Published: Thursday, 02 February 2017 05:48
Parliament’s at its best when debating great matters, on which members of the various political parties take different views. The two-day Second Reading debate on the Article 50 Bill was one such. We had finely argued, yet passionate speeches from both sides. I was glad that we endorsed the will of the people by agreeing to the Triggering of Article 50, but also glad that we had a full and reasoned debate on the matter.
That happened despite the sheer vitriol and anger sparked by a variety of events the previous weekend, as a result of which I received some weird emails, including allegations that my Party and I were Nazis, little better than Hitler, and hinting at physical violence against my (largely innocent) person! This is surely not the British Way?
I thought that the PM did extraordinarily well in Washington. A close working relationship with the USA is absolutely essential for the future of our Nation, and like it or not Mr Trump was duly elected by the people to be their President. He talks arrant nonsense on a whole variety of subjects, and some of his actions and statements are downright obnoxious. His banning of all passengers from certain countries, and seeking registration of Muslims, for example, is stupid, unworkable and despicable in equal measure. His sexism and racism is wholly unacceptable. Yet I am glad that Mrs May led the world in seeking to open dialogue with him and to lead him in the right direction. (Both physically in the Rose Garden and metaphorically, for example over NATO).
There are some elements of Mr Erdogan’s Turkey which are almost as unattractive to gentle western liberal minds. Yet let us not forget that they are members of NATO, and that the £100 million BAE contract to design and build fighter jets in Turkey is an important contribution to the UK economy. We need to persuade Mr Erdogan away from some of his racist tendencies (against the Kurds in particular) and embrace him in the West rather than driving him into the arms of Russia or China, or worse the Jihadi extremists who might well benefit from any possible descent into civil war.
None of that should have led to the extreme rudeness, vile language and physical threats of some of the pro- EU emails I have received over the weekend. People may feel strongly about Brexit, they may dislike President Trump, or indeed Mr Erdogan. But surely they could do so in the intelligent spirit of reasoned debate which we saw in the House of Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday. One thing we are really good at in this country is a spirit of sensible democracy, of easy-going discussion, of passion expressed in modest language. That forms the very basis of the democracy which we are advocating in the rest of the world. Some of my correspondents seemed unaware of the irony that their emails decrying trump or Erdogan or Brexit were almost as obnoxious as the very things they were seeking to decry.
Let us lead the world - set an example to Trump and Erdogan if you like – by the very reasonableness of our disagreements; by our ability to reach a conclusion which may not please all of the people all of the time, but which is generally recognised to be the will of the majority, always securing the rights and views of the minority as well. That has always been the British Way. Let us preserve it and espouse it around the less civilised parts of the world.
Published: Thursday, 26 January 2017 09:13
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune;… On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures...” Shakespeare could have been writing about the last week in international affairs, Trump and May, Gove and Farage substituting for Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Brutus and Cassius. The people have spoken and like it or lump it we have Trump and Brexit, and now we must ‘take the current when it serves.’
I very much welcome the PM’s powerful speech on Tuesday, laying out in the clearest possible terms both the procedure for Brexit (quick Article 50 Act now, full debate and vote after the negotiation is completed, some degree of ‘transition’ to avoid a cliff edge) and its content (no internal market, partial customs union, end of ECJ, yet continuing good relations with the Continent of Europe.)
I also take much less exception to President Trump than many. Of course he is vulgar and sexist, unpredictable and rude, and those are sins we should not forget. But his clarion call ‘America first’ is exactly what the people want. ‘Britain first’ seems to me a perfectly laudable aim, and at the heart of Brexit. And his excesses will be curbed by the Washington machine, just as surely as were Obama’s.
What’s more there may well be an unexpected conjunction between Trump and Brexit. His (relatively mild) protectionism opens the door to an immediate trade deal (and cultural and other ties) with an independent free UK of the kind which the PM described. We can do so, simply because we will no longer be hampered by the competing interests of 27 other nations spread across a huge continent. We can argue for terms which are of benefit to us here in Britain, to our businesses and people; and we need pay little heed to Romania, Lithuania nor Luxembourg as we do so.
NATO becomes an ever-more important element of the defence of our Realm, and we must pay attention to Trump’s reluctance to continue subsidising the defence of Europe. We must all now step up to the mark and pay for our own defence if we are to keep the USA, without which NATO and any pretence at self-defence is finished. I am glad that we in Britain, together with France and Estonia, have achieved the NATO 2% of GDP target; but that should be an absolute minimum, not a target at all. At the height of the Cold War, only 30 or so years ago, we were spending 5 or 6% of GDP on defence. So again we must turn Trump’s perfectly legitimate self-interest to our own good by persuading other NATO members to fulfill their obligations.
There is a huge tide behind us this week. We must seize the opportunity, surf the wave, be bold. That will indeed ‘lead on to fortune.’