Brexit should ring in real change in Whitehall

The battle to get Big Ben to bong on Brexit day goes to the heart of what Brexit was all about. People voted to restore sovereignty, to “take back control” – so what does it say about the country if we can’t even ring a bell to celebrate our independence? The stumbling block is the wall-to-wall bureaucracy that says “you can’t do this.” What it usually means is: “We don’t want you to do this.”

Of course Brexit is controversial and, yes, a lot of people were against it. But the mood has changed dramatically since the general election. Even many Remain voters now want to get it over with and most of the prophets of doom have gone strangely silent. A few ring on: the economist Will Hutton intends…

Should Britain really recognise the conviction of the British teenager in Cyprus?

The British teenager convicted in Cyprus of falsifying rape allegations was spared jail when the court handed down a suspended sentence. It means she has been able to return home, but to what future?

In common with other newspapers, we have declined to name the woman who is not subject to the protections that apply to victims of sex abuse. The Cypriot legal system has decreed she is the guilty party, not the 12 Israeli men who claim she was a willing participant in what by any standards is appalling behaviour on their part, criminal or not.

Her continued anonymity will allow the woman to rebuild her life after what must have been a dreadful ordeal.

However, she wants to become a police officer…

As the Special Relationship hangs in the balance, Boris Johnson can’t afford to stay neutral on Iran

The world has a funny way of catching up with you. That’s what Boris Johnson will no doubt be thinking. He has broken the deadlock in parliament, sprinting over the line at the general election with a majority few had predicted, allowing him five years of government almost unchallenged, carte blanche to push ahead with his Brexit deal, and the chance to be remembered as the prime minister who steered his nation out of half a decade of difficulty and mire. What could possibly happen to ruin this sunny vision?

The Middle East, of course, would always be a likely option, and so it has proven.

The death of Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike at Baghdad airport came, literally, like a bolt from the…

A Brexit deal, Labour in a mess and Trump in peril: what 2020 holds in store

Last year at this time I felt obliged to suspend my usual custom of devoting the first column of the new year to negative predictions – things that would not happen in the following 12 months. The state of the country and our political institutions being so uncharacteristically quixotic and irrational, it seemed inconceivable to rule anything out. There could be no safe non-predictions.

What I should have done, in retrospect, is foretold the obvious outcome: that this bizarre interlude would not last – the stability and maturity of the British electorate would win through and national life would once again become its recognisable self. And so here we are.

At least until last Friday when we woke…

Here’s what Dominic Cummings really meant in that job ad 

New year, new job: a particularly appealing prospect to Generation Z “weirdos and misfits” (not mutually exclusive groups) this week as a range of recruitment adverts targeted the young and socially inept. The first came courtesy of the Army who, after last year appealing to “selfie addicts,” “phone zombies” and “me me me millennials” have channelled their charm offensive in a new direction for 2020, looking to lure in young recruits with the promise of “Love Island-style bodies” on joining up. What’s death on the battlefield if you’ve got abs and a thigh gap, after all?

Not to be outdone in matters of recruitment 2.0, Dominic Cummings, the greatest one-man PR band in modern history, decided…

What are our national parks really for?

Attracting more visitors is a noble aim, but it raises potential conflicts with their mission to preserve our natural heritage

We have the Romantic poets to thank for the Lake District, as we understand it today. Previous generations had not cared much for mountain scenery. In the 19th century, the aesthete John Ruskin, a rhapsodic enthusiast for the Lakes who built a house on Coniston Water, poured scorn on classical authors for failing to appreciate natural grandeur. “As far as I recollect, without a single exception, every Homeric landscape intended to be beautiful is composed of a fountain, a meadow and a shady grove,” he wrote.

In the medieval period, Petrarch was the only writer to view…

A lot goes into a PM’s choice of holiday. So what does Mustique tell us about Boris?

It will be a very happy New Year for Boris Johnson as he sees in the next decade on a sun lounger on the tiny paradise-island of Mustique. 

An unexpectedly thumping election victory under his belt, he might be forgiven for taking a few days off to enjoy cocktails pool-side a la Princess Margaret, or stroll along the shore in the elegant footsteps of Kate Moss and Mick Jagger.  

But while the rest of us fight back our envy and wonder what 2020 will bring ourselves and our country, we could perhaps return to the two-square miles of scrub and beach in the Grenadines for clues to what a majority Johnson premiership might look like.

For few aspects of a person’s life give greater clues to their personality…

The Boxing Day hunt shows the best of rural life

Thousands turned out to support their local Boxing Day hunts, in defiance of both miserable weather and animal rights extremists – some of whom have precious little understanding of what makes animals tick. The horses are fantastically well cared for; the hounds are in seventh heaven, doing what pack animals are born to do. For the countryside, this is a celebration of community and history – and foxes aren’t even the quarry any more.

After nine years of Tory-led governments, the ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs remains; drag hunting has replaced it. The ban was a ridiculous piece of legislation – motivated by anti-countryside prejudice – and Tony Blair later expressed regret for it, although…

Relax. Take a seat. Have a chocolate. This is the day to laze

Do you hear what I hear? It is the collective sigh of the nation, relieved to get to the other side of Christmas Day. After all the planning and preparation, shopping and schlepping, decorating and dressing up, here we are at Boxing Day – for me, and perhaps you, truly the most wonderful time of the year. Today we enter the interlull, or twixmas, or whatever cutesy name you give it, the time between now and New Year’s Eve anyway, when we have no idea what day it is, the phone stops ringing, and a delicious peace descends, deep and crisp and even.

I have always thought Boxing Day is a little like the morning after a wedding. For many of us, it’s the first day in several weeks when we wake up without…

Millions backed Boris Johnson’s deal at the election. So what are we in for? 

General elections bring out the worst in politicians. 

It’s not just the Comical Ali-style bar charts, proclaiming some ancient parish council by-election portends a Liberal Democrat surge. Nor the fanciful accounting. My number crunching on Labour’s £83 billion budget binge suggested that’s what it would cost to fill Trafalgar Square with twenty Nelson’s Columns dedicated to a pantheon of Marxists – but all made of silver bullion.

It’s not the jostling for attention either, even amongst broadcasters. Like Channel 4 replacing the Prime Minister with something that fell out of a gin and tonic in Brobdingnag. (I exclude the Labour leadership from criticism in this instance; after all, Corbynites…