he made and money spent on health, indigenous and women’s rights, and education reforms.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Australian_constitutional_crisis

        The Governor General who sacked him was in communication with the Queen throughout, and historians here are always trying to get hold of the actual correspondence. They get blocked by The Palace who claim it is personal correspondence, which of course it is not.

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        • Whooo. There must be something interesting in there and now you’ve made me want to see it too. It does sound slightly different, though. With a governor general in place between queen and PM, she could–as she generally does–simply ride on the advice given her. In this, she’d be stepping off that path and making a move of her own–something that no British monarch’s done in many a year.

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  9. Ellen, how you manage to be so deeply informative, while entertaining us ADD-afflicted Internauts. and slyly modelling grammatical self-assurance… ?!
    Two thoughts: 1) the gilets jaunes as bogeyman. Not to minimize their grievance or impact, they have come nowhere near to seriously disrupting France. Perhaps because France has such a long history of absorbing street actions, like an inflatable punching-bag. 2) the market speculation referred to by BJ’s sister strikes me as the scariest and most ominous, most corrupt and cynical force behind naked Brexit. I suppose international speculators, esp in the US, are lined up as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The US health-care companies (for-profit, of course) are positively drooling over the NHS, and I’m sure other vultures are circling as well. But the simplest scandal for us all to get our heads around is the public money going to a woman Johnson slept with. The smallest scandals are the ones we can understand, I think.

      It’s interesting, what you say about the gilets jaunes. (It took me three tries to get the spelling right on that, and a bit of intervention from a friend; French spelling has never felt natural to me. I think I finally got it right.) Where was I? In the papers, they seems tremendously disruptive. I guess it’s the difference between being there and reading about it. If you report on it, you cover the story, which involves focusing only on the disruption. Thanks for giving me a different perspective.

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