Quote of the day: The Gorgon will not be slain

With a sustained display of incompetence, cowardice, delusion and ideological mania, British politics has created a situation so monstrous and writhing with venom that the public cannot bear to look at it. Brexit is like the mythical Gorgon that turns to stone all who meet its gaze. It must instead be stalked indirectly, using the monster’s reflection in their polished shield.

Rafael Behr

Five Things #7: Better late than never

This post has taken quite a bit longer to complete than I expected, so apologies in advance if a couple of the below links feel a bit stale. They’re still worth reading, though.

“Hence gradually the onion skins have been peeled away until the fetid heart of [Brexit] is exposed: not a policy but an undeliverable fantasy composed of lies and articulated in the language of spite, contempt and hate.” — Chris Grey on the Supreme Court judgment and its aftermath.

On a related note, Nick Barlow points out that democracy is a process, not an event.

I loved Spitting Image back in the day and was delighted to hear that the satirical puppet show is making a a comeback. Adam J Smith and Jo Waugh take this opportunity to point out that there has been a problem inherent in British caricature for 300 years.

Ben Orlin explains why 1 isn’t a prime number.

And Wumo explains the stock market:

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Brexit facts worth repeating: There is no such thing as a clean break

Whenever I look at the UK press’ reporting of Brexit (which is probably more often than I should), I am repeatedly astonished by the extent to which clearly nonsensical claims are treated seriously. So kudos must go to Simon Wren-Lewis for pointing out (yet again) that the Brexit hardliner’s obsession with a so-called Clean Break is utter nonsense:

A clean break Brexit inevitably leads to 10 years at least of negotiation with the EU, negotiations in which the UK side will eventually be forced to accept the terms the ERG now despise. The longer our government holds out in those negotiations the longer it takes. In reality the so called clean break Brexit is a promise to continue Brexit negotiations but from an even weaker position.

Wren-Lewis also notes that the reason Brexit hasn’t happened yet is that Brexiters keep voting against it.

The reality is that the only way for Brexit to be done or over with is for Parliament to revoke Article 50 and bring this whole sorry pretence to an end.

Two sides to every discussion

I have been trying to avoid obsessing over Brexit for the past few months. For all the shouting among UK politicians and all the breathless reporting in the press, nothing has really changed since December. A withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and Parliament still needs to decide whether to ratify it, or crash out of the EU with no deal or revoke Article 50 and bring this whole sorry mess to an end.

With that in mind, Chris Grey makes a point worth repeating.

An additional issue to consider is whether the EU would countenance an extension anyway

Much of the recent Parliamentary maneuverings have been around forcing Boris Johnson to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership before the exit date of October 31st. What no-one seems to be taking into account is that there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to such a request. Furthermore, given that the UK is still running around in circles, there is a good chance that leaders of the other EU countries will say no.

Back in March, when Theresa May asked for an extension, Macron was very vocal about not wanting the UK to still be sucking up the EU’s time and attention after the EU parliament elections in May. While he was the most vocal of the EU leaders, he wasn’t completely isolated and several other countries were leaning towards the view that, if the UK is going to crash out anyway, it would be better to cut the process short and get it over with.

After that extension was granted, Parliament immediately went on holiday and then the Conservative party decided that the best use of their time would be to organise yet another leadership election. And now the UK is stuck with a prime minister whose dishonesty is so bare-faced that no-one — not even his own brother — is willing to trust him.

Parliament probably is going to force Johnson to ask for an extension and, when he does so, the leaders of the other EU countries will ask what would be the point of such an extension. I am not convinced that the UK has a good answer to this.

On a related note, if anyone reading this happens to be a student, don’t forget to register to vote.

Another Five Things

It isn’t easy being a troll. Hand Me Downs is a short story by Maria Haskins.

“We Handed A Loaded Weapon To 4-Year-Olds.” Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. He tells Buzzfeed why he regrets what he did to this day.

Rosie Fletcher at Den of Geek suggests the 2 hour 45 minute running time for It Chapter Two indicates that the horror genre is moving into the mainstream. And that’s a good thing.

Over at Aeon, Matthew Stanley recounts British astronomer and physicist, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s attempt to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s worth reading not just for the challenges Stanley faced, but also the way in which he managed to craft the subsequent narrative into a symbol of post-war German-British solidarity.

And finally, Alastair Campbell has left the Labour Party and asked Jeremy Corbyn to seriously consider whether he’s really up to the challenges ahead.

The UK election sweepstakes

Andrew Rawnsley is one of the more insightful political commenters out there but this doesn’t stop him from making the same mistake as a lot of the UK media in that he tends to look at Brexit for an entirely British point of view. Thus, we have this article suggesting that Boris Johnson will call an early election in order to crash the UK out of the EU.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that Johnson doesn’t actually have to do anything if he wants a no-deal Brexit.

It’s all well and good saying that Parliament won’t allow a no-deal Brexit but the only ways of avoiding this, ultimately, are to ratify the existing withdrawal agreement or to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.

Parliament can try to force Johnson to request another extension, but there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to grant one. Given the way in which the UK has wasted the time since April and the low esteem in which Johnson is held, it looks increasingly likely, to me, that the EU heads of government will decide that it’s better to get Brexit over with than to drag it on any longer.

So, if Parliament remains unable to decide whether to ratify the withdrawal agreement or revoke Article 50, then Britain crashes out of the EU on the 31st October, at which point Johnson will claim to have “delivered Brexit”, thus rendering Farage’s Brexit Party irrelevant.

So Johnson doesn’t need to call a general election in order to achieve a no-deal Brexit. On the other hand, if he calls an election in November, after the UK has crashed out of the EU but before the consequences start to bite, then the collapse of the Brexit party would be probably enough for him to hoover up the Leave vote and win a majority.

Johnson is blatantly gearing up for an election, but I don’t think it will happen until after Britain’s disorderly exit from the EU. The only way to stop him is for Parliament to call a no-confidence vote and bring down the government before the end of October.

Parliament returns on 3rd September. MPs will need to get their act together — and quickly — if they want to call a halt to this madness before it’s too late.