The Spectator's Notes

Are we seeing the last push against Brexit?

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

Large parts of the senior civil service regard Brexit as almost illegal. Some of them regard loyalty to the EU as a higher duty than to the elected government they are paid to serve. They feel this most strongly in relation to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland which they believe — with no textual evidence — is indissolubly linked with the EU. Some of the top mandarins now leaving their jobs prematurely think this way, perhaps none more so than Sir Jonathan Jones, the government’s chief legal adviser. On Tuesday, Lord Adonis, the most Remainery Remainer there is, tweeted: ‘We are going to hear a lot more about Sir Jonathan Jones, the government’s chief legal adviser, who has resigned rather than be a party to breaking international treaties.’ Are we about to witness the final push by the Establishment to nullify the referendum result in effect, though not in name?

In the early hours of Sunday, a man walked round central Birmingham stabbing people. He killed a 23-year-old man, inflicted critical injuries on two other people and wounded five more. The police were accused of hanging about nervously in cars instead of getting out and tackling the man. Later, Supt Steve Graham gave a press conference. He could not yet say much, he warned, but he could confidently assert that there was ‘absolutely no suggestion at this point that this was in any way, shape or form, motivated by hate’. The stabbings had not been aimed at gay people, but had been ‘random’. So that’s all right. Supt Graham seemed to be proffering a new category — deliberate, fatal attacks which are not motivated by hate. What are they motivated by, then? And why, if in some strange way, shape or form, they are not motivated by hate, are they ‘better’ than fatal stabbings which are? The acts are just as intentional, the victims just as dead or wounded. The word ‘hate’, in the criminal context, now officially refers only to hatred of minority groups such as BAME or LGBT. This gravely limits its meaning. Hate lies behind almost every violent act committed against the innocent — gay, straight; black, white; male, female; young, old. All such hate should be seen as equivalent, morally and in law.


Totalitarian powers mostly want foreign journalists to go, but sometimes they want them to stay. China recently detained Michael Smith and Bill Birtles, of the Australian Financial Review and ABC respectively. The men were held in the country so they could be questioned about Cheng Lei, an Australian-born anchor for the state broadcaster, CCTV, who is now being investigated by the authorities. Seven police arrived at Smith’s Shanghai flat late on Thursday night last week and interrogated him, pointing a spotlight in his face. Australian consular officials, who had sensed danger even before this, then gave the two men shelter and got them back to Sydney. There are now no journalists working for Australian media in China, it is said. It feels as if there are scarcely any British ones either. The BBC still retains a China correspondent, Stephen McDonell (who is actually Australian), but if you google the BBC’s China editor, you see it is stated to be Carrie Gracie, even though she resigned from the post in 2018 because she was annoyed about her pay. The BBC has not replaced her. McDonell tries hard, but the BBC has quietly given up anything like full reporting of China. In the days of Chairman Mao, the country was so closed that almost all reporting on mainland affairs came from China-watchers based in Hong Kong. In a way, the situation today is even trickier, because the free press is being crushed in Hong Kong. Seventeen foreign correspondents have had their credentials removed this year. Such repression is effective. The western media, especially the BBC, do become more timid (the same problem is acute in relation to Iran). Easier to report lavishly on the evils of President Trump, which, of course, they can do without fear.

A postscript to the ‘Rule, Britannia!’/Last Night of the Proms affair — how the BBC covered its own story. On 26 August, The World Tonight reported the then director-general, Tony Hall, saying that the decision not to sing the words this year had been only ‘a creative one’, because of Covid restrictions. The media editor, Amol Rajan, then snorted: newspaper claims that the decision had really been ideological were ‘false’. ‘The hole at the centre of this story was no impediment,’ Rajan asserted, to ‘conservative commentators’ and politicians ‘seeking to convey their own moral certainty on the issue, not the least the Prime Minister’. When Tim Davie succeeded Lord Hall, however, and announced on 2 September that the words would after all be sung this year, BBC News gave a different account to Rajan’s. The Radio 3 lunchtime news, for example, said that ‘the Corporation had originally planned not to have them sung this year, because of their perceived associations with colonialism and slavery.’ So the BBC’s media editor seems not to have known what his own employer was up to. Instead, he made it clear on which side he stood; and that, in BBC-land, is what matters so very much.

The Conservative Woman is a daily website. It is not Conservative in the party sense (which helps). It was established in 2014 by Kathy Gyngell and Laura Perrins, and has hundreds of thousands of readers but no big backers. I don’t always agree with it, but I almost always look at it, because it is brave in being socially conservative (usually without being socially authoritarian). It is also much sharper than most big-C Conservatives in anticipating the next manoeuvre in the culture wars. Recently, The Conservative Woman asked me for money. This goes against my unbreakable rule for journalists, born of 40 years’ experience: never put your money where your mouth is. I would strongly urge anyone with no such scruples to back the magazine’s current GoFundMe campaign.

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