Mixed race marriage Bban

Unbelievable -- and still happening today

I was going to blog today about Geert Wilders, but then my eye was caught by this astonishing story: "Anger at US mixed marriage 'ban". Keith Bardwell, a white Justice of the Peace in the US state of Louisiana, refuses to issue marriage licences for mixed race couples on the grounds that any children they may have may not be accepted by their parents' communities. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it," says Bardwell, who nevertheless insists that he has "piles of black friends". "They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom," he says. Fancy -- even letting "them" go to the loo in his own house.

Incredibly, no one ever seems to have called Bardwell to account for operating this policy, which, besides being repulsive, is of course illegal -- and he's been a JP for 34 years. It was only after a couple consulted a lawyer on being refused a licence by him that his case was raised, and is now being taken up by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Stories like this crop up from time to time and are often dismissed as being so awful and extreme that they don't have to be taken very seriously: people with such views are isolated crazies, tends to be the line. When Italy's Northern League proposed putting limits on the number of mixed marriages in January, one former colleague with impeccable left-wing credentials pretty much told me not to be silly when I raised the subject. ( I wrote about it at the time, here.) As the League is, and was then, an important partner in Silvio Berlusconi's government, I was astonished. Italy is not so far away, and the rising profile of the BNP leads one to suspect that there are probably quite a few people in the UK who would have some sympathy both for the League and for Bardwell -- who naturally insists that he's not a racist, he just doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way".

It is possible that Bardwell means well -- we probably all know otherwise kind and gentle souls of a certain age who don't see their "it isn't fair on the children" line as bigoted -- but even if we extend him that latitude, such an attitude only perpetuates the prejudice. Bardwell is also of the opinion that mixed-race marriages don't last long. I'm sure that all of us whose skin colour is of a different hue to our wife's or husband's would beg to differ . . . and happily prove him wrong as the anniverary milestones pass by.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.