On the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).
Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.
Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.”
In another tweet, Ian Dunt of Politics.co.uk summed up the shameful racist position succinctly. “What we’re witnessing in coverage of Lily Allen and Gary Lineker,” he wrote, “is an attempt to make compassion towards refugees socially unacceptable.”
My friend Joanne MacInnes, with whom I co-founded the We Stand With Shaker Campaign, has been visiting Calais regularly and working with others on the refugee crisis — and in particular, the plight of unaccompanied minors in Calais. On Facebook, she wrote:
I worked as a volunteer at the Home Office last Monday with the first coach load of boys. It was a thrill because I knew a few of them from Calais and we were all so excited to see one another and reunite here in the London – the city of their dreams.
Whilst we were in the Home Office, which involved a lot of waiting around, an officer there showed them the first Daily Mail pictures, but at that point the negativity had not started and they were flattered to have been photographed. Some of those who weren’t felt left out. They assumed it was welcoming, because up to that point everyone had been. I’ve not got a contact for those boys, but I shudder to think how they are feeling now. I hope their families have been able to protect them from the worst of this.
They were so vulnerable and emotional and so obviously teenagers (not that I would care if they weren’t, because no matter their age they deserve to live in safety with their families) that it pains me to think they are now having to survive these accusations after their initial euphoria to be here. The Home Office has put up a screen now, so hopefully there will be no more pictures of the children. Can’t believe the press hasn’t been charged for taking them as they would be at a school.
Today, the Observer reports that, as the “Jungle” faces demolition on Monday, a group of 54 girls, mostly from Eritrea, arrived in Britain “under the Dubs amendment, the government pledge to help unaccompanied minors that was announced to parliament in the summer.” The Observer added that they “arrived at the Lunar House immigration centre, in Croydon, south London, just before 7pm on Saturday.” Lord Dubs, the newspaper reminded readers, is “the Labour peer and former child refugee who brought about a political coup by forcing the government to promise to grant sanctuary to vulnerable unaccompanied children.”
The Observer added:
So far, only child refugees who have relatives in the UK have been allowed to enter but sources said a number of teenage Eritrean girls were being brought to Britain under the landmark amendment, which could pave the way for hundreds more child refugees.
The landmark Dubs amendment committed the government to relocate vulnerable lone-child refugees in France, Italy and Greece “as soon as possible” with charities led to believe the figure could reach 3,000. Volunteers estimate there could be up to 500 child refugees currently eligible in the camp, which will be cleared and then destroyed next week, although hundreds of unaccompanied minors will be kept there in converted shipping containers as their claims to enter the UK are processed.
Elsewhere in Brexit Britain, the Observer also reports that “Britain’s biggest banks are preparing to relocate out of the UK in the first few months of 2017 amid growing fears over the impending Brexit negotiations, while smaller banks are making plans to get out before Christmas.”
The claim was made by Anthony Browne, the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, in a column entitled, “Brexit politicians are putting us on a fast track to financial jeopardy,” which began:
How do you take your Brexit? Soft or hard? Quick or slow? It might all seem semantics but for the UK and Europe it is the £1.1tn question. That is the amount banks based in the UK are lending to the companies and governments of the EU27, keeping the continent afloat financially. The free trade in financial services that crosses the Channel each year, helping customers and boosting the economies in the UK and Europe, is worth more than £20bn.
Brexit means Brexit and we are all Brexiters now. But if we get it wrong, that £20bn trade in financial services is at risk and the public and political debate is taking us in the wrong direction.
I encourage you to read the whole column for further enlightenment of a worrying kind, as this really is the kind of blow to the government that ought to serve as a wake-up call for Theresa May and her ministers, but then I recall her Thatcher-like intransigence, and I fear that even this — surely the biggest threat conceivable to a power structure devoted to the UK’s financial services sector — may be swatted aside by the PM as we press on inexorably to our self-inflicted economic doom.
And believe me, I have no love whatsoever for our bloated banking sector, which I blame for their greed and their unparalleled contribution to the growing chasm between the rich and the poor — but I fear that if they all leave, prompted by Brexit, it will be a huge blow to the economy, and, most importantly, millions of non-bankers will suffer. A friend who works on engaging deprived teenagers in film and the media has already told me that, since the referendum, the corporate banking sector has refused to discuss renewing the support they give to numerous worthwhile projects like his, because they were all making plans for leaving the UK. The damage, of course, isn’t showing immediately, but will show in April, when the funding for countless worthwhile projects — and the people running them — will fall off a cliff unless the government backs down.
In the meantime, another front against the “hard Brexit” favoured by the government — and the unwillingness of Theresa May and her ministers to consult with Parliament — came in the High Court, where a ground-breaking case seeking to establish that MPs must be allowed to vote before we leave the EU was heard on October 13, 17 and 18.
The full 582-page transcript is here, and while I encourage anyone interested to scrutinise the transcript, with its detailed discussions that were described bone of the lawyers as being of “fundamental constitutional importance” to the government, Parliament and the UK as a whole, the key passage that was seized on by the media was the admission by James Eadie QC, First Treasury Counsel representing the government, that, as the BBC described it, “it was ‘very likely’ that Parliament would be asked to approve the final Brexit settlement – on the basis that it would take the form of a treaty between the UK and the rest of the EU requiring domestic ratification.”
The BBC also pointed out that James Eadie was also “quick to stress that what he described as ‘considerable further parliamentary involvement’ was not a cast-iron guarantee of a binding vote and that either the UK or the EU could decide that it was not necessary.”
Tory MP Neil Carmichael, who supports Open Britain, which is campaigning to preserve the single market, responded to the news, as the Independent described it, by saying that “a vote in two years’ time was no substitute for a say on the terms for starting the exit.”
“It’s an encouraging sign that the Government has agreed to give Parliament a say on the final terms of Brexit,” he said, “but there must be a role of Parliament before the end of the negotiations. The best place to start would be for the Government to commit to a debate and a vote in the House of Commons on the Government’s principles for the upcoming negotiations before they trigger Article 50.”
Even better would be for a majority of those with power and influence to accept that Brexit will be so economically suicidal that shouldn’t go ahead with it — as Polly Toynbee discussed in her column for the Guardian on Thursday, entitled, “The public are already turning against Brexit. When will Theresa May listen?”
Toynbee was writing the eve of Theresa May’s first EU summit — which the Guardian elsewhere described as “awkward” — and she had this to say:
There is only one way out of this. The British people may decide the cost is too high. Before anything has happened yet, they can see how the prospect of hard Brexit is already causing serious damage. The pound plunging by 17% is a national disaster, predicted to fall further: only those who supported Brexit whistle in the dark, pretending it’s good news. It will help a few manufacturers and Bond Street retailers of luxury goods, but our precarious over-dependence on imports means steep price rises ahead in petrol and food are rather more important than cheaper Burberry handbags. We may decry an unbalanced reliance on the finance industry, but wrecking it before building up anything else will leave a chasm in treasury revenues, more cuts, more job losses.
People aren’t stupid. They may want less immigration – but not at any cost. The stupidity was a referendum campaign that boiled everything down to that one issue. But people don’t think just one thing, they have many views and priorities: when the facts change, they tend to change their minds.
The latest Ipsos Mori poll shows a sudden plunge in public confidence over the economy. Only 24% expect the economy to improve while 53% think it will worsen (up from 37% in September). Do they think the effect of Britain voting to leave the EU will make their personal standard of living better or worse? Only 24% say better, while 49% say worse – a big shift, says Ipsos Mori’s Ben Page.
I certainly hope these are signs that the British people are beginning to see sanity — but then I remember the racists discussed at the start of this article, the intransigence of Theresa May and the inadequacies of her ministers, and I recall, sadly, that this continues to be, unfortunately, a really rather horrible time in modern British history.
Note: Please also see “Why sterling’s collapse is not good for the UK economy,” an important article by Robert Skidelsky, professor of political economy at Warwick University, and Andrew Rawnsley’s column, “The crew are cutting each other’s throats on Mrs May’s leaking ship,” about dissent in the ministerial ranks.