Brexit – Why I’m Marching

Warning: unedited stream of consciousness.

Next Saturday, I’ll be attending a protest march in London. I know the government won’t listen, I know that nothing will change. Sometimes protests make change happen – not very often though.

So why march?

Well, there’s not much I can do to stop Brexit. My local MP defied Labour’s three-line whip to vote against the bill (which I appreciate, greatly) and any reasoned arguments against Brexit are met with “but we’re going to get the best deal.” A march will show that this is an unconvincing argument.

The 48% who voted to Remain in the EU are not just being ignored, but completely silenced. They’re already being made scapegoats by some Brexit supporters – the pound is weak because we’re ‘talking down Britain’. If Brexit isn’t a success, they say, it won’t be because it was a terrible idea, or even a good idea poorly implemented, the blame is already being laid at the feet of ‘Remoaners’ for not uniting or trying to make the best of it.

That argument has a small ring of truth. I know small business owners, technical professionals, skilled and educated people who are looking at emigrating because of the government’s course before Brexit hits properly. If what I can see in my own bubble is representative, then these ‘Remoaners’ will inflict some small economic harm on the UK by leaving. Then again, it could be argued that they are taking back individual control and leaving an undemocratic union rather than trying to make the best of it. Which 52% of the country also decided was the right course to take.

The government’s attitude towards Scotland is absolutely astonishing too. I wouldn’t believe it if I read it in a book – it has an air of Douglas Adams to it. Telling people that leaving our biggest trade partner to go it alone is guaranteed to be a success, but telling Scotland they can’t afford to go it alone? Trying to explain that it would be irresponsible to have a referendum when the final relationship isn’t clear? The thing that swung the first Scottish referendum was membership of the EU. Now they’re guaranteed to lose membership of the EU, but when independent they have a chance to re-join it. And as a small economy in the union, they will see investment to accelerate their own independent growth and success, like we’ve seen with other new members. I don’t think Scottish Independence will be good for the UK. But I think Scottish Independence with EU membership will be better for Scotland than UK membership without the EU, and even that will be better than Scottish Independence without the EU. So it’s a gamble, but seems quite a safe gamble. I can’t see any reason they wouldn’t get into the EU fairly quickly after independence, other than the border issue. But Northern Ireland will already have set an example there.

I think we will either have Freedom of Movement with the EU (and riots from the 52%), or there will be some sort of a border in Ireland. I can’t see it going any other way. You can’t put up a border between Northern Ireland and the UK (it’ll be like having your passport checked to go to Wales). When I was young, ‘terrorist’ meant ‘IRA’ in any news story I heard. Since then, things have settled down a lot. Borders could start to unwind that process.

I don’t see the benefit in Brexit. We will be throwing away our trade deals (made by a strong economy with 20+ other large states to form a powerful negotiating bloc) to make new ones, as a single state with a weak currency.

The Leave campaign, and the Conservative manifesto, promised that we would stay in the Single Market. Leaving that would be completely nuts. We are going to lose many large businesses as they flee to Ireland, France or Germany. The government’s current course is like (and I steal this from someone else, I can’t remember who though) Remain won 52% and told the country that it was therefore the will of the people and a clear mandate to drop the pound and join the Euro. And then trying to tell 48% of the population to ‘just get over it’. And the leader of the opposition bullying their party to support this plan, then trying to pretend that they really oppose it.

The whole Brexit situation is aggravating, and I’m not even going to go into the whole Parliament-vote final deal stuff. The government is crazy. The country is doomed. And it won’t be my fault, I didn’t vote for it and I’m not trying to sabotage it. If there’s even anything I can do to make it work, I’ll do it because I don’t want everything to collapse more than it already has. But if me saying “I don’t think that’s a good idea…” on my private Facebook or a blog no-one reads is enough to derail the Brexit plans, then maybe Brexit isn’t the guaranteed success it’s being promised as.

So I’m going to go to this march and be counted and show that it’s not just a small minority who lost the vote. The half of the population who lost still feel very strongly, and deserve to have their concerns answered properly. Being told “we’re going to get the best deal” isn’t very convincing. Other countries have no obligation to give us a good deal. We need answers, we need a plan, and we need to be treated fairly – when Brexit fails, it won’t be the fault of the people who voted against it.

In defence of my rights

Our new government wants to take away our human rights. Well, specifically, they want to take away the Human Rights Act which allows us to prosecute breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights in this country. The main narrative for this is to “bring it home” and “stop the unelected judges in Strasbourg ruling on British matters”.

These are complete nonsense.

1. The ECHR binds us whether we have the Human Rights Act or not, and all citizens of states signed up to the ECHR have the right to prosecute in the courts in Strasbourg. Scrapping the Human Rights Act will not stop people going to Strasbourg for human rights issues.

2. The Human Rights Act is what allows us to prosecute human rights issues in this country. Scrapping it will not give us more power to prosecute human rights in this country than we already have.

3. The ‘unelected judges in Strasbourg’ are actually elected by the MEPs we send to the EU. The judges in this country are not elected.

We are being placated by being told that a new British Bill of Rights will hold all the parts of the existing Human Rights Act (itself a clarification on the ECHR) but without the nasty terrorist-friendly bits. I am sceptical about this, since the ECHR is very, very simple. It is written in short, friendly passages and protects our rights to not be tortured, to not be arrested without cause, to not be executed by our government and also more day-to-day rights – right to freedom of assembly, of political thought and belief, of privacy. I can’t think of a new British Bill of Rights (note the word “human” isn’t there anymore) that contains all the important bits of the ECHR (all of them), and then comes down harder on terrorists somehow.

There are a few different interpretations on what the government wants to achieve with this action.

The Scheming Narrative

The government knows that the ECHR binds us just the same, and is doing this to trick the frothing, ill-informed masses for whom Human Rights have become synonymous with turning the UK into a terrorist hide-out, preventing us from arresting or deporting dangerous criminals who hate this country and everyone in it and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all murdered in our beds by religious zealots.

The trick will be thinking that the government has come down hard on Human Rights and sorted out the problem. In reality, nothing much has changed, except that it may be slightly more difficult to solve a legitimate human rights grievance – you’ll need to go to Strasbourg, the same way as if the Human Rights Act in this country doesn’t work for you.

I want to believe that we are not just being placated and condescended to by politicians who don’t think we can handle the truth. On the other hand, the policy makers are not idiots and they must know that the solution they’ve offered will not solve the problem they have described.

The Cynical Narrative

This one declares that the HRA is only a first step, and seeing the above about scrapping it being almost pointless because the ECHR continues to tie us up, the ECHR will be next.

If you look at government policy over the last five years, and proposed policy, I believe we have found a crazy conspiracy theory for the reasons why the Human Rights Act needs to go.

1. The Snooper’s Charter: Our right to Privacy is protected.

2. Capital Punishment: Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, is on record as supporting hanging. The Death Penalty is forbidden by the ECHR.

3. Privatisation of the Probation Service: The government has been pushing through a controversial privatisation of the probation service, and on top of a horrifically shambolic implementation the ECHR had ruled that to make profit on unpaid labour (ie, probation community service) is ‘forced labour’ and/or slavery, and illegal.

4. Workfare: As above, but with less risk to the public’s safety than a privatisation of criminal rehabilitation. Forced Labour is forbidden by the ECHR.

5. Proposed ‘anti-extremism’ laws: The government wants to crack down on extremists and radical groups that “stop short of terrorist activity”. This would allow the police to break up groups for radicalising others or for being “against British values of democracy or tolerance”, even if no crime has been committed.

This last one causes the most problems for me. It will probably come up against the rights we have of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association and Freedom of Belief, as well as our right to not be arrested if no crime has been committed. And even if it is only used to attack nearly-terrorist groups, why should I lose my human rights over it?

It could also be claimed that the Green Party speaks out against British values of democracy, as they are demanding electoral reform – implicitly stating that British Democracy is not working. UKIP speak out against tolerance – just listen to their rabid attacks on immigrants. And from where I sit, the Conservative parties intolerance of our right to meet who we want, say what we want, think what we want and be allowed to conceal it from the government (assuming that we are not criminals) is counter to British values of tolerance, and their dogged commitment to the First Past the Post system is counter to the British values of democracy. A party that can claim a majority government from 37% of a 66% voting turnout is clearly not democratic. Once you start defining political parties as extremist groups you start moving awfully close to some dangerous precedents.

Even if the woolly definitions are not intentional, the government’s “porn filter” on the internet was designed not just to block titillating or extremist material, but “esoteric material”. What are toy soldiers, old sci-fi shows and thoughts on programming on this blog but esoteric material? What is wrong with material “understood by or only meant for the select few who have special knowledge or interest”?

What do I think?

I really don’t know. I want the HRA to stay, since it’ll be easier to bring my grievances about my human rights being trampled to court in the UK rather than go to Strasbourg. I definitely want the ECHR to stay since to leave that will jeopardise our Acts of Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland (and probably Wales), our position in the Council of Europe (we would have to leave) and the respect that other nations have for us. We do not want a reputation of being dismissive of human rights. It will probably adversely affect our ability to inform policy in the United Nations. At worst, it will set an example for countries like Russia that it’s OK to just leave these regulatory bodies, conventions and responsibilities and do whatever the hell you feel like, and set the cause of global human rights back by a fair whack.

In summary, the government will do the country a great disservice by leaving the ECHR. It will do the people a great disservice by pretending that scrapping the HRA on it’s own will “bring more power home” because it will do exactly the opposite – make it easier to prosecute human rights violations in Strasbourg than in Britain.

I don’t like being called a Nazi

On Saturday, I joined a few (reports vary between ten and over twenty thousand) like-minded people on a stroll through London to let David Cameron know that we aren’t very happy.

The reason is the Pope’s state visit to the UK. I’d been thinking about joining a protest since I found out about the visit earlier this year, but was undecided this week. It seems that Bristol didn’t have anything organised – although this isn’t too surprising, since Benedict wasn’t visiting the West Country – so I’d have to go to London, and it might have been considered rude of me to go off for a day while my sister was supposed to be visiting me! After confirming with her that it was all cool, I sat down to work out if I should go or not.

The following day, Pope Benedict said that Atheism was to blame for the Nazi atrocities of World War Two. A quick change to my Facebook status for the day – “Pete Fullergreen does not like being compared to Adolf Hitler by a man who condones child rape” – and I booked the tickets. I may only be one person, but the more ‘one persons’ that marched the less easy it would be for the government to ignore the fact that they are spending our tax money illogically.

It was an absolutely amazing day. I’ve never been to London completely alone before, I’ve always met someone there to guide me around or gone with someone else. I was a bit nervous about getting lost in the big city, especially since trying to find the start of the march had me walking with an awful lot of people carrying yellow ‘Pilgrim Packs’. I thought I was probably safer finding the place without help. The march stretched on ahead beyond my sight, although I could see the back (and ended up at the end once). The signs were terrific – a lot of Father Ted “Careful Now” (which I initially thought was a message about condoms) and “Down With That Sort Of Thing” (which I completely mistook as a vague protest until someone pointed it out to me). There were dozens of statements – “Pope’s Homophobia Costs Lives” etc, and a few very specific cases – “Money for the arts, not old farts”. Several people mentioning the taxpayer-funded nature of the visit, one of my favourites being “I want my £40 back”. I felt exactly the same way. It’s a matter I may be writing to my MP about.

There were cleverer signs too – “Jesus Had Two Daddies” and “Abstinence Makes The Church Grow Fondlers”, as well as the more confrontational “Kiss My Ring!” An awful lot of people had pope-dress on, one was in black with pink trim addressing the marchers from a nearby building at one point, getting cheers for each benevolent, condescending wave, and one almighty cheer for screaming “FUCK THE POPE!”

The condom brigade, wearing inflated condoms around their heads, bouncing around condom balloons, were shouting at any Catholics they saw walking to Hyde Park for the Mass later that day (they were easy to spot, because of the yellow pilgrim packs) “Condoms For Catholics? Any Catholics need a condom?”

I met a lot of good people that day, and heard some incredible speeches by Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell, and many others (too many to remember), including a Catholic bishop from New York. My only regret is that David Cameron was not in Downing Street to hear us outside, and that despite figures being estimated as high as twenty thousand (I’ll ignore the ‘maybe thirty’ that I’d heard somewhere), no-one is going to apologise to us for spending tax money so unwisely for fear of angering the Pope.

I also regret that no-one challenged the Pope – when he mentioned how wonderful it was that Britain fought the Nazi evil, he warned the Britain’s secularism was allowing ‘aggressive atheism’ to take over and blamed the same for leading to the Nazi atrocities. No-one challenged him, they clapped politely. No-one said “I thought it was racism that made them do those horrible things, not atheism?” or “How come they locked up Jews and homosexuals but not Catholics, if they didn’t like religion?” No-one said “Actually, wasn’t Hitler a Catholic who never renounced his faith and wasn’t excommunicated?” and “Didn’t Hitler always oppose state atheism as a mark of Communism?” Indeed, no-one said “Didn’t the Catholic church sign a treaty six years before the war agreeing not to oppose the Nazi party in democratic elections with their own Catholic party, and to support German Nationalism and the German Reich alongside Catholic teachings in exchange for not being drafted into a possible war – that would have been against the Treaty of Versailles, but still accounted for in this concordat of 1933?”

Nope, no-one was going to present anything other than fawning politeness to the Pope. We let him address members of parliament in Westminster, telling them to be wary of removing religion from law (fun fact: Catholic Canon Law has been introduced in a few countries, banning abortions, divorce and placing warnings on condom packets that they do not protect against HIV) and be wary of secularism marginalising religion “especially Christianity”. He even said that some of those nasty secularists are trying to ban Christmas, which as far as I am aware has not been true in the many, many years that hack tabloids have been reporting those stories. It’s as bad a story as when “England flags are being banned!” appeared all over the media and Facebook during the World Cup – actually reported alongside hundreds of pictures of people displaying England flags, and underneath newspaper competitions to win England flags and St-George’s-Cross emblazoned goodies. Not really much of a ban.

I was glad that I took part in the march – it’s my first march for any cause. I’ve never even seen a gay pride march (although based on the recommendation of friends, I’d love to join one). But I am aware that nothing will change. Nothing will actually get done. But at least I got out there and shouted with the rest of them. If everyone who thought “it won’t make a difference, so I won’t bother” had actually come out instead, then maybe it would have made a difference. Ironic, isn’t it?

I never realised this would become a political blog…

So, the British Nationalist Party managed to get on Question Time and almost the entire audience was wanting to ask questions about Nick Griffin’s nasty policies.

I have to say that I think to anyone who sees the BNP as just another political party (whether or not they would actually vote for them), Griffin presented himself calmly (more so than the frustrated panellists disgusted at having to be near him) and said all the right things. Send back immigrants who commit crimes, etc etc. When the discussion moved onto someone else to talk about current immigration policy, they totally dropped the ball.

To people who shiver any time they hear about the BNP, they were exposed as frauds, liars and snakes who haven’t abandoned their wicked ways. But that requires that you already believe Griffin and the BNP to be inferior creatures – people who don’t are more likely to see them as an underdog after this, being almost the sole subject of scorn and derision.

My criticism of Question Time is that the show was not nearly long enough to really get to the bone of any of Griffin’s claims and lay them out in simple enough terms that he could not claim he was misquoted. Although that would have made it more of an inquisition, rather than a “meet the politicians” sort of thing. Since he managed to wriggle long enough on each specific accusation, they had to keep moving onto the next question and he wasn’t forced to actually say “Yes, when we talk about Ice Age Britons we know full well we’re ignoring the dozen different major cultural eras that took us from barely sentient cave-beings to the almost entirely sentient McDonald’s employee, we just use that as an excuse to hide our racist views.”

The thing I took away from the show about the BNP is that if they have changed (and I don’t believe that for an instant, just talking hypothetically) then they are still taking us as a culture backward. Ignoring the immigration issue, they want Christianity placed above other religions in this country. Although technically it is the state religion, we have moved far in that everyone gets a level ground, and everyone’s religion is equal. In the same vein, anyone not ‘obviously’ British would have to start proving it, even if their family has been here for more generations than most. And their view on homosexuality not being taught or talked about is just plain wrong. People are homosexual, bisexual, or whatever they are, and just because they’re not told about it when they’re young won’t change that fact. It’ll just cause more problems for them in their own personal life, and act as a stepping stone backwards to situations like Alan Turing, and the way he was treated by the government for being homosexual – despite inventing a code-breaking computer that contributed immensely to our efforts in the Second World War.

Basically, I think it shows that our culture has moved on to ignoring differences between people, and focussing on people themselves. The BNP would be taking us back to an “Us and Them” culture, where anyone like the party-in-power is Us and any minority is Them.

(disclaimer: this does not constitute my entire feeling on the BNP, which can easily be simulated yourself by ramming a fork into your eyes, but merely a few things I had to get off of my chest this week. Thank you.)