Hashtag political satire

Perhaps Twitter is good for something after all?

Four men with a ladder: the billboard campaigners battling Brexit
It all began, as most good ideas do, in the pub. They were talking about the infamous David Cameron tweet – “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me or chaos with Ed Miliband” – which was doing the rounds again after Theresa May cancelled the vote on her deal in December. And someone said: why don’t they slap it on a billboard, make it the tweet you can’t delete?

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How an army of farcical fakes ruined Turning Point UK’s big day
The result was a surreal farrago of misunderstanding and noise. Fake accounts would call out Turning Point’s genuine handle as a fake set up by antifa extremists, and sometimes would even go as far as exposing other fellow fakes as fakes. It was fakes calling out convincing-looking fakes as fakes in order to reroute Twitter’s attention to other fakes.

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Seeing Brexit clearly

Even as we approach the end of the beginning of Brexit, it’s still hard to pin down what it is. On one hand, it’s simple — it’s a mistake. On the other, the complicated tangle of frameworks it’s operating within is hard to grasp.

Here’s a very helpful visual explainer from David McCandless.

Brexit explained
Everything you need to understand about Brexit in one graphic. Written, designed and narrated by David McCandless

Sometimes, an outside view can best illuminate the absurdities we’re too close to. Here’s an article from the Washington Post.

The collective madness behind Britain’s latest Brexit plan
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that her party reject her own Brexit plan so she could go back to negotiations with the European Union and dismantle an agreement that her government reached with the continent, on an impossibly fast timeline, during talks that have already been ruled out. On every level, it is an insane way to behave. The British government is actively sabotaging the work it has spent the past two years completing and then doing a victory dance.

Now what?

What a mess they’re making in Westminster. No need to worry, though.

How should this Brexit crisis be fixed? Our writers’ verdicts
According to the prime minister, some amicable discussions with senior parliamentarians, a bit of leeway from Brussels and a few tweaks to her EU deal will end the logjam. According to Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit is only a secondary issue, subordinate to the higher goal of securing a Labour government: once he is in Downing Street, everything will be fixed.

Though the question I have is — do they not have enough chairs?

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The vital, busy, invisible border

A neat summary and infographic from the Economist on the issues surrounding the Irish border in relation to Brexit.

What does the Irish border have to do with Brexit?
The invisible frontier has become the most complicated feature of Britain’s negotiations with the European Union. […]

For the past 20 years Britain’s political class has all but ignored Northern Ireland. Yet two decades after the end of the Troubles, the Irish question is back–and it is more likely than any other matter to derail Brexit.

Another day, another data protection issue

We’re generating data all the time, without realising, and without really knowing where it all goes.

Users told to ditch OneDrive and Office 365 to avoid ‘covert’ data harvesting
Microsoft Office and Windows 10 Enterprise uses a telemetry data collection mechanism that breaches the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), according to a 91-page report commissioned by the Dutch government, and conducted by firm Privacy Company.

It’s not just Microsoft in the firing line, of course.

With GDPR now several months into play, data watchdogs across Europe are beginning to take their first steps in the new regulatory landscape. Microsoft is the latest in a line of major companies accused of breaching GDPR, with Oracle and Equifax among seven firms reported for violations by a data rights group last week.

And that story about Google’s AI company having access to NHS data is still rumbling on.

Google: Our DeepMind health slurp is completely kosher
DeepMind told The Reg: “It is false to say that Google is “absorbing” data. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions.”

That claim, echoed by DeepMind Health chief Dominic King, brought a swift correction from legal experts. “It doesn’t belong to DeepMind’s partners, it belongs to the individuals,” Serena Tierney partner at lawyers VWV. “Those ‘partners’ may have limited rights, but it doesn’t belong to them.”

I wonder if we’ll be seeing more of these issues, what with one thing and another.

What the potentially useless draft Brexit agreement means for tech
One of the big questions for Brexit is data protection, and the agreement seeks to hold onto the status quo. Scroll through to Article 71 for the text, which says that EU data protection law will continue to cover the UK before and after the transition period, which runs until the end of 2020. That means personal data can continue to flow between the UK and the EU.

“This issue is critical to the tech sector and to every other industry in a modern digitising economy,” says Tech UK CEO Julian David in a blog post. Data’s the oil that greases tech, and all that.

That doesn’t mean that GDPR will continue to apply in the UK post Brexit. Christopher Knight, privacy lawyer at 11KBW, notes that the UK will become a “third state”. That means the UK won’t be required to apply GPDR and other data laws to “wholly internal situations of processing”.

Update: Well, here’s a thing. I’m still getting used to this new Android phone, with its Google news feed thing, and some time after first drafting this post I was browsing through it and came across the article below. How did it know to surface stories about DeepMind? I’m sure I hadn’t searched for it, but came across it in a newsletter. Is Google reading what I type into WordPress?

Inside DeepMind as the lines with Google blur
Last week, the line between the companies blurred significantly when DeepMind announced that it would transfer control of its health unit to a new Google Health division in California. […]

In March 2017, DeepMind also announced it would build a “data audit” system, as part of its public commitment to transparency. The technology would allow NHS partners to track its use of patient data in real time, with no possibility of falsification, DeepMind said. Google did not comment on whether it will finish the project.

How to fix* broken Brexit

With humour.

Instead of this …

Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, as agreed at negotiators’ level on 14 November 2018 [pdf]

… and this …

Brexit analysis: Why Theresa May’s deal may be doomed
Somehow, all this would be bought at no cost. British citizens would continue to enjoy frictionless travel to the E.U; goods and services would still cross borders with hyperloop-y speed and ease. But immigrants would find that Britain’s international entry points had become a veritable eye of the needle. Above all, we were told that all our E.U. contributions would now get fed straight into the National Health Service […] It’s not just that these assertions were unfounded. They showed a fundamental overestimation of Britain’s power and prestige, of its ability to bend other states to its will. The E.U. has not as yet capitulated to a single meaningful demand from a British government that has frequently looked weak and confused.

… read this.

And instead of this …

Brexit deal resignations are more bad news for the British pound
Today’s resignations have been far worse for the pound. About an hour after Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey resigned, too. There have been four more junior-level resignations on top of that, all before lunch.

… read this.

(* Ok, not so much ‘fix’ as ‘get through’.)

What must they be thinking of us?

Here’s a continental perspective.

Brexit Talks: Watching a country make a fool of itself
The United Kingdom is currently demonstrating how a country can make a fool of itself before the eyes of the entire world. What was once the most powerful empire on earth is now a country that can’t even find its way to the door without tripping over its own feet. […]

Almost everyone who has a say in Brexit belongs to the British establishment, meaning they went to an outrageously expensive private school and completed their studies at Cambridge or Oxford. In this regard, too, we have been enlightened. What in the name of God do they learn there? It certainly can’t be skills that would prepare them for the real world. Or would you trust a lawyer who regularly shows up to negotiations so completely unprepared that they have to be broken off again after just a few minutes?

Nothing positive about Brexit

The further we go with this, the more intractable and stupid it all seems.

The hole where the Brexit deal should be
The great sticking point—around the Irish border—has always been there. Since the Brexit negotiations began, in the summer of 2017, they have been vexed by the logical need to create a border between Ireland (a member of the E.U.) and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom), and the political need not to have a border, in order to protect the island’s peace process. Squaring this circle would be hard enough under any circumstances, but, to pass legislation, May’s government relies on the ten members of Parliament who belong to the hard-line, pro-union Democratic Unionist Party. Any solution to “the Irish backstop,” as it is known, is likely to involve Northern Ireland staying more or less within the E.U.’s structures, while the rest of the U.K. takes a step away. This is a no-go for the D.U.P.

Brexit: a cry from the Irish border
‘Jacob Rees-Mogg you’re right. You don’t need to visit the border… you need to have lived here.’ Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea explores the real impact of Brexit and the uncertainty of the future of the Irish border in a short film written by Clare Dwyer Hogg.

John Major: I have made no false promises on Brexit – I’m free to tell you the truth
I understand the motives of those who voted to leave the European Union: it can – as I well know – be very frustrating. Nonetheless, after weighing its frustrations and opportunities, there is no doubt in my own mind that our decision is a colossal misjudgment that will diminish both the UK and the EU. It will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.

And – once this becomes clear – I believe those who promised what will never be delivered will have much to answer for. They persuaded a deceived population to vote to be weaker and poorer. That will never be forgotten – nor forgiven. […]

None of the mainstream political parties is in a healthy condition. Both the Conservatives and Labour face pressure from fringe opinion within their own membership. My fear is that the extremes of right and left will widen divisions and refuse to compromise, whereas more moderate opinion will often seek common ground. The risk of intransigence – “my way or no way” – is that the mainstream parties will be dragged further right and further left.

Our nation should not tolerate the unreasoning antipathy of the extremes – to the EU, to foreigners or to minority groups. Such antipathy is repellent, and diminishes us as a nation. Softer, more reasonable voices should not be drowned out by the raucous din of the loudest.

Let them eat chips

This Brexit business is starting to get serious.

A Brexit sandwich may consist of bread, and not much else
The convenient lunch-time snack invented by the Earl of Sandwich seems simple enough, but new research from Politico shows how it relies on a complex supply chain of European imports. […] The most British thing about the 4 billion sandwiches that Brits purchase from supermarkets each year is, more likely than not, the bread. Last week, Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association, was mocked for pointing out Brexit’s threat to BLT sandwiches. And while it is unlikely that produce will completely run dry, the risks of a disrupted sandwich supply chain are looking very real.

The article jokes we might have to make do with chip butties. That’s fine by me: I’ve never thought of these things as strange or unusual, but perhaps they are.

The chip butty is the deranged nonsensical sandwich of my dreams
Besides my general attraction to trash and slop, what first drew me to the chip butty was the perfect combination of innocence and absolute dumbness. It’s a sandwich that would make Michelin inspectors shit themselves. It’s a sandwich that kids might design while on too much child cough medicine. It’s goofy and precious, like spaghetti tacos or hot dog lasagna, except it actually tastes good and doesn’t just exist for the sake of novelty.

But maybe these, too, are under threat in the coming years — even the chips for these quintessentially British chip butties could be European.

Brexit and the potato industry
In the year to April the UK imported GBP266m (EUR332.5m) more potatoes and potato products than it exported with sales into the country worth more than half a billion euros. The biggest deficit is in the trade of frozen fries with the UK importing GBP320m (EUR400m) more product than it exports with virtually all its imports coming from the EU.

We’re doomed! Don’t panic!

The Brexit deadline’s getting nearer, and the situation looks as intractable as ever. Should we be getting worried yet? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?

Flights stop, supermarket shelves empty, and NHS supplies dwindle: Britain after a no deal Brexit
I really do wish all of this could just be dismissed as Project Fear, but, honestly, when the government has no strategy in place for leaving the European Union, and when I ask repeatedly what happens on 30 March 2019 if it’s a “no deal” which means “no transition” the silence is terrifyingly deafening.

No-deal Brexit risks ‘civil unrest’, warns Amazon’s UK boss
Doug Gurr, the retail giant’s UK manager, reportedly made the comment during a meeting between Raab and a group of senior business executives on Friday. Amazon declined to confirm whether Gurr had made the remarks, reported in the Times, but admitted it was planning for a wide range of outcomes.

Take fright on Brexit: even the civil service head is telling us to panic
Everyone will take fright at the government’s own warnings to businesses and households. John Manzoni, the head of the civil service, told MPs last week that a no-deal break would be “almost unimaginable”, and have “horrendous consequences”. Already the government warns that the M26 in Kent will be a “holding area” for 1,400 trucks to ease gridlock as 10,000 lorries a day are potentially delayed by new EU customs checks.

It’ll all be worth it in the end, though, right?

The Brexit con
Brexiters told us that leaving the EU would be quick and easy and would save us £350m a week. With a chaotic no-deal looking a real possibility, however, Jacob Rees Mogg now tells us it could take 50 years to reap the benefits. What he’s doing here is something con-men have always had to do – stopping their victim going to the police when the goods they have charged him for fail to arrive.

Oh well, at least the postal service will still be working.

Are these Dad’s Army stamps inspired by Brexit?
The Royal Mail insists not, but it is quite a coincidence.

EU et UK HE

It’s let’s-have-a-heated-debate time again, this time about whether or not we should stay in the European Union.​​ Here are a few articles on the higher education angle to all this.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE
I’ve left the strongest argument that the HE sector can muster till last: the student trade. 6% of all students in UK universities are from elsewhere in the EU. That’s a lot of fee income. And, over the decades after their graduation, it’s a lot of soft power. Of course it’s more than that too. It’s an example of our open society. It changes us to meet, argue, learn from, befriend and fall in love with people from other parts of Europe.

What has the European Union ever done for us?
The EU is both a catalyst and an enabler of collaboration. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and makes working across borders easier by reducing the level of bureaucracy which researchers face when putting together complex multi-national bids.

Both authors think we should stay in the EU and that the UK higher education sector, and society as a whole, benefits from our continued membership, but both seem to worry that their arguments are quite weak and can be easily rebutted.

I can’t imagine for a moment though that many people are giving the academy much thought in this debate. Unfortunately.