Perhaps like me you are wondering what our nation’s geography teachers were doing when they had our members of government in their classrooms? Many former and current cabinet members have had a fair bit of difficulty with the popular GCSE subject while going about their ministerial duties.
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite trade envoy, Liam Fox. Not only is his job as Secretary of State for International Trade useless because we’re still part of the European Union, through which we sign our trade deals, ‘Airmiles Liam’ seemingly has little to no knowledge of global geography. Instead of finding a proper job, Liam has been jetting all over the world, most notably trying to sign up ‘Singapore-on-Sea’, Britain’s nom-de-commerce from 2022, aptly named by Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Ah yes, I’d always wondered when could free ourselves from the shackles of Brussels, a city 200 miles away, and fully exploit the commercial opportunities that come with the famous Anglo-Pacific corridor. Has Dr Fox not been looking eagerly at the in-flight map as he travels to Mexico, Canada or Panama? Perhaps he so loved the taste of estradiol-17β-enriched beef burgers while visiting the USA that he felt he simply had to share it with his fellow countrymen.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is more willing to accept geographical certainties than others in his band of merry market dogma brothers in the Brexit-convinced corners of the Conservative party. Perhaps the teachers at Eton lived up to their reputations. He’s certainly less suspicious of a map than he is of post-Brexit treasury predictions, in which he refused to apologise to treasury officials who he accused of ‘fiddling the figures’. Economically-blind populists like Rees-Mogg conjure the image of a Russian roulette participant who refuses to believe that there’s a bullet in the revolver because he hasn’t shot himself in the head yet.
It would also seem that arch-Brexiteers Owen Paterson and David Davis have been negotiating hard from the backbench with the US state of Oklahoma. Given that Davis couldn’t negotiate very hard when he had any power- while DExEU secretary- I wouldn’t hold out any hope. Owen Paterson tweeted on 17 November that he and Davis had had ‘really positive discussions on the future of [the] UK/ Oklahoma trade relationship.’ He qualified this by writing that any deal would be ‘sadly impossible to implement with the Draft Withdrawal Agreement as [the] UK will not control its own tariffs or regulatory environment.’ One wonders whether the impossibility of a UK-Oklahoma trade partnership is indeed the fault of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement or rather a result of American trade deals being conducted on a federal level rather than by individual states and that the US and its territories, ironically, is a customs union in itself. If Mr Paterson and Mr Davis are so desperate for a stake in lobbying dividends, then perhaps Nicolas Maduro will be looking deep into the coffers to see whether he could hire the pair, especially given that Venezuela has over three times the GDP of Oklahoma. Every day we – quite rightly – question the aptitude of the woman who put Davis and Fox in positions to conduct international trade negotiations. I think we need to ask: what were their geography teachers doing?
The final question in this article must be: who taught the Prime Minister geography? Well, Oxford dons apparently. She studied for a BA in Geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. When she said, this week, that European nationals would no longer ‘jump the queue’ at Brexit, who did she think was first in the queue? Surely, just as with trade, students and migrant workers, she could look at a global trend. A tendency of most humans is to look closer to rather than farther than their country of birth. Are we seriously expected to believe that those arch-Brexiteers who used ‘Project Fear’ tactics about Turkish migrants and refugees wanted to extend British migration policy to ‘engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi’? I’d respect the Tory right wing’s intentions in making Britain’s migration legislation more meritocratic, I just don’t believe those intentions exist. It was a lie sold to the Indian and Pakistani communities to win over their votes during the referendum and May has just repeated that lie.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not that we’ve ended up in this chaos while we have a government seemingly ignorant of basic geography but I’m sure it must have something to do with it. At least Anthony Eden knew where the Suez Canal was. In a post-truth world, the Conservative party seems to lead the way ahead of even Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, whose rejection of relatively abstract truths could be claimed to be misinterpretation in some cases. How can this party continue to govern when its highest ranking members seemingly believe Britain could be part of TPP or that Oklahoma could be a better trading partner than France or Germany? This is incompetence of the highest degree and, while at first it was quite fun to sit back and watch the show, it’s wearing rather thin now.