Teaching Miss Middleton

Will Andrew Roberts be giving lessons to a future queen?

Yesterday, Johann Hari sent a dramatic message on Twitter:

Kate Middleton is being advised by a far right-winger who blames concentration camp victims for their own deaths.

This linked to the following on Hari's own blog, which stated:

It has been revealed that a far right-winger who blames concentration camps victims for their own deaths is giving history lessons to Britain's future queen, Kate Middleton. Rod Liddle discloses in passing here that Andrew Roberts is "tutoring" her in the run-up to the royal wedding. To find out just who this "historian" is, read my exposé of him here. If Kate plays close attention to her new teacher's lessons, we can expect the wedding to be livened up by declarations that massacring unarmed civilians is "necessary" . . .

The semi-humorous Rod Liddle piece to which Hari linked in support of this news stated:

The historian Andrew Roberts is to give Kate a lesson in the history of the House of Windsor. "Mainly German and not terribly bright" should do it, I would have thought.

It appears that Liddle's intended meaning was that the first sentence was correct and the second sentence was a mirthful exaggeration or gloss.

However, it currently appears the only source for the Liddle assertion was in turn a parody piece by "Talbot Church" in the Independent of a couple of weeks earlier:

Mindful that not everyone knows the proud history of the royal family, aides have asked pint-sized historian Andrew Roberts to talk the bride-to-be through the history of the House of Windsor.

There appears to be no other published source.

So, is Andrew Roberts to be providing tuition to Kate Middleton?

I asked Clarence House, which categorically denied that Roberts had been asked or would be asked.

A royal aide told me:

Andrew Roberts has not been invited to give constitutional history or other lessons to Miss Middleton. There are no plans to approach Andrew Roberts.

Clarence House also asked me to state:

Prince William's private office will organise a series of private meetings with key individuals for Miss Middleton to meet both before and after the marriage, with regard [to] preparing her to become a member of the royal family. These will include senior members of the royal household, key advisers to Prince William and Prince Harry, and representatives from some of Prince William's charities and other affiliations.

I also asked Andrew Roberts, via his agent, but have so far had no reply.

So, what is correct?

Will the historian Andrew Roberts be giving tuition to Kate Middleton, as Hari and Liddle confidently assert?

Or was Hari's worrying tweet based only on a semi-parody, which was in turn derived from a parody in Hari's very own newspaper?

Could Johann Hari and Rod Liddle really have got something like this wrong?

Who knows?

But I offer a royal wedding commemorative mug to the first person who can evidence the news that Andrew Roberts is to give such tuition.

UPDATE: Andrew Roberts has now also categorically denied the appointment.

FURTHER UPDATE: Johann Hari now admits that his tweet and blog post were based on a factual error and that Andrew Roberts was never invited to tutor Kate Middleton.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman.

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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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.