On Brexit

I was listening to the radio this morning and, inevitably enough, they were discussing the prospect of Theresa May’s deal passing and the consequences of it being rejected. The (Labour) MP being interviewed was asked if he was worried about rejecting the deal leading to the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal.

His answer was symptomatic of a fundamental problem with all of the Brexit discussions in the UK in that he blithely asserted that a no deal wouldn’t happen because Parliament doesn’t want it to happen.

This is all well and good but the MP in question appears to have no comprehension that the UK is not the only party in these negotiations. The other EU member states, as well as the European Parliament all have their own priorities and concerns and are not going to offer anything that crosses their own lines.

Parliament can demand that the Prime Minister goes back to Brussels to ask for more, but there is nothing else on the table and no matter what she does, May is going to come back empty handed.

If May’s deal is rejected, no deal is the default option and Parliament would need to decide to do something in order to avoid it. And quickly.

As things stand, the UK will leave the EU on 29th March regardless of whether a deal is agreed it not. This leaves only two months to either revoke the Article 50 notification or ask for an extension of the negotiation period.

Just asking for an extension doesn’t mean that it will be granted. The EU27 have been quite clear that the current agreement is the only one on the table. They are not willing to reopen negotiations — especially given that Britain still doesn’t know what it wants to achieve. Not to put too fine a point on it, the rest of the EU is thoroughly fed up with the behaviour of the UK and have reached the point at which they just want the whole sorry mess to be over.

EU countries are preparing for a no deal Brexit.

An extension to ratify the deal or run another referendum may be possible but even here, time is limited.

The European Parliament Elections are in May and the new Parliament will meet for the first time in July. If the UK is still chasing it’s own tail at this point the EU will have to deal with the legal difficulties arising from the UK being in the EU but with no MEPs.

The UK’s approach to Brexit so far has been defined by isolationist and wishful thinking. If — as looks certain — May’s deal is rejected, MPs and the press will need to recognise that, because of the incompetent manner in which the UK has approached this, the available options are now very limited indeed.

Mia and the White Lion

Aged 11, Mia finds herself dragged from London to South Africa by her parents determined to — once again — make a go of their farm. Inevitably, she hates it and utterly fails to fit in.

Things begin to change at Christmas, with the arrival of a white lion cub, named Charlie. In spite of her resistance, a relationship develops between Mia and Charlie which sees her come out of her shell and begin to both accept and enjoy her new life.

Over the three years that follow, Mia becomes increasingly close to the lion and spends much of her time with the now adult animal, much to the concern of her parents. This is a wild animal, as Mia’s father keeps pointing out.

Things come to a head and the decision is taken that Charlie can no longer remain at the farm and should be sold. At this point Mia discovers exactly how her father is earning his income and resolves to rescue Charlie.

Mia and the White Lion gets off to quite a slow start. This may be partly due to the way in which the film was made. According to the IMDb co-writer and director, Gilles de Maistre was told that filming a child with a lion would be impossible as the only way for the lion not to harm the child would be that they grow up together.

Undeterred, de Maistre found Daniah De Villiers a young, South African girl already familiar with lions to grow up with the titular white lion cub, and shot the film over two and half years, from May 2015 to December 2017, with the other actors regularly flying in to shoot their scenes.

Things becomes a lot better in the second half with Mia and Charlie’s bid for freedom. Although it’s not hard to guess how things are going to work out, the journey is handled well and the film does manage to draw you in as it follows Mia’s struggle to survive in the wilderness as she tries to reach safety for Charlie.

This is also a very worthy film and one that is determined to make a point about the practice of canned hunting. I am a bit ambivalent about how well this point was made. It is a significant part of the plot, but the film relies too much on telling you about the practice rather than showing you, which deprives it of some of its potential effectiveness.

Where the film does work is in the scenes that focus on the relationship between Mia and Charlie which, once established, comes across as surprisingly believable. This makes for a remarkably effective film about friendship, loyalty and doing what’s right.

This was not the film I was intending to see this weekend, but it turned out to be a lot better than I expected.

This week I have been mostly listening to… Reel Big Fish

Back in 1985 Norwegian band, a-ha, released Take on Me. The song did well in the UK, reaching number 2 in the singles chart, not least due to a very innovative video that combined pencil-sketch animation and live action video.

In 1998, Reel Big Fish recorded a cover of Take on me for the soundtrack of BASEketball. This song can also be found on the Favorite Noise compilation which was released in 2002.

I liked this song so much, that I went out and bought a completely different album.

Whoops Apocalypse (the TV series)

In the mists of time (1982), LWT made a six-part TV series that addressed the prospect of nuclear war. As a farce. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks rewatching this series and it holds up remarkably well.

The series follows the events leading up to a nuclear war and the main focus is on US president, Johnny Cyclops, a former actor, remember) whose national security advisor is a fundamentalist known as The Deacon. The Deacon doesn’t so much advise the president as inform him what decisions ere made. And, for an unpopular president in an election year, there is much to decide.

The Middle East is similarly unstable with the recently deposed Shah of Iran expelled from France and, following a change of UK government, finds himself stranded on a cross-Channel ferry for most of the series.

The UK government deserves a mention. A far-left Labour party, led by a wonderfully delusional prime minister, has promised to leave the Common Market, denuclearise and quit NATO. Neutrality doesn’t pan out so well for them and the UK ends up joining the Warsaw Pact.

As for Russia, paranoid and oversensitive and determined to gain control of the Middle Eastern oil supply.

The main plot revolves around a new bomb, developed on the Deacon’s orders. The original name for this — the Johnny Cyclops Bomb — is vetoed by the president and it subsequently referred to as the Quark Bomb (Formerly Known As The Johnny Cyclops Bomb After The President of the Same Name). The Deacon arranges for one of these bombs to be stolen and passed to Lacrobat, an international arms smuggler, who is charged with getting it to the Shah’s supporters in Iran who would use it to return the Shah to power.

Everything goes horribly wrong.

Whoops Apocalypse could well be the blackest, most bitingly satirical TV series ever made. A series of increasingly absurd events leads, with grim inevitability to a deeply dark ending. It’s written by David Renwick and David Marshall and boasts a strikingly strong roster of comedy talent, including Alexi Sayle, John Cleese, Geoffrey Palmer and a very small part for a very young Rik Mayall and the above synopsis doesn’t come close to capturing the sheer insanity of the series. The jokes come so fast that I am going to have to watch it again to catch the jokes I missed through still laughing at the previous one.

Surprisingly, for a series set in the early 80s and which directly parodies political characters from that time, a lot of the caricatures still work today. Which probably says something about the extent to which the world hasn’t changed.

Wear you mushroom with pride.

Happy Birthday Tintin

I’m a day late with this because yesterday, January 10th, marked 90 years since the first appearance of Tintin in Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s section of a Brussels newspaper.

Over time the Tintin stories have become larger and introduced an eclectic cast of characters, including Captain Haddock (a personal favourite) and identical but unrelated detectives Thompson and Thompson, who inspired a band.

And, of course, there was the 2011 film which, although we have the DVD, I haven’t actually seen. Not all the way through, anyway.

Inevitably, there are year long celebrations in Belgium, including a €5 coin due to be released sometime this month. If I lay my hands on one of these, I’m keeping it!

Students March for the Climate

A student march for the climate just went past about 20 minutes ago. The march was peaceful, if noisy — there was a lot of cheering going on — and, according to VRT, they are planning to repeat this every Thursday until they get an adequate response.

Two things struck me. Firstly, pretty much all of the placards were in English. I don’t know if this is a reflection of Belgian  multilingualism or if  the students are looking for international attention. But it’s interesting to note.

Secondly, the student who walked past in a pair of shorts — in January — made his point very effectively indeed.


Built for Belgian Roads

When we first moved to Belgium, Eve and I derived a fair bit of amusement from the fact that you could always tell when you crossed the Dutch-Belgian border from the road noise.

Dutch roads, in general, are well built, well maintained and very quiet to drive on. Belgian roads… aren’t.

It appears that some marketing hack at Mitsubishi has made the same observation.


No deal. No Brexit

So this is interesting:

MPs will attempt to force the government to return with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal within three days of her plan being defeated in parliament.

MPs are planning to table an amendment to a business motion that anticipates Theresa May’s deal being rejected and says: “a minister of the crown shall table within three sitting days a motion … considering the process of exiting the European Union under article 50”. This is to prevent the government from sitting on their hands after the expected defeat and then resubmitting the deal once time has run out for all other options.

Obviously, the amendment may not make it into the bill, but if it does, just letting the clock tick down ceases to be an option. But there aren’t many other options out there.

The EU have made clear that they are not willing to re-open negotiations into the withdrawal agreement and, even if that was not the case, anyone who tells you they can renegotiate this in the two and a half months left to go is either dishonest or delusional.

I don’t see the EU agreeing to extend the Article 50 negotiation period unless the UK suddenly comes up with a very clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. So we can rule that option out, unless the government that they really do want to put the existing options (May’s deal, no deal or no Brexit) to the public in a second (third, if you count 1975) referendum.

And if time runs out for a referendum, then the only option I can see is for Parliament to decide to revoke the Article 50 notification itself and cancel Brexit.

The hard Brexiters have broken their own Brexit. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will finally take back control.

Iron Sky the Coming Race is almost here

Iron Sky was released way back in 2012. The film’s premise was that Nazis have been hiding on the dark side of the Moon since 1945 until they return to re-invade Earth in 2018. It’s a film that knows its audience and delivers exactly what that audience expects — and I loved every minute of it.

So when a sequel was announced in 2015, I was thrilled.

Four years on and Iron Sky the Coming Race is about to hit cinemas. Quiet Earth has the release dates and synopsis:

Twenty years after the events of Iron Sky, the former Nazi Moonbase has become the last refuge of mankind. Earth was devastated by a nuclear war, but buried deep under the wasteland lies a power that could save the last of humanity – or destroy it once and for all.

The truth behind the creation of mankind will be revealed when an old enemy leads our heroes on an adventure into the Hollow Earth. To save humanity they must fight the Vril, an ancient shapeshifting reptilian race and their army of dinosaurs.

It looks awesome!

Sane Conservative says something sane

The Guardian reports that Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chairman is the latest Tory grandee to come out in support of a second Brexit referendum, or People’s vote.

What struck me, though, was this:

The whole sorry shambles began with a decision to call a referendum in order to try to manage the English nationalist right wing of the Conservative party.

I have said it before, but the main problem with the Conservative Party is that most of its members — and a significant proportion of its MPs — are not conservatives. The One-Nation Tories and pragmatists have been largely sidelined by a post-1980s crop of rabid libertarians and English nationalists.

And it’s because the Tories have discovered ideology that Britain is in the mess it is today.