Letter from London: Cometh the Hour

At the time of writing it is impossible to know what will come of the Brexit Crisis and even if any form of Brexit will take place on March 29. There may be a delay, Britain could conceivably “crash out” of the European Union, as the BBC likes to put it, without either an agreement or minimally adequate preparations, and the May government could fall, prompting a general election that might well  be won by the Trotskyist Jeremy Corbyn.

The agreement that May tried to sell to Parliament essentially locks the UK into the EU for an indefinite period, allows for Brussels’ regulatory annexation of Northern Ireland, and does not even provide for Britain’s exit but merely its entry into trade deal negotiations having surrendered all its leverage and promised to pay a fee of £39 billion. It has long been the only deal on offer from an EU leadership which has an existential incentive to make Brexit as painful as possible, and which has not been presented with any ultimatums sufficient to inspire even minimal concessions.

 The one thing that is clear about the crisis is that, whatever one thinks of the underlying question of British membership of the European Union, Theresa May’s handling of the negotiations with the EU, and indeed the entire political process that has followed the June 2016 referendum, could hardly have been worse.

Every single decision she has made since the day she triggered Article 50 might almost have been designed to simultaneously put Britain in a weak negotiating position, cause chaos within the Tory Party, create uncertainty for business, and further divide both the political class and the public.  May careers from destructive stubborness (she takes foolish pride in inflexibility, mistaking it for character) to indecisiveness, cynicism and panic. Again and again, pundits here in the UK express surprise and disappointment at her peculiar tone-deaf ineptitude. They don’t understand that Theresa May is the anti-Churchill.

Just as Winston Churchill, for all his faults, had precisely the right combination of political and personal qualities needed in the crisis 1940, she possesses an equally remarkable combination of all the wrong qualities needed at this moment in the nation’s history. Theresa May’s extraordinary unsuitability for the job at this time should not be nearly as surprising as seems to many pundits here, and it gives me (almost) no pleasure to be able to say “I told you so.” Almost three years ago, when Mrs May was a leading candidate for the leadership of the Tory party, I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph saying that she had been a terrible Home Secretary yet had managed to foster a wholly misleading image of competence and conviction. Her vaunted toughness was really just bluster. Mrs May’s staff managed to get the article pulled from the Telegraph website (her officials always seemed to put more effort into image-management than managing the Home Office) an action that itself caused a mini-scandal and ensured it was published elsewhere and widely seen.

One of the things about May’s career that had gone oddly unnoticed, along with her lack of any apparent political philosophy, her limited intellect, and many incidents of cynical vindictiveness (panicked by a TV report about a student visa scam, her Home Office swiftly deported thousands of students who were legitimately in the country) was a bizarre lack of emotional intelligence. It was typical of her almost autistic inability to understand the emotional needs of others that it did not occur to her to go to the scene of the great Grenfell Tower fire. That same flaw has been at the root of many of her Brexit failures.

For Mrs May the fury in her own party and elsewhere at a deal which would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom seems to have been baffling. She was aware that the Northern Ireland troubles had happened; but she could not understand why people there or on the mainland cared so much about issues that were merely symbolic. This profound inability to appreciate the importance of symbols or the emotional resonance of historical events has rendered her peculiarly unable to understand either the Brexit vote or the resistance to it both in the UK and in the EU.

A Remainer herself to the degree that she has any solid political beliefs, May seems to think the only reason why more than 17 million voted to Leave was xenophobia. It is to cater to this presumed bigotry that she has repeatedly threatened the status of EU citizens current resident in the UK. It is why every time she feels the need to bolster support in the country, she announces policies that spitefully target immigrants and foreigners – in every case to the dismay of the pro-Brexit lobbies. The worst manifestation of this characteristically clueless but malign tendency was 2018’s bizarre Windrush scandal in which the May’s Home Office expelled Commonwealth immigrants who had been legally in the country since the late 1940s if they could not now provide documentation to prove it.

Just as May cannot understand the importance of sovereignty, independence and national identity to Brexiteers, she, like many British Remainers, also does not understand how the passionate commitment to the European project of EU Commission officials (and many of her own civil servants) means that they, like their opponents, would willingly sacrifice the economic wellbeing of all parties on behalf of their cause.

That this particular Prime Minister, of all of Britain’s politicians, should be at Britain’s helm in the Spring of 2019, is so unfortunate that it feels as if we have been abandoned by the same Providence that so many times in the past gave us the right person at the right time. When or if we get through this as a “strong and stable” United Kingdom, we will need to rethink a system that no longer seems to bring to the fore political leaders whose abilities are commensurate with the country’s needs.

Shamima Begum is one of four young women of Bangladeshi origin who were 15-year-old students at the Bethnal Green Academy in the East End of London when they left the country to join the ISIS caliphate in 2015.  She is one of 800 Britons who went to Iraq and Syria to support the ISIS cause. Liberal commentators in the UK have indulgently and inaccurately likened them to the British and American progressives who volunteered in the Spanish Civil War. In fact they have rather more in common with the fascists who went to fight alongside the Nationalist rebels against the Republic that was Spain’s legitimate government.

Begum now lives in a Syrian displaced persons camp controlled by ISIS enforcers. She was discovered there in February with much fanfare by a British journalist. Begum’s latest husband, a Dutch jihadist who converted to Islam, is being held in a Kurdish detention centre elsewhere in the country. Begum told her interviewer that she wants to “come home”. This was not because she has given up on the cause but because “the caliphate is over” and also because she wanted good healthcare for the child she was then carrying, having previously lost two babies in addition to her first jihadi husband. Begum’s interview revealed her to be unrepentant in every regard. Her only regret seems to be that the ISIS state has been defeated. She boasted in her interview that she had been unfazed by the sight of decapitated infidel heads in barrels, apparently a common sight in Raqqah during ISIS rule.

Begum’s “discovery” brought to the fore the difficult question as to whether the hundreds of British ISIS devotees who went to the Middle East to be a part of the Islamic empire established by the fundamentalist cult should be brought back to the UK now that the surviving ones are mostly in detention centres and refugee camps.

Unfortunately, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, one of the candidates to succeed Mrs May as leader of the Tory party, decided to burnish his security and patriotic credentials by stripping Begum of her British citizenship. This was on the incorrect assumption that she also has Bangladeshi nationality. The fact that hundreds of male ISIS members with British passports, including fighters and owner-abusers of Yazidi sex slaves, have not just retained their citizenship but been allowed to return home makes Javid’s foolish action seem all the more cynical.

Rendering the “Isis Bride” a stateless person is not only legally problematic, it has, inevitably, played into the already common narratives that portray Begum as merely a passive victim of others – a naïve child who was “groomed” by jihadists (the term ‘grooming’ presumably chosen because it evokes the teenaged victims of Britain’s Anglo-Pakistani rape gangs), and who is now being mistreated by a cruel Tory minister. The reported death of Begum’s newborn child at the beginning of March makes it even more persuasive.

When Begum does come home, as she surely will given the illegality of the Home Secretary’s act and the sympathy she has won, she will likely be used by Islamist extremists to further their cause. It is not at all impossible the entire affair began as part of ISIS information operation, and that Anthony Lloyd, the British journalist who found Begum, was unknowingly helped to discover the pregnant refugee in the hope that her return would become a cause, and then later, she could become a celebrity and inspiration for a new generation as a brave jihadist mother home from the wars.  

Begum grew up in the Tower Hamlets area of East London, a borough that exemplifies more than any other, the naivete and incompetence of British immigration policy. Successive waves of immigrants from one of the poorest parts of Bangladesh have created a monocultural quasi-ghetto whose inhabitants have been much less likely to integrate, are less likely to speak English, and are slower to achieve economic success than those of any other immigrant community in the country. They are also the most prone to adopt fundamentalist beliefs. British Bengalis there are much more likely to wear the hijab than their relatives in Bangladesh. Gangs of young men have attacked drinkers, smokers, gay couples and under-covered Asian women in the streets of the borough. Tower Hamlets is also the first place in the UK to experience the common South Asian electoral practice called “booth capturing” which involves the takeover of polling places by goonda thugs who support a particular candidate. In both 2012 and 2016, supporters of Lutfur Rahman, the then-mayor of Tower Hamlets, were able to intimidate voters at polling places from which the Metropolitan Police were unaccountably absent. Rahman has since been found guilty of corrupt practices and banned for standing for election for five years.

Thanks in part to the Shamima Begum case there has been talk in Westminster about amending or updating Britain’s treason laws which, it is often pointed out by the newspapers, date to the fourteenth century. One might imagine from the way that these laws are referred to, that they have not been used for three hundred years. In fact, people were tried and convicted of treason within living memory, during World War II, not least John Amery who tried to raise a “British Free Corps” for the SS and was hanged in 1945.

Why none of the Britons who joined the Taliban or ISIS while British troops were fighting on the other side, some with the express aim of killing British troops, have been charged with treason is unclear. There may well be genuine legal difficulties, especially given that we live in an age in which traditional, declared, inter-state wars are rare. But what has surely made it harder to deal with what is self-evidently a form of treachery and violent betrayal is the reflexive treatment of “treason” as an absurdly, even comically antideluvian notion in itself.

Such an attitude is not confined to the bien-pensants of Hampstead or the progressive publications preferred by BBC brass and top barristers but has spread throughout the political class. It seems quite possible that the resistance to trying British ISIS volunteers for treason may have to do with a lack of political nerve: rooted in terror of being labeled “racist” or anxiety about further alienating certain British Muslim minorities. Or, even more disturbing, a diminished belief in the legitimacy, sovereignty of the British state. The notion of treason necessarily implies the existence of its opposites: a duty of loyalty to the realm, and a solidarity with the millions of strangers who happen to be your fellow citizens — one that trumps other, cross-border forms of affection and allegiance. But a significant section of today’s British establishment have become such internationalists (whether or not they are fervent devotees of the European project) that they are uncomfortable with any assertion of national identity, as if any expression of or appeal to “Britishness” would be both vulgar and atavistic.  For them the whole notion of treason is problematic morally and politically, regardless of its legal validity, precisely because it implies an obligation to be primarily loyal to a single sovereign state and its citizens.

In his book The British Dream, David Goodhart recalls a debate with two establishment figures, one a bishop, the other the then-head of the BBC; the first said he would always put global welfare before national welfare, the second said he personally felt a greater obligation to people from Burundi than people from Birmingham. Both men presumably believed that these opinions showed them to be enlightened cosmopolitans, modern citizens of the world. It could in fact suggest a kind of laziness rather than open-mindedness. (A cynic would say such loyalty to everyone really means loyalty just to oneself.) Loyalty to country is admirable partly because it is difficult. It can be much easier to feel an instant connection with fellow academics, bureaucrats, activists, journalists or doctors in other countries than with one’s own countrymen from a different social class and educational background. Disdain for the latter is one of the reasons why middle class Britons so often, like Dickens’ Mrs Jellaby, feel more compassion for picturesque poor people in foreign countries than for disadvantaged folk at home. It is one of the reasons why the UK spends ever greater amounts on foreign aid.

  • padraic

    The whole thing has become a dog’s brexit. I can’t believe the mess they have made of it.

  • pgang

    The EU’s chief negotiator is telling Britain to get its affairs in order for the 29th’s exit. Europe has done so already. That is indeed some promising news.
    It is astonishing that it is now the EU who are looking like the sensible grown-ups. The British parliament has thus achieved what I would have regarded as impossible.
    I don’t have enough any history in my head to make the comparison, but could this be the lowest moment for British politics ever?

  • pgang

    By the way, was this supposed to be two separate articles?

  • pgang

    “The Prime Minister should advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament suspending the current parliamentary session until 2nd April 2019 to prevent any attempts by parliamentarians to thwart Brexit on 29th March 2019. Preparations for no-deal/WTO will continue.”

    Parliamentary petition, now up to 92,590 signatures out of the 100,000 required for parliamentary debate.



    “That this particular Prime Minister, of all of Britain’s politicians, should be at Britain’s helm in the Spring of 2019, is so unfortunate that it feels as if we have been abandoned by the same Providence that so many times in the past gave us the right person at the right time.”
    That same Providence, the great I AM from Exodus 3 is sovereign over the universe (Psalm 103:19) which means the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human destiny (Galatians 1:15) and human success and failures (Luke 1:52).
    The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things.
    In answer to “…it feels as if we have been abandoned by the same Providence…”
    It is not that God has abandoned England. It is that England has abandoned God!
    2 Peter 2:1V (KJV) says: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction”.
    England is in a rotten place in history because God in his sovereignty gave them over to their own desires. Romans 1:25 (KJV) shows how this has come about:
    “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen”.

  • en passant

    I happened to be working late when the BREXIT vote was taking place. I was a strong supporter of the UK leaving the corrupt EU and managing their own destiny, so by the time I went to bed I was depressed. The ABC, the BBC and an American station I flicked through to see how the vote was going all predicted a comfortable REMAIN result. Shades of Trump Wins!
    Just 5-hours later, BREXIT was announced and the ‘resistance’ had already begun.
    I then wrote a long blog called ‘The Seven Deadly Ways to Prevent BREXIT’. It would make a separate article, but let me summarise the political sinners ways of thwarting a democratic vote the Swamp did not like as within 24-hours the following rebellions to the will of the people had broken out:
    1. 700,000 ‘Remain in Bondage’ losers have signed a petition calling for a second vote because:
    a. Only 72% of the registered voters voted – the highest turnout ever. However, the losers claim that with less than a 75% turnout the vote is not binding. This should vacate every seat in Parliament, so that could be a win.
    b. 52% is not 60%, which they claim is the minimum required for a mandate to leave the EU.
    Some new rules invented yesterday or today, so this is a typical approach by the washed when their views are not shared by the ghastly, ignorant, unwashed voters.
    2. President ‘Napoleon’ Juncker’s announced that the UK would ‘suffer for its decision’ in trade, finance, travel and influence. What an arrogant little man and hopefully one who has now stirred the bulldog.
    3. The Northern Barbarians want a second referendum to gain their ‘freedom’ so they can sell their country back into bondage for the second time. The first time was in 1707.
    As I used the say when Alex Salmond was First Minister in Scotland: ‘The fish first rots from the head’. I can keep saying it as the First Fool is now Nicola Sturgeon. Well, let them go as Scotland is a mendicant state that draws more from the UK than it contributes. This SEXIT from the UK will save England and Wales several £Bn. The UK also pays into the EU £20Bn and recoups £10Bn, so by ‘letting my people go’ the diminished UK is about £13Bn in front to spend on rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall and laying minefields to keep out the starving Scots. This impoverishment is a certainty as Spain has announced that it will veto any Scottish entry into the EU as it is already facing calls for referendums on Basque and Catalan independence.
    4. Just like Herr Junckers the English should place prohibitive tariffs on all Scottish products (Chinese Whiskey is not that bad if you drink it with garlic oil). Tit for tat sounds fair.
    5. 96% of Gibraltars voted to stay in the EU, so as most cross the border every day to work in Spain there can be a second big diplomatic win here. Give Gibraltar back to Spain. The people voted for it. As a precaution, better send a few riot police to calm them when the implications of what they have done bear fruit. Actually, just let them suffer.
    6. Prezzie O’Barmy’s political Newspeak was a wonder to watch. He said “I must respect the choice of the British people in their wish to leave the EU. However, I meant what I said in April so it also means that in trade deals the UK goes to the back of the queue.” Amazing! Speaking from every orifice at the same time! Thank goodness for Trump and the dustbin of history
    7. On ABC radio that day, Electricity Bill said that Turnbull should resign because, like Cameron, he leads a divided party. I was on Bill’s side on this one. His other psychotic episode, about 30-seconds later that the Parliament should just approve same-sex marriage as a plebiscite was ‘too risky’.
    7. The British Government and the EU plutocrats will conspire & collude to ensure the exit is so painful, grotesque and costly that it will be unworkable (how is Switzerland doing?) This will result in a second vote devised in such a way as to obtain the desired result. An example of the ballot choices could be:
    1. Vote the REMAIN for wealth, happiness and security, or
    2. Vote for BREXIT and poverty, pain and isolation from everyone in the world who matters.
    That should achieve the right result next time
    As a result of voting for Liberty, Little Britain now has a chance to be Great again, rather than a ‘Little’ cog in a big unaccountable machine. However, there are consequences.
    Let me predict that the economy will be hit and decline due to some ‘deliberately placed obstacles’ and that for the two years after BREXIT occurs, life will get worse.
    All revolutions do this for a while as President Junckers and the others will seek to revenge themselves on the ghastly British voters who want to escape from their Brave New World. The quicker people get over it, accept the challenge and get on with it the better off the UK will be. The best revenge is to give the Scots and the EU everything they wish for as it will hurt them more than the UK.
    I note that the Pound has already crashed 30%. (It quickly recovered). This is excellent as the cost of British exports will be cheaper and holidays in Blackpool will be all the rage again. The EU tourist trade collapses but the upside is that thousands in the EU will realise that the cost of revenge affects them. The British economy will not take long to recover and soon the UK may be as rich as Norway & Switzerland and as independent as Iceland.
    This National Review article showed why the EU monster must go.
    ‘Not coincidentally, their new government is one they can’t vote out. The European Commission, which has a virtual monopoly on proposing European legislation, never submits itself to elections. It is an appointed body of unknown bureaucrats and failed national politicians.
    Nor can British, French, or German [national] parliaments reject or amend the Commission’s laws and regulations or the European court’s decisions.
    Nor can their voters repeal them. European law is superior to what are still quaintly called “national laws.” And if a national referendum (one of the few escape hatches in this panopticon) rejects a European decision, the voters are asked to vote again until they get it right. In short the EU’s defences against democratic accountability are pretty watertight.
    Today, by a slim but emphatic margin and in direct contradiction of the polls and punditry, that watertight bulkhead collapsed.’
    Exiting the EU is not the end, but the beginning of a new era with the additional benefit of getting rid of the snotty Cameron. Congratulations to the UK voters (less the barbarians)!”

  • gardner.peter.d

    The main thrust of this article on Shamima Begum is to be supported but the argument is critically weakened by factual inaccuracy. Home Secretary Sajid Javid did not illegally strip Begum of her British citizenship. The law states that he may do so if he has reason to believe she is eligible for citizenship of another state. Bangladeshi law and its interpretation given in previous agreements is that she is eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, however much Bangladesh may now desire to keep her out of the country.
    The main difficulties UK has are three-fold: a) its law dealing with British jihadis is absurdly weak and any measures introduced now to strengthen it could not be applied retrospectively to Begum; b) its political classes are even more obsessed by Islamophobia than their counterparts in Australia, c) there is no way any evidence of wrong doing that would satisfy a British court could be garnered from the areas where Begum has been or from the people with whom she lived and people who knew her.
    Were Begum allowed back into UK it would set the most dreadful precedent. There is no ‘justice’ awaiting her in UK. Instead should would be given free house, free healthcare, free cash benefits and, had her child lived, free education and the right to bring her convicted jihadi husband to UK, all at taxpayers expense. That would be a total slap in the face of all British citizens.
    The problem the Western world as a whole needs to address is that there is an already large and rapidly growing number of people whom no Western or civilised country wants among their citizenry. In days gone by Iceland would simply cast such people out as exiles and they would survive or die alone in the Icelandic equivalent of the outback. We need a place to send these rejects from the civilised world, a place from which they have no way out. We could restore the death penalty but could we trust the courts?
    As it is, my understanding is that UK is reviewing the laws of treason and sedition.
    If I were Sajid Javid I would arrange for Begum to be handed over to the Syrian authorities.

  • gardner.peter.d

    En passant: “The European Commission, which has a virtual monopoly on proposing European legislation, ”
    Not so. The EU commission has sole right to initiate legislation. It is not a matter of opinion but black and white in EU law.

  • gardner.peter.d

    pgang: “By the way, was this supposed to be two separate articles?”

    The two parts are linked by the common theme of treason.

  • en passant

    My ‘virtual monopoly’ words were taken directly from the National Review article.

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