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Britain is learning that progress is a slow process

Are we nearly there yet?

So far so good. We’ve achieved "sufficient progress", whatever that means (and there is precious little agreement on what it does). Nevertheless, we should all be grateful. Failure this week would have implied yet more political and economic uncertainty.  

Yet the way progress has been achieved bodes ill for the future. The British approach has involved alienating partners on whom we will depend in the months and years to come. While Theresa May has done well to keep the show on the road – reconciling contradictory domestic and EU-level pressures – the way the government has approached the talks is unsustainable and storing up real problems for the future. There is a madness to the government’s method.

As the negotiations have progressed, a pattern has emerged.  The British government has talked a good game, engaging in bouts of chest thumping rhetorical obstructionism, while ultimately caving in to EU demands. The rhetoric has appealed to the Brexiters; the actions have appeased the EU.

Think back to June, when David Davis famously promised the "row of the summer" over the sequencing of the negotiations. He argued – quite rightly – that the timetable proposed by the EU would "back Britain into a corner", forcing us to agree to pay money prior to sorting out future trading relations. Yet at the first bilateral meeting, on 20 June, British negotiators agreed to that timetable.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister declared in the spring that Britain had no legal obligation to cover EU spending commitments. Subsequently, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons the EU could "go whistle" for its money.  And then, the Cabinet conceded a net bill in the region of £55bn. The joint report on the progress of negotiations proposes a clever compromise: the EU will get its liabilities – when they fall due. So the UK will not hand over a cheque immediately. Nevertheless, the principle is clear. The UK will be paying.

This Janus-faced approach has helped the government achieve its short-term objective of proceeding to phase two. And no one can blame Theresa May for looking to the short term. Government by small steps is probably the only option she has, given Cabinet divisions and parliamentary arithmetic. Tough language assuages Brexiter fears. Last minute concessions allows Mrs May to press-gang potential opponents into accepting the terms she agrees.

However, success to date may have come at a longer-term cost. The Brexit negotiations are set to last for years. Nick Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, has claimed that even a relatively unambitious "Canada-style" trade deal cannot realistically be agreed before 2024.

And here, the attitude of our partners becomes important. During the article 50 talks, the UK has enjoyed some leverage, as Brussels is anxious to receive a divorce payment.  Once we are out, however, this negotiating chip will be lost. And the goodwill of our partners will be more important than ever. Not least as the government seems to be angling for some sort of outcome involving "alignment" with EU rules while being free of the institutions generally used to ensure such alignment. For anything like this, trust will be the key.

Yet the Government has squandered what trust there was. Britain’s apparent willingness to treat EU citizens as bargaining chips inflamed opinion in their home states. An Italian Minister claimed to be "offended" following Boris Johnson’s claim that Italians did not want to lose Prosecco sales to the UK and hence would make concessions.

Meanwhile, anger in the Republic of Ireland has mounted as the British government played fast and loose with the prospect of a hard border between the north and south of the island. It was this growing frustration that led to the carefully coordinated escalation with the EU’s article 50 Task Force.

And barely had the ink dried on our agreement with the EU, then Ministers have begun to unpick it.  On the Andrew Marr show on 10 December, Brexit Secretary David Davis argued that the deal signed by Theresa May was not "legally enforceable" and merely a "statement of intent". Moreover, while reports emerged that advisers to the Prime Minister had assured Boris Johnson and Michael Gove that the notion of "full alignment" with EU law that had been used to secure Irish consent "doesn’t mean anything in EU law" and was hence "meaningless". 

Gove himself intimated – following his expression of support for what the Prime Minister had achieved – that Britain could diverge from EU laws in the future should it so wish. Indeed, evidence is already emerging that Brexit supporters in the Cabinet see their support for a deal that some have interpreted as guaranteeing a soft Brexit as a negotiating chip to be cashed to ensure a hard one.

Such talk, coming so soon after the signing of the agreement, has not exactly done wonders for our reputation as a reliable partner, as European Parliament negotiator Guy Verhofstadt has stated. Not that that reputation was exactly unimpeachable even beforehand.

Britain’s EU partners have long harboured suspicions about out motives, particularly when it comes to economic policy. Decades of British rhetoric about "Brussels regulation" have convinced many on the continent that, free of the shackles of the EU, Britain would turn itself into a low regulation off shore corporate haven. And Philip Hammond seemed merely to confirm this suspicion with his ill-considered comments in January that seemed to threaten the EU with a deregulated UK on its border in the event that a trade deal could not be struck.

Do we really think, given our track record, that member states will really take us at our word when it comes to issues such as "alignment"? Is it really conceivable that they will believe what we say, having watched Mrs May and her government spend the last year saying one thing at home and another over there?  The Brexit talks have barely begun. Was it really wise to get here via tactics guaranteed to lose friends and alienate people?

Anand Menon is director of The UK in The UK in a Changing Europe and professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London. 

Spudgun67 via Creative Commons/
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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.