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Even Conservative MPs don’t seem to really want Brexit

The implications of the government and the Conservative Party’s Brexit asks are not widely understood.

I’ve been talking to Conservative MPs about the so-called divorce bill, or more accurately the United Kingdom’s outstanding liabilities to the European Union.

There are two untrue memes floating around about the “divorce bill”: the more long-running one is from Leavers, that the UK is “paying to leave”. The British government is being asked to pay for spending commitments agreed to while we were members but where the bill will come in after we leave.

The second, which is more recent, is coming from Remain politicians: they are describing it as an additional cost of Brexit. Actually this so-called “divorce bill” would have been paid by the UK regardless of whether we had stayed in the EU or not. Effectively, the “divorce bill” is like paying for your share of a meal out. Whether you leave money because you are leaving early, or pay with everyone else when the bill arrives, the amount does not change.

The problem the government has is that these two memes – which are, I suppose, really the same meme with a Remain or Leave accent – have been widely bought into by Conservative MPs. What they are mostly saying, with the exception of a handful of ultras, is that they are happy to pay provided the final trade deal is worth the price. Provided the result is a trade deal that secures a good standard of access to European markets, the bill is acceptable to most Conservative MPs.

But the matter of the UK’s outstanding liabilities and the quality of the resulting trade deal are entirely separate. The question of the divorce bill is being folded into exit talks because, of course, once we’ve left, there is no real mechanism for the EU to compel payment of these outstanding liabilities. Its leverage to secure the United Kingdom’s tab is dependent on not moving onto the trade talks first. (To continue the restaurant analogy, if I refuse to call a cab for you until you give me the money for your food, you are not guaranteeing that the taxi home will be reliable or quick and you still need to pay the cab fare.)

The other headache for the government is that there is not a great deal of understanding at Westminster that the demands of the government’s Brexit strategy and indeed the wishes of pro-Brexit MPs – the United Kingdom out of the customs union and single market, free of the regulatory orbit of the EU – means that the United Kingdom and the European Union will have significantly reduced access to one another’s markets.

Indeed, this is sort of the point of Brexit. The United Kingdom sacrifices a level of access to EU markets in order to gain a greater deal of political freedom. That’s the trade-off that the UK made in voting to leave. I should note that some Conservative MPs, both Remain and Leave, very much do understand that this was the trade-off they made, as do opposition Remainers on the whole.

But the troubling question both for Theresa May, and more worryingly for the prospect of any deal, clearing the House of Commons is that many Conservative MPs and the pro-Brexit press don’t seem to have grasped this yet. A Canada-style deal ought to be hailed as the success of the Brexit project. May’s nightmare is that it may be seen as a failure. 

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

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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?