The Brexit update, with elections

Britain’s went into election mode this past week, and I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but let’s do some background first.

Before we could schedule an election, first we had to argue about whether to have an election, and if so, when and how. And by “we,” of course, I mean “them”: Our politicians and their many, many advisers. Parliament had to agree before anyone could schedule an election.

At one point in the wrangling, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, threatened that if parliament wouldn’t agree to hold an election before Christmas the government would do only the bare minimum. Then, faced with headlines about the government going on strike, he backed away from the threat, but he did say he’d park his Brexit bill until an election was scheduled. 

I’m reasonably sure that was to keep parliament from tacking amendments onto it. The whole point of trying to shove the bill through in three days, as he tried and failed to do, was to get the beast through unexamined and unamended.

Yeah, we’ve been champions at cooperation and compromise lately. 

In the meantime, the European Union agreed to a three-month Brexit extension, although it can be shorter in the unlikely situation that we all agree on anything other than how terrible the weather is. With that announcement, we all drew a deep breath and started using up the three cans of tomatoes and six cans of baked beans that every household had stockpiled in case of a no-deal Brexit emergency. 

As far as I know, no one’s drawing down their private stockpiles of medication. And since my partner and I both hate baked beans, we don’t have any to use up. Some other household has our portion stashed away and is responsible for using it up. These things all average out.

While everyone was focused on the election that we might or might not have, a leaked document showed that, in spite of vague governmental noises about maintaining EU standards on workers’ rights and the environment, the Department for Exiting the European Union has drafted plans saying that “the government is open to significant divergence from EU regulation and workers’ rights.”

That should matter to us all, but it hasn’t gotten much attention. So little of the important stuff has. We act as if Brexit was a yes / no question when in fact it’s not even multiple choice, it’s an essay test.

Another thing we’re not paying much attention to is the report from a cross-party parliamentary committee about Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum. The committee expected Johnson to approve and release it. The government’s saying it always takes more time than that. The committee says, “Oh, no it doesn’t,” and the government says, “Oh, yes it does.”

And if that doesn’t sound like a joke, keep reading. It’s a British thing.

Cue accusations of a cover-up.

Cue denials of a cover-up.

Some of the wrangling over whether to hold an election was focused on whether to hold it on December 9th or December 12th. The theory is that this matters because on the 9th more students will still be at their universities, where they’ll be more likely to vote. Parties that appeal strongly to younger voters wanted the election on the 9th and parties that appeal to older voters wanted it on the 12th. 

No one’s motives are pure.

It’ll be on the 12th. 

Holding an election right now is a massive gamble for everyone. Polls show the Conservatives–Johnson’s party–with a lead but nothing like a majority. That should make them (relatively) confident, but they’re not. And there’s no reason they should be. They went into the last election with a lead in the polls and lost ground. And Johnson’s a wild card. A new scandal could emerge at any time. And he was tightly controlled during the campaign for party leadership, but he’s the kind of guy who could have a meltdown this time around. 

Another problem they face is that Johnson hasn’t delivered Brexit by October 31, which he swore he’d do and which will almost surely allow the Brexit Party to eat into the Conservative lead. 

As for the polls, they can be deceptive. Among other things, what matters is the number of votes each candidate gets in each seat, so a nationwide lead may not translate into a majority in parliament. If that’s not clear, I’m sure Hillary Clinton can explain it.

So the party was split over calling for an election. Johnson might’ve done better to push ahead with the Brexit deal he negotiated. In the British system, parliament packs up and goes home before an election and all the bills under consideration die. The bill would probably have gathered amendments he didn’t like, but according to Chris Grey’s Brexit Blog, he could have dropped those later on. I can’t explain how that would have worked and Gray doesn’t seem to think he needs to, but he’s a hell of a lot better informed than I am and I’m going to trust him on this.

Some Labour MPs are also hesitant about an election. The polls show them behind the Conservatives. On the other hand, in the last election they did better than they were expected to do and they’re hoping that rabbit’s still in the hat. They’re scuffling their hands around at the bottom, feeling for fur.

Meanwhile, the smaller opposition parties–the Liberal Democrats; the Scottish National Party; probably the Greens–want an early election. They look like they’d benefit from it. 

All the parties, however, are publicly predicting great and wonderful victories. 

Before the election date was set, we were sprlnkled with so many reasons that holding an election before Christmas would be a problem that they fell upon us like fairy dust.

First, polling places are getting harder to book, especially since they’ll be competing with Christmas shows, especially pantos. 

For anyone who isn’t British (or isn’t from a country that picked up the custom from Britain), I’d better explain that: A panto is a form of kids’ theater. They start around Christmas time, run for a while afterwards, then go dormant for the rest of the year so everyone can recover. They’re (very) loosely based on fairy tales. The leading woman is (wildly over)played by a man. At some point, the audience is expected to yell, “He’s behind you” while some clueless character wanders around doing everything but looking behind him- or herself, and at some other point two characters will fall into an exchange that runs something like, “Oh, yes I will,” / “Oh, no you won’t.” After the first half dozen repetitions, it starts to be funny. Or maybe I laughed so hard because it wasn’t funny. It’s hard to say why it works.

That long digression was to make the point that one problem with a pre-Christmas election is that the pantos may get a larger audience than the election itself. This election really does matter, and a lot of people feel that. On the other hand, we’re all sick to death of everything linked to Brexit. 

Will most people vote? Oh, yes they will. 

Oh, no they won’t. 

Oh, I haven’t a clue. 

Second (we were counting problems with a pre-Christmas election, you’ll of course remember), the postal workers just voted to go on strike sometime before Christmas. I don’t think a date’s been set yet, but if it comes at the wrong time absentee ballots will be held in purgatory until such time as the strike is settled. 

Third, the less time is left between an election being declared and an election being held, the more polling places cost to rent. That cost falls on local governments, which have been starved of funds for the past–um, sorry, this involves numbers. Austerity started in late 2008. I’ll leave you to figure out how long that’s been.

Weighing against all those negatives is the possibility that the election will end the parliamentary gridlock. 

Of course, if it does (and that’s a big if), no one knows which side the change will favor, and once the new parliament is in place it won’t have much time to figure out (a) what if anything it can agree to and (b) how to do it before the next Brexit deadline.

No one knows if Brexit will be the only issue deciding how people vote. Voters themselves may not know yet. If it is, the Liberal Democrats (anti-Brexit) and the Brexit Party (pro) can be expected to pick up votes from Labour and the Conservatives, even though no one (possibly including the two parties themselves) has a clue what they stand for on other issues.

I’ve mentioned before that both Labour and the Conservatives are deeply split over Brexit, but they’re not the only ones who are split. We’ve had a nationwide sale on divisiveness lately, so everybody’s splitting with somebody and every available party is bitterly divided on something. (With a few smallish exceptions, but less not mess up a good image.) The People’s Vote Campaign, which has been pushing for a second referendum, is badly divided, with firings, walk-outs, threatening letters, and calls for the chair to resign. On the other side, the Brexit Party split from the UK Independence Party (better known as UKIP) some time so. Since then, UKIP has burned through leaders faster than the Catholic Church burns through candles. And the Brexit Party was split over whether to contest every seat or stay out of some races to keep from siphoning votes from the Conservatives. It’s too early to say whether some residue of that division still hangs over them.

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Setting aside all the important implications of this election, it means that unless something startling happens I’ll stop doing Brexit updates for a while. I may even start sleeping late.

But before I set Brexit on a top shelf where it can gather dust, a quick note to readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to argue with me about Brexit posts: I appreciate your willingness to stay with me when you disagree and I appreciate it that you’ve bothered to argue. It’s not easy to read opinions you disagree with, and at least for some people it’s not easy to argue. Thanks for doing both.

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In case you’re staying up nights wondering about this, members of the House of Lords can’t vote in British elections. The queen can but in the interest of neutrality doesn’t.

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At least some people had trouble following the emailed link to Friday’s post about the Jacobite Rebellion, and I’ve asked WordPress to help me sort out the problem. I may end up re-posting that to make sure it reaches everyone. If you get it twice, my apologies.

The (short) Brexit update, with pumpkins

It gets weirder over here by the minute. First, the House of Commons passed Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill. Only that wasn’t a decisive vote. It was the bill’s second reading, which is (the name’s a bit misleading) the first chance the Commons gets to debate a bill. If a bill passes the second reading, all that means is that the Commons approves the general principle of a bill, and then–at least in any normal situation–it goes to a committee, which considers all the clauses, the amendments, the commas, the footnotes, and the implications. Then the Commons can make a more informed decision.

But Johnson was demanding that the bill go through all its stages in three days, one of which had already been mostly used up, so it was second hand by the time the schedule was put to a vote. Commons would have to forget the commas, the clauses, the 110 pages of text, the fact that the chancellor had refused to issue any prediction about the agreement’s economic impact. To keep up with the schedule, the bill needed to leave the ball before the horses turned into mice and the coach turned into a pumpkin.

Why? Because Johnson said Britain would be out of the EU by Halloween and he had his sizeable ego caught up in this thing. Which is convenient, since it gives me a headline. 

We’ll cut to the chase here. After the bill passed its second reading, the commons voted down his timetable, at which point Johnson said he’d withdraw the bill and call for an election. Then he said he’d pause the bill but Britain would still leave by October 31.

He also said he’d talk to EU leaders about an extension–preferably a short one. Donald Tusk, the EU council president, has said he’ll recommend a three-month extension that can end earlier if a deal is finally completed.

Do we have an election coming up? Hard to say. Johnson would love to leave the ball right now, if only to return with a new dress, two slippers, and a mandate. Do you know how awkward it is to run around in one high-heeled slipper, especially a glass one with no flexibility? On the other hand, he may think he can get his deal through, in which case he’ll want to do that first. 

Will Labour support an election? Possibly. The experts are still reading the tea leaves on that.

Most predictions are that any election would return another deeply divided parliament, but I wouldn’t recommend putting money on any of this. 

The Brexit update, with some old lady’s bananas

Saturday–that’s yesterday as I write this–was the big day: A special session of parliament was set up to vote of the Brexit deal Boris Johnson had negotiated with the European Union. It was the moment when we were finally going know what was happening.

Or not, as it turned out, because a majority of the MPs didn’t trust Johnson enough give him a simple vote.

Let me explain, because nothing in the Brexit saga is simple. Ever. In fact, let’s (almost) open with a quote from an unnamed cabinet minister, who said, “I really have no idea what is going on.”

Yeah, I know just how you feel. So if halfway through the update, you feel a heavy fog taking over your brain, obscuring clear thought, you’re right up there with the experts. And no, I’m not claiming to be one of the experts,it’s just that I can get befuddled with the best of them.

So, what happened on Saturday? The government proposed its version of Brexit. I won’t go into the details because I did that in the last update and I don’t want to send you all screaming into the sunset. Let’s sum it up by saying that if Theresa May had proposed it, the people who now support it–or negotiated it for that matter–would have denounced it as one step short of treason.

Okay, maybe two steps short. But that kind of hysterical language has been flying around the halls of parliament and the pages of the press.

And you know what? I keep getting search engine questions about British understatement. But it’s not all understatement here. It’s “surrender bill” and “big girl’s blouse” and I’ve already cleared my mind of the rest of the abuse.

Sorry. Where were we? A version of Brexit was put before Parliament and everyone was counting noses. Each member of parliament comes equipped with one nose except for the MPs representing Sinn Fein, who refuse to take their seats because they refuse to recognize Britain’s right to govern any part of Ireland. They may have noses–that has yet to be established–but they weren’t being counted.

According to all counts, the vote was going to be very, very close. 

But before we could find out what the vote would’ve been, a cross-party amendment was tabled, called the Letwin amendment, by people who don’t trust Johnson to walk from one side of the street to the other without pulling some kind of fast one. You know, disappearing up the side of a building; stealing the bananas at the top of some old lady’s grocery bag; that kind of thing. These are, basically, the same MPs who’d passed a law–the Benn act–not long before that was meant to block the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

The problem was, they saw a possible loophole in the Benn act, and presumably Johnson did too, because he kept trumpeting to the press that he wasn’t going to ask for the extension the Benn act demanded. A smarter wheeler-dealer might’ve kept that to himself and pulled his stunt at the last minute, but Johnson loves a headline. “See those bananas?” he kept saying. “I’m gonna have those. Watch me.”

The loophole was this: If Johnson’s deal was accepted on Saturday, the requirements of the Benn act would be satisfied and Johnson wouldn’t have to ask for an extension. But if the enabling legislation didn’t get passed in time, Britain could still crash out of the EU. 

“Look, Ma, no hands! We’re gonna crash out!”

So the Letwin amendment withholds final approval until all the legislation implementing the deal is in place.

We’ll take a shortcut or two here, skipping a bit of the drama, and just say that the amendment passed. 

What happened next? Johnson said he wouldn’t negotiate a delay with the EU. What did he do instead? He sent an unsigned letter to the EU requesting a delay, along with a signed one saying why he thought they should ignore the first one. That may still land him in court, because the law requires him to ask for a delay. 

The government–or at least one of its ministers–is still insisting that Britain will leave the EU by October 31.

The government says it will hold a vote on the Brexit deal on Monday, but it’s not at all clear whether the speaker of the house will allow it. He has, in the past, ruled that the government can’t keep bringing defeated proposals back. 

The government could also try to tackle the enabling legislation.

What’s clear at this point is that an amendment for a second referendum will be proposed. If it passed, this would give the country the choice of staying in the EU or accepting the form of Brexit the government’s negotiated. It looks like Labour–which has been dancing around a commitment to the second referendum–will propose it. I don’t think anyone’s had time to count noses or to make sure no one’s coming in with a few prosthetic noses.

By now, everyone’s exhausted with the endless Brexit maneuvering, but Chris Grey, in The Brexit Blog, makes a good point about why it’s happening: “At the core of the entire row over Brexit, “ he says, is the problem that “as soon as [Brexit] gets defined in any particular way, some who support it in principle do not support it in that version.” The Democratic Unionist Party wants one version, the handful of Labour Brexiteers want something very different, and (he argues) the Brexit Party is so invested in the politics of protest that “nothing can ever live up to their fantasy.”

And that covers only a few of the grouplets that have to be corralled before the government can assemble a majority. 

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In deference to all the good people who are sensitive about old ladies and bananas: I’m 72. I’ve earned the right to make fun of old ladies. And if Boris Johnson thinks he can get his mitts on mine, I invite him to try.

What the world wants to know about Britain, part 18-ish

Parliament

the ceremonial mace

Ah, yes, the ceremonial mace, the symbol of “royal authority without which neither House [that’s the Commons and the Lords] can meet or pass laws.” (That’s a quote from parliament’s official website.)

Why can’t they meet or pass laws without it? Because that’s how it’s done. Grab the thing and take it home with you and you bring business to a screeching halt. If Boris Johnson really wanted to stop parliament from meeting, he could’ve tried it. It worked for Cromwell. 

a dozen pubs in parliment

At least. Also two A’s. 

mps wearing ties

This at least gets us away from questions about MPs wearing stockings, which is a nice change. Yes, MPs who are of the male persuasion are expected to wear ties. It’s boring, but it’s true.

Irrelevant photo: One rose.

what is the robe that house speaker wears

It’s–um, it’s a robe. Not like a bathrobe type of robe but like–well, it’s called a gown, so a gown type of robe. The current speaker broke with tradition by dressing in an ordinary suit (and yes, a tie, and I’m sure shoes and undies and all that predictable stuff) with the gown over it. That’s instead of wearing what’s called court dress underneath, which is more formal and infinitely more absurd and which speakers before him wore. On high ceremonial occasions, he wears a gown with gold braid.

History, biology, geography

why was great britain created

Well, the mommy britain looked at the daddy britain and thought he was–not exactly handsome, you know, but interesting. And the daddy britain looked at the mommy britain and thought she was someone worth getting to know. Not beautiful exactly, but green and pleasant, and there was just something about her that he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that’s how great britain was created. At first it was called little britain because it followed the traditional pattern of being born small and slowly getting bigger, but as it got older it took after the mommy britain and grew up to be a green and pleasant land. And larger than both its parents. That could be because by then growth hormones were being fed to the cattle, but no one knows for sure.  

is there such a country called britain

Not exactly. The country’s called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, known to its friends as the U.K. The Great Britain part of that is that big island you’ll find floating around between Ireland and Europe. It includes Wales, Scotland, and England. And Cornwall if you care to count it separately. Those are nations but they’re not (at the moment–check with me later to be sure we stay up to date) countries. That nation thing is about separate cultures. The country thing about government.

As a political entity, Britain doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t keep politicians from talking as if they were governing it. 

Brexit

brexit and metric

I’m sure someone out there is counting on a triumphant, patriotic return to imperial measures if we leave the E.U., but I doubt it’ll happen. First, changing over is expensive. Second, British businesses will still hope to export (once they wade through all the paperwork) to metric-speaking countries, and it’s easier to export when you share a set of measurements. 

Assuming, of course, that rational minds prevail. 

Stop laughing. It’s been known to happen.

metric except for

…the things that aren’t. Miles, for example. Beer. A random sampling of other stuff. Instead of repeating what I’ve said better elsewhere, allow me to refer you to myself

eveeything you need to know about brexit

Oops. I think I did make that claim, although I’m pretty sure I had another R in it somewhere. The thing is, we can’t take me seriously. No one knows everything we need to know about Brexit. Especially the people who said it would be simple.

So what’s Britain really like?

great in great britain

Yes, I am doing great here, and thanks for asking. Hope you’re doing great as well, wherever you may be.

why back roads in englane are so narrow

Because they’re back roads–the ones not a lot of people drive on. The ones that don’t need to be as wide as the main roads. 

percentage uk people fishn chips or tikka masala

This is, I’d guess, a question about what percent of the British public prefers which, and it drives me to comment not on the topic itself but on the nature of search questions–or of questions in general. Does liking one mean you don’t like the other? Can a country include people who love both or neither? If the answer to the first question is no and to the second is yes, then there’s no way to do a head count.

If, of course, anyone cared enough to bother.

But let’s assume they do care and rejigger the question: As a way of checking in on the great British eating machine, once we find a way not to make this an either/or question, we can’t give people only those two choices. We need to allow for the impact of sausage rolls (and lately, vegan sausage rolls) on the British culture. And pasties. Do we include sweet stuff? Breakfast food? Lunch? Supper/dinner/tea/confusingly named evening meal?

What are we trying to measure here, and what are we going to learn if we get an answer to our questions?

do women lawyers in wales wear wigs

They do. Which means the men lawyers do as well. Some political powers have been devolved to Wales, but their legal system’s still English. Why? Because history’s a messy beast. So if English lawyers of whatever gender wear wigs in court (not in the office; not in the bath; and not in bed–I assume–or on the train), so do the lawyers in Wales. 

In spite of devolution, I’m 99% sure that Scotland and Northern Ireland haven’t gotten rid of them. Maybe if Scotland leaves the U.K., it’ll reconsider. 

I had other wig-related questions to choose from, but I’m tired of wigs. Let’s talk about something else.

throwing of currant buns

That happens in Abingdon-on-Thames on royal-related occasions. Allow me (apologies) to refer you to myself again for what I used to know on the subject but forgot as soon as I published it. 

two finger up in britain

The plural of finger is fingers. If you’re using two of them, you need to topple from the singular into the plural. But I suspect that wasn’t the question.

What was the question?

are english public schools a good thing for education in this country

No.

That was easy.

If things that came from or made in britain were called “british,” something that came from or made in flanders were called ________________________

Flandish.

You’re welcome.

question is berwick upon tweed at war with russia

Answer: No. Sorry. But you could form an organization and push Berwick to declare war. Never underestimate the power that a small, committed group of people can have to make the world a better place. If the search engine questions that wander in here are any measure, a fair few of you are concerned about the issue.

who is berwick on tweed at war with

No one, but that could change any minute now.

what color are mailboxes in england

The same color as in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. And Cornwall, which is to say in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: red.

Random

amazon

Why did this come to me? Because I am bigger than Amazon. And better.

The Brexit update, with a virus

As usual, Brexit’s a mess. Here’s what I’ve been able to sort out. 

Boris Johnson has worked out a Brexit deal with the EU, but don’t ask the marching bands to tune up just yet. It still has to get a majority in parliament and everybody’s counting noses to see if it stands a chance. 

At the moment, Johnson has a working majority of minus 40. Nope, I didn’t make that up. Finding a majority for the deal depends on four key groups:

The Democratic Unionist Party–a small but crucial Protestant party in Northern Ireland–isn’t supporting the deal  

Why not? Because it would align Northern Ireland with EU trading standards and customs, leaving an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The open border is considered crucial to keeping the peace in Northern Ireland, which nobody really want to mess with. But keeping that open border means creating a border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

A border between Northern Ireland and Britain is a red line for the DUP. Or a red flag. They’re unionists. Their primary commitment is to keep Northern Ireland in the UK. A border between Northern Ireland the Britain means–or they believe it would mean–that Northern Ireland becomes increasingly Irish and decreasingly British.

The current deal would give the Stormont Assembly–Northern Ireland’s governing body–the right to end or renew the arrangement periodically, but (unlike the last proposed deal) it would only need a simple majority to renew it. Since pro-EU parties have a thin majority in Stormont, we can assume that it would be renewed. 

Not that the Stormont Assembly’s been meeting in recent years.

Are you following any of this? The more I explain, the less sense it seems to make.

Next group? Hard-core Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. The going belief has been that they’ll take their cue from the DUP, although since Johnson’s one of their own he may be able to sweet-talk them. Or he may not. The interesting thing here is that the elements they objected to in Theresa May’s deal–all focused on the Irish border–haven’t been resolved.

Why not? Because they can’t be–not if you want to both placate the DUP and keep an open border in Ireland. But Boris makes all the right noises, from the hard Brexiteers point of view, even though he’s offering them less than Theresa May’s deal did. 

They may back him or they may not. 

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.”

Of course, he also said, “I didn’t say half the things I said.”

Third group: MPs who Johnson expelled from the Conservative Party. Talk about awkward conversations. Some of them are nervous about being stampeded into an agreement that they haven’t had time to look at in any depth. 

So what’s the rush? Johnson wants to say he got a deal before October 31. 

Why does that matter? Only because he said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than ask for an extension.

Some members of this group are saying the current deal is worse than the one May negotiated–which Johnson voted against. Twice.

Others will probably vote for it. This is far from a unanimous group.

Final group: Pro-leave Labour Party MPs who want, at a minimum, to maintain the EU’s standards on employment, consumer, and environmental regulations and rights. Dump those and the government’s likely to lose these votes. Johnson has said he promises to uphold “common high standards,” but I’m not clear whether this is politically binding or just rhetoric. 

The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is warning that the deal risks “triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.” Whether that warning will bring this group back into the fold is anyone’s guess. The Labour Party–like the Conservatives–is deeply fractured.

An additional group of MPs may vote for the deal if it’s combined with a second referendum, where people are given a choice of this deal or staying in the EU. It’s not clear whether Labour would back a second referendum at this point.

To anyone who’s frustrated with parliament’s gridlock (and who isn’t?), a comment from The Brexit Blog comes as a timely reminder that parliament’s a pretty fair reflection of the country as a whole. In an assortment of polls, no single solution has a majority.

How would people vote in a referendum? The poll results are inconsistent One puts no deal at 34% and staying at 22%. Another has staying at 34% and no deal at 23%. The answers depend in part on the range of choices offered and also, quite possibly, on the sampling method. Or maybe we’re all too dizzy by now to give consistent answers. 

Does it make sense to hold a second referendum when people already voted to leave? It may be the only way out of this mess. No one, during the first referendum, had a clue what leaving meant–including, based on the evidence, the people running the Leave campaign. So setting an actual deal in front of people and saying, “Is this what you want or should we call it off?” has a certain logic. 

Meanwhile, anti-Brexit campaigners have filed a suit to block the government from putting the deal in front of parliament. A BBC article says, “They believe it contravenes legislation preventing Northern Ireland forming part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.” They’re also asking the court to write to the EU on behalf of the government asking for an extension, using a power called nobile officium. Which sounds like something out of Harry Potter but, as far as I can tell, isn’t.  

Parliament’s expected to meet on Saturday to consider this mess. That’s also when the government’s expected to release the details of the deal.

According the the Independent, Brexit has already cost the British economy £70 billion.

In the meantime, I have a stinking cold and haven’t managed to be funny about any of this. Blame it on the germs. 

The news from Britain: gin, scotch, and the gender pay gap

With climate change threatening grain crops, researchers have isolated a gene in barley that will–thank all the gods you may or may not believe in–ensure that the world’s supply of scotch is safe for the foreseeable future. 

The gene is one of more than 39,000 and it helps barley survive drought. Or to be more accurate about it, “when it’s prominently expressed” the plants are better able to survive drought, so resistant crops can be planted in the future. Assuming that the extreme weather that barley-growing regions face will be drought, not flood, although a mix of the two isn’t out of the question.

The new plants will, presumably, also be good for the food supply, although that didn’t make it as far as the headlines.

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Irrelevant photo: California poppies. Californians or not, they grow well in Cornwall and once you get a few going they’ll self-seed. Generally in places where you didn’t want them but they don’t object to being moved.

The pope got stuck in an elevator in the Vatican in September. Not for all of September, just 25 minutes of it. I hope I’m not the only person who finds that funny.

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Unrelated to that (although I’m sure I could manage a very nice segue here if I cared enough), a Catholic school in Tennessee pulled all the Harry Potter books out of its library because “the curses and spells in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

A group of parents wrote to a local radio station anonymously, questioning the ability of the priest responsible to “critically assess and discern fact from fiction.” They didn’t question his use of the semicolon, but they should  have. It’s diabolical. And also wrong.

As far as I can remember, J.K. doesn’t include a spell for removing a pope from an elevator (or a priest from a school). If she had, I’d write the pope (he’d be thrilled to hear from me) and recommend the books. 

There’s your segue, at the end instead of the beginning, but in troubled times like these, you take your segues where you can get them.

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In all my coverage of Brexit, I haven’t mentioned the demonstrators–pro and anti–who gather outside parliament and make noise when the newscasters turn on their mics and try to explain the latest Brexity zigzags. At least one of the demonstrators plays bagpipes. Others bellow. And one–. I’m going to have to quote from the Guardian here, because it puts it gorgeously. It talks about “the largely inexplicable presence of a man with a glockenspiel playing the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars.”

Which is one way to get your voice heard, even if no one knows what your voice is trying to say.

Or maybe he’s just found a place to practice his glockenspiel where he won’t annoy his family, just the reporters.

*

A truck (that’s American for lorry) carrying 7,039 gallons of concentrated gin was in an accident in Cheshire in September. If you need that in liters, it’s 32,000, although I suspect someone’s rounded it up or down to the nearest something or other. Once you get past the first shot or six, you don’t really care, do you? 

Concentrated gin? It was news to me as well. According to the Langley Distillery, the distilling process produces something that’s “between 78%-82% ABV and cannot be used alone to make gin. We blend the concentrate with neutral alcohol, to create high strength gin that is reduced with water to bottling strength.” 

The missing 22%-18% in that first sentence is made up of adjectives that the distellery lovingly applies later in the description but we can’t afford them this late in the evening, so we’ll stagger home without ’em. 

ABV means alcohol by volume, so 82% should be enough to put us under the table nicely enough.

Neutral alcohol? Oh, hell, you don’t want to know. Or maybe you do but I don’t. It’s stuff you put in gin. What’s more interesting is that the concentrate is flammable, and the local fire and rescue folks spayed it with fire retardants to keep it from going whoosh. 

I had a moment of thinking I was living in a land flowing not with milk and honey but with gin and fire retardant–or gin and fire retardant and drunken, fire-proof fish–but no. Not all of those 7,039 gallons leaked out. They managed to control the leak and pump the remainder into another tanker. 

The BBC reported that people sat in their cars for up to four hours while police, fire fighters, and local drunks worked to clear up the spill. 

*

The head of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s social media team, Chloe Westley, defended someone or other against charges of misogyny by saying that young women have been “misled by feminists” into thinking they were being discriminated over pay. 

The full quote is, “Young women in Britain are being misled by feminists. Take the stories over the weekend based on ‘Equal Pay Day’. We’re told that there is a ‘gender pay gap’ between men and women, and that this is due to rampant discrimination. But this gap is simply a comparison of the average salaries of men and women: it’s not indicative of any kind of discrimination.” 

So why does this happen? Why, women’s choices, of course. Silly creatures that they are, they chose to have biological equipment that allows them to get pregnant, and a significant number of them use it. Then instead of putting the kids in a dresser drawer till they get home from work, they stay home to keep the little creatures alive. Or they pay startling amounts of money so someone else can keep them alive and go back to work, but when the kids get sick what do they do? They stay home with them. Why? That dresser drawer’s still available. 

No wonder they get paid less. If men carried on like that, I ask you, where would the human race be?

*

Jacob Leeks-Mogg” took second place in a vegetable characters competition. It’s a spoof of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and now famous for lounging on the Commons benches during a Brexit debate, more or less as seen here. 

_108811928_capture.jpg (660×473)

“Jacob Leeks-Mogg.” Thanks to Deb Croxford for sending me a link to this deathless piece of art, which has either wilted or been eaten by now.

*

Meanwhile, in the U.S., two scientists in New Jersey found a baby two-headed rattlesnake. Since both scientists are named Dave, they named the snake Double Dave and took it into protective custody. Two heads, it turns out, are not better than one. They make the snake slow, and since they both operate independently they sometimes fight over food, not understanding that it doesn’t matter who swallows the food, it goes into a shared digestive system.

There’s a moral in there somewhere, for all of us.

The snake wouldn’t be likely to survive in the wild.

*

And since we’re dropping in on other countries, a cult theory holds that Bielefeld, Germany’s twentieth-largest city, doesn’t exist. Don’t ask me to explain how this started, but the joke’s been going for twenty-five years and the city is now running a contest, offering a million euros to anyone who can prove that it doesn’t exist. 

Bielefeld climate change activists are offering the same amount to anyone who can prove climate change isn’t happening.

*

In France, a court ruled that a rooster named Maurice can keep crowing. A couple–retired farmers, ironically–had complained about Maurice, and the case has been working its way through the courts for two years, sparking a social media I am Maurice campaign.

Other complaints about rural noises have targeted frogs, cicadas, ducks, and geese. 

Humans are a difficult species.

*

Before we leave, let’s go back to Britain for a feel-good story. Bradford was once home to a bustling Jewish community, but the 2011 census records only 299 residents who identify themselves as Jewish. (It’s hard to know what that means, since the question might have been about religion or it might have been about ethnicity. But never mind–that’s a side issue.) Bradford’s lone synagogue was down to 45 members and almost shut down in 2013, when the cost of fixing the roof outran the outran the money it could raise. (Forgive me for even bothering to say this, but some people still need to hear it: Whatever you’ve been told, not all Jews are rich. We cover the full economic spectrum. And, oddly enough, we don’t run the world.)

What happened next was that the Muslim community (129,041 in the 2011 census) stepped in and raised the money, which led to a lottery grant that covered other repairs.

The connection was made by a Muslim self-taught photographer, Nudrat Afza, a Pakistani immigrant who became friends with the synagogue’s 93-year-old chairman, Rudi Leavor, who came to Bradford as a refugee from Nazi Germany.

You can see a few of her photographs of the synagogue here and other photos here. She’s good. And she’s been made an honorary member of the synagogue.

And that story should echo out into a small and perfect silence. Hold it in your heart.

The Brexit update, with shampoo

We’ll get to the shampoo, but first let’s wade through enough bullshit to get our hair nicely dirty. To wit:

The British government told a Scottish court that it would ask the European Union for a Brexit delay if it can’t reach deal by October 19. 

Why is that bullshit and why do they feel the need to talk to a court it? Because a group of Remain activists filed a lawsuit to require the government to follow the Benn Act, which says the government has to ask for the extension. The Remainers didn’t go to court because the winter nights are long in Scotland. It’s still fall–or Autumn, as they like to say in Britain–and even that far north they have enough daylight left to keep them from going to court for the sake of entertainment. No, they went because Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than stay in the EU after October 31. And he’s still saying more or less the same thing. (#deadinaditch is trending on Twitter in case you really are bored.)

How can he ask for an extension and still leave on October 31? 

Well, a government statement says, “The government will comply with the Benn Act, which only imposes a very specific narrow duty concerning Parliament’s letter requesting a delay–drafted by an unknown subset of MPs and pro-EU campaigners–and which can be interpreted in different ways.

“But the government is not prevented by the Act from doing other things that cause no delay, including other communications, private and public.

“People will have to wait to see how this is reconciled. The government is making its true position on delay known privately in Europe and this will become public soon.”

What does that means? The government seems to think it has a get-out-of-jail-free card up its sleeve. Or a get-out-of-extension card–one that will let them follow the letter of the Benn Act but avoid the substance of it.

To underline that interpretation, a Brexiteer MP, Steve Baker, said “All this means is that government will obey the law. It does not mean we will extend. It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond 31 October. We will leave.”

On Twitter, someone who may or may not know anything is speculating that they’re counting on Hungary to veto an extension. Does that make any sense. Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t usually look to Twitter for political punditry, but I was looking at the general wise-acreness at #deadinaditch.

In the meantime, the court’s being asked if Johnson can be jailed if he doesn’t comply with the law. 

Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

Just before all that kicked off, Johnson sent a proposed withdrawal deal to the European Union. We’re going to skip the details of how it was supposed to work, because the EU said it was unworkable, making the details pretty much irrelevant. In diplomatic language, they were “unconvinced” by it. In less diplomatic language, it wasn’t “even remotely workable.”

Every Brexit plan that’s drawn breath seems to have been cursed, which might tell us something about the practicality of leaving the EU. Theresa May–Johnson’s ill-fated predecessor–negotiated an agreement that the EU accepted but that couldn’t find a majority in the House of Commons. The odds of Johnson getting EU agreement to this one are roughly equal to my chances of winning the London marathon, but if he did, it just might get a majority in parliament. 

Emphasis on might

But without EU agreement, there’s no deal to bring to the Commons, so it doesn’t matter which way MPs would vote.

The main focus of any proposal these days is how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Not because that’s the only issue that matters but because it might make the difference between a majority in the Commons and no majority. Everything else, important as it is, is being ignored.

Having said that, the border does matter. Opening it was a key part of ending the Troubles–the violence in Northern Ireland that ended with the Good Friday Agreement. The last watchpost on the Irish border was dismantled in 2006. The border’s been invisible since then, and the two economies have grown into each other and separating them–if it happens–will be painful. 

But an open border depends on the countries on both sides trading under the same regulations, otherwise you get stuff that meets lower standards slipping into the area where higher standards are in force. In other words, you get smuggling. Or your higher standards become meaningless. Or both. To date, no one’s figured out a politically viable way to get around that.

The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said the Johnson plan was unworkable and unpalatable and that Johnson hadn’t listened to businesses. And Northern Ireland’s chief constable has said his force wouldn’t staff any form of border security. 

Where the plan has gained support is from the Democartic Unionist Party–the DUP, a small party that first May and now Johnson have courted because they’ve needed their votes.

The plan would have the Northern Ireland Assembly (generally called Stormont, since that’s where it meets) voting on whether to renew the border arrangement every four years. The first problem here is that Stormont hasn’t met since 2017. Like everything else involved in Brexit, that’s a complicated and interesting story, and we’re not going into it. Follow the link if you want to know more.

The next problem is that the Irish government and Sinn Fein have said the proposal would give the DUP veto power over whether to renew the agreement. To make sense of that, you need to know the structure of the Stormont assembly. In a country deeply split between Protestants and Catholics, it seemed to make sense to set up a mechanism that allowed a relatively small number of delegates to say that a bill is sensitive enough to need a two-thirds majority if it’s to pass. In a perfect world, this would keep either side from bulldozing the other.

You probably haven’t noticed this, but this is not a perfect world. For Johnson’s plan, it means that either of the two major parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, could block a renewal or the border arrangement. Since Sinn Fein wouldn’t (it would mean aligning Northern Ireland more heavily with Britain and breaking its integration with Ireland), that leaves the DUP alone with veto power. 

The DUP has used the two-thirds rule to block same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. I don’t know what Sinn Fein has used it for. 

The DUP and Sinn Fein have the same number of delegates in the assembly. They’re ringed by eight smaller parties that float around them like the dust of broken moons. Nobody has a two-thirds majority.

Or–well, move that into the past tense, since the assembly’s stopped meeting.

The EU has called on the British government to publish the complete text of its plan, because the Irish prime minister says Johnson has misled parliament over the impact it would have. So far, the government has published a no more than a summary. 

The EU gave Britain a week to come up with new solutions to the problems it says are inherent in the current plan. 

And now, at last, the shampoo: Johnson had planned a quick tour of Europe to hold meetings with assorted Important People, but everyone who matters told him they’ll be washing their hair and won’t have time to meet with him. So there are scheduling problems. 

Is anything else happening? Well, yes. It’s gotten lost in the mayhem, but it looks like Johnson will try–again–to suspend parliament on Tuesday. To prepare for the queen’s speech. Which is what he said last time. It’ll be interesting to see if Madge (as our neighbor likes to call her majesty) is as agreeable as she was last time he asked. If he doesn’t get her agreement, he can’t suspend parliament. Since she asked for advice about sacking a prime minister the last time he asked her for a suspension, a person could reasonably get the impression that she’s not happy with the current one.

Madge, here’s how it works: You take him to the returns desk and explain that he doesn’t fit. Or he shrank in the wash. Or the color turns out not to match the rug. They’ll ask if you’d like to exchange him or if you want your money back. They’ll be nice about it. You’re the queen. They don’t usually see queens at the returns desk. Of course they’ll be nice.

If, on the other hand, you ordered him online, you’ll need the box he came in. If he doesn’t fit, just bundle it around him as best you can.

Anything else happening? Of course. It never ends. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru–not a small fringe group but the party that came second the most recent election–just held its conference and is calling for a referendum on independence, holding out the prospect of joining the EU. Its leader, Adam Price, said, “The UK as we know it could cease to exist in a short few years.” 

He has also called on the UK to pay reparations for–I’m paraphrasing or I’ll be up all night typing–looting Welsh resources.

Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, the coordinator of the EU parliament’s Brexit steering group, somehow got his mitts on a leaked script given to a Conservative MP by his or her party. The Guardian wrote that it “instructed them to attack the EU as ‘crazy’ if it rejected [Johnson’s] proposals.” 

He went public with it. 

Who could resist?

And finally, Johnson’s announced that he’s scrapping Theresa May’s commitment to keep EU rules on the environment, working rights, and safety standards. It’ll make it easier to negotiate a deal with the US.

That’s all we’ve got as of Friday night. I’m going to bed before anything else can happen. If I’m asleep, it didn’t happen.

*

Update: Saturday morning’s paper (that’s Oct. 5) reports that Johnson says there’ll be no delay to Brexit. Government lawyers say he’ll follow the law and ask for an extension. Online stories say the law “only imposes narrow [duties]…which can be interpreted in different ways.” He may be negotiating with Hungary to get it to veto an extension.

What happens next? Good question.

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.

The Brexit update, this time with spider brooches

Britain’s supreme court ruled unanimously on Tuesday (the day I’m posting this) that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament (called, in case it shows up in a crossword puzzle, a prorogation) was illegal, and before the pixels of the online news stories were dry the speaker of parliament had announced that parliament would be back in session on Wednesday.

But even before that happened, some members of parliament were already sitting on the House of Commons green seats, just to make a point. 

As the BBC put it, the court ruling said the serving prime minister broke the law and gave unlawful advice to the queen.

Short of the inscrutable Lady Hale [president of the court], with the giant diamond spider on her lapel, declaring Boris Johnson to be Pinocchio, this judgement is just about as bad for the government as it gets.”

Okay, we’d better take a minute to talk about the spider. It’s a brooch–or in Ameri-speak, a pin–and within hours had been printed on a tee shirt that was being sold online, with some of the profits promised to an organization for the homeless. 

#SpiderBrooch was trending on Twitter when I checked and a sampling of tweets (a whopping two out of two) shows that it’s driving people to poetry: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when Cummings tries to make us Leave” and “Spider-Brooch, Spider-Brooch, / Deals with how the law’s approached. / Heard a case, huge in size, / Caught the PM telling lies. / Look out! / Here comes the Spider-Brooch.”

Brooch (I had to check) is pronounced to rhyme with approach, even though it looks like it rhymes with mooch, although it can also rhyme with hootch, pooch, and other elevated nouns that don’t rhyme with approach. English. I love it, but it’s a mess.

So much for the fun stuff. What happens next? A majority of parliament agrees on exactly two things: 1, They don’t want to no-deal Brexit, and 2, they don’t want to be locked in the broom closet during this crucial period when the Brexit deadline is looming and Johnson is trying to avoid asking for an extension. 

After that, the cracks in the Rebel Alliance begin to show. Some of its MPs want to remain in the EU. Some want to leave with a deal (ask what kind of deal and more cracks show up). Some want a second referendum as a way out of this mess. Some, I’m sure, want to go back to the broom closet and hide while the crucial votes are taken so they can say, “It wasn’t my fault.” 

Parliament could hold a vote of no confidence and, if it passes, replace Johnson with someone else, but that involves agreeing on who that should be. That’s another thing they don’t agree on, or at least haven’t so far.

The general belief is that Johnson will try to hold an election and run as a champion of the people against the government. Which has a certain irony, since right now he is the government, but never mind. Whether he’ll be able to hold his party together is anybody’s guess. He’s lost six out of six votes in the House of Commons, lost a major challenge in the courts, and been judged to have misled the queen. Folks here take that last offense seriously even if I can’t manage to.

On the other hand, he’s already thrown his most visible opponents out of the party, so it’s hard to know if anyone’s left to oppose him. As I’m fairly sure I keep saying, stay tuned.

The Brexit update: a country on hold

Britain’s on hold at the moment (“History-in-the-making is experiencing a high volume of calls right now…”), waiting to talk to someone who can resolve our Brexit problems. Whatever music we least want to hear is drilling its way down our ear canals and into our brains. That’s because parliament was sent home to sit on many scattered naughty steps so that our prime minister, Boris Johnson, can pursue Brexit without being bothered by the country’s primary governing body.

One of the things we’re waiting for is expected in a few days at most: The supreme court (no capital letters, apparently) is considering whether Johnson had the right to send parliament home without dessert. (Yes, I know I’ve changed images and it was the naughty step in the last paragraph. Indulge me. I just sat with friends talking about Brexit and feeling miserable, so I’m going to haul out every half-assed joke I’ve been schlepping around in my backpack, all at once. I doubt they’ll make me feel better but my backpack will at least be lighter.) 

Experts in reading legal tea leaves expect the court to rule against Johnson, setting off a “constitutional eruption of volcanic proportions” according to an unnamed senior legal figure. 

Johnson said he’d abide by the ruling, which is nice of him, given that it’ll come from his country’s highest court, but government figures have been strewing suggestions that he might abide by it and then send parliament home all over again but for a different reason. And stick his tongue out at them as they’re leaving.

If the tea-leaf experts are right and the court does rule against Johnson, what will matter is what grounds they base their ruling on. If they say he misled the queen, at least one expert says he’s had it. 

Why? Because you can shut down your country’s legislative body, you can lie to the public, you can encourage bitter division among your people and bring your country to the brink of what many people think will be disaster, but you cannot get caught lying to the queen. Because she’s the queen.

Don’t expect me to explain this to you. I spent most of my life in the US. I’ll never really understand this queen business.

What’s Johnson doing while sit on hold and listen to music we hate?

He’s told us that, in the great game of Brexit, he holds a card that will allow the backstop* to be replaced with something better, newer, bigger, and, um, better. Now the  European Union has called its bluff and asked to see the card. 

In the meantime–or possibly in response; we can’t know because it’s secret–Britain has proposed something that we don’t know the contents of because the proposals are marked secret. Britain doesn’t even want them distributed to the Brexit representatives of the EU’s member states. They’re marked “Her Majesty’s government property.” 

So are the capital letters in that quote, so don’t mess with them. Her Majesty’s government doesn’t have a sense of humor about capital letters. I’m pushing my luck leaving the U out of humor.

How are the EU member states supposed to evaluate them if they can’t read them? 

That’s their problem.

This news came after the EU handed Johnson a two-week deadline to show its backstop card and the UK said it couldn’t meet an artificial deadline, it would need a year.

Britain’s supposed to leave the EU on October 31, though. What’s supposed to happen on the border between then and when the backstop card is turned face up? 

I have no idea. 

To show that he’s serious about the negotiations, Johnson compared himself to the Incredible Hulk, and demonstrators have been appearing in costume holding “incredible sulk” signs. Headline writers rubbed their hands in glee.   

In the midst of all this, Johnson ducked out of a scheduled press conference in Luxembourg, where he’d planned on telling everyone how well the negotiations were going. That left Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, standing at one lectern and gesturing at the empty one, saying the EU needed “more than just words.” 

The supreme court will hand down its ruling soon. Lawyers on both sides will be combing through every comma and semicolon. In the meantime, your call is important to us. We will be with you as soon as inhumanly possible.

 

* The backstop: Entirely too briefly, this is part of the treaty negotiated by our former prime minister, Theresa May, and rejected by her supporters and her opponents and even the extra-terrestrials circling the Earth invisibly and shaking their heads over the general incompetence of the human race. The idea of the backstop was to keep Brexit from creating a hard border, with border checks and so forth, between Ireland and Northern Ireland, for fear of restarting the Troubles between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. I’ll spare you the explanation of why it’s a hot button issue, but it is.