2007 - 2021

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…

Fixed that.

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.

Three Failures

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?


We really need your support to develop and we’d like to ask you to support us by donating to us here.

We’ve got big plans to launch our new site, to launch new publishing and events projects, and to extend our platform of writers – but all of this needs your support.

Bella Caledonia remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research, write, commission and edit. If you value what I do, please consider supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing. GoCardless to set up a small monthly donation to support independent journalism in Scotland.


Go here to subscribe for free and get each Bella article sent to your email
Go here to follow us on Twitter @bellacaledonia
Go here to follow us on Instagram
Go here to join our Facebook Group
Go here to follow us on Spotify
Go here to write for us

Comments (15)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Michael says:

    Malkresko kay inercio (apparently).

  2. bringiton says:

    The key issue for England’s Tories is removing themselves from accountability to European courts.
    That is what they mean by ‘taking back control’.
    It will be interesting to see how they manage EU citizens rights who will either have to be expelled or continue to be governed by EU courts and the remainder of those subject to English law.
    As soon as they exit the EU,they will be on a divergent path with the European courts (some of them at least) and what happens when an EU citizen is arrested for breaking English law but is in compliance with European rights?
    Not doable if they wish to retain EU citizens.
    The Tories only want to talk about money and trade and view human rights as a matter at the bottom of the Totem pole but this is going to be a major stumbling block for them,especially when it comes to Ireland.
    England’s Tories now brazenly claiming they represent one nation (England) who have never been comfortable being European,probably true in the case of England but not here in Scotland where we have a long cultural and trading history,pre-dating the takeover by England in 1707.
    Do they speak for us as well?
    Time will tell.

  3. Redguantlet says:

    If they haven’t been able to work out the citizens’s rights issue, how on earth are they going to work out the Irish border question? I mean, I don’t think that has a solution, does it? How can there be a border and not be a border at the same time?

    Just as well the EU are co-signatory to the Good Friday Agreement. Because otherwise, we know perfectly well, that England would renege and put a border back between north and south…without a moment’s hesitation… they don’t give a fck for Ireland and they never did…

    1. MBC says:

      I wish that point would dawn on the Northern Irish of the DUP tendency. England doesn’t want you. England doesn’t view them as culturally British. Because they’re not culturally British. But they seem so obsessed by their own parochial hatred of Catholics that they cling to the UK for dear life like the parasites they are. When is it going to dawn on them that Irish citizenship and the EU membership it carries is infinitely preferable?

      They are parasites. They will cynically apply for Irish citizenship and by virtue of that they will also be EU citizens. What a mess. Maybe on that basis they will milk the EU for subsidies as well? So the EU will continue to subsidise the UK?

      But at some point in the next ten years when the Catholics become the majority there is going to be a border poll.

      What will happen if a majority in NI votes in favour of reunification but there is no majority support in the republic? This undigested part of the British imperial past could go on and on infecting the body politic of the republic and the EU.

  4. Alan says:

    Excellent summary of her and her party’s numerous failings in relation to the Brexit negotiations.

    I don’t see how there can be any solution to the Irish border issue (aside from no Brexit) . A solution that satisfies the Republic and the EU (maintains Good Friday Agreement and integrity of SM and CU) will be opposed by the DUP because it involves special status for NI a sea border. And what’s acceptable to the DUP will be unacceptable to the Republic and the EU as it involves a hard land border. Her loses at the last GE resulted in both sides having a veto so now she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  5. MBC says:

    There has got to be a revolution in this country. An unrepresentative clique in the Tory party supported by foreign press owners are driving us out of the EU against our better interests largely to secure their hegemony over the party and the country once in government. The 52% were misled. It’s not just the Scots that are not being heard, or the Catholic minority in NI. The majority of young English people who voted Remain as well as as the city state of London are being dragged under. It’s a coup, but one that hangs by a thread. When are the English going to wake up to the fact that they were sold a pup? And that the future is bleak?

    1. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

      MBC, there HAS been a revolution in the United Kingdom. It was led by Messrs Farage, Gove, Johnson and the clique of businesspeople and media owners. Looking at revolutions in history, they have always been protracted events, with several stages. Mrs May is equivalent to Kerensky in Russia or Bishop Abel Muzorewa in Zimbabwe. Florence represented Mrs May’s pathetic attempt to try to steer a course amongst the rocks of the competing cliques within our cabinet. As Mr Small has indicated, one of these cliques, fronted by Messrs Johnson and Rees-Mogg (an ill-assorted couple, for a variety of reasons) is poised to launch a new phase.
      This revolution is increasingly being pursued in the salons and boardrooms of London, with the rest of us – England as well as Scotland, Wales and Ireland – being simply the droit de seigneur of this elite.
      I find the attitudes of many within the DUP quite appalling, but, I think that some within the party and many amongst their voters (who are often reluctant voters, seeing the DUP as their least worst option from a pretty dire pool) are more insightful people who will recognise that their future lies with ‘the 26 counties’. Their fear of ‘Popery’ I think will be allayed by the fact that a secular state has established itself in Dublin and the revelations of the appalling conduct of priests and nuns has weakened the influence of the church. Eire will continue to flourish in the EU and the standard of living it will offer to the Protestants of the north will be attractive. The murderous faction within the former UDA/UFF will, in all probability migrate to the west of Scotland, the English Midlands and London.

      1. Irish Scot says:

        I’d like to think you are right, Bringiton. But the problem is that the ‘loyalist’ objection is not just to Catholicism, but to the concept of being Irish – the racist overhang of their cynical imperialist plantation by a ruling class that did not – and does not – give a fig about them. Their usefulness to that class is now over – despite a temporary recall due to May’s incompetence.

        They may see themselves ad ‘British’ – but the ‘British’ (actually English) ruling class (and their Scottish coat-tailers) see them as simply an embarrassment – all the more so now that they need their votes – for now.

        Fed myths of social and racial superiority in order to subdue the native Irish, the poor fools still believe it. Until this is resolved by time – and it looks like a long time – we will have a shared problem.

        An independent Scotland would hasten this desirable outcome

  6. MCC says:

    Mundell is being let off the hook. He is supposed to be our man in the Cabinet. He holds the balance of power. He commands a dozen Scots Tories. I feel we should be demonstrating on his doorstep every week until we are heard and put heat and pressure on him, the BBC Pacific Quay and the Scottish Office. The Scottish Government has done all it can and is ignored. Time to put pressure on Mundell.

  7. Willie says:

    Forget eloquent analysis. Bottom line is Scots voted to stay in the EU and didn’t vote for a Westminster government.

    Bottom line. Well that’s early. Voting doesn’t work. So sick it up folks until you find an alternative. Simples !

  8. John McGowan says:

    Here’s a question for all of you who view the EU through rose-tinted spectacle, who hold their noses at those who voted Brexit, who view Donald Trump as a latter day Hitler, and who, according to so many newspaper reports, are baling our of the UK in horror at our political culture to take refuge in Merkel’s Germany, the citadel of democracy and all things good: what do you say now that that around 13 percent of Germans have just voted an extreme right wing party into the Bundestag? The AfD , which is now strongest party in Saxony, has upset your simplistic, cosy world view and demands you take harder look at political reality. It demands, among other things that you look closely at what the EU is, what it represents socially, politically and economically, what it means for millions of citizens across Europe who have no job, poor incomes and no happy economic future under a system founded on austerity aconomics and all at Germany’s behest.

    1. bringiton says:

      The difference between the European Union and England’s Union is that you can leave the European one any time you like.
      Greece,despite having austerity on stilts imposed on it is still a member state and has not expressed any wishes to leave,as far as I know.
      No rose tinted glasses as far as the structures of the EU are concerned.
      Everyone recognises that democratic reforms are required.
      Perhaps what is happening in Spain will concentrate minds.
      Meantime,back in England’s Union we are getting the Henry VIII bill which will give the executive in London almost unlimited power to do as it likes and England’s political parties voted for that.
      Democracy it ain’t.

  9. Gordon Benton says:

    Whilst it may be true that given another opportunity for the UK to vote on this Brexit piece of imperialist bravado, the population may reverse its opinion and want to stay on in the EU, it is too late. The people of Europe have been deeply disappointed, and has decided that it will move on without the UK, and now cares not a whit about what happens to that troublesome ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’ across the Channel. Of course it will do its best to protect their citizens now in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and its peaceful border and do its best to get us to pay our debts – after all we have to be sure that Nigel Farage gets his well-earned MEP pension. The UK voter may now say that it didn’t know what it was doing: well, it knows now! Squirming will not help: you have already been given your books! … and “close the door behind you”.
    As the weeks pass, Scotland – and perhaps a majority of citizens in Wales and Northern Ireland – are realising that England is quite a different Nation. For all the criticism that Scotland and its Government gets from 93% of the MSM and unquestioned bias from the BBC, from successive votes and polls, demonstrate that there was, and that there remains a clear difference between England and ourselves. For all its failings, I cannot imagine our representatives today behaving to our European neighbours, with whom we have had peace for over 70 years, (not to mention our long-standing cultural, industrial, trading and tourist relations) with such superiority, cynicism, disdain, contempt and arrogance. And to have Scotland associated with all this ill-breeding, with our insignificance in the process, is hugely demeaning and will not be forgotten.
    That England for its own reasons, voted for, and now will get its Independence, it is bitterly ironic in that it fights ruthlessly to keep Scotland under its tutelage. It’s a measure of the beast.
    England is bankrupt under any measure, and in its mind cannot live on its own sparse resources: Scotland’s wealth in natural resources, and it surely can be said, its well-educated, trust-worthy, hard working and inventive people, are needed for its future economic survival. Though it will not be admitted, of course. It must be very confident of its own ability to keep Scotland fenced in, as its insensitiveness to the Scottish Nation and its people by the May, Gove, Johnston, Davis and Fox clique has only hardened the case for Independence to run our own affairs. The arrogance of rulers south of the Border seemingly knows no limits. Not sure why our English friends accept it, but, then that is their business.
    I do apologise for the tone of this comment. I am very angry.

    1. Deek Thomson says:

      Don’t apologise, you’re quite right. Raging would be a better expression of how I’m feeling about it.

  10. Willie says:

    Out of the EU Britain will be great again, will not need the strength of a trading bloc like the the EU, and will be able to negotiate trade deals around the world.

    Certainly doesn’t seem to be shaping up that way as the May government stumbles on in negotiations with EU that are becoming ever more hostile.

    But what also of the fabled Great British trade deals to be secured with America.

    Seems that freed of the protection of the EU as a trading bloc equal and maybe more effective than the US, little Britain is already in a trading war with the US whereby the US has levied a 212% trade tariff on NI made Bombardier aircraft.

    Corressoondingly with the potential loss of thousands of key manufacturing jobs in NI, the May government is now throwing military planning into chaos by threatening to cancel an order with the US for fifty Apache helicopters..

    Certainly looks like Mrs May and the Great British Brexiteers are going to kick both the EU and the USA’s asses for them.

    Can’t help but think that belligerent little Britain is going to get crushed between these two great trading blocs, with this just being the start.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.