Guest Notes

London notes

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

Drinking English champagne

A visit to London to watch the end of Britain’s 47-year membership of the European project reveals a muted occasion. Union flags line the Mall, government buildings are lit up in red, white and blue, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson drink English ‘champagne’ and a commemorative 50p coin, with the corporate-bland inscription ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’, is issued. All very polite, with one eye on not exulting to Remainers – now, in much depleted numbers, Rejoiners.

You have the strong feeling that if Remainers had succeeded in overturning the 2016 vote, they would not have held back on the triumphalism out of concern for the sensitivities of Brexiteers.

We go to a farewell dinner for the Hungarian ambassador to the Court of St James where most of the other guests are pro-Brexit figures close to the government. They’re still pleasantly surprised that Brexit is happening. Many expected that Remain’s dominance of the political and legal establishment, the civil service, the business community and of much of the media would keep Britain in the European Union through a second referendum, endless deferment or a Theresa May BRINO – Brexit in name only. There’s also a feeling that the rest of this year, leading to the end of the transition period, will prove just as messy as the period since the referendum. The EU says it will offer Britain its best ever free trade deal, without tariffs and quotas, if it maintains alignment with its rules on state aid, labour, tax and the environment. Boris Johnson rejects that and the expectation is that there will be less-than-totally-free and frictionless trade with the EU – as in virtually all ‘free trade’ agreements.  The prime minister is also likely to disappoint the EU by rejecting pressure for continued fishing access to UK waters – this approach usefully undermines Scotland’s pro-EU leader Nicola Sturgeon.


Despite the great admiration for Johnson among British conservatives, there’s surprise that he’s prepared to risk damaging relations with the United States, especially when one of Britain’s top priorities is a free trade deal with Washington. Johnson has decided to allow Huawei to build parts of Britain’s 5G network, despite acknowledging the risks and objections from President Trump. The issue highlights the fact, as I’ve written in these pages before, that Johnson isn’t a straightforward Tory. He’s a conservative on Brexit, on law and order and in his at times gloriously non-PC language. But, in ditching the Conservative policy to get immigration down below the hundreds of thousands and in his softness on illegal immigration, he’s to the left of the ALP – as he is on climate change and maintaining Britain’s absurdly-high overseas aid.

Happily for Johnson, he’s likely to continue facing a dysfunctional Labour party. Jeremy Corbyn has defied the convention that failed leaders disappear quickly and spends his time churning out anti-American press releases. His fans control Labour and refuse to accept that its choice of a far-left, pro-IRA, anti-Western, unpatriotic Brexit fence-sitter who presided over rampant anti-semitism had anything to do with the party’s worst performance since 1935. One of the contenders to succeed him, Rebecca Long-Bailey, gives Jeremy Corbyn ‘ten out of ten’ for his performance as leader, raising the question of what she’d give him if he’d won an election. All the other contenders are leftists reluctant to criticise Corbyn. The task of making a serious effort to reconnect with its more conservative and patriotic blue-collar base seems beyond Labour under current management. Its values are nicely summed up by Charles Moore: ‘One of the mysteries of the Corbyn world-view, nourished in his youth as a hunt saboteur, is that he sees any killing of any animal as atrociously cruel, but seems content when the IRA blows up Conservatives or Hamas kills Jews.’

My survey of souvenir shops reveals fewer postcards and other material featuring Hazza and Sparkles, aka the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, compared to previous visits. The latest negative stories for the royals have been timely, filling up column inches just as the nation yearns for stories other than Brexit. Sadly the Prince of Wales has shown again that he lacks his mother’s judgment. After Johnson decreed that the government had more important things to do than sip champagne with billionaires in Davos, Prince Charles jetted there, floated new eco-taxes for the rest of us and had a photo-op with eco-extremist Greta Thunberg. At a Danube Institute event on Megxit, London Daily Telegraph reporter Anne-Elizabeth Moutet predicts that Meghan Markles will run, of course as a Democrat, for the US Congress and ultimately for president. You read it here first.

A visit to a London supermarket reveals that the Left’s long march through the institutions has claimed Sainsbury’s, one of Britain’s supermarket chains. While in Scotland its stores describe milk and other staples as ‘Scottish’, accompanied by the St Andrew’s Cross, in England these items are described as ‘British’ accompanied by the Union flag. Sainsbury’s says ‘consumer research’ is behind the decision not to describe them as English and feature the St George’s Cross – seen in woke circles, ridiculously, as the banner of the racist far right. On the same day as this discovery, Sainsbury’s presses another woke button by announcing it’s going to achieve net zero emissions in its operations ten years ahead of the UK’s 2050 target, in 2040.

Mark Higgie is The Spectator Australia’s Europe Correspondent

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