Sunday, February 17, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.2.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Spain had several layers of government in each of its 18 regions (‘autonomous communities’). If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many of them, this interesting historical overview will give you the answer. Incidentally, this Eye on Spain article is an unattributed crib of the original here. It reminded me of web pages which have similarly lifted huge chunks of my page on Galicia.
  • Think Spain, here, and Eye On Spain, here, pick up on why Spain is the second best place to retire to, after Portugal. Both Galicia and Pontevedra get a mention in one of these, about which I’m ambivalent.
  • Are the Spanish really turning away from the famous Mediterranean diet?
  • These are the 2019 challenges which Think Spain thinks are those faced by whoever governs the country during the year.
  • This is an El PaĆ­s article - in Spanish - in which the author talks of the degradation of democracy here in Spain and attributes this mostly to the revolting Catalans - if I read the article correctly. Not to, say, having the most corrupt political class in Europe, at every level of administration.
  • Foreign language films are always dubbed in Spain. This means that Spaniards - unlike their Portuguese neighbours - never know what the actor's real voices are like, nor how their names are pronounced. Additionally, the films' original titles are often substituted by some - usually baffling - Spanish alternative. So it was that, last night, it took me quite some time to figure out that the big star my neighbour was talking about was Audrey Hepburn. Without my knowledge of Spanish pronunciation, I doubt I'd ever have got there.
  • You might not know that Spain sent an armada against England not once but thrice. The last of these, I think, was in 1779, when Spain persuaded both the French and the Dutch to join them in their endeavour. As I’m not writing in Spanish, it was obviously another failure. Here’s what Wiki says on it: The Armada of 1779 was a combined Franco-Spanish naval enterprise intended to divert British military assets, primarily of the Royal Navy, from other war theatres by invading Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. The plan was to seize the Isle of Wight and then capture the British naval base of Portsmouth. Ultimately, no fleet battles were fought in the Channel and the invasion never materialized. Someone else has said that all the Spanish invasions failed because of a mixture of incompetent management, clash of egos, unreliable weather, disease and the strength of British sea power. Though the last mentioned was clearly not a factor in 1779, as the fleets never clashed.
Brexit and The UK
  • The future historian will have to do more than identify the opportunities which were missed and the choices which were not made. He/she needs to understand why so many politicians and officials who could have ensured that the UK took various different approaches did not do so. Explaining the referendum result will be simple compared with explaining why UK ended up departing the EU in March 2019 either on terms which virtually nobody in the UK wanted, or on no terms at all.
  • Meanwhile, Janet Daley says that the least bad option for the UK - my own position - is for Brexit to be cancelled and for the UK to say in the EU. But not necessarily as a team player. See the article below. Her opening assertion: The Brexiteers have been outplayed. The government has now effectively ensured that the only choice on 29 March will be between Brexit in Name Only and no Brexit at all. Which I think is probably true. 
Social Media
  • Twitter is the place where anger congregates and provokes more anger in a near-perpetual cycle.
  • Odd old phrase: In the bowfarts  - 'On one's back and unable to rise'.
Finally . . .
  • As you probably know, Youtube is now infested with ads. But not just banner ads on a part of the screen. Now there are ads which interrupt programs - indeed sentences - and take over the whole screen and the sound. Really annoying. But at least you can get rid of them after 5 seconds. 
  • Talking of (allegedly targeted) ads . . . I can't for the life of me figure out why some companies think I'm interested in shoes. A faulty algorithm? Which, thanks to this mention of the item, will now be endorsed, I guess.

We're heading for the great Brexit trap -  so why not stay in and wreck the EU instead? Janet Daley

The Brexiteers have been outplayed. The government has now effectively ensured that the only choice on 29 March will be between Brexit in Name Only and no Brexit at all. It has even managed to make the European Research Group – the only party in this farrago which has at least been consistent in its policy and coherent in its aims (whether or not you agree with them) – appear irresponsible precisely because they have insisted on being consistent and coherent (whether or not you agree…etc).

The ERG has always said that it would be a catastrophic negotiating mistake to rule out the possibility of “no deal”. In last week’s Meaningless Vote, they refused to support a motion that would have ruled out “no deal”. Why should this be a surprise? Maybe because nobody is expected to stick to first principles or to mean what they say anymore.

Where exactly are we? Certainly not where Theresa May’s enforcers say we are. But you know that by now. We are never where the government says we are. Occasionally, a smug member of the negotiating team is overheard in a bar telling the real truth about our actual location and where we are going from here, but that is just an embarrassing lapse.

So the official claim is that “no deal” is still absolutely, totally within the bounds of possibility if Mrs May’s latest talks with the EU are unsuccessful. There are two things wrong with this statement. The first is that is that there are no “talks”: the EU has made it absolutely, totally clear that it is not now considering – and has no future intention of considering – making changes to the Irish border backstop clause of the Withdrawal Agreement. The second is that neither the Cabinet nor Parliament will accept a “no deal” outcome.

The May team have made sure of that. You may have noticed that every agency of government, and every self-serving interest in the public realm, has been drafted into an orchestrated campaign to persuade the electorate that “no deal” would result in children selling themselves on the streets for a crust of bread.

To its infinite credit, the population continues to be unconvinced of this. But the Greek chorus of doom has become so much the received wisdom in established circles that “no deal” would be effectively impossible to execute. Having warned against it in such apocalyptic terms, it would be perfectly plausible for the government to declare a virtual state of emergency to prevent it. But of course, they would not have to do that.

All that they would have to do is request an extension of Article 50. Which the EU would happily grant – whatever they may say at the moment about there needing to be a satisfactory reason to justify a delay, blah-blah. Do remember this over the coming weeks: extending Article 50 is the object of the game. The Remain lobby which has captured the May “negotiating” team regards this as the first essential step in reversing Brexit.

This is how it is intended to go: first get the supposedly temporary extension, then prolong it because there is still no agreement on “what we want”, then conclude that both the governing party and the Opposition are too divided and at odds with significant sections of Parliamentary opinion to justify re-opening the “negotiation” – then drop the whole thing. That is the plan. Just watch it play out before your eyes.

To accomplish this feat, so many lies will be told that it will make your head spin. Fairly typical of the genre was last week’s whopper: the disruptive antics of the ERG have weakened the government’s bargaining position in Brussels and brought us closer to a “no deal” outcome. No they haven’t.

The government has no bargaining position in Brussels because (see above) there is no bargaining going on in Brussels. And the actions of the ERG in abstaining on a motion which would effectively have ruled out “no deal” have, in fact, been extremely helpful to the government because it gives them additional grounds for extending Article 50 – which, as I say, is the essential first step of their real plan.

So the more adamantly the Brexiteers (or the “hardline” Brexiteers as the BBC calls them) stick to their guns, the more it suits the purposes of the government and the ardent Remainers who are clamouring ever more enthusiastically for an extension of Article 50.

So that’s the next thing to remember as you watch this game: rebellious parliamentary behaviour is not damaging to the government’s objective. Anything that makes delay seem like the only responsible course of action is a gift.

What is to be done? Are the Brexiteers hopelessly trapped? Destined, if they stay true to their own convictions, to play into the Remain-controlled government’s hands? Must they now endorse the appalling May deal (which is little more than Chequers 2.0) in order to get any sort of Brexit at all? Maybe not.

Here’s an outrageous suggestion that might just be worth talking up in the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg. Suppose influential members of the ERG began to utter what has been mooted occasionally before in their circles – that it would be better to stay in than to leave on such compromised terms that we became a “vassal state”, subject to EU rulings without any power to influence them. And suppose further that they elaborated on that thought with the proposal that, having opted to stay in, the UK would dedicate itself to wrecking (sorry, reforming) the great centralising project so sacred to the traditional founding mission of the EU.

Wherever there was discontent over EU regulations or monetary policy in Club Med, we would mobilise it. Wherever there was a sense of disenfranchisement in the Eastern member states, we would legitimise it with our centuries old commitment to liberal democracy.

Mr Macron can forget about his dream of a European defence force, and Mrs Merkel can say good-bye to any hope of fiscal union. The British will still be there – defending the rights of national governments to represent their own peoples. Just try locking us in and see what happens.


Lenox said...

I am on Mozilla and use an Adblocker, with great results on YouTube.

Colin Davies said...

Ah, yes. I had an ad-blocker on my old laptop but have neglected to put one on this new one. Thanks for the prompt, Lenox.

sp said...

That Daley woman is just pure evil. The Telegraph (and many other well known titles) has such a tiny circulation these days that it can only be seen as the Barclay brothers' vanity project.