Conversations (6)

I definitely think the Tories can make deals with homophobes and misogynists. There’s no serious majority, nor even appetite, to re-open those types of issues at Westminster, and the sheer idea of re-winding the clock on them, as if the government doesn’t have enough on its plate right now, is borderline comical. By contrast, the idea that the Tories can bring in the DUP without jeopardising the peace in Northern Ireland is self-deluded even by the Tories’ recently unprecedented standards.

Off to Mexico now, and wondering the country will even be here when I return!
Enjoy Mexico, Prof – hope the conference is engaging and stimulating, and look forward to continuing our discussions in person after you return home.

I find little to argue with you about other than your comment about an "ill-conceived referendum".

On constitutional matters, however, I would argue that the people should have their say. And the entry of the UK into the then 'Common Market' was carried out on the understanding that there would be no transfer of sovereignty. As this proved not to be the case, then surely the people - and I write as one who was too young to have a say on the matter in the 1970s - should have a say.

I think that the referendum was essential. Or do you you believe that the political elites know better than the people?
Theresa May's decision to call a snap election has unsettled the UK political establishment - the opposition parties appear confused and rather lost about the position they find themselves in.

But despite the somewhat dismissive rhetoric, the European Commission must surely realise that a Conservative landslide victory in the UK would send out a strong message to the political elites in the other 27 member states that Euroscepticism wins votes, and the question of 'withdrawal' is no longer a subject confined to the political fringes, as it was in the UK until very recently.

The times they are a'changing...

Good morning, Professor

Since we last spoke about Brexit a lot has changed and a lot has changed (Prime Minister, cabinet, safety of European citizens in the UK, the weather) but no-one has yet pushed the big red button that will start the process of us leaving the EU. 

It seems rather anticlimactic, and also somewhat farcical. The Guardian newspaper has a weekly Brexit roundup and the other broadsheets do report on the discussions in Europe (which mainly seem to be calls for us to hurry up and trigger Article 50). But the tabloids that were so desperate for us to vote leave have now largely gone quiet about the topic -- instead BrexPitt (Brad and Angelina splitting) has taken over the front pages. 

So, do you think we will ever leave? 

Yours, ever


Ah, but Prof, the nature of our relationship always has been me asking you for predictions because you do know the right answers. I would call you Mystic Egg, if I was not so scared of your scoldy reaction!

So much of the Brexit debate across the media has been distilled into (a) economics and (b) nationalism. Do you think there are any other key factors in play? (My vote had little to do with either of those factors, but then again I do tend to march to the beat of my own drum too frequently.) 

I agree that Brexit offers no solutions. But what does 'remain' offer? In universities, it is clear that we will be poorer (not just financially) if Article 50 is triggered. But who else will suffer other than the intelligensia and the financial services industry? Have we yet made the case -- culturally, politically, and in other ways -- for remaining in the European Union? We are struggling to do so, as are the Germans, the French, and the Italians, let alone the newer members in Eastern Europe. The economy and/or the threat of another Cold War are not sufficient to convince many people that it is worth their while to remain part of the EU. So, Oracle, what can we do?

Yours, as ever


You hit the nail on the head! Both Ukraine and Russia suffer from radical nationalists, in both cases homophobic and anti-semitic. Fanatics on both sides, especially people who like weapons, are attracted to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

I have been working in Ukraine since 1992 (in Russia since 1983), and from the start it was noticeable that in Kyiv and much of Ukraine people speak Russian and Ukrainian without even thinking about which language they are speaking. My first visit was to Donetsk, and I returned there several times, most recently in 2011. Ethnicity and language were not issues. Religion is the more divisive issue in much of Ukraine. But the beautiful city of Odessa is still a great Jewish city, and on the last two occasions, in the last year, that I have travelled to Ukraine, the plane has been full of Hasidic Jews, travelling to their place of pilgrimage in the city of Uman in Ukraine. 

There have been occasional anti-semitic disturbances. On 25 September  2011, a protest rally of about 100 people was held by the nationalist All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" to demand 'stricter legal and sanitary controls on pilgrims' and better regulation of Hasidim pilgrims in the interest of risks to local security and health! These are the notorious far-right and anti-semitic groupings which became rather prominent at the time of the "Maidan revolution" in early 2014. But I repeat that they have few supporters in Ukraine and make no headway in elections.

The "hot" nationalists mainly come from western Ukraine, from Galicia, which was never part of Ukraine until after WW II. The city of Lviv, Galicia's capital, was before the War the city of Lvov, in Poland, and its population was predominantly Jewish and Polish. Before that it was called Lemburg, in Austria-Hungary. Before that it was in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. There are now very few Jews or Poles. But some very "hot" anti-Russian nationalists. When I was there in 2000 there were serious proposals by the municipality to organise vigilantes to prevent the sale of Russian language literature or the playing of Russian popular music. This is the fertile soil from which the militias sprouted. Anti-Russian and anti-semitic populism go hand and hand with veneration for Nazi collaborators.

There is no evidence that the neo-fascists who organised the provocation referred to in your link in February this year had been hired by the state, they have not brought down the government, and Roman Stoika their leader has been on the wanted list since 2015 - see

The far right is active in every country in Europe including the UK. What is noticeable is that, as Anton Shekhovtsov has reported, far-right representatives from a number of Western European countries have been recruited by Russia to give credibility, as "observers", to the annexation of Crimea and separatism in Donbas. See for example

Bill, Eric, thanks for joining us.

There has been much attention focused on the role of the state-sponsored militias in Ukraine.

What is the status of democracy  and the rule of law in Ukraine on this, the twenty fifth anniversary of Ukraine declaring independence?

Dear Prof,

Hope all is well across the other side of London and that you enjoyed a pleasant Bank Holiday weekend. We went to a rather lovely wedding in central London, and stayed overnight in the rather delightful hotel. Before the festivities began we donned our posh hotel robes and went to use the spa facilities, and I was tempted to -- but did not -- wear a burkini just to see how fellow guests would react.

It seems to me that in England the beaches are almost always cold, wet and windy places to be, so people covering-up is the norm rather than the exception. But of course, in France the issue is not around the weather or even whether people want to cover-up, but rather about religion and religious symbols -- an issue with a long and potted history in that country.

Given your nuanced understanding of cultures, languages, and laws, I wondered whether you think that the Burkini can be banned (legally) and ought to be banned (morally) within that country?

All the best


Don't worry Rosa.  All musings have now been received loud and clear. 

Many French officials agree with you that laïcité ought to extend only to spaces directly administering state business, such as public offices, courtrooms and schools.  You and they rightly reject the idea that it includes all public spaces.

I agree with the final conclusion in the British Airways case.  But I reject both courts' rationales.  It is not for a democratic state -- ever -- to decide what is or is not required for the pursuit of religious belief.  No state body or official has that competence (or should have that arrogance).  State pronouncements about the "real" Christianity, like their risible pronouncements about the "real" Islam fall wholly outside the remit of any institution or individual applying the norms of a secular state. 

Routine dress requirements, just like other mandatory expressive codes (e.g., saying "Hello, how may I help you?"), are integral to employment situations.  It was wholly for the individuals to decide what they feel Christianity or Islam require of them and then to decide if they can carry on in the job or not.  If their religion requires that they seek alternative employment, so be it.  That's what religion is: a system which forces us to make difficult choices, which sometimes means sacrificing maximum comfort and expediency. 

Back, then, to France.  A democracy must distinguish between persons in their capacity as individuals and persons in their capacity as citizens.  When walking down the street or relaxing on a beach, persons act solely in their capacity as individuals.  Their liberties ought to be limited only by standard harm principles.  Carrying live explosives can cause immediate harm and can therefore legitimately be prohibited as a piece of attire.  Burkas cause no such harm.  Yes, a burka can conceal a weapon, but so can a handbag, a nun's habit, or pretty much any item of loose clothing. 

By contrast, where persons act as citizens, in direct communicative encounters with the state and its various bodies, a democracy, in my view, can legitimately include facial recognition as integral to such communication and even the human right to free exercise of religion cannot legitimately trump that basic citizen imperative. 

Accordingly, as an MP, Jack Straw got it right  when he insisted on facial recognition in an official consultation with one of his Muslim constituents.  Sarkozy, by contrast, gets it wrong in wanting to ban burkas from streets or burkinis from beaches.