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An EU memory

Ever since digital photography became something I could afford, I have been wandering around London, digitally photographing it. I show a few of these photos here from time to time, and more frequently at my personal blog.

I have learned, as many photographers do, that the ephemeral is more likely to be significant than the fixed. Yet another picture of Big Ben to add to the billions of such pictures already taken is of zero interest. But something like this, on the other hand, becomes, I think, more interesting as time goes by:

That photo was taken in December 2003. Tony Blair, the man in the posters, was Prime Minister and still riding quite high, and Britain seemed doomed to EU-ness for ever.

The words on these posters help to confirm, for me, what a very wise decision we Brits made, narrowly yet decisively, to get out of this fatuous and delusional enterprise.

I say delusional, because the defining quality of the EU, for me, was the way that it encouraged all manner of people to say and to think things that were nonsensical.


Where to start? The “us” doing the voting would be British voters, and yet these British voters would be deciding – deciding “on” – the future of the whole of EUrope. Which these voters plainly could not determine. All that this British decision “on” EUrope could ever amount to would be either a mere protest vote (or more likely: a vote in the EU’s favour) in our Parliament, or else an official and very expensive public opinion poll.

Yet such was the pervasive unreality of all thoughts concerning the EU, and Britain’s membership of it, that this poster was considered worth printing and worth sticking up.

You may be saying to yourself that this is only some permanently delusional left-wing splinter group, consisting of a combination of dysfunctional permanent students of nothing, and trainee MI5 agents, and you would almost certainly be right. Yet numerous votes and numerous referenda of exactly this delusional sort did actually happen in the EU, and continue to happen. Most recently, I believe, there was just such a vote in Italy, although I could be wrong about that and I don’t care if I am because it really did not and does not matter. Time and again, individual EUro-nations choose or are invited, in one way or another, to pass their mere judgement on this or that aspect of the EU as a whole, and there then follows: nothing.

I think it was the sheer bloody confusion that I most hated about the EU, caused by the fact that the EU is in no way a real community, merely a gaggle of communities brought together and ruled by another community. No “decision” was ever what it seemed. Even those decisions that we Brits often thought we were making entirely for ourselves had at least two faces to them, the public face, which concerned what seemed to be the actual decision, and the less obvious face, which concerned whether and how this decision assisted the EU in becoming more EU-ish. In the end, no amount of voice was worth a damn. Only the threat, and in due course the reality, of exit counted.

Thank goodness that this ghastly episode is, for Britain, now coming to its end. Thank goodness we recently had a big old vote, a vote that actually decided something that we Brits were able to decide for ourselves, following something resembling a single mega-argument in which all who wished to could participate, and could hear all the micro-arguments, for or against, that they wanted to hear. And thank goodness we decided to get shot of this great big confusion machine. No matter how much of a mess us leaving the EU turns out to be, this process cannot in my eyes rival the relentless mess that remaining in the EU would have condemned us to. It’s the difference between a mess that will eventually end, and a mess that would have gone on until the entire EU itself finally fell to pieces.

For the rest of the EU, the delusions and confusions persist.

21 comments to An EU memory

  • Charlie Suet

    Looking at Keir Starmer’s idiot shopping list, and bearing the mind the anti-democratic nature of the SNP and the Lib Dems, and the government’s tiny majority, I increasingly fear that we won’t get out without an election.

    The people bleating about the economic damage of Brexit don’t seem to have considered that any difficulties in leaving would only increase in the future. If it is in fact already too late, then at some stage in the past two decades we passed the point of no return in our participation in the European project, and nobody told us.

    Some, like Clegg and Farron, don’t mind this because they want us to be a province within a united Europe anyway. But everybody else needs to ask the question “if not now, then when?” It’s the true believers against the rest of us now, and there’s still a fight on the horizon.

  • Bureaucrats love confusion; the less certain any law or meaning is, the more they can do and leave undone whatever suits them.

    Thanks to the metaphor that so justly lies behind the pictured un-listening Tony Blair and like-thinkers, we also have (since 2009) the so-called supreme court. We were in Europe for 40+ years, so that you need to be my age to recall even as a child that we were once not in any such association. None of the coverage I saw of the recent case (or any other) mentioned how recent an innovation that court is. When it’s something they like, it’s ‘the law’, as if eternal, even if it’s not a decade old. When it’s something they do not like, it’s time for something completely different.

    It will be better when the ECHR is no longer treated as if it were UK law, another horror Blair inflicted on us. Like the decade of Obama in the US, the decade of Blair has a lot to answer for. A few good things began to happen recently but we’re still far from regaining the freedom we had just two decades ago.

  • NickM

    Where I live is not exactly the sticks but I have no mobile reception so rarely carry my phone (which has an excellent camera) and it really annoys me the pictures I haven’t taken.

    A couple of weeks ago my wife went to TESCO and I had to walk to the Graveyard (not a long way, but…) to text her for an addition to the shopping list. We needed limes. It got through and our Mexican supper was fine. I do make a damn good chilli. And the trimmings

    Here is an idea for a Kingish story. What if that isn’t just shite telecoms but maybe I am getting in touch with my wife in the veg aisle in Whaley Bridge TESCO via the dead. And what other than limes might they also be saying?

    She also bought an aubergine. That was not on the list.

    The chilli was excellent. It always is.

    Perhaps (and this is remote) because I have been cooking Mexican food for 20+ years or maybe it was The Dead cooking a Mexican meal for a couple in Cheshire because that’s what The Dead do, right?

    Only Derek Acorah could tell you which. For a considerable fee.

  • I increasingly fear that we won’t get out without an election.

    I would be delighted if that happened at this juncture. Labour would be massacred, and many Europhile Tory MPs would probably get deselected. Bring it on.

  • staghounds

    Seven months on all you have is an expensive poll and nothing. Why do you believe Brexit will happen? Is it because it feels better to pretend than to accept that the public voice is irrelevant on big issues?

  • @Staghounds – Accept that the public voice is irrelevant? Yes, that happens, until people are sick and tired of being considered irrelevant. Then you get Brexit. In the US we got the Tea Party, which the feds rendered irrelevant. Then we got Trump.

    Rendering people irrelevant is what politicians do. But God help them if they rub the peoples’ faces in it.

  • Mr Ed

    I have grave doubts that the EU Referendum would have any significant impact on a general election. In Welllingborough, England at the last General Election, the Labour candidate was convicted of fraud a week before polling day, and still got nearly 10,000 votes.

    If people are happy to vote for a fraudster who happens to be on their preferred ticket, what will it take to make them not vote for the ticket, regardless of the candidate?

    What’s more, I think that this is in the calculation of the political class.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


    The way you suppress “the public voice” is not to allow it to be heard in the first place. You don’t hold a referendum. That is why so many EUro-enthusiasts, in Britain and all over EUrope, were and still are so angry with Cameron for allowing this referendum to occur at all. If referendums never counted for anything, these people would not now all be so angry.

    If Brexit is not going to happen, it would seem that our Prime Minister has not been informed. If she has, she is behaving very oddly.

    Why do you persist in believing something so bizarre? Is it because what you routinely experience being ignored is not the popular voice but your own voice, and you get these two things confused, merely because they often overlap? I bet that happens to you quite a lot. That’s rather rude, but so are you.

  • bobby b

    “If referendums never counted for anything, these people would not now all be so angry.”

    They could be angry simply because they didn’t care to have it pointed out so baldly that referendums never count for anything.

  • Mr Ecks

    Despite any noise no one ever went broke over-estimating the cowardice of MPs and Tory ones in particular. Likewise ZaNu has many who fear the wrath of their own voters. Especially at a time that Corbyn also wants Blair’s legacy gone.

    Most MPs are losers who would be hard pressed to ever get another job as cushy, ego-boosting and lucrative as the one they have. The will vote Brexit through. The danger might be amendments. The HoL will try to stop it also but they have never stopped any of the rotten Bills passed by the Commons–ever. They won’t be able to stop Brexit.

  • Paul Marks

    The so called “Single Market” is the legal power of the European Union to impose endless regulations on our domestic (internal) economy – not just our trade with the European Union.

    Until we are out of the so called “Single Market” we are still in the European Union.

  • staghounds

    I submit that it is more bizarre to believe that a promise delayed for seven months will be performed than it is to believe that non performance will continue.

    Two Prime Ministers have waited a total of seven months to file an article 50. That behaviour is only odd if she does want a brexit- it’s completely consistent with her wanting to drag her feet until it dies.

    The original article made the point that referenda and other public decision making events about the EU usually result in no change.

    I commented because I thought it odd that he distinguished the 2016 referendum, when it resulted in exactly the same no change.

    The people you say are angry- the remainers- have exactly what they want. They are just carrying on to keep themselves a visible voting bloc, both to frighten MPs and to set themselves up for a new campaign.

    The brexiters are the ones who SHOULD be angry, because the promise to them is being broken daily. Yet they seem to just sit complacently, or shout at people who point out the absence of actual Brexit. It is as though they are so happy that they won the prize that they are fine not taking delivery. Maybe they fear it will be broken in transit.

    “Teresa said she will pull out in time, stop talking about it!”

    I notice that no one here took my offer of a wager on brexit actually happening.

  • People talk as if exit and voice were alternatives, and in some measure they are. But on the other hand, if you can make a credible threat of exit, your voice is much more likely to be heard and listened to; and conversely, if your ability to exit has been taken away, there is no need to listen to your voice.

  • Laird

    Since we’re (again) on the topic of Brexit, can someone here (Mr Ed?) explain to us foreigners the significance of your recent Supreme Court decision that Brexit must be voted upon by Parliament? Can Ms. May still invoke Article 50 without it, with Parliamentary approval only needed for any separation agreement? If not, can the HoL block it? Is it likely that they will? And if they can and will, what is to be done about it? As I recall, they have life appointments and aren’t subject to removal via the ballot box, right?

  • Alisa

    I was going to ask that myself, Laird. Also, how is this court decision different from the previous one?

  • Alisa and laird, here is my take FWIW.

    May has long planned to trigger article 50 before the end of March (i.e. aligned with the end of the fiscal year – or so I guess is the reason for her timing). She has been aware of how this case might go for months (though rationally aware that by rights she should have won it), and her response is to push a very short bill through parliament saying merely that she has parliamentary consent to initiate article 50.

    The apparent consensus here, fully including the still-not-so-keen-on-brexit BBC, is that the court ruling will affect things not a whit, because May has adequate time to pass the bill before end-March and there are healthy majorities that, however reluctantly in some cases, will accept it. A guillotine (i.e. no filibuster – I don’t know if that sense of guillotine is a known device or term in the US) will be imposed if the natz try to delay, and there seems no real will or expectation to do so elsewhere.

    The beeb caveats all these statements – as should I – with “Of course, in politics, one can never be certain of the future. Nevertheless …”) and I see no signs anyone here is really expecting the ruling will change anything.

    I remain of the opinion that the court’s ruling is wrong; that the court has 3 honest judges and 8 somewhat PC ones (a worse ratio even than the US supreme court maybe, but remember it was set up by Labour in 2009; it seriously lacks the latter’s historical credibility). In the US, the constitution requires that the senate approve treaties. (Not that that inconvenienced Obama any dealing with Iran, but I assume all likely readers of this know it should have done.) The UK constitution differs in this respect, as the founding fathers well knew. A mere treaty does not require legislative sanction, but if the treaty includes a promise regarding matters of law, then of course it cannot be implemented without a parliamentary vote. Hence May would always have needed to get parliamentary approval to repeal the Europe Act, but should not have needed it merely to announce article 50. I regard the court as having done some judicial activism in claiming otherwise.

    To be fair to the court, they remained within hailing distance of plausibility. They firmly rejected any suggestion that the Welsh, Irish or Scottish assemblies had any constitutional right of involvement in Brexit decisions. To rule otherwise would have been not merely wrong but clinical (or rather, viciously dishonest) but it is what someone determined to stall Brexit would have done.

    (Further to my last) one interesting question is its effect on a by-election soon to happen here in a Labour-held seat. A victory by UKIP (or the Tories, but even more if by UKIP) would put the fear of Gd into even Labour MPs. By contrast, if Labour held the seat healthily, anti-Brexiters might be made frisky. The court ruling may help UKIP exploit a send-a-message argument.

  • Laird

    Thanks for that explanation, Niall. It’s exactly what I was hoping for.

    BTW, I’ve never before heard “guillotine” used in that sense. Must be another Britishism. One of the many pleasures of this blog!

  • Alisa

    Thank you Niall, that explains a lot.

    Still though, what was the previous court decision about, and how is this one different? I refer to the decision that was being discussed here about a month or so ago. Was it a similar decision by a lower court, or was it a different one by the same one?

  • Alisa, the government appealed the lower court’s ruling. It’s just like something being ruled one way in a lower US court and then confirmed or reversed in the US Supreme Court.

  • Alisa

    Got it – thanks again.

  • There is also the court of public opinion, which, in the US, contains a public who has guns. I would hope, for Britain’s sake, the mob insists on Brexit moving forward some time this year.