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In a less shameless world, Liam Fox’s career would have ended in 2011

Or to give him his full title, the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox.

There’s a late, unlamented Twitter account that died a death some time in 2011. @itsJOSSnotJOSH was either a bot or possibly just someone with far too much time on their hands, but either way, it existed entirely to reply to tweets mentioning the TV and film writer “Josh Whedon” to tell them they’d got his name wrong.

Were I remotely capable of coding I think I’d set up a similar bot. I’ve been doing this manually, when I have the time, but automation would make my operation so much more efficient. Here’s what my bot would do. Whenever someone mentioned Liam Fox, it would tweet them with a reminder that he should more properly be referred to by his full title of “the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox”.

That’s because Fox, the MP for North Somerset and baffling darling of the Tory right, was humiliatingly forced to tender his resignation from the Cabinet in 2011. He was forced to resign because he had done a very bad thing. Fox should be considered, on any sensible definition, in disgrace.

But Liam Fox himself would, understandably, like everyone to forget about this. He’s likely to be a big figure in campaign for Brexit. He’s started popping up in polls of Tory members asking who they would back as the next party leader. And, asked this week if he would consider running again for the leadership that he failed to bag in 2005, Fox replied, without undue modesty, “Never say never”.

Well. Sometimes, actually, one should say never. This is an excellent case in point. Dr Liam Fox, the disgraced former defence secretary, should never be leader of the Conservative party. In a better world, in fact, he would never be allowed to hold another government job. Why? Because he was forced to resign from the Cabinet in disgrace.

Let’s remind ourselves what Fox did. He allowed his close friend and best man, Adam Werrity, to take up an unofficial and undeclared role in which he attended meetings at the Ministry of Defence without first obtaining security clearance. Werrity had access to Fox’s diary, printed business cards announcing himself as his advisor, and even joined him at meetings with foreign dignitaries.

An investigation by then cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell found that Fox had shown a lack of judgement by blurring the lines between his official role and his personal friendships. His report concluded: “The disclosure outside the MoD of details about future visits overseas posed a degree of security risk not only to Dr Fox, but also to the accompanying official party.”

Once upon a time a porous boundary between the personal and the professional, especially when it touched on matters of national security, was a breach big enough to end a career. John Profumo left politics altogether and spent 30 years cleaning toilets to atone for his mistakes. Fox, though, has hung around the back benches feeling hard done by and waiting for the moment to return to his rightful place. He is, in the most literal sense, shameless.

The media must take its share of the blame for this. Fox’s slow motion rehabilitation has been enabled largely by the fact that time-pressed reporters and producers have often turned to him when they need a good quote attacking the government from the right. Under the circumstances, it probably felt a bit off to make too much of his ignominious departure from office.

Tony Blair should probably share the blame, too. Under his government, being forced to resign from office stopped being something that could terminate a career and became a sort of political sin bin. Ministers who mucked things up were forced out of their posts in double quick time to prevent that day’s scandal from dominating the news cycle, but then, once a suitable period had elapsed, were allowed to come crawling back. The repeated resurrection of Peter Mandelson set a nasty precedent that would later pave the way for David Laws to return to office, too.

All this strikes me as a bad thing. For while the sin bin approach is perhaps reasonable in some cases, it lets other miscreants off the hook far too easily. There are some mistakes a politician can make for which banishment from public life is an entirely proportionate punishment. There are some errors which should disqualify one from ever holding high office again.

Fox’s, I feel, are of this latter sort. He showed a worrying lack of judgement, and an even more concerning lack of remorse. He was right to resign his office; he is wrong to think he is owed a path back.

I doubt I’ll ever make my Twitter bot: it sounds far too much like hard work to me. But I will, whenever the mood strikes, keep reminding people that Dr Liam Fox, the former defence secretary and MP for North Somerset, was forced to resign from the Cabinet because of his own errors of judgement. Liam Fox should more properly known as “the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox”.

Because he is, isn’t he? He’s disgraced. Dr Liam Fox is in disgrace. And in a less shameless world, he’d never have a hope of returning to high office ever again.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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A year in my life as a Brexit bargaining chip

After Brexit, like many other EU citizens in Britain, I spent a year not knowing what my future held. Here's what that was like.

I moved back to the UK in January 2016. I like to say “move back”, because that’s how it feels – I loved living in London so much during my Erasmus year that I always intended to come work here after graduation. 

I am French, and a journalist, and live in north London. I refer to the UK as “home”. By all appearances, in January 2016 I am part of what budding Brexiteers call the “liberal elite”, even though I rent a single room and my most expensive possession after my laptop is a teapot.

But by June, I have been given a new label. I am now one of the 3 million “EU citizens in the UK”. As Britain heads toward turbulent negotiations to leave the European Union, following a referendum in which I did not have a vote, I have become a “bargaining chip”. 

This is my account of that year.

April 2016

Moving back includes chores such as getting a UK phone number, a National Insurance number and opening a bank account – three tasks that go even smoother that I thought they would. For the bank account, I have been advised to go to Lloyds Bank, which makes it “easy for Europeans”. (A thread on Twitter recently proved it also is more inclined to help refugees than other banks.)

I also eagerly register to vote – another right of mine in the UK under EU rules, for local and European elections. And I am excited: I will have a vote in the London mayoral election.

I closely follow the referendum campaign. “Vote Remain” signs and stickers are omnipresent in my  neighbourhood.  I feel reassured. So do the other EU nationals quietly passing me in the street. “I don't recall seeing any Leave Campaign. It made me think it would be an easy win,” echoes Tiago Gomes, 27, a Portuguese musician.

In the pub, I get into a testy exchange with an acquaintance who holds French and British passports and is proudly campaigning for Leave. I struggle to understand why. Maybe, just like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he knows he has a way out, if it all goes to shit.

Worried that people could wrongly see me as a Brexiteer because of my Union Jack Converses, I put a “I’m IN” sticker on each roundel.

May 2016

I vote in the London mayoral election. I have voted many times in France, but this is different – I am almost a Brit! I even take a happy selfie with my polling card, like a proud 18 year-old.

This turns out to be the only UK election I will ever have a vote in, as a friend will note a few months later.

June 2016

Jo Cox MP is murdered on the streets of her constituency. I report on the murder all afternoon and when I get the tube home, I feel shaken. A Leave supporter enters the tube carriage with an England flag. I want to ask him: "Do you even know what happened?" But I say nothing.

The violent turn taken by the campaign is felt in London, too. Samir Dwesar, a 27-year-old parliamentary assistant, remembers the abuse he suffered while campaigning for Remain: “I was called a p**i, and told to go back to ‘your f’ing country'.” Samir is British and has lived all his life in Croydon, South London.

Yet I am hopeful on 23 June 2016. I blow up “I’m IN” balloons, taste EU referendum cupcakes from my local bakery. I’m living history.

And it is history. I doubt anyone in Britain, and especially the country’s EU citizens, will forget the nightmarish morning of 24 June 2016. My heart sinks as I read the BBC news alert informing me I am no longer home – not really. On my wall, a poster of the Private Eye cover “What Britain will look like after Brexit”, which I found hilarious in April, looks like a doomed omen.

The mood is low among all Europeans. For Nassia Matsa, 27, a Greek woman from Athens who has lived in London for 9 years, it is even worse: 24 June marks her birthday. “Nigel and Boris ruined my birthday,” she says.

At least in London we are not alone. I discover many Brits identify as European. When I finally leave my house, my neighbourhood is still plastered IN signs and EU flags. “I found myself offering support to my British friends,” says Matsa. “Were talking about Brexit with an Italian, Swiss, Croatian, French and me, and all of us Europeans were comforting a Londoner who was ready to cry.”

July-August 2016

I go to France for a summer holiday. Everyone keeps asking what my situation will be in the UK after Brexit. My answer is always the same, and still hasn’t changed: I have no idea. My dad spends months repeating that Brexit will not happen: “They’ll realise it’s a mistake.” (They don’t.)

Bad adverts with Brexit puns bloom on the Tube. "We're Out," proclaims one for a city lifestyle app. I don’t laugh. But at least I don't have any Facebook friend boasting about Brexit. Mikael David Levin, a 24-year-old Italian who has lived in London for 16 years, does. "Their statuses frustrate and irritate me," he says. "They do not know how 'lucky' they are to be born in the UK."

After David Cameron’s resignation, the Tory leadership election and Theresa May’s premiership, the discussion focuses on when to pull the trigger, and what to do with people like us in the meantime. We are now, officially, bargaining chips.

September 2016

I start flying with my passport when I visit my family in France, even though I know my French ID is still valid until Britain officially leaves. At Stansted airport, the limited life expectancy of the “EU only” line makes me gloomy. Alex Roszkowski, a 27-year-old Polish-American who has lived in London for a year and a half, tells me he may now carry both his passports on every trip, as well as “copies of [his] lease, numerous old envelopes with [his] name and address, [his] business card".

Those EU citizens arriving in the UK have surreal experiences too. Joseph Sotinel, 28, who moved to London from Paris in September, encounters a bank official, who tells him: “Thanks for coming to the UK, you are still welcome no matter what.”

“It was as if I had done something heroic,” he says. “It was absurd.”

October 2016

Registering all EU citizens in the UK could take 140 years, according to a cheery statistic.

We are seeking an early deal to secure the rights of EU citizens, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers must provide a list of their employees, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers won’t have to provide a list of their employees, says the British government. EU citizens will need a “form of ID” in post-Brexit UK, says the British government.  EU citizens must be prepared to leave, says the British government.

Literally no one knows what will happen to EU citizens.

November- December 2016

EU nationals who have decided to apply to permanent residency or British citizenship start receiving letters urging them to leave the country. I fear mine could follow and think about it every time I get post. I read an article advising EU citizens to collect proof of living in the UK. As I am a lodger currently working freelance, I start keeping every single one of my shopping receipts in a box, and consider asking British friends for reference letters.

Matt Bock [unrelated to this journalist], a German freelance renewable energy project manager, worries about how to provide documentation showing he was living in the UK before Brexit too: “I don’t have an employer, I am outside the UK for a large amount of time for work, I am a freelancer largely paid by my own German company, I don’t have private health insurance, I am not married and I haven’t even been here for the prerequisite 5 years.”" He has chosen not to apply to right to remain because his chances of success are "remote", and says he is "ready to leave if need be."

As I, like Matt and many EU citizens, start thinking about moving back home, others rush to move to the UK. Alexandra Ibrová, 26, a Czech PhD student, moves to London on 28 December, worried she could not get a National Insurance number after 15 March. “I was trying to get the appointment before that date because it is actually the only official document that proves that you have been living here before the cut off date,” she says.

January- February 2017

Gina Miller’s legal challenge forces the government’s Brexit bill to go to a vote in Parliament. I am hopeful, for about five minutes, that the Labour MP Harriet Harman’s amendment to secure my rights has got a chance. It doesn’t. I complain about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to my local Labour councillors during their Sunday canvassing. “As a traditionally left-wing voter, I'm more angry with Corbyn's Labour than with the Tories,” echoes Marta Maria Casetti, 39, from Italy, in London since 2006.

March 2017

The day before the triggering or Article 50, the Haringey LibDems send me a letter in “support” of EU nationals. I am now a bargaining chip and a stat on a micro-targeting list.

On 29 March, Theresa May officially begins the Brexit negotiations, even though 2017 is the worst possible time to leave the EU. It has almost been a year that 3 million people living in the UK have been left in limbo.

I don’t own a house or have children at school in the UK. Many EU citizens do – they have built their family life in this country, and now fear they may lose it all overnight.

Adriana Bruni, 44, an Italian who married an Englishman and has lived in Chelmsford for six years, says her family would not exist without the European Union: “From today [29 March], a family like mine will never be formed in the same way again.” Bianca Ford Epskamp, a Dutch national and school governor who has lived Dorset since 2001, adds: “Both my children are born here, go to school here, have made friends. I've always been employed, contributed, paid taxes, do voluntary things. Morally, it’s draining.”

Elena Paolini, 51, an Italian translator married to Brit who has lived in London for 27 years, says she doesn’t believe EU nationals will be deported, but she is concerned about her access to the NHS, pensions or bank accounts. She asks out loud the question that has been floating in all our minds for months: “Will I be considered a second rate citizen?”

As for me, I used to say I wanted to be British. I don't say that any more.

Update on 23 June 2017

Last night, Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels the UK government would offer the same rights as Britons to EU citizens who arrived "lawfully" before Brexit. I can't help but think that it took a year to guarantee rights me, and the other 3 million, already had and took for granted up until 23 June last year.

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