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Lost in Translation?

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A curious turn of events today with the Prime Minister seeming, at one stage, to have secured a preliminary stage in Brexit negotiations with a draft agreement at lunchtime seemingly agreed with the EU negotiating team. 

The  agreement was regarding the crucial border arrangement in Ireland based on a distinctive regulatory approach tailored to achieve further negotiations.

Arrangements seemed, assumedly, to have been predicated upon the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

But when the DUP's  Arlene Foster intervened with what Sky News described as a 'crisis call' to the Prime Minister in Brussels it emerged that any consensual agreement thought to have been settled had been premature.

Something seems to have been lost in translation.

Possibly the position between the UK Government and the DUP on the issue had been communicated on crossed wires. 

There did appear to have been scope for a deal earlier in the day.

Surely the Prime Minister did not undertake to reach an apparent agreement with Mr Barnier without some belief that the DUP supported the position.

Something appears to have changed.

It is possible that the parties had been reading from different scripts. 

That appears to have been the cause of the events in M v Home Office [1994] 1 AC 377 where a man seeking asylum in the UK having arrived from Zimbabwe with signs medically assessed as consistent with maltreatment was to have his return to Zimbabwe - after his case was assessed by the Home office - put on hold after an Eleventh Hour judicial intervention.

In the event Home Secretary Kenneth Baker appeared in court to clarify his position which had strayed towards contempt when the individual seeking asylum was returned to Zimbabwe via Paris in conflict with the judge's order that he was to be returned to the UK.

No opportunity was taken to return the man while his plane was in Paris and on landing in Zimbabwe he was not met by British Embassy officials as had been expected. 

He was not subsequently heard of again.

Mr. Baker certainly appeared to have been unaware of the judge's order and the view was taken that in a purported undertaking to the judge by a representative from the Home Office something had been lost in translation.

The problem lies in the significance of the consequences.

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Flirting with Contempt

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Edited by John Gynn, Wednesday, 29 Nov 2017, 22:46

Questioned during his libel trial, on 3rd April 1895, Oscar Wilde's fortunes dipped as his rapier wit foundered in that solemn forum with rather inappropriately flippant responses to questions which included his comment about Walter Grainger and an answer to a question asking why he gave a blackmailer 10 shillings.

"Q: May I ask why you gave this man, who you knew was a notorious blackmailer, ten shillings?
A: I gave it out of contempt.
Q: Then the way you show your contempt is by paying ten shillings?
A: Yes, very often."

Today, in an extraordinary day in the House of Commons, Mr. Speaker reflected concern that relations between the Legislature and the Executive may have strayed close to an equivalent flippancy on the part of the Executive. 

This concerns the provision to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union of the full Brexit Impact Assessments - requested by the House on 1st November 2017 - which had been offered only in edited form. This after a three-hour debate  in a Motion ruled by Mr. Speaker to be binding on the Government. 

An additional disappointment was the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union not appearing in person, as might have been anticipated, to answer an Urgent Question on his brief laid down by the Opposition.

The Secretary of State was, no doubt, occupied with pressing affairs of State* and so his absence from the House today to address the Opposition’s Urgent Question can easily be accepted. 

(*Indeed it that appears that Mr. Davis was in the thick of it at the time - negotiating the UK's 'divorce bill' with his EU counterparts).

However any trace of flippancy in recognizing the building concern within the House may begin to make the documents sought by parliament take on the colour of Wilde’s ten shillings.

The House has concerns that the Government, by submitting information subject to editing, has not adequately met the expectations of the House manifest in the Motion of 1st November and that the Government may, consequently, be in contempt as detailed on p. 273 of Erskine May (as the SNP’s spokesman, Peter Wishart, MP for Perth and N Perthshire, pointed out).

Mr. Speaker has informed the House that Members wishing to allege a Contempt or Breach of Privilege should, in the first instance, raise it by writing to him as soon as practicable. He then decides whether or not the matter should have precedence. 

Mr Bercow, growing in constitutional stature in shepherding this matter will, no doubt, position such a request prominently in light of the Select Committee securing an urgent audience with the Secretary of State. 

Indeed Mr. Speaker explicitly stated, subsequently, that nothing was as important as respecting the will of the House.

Brexit Minister Robin Walker, responding for the Government, reassured the House that the analysis requested by the House included some confidential and commercially-sensitive information that had to remain private. John Whittingdale (Con) Maldon was worried that leaks could result from the documents passed to the two Select Committees or the devolved administrations who also have copies.  

Joanna Cherry (SNP) MP for Edinburgh South West queried the existence of any information relevant to the Scottish economy within the documents the Government had provided. Wera Hobhouse (LD) MP for Bath, a member of the Select Committee, felt that the implication of the Select Committee not being afforded unedited disclosure was that its members could not be trusted to act in the national interest. Mr. Walker believed that was not the case.

That may, however, have effectively been expressing reassurance about information that had already been safeguarded/withheld through the editing process in any event.

Iain Duncan-Smith (Con) MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, a keen supporter of the UK’s exit from the European Union added to the Minister’s script in noting that the UK’s negotiating position might be undermined if all confidential information within the documents is made available – asking what specific information had not been included that was wished for. 

That does seem to be a little difficult to answer as it would seem to require knowledge of the unknown.

Peter Bone (Con) MP for Wellingborough, a pro-Exit MP whose contributions have very largely been remarkable for their measured, constructive and conciliatory tones, offered a helpful suggestion that the two rather irreconcilable Motions - relating to, first, the release of all the information and second, a non-binding Motion seeking to prevent the Government’s negotiating position being harmed by full disclosure – might be reconciled with a fresh Government Motion.

Indeed Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con) N E Somerset, spoke earnestly in support of Parliamentary sovereignty noting that only the Motion requiring disclosure was binding.

Toad asks for a lawyer

"...then I would beg you - for the last time, probably - to step round to the village as quickly as possible - even now it may be too late - and fetch the doctor ...would you mind at the same time asking the lawyer to step up? ...A lawyer! O, he must be really bad! the affrighted Rat said to himself" (The Wind in the Willows, Chapter Six, Mr Toad)

Marcus Fysh (Con) MP for Yeovil quoted p. 201 of Erskine May on Ministerial Accountability to draw Mr. Speaker’s attention about disclosing information and the public interest. Mr. Speaker reassured Mr. Fysh that he was aware of process in this field.

There therefore emerged themes expressing concern over the consequences of full disclosure and favouring a new Government Motion from Brexiteers; which is interesting in itself.

Mr Toad at the window

"Now you look out Rat! When Toad's quiet and submissive, and playing at being the hero of a Sunday-school prize, then he's at his artfullest. There's sure to be something up." (Badger's advice to Ratty, Chapter Six, Mr Toad).

Expect a revised Government Motion - no doubt only coincidentally addressing  the concerns of ardent Brexiteers - on what can and cannot be disclosed - shortly therefore. 

Interestingly, Mr Duncan Smith asked Mr. Speaker if a fresh Government Motion might negate any question of Contempt attaching to the present Motion requiring full disclosure of Brexit assessment information.

The picture is something like the efforts of Badger, Mole and Ratty (here representing the legislature) to persuade the errant Mr. Toad (here the executive, spurred by some enthusiastic quarters of the Government benches keen to ensure that the Article 50 process is not derailed) to moderate Mr. Toad's recalcitrant stance.

Of course Mr Toad was able to escape from constraint with a clever ruse, some knotted bed sheets and a convenient open window.

This all seems to reflect an emerging Cold War within the House of Commons where the first skirmish – any scope for an allegation of Contempt coming to fruition - is likely to be diffused by the Secretary of State demonstrating some contrition and humility before the Select Committee and allowing access to the information requested on the 1st November with some new consensual conditions. 

The likely condition for full disclosure was identified by Barry Sheerman (Lab Coop) Huddersfield who suggested following established practice affording the Committee Chair, Hilary Benn, full disclosure; with discretion to filter the information as the Chair sees fit.

Those favouring EU exit appear to be rather conspicuous in their apparent calm and seemingly orchestrated contributions. That might possibly suggest that there is something damaging to the cause of those who favour a 'hard Brexit' in the redacted material. 

But this parliamentary Cold War will be subtle and sophisticated – fought with the ink of revised Motions and countered by the pressure of threatened Contempt.

Kenneth Clarke (Con) MP for Rushcliffe warned that the Government “could not [by qualifying or editing the documents without amendment on 1st November], post-Brexit , start reducing parliamentary sovereignty”. 

Indeed as the debate closed with Points of Order, Ken Clarke suggested that the Government’s novel abeyance of voting on Opposition Motions was turning the House into a debating chamber without parliamentary accountability. 

The Government should be accountable to all its responsibilities to the House said Mr. Clarke. Mr Speaker agreed that the Government’s approach had not been helpful.

Two amendments seem to have been required; by Oscar Wilde and the present Government.

Oscar Wilde’s eloquent address was not sufficiently humble and lacked the common touch.

The Humble Address lacked sufficient eloquence and the Government's touch is driving the Commons wild.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by John Gynn, Wednesday, 6 Dec 2017, 18:55)
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Mabel who?

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Sometimes the personalities in a courtroom can cause particular interest.

Laurence Olivier's authorised biography, Olivier, by Terry Coleman, tells of the moment an individual who seemed to be one of the solicitors innocuously sitting at the side of the court - in a case where the Director of Public Prosecutions had taken an interest in an English Stage Company production at the Royal Court Theatre - rose to give evidence in the witness box. 

This wasn't a solicitor. Coleman tells of his astonishment that it was Laurence Olivier demonstrating his 'astounding ability to make himself invisible'.

Olivier and Yorick "I knew him Horatio"

"I knew him Horatio". Yet nobody recognized Olivier.

This may, possibly, have been during proceedings resulting from the Lord Chamberlain's antipathy towards John Osborne's 1965 play A Patriot for Me.

Before being stripped of the power of theatre censorship on September 26th 1968, the Lord Chamberlain's office had suffocated work by Ibsen and Arthur Miller amongst others. Even Becket had to wait a little longer for Godot while the Lord Chamberlain engaged in moral deliberation.

However it is another, largely invisible, personality who turned out to be the most famous litigant of all time on the law's stage.

She preferred to be known as Mabel Hannah.

Her remarkable role in one of the world's most influential cases is considered with fresh eyes in the Vancouver Bar Association's journal, The Advocate and the insight is flagged anew by the excellent website of the Scottish Council of Law Reporting. 

What is particularly interesting for anyone with an interest in Donoghue v Stevenson (because Mabel Hannah was the preferred name of May Donoghue) is that the SCLR provide a photograph of Mabel - the most famous litigant of all time:

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"Call me Ishmael" (Moby Dick 1851)

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017, 11:11

Moby Dick breaches in the moonlight close to the Pequod

Moby Dick breaches in the moonlight in sight of Captain Ahab's Pequod (Britannia Images)

On the anniversary of the publication of Herman Melville's Moby Dick in 1851, the House of Commons begins Committee Stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. 

As the Explanatory Notes to the bill tell us:

"The Bill ends the supremacy of European Union (EU) law in UK law and converts EU law as it stands at the moment of exit into domestic law".

In the background some earlier inter-state arrangements are being reviewed.

Currently submerged legal instruments are being revealed as the EU tide ebbs.

One such instrument is the London Fisheries Convention signed on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in 1964 by Rab Butler, Conservative Minister and MP for Saffron Walden.

The London Fisheries Convention regulated the use of territorial waters for fishing.

"The London Fisheries Convention, signed in 1964 before the UK joined the European Union, allows vessels from five European countries to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK's coastline. It sits alongside the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which allows all European vessels access between 12 and 200 nautical miles of the UK and sets quotas for how much fish each nation can catch."

The UK Government have triggered another two year withdrawal process - this time article 15 of the London Fisheries Convention and this time the notification is to the UK Government (so Mr. Gove's denunciation will presumably have been to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs... Mr. Gove).

The UK's membership of the EEC, from 1st January 1973, did not initially bring a Halcyon calm to disputed fishing rights between states.

The Cod Wars which boiled between Iceland and the UK like a political Corry Vreckan and peaked in the mid-1970s evidence that:

Iceland (not an EU member) now has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 miles and this is accepted internationally other than in the EU where the Common Fisheries Policy takes precedence.

So the UK's withdrawal from the EU opens further dynamics of acceptance and recognition.

Indeed the issue may even bear on public opinion in Iceland regarding EU accession sentiment which, currently, opposes membership.

The doldrums

Whether a result of the adverse impact on UK fishing arising from membership of the EU or otherwise, some emollient, seemingly spread over recent decades by an invisible hand, has calmed the troubled waters which had previously kept the Cod Wars simmering for so long.

The perfect storm

However that period of stability should not be taken for granted. The UK Government's clearing the flotsam and jetsam of earlier regulation such as the London Fisheries Convention, Brexit and economic impact may create a political storm to match Poseidon's fury.

Fishing, politics, resources and law seem inevitably to be gathered in a disputatious relationship.

"But why should the king have the head, and the Queen the tail? A reason for that, ye lawyers?"

(Herman Melville, Moby Dick 1851, Chapter 90)

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Brexit: Plan B

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Bee on flower

Good news for bees (picture from Britannia Image Quest). Good news for everybody.

"The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood," said Mr Gove.

"I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk."

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A bridge too far

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Old photo of bridge players at a table

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An apple tree in an olive plantation?

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Edited by John Gynn, Thursday, 26 Oct 2017, 22:26

This extract, from an interesting article in the International Business Law Journal 2017, notes the existence of two distinct legal systems operating in rare proximity.

"[T]he most notable aspect for the legal practitioner is the creation of an autonomous court system at the heart of the financial centre. Based on English common law, the DIFC [Dubai International Financial Centre] Courts contrast with the civil law regime applicable throughout the rest of Dubai's territory.

In 2004 the Emirate of Dubai initiated a then-unique process: it established on its territory a common law jurisdiction meant to rule upon all civil and commercial disputes relating to the newly created financial free zone.

At its early stage, this very singular configuration was compared to a "Common Law island in a Civil Law ocean".

I.B.L.J. 2017, 4, 289-304

A small Dubai island nestles in the ocean

The image above illustrates the illuminating description made in the I.B.L.J. article of a "Common law island in a Civil law ocean". The DIFC is situated in Dubai in a special economic zone covering 100 hectares.

The recognition of particular benefits of the Common law in the context of commerce reflect Lord Neuberger's thoughts in a lecture given to the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore Lord Neuberger 18 August 2016:

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Help me Rhondda?

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Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the picturesque Welsh constituency Rhondda, appeared on BBC's Daily Politics today discussing the Bill he introduced (on 17th July 2017) as a Private Member.  

MP Chris Bryant in his picturesque Westminster constituency of Rhondda

His Bill is aimed at protecting emergency workers from assault in the course of their work.

The Bill starts its Second Reading tomorrow.

The MP said he needs to tweak the definition of emergency worker which he drew too narrowly.

He wants to amend that definition, at Committee Stage, to encompass GPs and nurses.

With EU withdrawal leaving both a gap in Westminster's legislative calendar and creating a stretched out two-year parliamentary session - which has elongated the usual Private Members' Bill process - there may be scope for Chris Bryant's Bill to make some progress before Christmas if it can be slotted into the parliamentary timetable for debate.

The point was made that the Private Members' Bill process very rarely sees a Bill make it to the Statute Book when it comes from an opposition MP.

However it appears that the Westminster MP for Rhondda's Bill has Government support and so, unusually, a Private Members' Bill from the opposition benches could well make it through the parliamentary process.

Chris Bryant (a font of interesting parliamentary facts) said that a successful Private Members' Bill will usually come from a Government backbencher. Indeed the Government can handover a Bill to a Government backbencher and these are known as 'handover bills'.

There could still be some scheduling impact resulting from the elongated session impacting on Private Members' Bills (the two year current session giving rise to some unusual scheduling consequences.


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World Mental Health day

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 10 Oct 2017, 23:19

October 10th is World Mental Health day:

World Mental Health day image of protective umbrellas

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“…more than merely the providers of a service” [2017] UKSC 51

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In July 2013, the, then, Lord Chancellor (Chris Grayling), implemented the Coalition Government’s policy which sought, first amongst other policy reasons, to limit vexatious claims, made by disgruntled employees, in employment tribunals.

It appeared, from one perspective at least, that employment rights should be diluted to a degree in the interests of smoother employment tribunal administration.

Viewed over recent decades, the changing regulation of disputes through the employment tribunal system (and earlier industrial tribunals) can be considered like the strata in a geological bore hole revealing, to some extent, the dominant political and economic forces present over time.

This might not always coincide exactly with an election that brings a change of political party in 10 Downing Street as the issue seems to arise most often amidst legislative spring-cleaning. Mr Blair’s government, elected in 1998, for example, waiting until 2004 to rearrange the regulatory furniture in this area – albeit still within the boundaries of the Employment Rights Act 1996.  

Moreover changes may also be tied to a particular ideological flavour within party politics. Steering a centrist course, New Labour’s regulatory ‘feng shui’ itself envisaged the introduction of fees in an effort to control the burgeoning numbers of claims before employment tribunals. At around £100 the New Labour fees were significantly less than those just contemplated in the UK Supreme Court at the behest of trade union Unison.

Employment relationships are, perhaps, not quite sufficiently urgent a matter to effect change immediately yet are always consciously weighing on the tidy ideology of the incumbent political mind.

Looking back at the legislative movements in this clearly politicised socio-economic field can certainly help to identify which of the two main party political powers have been dominant at any given time in Westminster. (The matter is a reserved one).

A period where employment tribunal regulation tilts in favour of employers tends to arise at the hands of a Conservative administration. A swing more in favour of the employee usually reflects a Labour government at the tiller.

In March 2015 The Guardian published a letter signed by a significant number of lawyers regarding Chris Grayling’s decision:

“The ... fees are a significant barrier to access to justice and are preventing employees from being able to complain about contraventions of their employment rights.

We do not think that the current level of fees can be justified by the suggestion – repeatedly made by the media, politicians and others – that prior to July 2013 a significant percentage of employment tribunal claims were vexatious.

The introduction of fees has had no discernible impact on the outcome of cases. This must mean that meritorious claims are not being pursued because of the fees regime.

The letter urges the government to carry out a review of the fee levels, and urgently. It is signed by 40 QCs and 400 barristers specialising in employment law. Among prominent lawyers supporting the letter are Gavin Millar QC, Helen Mountfield QC and Dinah Rose QC.”

The role of the UK Supreme Court in this context, i.e. with regard to the balance of favour as between employer and employee affected by the regulation of the employment tribunal - the dispute forum that operates to resolve workplace concerns, is to ensure that there is no excessive imbalance effected within the regulation of employment tribunals sufficient to impact upon wider constitutional matters.

In doing so the Court has in mind the inherent inequality in bargaining position as between the parties.

“Relationships between employers and employees are generally characterised by an imbalance of economic power. Recognising the vulnerability of employees to exploitation, discrimination, and other undesirable practices, and the social problems which can result, Parliament has long intervened in those relationships so as to confer statutory rights on employees, rather than leaving their rights to be determined by freedom of contract” (Lord Reed, at para. 6).

Today the UK Supreme Court has held that the Government’s Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013, SI 2013/189 i.e. the introduction of fees, for those seeking to challenge employment issues, represented, just as the lawyers’ letter to The Guardian stated, a barrier to justice. That barrier arising not just within the context of EU law but also under the common law.

The UK Supreme Court has detected an excessive swing to starboard likely to cause bow waves unsettling the wider channel of justice.

And possibly unsettling the wider channel of commerce? Some inevitable, jet largely ignored, consequences of commercial motivation were not explicit with the judgment yet are certainly a possible corollary. The BBC considers that aspect in an interesting programme ‘Decoding the News: Shareholder Value’ (First aired Tuesday 25th July, 2017):

The summary of today’s judgment (the numbers in square brackets indicate the paragraphs of the authoritative judgment) notes:

 “The Fees Order is unlawful under both domestic and EU law because it has the effect of preventing access to justice. Since it had that effect as soon as it was made, it was therefore unlawful and must be quashed. 

The constitutional right of access to the courts is inherent in the rule of law: it is needed to ensure that the laws created by Parliament and the courts are applied and enforced. Tribunals are more than merely the providers of a service which is only of value to those who bring claims before them [65-85]. As a matter of domestic law, the Fees Order is unlawful if there is a real risk that persons will effectively be prevented from having access to justice, or if the degree of intrusion into access to justice is greater than is justified by the purposes of the Fees Order [86-89].”


Unison’s challenge to the legitimacy of the Fees Order of 2013 was rendered more easily surmountable because the change was effected using subordinate legislation.

The apparent lack of any reasoned assessment, within the Government’s calculations, as to the amount of fees proportionate in light of the mischief of vexatious employment tribunal claims seems to have left the Justices distinctly unimpressed:

‘Counsel for the Lord Chancellor were unable to explain how any of the fees had been arrived at.’

Lord Reed, at para. 18, R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51

Might New Labour’s proposed fee amount of closer to £100 have avoided the judicial assessment in this instance that the level of fees (reaching towards thousands of pounds) was a barrier to justice by being more proportionate?

Whilst the Court viewed that the employment tribunal was, ‘more than merely the providers of a service’, it cannot be ignored that the system is, nonetheless, still a service in some essential aspects of its role.

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Graduating with Styles

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Edited by John Gynn, Monday, 24 Jul 2017, 22:14

Congratulations to Peggy Styles, aged 86, as it happens, who this week has collected her doctoral qualification in education after study with Bristol University.

Peggy graduating from bristol university age 86

Picture from Bristol University Twitter:

The story on MSN web pages:

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European Union Committee Brexit: devolution

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The UK Parliament website indicates that the European Union Committee publishes its report on Brexit and devolution today:

Direct link to the European Union Committee Brexit: devolution. 4th Report of Session 2017-19 - published 19 July 2017 - HL Paper 9:

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"Please, sir, I want some more." (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist)

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The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper…

'For MORE!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?'

Mr. Bumble

Mr. Bumble

There is an interesting debate this evening in the House of Commons as a consequence of the current parliamentary session being scheduled to last longer than usual.

The Labour MP for Walsall South, Valerie Vaz, has tabled a motion to consider some difficulties resulting from the Government’s decision to hold a two-year parliamentary session.

Usually a parliamentary session only lasts one year.

Will one year’s worth of Opposition days now have to stretch across the two-year session?

Will the usual 13 private Members’ bills be doubled in this extended session?

The matter brings to mind a remark by Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

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Criminal JuriSPUDence?

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Hopefully they will be acquitted.

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Constitutional Catharsis: “All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII)

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Edited by John Gynn, Friday, 9 Jun 2017, 21:41

Might there be some constitutional catharsis in the political rollercoaster that has manifested in this interesting General Election result?

If there is, which political actor(s) might it touch? The electorate, the politician, both?

In 1967 Sir Lawrence Olivier discussed the cathartic role of Greek tragedy:

“The point of Greek tragedy, which is the original, was to bring huge crowds of people into a house and purify their souls by a catharsis. And I suppose you could call catharsis a purge of the soul. And that was the point of it. And that made them better. It was rather like going through acts of contrition in more modern religion. A confession and penance and act of contrition and absolution. That, in a way, was the same idea. You suffered a tremendous sense of remorse. Now, what can improve on that situation is that if, for instance, in Othello, there can be a time, and there is a time in the play, when I'm perfectly sure that it's right that the audience should be on Iago's side and want him to hurt Othello. This stupid gentleman, this idiot, this brutal sort of savage, go on, thrash him. Thrash him, go on, thrash him. And then it wouldn't matter if you introduced a kind of absurdity into this character to increase the audience's relish at him being tormented. Now then, that's all right provided you're not too late to make them sorry. And then if you do make them very, very sorry, then that is the catharsis we're after.”

Aeschylus Oresteia

Olivier’s interview on catharsis and drama:

It is probably overly fanciful to equate Olivier’s account of Othello with that supranational constitutional actor recently at the heart of popular political drama.

Perhaps that supranational drama has contributed, however, to portrayals on our domestic stage?

“[B]ecause the multitude naturally is not one, but many; they cannot be understood for one; but many authors.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Chapter 16, para. 14).

If it were not for the Athenian practice of counting votes with pebbles (hence ‘psephology’ the study of voting patterns deriving from the Greek for pebble) it might be possible, with some imagination, to view the hundreds of thousands of Xs cast on ballot papers across the UK as comprising something akin to a great and dramatic script.

Curiously there appears to be some visual proximity between Labour’s 2017 manifesto ‘For the Many’ and (the frontispiece at least) of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (whether Hobbes presentation copy or the engraving). The ‘many’ are represented in a distinctly similar manner.


The 'many' pictured on both front covers (detail in lower image).

Might this image capture the many authors of a political drama offering constitutional catharsis?

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time on Thomas Hobbes:

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Hanging in the Balance

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If the exit poll prediction of a hung parliament (with no one party having an overall majority by reaching the 326 Westminster seats required for a bare working majority) is correct will there be time for an organised coalition government to be composed in time for the anticipated beginning of Brexit negotiations on 19th or 20th June?

Forecasts projecting early regional declarations to a national picture do suggest a working majority may yet be possible for the Conservative party but there are so many variables (not least fuelled by a seemingly high turnout) that the governance of the UK may yet be hanging in the balance.

If the Conservative party majority is not strengthened as anticipated will that impact on the UK's negotiating position with the EU? Probably not vis-à-vis the EU though the internal party dynamic will likely be of real relevance.

The 'others' - Independents, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist party, Green party and UKIP - may be able to wield significant leverage depending on their own presence in Westminster when the dust settles.

Might there be scope for a 'progressive alliance'/'coalition of chaos' (the appropriate label depending on your perspective)?

Curiously, the Green party vote is not reflecting the recent picture in some local authority voting patterns in early declarations in NE England and Swindon North.

A very interesting picture is developing.

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And prologue to the omen coming on? (Hamlet, Act I, Scene I, per Horatio)

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Edited by John Gynn, Saturday, 13 May 2017, 23:01

It seems that the Union Flag fell from the walls of the Eurovision Song Contest venue in a portent seeming to reflect political separation.

Some omens do have constitutional significance attributed to them.

During the funeral procession of King George V, on 28th January 1936, the Maltese Cross fell from the Imperial State Crown as the cortege passed New Palace Yard on its way to Windsor and rolled down the street into the gutter. This struck some as an ill-omen that subsequently manifested in the abdication of Edward VIII on 10th December 1936.

Equally, flags are synonymous with signals and Royal Navy vessels signal distress by turning the ensign upside down.

In 1863 HMS Orpheus, a sleek, three-masted though engined, warship of teak and mahogany foundered on a sand bank off the New Zealand coast after following an outdated chart.

With a defective telescope the coastal signal station was unable to discern the upturned ensign on HMS Orpheus signalling distress and the delay resulted, tragically, in the loss of many souls as heavy seas broke Orpheus asunder.

HMS Orphues brekas asunder off New Zealand coast

HMS Orpheus by Richard Brydges Beechey (1863) from

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Barnhill, Jura. June 2015. (Thanks to the kindness of the Fletcher family).

A Perfect 6th & Siren 9th?

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Europe Day on May 6th marks the anniversary of the ‘Schuman Declaration’, given in Paris on that day in 1950, with the EU institutions opening their doors to the public.

Five years ago, to the day, next Friday, another spectacular facet of European musical culture was in evidence at the Placa de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Catalonia, (a contender for the location of the Sirenum scopuli?):

Odysseus hears the Siren call

Passing the Sirenum scopuli - 'Odysseus bound'.

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Barnhill, Jura. June 2015. (Thanks to the kindness of the Fletcher family).

Lost in Translation?

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Edited by John Gynn, Saturday, 13 May 2017, 21:37

Giving his State of the Union address in Florence on May 5th, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the English language (no doubt measuring his comment in light of the UK's secession from the EU) was "losing its importance".

Not so, it seems, in the eyes of the trio of Ukranian presenters hosting tonight's Eurovision Song Contest.

Indeed it seems the early contestants are also performing in English.

It will be interesting to see if the Brexit decision will have any bearing on the position of the UK's entry in a competition where geo-political affinity and messages of solidarity and concern can be aired with some modest impact.

Twenty years, says narrator Graham Norton, since the UK last won.

"Together we'll dance through the storm" ended the lyrics to the UK's (rather good) entry - with quite a cheer throughout the crowd.

Might a vote of post-Brexit solidarity be on the cards to confound recent UK Eurovision results on this occasion?

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Barnhill, Jura. June 2015. (Thanks to the kindness of the Fletcher family).

A Chip off the Old Block?

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Banksy has apparently been busy with a blue flag over a white wall in Dover:

Banksy mural shoes one start chipped off the EU flag

One of the stars being 'removed'.

Picture from The Guardian online:

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