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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 11 – Neither Imperial Delusions Nor Fearful Retreat From The World

British Empire cartoon

Replacing one slanderous Brexit narrative with another

Janan Ganesh almost gets it right (for once) in his FT column, accurately warning people away from the myth – especially popular with many foreigners – that the vote for Brexit was some kind of reflexive grasp to regain a long-gone empire and adopt a more swashbuckling, colonial-style role in world affairs.

Ganesh writes:

There is a certain kind of Briton, often educated to the hilt, who believes that sick Americans are left to writhe around on hospital floors until they show the doctors a credit card. Even sophisticated people think in simple terms about foreign countries. They just need a plausible line-to-take that sees them through a dinner party as it turns to political chat.

Americans give as good as they get. To the extent that their smartest people talk about Britain, they focus on our imperial delusions: here is a country that never adjusted to its loss of empire and does odd things to compensate. In Europe and Asia, too, exit from the EU is read as a desperate lunge for a global role, an act nearer to therapy than to statecraft. Colonial nostalgia has become the one thing the world “knows” about modern Britain.

It just happens to lack the ring of truth if you live here. Vestiges of empire survive in public life and some Conservative ministers picture a new Commonwealth trade zone that diplomats call, in what must pass for office banter, Empire 2.0. But Britain is not Liam Fox. It voted to leave the EU for reasons that differ from those that animate the trade secretary.

Quite. In Britain, the only ones who really see Brexit as a ham-fisted attempt to reclaim the losses of decolonialisation are the pants-wetting, pseudo-liberal preeners at the Guardian and satirical news site the Daily Mash, who love to portray Brexiteers as angry, curtain-twitching retired colonels outraged by the sudden appearance of brown-skinned neighbours.

Talk to the average Brexiteer on the street, however, and this is not the justification that you will hear. Neither is the glib “hankering for empire” explanation borne out through the opinion polls, which – contrary to the race and immigration angle played up by the media – proved that freedom and national self-determination ranked most highly among the priorities of Brexit voters.

Unfortunately, in the course of refuting this particular misguided Brexit narrative, Ganesh goes off the rails and embraces a fatalistic “retreat from the world” narrative every bit as presumptuous and fatalistic as the original:

The regions that shaped and were shaped by empire voted to remain, including London, the old metropole; Scotland, the source of many settlers and administrators; Manchester, not just the empire’s industrial centre but its liberal intellectual heart; and the port cities of Liverpool and Bristol. Inland Birmingham voted to leave, as did the countryside and market towns of Deep England. What those communities seem to want is Nation 1.0 — the sovereign statehood that predated the globalised era —

So far, so good. Brexiteers do indeed want the United Kingdom to return to a norm which might be called Nation 1.0. In fact, this is not a dim and distant past but a present reality still enjoyed by every advanced country outside of Europe – enjoying the benefits of globalisation, but not plugged in to a supranational political entity with federalist ambitions to become the government of a united Europe.

Nobody ever argues that Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea need to be part of an homogeneous overarching political union with a shared parliament, judiciary and executive in order to thrive. Neither does anybody criticise these countries for “retreating from the world” or otherwise failing to play their full part in global commerce and cultural exchange. Only in Europe has the pernicious myth taken hold – helped along by media cheerleaders, both ignorant and cynically knowing – that to reject an explicitly political project is also to wish to sever all links with the modern world.

Sadly, this is the trap that Ganesh immediately falls into. To pick up the end of his previous sentence:

— when the population was more homogenous and the economy less exposed to foreign competition. Whatever these impulses are, they are not colonial.

[..] Since 1945, intelligent outsiders have overestimated Britain’s frustrated ambition and underrated its sense of resignation, its desire for a quiet life after a draining few centuries as a player. When the American diplomat Dean Acheson said the British had not yet found a role after empire, he rather assumed that we were looking for one. Insiders make the same mistake. The least effective argument for the EU in the referendum campaign centred on its usefulness as a power-multiplier for medium-sized nations. It is not that voters disbelieved this. They just did not care enough.

History keeps forcing countries into this choice between significance abroad and retrenchment at home. Imagine that it were possible to go back in time and make sure the empire had never happened, in return for much-reduced postwar immigration from the former colonies. I suspect that some of the voters now fingered as neo-imperialists would trade their nation’s record of world grandeur for what might delicately be called a more familiar population. A less extreme thought experiment is already in the news. If a UK-India trade deal were to hinge on freer migration between the two countries, would Mr Fox sign it? He must know his keenness would not be matched by his own voters.

[..] It is easy for foreigners to read imperial nostalgia into something much more parochial. The terminal point of empire is introspection, not a restless desire to do it all over again. Introspection is bad enough but the British cannot be guilty of that and the opposite at the same time. Outsiders are free to fault us, if they pick the right fault.

We now appear to be caught in an imperial / introspective false dichotomy where Brexit can be explained (especially to anxious faux-liberals like New York Times readers) only as a racist country’s dying grasp to regain imperial greatness or a shrunken, scared and insular country seeking to retreat from the dangers of the world.

(We’ll ignore the fact that it was America, not Britain, who just elected as president an authoritarian strongman who promised not to enhance citizens’ liberties but rather to keep them safe from any danger – particularly from China, Mexicans and Islamist terror – and free from all anxiety. But by all means, tell us again how Britain is supposedly the country in decline and fearful of the world).

In reality, neither of these two absurd characterisations get to the truth of Brexit. At its heart – and this is borne out by opinion polls which clearly showed “self determination” to be the key issue for Brexit voters – Brexit is about wanting to normalise Britain and cease participating in a federalist experiment which almost nobody wanted and for which even its loudest champions failed to properly advocate.

British voters simply did not understand – with good reason – why Britain’s participation in a modern economy and a globalised world requires us to dissolve our sovereignty into an explicitly political union, when other advanced countries around the world are not under any similar obligation. And the Remain campaign could give them no good answer, for they have none. The EU is a political project whose economic activities are but a means to the ultimate end. Knowledgeable Remainers could say nothing to the contrary without perjuring themselves.

But rather than admit the truth about the European Union, how much easier it is to sit at a keyboard and invent ever more daft reasons explaining away the vote for Brexit. How much easier for Remainers to use weak satire or hysterical doom-mongering to distract themselves from the vacuity of their own case and the failure of their campaign.

Janan Ganesh is right – Britain did not vote to secede from the European Union through some misguided attempt to timewarp back to the days of empire. But it is not good enough to refute this silly idea only to promulgate another equally lazy explanation, as Ganesh unfortunately also does.

Remainers have long tried to paint Brexit as some kind of aberration, an inexplicable and harmful departure from international norms. But in fact it is the European Union which is an aberration and which flies in the face of human instinct and history. It is the European Union which attempts to force on member states a model of supranational government for which no meaningful democratic consent was ever sought, which reliably becomes less popular the more it is understood and which no other countries or regions of the world have ever sought to emulate.

Brexit was a vote to return to Nation State 1.0, not because we never want to reach Nation State 2.0 but because the EU’s status quo (Nation State 1.5) is buggy, full of defects and leading us in the wrong direction. The European Union is the Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition of political governance systems, and deciding to uninstall it and wait for something better neither means that we are hankering for the past nor giving up as a country. It’s just the smart thing to do.

It may be difficult for self-regarding members of the political media establishment to accept,  but Brexiteers were right to vote as they did. Remainers were wrong. And columnists would do better to analyse the failings, inconsistencies and non sequiturs in the Remainer case – the timidity, the tedious declinism, the remarkable ability to ignore the example of any country in the world outside the European Union – than continue to invent imaginary flaws in the case for Brexit.

 

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Remainers Have A Cunning Plan To Thwart Brexit

Baldrick - Blackadder

Brexiteers will never see it coming

As anguished “British Europeans” come to terms with the triggering of Article 50 (and, no doubt, their delicate selves) this week, Oxford University professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash has come up with a cunning plan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and stop Brexit in its tracks.

Our intrepid plotter plans to cosy up to Brexiteers – no more metropolitan lefty winger-wagging from he! – in order to gain their confidence, and then craftily turn them against Brexit through gentle persuasion rather than the haughty contempt which has been the prevalent attitude of most Remainers thus far. Yes, the new plan is for Remainers to be like secret agents working deep behind enemy lines in Theresa May’s dystopian Brexitland, dodging the lynchings and summary executions (which will naturally be a daily occurence) in order to sow doubt among the population and keep alive the flame of “liberal” fidelity to the EU.

Unfortunately, by writing it all down in a column for the Guardian, Garton Ash rather gives the game away, warning everyone in advance of his plan:

This week opened Act III of a five-act drama called Brexit. The play will take at least five years, more likely 10, and only Act V will reveal whether it is a tragedy, a farce, or some very British theatre of muddling-through. The many millions of us in Britain who identify ourselves as Europeans must not give up now, as if the show were over. It’s not, and we’re not just the audience. We are actors in this play and our main task is to persuade our fellow actors.

Yeah yeah, we get it, you’re so European, I feel like I’m in Venice just reading your words.

In order to get there, we British Europeans have to work out ways of reaching some of those Brexit voters, recognising that they are in no mood to be lectured by metropolitan liberals. We need to penetrate the echo chambers of populism with plain facts and good British common sense.

Instead of going on about “stopping Brexit”, which allows us to be quite effectively pilloried as whingeing remoaners, we should state the new goal positively.

Of course I still want Britain to remain a member of the EU, just as a Brexiteer would still have wanted Britain to leave it if the referendum had gone the other way – and we should never say never. But as I wrote just after the referendum, our strategic goal should be “to keep as much as possible of our disunited kingdom as fully engaged as possible in the affairs of our continent”.

Theresa May talks of a “deep and special partnership” with the EU: let’s make that very deep and very special. And who knows what opportunities the next years might bring? We are only at the opening of Act III, and there is still much to play for.

So no more actively talking about seeking to thwart Brexit, and lots more silent manoeuvrings to thwart Brexit behind people’s backs instead? Pretending to sincerely engage with Brexiteers and speak to their concerns and aspirations after having spent years furiously denouncing them as low-information, xenophobic reactionaries who were tricked by an Evil Bus into voting against their own evident self-interest? What could possibly go wrong?

HEY! SEE THIS HOUSE? THIS ONE OVER HERE, THE ONE THAT’S CLEARLY OCCUPIED, WITH A CAR PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY? THE ONE WITH THE OWNER STICKING HIS HEAD OUT THE WINDOW TO SEE WHO’S SHOUTING IN THE STREET? I’M GOING TO ROB HIS HOUSE IN A MINUTE! I’M GOING TO RING THE DOORBELL AND PRETEND TO BE A SALESMAN, AND WHEN I’M INSIDE I’M GOING TO ASK FOR A CUP OF TEA AND THEN STEAL ALL OF THE VALUABLES WHEN HE ISN’T LOOKING. THAT’S MY SUPER-STEALTHY CUNNING PLAN. DID YOU HEAR ME? OKAY, HERE I GO!

Ding dong.

 

Monkey Cymbals

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What European Identity?

Remainer paints EU flag on her face - European Union - Brexit

No, watching an arthouse movie twice a year doesn’t count

Pete North puts into rather forceful words a sentiment which inchoately bubbles up within me every time I see a tearful Remainer painting the EU flag on their face and weeping into an eagerly waiting television camera about how the cruel, racist vote for Brexit has somehow ripped their “European identity” away from them.

North scoffs:

For all that cretinous bilge from remainers about us Brexiteers “stealing my European identity”, I say bollocks. You have no European identity. It is a figment of your imagination. You weren’t watching [a] French cop show on Netflix last night were you? You didn’t go and see a Spanish superhero film at the cinema last week. You know more about US politics than you do about the EU. Culturally, militarily and politically we are Anglospheric. That is a fact.

For all that we have seen remainers amphibious with grief, I say go and look at the traffic jams and the behaviour of drivers in Rome or go and watch the Spanish torture a bull to death and tell me that your culture is in any way reflected in Europeans. That’s when I tell you to fuck right off.

If I have to pick an empire to be allied with, I choose the USA every single time. The land of The Wire, South Park, Rick and Morty, the First Amendment. The country that never needed any persuading that Communism is the manifestation of evil on earth.

Say what you like about Donald Trump, but Donald Trump is not America. Trump is for four years or so. Moreover, Trump is a good sign. Yes, he’s a brash, oafish wrecker but he was elected on the back of a total rejection of American leftism. That which has aggressively moved to bury all moral norms and free speech along with it.

This is why Trump is weakening relations with the EU. Ultimately the diseased politically correct establishment in the USA is the consequence of a detached and corrupt liberal elite. In that respect the USA is in a more advanced state of decay than the EU – but we should view it as a warning. The soft left political consensus of the EU, with its deeply ingrained NGOcracy is that same disease. Brexit is not Trump. Brexit means we avert having one of our own.

I concur wholeheartedly.

Ask a Remainer what their favourite television show is, and they are far more likely to cite an American show than a European one.

Ask a Remainer what their favourite movie is, and they are far more likely to cite something from Hollywood than a worthy-but-subtitled movie from France, Spain or Italy.

Ask a Remainer who their favourite pop music artist is, and they are far more likely to cite an American artist than a European one.

Ask a Remainer to name a political hero or inspiration and I would wager that they are far more likely to reach for Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F Kennedy or Barack Obama than Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Silvio Berlusconi or Angela Merkel.

Ask a Remainer to cite a famous legal case or decision from a jurisdiction other than their own, and they are far more likely to name a famous case from the US Supreme Court – Brown v Board of Education, Roe v Wade – than a case from the European courts, or those of any member state.

For that matter, look at our legal system of Common Law, which influenced the formation of the American legal system (in the original colonies through to the federal system) and which is markedly different to the civil law traditions prevalent on the continent.

There are exceptions, of course. There are some areas where Europe does exert a stronger gravitational pull over us than North America or the wider Anglosphere. But besides geographic proximity, they are few and far between. Those who claim that we are somehow predominantly “European” in culture tend to either do so from a position of wishful thinking, wanting to position us closer to European social democratic tradition because they wish that our politics would move further in that direction, or from the blinkered perspective of their own narrow social circles.

None of this is to claim that British people lack an affinity for Europe, have nothing in common with other European countries or are in any way hostile to European culture. Many Brits do have deep and abiding links with the continent, myself included – I have a deep and abiding affinity with France and the French culture and people dating back to my teenage years, but I am clear in my mind that this is a relationship nurtured with a culture distinct from and different to my own, not a mere extension of my own culture.

And anybody who seriously surveys the full sweep of cultural connections – legal, governmental, artistic, musical, touristic, commercial – and tries to tell you that the British people have more in common with mainland Europe than with our friends in the Anglosphere (particularly the United States and Canada) is deliberately trying to deceive you, and deluding themselves in the process.

 

People hold banners during a demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London

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The Daily Mash’s Unhealthy, Obsessive Brexit Complex

Brexit Apocalypse 2 - albawhitewolf

The Daily Mash should spend less time going for cheap laughs about supposedly racist, nostalgic Brexiteers and more time using satire to hold real power and privilege to account

Along with countless other non-racist, non-xenophobic Brexiteers who enjoy a good bit of political comedy and satire, I have been waiting patiently for the current virulent outbreak of Brexit fever to abate over at The Daily Mash, a satirical news website which at one time could be relied upon to provoke laughs no matter which party or ideology was in the cross-hairs.

Sadly, judging by today’s latest effort, there is still no sign of remission:

EVERY country in the former British Empire has demanded Britain resume full political control now it has proven it is great again.

Australia, India, Canada, Egypt and South Africa, among a host of others, have all dissolved their governments in a show of awestruck admiration for the British lion’s newfound mighty roar.

Kenya’s president Uluru Kenyatta said: “We never wanted Britain to stop ruling us in the first place – why ever would we? – but you just needed to grab hold of your mojo again.

“Don’t worry about giving us voting rights or any of that nonsense. Now you are once again a proud, resurgent nation unafraid of political correctness, we have absolute trust you will act in our best interest. And the world’s.

“I step down this afternoon. Oh man, I hope we get Michael Gove as governor. That guy is the best.”

The UK now commands a fifth of the world’s population and one-quarter of its total habitable land, which is as it should be.

Retired headmistress Margaret Gerving, from Guildford, said: “I don’t know why America is insisting on being independent. I’m sure they’ll stop being silly eventually.”

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since a clear majority of Britons voted to leave the European in the June 2016 referendum, the Mash has covered the topic of Brexit and our changing relationship with the European Union with the spittle-flecked fury and haughty, casual moral superiority of an earnest but ill-informed sixth-former.

Thus we have been treated to headlines such as these:

Uniting behind Brexit a bit hard if you think it’s shit – which includes quotes such as “I’ve always believed that Europeans are our friends with whom we no longer want to have wars. So it’s hard to change to seeing them as potentially hostile weirdos whose food is poisonous”. Because of course voting to leave a supranational political union could be motivated by nothing else.

All man wants for Christmas is Brexit – which tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who “d[oes] not care about presents underneath the Christmas tree, and he just wants Britain to stand alone, stronger than it had ever known”.

Relieved Britain no longer biggest f*ck-up of 2016 – in which a character declares: “For months we’ve been the world’s dumbest dickheads, and now we’re actually if anything a useful marker on the road to the total collapse of liberal democracy”.

May confirms Brexit is now a religious cult – in which the Mash’s version of Theresa May declares: “We will form small, inward-looking communities where anyone who criticises Brexit will be subjected to weeks of brainwashing or human sacrifice. I am the one true prophet of Brexit, which means everything I say is a fact, such as ‘Liam Fox is good at whatever it is he is supposed to be doing’. I call it ‘going the full David Koresh’.” That last line is a snide reference to the Waco siege, in which four federal agents and 76 cultists died.

Brexit optimism highest among people who love setting fire to things – in which one demonic Brexiteer exclaims: “All I want from life is to instill fear while cackling like a maniac, so I’m delighted that the government is finally listening to people like me”.

These are but a few examples, chosen more or less at random.

Does Brexit deserve to be made fun of? Absolutely – nothing should be off the table when it comes to political humour. But the Mash’s lazy bias does its satire-loving readers a disservice by nearly completely exempting the Remain side – who, after all, make up most of the establishment that satirical publications normally exist to mock – from any scrutiny of their own.

Imagine the EU referendum result had gone the other way, and Britain had narrowly voted to remain. We Brexiteers (myself included) would not have taken the result well, would be making our displeasure widely known and probably vowing to hold another referendum as soon as possible. But rather than skewering the victorious Remain side for their wide-eyed europhilia and naive trust in the Magical EU Reform Unicorn (or “punching up”, as we apparently now call the intersection between humour and power dynamics) the Mash would instead be quick to laugh at the angry, disappointed Leavers. No matter which way the result went, the Mash would be laughing at Brexiteers right now. And that is both biased and lazy.

Of course, many Brexiteers are vaguely ridiculous and lend themselves to humour, just as many Remainers are glib, shallow, sanctimonious and uninformed. But good satire would poke fun at the real faults of Brexiteers – our sometimes room-emptying obsession with matters of sovereignty, democracy and regulatory matters, for example. There’s lots of comic material in there, even if extracting it takes slightly more effort. Going for the “oh, they’re just hankering for the days of empire” gag (as per the article quoted at the top of this post) is a cheap laugh, and a lazy one.

What’s more, it is wrong. If you actually take the time to talk to Brexiteers, even much of the UKIP brigade, you won’t hear a hankering for empire or a desire to “turn the clock back”. These are rationalisations dreamed up by London-dwelling media types who never socialise with anyone who lives north of Watford and so cannot imagine what might really motivate a person to vote for Brexit.

What you will hear if you do talk to Brexiteers in any number is a strong distrust of political institutions, a sense of personal insecurity or economic precariousness and a sense that time, technology and political machinations have wrought huge changes on Britain with almost no proper discussion or debate. A sense that while we must keep moving forward, government for once needs to prioritise the interests of those who can’t or who don’t want to be citizens of the world rather than those who are able to use the world as their playground.

And if that seems difficult or unwise to mock, then perhaps it is worth questioning whether the Mash and the London-centric elite are spending too much time “punching down” at people they consider inferior rather than holding power (and what they might call “privilege”) to proper account.

Consider this old Daily Mash article from the dying days of the last Labour government, skewering prime minister Gordon Brown’s assertion that a cut in National Insurance tax would somehow be “taking money out of the economy”:

GORDON Brown will once again focus Labour’s election campaign on national insurance after being deafened by the collapse of his own argument.

Mr Brown’s advisers had urged him not to return to the issue, but the prime minister just nodded and smiled and said their voices had gone all dull and fuzzy.

The argument has been collapsing in stages since last week with the final section crashing to the ground in a massive cloud of dust and bits during the Today programme, just after eight o’clock this morning.

Radio Four listener Tom Logan said: “I was spooning some mephedrone into my tea and listening to John Humphrys being a shit, when all of sudden there was this huge, violent noise.

“It was so loud I thought it must be coming from outside, but then I realised it was the last part of the prime minister’s argument on national insurance smashing into the ground like it had been kicked over by a giant toddler.

“I do hope no-one was hurt apart from John Humphrys.”

Within minutes of the argument toppling over, Guardian editor Peter Mandelson was seen scrabbling over the smoking rubble and attempting to rebuild it while mumbling, ’employers know nothing about employing people’ over and over again.

Now, this is funny because it pokes fun at an actual trait of New Labour politicians – that rather paternalistic view that government really does know more about employing people than the employers themselves.

By contrast, the worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – more than half of voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.

But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.

And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.

But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?

 

Brexit Jokes

Top image: Alba White Wolf

Bottom image: catchnews.com

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 9 – Another Song For Europe

The long-awaited follow-up single is finally here…

Madeleina Kay, an almost Vera Lynn-like character among disappointed Remainers, has released another classic ode to the EU, following up on her first hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is EU“.

This one is an adaptation of the Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, re-engineered as a tearful plea from a contrite Britain for the European Union to take us back.

The immortal lyrics:

Wise men say
Only fools Vote Leave
‘Cause I can’t help falling in love with EU
Shall we stay
Would it be a sin
If we can’t help falling in love with EU?

Every Remainer knows
It’s a catastrophe
But Brexit rest assured
It’s not meant to be

Take my hand
Accept this apology
‘Cause I can’t help falling in love with EU

As the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been co-opted to serve as the European Union’s anthem, let this effort – sung here with the sweet innocence of a child – become the EU equivalent of Parry’s “Jerusalem”, etched into the hearts of every European citizen and fondly sung on all those many euro-patriotic occasions which we have in common across the continent, and which are so important to us all.

Deep breath.

Think about the European Union for a moment. Think about what the EU actually is, how it was founded, how it deliberately grew by stealth, its deliberate corrosion of member state democracy and the impact that the outsourcing of government to a supra-national level has had on political engagement across an entire continent.

Think about the harm that the EU’s protectionist trade policies have wrought on developing nations without and on economic competitiveness within.

Think about the way that this hulking relic from the post-war era, totally lacking in popular legitimacy and unable to meet the challenges of the 21st century without inevitably making them immeasurably worse, grinds ever-onward towards its pre-ordained federalist destination, deaf to all opposition.

Then imagine writing not one, but two love songs to that organisation.

Just think about it for a moment.

The more I see of Kay’s output, the more I am starting to suspect that she may actually be a cunning Brexiteer, trolling the pro-EU Brexit-deniers from deep behind enemy lines.

If so, then she is doing an absolutely masterful job.

 

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