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Laurie Penny on what "panda-gate" tells us about sexism

Why were real women's brave, brilliant acts this year not considered newsworthy?

Why were real women's brave, brilliant acts this year not considered newsworthy?

Unless you're one of those boring folks who has something else to do with their day other than sit on Twitter for eight hours, you'll be aware of "panda-gate" -- the fact that the BBC has selected, as one of its twelve "Faces of the Year - Women", a giant panda called Sweetie from Edinburgh zoo, who is noteworthy for being... well, a panda. Which, even for the most reclusive of zookeepers, is not the same as being a woman.

As a feminist, I of course had my sense of humour gland removed as part of an initiation ritual involving naked dancing and wobbly cups of menstrual blood, but I have at least tried to understand the hilarious joke the BBC is making here. It is, in fact, traditional for Auntie's magazine to select at least one animal or cartoon character as a "face of the year". Previous years' notables have included Peppa Pig, Marge Simpson and a giant carp. But really, a panda? That has to be doubly insulting.

The thing about pandas is that they're the most useless evolutionary dead end ever to be preserved, at great expense, in the name of sentiment and nationalist flim-flammery. They're cowardly. They hate sex. They have to be encouraged to breed using artful tricks and deceptions, which is just embarrassing for everyone, including the panda. They have one of the most impractical, least nourishing diets on earth. They have about the worst camouflage of any animal, and they spend most of their time sleeping, on the ground, in the open. Sometimes, it's just best to let nature take its course. Particularly when there are at least seven billion humans on the planet, many of whom could do with a bit more concern for their future well-being, and at least half of whom have more qualifications to be a "woman" face of the year than Sweetie the panda, delightfully fluffy as she no doubt is.

It isn't just the panda that's insulting, though. Let's compare the rest of the line-up. Newsworthy male feats in 2011 include, apparently, being a politician (3), being a police officer, being a soldier (3), being an Oscar-winning screenwriter, being an athlete, being a revolutionary martyr, being a fascist mass-murderer who definitely shouldn't have any more sodding publicity, and being shot by the Metropolitan police. To be considered a newsworthy woman in 2011, meanwhile, you have to make an allegation of rape, be a pop star, go on a date with a pop star, get married to a royal, be the sister of someone who got married to a royal, be a royal and get married to someone who isn't a royal, or be a panda called Sweetie.

At times like this, it behoves us to consider not just whether a given list conforms to our ideals of how and on what basis women should be celebrated, but whether life itself conforms to our ideals. When Twitter attempted to rectify the situation with the hashtag #realwomenoftheyear, the feed was immediately swamped with more pop stars, more famous wives, brides and girlfriends. There have, of course, been a great deal of women who have done brave, brilliant, newsworthy things this year. Female politicians, artists, film-makers, leaders and heroes. Female activists, journalists, foreign correspondents, writers, actors and pioneers. But the papers have remained far more interested in Pippa Middleton's arse. That should tell us as much about how sexism works in cultural production as it does about the BBC.

 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Parliament will trigger Article 50 - but it may legally still be possible to cancel Brexit

Legal experts believe they have found an escape hatch if Britain's negotiations turn out to be a damp squib. 

MPs have voted to trigger Article 50. The Lords now debating the Article 50 bill are unlikely to block Brexit. 

But campaigners believe there will still legally be an opportunity to cancel what they see as a slow motion constitutional and economic disaster. 

The People’s Challenge, one of the parties that, along with Gina Miller, forced the government to consult Parliament, has consulted lawyers about the next stage of the process.

According to the legal opinion written by three senior EU law specialists, there is an escape hatch at the end of the Brexit negotiations.

Sir David Edward, a former European Court of Justice judge, Sir Francis Jacobs, the ECJ’s former Advocate General, and the EU lawyer Sir Jeremy Lever believe that the EU can’t force Britain to leave. 

This means that MPs two years hence don’t have to choose between a terrible deal or no deal at all – they can also simply revoke Article 50 and go back to being full members of the EU.

Grahame Pigney, the founder of The People’s Challenge, told me: “We want to dispel the idea that there is a Hobson’s Choice [on taking the Brexit deal or leaving it]. 

“It is entirely reasonable and practicable to say ‘We will reserve that decision until the end of the process’.”

The legal opinion will raise hackles on Brexiteers who believe Remain campaigners aim to halt Brexit in the courts. But what does it actually argue?

What the legal opinion says

The legal opinion considers two main questions:

a) What are the constitutional requirements, as set out by Article 50, for the UK to withdraw from the EU?

b) If these constitutional requirements are not met, could the UK withdraw the Article 50 notice, or let it lapse? 

The lawyers argue that MPs must do more than vote on a Brexit deal – they must set out the terms in an act of Parliament. 

There is a well-established constitutional practice of Parliament legislating to require new international agreements, particularly those concerned with the European Union, to be approved by an Act of Parliament before they can take effect.

Then, considering the constitutional question, they say “there are very strong arguments” that triggering Article 50 means a country can leave the EU “subject to the fulfilment of such constitutional requirements”. 

Here’s the most crucial part of the opinion:

Therefore, if Parliament were to refuse to give legal effect to the terms of a withdrawal agreement negotiated with the European Union, or were to refuse to authorise withdrawal in the absence of any agreement, the notification given by the United Kingdom of its intention to leave the European Union could be treated as having lapsed (since the constitutional requirements required to give effect to that intention had not been met), or could be unilaterally withdrawn.

What this means

Pigney says his campaign group commissioned this legal opinion to give parliamentarians guidance, rather than to mount another challenge in the courts – although he doesn’t rule out one later on in the game. 

As he put it to me: “Whether there is a court case depends on the climate in the UK when we know what a deal is and whether the government is going to try to push something past that is plainly not in the interests of the people.

“Yes, a decision was made, but people can change their minds.”

Although the Prime Minister has confirmed Brexit will mean leaving the single market, and one recent Daily Mirror poll found hints of “Bregret”, most polling so far has suggested those who voted Leave are still happy with the way they voted. 

But as Pigney points out, the Brexit negotiation process is likely to take two years, if not more. And by that point, the mood of the country may be very different. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.