'It is a common trap to believe that under the Prime Minister’s Etonian brio lie liberal convictions. Experience suggests otherwise. The only thing Johnson consistently stands up for is himself, and on that, he has indeed never compromised'

Standpoint Magazine

Boris con brio

Richard Cockett’s “Why Remoaners Should Back Boris” (July/August) de-picts an image of Boris Johnson—reliable and compromise-friendly—that corresponds neither to the man himself nor to how he is perceived by so-called “remoaners”, such as the anti-Brexit youth organisation I work for, Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC). For a start, it is hard to argue that the Prime Minister’s Leave credentials were less established than others who campaigned with him; his entertaining but fact-free eurosceptic pieces in the Daily Telegraph launched his political career and exemplify his  character.

Cockett overestimates Johnson’s capabilities, arguing that “he, personally, swung it for Brexit”. The referendum was not won by one man, but was rather the culmination of many factors; including a eurosceptic press, the effects of austerity, the arcane nature of EU procedures, an unclear definition of Brexit, and, ultimately, lies.

The core of Cockett’s argument is that Johnson’s ability to attract hardline Brexiteers makes it easier for him to compromise: doing to Brexit what General de Gaulle did to Algeria. But Johnson doesn’t enjoy Gaullist levels of support. The decision to prorogue Parliament simply united  Remainers and more moderate Leavers. When the prorogation ends, and following an extensive purge of moderate Tories from the government benches, he will be at least 40 short of a majority. This does not make for an advantageous negotiating position in either Brussels or Westminster.

Cockett asserts, but does not establish, that Johnson wants to compromise. It is a common trap to believe that under the Prime Minister’s Etonian brio lie liberal convictions. Experience suggests otherwise. The only thing Johnson consistently stands up for is himself, and on that, he has indeed never compromised. 

Lara Spirit, Our Future Our Choice,  London SE22

Jamless tomorrows

Tim Congdon, in his excellent piece on the UK’s contributions to the EU (Marketplace, July/August), rightly asserts that a Remain vote in the 2016 referendum would have meant the UK’s EU rebate “would have been for the chop”. (Technically, the “rebate” is an abatement.) What he does not convey is how quickly this would have come about. Congdon does not mention the EU’s future financing plan, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This determines the EU’s budget which, of course, relies on net contributors into the kitty; of these, the UK usually comes second only to Germany. The current MFF settlement concludes next year, by the end of which the new settlement for 2021-27 will have been determined. It is inconceivable that a referendum vote to remain in the EU club—the first such referendum since Margaret Thatcher won the rebate in the 1984 Fontainebleau agreement—would result in anything other than a stiff rise in membership fees.

Furthermore, the rebate has not been set in stone anyway: in 2005, British PM (and EU Commission president wannabe) Tony Blair volunteered a unilateral reduction of the rebate, resulting in a massive increase in the UK’s net contributions to the EU.

Too many Remainers are under the impression that staying in the EU will mean a perpetual and irenic status quo. Continuing membership would come at an ever-increasing cost.

Dr Sean McGlynn, The University of Plymouth at Strode College, Somerset

Lost in translation

Josephine Bartosch’s commentary last issue (Open Season, July/August) poses an entirely false choice between the rights of trans people and the rights of women in general and lesbians in particular.

The vast majority of feminists and lesbians support trans rights. They see no conflict. Indeed, they understand that many trans and non-trans women share the experience of male violence and rape—and therefore have a common interest in standing together against misogyny.

Bartosch makes the bizarre claim that lesbians are expected to sleep with trans women who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery and still have male genitals. This is nonsense. No one expects lesbians to have sex with anyone they don’t want to. In such an instance, they can and should say no—and report any harassment or abuse, as they would if the perpetrator was a non-trans heterosexual male. 

Equally, I have never heard anyone suggest that lesbians should not be free to define themselves as “female homosexuals”. This is another false suggestion.

While I defend the right of anyone to protest peacefully, including lesbians who oppose trans women, I deplore the often fictitious and demonising anti-trans rhetoric some of them deploy. Trans women and men have been part of the LGBT+ movement since its inception. Long may that continue.

Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation, London SE1

Relentless hope

More than a year ago you carried a piece by R.W. Johnson (“Is South Africa about to fall apart?”, June 2018), complaining about a variety of problems. Yet xenophobia, weak government and football hooliganism, to take just three of them, are not unknown, dare I say it, in democracies such as Britain. It seems a bit unfair to highlight them as indicators of South Africa’s specific woes.

More fundamentally, he argues that throughout post-colonial Africa “a small successor elite” have grabbed everything for themselves, saying that there is “no parallel in the pre-colonial situation for the gross inequalities that this produced.” Would it not also be accurate to say that there is no parallel in the post-colonial situation for the gross human rights violations and genocides that the previous, European-led governments initiated throughout the continent?

The crux of the matter is his contention that “even former anti-apartheid activists agree that the state schools were better under apartheid, as were the hospitals, that law and order was much better maintained and there was a lot less corruption.” Is he really arguing that it is better to have functioning institutions in an oppressive regime where only a minority may flourish, than it is to have struggling institutions in a free democracy that allows for the flourishing of all? Those forcibly removed by the Group Areas Act would hardly celebrate how efficiently the police functioned the day the bulldozers moved in to destroy their family home. Would parents of a young black child receiving a tenth-rate “Bantu” education at a tenth of the cost of the education of a young white child be thankful for how well maintained this system was?

My wife and I live with recovering gangsters in a community called Manenberg in the Cape Flats constructed by, and reeling from the collective trauma of, the “efficiency” of the apartheid project. We have opened our home to young men seeking freedom from drug addiction and gangsterism. We see them fight to discover their true identities as they take part in a comprehensive recovery process, we watch amazed as broken lives are transformed by the power of brotherhood, family and prayer. And as we witness weeping mothers, embracing their beloved sons and their courageous choices to break free, we see the possibility of change in even the most hardened and marginalised people, and so become relentlessly hopeful for this country.  So from our perspective—in one of the most gravely troubled parts of the country—the answer to the question “Is South Africa about to fall apart?” is emphatically “No”. This country does have grave problems, but viewing them with Johnson’s warped nostalgia is no way to understand them.

Pete Portal, The Tree of Life Church, Manenberg, Cape Town

Riga’s rights

Edward Lucas (Points East and West, July/August) is right to warn about fetishing anniversaries. But they do matter.

In August next year we celebrate the centenary of the Treaty of Riga, which ended our war of independence with an undertaking from Soviet Russia that recognised Latvian independence as “inviolable” for “all future time”. Less than 20 years later, two authoritarian regimes—Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Nazi Germany —concluded a pact dividing Europe and thus set the stage for the Second World War.  Soviet tanks rolled into my country, annexing the Baltic states. The USSR invaded Finland and partitioned Poland with the Nazis

It is not enough to know the facts about the past; what matters is how we interpret them, and the meaning we give them today. They influence our decisions today and tomorrow. The Russian Foreign Ministry has lately renewed its efforts trying to justify Soviet collaboration with Nazi Germany. This cannot fail to cause alarm in the whole world.

The Euroatlantic security space is indivisible. Aggression against one country threatens everyone who wants to live in peace. We are grateful to the UK for its commitment to common Euroatlantic security, for being first to recognise Latvia’s independence in 1918, and for maintaining  de jure recognition of our statehood during the 50 years when foreign occupation seemed to have wiped Latvia from the map.

Security and resilience also depends on reliable finance systems and joint efforts to combat money laundering and illicit finance. I hope that soon we will be able to celebrate the UK’s implementation of the necessary legislation, including on ensuring transparency of beneficial owners.

Baiba Braže, Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia, London W1

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"