Let's not disrupt the Pope

Can we just ignore or deride him instead?

For those of us who are merely secular or anti-clerical rather than militantly atheistic, there is something rather off-putting about the possible scale of the impending protests at the papal visit.

It would appear that there is a fear that the protests will be such that the papal tour will be disrupted.

This fear is so serious that it is reported that there is to be a meeting at Scotland Yard between the police, the Archbishop of Southwark, and representatives of the Protest the Pope campaign.

If this fear is well-grounded - if it is plausible that the effect of the protests would be to either prevent or inhibit the course of the papal visit - then perhaps the strategy of mass protests is misconceived.

Not only would the rightful freedom of expression of the Pope and his followers be unfairly undermined by a noisy and determined group; it is likely that such protests would be counter-productive.

It is not as if the Roman Catholic church hasn't got a track-record of converting hostility into claiming an undeserved victim status. After all, they've been doing it since the Romans.

None of this is to deny the seriousness of any of the reported scandals as to the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests; nor does it mean that the the papal opposition to contraception in the developing world is anything less than an incredible evil.

All those things need to be addressed.

But protests which may lead to disruption simply do not seem an effective or efficient response to the visit. There is no rational link between disrupting the visit and the policy and operational changes which most sensible people want the Roman Catholic church to adopt urgently.

So if there is a real risk of disruption, then perhaps the visit should be ignored.

Or, even better, we can just deride the Pope instead.

We can all sing along with the Pope Song by Tim Minchin.

We can enjoy the superb and scathing internet satires of Crispian Jago.

We can meet the head of this dysfunctional organisation not with hatred and intimidation, but with laughter and intellectual subversion.

And we can use the appropriate governmental and legal channels to put an end to the wickedness of some of its priests towards children, and to offer redress to those who have already suffered.

Priests should always be treated like any person suspected of a crime and face due process for their alleged offences.

I am not saying that there should be any limit placed on any person's peaceful protest. There is nothing wrong with Protesting the Pope.

But surely there is no need to disrupt the Pope as well.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. His Jack of Kent blog was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He will now be blogging regularly for the New Statesman on legal and policy matters.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Commission event. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

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.