Brexit: Legs-it, eggs-it and frankly dregs-it

This is the uncut, after-dinner first draft of the lead item from this week’s roundup of legal news and commentary. Not all of it may make it through to the final edit, so enjoy it while you can, or cringe at it if you dare.

Image (via Parliament website): a hasty Brexit could force Britain to scrabble for a trade deal

The Exiting the European Union Committee concluded in its report last week that the Government’s assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal” could not be substantiated without an economic assessment of “no deal” having been done and without evidence that steps were being taken to mitigate what would be the damaging effect of such an outcome.

The cross-party Commons select committee were fairly damning of the breezily cavalier approach of the government’s Brexiteers in their white paper’s stated negotiating objectives. The committee’s chair, Hilary Benn MP said:

“The Government should conduct a thorough assessment of the economic, legal and other implications of leaving the EU without a deal in place. The public and Parliament have a right to the maximum possible information about the impact of the different future trading options being considered. Without an economic impact assessment of ‘no deal’ and without evidence that steps are being taken to mitigate the damaging effect of such an outcome, the Government’s assertion that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is unsubstantiated. Parliament must be in an informed position to decide whether a proposed deal is, in fact, better or worse than no deal.”

Some idea of what “no deal having been done” might look like is, of course, available from Ian Dunt’s book, Brexit: what the hell happens now?

A small British enclave on the south coast of Spain continued to be the subject of anxiety in the Brexit negotiations last week, as Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in talks with President of the European Council Donald Tusk, to “lower tensions” on the topic of Gibraltar in the wake of “sabre-rattling” remarks by May’s one-time predecessor as unelected leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Howard, the previous weekend. A Downing Street spokesperson said:

“The PM also made clear that on the subject of Gibraltar, the UK’s position had not changed, the UK would seek the best possible deal for Gibraltar as the UK exits the EU and there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people.”

In other words, no one’s sovereignty is going to be sacrificed on the Gibraltar of Brexit, despite the fears which seem to have prompted a vigorous campaign in last week’s tabloids. The Sun began by trying rather feebly to recreate the glories of its 1990 “Up Yours, Delors!” headline (aimed at the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors) with a headline that went “Up yours, Senors!” (foreign accents not being admitted), with a huge picture of the iconic Rock painted in Union Jack colours.

It then compounded its incompetence, after actor Michael Caine intervened in support of Brexit, with a suggestion that “We only want to blow the bloody senors off” (perhaps not thinking any readers would notice the fellatic double-entendre).

With less desperation and more nastiness, the Mail cartoonist Mac not very subtly compared the monkeys who inhabit the iconic rock to “boat people”, ie refugees, while compounding its inaccuracy by including a naval chart depicting features of the landscape in elevation, a sailor offering the captain a palm-forward salute, and a life-preserver helpfully stowed inside rather than out on deck where it might do some good. You can see the cartoon (which we can’t reproduce for copyright reasons) here.

So much for the dregs of policy discourse this week. Now for the silly stuff.

If anyone makes a complaint about the tabloids it will probably be to so-called regulator, or more properly self-regulator by proxy, IPSO (the not very Independent Press Standards Organisation) who this week issued their ruling on an earlier Brexit-related publication. This was the front page story in the Daily Mail commenting on negotiations over the future status of Scotland following Brexit, and the Scottish parliament’s desire to hold a second independence referendum. The talks were between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The Mail’s important coverage of this summit between two national leaders was headlined “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” and was reported to have “prompted widespread outrage” (according to the Guardian). It was sexist and demeaning and trivialised matters of rather more importance, and few appeared to share the opinion of its author, Sarah Vine, that her commentary on female politicians’ legs was funny.

More to the point, it prompted complaints to IPSO by lots and lots of people, but since none of them was either Nicola Sturgeon or Theresa May (who presumably have less futile things to do) IPSO decided it was essentially a case of “third party” complaint about a matter on which it was ultimately for the first party (the alleged victim or subject of the story) to make a fuss. So IPSO, (whose editors’ code committee is chaired by the editor of, er, the Daily Mail), washed its hands of the whole business.

As it was not accepting jurisdiction to hear the complaint,IPSO made no ruling, but explained its position on its blog. It starts off in a style reminiscent of a “gosh-super” spoof diary in Private Eye:

This week has been a busy week for IPSO as we’ve received over 1,600 complaints from members of the public about the Daily Mail’s “Legsit” article.

We are always grateful when people bring concerns to our attention. We review each and every complaint and inquiry we receive — and we respond to every single one.

It goes on to explain why, despite the acknowledged disappointment it causes, IPSO does not take forward third party complaints like this, blithely asserting:

The short answer is that the policy on third party complaints is bound into the legal contract that governs our relationship with the publications we regulate.

In other words, we’ve agreed not to do it. So there.

The Prime Minister was distracted again from her important international negotiations, while en route for a trade-boosting trip to Saudi Arabia, by the need to pronounce upon the failure of Cadbury’s and the National Trust to use the word “Easter” with sufficient frequency in promoting children’s egg-hunts during the forthcoming holiday period. May duly obliged by declaring the conduct of the National Trust and the now American owned chocolatier “absolutely ridiculous”. She wasn’t the only one whose opinion was solicited, with churchmen and other politicians also weighing in.

However, the connection between sweet chocolate eggs and the Christian festival of Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ, must be hard for non-Christians to understand. At least Christmas presents have a Biblical example in the Magi, or three wise men, who brought gifts to visit the infant Jesus. The erasure of Easter from the promotion of chocolate seems to have less to do with political correctness gone mad, as was alleged, and more to do with commercial values, which dictate the need to isolate the chocolate eggs from the waning of interest in the religion whose festival is being celebrated.

See the Guardian, No yolk: Cadbury and National Trust say Easter egg row is nonsense

Tweet of the week… (not)

Finally, for sheer dregs-it nastiness, it would be hard to beat this tweet from the official Leave.UK account:

You can follow the thread to see what it’s supposed to be suggesting and some of the complaints, including to the police.

The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.