Brexit Spam: As the Un-civil War rumbles on the only growth industry is terrible Brexit analogies.

I was accused last week of coming up with too many shitty Brexit analogies and so on that basis and in keeping with my mission statement – here are a few more.

Brexit Britain increasingly resembles that Monty Python sketch where a couple go into a café and are offered spam with everything. People don’t want to hear about it. Many seek actively to avoid it – but short of sealing yourself in a bunker on Rockall and stuffing your ears with cement there’s no escaping it.

Brexit’s so ubiquitous, that you half expect to see it on the weather.

“Brexit will sweep in from the East this morning. A few backstops elsewhere but into the West mostly hard, while there’ll be a cold front of manufacturing heading out from the North and into the Continent.”

In the two years since the UK voted to quit the EU, the ‘B’ word has come to infuse everything – like a rancid cheese in your fridge or dog shit that you can’t get out of the treading of your shoes.

Brexit is like graffiti. It hangs around in bus shelters, it sullies up the place. It lurks in stairwells and commuter trains threatening to rob you of your sanity. It rubs off on your coat. It’s ugly and costly. Look up from your phone and it is there and with Theresa May’s deal set to fail there is no sight of escape any time soon.

For two and half years, the topic has dominated our politics, our friendships, our social interactions. I have Remain voting acquaintances who have blocked their own parents on Facebook because of it. I’ve fallen out with old mates. We long ago stopped talking to Grandad about it. Brexit has become less and less about politics and the pros and cons of membership of a trade bloc and more and more like a civil war.

Brexit – Naseby with tweets

Say that of course and you get accused of over-stating the current divisions and pushing your Brexit analogies too far – but I’m sorry that’s what it is. It is a civil war. If these events had unfolded in the 17th century, we would have spent the last two years firing musket shot at each other, shoving pikes up one another’s arses and hanging people from trees rather than tweeting angrily at Newsnight. It’s brother against brother, daughter against mother, neighbour against neighbour, region against region. It’s toxic, it’s acrimonious and at times it has spilled into actual violence.

In 2016, even the most die-hard Brexiter or Remainer couldn’t have predicted that we would be fighting this mêlée of madness two and a half years later. Yes, nobody ever promised that it would ‘all be over by Christmas’ but few could have guessed that the lines for the most part wouldn’t have broken. Far from it. If anything, as the ‘war’ has progressed the fronts have become far more entrenched. Both sides have dug in. Pyrrhic victories have been claimed as major breakthroughs that will end deadlock once and for all – but nothing really has changed….. apart from this one thing – most people in the country are sick to fucking death of it all and long for peace.

In war the biggest victims tend to be the civilian populations. In most conflicts they are the ones who are killed by rampaging armies shortly after their homes have been burnt to the ground. In this war they risk being bored to death.  As Westminster continues to wage its internecine battle aided and abetted by the news and commentariat there is a whole nation out there that is being ignored even as it is bombarded with raining tins of Brexit Spam. The all-encompassing fog of the battle has suffocated engagement on all the other stuff. Education, NHS funding, climate change, social mobility, the division between rich and poor.

Occasionally Jeremy Corbyn sticks his wizened old head out like a soporific tortoise and tries to talk about Venezuela – but that’s about it in terms of variety.

The Conservatives have now been in power for seven and a half years – half of which has been spent on Brexit. And here’s the rub – the topic itself is a wholly unnecessary project – of no benefit to woman, man or beast. It is a folly. A hunt for the Snark, a waste of time, of energy and money that could have been better expended on things of actual benefit to the people of Great Britain.

As we – and yes I include humble me in this – blab on and on about Brext – the silent majority are increasingly war-weary and tired of the very mention of the word. As MPs hold yet another debate and the whole omnishambolic cavalcade of shit rumbles into another year – most Britons just wish it would stop.

Still – at least the Brexit analogy sector is a growth industry huh.

shut up


“People knew what they were voting for in June 2016!” – really? Do our Brexit test and find out.

  1. Can you explain in one or two sentences what the Customs Union is – and what part Britain currently plays in it?
  2. What is a common external tariff?
  3. What is the WTO and very briefly, what are WTO rules?
  4. What is the CAP? How does it work? How will British workers affected by it be better off outside?
  5. What proportion of our food is imported from the EU?
  6. What does “the single market” mean?
  7. How much – as a percentage of GDP – does membership of the EU cost the UK?
  8. What percentage of our trade overall do we conduct with the EU?
  9. True or False – the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement.
  10. Is the ECHR part of the EU? What is the ECHR?
  11. Which body decides on the design and shape of our passports?
  12. What is a Norway style deal?
  13. What is the EEA?
  14. What is EFTA?
  15. Can EU nationals be barred from entering the UK if they have a criminal record?


1: The Customs Union removes barriers to free trade between EU countries (including the UK) by banning tariffs (taxes on imports and exports) making trade easier and keeping prices down. This benefits UK consumers as well as businesses importing and exporting to the rest of EU.

2: Imports from nations outside of the EU are subject to a common external tariff; 80% of the money raised goes to the Central EU budget. This tariff does not apply in all cases – many imports from Africa come into the EU tariff free for example.

3: The WTO is a global body that governs international trade – setting default rules. The UK is currently a member of the WTO but trades on the terms set out as part of its membership of the EU. No major economy trades solely under WTO rules. WTO rules would require exports to be inspected for conformity with EU rules on product safety and specifications. This would be a disaster for exports and the roads leading to Dover. WTO rules also mean imposing tariffs on our exports which most experts estimate to be around 8.7%. Simply defaulting to WTO rules is not a viable option for a major island based economy. But it sounds good.

4: CAP – is the Common Agricultural Policy responsible for those famed butter mountains and milk lakes caused by over-production – as well as the ‘dumping’ of cheap food on Africa causing all sorts of social and economic problems. In 1984 it made up a staggering 71% of the EEC budget but this has since been reduced to 39%. CAP currently provides £3 billion a year to British farmers – whose industry contributes just 0.7% to GDP – propping many up.

5: The UK imports around 30% of all of our food from the EU which isn’t a major problem – unless you like to eat. We in turn export 70% of our food and drink into the market – which grew by 8% in the first quarter of this year. Currently food in both directions is untaxed (tariff free) across a frictionless border.

6: The single market removes barriers to trade and sets minimum and maximum standards for goods. These standards are generally judged to be among the very best in the world and govern everything from the noise a lawnmower can make to the safety of your car. In general these terms benefit both the manufacturer and the consumer and UK manufacturers wishing to export into the EU will remain subject to them after Brexit.

7: After rebates, membership of the EU costs the UK £3.7 billion – or roughly 0.5% of all government spending (the red bit)

eu cost
The RED bit ladies and gentlemen – the RED bit

8: The EU as a whole is the UK’s largest trading partner. Exports to the EU accounted for 44% of all trade in 2017. 53% of all imports into the UK came from EU partners.

9: FALSE. The UK is not a signatory to the Schengen agreement which opened borders between EU nations. That is why you are obliged to show your passport when you go on holiday to any other EU nation (with the exception of the Republic of Ireland.) We have full control of our borders.

10: The ECHR – European Convention of Human Rights and its court The European Court of Human Rights – have nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. Both are the responsibility of the Council of Europe whose 47 members include non EU countries like Russia and Turkey.

11: Passport size and standards are set by the International Civil Aviation Authority which has nothing to do with the EU. This is why most modern passports look the same. The colour and general layout of the EU passport was harmonised in the 1980s but they are recommendations not rules. Croatia has a blue passport and the UK did not need to leave the EU to change the colour of its travel documents.

croatian passport
Modern passports all look the same – EU ones can be blue

12: Norway is a member of both the EEA and EFTA (see below) Norway is a member of the single market but can pick and choose in other respects. If we went down the Norwegian route, the UK could leave the common fisheries policy and the CAP. The European Courts of Justice would no longer have jurisdiction. On the downside, the UK would still have to pay into the EU budget and while the UK would still have access to the Single Market it would have no say in the rules – rendering us a so called ‘Fax democracy.’

13: European Economic Area  (see link)

14: European Free Trade Association (see link)

15: Yes they can be denied entry and thousands often are. The UK retains full control of our borders and we are able to stop undesirables entering the country. Thousands of EU nationals are prevented from entering the UK every year. The EU’s 2004 citizenship directive states that free movement is not an unqualified right.



1 – 8     You’ve taken back control but you don’t have a clue what it means

8-12     Not bad – but did you really know all that in 2016?

12-15   Welcome to my blog Mr Verhofstadt

This blog follows on from an original – which you can read here if you are even half bothered


“People knew exactly what they were voting for!” OK – I’ve devised a little test – let’s see if it’s true.

“People knew exactly what they were voting for!”

Heard that lately? I am sure you have. If you didn’t catch Nigel Farage chipping in with it on GMB this week, then you will have heard Johnny Mercer MP say it, or Jacob Rees-Mogg or any number of MPs, MEPs, Brexit backers and twitter accounts repeat it. I’ve read it on Facebook, I’ve heard it on LBC and the BBC; I’ve seen it in letters to The Metro and been told it by Brexit backing family members and Brexit backing friends. And yet – two years on from the EU referendum currently the most Googled Brexit questions in Britain are: “what is Brexit” and “when is Brexit?”

When you consider that the governing party itself is currently in open civil war about what sort of Brexit we are going to have and what it will actually mean the idea that “people knew exactly what they were voting for” does seem to be – well – preposterous.

But surely Nigel Farage and that nice Jacob Rees-Mogg aren’t lying. They can’t have just made it up? There must be some basis of truth in the idea that ordinary Britons understood the multifaceted nature of our relationship with the EU and solemnly cast their votes carrying this weight of knowledge and the implications of leaving. I mean wasn’t simply everybody talking about the CU and the WTO for decades prior to June 2016?

My faith in both men is a matter of record on these pages and so to help prove Jacob and Nigel right I’ve devised a little test.

Fifteen fairly basic questions about the EU and our relationship (or possible) future relationship with it; get more than 60% right and you can probably quite rightly claim that you knew what you were voting for in June 2016. less than that and you should probably have stayed home with a nice mug of gin.

Let’s go:

  1. Can you explain in one or two sentences what the Customs Union is – and what part Britain currently plays in it?
  2. What is a common external tariff?
  3. What are WTO rules?
  4. What is the CAP? How does it work?
  5. What proportion of our food is imported from the EU?
  6. What does “the single market” mean?
  7. How much – as a proportion of GDP expenditure – does membership of the EU cost the UK?
  8. What percentage of our trade overall do we conduct with the EU?
  9. True or False – the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement.
  10. Is the ECHR part of the EU? What is the ECHR?
  11. Which body decides on the design and shape of our passports?
  12. What is a Norway style deal?
  13. What is the EEA?
  14. What is EFTA?
  15. Can EU nationals be barred from entering the UK if they have a criminal record?

I’ll be honest. I would probably have failed to get 60% even in 2016 and so should most definitely not have been allowed to vote on something as complex as our membership of the European Union. How did you do?

Answers here

Putin’s Lord Haw Haws – why does the UK continue to tolerate Russian propagandists and useful idiots?

Theresa May delivered a sombre assessment yesterday on the attack on Russian defector Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and the valiant police officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who went to their aid when they were poisoned with toxic nerve agent – Novichok. Mrs May told MPs it was ‘highly likely’ that the Russian State was responsible for the “brazen attempt to murder citizens on our soil” and has given the Putin government until midnight tonight (13th March 2018) to respond. If no reply is forthcoming the Prime Minister has indicated that the government will conclude that this attack was a deliberate “unlawful use of force” by Russia.

The Russian state’s response so far has been predictably dismissive and the wheels of propaganda swiftly turned. Mrs May’s comments were ‘provocative’ and a ‘circus show in the British parliament.’

This is but the latest in a string of bizarre deaths and assassination attempts in the UK of former Russian spies and emigres – most famously Alexander Litvinenko. In the past the UK government has been accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ to these attacks and this perhaps has emboldened the FSB/agents of the Kremlin to the extent that they feel they can brashly murder people in broad daylight on the streets of Salisbury – and put hundreds of British lives at risk in the process.

Vladimir Putin on RT

Anyone who cares about Britain should be deeply concerned about this – and Russia’s dismissive and discourteous unwillingness to co-operate. This attack is terrorism plain and simple and whoever is behind it should be brought to justice. If the protagonist is the machine of the Russian state then there is no comparable assault on our nation by a major country in modern times.

Incredibly however, since the poisoning of Skripal, his daughter and Nick Bailey on the 4th of March – some of the loudest self-professed patriots in the land have been strangely silent. Nigel Farage, for example, has made just two mentions of the events in his twitter feed. Once – when publicising his LBC show and once (indirectly) when asked by Kevin Maguire whether he still venerated Vladimir Putin. Farage is on record as saying that Mr Putin is the world leader he most admires and has appeared many times on the Russian State propaganda channel RT – even being offered his own show. But ‘straight talking Nigel’ declined to give a straight answer.

In the two LBC shows in which Farage has (presumably been obliged) to discuss Skripal – he has been very careful indeed not to criticise the Russian leader and suggested, instead that Mrs May should reach out to him, sit down with him and ‘thrash it out.’ Mr Farage – who for years has branded Mrs May ‘Theresa the appeaser’ has clearly never looked up the word ‘irony’ in his dictionary.

Nigel is not alone in his near silence on Skripal. Arron Banks’ Westmonster ‘has made one brief mention of it; right wing website Breitbart London – edited by UKIP acolyte Raheem Kassam has, between dozens of tweets and articles about rampant knife crime in Sadiq’s London, made two. One of those focused mainly on criticism of the UK government’s handling of events. Across the board, the majority of what might be termed ‘Brexit accounts’ have spent the week bleating about a Canadian right wing extremist, Lauren Southern, being denied entry to the UK for her views (yes I know). The few tweets Westmonster and others have sent have left trails of comments beneath them from dim witted ‘nationalists’ and obvious Russian trolls blaming the attack on (variously) the Jews, Soros, or the British authorities themselves. There is also a widely circulated rumour doing the rounds that as Porton Down is just a few miles from Salisbury – MI6 did it.

George Galloway – useful idiot?

By contrast to his fellow Grassroots Out colleagues, former MP George Galloway has been anything but silent. His twitter feed has been buzzing with conspiracy theories and with good reason. With all those ex-wives, Galloway has bills to pay and as Putin’s highest paid propagandist he is obviously putting in some overtime. You see gorgeous George Galloway earns hundreds of thousands of pounds fronting his show on the RT channel where he is ever willing to do his paymaster’s bidding.

The one thing all of these useful idiots are absolutely certain about is this – that the most obvious suspect – Vladimir Putin – the one holding the massive smoking gun – the one who swore revenge on all traitors and double agents and said that they would tracked down and killed – is innocent or at least ‘not proven to be guilty and thus not guilty’.

For years, the Russian state has had the West for fools. The country may have oligarchs bursting at the seams, but it has very little money and fairly weak actual military capability. It has instead managed to extend its power, muscle and influence through misinformation and highly effective propaganda. Like an old style Lada, AK47 or T-34 tank Russia has made a virtue of simplicity. Why spend billions of roubles on nuclear submarines when – for a fraction of the cost you can sow discontent, fear and division among your enemies. Russia Today – the glossy flagship of Kremlin deception – has created memes and tropes that dance at the edges of our political discourse and often tip into the mainstream. The myth that the EU caused mass unemployment in the South of Europe for example or the ‘no go zones’ in Londinistan or the idea that Sweden is overrun with murderous rampaging Muslim jihadis are all RT tropes. Now to be fair – they are very good at this – the true masters of fake news and there is a steady line of journalists, politicians (of all hues) and pundits willing to take the fee and feed the machine. But depressingly – there is a much wider contingent of gullible fools willing to lap it all up.

porton down
UK Porton Down facility

The Russian state has long targeted the EU in particular – because the EU poses a direct threat to her dimming power. Brexit worked in Putin’s favour. We know that Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU Front National received money directly from the Kremlin. It can hardly be a coincidence that so many at the centre of the Brexit storm have links or expressed admiration for Vlad – how deep those links go and to what extent they compromise the integrity of Farage and others has yet to be fully established but the whiff of cordite is in the air.

What is patently obvious and what the Skripal incident nimbly underlines, is that the loyalty of these self-professed ‘patriots’ to Great Britain plays second fiddle to their unwillingness to criticise Russia even when (apparently) the Kremlin is trying to murder citizens and snuff out any hapless passers-by on the streets of England. Some serious questions need to be asked about how long OFCOM will allow RT to broadcast its misinformation into UK homes but the bigger question is this – just how loyal are these fellow travelling Lord Haw Haws to the country they purport to love? And how long are the rest of us willing to let them get away with it?


Free Speech (so called) why twitter was right to ban Britain First

There’s a quote – attributed to Voltaire – that goes:

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

You see it often in Jpeg form or quoted on Twitter, in the press and all across social media. Over the last few years and in the days of after-shock following the racist Britain First’s twitter suspension it has been doing good business.

It was only today – and frankly to my surprise – when I bothered to check the source that I discovered that Voltaire never said such a thing. The ‘quote’ was actually penned by an English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall (who ascribed the words to the great thinker.) I confess I’ve never read any Voltaire but obviously he is one of Europe’s ‘Greats’ and so when the words are attributed to him they gain currency – much as any old bull crap can be rendered worthy of an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when credited to Gandhi, Einstein, Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher.

I’m rather pleased to discover that the quote has nothing to do with Voltaire for two reasons – firstly because it’s a lot of bollocks and secondly, because the fact of  its fiction neatly demonstrates the point I want to make.

Let’s study the bollocks first. Taken out of any context and standing alone, this idea that liberal minded free thinkers should be obliged to ‘defend’ the rights of bigots, religious extremists, paedophiles, fascists, Stalinists, racists, perjurers, prevaricators, liars and fools is patent nonsense. 

Should we defend the rights of extremist preachers to incite terror attacks? Should we have all defended Adolf Hitler’s liberty to argue that the Aryan race was naturally superior and that the Jews should be stripped of their rights and lives?  Should we defend the anti-semites in their attempts to prove that the camps at Belsen and Dachau were a fabrication? If so – how far do we extend that courtesy? Should schools invite holocaust deniers to speak to their children just so the kids can hear the other side of the argument? Should we welcome the case for ‘Creationism’ to be taught alongside evolution in schools thus lending Iron Age camp-fire myths equal weight to accepted science?

Now I am using extremes here but there is a very good reason for that. Free speech has its limits. Freedom of expression lies at the heart of a democracy – but it is not an inalienable right. There comes a time when dangerous and illiberal sentiments need to be curtailed, not least to defend that democracy and the people within it. That can be done either by the law or by the terms and conditions of use set out by social media firms.

Britain First has consistently fallen foul of both domestic British law and the terms of use set out by their platforms and it is frankly lamentable that both have taken so long to catch up with them.

If the internet has taught us anything, it is that there are a lot of people who are very gullible indeed – as I have written previously. From their viral origins Britain First demonstrated an aptitude for disseminating misinformation and false equivalence with devastating effect. I have determined not to share any of their images in this post – but to give an example they would frequently post images of homeless soldiers inviting Facebook users to ‘like’ if they thought the government should prioritise their care over that of asylum seekers. Many who liked it probably had no idea ‘who’ they were liking and any suggestion that government could and should help both was parked at the door.

The damage was done.

jayda 2

As this outfit of racists (and yes they were just that) gained media attention – their currency grew. I often read their feed and it was lie after lie after lie. As the ‘Voltaire’ quote neatly demonstrates – a  fake can easily get implanted in our culture and fabrications can swiftly become accepted truths.  A quick internet search could disprove a high percentage of their stuff, much of which was presented without source or context – but the fact is that most people simply don’t care about that. Muslim haters don’t seek answers or context – they seek confirmation of their hatred. Britain First’s online followers were radicalised by a diet of hate based on selective truth and downright lies and twitter  afforded the group’s leaders blue ticks – lending them an added air of authority which led eventually to Fransen being ‘retweeted’ by the American President and afforded a whole new level of exposure.

Britain First benefitted from an indulgence of tolerance that would never be afforded them in a general election campaign or in conventional British politics. They breached the boundaries of Free Speech with the same disregard that they ruptured the limits of truth. Their filth was excreted into the mainstream and their actions became more and more reckless. The ban was wholly appropriate.

In the days that have followed, I have been amused to observe many of our ‘home grown’ alt-right commentators lambast twitter – er – on twitter – for curtailing free speech. People like James Delingpole, Katie Hopkins and that funny little man who calls himself ‘Old Holborn’ have busied themselves about the internet branding those who welcome the move as ‘haters of democracy.’ The truth is that these defenders of free speech no more believe in it than I believe in flying car-parks called Steve. To them, like Britain First, ‘free speech’ means the ‘permission to be a racist and say racist things like you could in the old days.’

For myself, I think it’s important to hear different opinions and not merely paint myself into an echo chamber. Try it guys.


Ladybird Libertarians: Dan Hannan, Paddington and the pernicious impact of 1970s children’s literature on Brexit thinking

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time in a great farmhouse in darkest Peru, there lived a little bear and his two elderly parents and with no other bears to play with and the forest being too dangerous to venture into alone, he would lose himself in books. Now in his nursery there were shelves brimming with stories of gallant Kings and Queens and magnificent looking steam trains that flew across lush green countryside and the little bear, sensing that he somehow belonged to that far away land dreamed that he might one day visit this magical country called “England.” England – that had invented democracy and whose gleaming parliament had a clock tower that rose taller than the tallest trees of the jungle. England – where the buses were always red and ran on time and the incorruptible policeman rode about in smart uniforms on gleaming bicycles. England – whose people were “a byword for correctness, integrity and punctuality (qv).”

And then one day, trouble broke out in his homeland and his worried father came and told him that he needed to be sent away but all would be well because England would look after him. And so he waved his parents farewell and flew across the great ocean – and arrived to discover that the country he had dreamed about for so long was nothing like the picture books at all – and indeed was actually a bit shit.

Now, OK Dan Hannan MEP isn’t and never has been a bear and I don’t have access to his childhood library – but the rest of it is true. Brexit’s key intellectual figure, like many in the movement is the immigrant child of émigré parents; Paddington – without the marmalade sandwiches or the general appeal.

Despite never being a household name Dan Hannan has managed, in admittedly narrow competition, to acquire a reputation as the ‘the brains’ behind Leave. His vision, plugged as academic validation of the cause is essentially that Britain has always been an outward looking country and that we have never been ‘comfortable’ as a part of Europe. We are bigger than that. By ‘reaching out’ to old friends in the Commonwealth with whom we have common ties and heritage we will we be able to fulfil our latent potential.

Dan Hannan’s Youtube broadcasts – peculiarly evocative of a Dad’s Army era UK

I don’t buy it myself and while that probably won’t surprise you, I would contend that a lot of those who parrot it don’t really believe it either. It’s a convenient crutch for bigots to lean on. Hannan on the other hand clearly does believe in this and there’s a reason (I think) for that which is wedded to his biography.

Rees-Mogg, Tory-UKIP defector Douglas Carswell and even Farage – when he’s appealing to respectable Tories – all toe a similar line on the ‘big world out there let’s trade with it’ thing. Indeed I’ve heard friends in my own circle say it and Hannan’s book “How we invented Freedom” was cited by a very clever acquaintance of mine as just cause for voting Leave. This friend is married to an immigrant and very brainy indeed – no tub thumping racist he – and someone whose views I respect and so (despite having read some truly ghastly Hannan drivel) I endeavoured to read it.

I didn’t get very far.

If you haven’t tackled this Magnus Opus yet then spoiler alert – Hannan’s tome is “Ronseal academia” rooted in a “ladybird” view of world history.

Ladybird Libertarians are all about us. Their intellectual rigour, grounded in the books of their childhood has been carried into adulthood and is now being used to validate their flakey political outlooks. The more I study politicians like Hannan or old sparring partner Jacob Rees-Mogg or Douglas Carswell, the more I sense that their much vaunted intelligence and learning is little more than an academic veneer.


It’s hard to imagine if you weren’t there, but those of us who grew up in British homes in the pre-internet age didn’t simply watch the same television – we read the same books. Ask anyone British over 40 if they ever read a “ladybird” and they will undoubtedly say ‘yes.’ Actually it’s a little unfair (and pains me) to single out these beautiful tomes because the vision of Britain trotted out by them is also there in Blue Peter annuals, Look and Learn magazines, Eagle publications, Warlord comics and any number of imitators from the time.

Ladybird books though are the best known of the bunch – hence their recent ironic revival and the originals are a particularly fascinating window on British attitudes in the 1960s and 1970s. The history series, which I’ve spent time looking at this week, remains extraordinarily readable and vivid but it isn’t really ‘history.’ A lot of legends are presented as facts; Alfred ‘did’ burn those cakes for instance and many important details are omitted altogether. In the life of Charles II ‘women’ are curiously absent. Nell Gwyn gets a brief mention on page 42 but only as ‘a famous actress at that time.’

Nell Gwyn, lover of Charles II and mother of his two children gets her only mention

There is an almost pathological dedication to a ‘Kings and Queens at the centre’ version of history. Even bad Kings are somehow good. This is history where Francis Drake is a charming handsome adventurer first and foremost, a fun-loving privateer (privateer if you’re British – pirate if you’re foreign) second and a slave trading war-mongering bastard – well – not at all.

Ladybird books and their imitators weren’t just about history of course. They covered a wide and colourful assortment of topics. In the ‘People at Work’ series “The Fisherman” is engaged in a noble endeavour – bravely battling the elements and risking life and death to bring in the catch against the cruel sea. It is undeniably admirable that ordinary working jobs like that or ‘nurse’ ‘fireman’ and ‘farmer’ were up there on the shelves on equal terms with the life of Lord Nelson in the 1960s.

However, with their romantic art-work and unwavering hero narratives – what children were being fed here was an exceptionally idealised conception of Britain or if you prefer: ‘propaganda.’

OK – commercially produced propaganda – but still not so very different to the stuff being pumped out in Soviet Union at the time. These books present an overwhelmingly positive, patriarchal, sanitised, utopian vision of Anglo-centric British history and society – very much continuing the tradition of ‘colonial Empire literature’ that my parents grew up with. The truth was far less prosaic and palatable. The noble policemen in the 1960 Eagle book of Police and Detection are untouchable, unimpeachable moral gods. And yet at the very same time that the book was being sold, rotten and corrupt members of Sussex constabulary  were serving time for a massive organised racket while just a decade later confessions were being beaten out of the innocent Birmingham 6.

Eagle – 1960
White colonial men doing great things while ‘natives’ look on

Hannan arrived in the UK (aged 8) in 1979 on his way to boarding school. This was end-period punk Britain. A country mired in strikes and misery as Jim Callaghan’s Labour government struggled to bury the dead while the nation slowly buried itself under piles of uncollected rubbish. Britain was a battered shadow of its former self. It must have been a bitter disappointment for an eager young Empire boy brought up on tales of his fabulous homeland to discover this rotting cadaver and not the shiny picture book Britain he had read of.

As Roger Scruton says here of Hannan: “The expat mentality is (of) belonging to the old country and the inability to accept that it is changed beyond repair.”

Ladybird Libertarians like Mogg, Hannan, Carswell and Farage seem driven by a desire to get back the pastel Britain presented in the books; the one where to be British was to be respected and we ran an Empire on which the sun never set. All three were ‘young fogeys’ whose political vision seems to have been formed at school and remained rigidly and defiantly unchanged ever since. None of them has been on a ‘journey’ in any meaningful way, shape or form since they left the nursery behind.

Chasing a sanitised picture book past that never actually existed beyond the idealised propaganda of ladybird books is like hunting for a Snark. Hannan and chums have made careers out of it but having won the pyrrhic Brexit victory they have yet to realise that the “snark was a Boojum you see.” I don’t think they ever will.

Britain has not had a violent revolution or lost a war in modern times – we have never really had to examine ourselves or critically – our propaganda – in the way that Germany or the former Eastern Bloc countries have. I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it because in a peculiar way, Brexit is performing that function and obliging many of us to look again at Britain and examine ourselves, our narrative and even the books we grew up with more closely. That is a Brexit positive. Perhaps at the heart of our current debate lies a conflict between those who still buy the “Ladybird libertarian” take on history and those of us who are increasingly interested in deconstructing the past and figuring out what is best for all of our futures.

Doves of Peace – Soviet painting of 1956

Daydream Belizers: Brexit, big sugar and the bad boys from Belize.

In June 2016 a perfect storm of ‘interests’ managed to convince the British people to vote to Leave the EU. Among those ‘interests’ was “big sugar.”

Little known fact: The European Union is the largest beet producer in the world churning out 17 million metric tons per year. The Common Agricultural Policy has long been protectionist towards EU produced beet – even as it (often very reluctantly) reformed other areas. While a small amount of cane sugar can be imported into the EU at €98 per tonne, most is imported on a tariff of €339 per tonne and naturally the sugar companies do not like it. At the time of the referendum, Tate and Lyle estimated that the additional costs of tariffs added as much as €3 million to each shipment.

There are two big players in the UK sugar industry. British Sugar, which produces 55% of our domestically produced sweet stuff, uses beet in its production process and EU (mostly British) suppliers and thus manufactures its commodity tariff free. Tate and Lyle Sugars is a cane importer and is thus obliged to pay tariffs on imports. Unsurprisingly, the company has been opposed to British membership of the Union from the very start.

During decades of hostility to the EU/EEC, Tate and Lyle managed to make friends in some very high places and one in particular. Prior to becoming an MP Brexit Secretary David Davis worked for the company for 17 years and was actively engaged in lobbying against the then EEC tariff. During the 2016 referendum Tate and Lyle Sugars was one of the few big companies to support Leave and this year sponsored the Brexit heavy Conservative Party Conference, a move branded ‘disgraceful’ by British farmers 

Gove wearing a Tate and Lyle sponsored security badge at Tory Party Conference

While heralding the “golden opportunity” that Brexit will bring Tate and Lyle, oddly, neglects to mention either that they have been owned by US sugar giant American Sugar Refining since 2012 or that the ‘EU beet sugar’ they are so upset about is produced – in Norfolk. T&L’s cane sugar isn’t.

So where does it come from?  

Sugar cane plays a vital role in the economies of countries like Mexico and Brazil and an even bigger part in that of poorer and smaller Latin American nations like – Belize. Sugar cane remains the principle commodity of that relatively small Commonwealth country, accounting for almost a quarter of all exports while 15% of the population in this fairly poor country rely directly on it for a living. According to their former trade envoy to the UK, Belize exports all of its sugar to Britain. In theory, Belize, along with Fiji and Guyana is exempt from EU sugar tariffs – but multinational corporations have an unnerving habit of looking at ‘the big picture’ where their exports are concerned.

The Brexit links to Belize have been well documented before but here’s a quick reminder. Brexiteer Lord “Panama Papers” Ashcroft is a Belizean citizen and has dedicated much of his life (and assets?) to the country, serving as their Ambassador to the UN between 1998 and 2000. He admits that his businesses have been exempt from certain taxes there. Ashcroft allegedly gave the People’s United Party $1m when in opposition – it in turn introduced laws which are claimed to have been financially advantageous to Ashcroft. His Lordship has an uneasy relationship Dean Barrow the Prime Minister of the small country but it is often descibed as his (Ashcroft’s) private dominion and he owns the Bank of Belize in which Barrow is a shareholder.

Arron Banks, former UKIP donor and Leave EU Official boss-man also has close personal and financial links to the country and was the nation’s “special envoy to Wales.” Banks has managed to draw something of a veil over his associations with the Central American state but at least some of his wealth is said to be held in off-shore Belize.

Incidentally, Arron’s father David was awarded an OBE for services to overseas sugar in 2002.

Then there’s Andy Wigmore.

Arron Banks’ chirpy side-kick, Leave EU colleague and employee Andy Wigmore is not merely a Belizean citizen and sporting hero – who represented Belize at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, he was until January of 2017 the Trade & Investment Minister at the Belize High Commission in London. This diplomatic post existed, in the words of his LinkedIn profile to ‘promote trade and investment into Belize.’

Wigmore explains the benefits of Brexit

Now – let’s stop for a moment here and actually take that in.

Andy Wigmore – Comms and Number 2 at Leave EU Official – a vastly important player in the Brexit referendum was, at the time of the EU Referendum campaign, a foreign diplomat, employed by that foreign power, with the explicit role of promoting trade and investment into that nation. The Vienna Convention, which defines the framework for diplomacy between nations, states that diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the State.” But here was Wigmore – the trade envoy of a foreign country, actively doing just that.

Taking back control yes? But for whom?


Andy Wigmore, Belize trade envoy to the UK – doing what he was paid to do

Following his and fellow Brexit “bad boys” meeting with Donald Trump – Wigmore was obliged to resign as a diplomat, ironically on the insistence of Boris Johnson. It seemed that by meeting Trump, Wigmore was breaching his “duty not to interfere in the internal affairs [of another country]” as an accredited diplomat under the terms of the Vienna Convention – something he had already done in the UK – but oddly Boris let that one go. Wigmore resigned, but months later he was to be found, still cavorting about the British Isles in a car with diplomatic plates.

Belize (and her powerful players) may have lost a trade envoy – but what had they gained in the process? The country and its politicians are much obsessed with the price of sugar on account of it being not merely the key economic issue but by dint of that – a political one as well. In Belize – sugar is political power – but as a tiny nation is perhaps more in thrall to its ‘sponsors’ and the biggest of those (apart from Ashcroft) is ‘big sugar.’

Despite theoretically not being subject to EU tariffs Belize Sugar Industries has faced many difficulties importing into the UK and the EU which has long favoured domestic beet production. Wigmore has been vociferous about this in the past, insisting on social media and candidly to the Evening Standard, that Brexit will be a bonanza for the small country. Belize’s cane producers clearly hope that the UK market will now be opened up wide after the country withdraws from the EU. That will benefit Belizean farmers and producers, Belize itself, politicians in parties like Lord Ashcroft’s friends at the PUP –  but the biggest winners will be the majority shareholders in Belize Sugar Industries.

And – who might those guys be?

Well – since 2012 – that prize has belonged to an American parent company called ASR or American Sugar Refining – and if you think the name sounds familiar from earlier on in this piece then let me save you the trouble of scrolling back – it’s the same parent company that owns Tate and Lyle sugars. The benefits to ‘Tate and Lyle’ that Wigmore, T & L and even the government have been so keen to promote are essentially ‘benefits to the US company ASR’ and their shareholders.

Now, I don’t want to go all Canary/Infowars on you, it might of course be a coincidence that a foreign trade envoy, working for a country whose main export is sugar moonlighted as the comms guy for a campaign whose few beneficiaries included sugar producing Belize and big sugar.

You may be absolutely fine with your Brexit Secretary having worked for nearly two decades for the one big business that backs the UK leaving the EU – and why should that big sugar producer not sponsor the Tory Party Conference?

But – there are serious questions here – questions of loyalty and integrity that go right to the top of our government and all of us – not least the beet farmers of Norfolk – are deserving of some answers.


This article has been updated (July 2018) 

How long will it take Leave voters to accept they were conned by the Brexit Spivs?

There used to be a fake auction house at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street that ran a highly effective scam. As passers-by elbowed their way in, a convincing sounding bloke would hold up luxurious looking gadgets –promising to give them away to the first bidder.

The sale started and as the price dropped a voice would ring out at a critical point and the winning customer – a member of the gang hidden among the crowd -would walk away with what appeared to be a top end bargain.

At this moment – with the pressure ramped up – thrilled punters would surge forward, jostling and shouting, until they too had been handed a tenner’s worth of goodies in a sealed black bin liner. Once home, buyer’s glee rapidly descended into buyer’s remorse, as the unhappy dupe discovered that he or she had been sold a worthless piece of junk.

It was a brilliant swindle that lasted a decade, because it turned on a very basic principle of human psychology: few people are ever willing to admit, that they were stupid enough to have been conned.

Much the same is true in politics.

In the run up to the Gulf War in 2003 YouGov polls showed that around 54% of British people supported the overthrow of Saddam. The tabloids and many broadsheets – with the notable exceptions of the Independent and Guardian – bought in. The Sun thoughtfully provided its readers with a “dartboard of traitors.” A willing press, right wing commentators, the ‘dodgy dossier’ and Tony Blair’s relative popularity conspired to convince most people that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – that could be deployed in 45 minutes.

Donald Rumsfeld US Defence Secretary insisted the invasion would be swift and uncomplicated. It would all be over long before Christmas.

Very quickly that belief faded like dust into the desert sand and a catastrophic decade of deadly conflict was unleashed, but by then of course it was too late.

Twelve years later in a follow up YouGov poll only 37% of British people admitted to having believed the invasion to have been right in the first place. You would be hard pressed to find anyone now willing to admit that they thought the Iraq war was good at the time and hardly anyone at all who would call it an unqualified success.

With every day the Brexit project unravels and yet the 52% who backed it seem as willing to accept they have been tricked as the Oxford Street punters or the Gulf War supporters. Once again the papers are branding naysayers “enemies of the state” or “mutineers” in much the same way that The Sun called Charles Kennedy a traitor.

In July Liam Fox said that leaving the EU and securing a free trade deal should be “one of the easiest (things) in human history.” Sound familiar? Farage told the BBC last year that Brexit would be easy. I wonder how many will agree in 12 years’ time?

In the run up to June 2016, as Leave were busy labelling every warning about the consequences of Brexit –  ‘Project Fear’ – they themselves were concocting “Project Lie” a dossier every bit as dodgy as Tony Blair’s “WMDs”.

Taking advantage of the fact that most Britons did not understand the complexity of our relationship with the EU and – critically – that nobody in public life would be brave enough to point this out – Leave embarked on a campaign of deceit that would have made the crook in the Oxford Street auction house blush.

They lied when they said we sent £350 million a week to the EU and again when they said it could be diverted to the NHS.

They lied when they said we had no control of our borders, when they insisted it wouldn’t hit our economy, our freedom to travel, our global standing – our reputation in the world – our place in the queue for trade with the US.

They lied when they claimed the UK had no influence because of the EU, that we were outvoted, that 70% of our laws were made there – that it weakened us when in fact it made us stronger.

They lied about Turkey.

They lied about sovereignty. They even lied about the dark blue passports.

They lied when they said it would be good.

On the 23rd of June 2016 Britain was sold a costly black bin liner full of crap. Making that error does not make those who bought it fools. Failing to recognise it does. Perhaps it’s time to find the courage to ask for our money back.

Who are the real traitors here? The peculiar ‘patriotism’ of the Brexit leaders.

The Telegraph’s front page today paraded the Conservative MPs who dare to defy the Brexit narrative like condemned men and women at a Soviet show trial. The term “mutineers” was deployed – along with dark hints that their perfidious stand was  – well  treasonous.

20171115_065134 (1)
Daily Telegraph is owned by the Monaco living Barclay Twins

Since the EU referendum last June, the narrative in the Leave press has trod a similar path. Those who back Brexit are immediately assumed to be patriotic, those who oppose it – aren’t.

It’s a curious idea but one that has gained currency with those who tell us to “believe in Britain.” Most Remainers  already do of course. That is why we oppose Brexit. We want the country to thrive, prosper, be well-regarded and view this ridiculous folly of wilful self- sabotage as an assault on the place we call home.

Oddly, many in the top ranks of the Brexit army don’t – call Britain home.

Take the Barclay brothers – owners of the Daily Telegraph which today denounced the mutineers. David and Frederick Barclay may have been born in Hammersmith, but they live in Monaco and Sark. They give their address as Avenue de Grande Bretagne, Monte Carlo and when once asked why, said that:

“(We) left the UK over 23 years ago for health reasons and not for tax reasons in any shape or form.”

Methinks they doth protest too much.

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, whose stable of papers (The Times and Sunday Times excepted) fought the dirty end of the Brexit media war isn’t British, doesn’t live in Britain and is on record as saying that he objects to the EU because it won’t do his bidding.

The multi-millionaire owner of the Daily Mail, Jonathan Harmsworth, is a non dom.

Nigel Lawson, Chair of Vote Leave, loves Britain so much that he resides full time in a big house in – France. Leave EU Official bigwig Arron Banks lives for much of the year in Belize. His right hand man, Andy Wigmore, not only lives in Belize but is a Belizean citizen and diplomat who represented Belize at the Olympic Games. Andy loves Britain so much that he is no longer actually British.

Key Brexit pusher and financier Lord Ashcroft – also lives in Belize.

The official Vote Leave campaign was funded by Peter Cruddas who lives – in Monaco.

And this is before we even get to the Brexit talking heads – Louise Mensch lives in America. Steve Hilton – lives in California.

I could go on. And on.

This curious Brexiteer patriotism goes beyond merely living here. The self-appointed guardians of the flame of nationhood, whether they be the owner of the Express or the owners of the Mail have spent decades rubbishing Britain in the pages of their papers.

The ground troops are no better.

Farage might claim to be the UK’s top patriot but he has spent the last twenty years insisting Britain is a shit hole and the last two trying to kiss Donald Trump’s. Hardly a day goes by when the former UKIP leader isn’t popping up on American news networks to say how ghastly everything is, how the UK is being over-run by Islamic jihadists and politically correct liberals. At the slightest hint of a terror attack he is there on Fox talking dismissively of the country of his birth. Farage has hinted more than once that he might leave Britain and is on record as saying he will move abroad if Brexit goes badly. See also Katie Hopkins, George Galloway and any number of right wing pundits and radio phone in hosts.

How much of this hypocrisy are you willing to put up with Britain? When do you take a good look in the mirror and say “enough is enough.” These are plastic patriots. They aren’t interested in the prosperity and well-being of their homeland. They are too busy being concerned with their tax affairs, their media careers, their business interests and their tans. They have played you for a bunch of fools and whichever way Brexit goes they will most likely go untouched by the fall-out.

By contrast, the 15 Tory MPs singled out by Vote Leave and The Telegraph today have collectively served this country for decades. They have lived in Britain. Worked for Britain. Invested in Britain. And for the most part tried in their own ways to make it a better place. Oh – and paid taxes HERE. Perhaps Banks and the Barclay brothers should reflect on that – and even take a leaf out of their book – before branding them treacherous.


Priti Patel: My life in travel – the recently departed minister talks family holidays, mountain trips and Liam Fox with our resident travel guide

What is your favourite journey?

I love mountain air and last summer, during a family trip to Israel, was lucky enough to catch a ride, as many ordinary tourists do, with a couple of dozen armed friends in an armoured convoy to an unimaginably beautiful place called Golan Heights. The view was breath-taking and it was lovely to chill out with the guys up there and talk about their fund-raising efforts for a new military outpost. Many of them are hard-working soldiers – just getting on with life. It reminded me a lot of the Mendips – but with more barbed wire – and machine guns.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Liam Fox is a joy to travel with. He’s always surrounded by such interesting and amusing men and has a lovely manner, particularly with young people. Contrary to popular opinion, there are some politicians who are without airs, graces or conceit. I’m one of them. Liam is definitely another and then of course there’s the wonderful, charismatic – John Redwood. Lovely John and I once shared a train to Macclesfield and we laughed all the way – mostly about how stupid everyone who disagrees with us is!

liam fox
Disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox

Are you a sun lounger, a culture vulture or an adrenaline fiend?

None of the above! I’m very much a people person. I believe that if you go to a foreign country on holiday you should get out of the hotel, away from the hotspots and just meet the “ordinary Benjamins.” The Prime Ministers. The military top brass. That way you can really get much more of an understanding of a place.

Dream trip

The great thing about Brexit is that once we’ve left the EU we’ll be able to travel anywhere we like again. I’d quite like to go to Belize. I know a lot of people who say it’s paradise.

What is your first holiday memory?

There’s a popular misconception that my parents fled Idi Amin’s Uganda in the 1970s to settle in Britain like ‘refugees’ or something like that – but it’s completely untrue. We are as British as Prince Phillip. The delusion grew out of my family’s love of travel. My great-great grandparents went on holiday to Africa in the early twentieth century and liked it so much they just extended their vacation sixty years. Sure my parents were born there and my ancestors are from India but we have always been British. Obviously on an extended holiday you’re going to make a lot of friends – so as a child we’d frequently go there but let me be absolutely clear about this. My parents were on holiday in Africa and were not immigrants to this country.

idi amin
Idi Amin

Worst thing about travelling

Queues. They’re my bête noir. Queues at immigration are mostly the fault of other people of course and this is yet another reason why we need to slash migration figures. Another Brexit plus!

What do you read on holidays?

I’m a voracious reader. I love to read Facebook and Twitter. Possibly sometimes a magazine if I want to devour something really meaty – or a WhatsApp thread.

What luxuries can’t you live without?

Cigarettes. Lovely, soothing, warm tobacco. I don’t smoke but I love cigarettes. And the packaging was an art form wasn’t it, before the EU in their “wisdom” started suggesting it glamourised smoking. Ridiculous nonsense. People like to smoke without looking at charred lungs! Yuck! Get over it Brussels busy-bodies!

Brexit benefit! Queues will end as people stop visiting Britain

What was the last journey you went on?

I took a flight back from Uganda this week. I’d only been away a couple of days but I was deeply moved by the warmth of feeling towards me in Britain and the concern for my safety. I’m told ordinary journalists watched my flight from beginning to end to make sure it touched down OK! Imagine how good that feels! Knowing you mean that much to people – well – it’s flattering.

A place you would like to visit that you have never been to

I’m told Witham in Essex is lovely.

Have you ever been in a difficult situation while travelling?

A couple of years ago I went on holiday with my lovely assistant, Alex Sawyer, who is also my husband when he’s not doing his high-powered job! There was a mix up with our reservation so I decided we should sit where we wanted. After a bit of a rumpus an air hostess told me that the seat was “First Class” and belonged to somebody else and that I had to leave and sit in “economy”. Imagine the indignity. Well they were just about to call security to forcibly eject us when I gracefully volunteered to leave my seat – by myself – voluntarily.

Where next?

I quit my ministerial post much as I left that airplane seat – voluntarily. In fact Theresa May begged me to stay. She’s a great PM and I’m backing her all the way. One day of course she might choose to step down. It’d be pretty nice to have another woman in Downing Street, wouldn’t it?

Priti Patel – thank you