Can We Trust the Words We Hear or Read?

Do you know who the sophisticates are? Well let me explain. In the United Kingdom, we have the ruling government Conservative grandees, whom I call the sophisticates. Why such a fancy name, you may ask? It is because while they often speak attractively, they do so in a language and a context which can be very often misleading.

Cast your minds back to the famous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ statement by Theresa May immediately after the referendum in the UK. Was this the first warning sign that Brexit will be fudged and may never happen in the form of a clean ‘in’ or ‘out’ parliamentary decision?  But you can rightly argue, this surely means what the new prime minister said and nothing else.

The UK is leaving the EU, and that is it. Well, not really, because it came from the sophisticates’ camp, which the UK prime minister is part of. Do you believe that Theresa May is the straightforward grammar school educated, no nonsense politician that the media have hailed her to be? The media have portrayed her as such, especially after she showed the door to the Oxford sophisticates of the Cameron era; those so-called ‘posh’ boys. Be careful, for May herself is part of this Oxford elite albeit a little less posh, but is probably as well versed in the politics of language as the Cameron sophisticates are. Politics is all about the use of words; but words have to be seen within a context, which is never written in stone.

May with then Prime Minister David Cameron, May 2010. Source: Wikipedia / UK Home Office
May with then Prime Minister David Cameron, May 2010. Source: Wikipedia / UK Home Office

An example of the sophisticates’ talk is an arrogantly boastful statement made recently and widely reported “Britain will retain access to the single market and curb immigration”. Of course this was made in the context of the security of this present moment. But turn the clock onwards a few months, and this same statement by the same person could read “Everyone agrees there have to be controls on immigration and some access to the single market”. Most people would be confused by the contrast of these statements as they don’t see any change in the context. How does one interpret a statement like this that I heard on the BBC: “We want free movement of workers but not people”?

We know that referenda are not legally binding in the UK and the government is duty bound to act in the best interests of the state, so we should take the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ within that context, and not ‘that the people have spoken’ context. Context is a movable feast. This brings up the importance of the verb ‘to fudge’. The Webster dictionary defines fudge as to fail to deal with (something) in an open and direct way’ or ‘to change (something) in order to trick people’. The sophisticates know their business and, perhaps, fudge is what will happen.

The Telegraph reported last weekend that “May will not hold a parliamentary vote on Brexit before opening negotiations to formally trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union”. She is presently looking for legal advice on how she can bypass parliament, leaving any invocation of Article 50 in her own hands. This is because there is a majority in parliament who want to remain in the EU. Some have suggested that Mrs May could be “tempted” to hold an early election, with Brexit as her principal policy. This, it is claimed, would not only increase the Conservatives’ majority in Parliament, but would bypass the need for a parliamentary vote (as Brexit would be contained in the party manifesto). May is desperate to have her ministers produce a credible alternative to the ‘remain’ side as soon as possible. The problem is that there may not be a suitable alternative. Anyway, until such as alternative is found, Article 50 will not be triggered.

Smelling a rat about bypassing parliament, a group of lawyers has mounted a legal challenge, arguing that Article 50 cannot be invoked until the European Communities Act of 1972 is repealed by parliament. The case, according to media reports, will be heard in the High Court in October this year. If successful, it will ensure a full parliamentary debate and a vote for the repeal of the 1972 Act before any enactment of Article 50. However, its success is doubtful, according to some of the legal fraternity.

But what does the word access here actually mean for the different players in this up-and-coming negotiation? Does this mean continued open access for banking services (known as passporting) while curbing immigration? Some like to tell us it does, while others tell us no it doesn’t and there will be a heavy price to pay. Nobody knows; it is all speculation.

A Downing Street source said recently: “The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the British public have voted and now she will get on with delivering Brexit.” But does May actually mean “Brexit means Brexit” within the context of ‘the people have spoken’ or is there a more wily political game developing in Downing Street?