Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Et in Arcadia ego

And so, dear readers, to my alma mater, the University of St Andrews (actually the University of St Andrew among the Scots, if you want to read the papal bull). It is now more than 20 years since I first matriculated as a student here – my adventures at Oxford must wait for another day – and 12 years since I ceased to live here full-time. The occasion of my return is twofold; to re-establish contact with my old colleagues at the excellent Reformation Studies Institute (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/reformation/) at a seminar tomorrow on the Reformation in Bohemia; and to attend a debate on Thursday on the motion that “This House believes Israel is a force for good in the Middle East”. As an occasional blogger for the Times of Israel, I couldn’t miss this one.

Going back to your university town is always, I suppose, a bouquet of mixed emotions. All the more so, I think, in St Andrews, which is a tiny town of 18,500 people, a huge number of them students and academics. This really is a place which exists on golf and academia. (I suppose my Catholic friends would also point to the bones of St Andrew, brought here by St Regulus in the mid-8th century AD.) The university – Scotland’s oldest, and the third-oldest in the English-speaking world – really does dominate the town, at least in term time, and in my eight years here I experienced virtually no town-gown tension, because the town realised how much it needed the gown.

Students are everywhere. Like a lot of old universities, we speak in code. First-years are bejants (or bejantines – we began admitting women very late in the 19th century); second-years are semi-bejants; third-years are tertians; and final-year students (we have the civilisation of a four-year degree course) are magistrands. Speaking from the venerable age of 39, they all seem very young now, though I’m sure that magistrands look down in a benevolently patronising way on bejants. I certainly did, and I was probably more insufferable still as a postgraduate, swishing around town in my black gown.

Ah, yes. Gowns. They’re a big thing here. St Andrews is (I think) the only one of the ancient Scottish universities to preserve in any meaningful way the tradition of undergraduate gowns, which are bright red, and – code again – worn according to your year. Bejants wear the gowns as one would expect. Semi-bejants wear them slightly pushed back off the shoulders. Tertiands wear them off the left or the right shoulder, according to whether they are arts or science students. Magistrands wear them halfway down the back, which feels weird at first but you get used to it. (I haven’t touched on St Mary’s College, the divinity school, where students wear black gowns with a purple saltire on the chest.) Anyway, gowns are worn frequently in St Andrews, more or less according to your taste. The opportunities are endless: debates, formal hall dinners, chapel services. None of this is compulsory, unlike at Oxford and Cambridge, but it is one of the quirks of the place which some (many) St Andrews students enjoy. Some wear them recreationally; when I was an undergrad, there was a man called Richard Urquhart who wore his red gown pretty much all the time, and was known as “Gown Man” as a result. I am not immune. Once I had graduated and got my beloved black Master of Arts’ gown, I often used to slip it on and parade around town, because I could.

I touched earlier on debating. St Andrews has a strong debating tradition, and, these days, are doing very well in national and international competitions. There are claims that some kind of forerunner of the Debating Society (http://www.stadebates.org) was founded in the late 18th century, and it likes to claim that it is “the oldest and, some say, the finest of its kind in the world”. Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin, might have something to say about that. But it was, for eight years, my spiritual home, redolent with tradition and formality. I enjoyed debating; the thrust and parry of intellectual argument, but also the cheap gag and the roar of the crowd. It was also a weekly opportunity to throw on black tie and gown, and stroll through the balmy seaside air. And it was a community. The Debating Society technically includes every matriculated student, which I think is a very good thing, but in reality there was a small coterie of regular attenders who were of similar tastes and similar mindsets.

I suspect that at times we were too cliquey. There could be too many in-jokes, too much self-reference, too much flummery that outsiders would have found baffling. I never headed the Society – I tried three times but was defeated each time, as I have previously written; I’m not bitter (yes I am) – but I held positions of authority, and I hope I always tried my best to widen the audience and encourage those who would not otherwise have come in to a debate to give it a try. The baby was not thrown out with the bathwater; when I was in charge of publicity, the phrase “Gowns encouraged” appeared on our posters, and I almost always wore black tie to attend debates. And I daresay I was as savage in howling down weak arguments as any backbencher at PMQs. Attendance could be sparse, or we could be full to the rafters. One of the best-attended debates I can remember was on the motion “This House would undress”, the proposition fronted (if I can use that word) by a man called Vincent Bethell, a militant nudist and head of the “Freedom to be Yourself” campaign (I’m not making this up, check Wikipedia). The local police insisted that we black out the windows of the debating chamber, lest passing burghers see something untoward. And the room was full. Several students supported by the motion by taking off their clothes. None of the attractive ones was near me, unfortunately. I was too close for comfort to a lanky, long-haired Old Etonian who decided to shed his scruffy garb.

The long and short of it was that I adored, and adore, the Debating Society. My ambitions were thwarted, and I never wrested control of it, but I did chair many a debate, and I loved it. I loved the formality, I loved the exaggerated courtesy, I loved the conviviality, and I loved the social side of things. I missed a golden age; it was not long before I arrived in 1996 that the Society had been banned from many restaurants in St Andrews either for unruly behaviour or for unpaid debts. We were not quite as Bullingdon in my time. We observed the usual traditions, of course: port before debates; a dinner afterwards (often a curry in the great Balaka, https://www.balaka.com) and the hallowed after-dinner debate, on the motion “This House believes the sun will never set on the British Empire”.

It was an odd custom, this after-dinner debate. Sometimes, it could seem jingoistic, especially when carried out in a Bangladeshi curry house, but it was meant in a spirit of affection and usually, I would say, self-mockery. Occasionally, it was pompous; occasionally, its pomposity was punctured, as brilliantly by Andrew Neil, Rector of the University, who stood up, declared “The British Empire has ended, as has this dinner”, threw down his napkin and left.

So that was (some of) how I spent my time. It was a blast. But for me, university was about the people. I was married in the University Chapel (lightning didn’t strike), and I remember looking around at my fellow St Andreans and thinking just how lucky I was to have met and befriended so many interesting and quirky people, who had in the most part come back to St Andrews from all points south to celebrate the day. If the marriage didn’t last, the memories have. Don’t get me wrong, many, if not most, of my friends are mad as ship’s cat, but I am still in touch with them after all these years. Often we need not communicate for days, weeks, months, years. But the bonds forged in this strange little coastal town in Fife run strong and deep as the cables of the Forth Bridge.

It is invidious to choose individuals, but I will do so anyway.

Barry Joss (now Tobias Joss, after his conversion to Judaism). He was already a St Andrews legend when I arrived, a magistrand (fourth-year, remember) and a slightly vulpine figure who was well known in the student community; Treasurer of the Debating Society and later of the Students’ Association; later still Rector’s Assessor for Andrew Neil; always seen in a waistcoat and tie, and connected, it seemed to me, to everyone in town. I discovered later that he didn’t like me at first (well, I was a little odd), but we later fell into a great friendship and spent a madly licentious year sharing a flat together. He then decided that 10 years in St Andrews was enough, and moved to Glasgow, his hometown, where he has remained since, though he is returning to St Andrews on Thursday and we shall sit like Statler and Waldorf in the debate and reassure ourselves that it was much better in our day. (It was.)

Hugh Martin. Hugh was a postgraduate when I met him, having pursued his undergraduacy at New College, Oxford, before a stint working for WH Smith before he returned to academia. He and Tobias were great friends, having been in hall together, and it was in that connection that I met him. I had been warned that he was an irascible old bugger who rarely socialised, but for whatever reason he took to my company, sharing a taste for air hockey, garlic and the odd ale or two. He is now madly successful in university governance, but we see each other regularly and the years fall away. Later on at night we will tend to sing.

And, finally, the man and the mystery which is Peter Murray. I first met him entirely coincidentally, as he was then sharing a flat with a girl in whom I had an interest, and he was on crutches. He answered the door cursing me under his breath as I had roused him from his sick bed, but the casual offer of a can of lager proved the starting point for a friendship which has lasted 18 years and is still going. He is a very senior PR guru now but I can occasionally remind him that I know where the bodies are buried. He was an avid debater too, in charge of the schools debating competition for two years, and if I may be permitted one recollection it would be this: we were sitting in the chamber, all in black tie and gowns, and he looked down contemplatively, then looked up in consternation and mouthed at me “These aren’t my trousers!”

So the good side of returning to St Andrews is the recollection of friendships made and strengthened. There were so many good times. However, walking through the streets this evening, there was an element of tristesse. I miss my youth, like lots of people. I was carefree, and in those days there were no tuition fees, so I didn’t have the burden of debt hanging over my head. There was academic work, of course there was, but, freakishly, I rather enjoyed it, having hit upon a course which suited me. And so I look at the young people today, and hope they are enjoying themselves as much as I did. I will see a sample at Thursday’s debate. If they’re not, they’re missing out.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The groves of academe

Well, dear readers, it has been quite a few days. I have been on the road on what became a three-centre trip around the country which was as enjoyable as it was exhausting (in ways good and bad).

First, on Thursday, to Durham, for a seminar at the Department of Theology and Religion. Professor Nicholas Watson from the English faculty at Harvard was talking about vernacular Bibles before the English Reformation. I had expected it to be a Lollard-heavy hour but Wycliffe and his followers didn’t dominate proceedings. He began with a marvellous evocation of a scene from Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody (1605), in which Elizabeth I is presented with an English Bible by the Lord Mayor of London and, in imitation of the elevation and breaking of the Host, lifts it above her head and unfastens it: “So long shut up, so long hid, now, lords, see/We here unclasp: for ever it is free!”

I learned a great deal about early mediaeval vernacular Bibles, from Anglo-Saxon prose translations of the Gospels through Anglo-Norman verse Psalms to Middle English metrical versions of the Old Testament. I was particularly taken with the anonymous Cursor Mundi from around 1300:

Men covettes rimes for to here
And romance rede of mony maner
Of Alisander the Conqueror
Of July Caesar the Emperour…
Sanges sere of selcouthe rime
Ingeles, French and Latine.

To rede and here ilkan is prest
The thinges that ham likes best.
The wise mon wil of wisdome here
The fole him drawes to foly nere…
Bot by the frute men may see
Of wat virtue is ilka tree…

Professor Watson’s central thesis is that vernacular English Bibles (and under the umbrella of “English” he included Anglo-Norman or insular French) existed for centuries before Tyndale’s work and the Great Bible of 1539, and were often tolerated and employed by the Church, though there were periodical attempts to control and license them. But it was an emphatic rejection of the Whiggish idea of an English Bible representing England’s march to independent statehood with Henry’s break from Rome in the 1520s and 1530s.

Then to Oxford’s dreaming spires. The journey, by Cross Country trains, was not a pleasant one. Because of problems on the East Coast main line, more passengers piled on to my train to get at least to York or Sheffield, so the service was very busy and cramped. The wifi was useless; not only did you have to pay for it, an affront enough in this day and age, but it barely worked at all. I had, of course, packed a bottle of wine to numb the pain of public transport (I always do) but with the tray table only just big enough for my laptop it was quite a juggling exercise. I was not at all sorry when we pulled into Oxford and I could leap off (well, slouch, perhaps).

I was staying in my old college, Christ Church, a short taxi ride away. I haven’t been in college since my abrupt departure in 1995, and much has changed. The porters’ lodge is now a symphony in blond wood, looking a little like it was purchased at IKEA, and the staircases are now accessed by electronic key fobs. I was given a guest badge and (unnecessary) directions to Peckwater Quad. My room was not large, but it was clean and had an en suite shower and toilet (though no television – presumably a licensing issue). There is also free wifi throughout college, which I daresay students now couldn’t live without. When I was at the House, the internet had hardly been invented. Typing essays on a computer was considered advanced technology.

Having inhaled a sausage roll at the station, I decided to forgo further solids and found my way instead, relying on very old instincts, to the college bar in the magnificent Tudor undercroft. It, too, has changed greatly in the 20-odd years since my last visit; the bar has moved and there is more light wood and, incongruously, that low-level bluish lighting which nightclubs seem to prefer (so I’m told). The barman, an affable young man, told me with regret that they didn’t serve large glasses of wine, but I was mollified by the fact that the small (very small) glasses of wine on offer were only £1.40. It simply meant more trips to the bar, which I suppose is good exercise.

The bar was initially very quiet – this was, I suppose, about 8.30 pm by now – but began to fill up after an hour or so. The jukebox, I discovered, was free, so the barman and the few patrons were treated to a selection of 1970s singer-songwriter hits from Cat Stevens to Joni Mitchell. They took it on the chin. What surprised me, when others wrested control of the playlist, was that the students, who must have been born in the late 1990s (how terrifying that is to write) seemed to favour songs from the 1980s – we certainly had Come On, Eileen and Relax. It is trite to say how young they looked, but they did. I daresay I did too, in my time, as I was only 17 and shaving was not yet a daily activity. Even in the gloom, though, I could discern that sheen of intelligence and self-confidence which Oxford instills in its students. Perhaps Cambridge is the same (I barely know the place) but it is quite striking on the banks of the Cherwell. At closing time, I returned my teeny-tiny glass, thanked the barman, and returned to my room for an early night.

So on to the main business of my trip, a two day conference entitled “Prison/Exile: Controlled Spaces in Early Modern Europe”. (Those freakish enough to be interested can find more details on the conference Twitter feed, @OxPrisonExile.) After the opening keynote lecture by Professor Rivkah Zim of King’s College, London, “A Politics of Place in Early Modern English Prison Writing”, I was part of a three-person panel discussing “Nostalgia and Utopia”. My paper, which will appear on my academia.edu profile shortly, was entitled “Imprisonment, Exile and the English Church, 1553 – 1558”, and examined the effect that imprisonment and exile had had on three of the leading figures of the Marian Church: Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor; Reginald, Cardinal Pole, papal legate and the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury; and Queen Mary herself. Modesty aside, it seemed quite well-received, and sparked a few questions, though my bowels did turn to water when one interlocutor prefaced his question by saying that he was studying Gardiner’s time in prison. An expert on Gardiner I am not.

It was a diverse panel. I was followed by a Hungarian academic, Dr Csaba Maczelka, speaking on prison and exile in early modern English and Hungarian literature; then Dr Florence Hazrat of the University of Geneva (though a St Andrews PhD, hurrah) who talked about the incorporation of imagery from Psalm 137 (come on, you all know the words) in different versions of The Merry Wives of Windsor, among other things. She also played a piece of music by Matisyahu, the well-known Hasidic Jewish rapper.

The rest of the conference went by in a blur of topics from sacrifice on the Elizabethan scaffold to “Barbary Captive Discourse and its impact on the Anglo-American imagination”. I enjoyed much and understood rather less, but it was handy that the conference, at the Ertegun House on St Giles, was but a hop, skip and a jump from the Eagle and Child, that famous haunt of Tolkien, Lewis and the other Inklings (“Oh God, not another fucking elf”). So a few pints were had there in the interstices of the conference.

On Friday night, the great Michael Hennessy came through from Reading to share some cheer. We found a table in the Turf Tavern, an achievement in itself, and, happily, they were serving Old Rosie (for me) and Lillie's Apples and Pears (for Mr H). It was a long-overdue catch-up, and an opportunity for nostalgia for him (he is an Oriel man). I had to pity the poor student who fished out his wallet to pay for his drink at the bar, only for a condom to fall out when he opened it. He didn't notice, bless him, but everyone else did. How we larfed. Somehow, some semblance of sobriety was preserved, or at least we avoided a descent into utter oblivion, though we both became a little lachrymose towards the end of the evening. I am reliably informed he made it home, eventually.

The closing keynote address of the conference was given by my old tutor and chum, Professor Bruce Gordon, formerly of St Andrews, but now wreathed in glory at the divinity school at Yale. His title was “Exile, Refuge and Prison in the Mind of John Calvin”, and it was a tour de force. I have always found Calvin the most unappetizing and unsympathetic of the 16th century reformers, even more so than the anti-Semitic and scatologically-obsessed Luther, so for me to find an hour-long lecture on him engaging is a testament to Bruce’s manner as well as his undoubted expertise. (He confessed to me over coffee that he’d spent a career trying to deny that he was a ‘Calvin man’ but now finds himself regarded as a world expert. He is much in demand this Reformation Year of 2017.)

When the conference closed, it was time to return to the Eagle and Child (the Inklings called it the Bird and Baby; I prefer the Fowl and Foetus) for a couple of pints and await the next stage of my odyssey, for I was due to stay for two days in Bloxham in north Oxfordshire with my old friend Hugh Martin and his wife Catherine, who teaches at the school there. Hugh very sportingly drove down to Oxford to collect me in his bright orange Jeep and we wended our way through the darkened countryside past Banbury and into the little village of Bloxham itself, where Hugh and Catherine stay in a little college attached to the school.

Over that evening, I had best draw a veil, as I knew it would be the one night on which I could really let my hair down. Suffice to say, there was lasagne, there was wine, there was gin, there was brandy and, as always when Hugh and I are together, there was singing. The usual repertoire. Even the cats slunk away when they saw which way the wind was blowing. And they are normally very friendly cats.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, though it is fair to say none of us rose early. After a late lunch of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs washed down with champagne, and with another job application completed, Hugh and I wandered to one of the (I think) three pubs in the village, the Elephant and Castle, which, to our delight, served no fewer than five different kinds of still cider. I had the Henry Weston’s Family Reserve, and it is a delicious glass (or glasses). The barman was friendly but not intrusive, and some locals came in and chatted about motor racing while their excellent dog, a little West Highland White terrier, sat amiably at their feet. We retired for dinner and Top Gear (I am still not convinced by the new cast), and had a reasonably early night.

Then came the unexpected part of the journey. On Friday morning, while in Oxford, I had been asked if I could present myself in London for an interview on Monday afternoon. It was rather short notice, and, of course, I was travelling without a suit, but I am nothing if not intrepid (that’s a lie), so I put away my return ticket and was driven to Banbury station where I caught the train to Marylebone. Of the interview I will say little until I know the outcome. But the opportunity of being in London was too good to miss, so after I had been quizzed I walked along Millbank, dragging my bundle behind me, and made for The Speaker on Great Peter Street, one of the best pubs you will find in London. There the inestimable landlord, Dennis, treated me with the scant courtesy which I have come to expect, and I settled in for an afternoon of Guinness. A couple of old colleagues from the madhouse joined me to catch up, and, as the saying goes, a good time was had by all. Well, by me, anyway. I won’t speak for them.

Thence across the river in a Uber to Clapham, to stay for one final night away from home with my very old chum Pete Murray and his (as it turned out) very comfortable sofa. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months so we headed out briefly for an excellent sourdough pizza at Franco Manca on the Northcote Road, before he had to retire to his room to work on a pitch (he recently started a new job and they are working him hard). Not before we watched the final episode of Meet the Lords, however, which has been an interesting insight into the Upper Chamber for one who used to work at the opposite end of the building. Black Rod has ensured a lot of camera time, which I don’t think has wholly endeared him to some colleagues, and my old boss Robert Rogers, now Lord Lisvane, overcame his natural shyness to pop up a couple of times. As a series, I don’t think it has been quite as effective as Inside the Commons, and I think at times they have been guilty of rather hamming it up (though when you are dealing with old hams like Lord Cormack, there’s a limit to what you can do). I loved Lord Palmer in the first episode, he of the silver staircase, but I warmed rather less to Lady King and Lord Tyler.

And so the weary pilgrim returned home. Grand Central, for whom I have a lot of time, had impeccable wifi for once – take that, Chiltern – and the usual bottle of wine soothed the strains of the journey. I was very pleased to drop my bag last night and sink into a dry martini (Sacred cardamom gin and English dry vermouth) then spend a night back in my own bed.

If I were a travel writer, I would probably draw some profound lessons from my peregrinations. If there is one, I suppose, it would be that you should always travel with a tie, because you never know when one might need it. (At work I kept a black tie in my desk in case a Royal were to be gathered unto God.) I will say this: it was delightful to be in Oxford again after a long absence, and Christ Church made me very welcome as an old member, even if I never graduated; London was everything it always is; friends at least affected to be pleased to see me, which was touching; and if I never travel on Cross Country again as long as I live I will be happy.

This has been rather longer than I intended. For those of you who’ve made it to the end, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability. Hatta al-Quds, as the man said.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Europe redux

Dear readers,

So, the Supreme Court has spoken, the Government has listened, and the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been published. It is not a long publication, containing only two clauses, of which the operative one has only two sub-clauses. The first grants to the Prime Minister (not, interestingly, HM Government, only the Prime Minister) the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and notify the EU of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the union. Job done. The second is more opaque: it says that the notification will have effect no matter what other provisions may be made under the European Communities Act 1972 or “any other enactment”. Not privy to the Government’s thinking, I’m not sure against which eventuality this sub-clause is intended to operate, but I do know from experience that the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Government’s legal draughtsmen, will have inserted it for a reason. Answers on a postcard, please.

So a short Bill (very short) but a long debate. The Government has scheduled two days for its Second Reading, and then three days for Committee stage (on the floor of the House), Report stage and Third Reading. In terms of the minutes-to-words ration, that’s pretty high. It is no surprise that the Committee stage is on the floor of the House; this is standard for major constitutional Bills (and, conversely, for very minor Bills). It was also inevitable that the Government would allow plenty of time for debate to ensure that all the issues were, in legislative parlance, “well-ventilated”.

The Bill will pass the Commons easily. The Opposition are imposing a three-line whip in favour of it, which has already caused internal strife, with one front-bencher resigning rather than fall into line. I am not an expert in the politics of the Commons (procedure was my specialism), but this strikes me as odd. Certainly, I see that voting against the Bill en bloc would be an act of foolhardiness given the clearly-expressed will of the electorate. But why not have a free vote? The result would most likely be the same – the passage of the Bill. And the ructions within the Labour Party would have been avoided. I never seek to make windows into men’s souls, to paraphrase Good Queen Bess, and much less so if the man in question is Jeremy Corbyn, but I can’t help wondering if his long-held Euroscepticism is coming to the fore. Remember that being anti-Europe used to be the stamping ground of the hard Left, and the Labour Party’s 1983 general election manifesto (famously described by Gerald Kaufman as the longest suicide note in history) committed the party to withdrawal from what was then the EEC. The late Tony Benn was fiercely against the Community, which became the Union.

That is not to say that Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition will have nothing to say over the five days of debate. I have no doubt that the Labour Party – as well as the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the other minor parties – will seek to table a forest of amendments to the Bill. This will tax first the clerks of the Commons’ Public Bill Office, then the various occupants of the chair for the debates. Amendments to Bills, in Westminster (unlike in Congress in DC), have to be within the ‘scope’ of the legislation. That is, they have to relate, quite closely, to the contents of the Bill, and cannot be tabled to frustrate its main aims.

(There is an exception. At Second Reading, or, very exceptionally, at Third Reading, Members may table what is called a reasoned amendment, which argues for the Bill to be substantially altered or rejected entirely. This must be very carefully and adroitly drafted. Clearly, in the case of the Brexit Bill, the Labour Party has no intention of tabling such an amendment. It would not surprise me, however, if the SNP or the Liberal Demorats put down such a measure.)

Once the amendments have been tabled from all sides, then it becomes a matter of judgement. Amendments must be selected if they are to be debated and, perhaps, voted upon. The decision on selection is taken by the Speaker, for amendments at Second Reading and Report stage, and, under his auspices, by the Deputy Speakers for Committee of the whole House. (Parenthetically, it may interest you to know that CwH is, as far as I can think, the only proceeding on the floor of the House which Mr Speaker cannot chair. He must cede his place to one of the Deputy Speakers or a member of the Panel of Chairs. It’s complicated.) The advice to the nabobs of democracy on whether or not to select an amendment comes from the clerks in the Public Bill Office. But they can only advise according to precedent and procedure. What the elected Members of Parliament bring to the party is an ear for politics, a sense of what the House wants to debate.

Like so many parts of the British constitution, it is a compromise, and all the better for it (if anyone is asking me, which they rarely are). The Speaker and his Deputies know the House and its moods, and can judge what is necessary to satisfy the appetite for debate. The clerks are there to advise on what the rules of the House say, and what has happened in the past. Generally, it works.

Amendments to such a short document as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill will have to be tightly drafted. There is very little in the Bill and so the scope is necessarily narrow. I imagine some Members will want to try to require the Government to set out its negotiating position for Brexit, or at least some red lines. In scope? Dubious. Not advice I’d want to have to give.

Of course, the next two weeks is only half the parliamentary process. Then we move to the House of Lords. Bills must be agreed in identical form by both Houses of Parliament before they can receive Royal Assent from the Queen and become law. Their Lordships are not, of course, accountable to the voting public, which could cut either way; either they could ignore the result of the EU referendum and seek to frustrate the Bill altogether; or they could acknowledge their lack of legitimacy and give the Bill a fair wind.

Timing matters. We know how long the Bill will spend in the Commons. How long it spends in the Lords is another matter. The Prime Minister has committed to invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which really isn’t all that long in parliamentary terms. If both Houses amend the Bill, it will need to go back and forth between them until both agree on the final form – what is known as ‘ping pong’. This can happen at great speed, as I know to my cost, and what will eventually emerge is a physical copy of the Bill with any amendments pasted in (literally) in different colours. My hunch is that the Lords will see sense and speed the Bill through in short order, but it is not impossible to imagine that some of the peers, particularly the Liberal Democrats, may embark on a kamikaze mission to try to stop its passage. If we miss the deadline of 31 March as a result of the actions of the House of Lords, we face a constitutional crisis of considerable magnitude.

So, it’s a fun few weeks in prospect. I will watch with interest what happens, and may, from time to time, offer a few insights. What I will say now is that I’m glad I’m not a betting man.