Florence and the Machine Politician
The strength of feeling that the Scottish people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership Scotland has never totally felt at home being in the British Union. And perhaps because of our history and geography, the British Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in England…
But if the remarkable contrast between the city of Florence and the flowering of ideas in the great European tradition and the wooden presentation of the Prime Minister with a big clunky chain around her neck could be any more stark, her weird cultish othering of the rest of Europe with the line that “the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union” was the low-point of her speech. She was essentially projecting English xenophobia across the rest of us.
The task has shifted. It’s called mission creep.
The project is not to achieve some technical fix to the Brexiteers botched tragic farce. The project is now to re-write history with Britain as one monolithic bloc and our relationship with Europe re-cast “perhaps because of our history and geography” as one of antipathy and ill-feeling.
It’s not just historical amnesia, it’s cultural imperialism.
While the tone may be softening – from tub-thumping belligerence to a dangerously incoherent nostalgia – the answers are incomplete and contradictory. and, at times, delusional. She said (full text here):
“For while the UK’s departure from the EU is inevitably a difficult process, it is in all of our interests for our negotiations to succeed,” she told an audience of Italian business leaders and diplomats.
“If we were to fail, or be divided, the only beneficiaries would be those who reject our values and oppose our interests.”
This is just not true.
The equation of the ‘UK’ with another 27 other countries is both exceptionalism and triumphalism that will have other piddling countries like, say, France, or, say, Germany sniggering into their shared values.
The line that “the only beneficiaries would be those who reject our values and oppose our interests” was one of several utterly cynical and not so subtle threats about security and defence. They were the result of a card player coming to the table with a useless hand of cards and making growling noises.
The idea that the UK has such a precious place in the world that our downgraded trading status and appointment as cultural pariah would somehow be catastrophic for the rest of Europe is just self-deception.
The speech has been met with widespread ridicule and disappointment.
A beleagured and isolated Theresa May is navigating the stormy waters between the rocks of the Reality of European Politics and the Internal Conspiracies and jostling for position of her power hungry colleagues.
Given the circumstances it’s an enormous cheek to ask for ‘imagination and creativity’ for a situation not of their making. And, there’s more than a glint of Icarus in the Prime Minister’s plea that ‘Britain’s future is bright’ and endless drone about our ‘indomitable spirit’ – a hackneyed Churchillian trope dug up for every conceivable crisis and noticeable for its crass inability to distinguish between a crisis created entirely by us – and by the reality of fighting fascism.
Michel Barnier’s speech earlier in the week really laid it out pretty clearly, there are three areas that need resolved, broadly citizens rights, settling the bill and Ireland.
These are the questions he is asking himself:
1/ “On citizens’ rights, our priority in this negotiation:
- The issue of guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom has not been solved.
- It is absolutely necessary that all these citizens, hundreds of thousands of whom are Italian citizens living and working in the United Kingdom, can continue to live as they did before, with the same rights and safeguards.
- This is a human and social question, which the European Parliament and its president, Antonio Tajani, are vigilantly watching, and rightly so.
- Citizens should be able to enforce their rights directly from the withdrawal agreement. This would prevent any possible dilution of these rights, if the rules implementing them in the UK were to change.
- In the same way, we want these rights to be valid in national courts and that national courts have the possibility – or even the obligation – to refer questions related to the interpretation of rights deriving from European law to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Court of Justice would remain the ultimate guarantor of the agreement.
- This is for a simple reason: rights need to be effectively guaranteed.
- Our citizens have real concerns today – which we share – when the Home Office sends deportation letters or appears to defy High Court orders, as we read in the press.
- Our position on this point has been clear since the beginning. We want to provide the strongest safeguards for the rights of citizens on both sides of the Channel. We are waiting for the United Kingdom to express the same wish.
2/ On the financial settlement:
- All that is necessary in this negotiation is that everyone honours the commitments that they have made to each other. To settle the accounts. No more, no less.
- To settle the accounts in an objective manner, on the basis of all commitments made at 28.
- We want to provide – and we must provide – certainty for project managers working in Europe, such as in Italy and its regions, and in other continents, such as Africa, on the basis of the commitment of the 28.
- But beyond money, this is a question of trust between the 27 and the United Kingdom, based on the respect of one’s signature. And everyone knows that we will need this trust to create a solid relationship in the future.
3/ Finally, on Ireland, and the Border in particular, we must act responsibly to respect both the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the integrity of the Single Market. We are advancing, but there is still more political work to be done.
As I was saying, I am asking myself questions. These questions, as far as I see it, should not be controversial because this is about protecting our citizens, our businesses, our partners, and the credibility of our promises.”
That is the test against which this speech will be tested. This is the test against this speech is a spectacular failure.
Whilst being trailed as being a great unifying moment, the speech is red meat to the likes of Johnson, Mogg and Farage, waiting in the wings ready to stoke the flames of the grievance and discontent of English nationalism inflamed by such exceptionalism and fantasy.
Standing in front of a slogan marked “Shared History, Shared Challenges, Shared Future” that looked as if it had been put there as a dare, May mouthed sweet nothings. This is an exercise in national humiliation.
What’s Esperanto for decline and inertia?
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