Brexit: Can’t Find the Exit

When it comes to navigation our ospreys are far smarter than our Westminster politicians

Osprey, ace navigator

I’m so embarrassed by the UK’s government’s paralysis over Brexit that I can’t bring myself to write about it.

When we voted to leave the EU most of us just wanted a clean break supported by intelligent planning for future economic success while still talking to EU business and industry and maintaining friendly relations with EU politicians and institutions. Pointlessly pissing them off wasn’t on the public’s agenda. But that’s what we’ve done, thanks to dark forces like the ‘remainer’ wreckers who cannot accept the democratic will of the people and are bent on blocking not just a no-deal Brexit (they call it “crashing out of the EU”) but any exit at all from that cursed bureaucratic swamp.

The trouble is, 480 out of our 650 MPs are thought to have voted “remain” in the EU referendum back in 2016 in contradiction to the public majority that voted to leave.

Delivering an exit always looked like Mission Impossible if Parliament was allowed to interfere. Where prime minister Theresa May herself stands on the issue has never been clear. A close colleague of hers said she’s a reluctant remainer, that is she voted to stay in the EU. Draw your own conclusions.

How fitting that the final nail in her political coffin was hammered home on April Fool’s Day when MPs, having rejected her ‘deal’, proceeded to vote down every alternative solution on the table too.

But not all is gloom. Something happened the day before Fool’s Day that’s worth celebrating.

You see, we’re very protective towards our birds of prey here in southwest Scotland. We prize them highly, especially the ospreys. Down the road at Threave Castle female ‘Blue KC’ arrived at 3pm on 31 March, 10 days after the male, ‘Black 80’, so a little late but nevertheless bang on time for Mother’s Day. Which everyone hopes is a good omen.

This pair are known only by their ID rings. They deserve romantic names matching their astonishing devotion to each other but nobody can agree what they should be called.

For those who don’t know, the male arrives first, carries out repairs to the nest and checks the fishing prospects. The female flies in about a week later to find everything shipshape and ready. Their reunion is on the same date every year, give a day or two. Which is amazing when they fly independently all the way from West Africa, not having seen each other for 7 or 8 months, are not fitted with satnav and don’t wear watches. Then they get down to it, with dazzling courtship aerobatics. Around here this is the signal that spring is truly sprung. The reason she was late, we think, was contrary winds. Experienced birds wait in Spain for a southerly to take them up the coast and across the Channel to the UK.

Ospreys were persecuted and rendered virtually extinct in Scotland by the Victorians. In the late 1950s pairs were brought from Scandinavia in an effort to re-establish them. It was a slow business owing to chemical contamination of the food chain and other issues, but now there are thought to be as many as 250 breeding pairs some of which have spread south to England and Wales.

Threave Castle is a local stronghold built around 1370 by Archibald the Grim, 3rd earl of Douglas, on an island in the middle of the River Dee. Archibald was the bastard son of Sir James Douglas (aka the ‘Black Douglas’), Robert the Bruce’s righthand man. The castle ruin is also home to a pair of peregrine falcons who have been mating with abandon between skirmishes with the resident mob of jackdaws. The ospreys’ nest is a couple of hundred yards away and inaccessible to the public. They can be viewed (just) through 8x40s but more easily by telescope or mega-zoom camera.

When the chicks are fledged they’re taught the gentle art of fishing and other survival skills by the male adult. Then one day they all vanish and make their separate ways south. If there’s a late developer the male adult will stay behind and make sure the youngster is good and ready before leaving.

These amazing creatures head for hunting grounds in Africa. Ma and Pa won’t see each other again until they return independently, and with pinpoint accuracy, to the same nest on near enough the same dates next year. How clever is that?

The pair up the road at Loch Doon, ‘Frankie’ and ‘Angel’, are not expected for another week or so. They arrive late, by the same margin, every year. The nest is difficult to view but a camera just above it transmits stunning video of family activity, in real time, to a large screen in the nearby Roundhouse visitor centre and snack bar.

Meanwhile in Westminster the UK’s much-anticipated ‘Independence Day’ has been and gone with no sign of freedom from the EU yoke. A no-deal Brexit is the legal default path – the illuminated ‘Way Out’ many of us want to take – but it’s too scary for the faint-hearted, especially the softies featherbedded by EU subsidies. We’re told it’s “off the table” but how can the default position under law be scrubbed just because rogue politicians say so?

Saint Theresa, her undisciplined rabble of a cabinet, the whole feckless Conservative Party and the entire House of Commons have been making a sad spectacle of themselves, unable to navigate their way to a clean Brexit in nearly 3 years. Are they waiting for the right wind, assuming they could ever agree on which direction it should come from?

Nothing is “shipshape and ready” in the Brexit nest. And the natives are getting restless.


Stuart Littlewood
3 April 2016


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