On Saturday March 25, 2017, I joined tens of thousands of supporters of the UK remaining in the EU in Parliament Square, at the rally at the end of the Unite for Europe march that began at Park Lane, and I hope you have time to look at my photos, and to share them if you like them.
The march had been called to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 by the six founder member states of what became the EU, but it took on an added poignancy because, this Wednesday, Theresa May will trigger Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, officially beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU.
As I have thought ever since the Leave camp secured a small majority in last June’s referendum, the 16.1m of us who voted to stay in the EU need to work relentlessly over the next two years to try and make sure that, if we do leave the EU, we do so in a way that isn’t as economically suicidal as the “hard Brexit” favoured by Theresa May and her chief advisers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — although my favoured end result, and one I will not waver from seeking relentlessly, is for the Brexit process to be halted when it becomes clear that there is no way for it to take place without destroying our economy. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly six years ago, my life changed drastically when I was hospitalised, for 12 days, as doctors with the NHS tried — and eventually succeeded — in working out how to save a number of my toes, which, over the preceding months, had gone black and were causing me truly extraordinary pain. It is also important because, as I prepared to admit myself to hospital, at noon on March 18, 2011, I smoked the last cigarette in 29 years of enthusiastic addiction, a move that counts as one of the single most important things I have ever done on my life. As a chain-smoker of roll-ups, I was, very genuinely, killing myself by the time of my illness, and I am thankful that I not only carried on living, but also recovered my lung capacity, and began singing again (I come from a long line of singers, stretching back as far as my family’s memory reaches).
As for my illness, at the start of the year, I had first noticed what appeared to be a painful bruise on the big toe of my right foot, although I had no recollection of hitting it on anything to cause such a bruise. I then made a visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo (for the first time on the anniversary of the prison’s opening), where I was in pain but still able to function, and, at the end of the month, I visited Poland for a week, to show a Polish-subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, where the pain grew much more severe.
On my return to the UK, my big toe was turning back, and was soon joined by my middle toe, and yet I was failed by both GPs and doctors at my local hospital, who didn’t understand the severity of what was happening to me. For the entire month before I was finally hospitalised, at my wife’s instance, when I was finally given morphine, the only effective painkiller for truly severe pain, I suffered the most horrible sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, as every time I managed to fall asleep the pain would wake me up just minutes later. Just once, I managed to get locum doctors to give me two painkillers stronger than over the counter medications, and on the first occasion I actually got one good night’s sleep, but by the time I took the second its strength was insufficient to combat the ever-growing pain. Read the rest of this entry »
Congratulations to the House of Lords, where peers, by 366 votes to 268, have voted to give Parliament a veto over the final outcome of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, while voting against another amendment to allow a second referendum.
This is the second amendment to the government’s derisorily short Brexit bill, authorising Theresa May to trigger Article 50 and start the two years of negotiating time that is provided for the UK to leave the EU.
Last week, the Lords backed an amendment telling the government to respect the rights of the 3.3m EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay here, and not to treat them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, a principled move that I wrote about in my article, House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week was a particularly disastrous week for Parliament, when a horribly large majority of MPs voted to let Theresa May, the Prime Minister, do what she wants regarding Britain’s exit from the EU — and what she wants, as she has made clear, is as “hard” a Brexit as possible — one in which, in order to exercise some spurious control over immigration, we are forced to abandon the single market and the customs union, which will be insanely damaging to our economy.
The MPs’ unprovoked capitulation, by 494 votes to 122, in the vote allowing May to trigger Article 50, which launches our departure from the EU, came despite three-quarters of MPs believing that we should stay in the EU, and despite the narrow victory in last June’s referendum, which, crucially, was only advisory, although everyone in a position of power and authority has since treated it as though it was somehow legally binding.
The MPs’ capitulation was also disgraceful because, following the referendum, a handful of brave individuals engaged in a court battle to prevent Theresa May from behaving like a tyrant, and undertaking our departure from the EU without consulting Parliament. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court pointed out that sovereignty in the UK resides in Parliament, and not just in the hands of the Prime Minister, and that Parliament would have to be consulted. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disgrace the majority of MPs have shown themselves to be, as they have voted, by 494 votes to 122, to pass the government’s derisory little bill allowing Theresa May to “notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”
Although numerous amendments were tabled — seven by Labour, others by other parties — all failed to be passed. On Tuesday, an amendment by Labour’s Chris Leslie, stating that “the government should not be allowed to agree a Brexit deal until it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament,” was defeated by 326 votes to 293 — a majority of 33 — including seven Tory rebels: as well as serial Brexit rebel Ken Clarke, the rebels were Heidi Allen, Bob Neill, Claire Perry, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Andrew Tyrie.
And last night, before the final vote, there was another blow — this one not to the hard-won sovereignty of Parliament, given away by MPs as though it was nothing, but to the three million EU nationals who live and work in the UK, when the amendment by Labour’s Harriet Harman, in her capacity as the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, guaranteeing EU nationals the right to stay in the UK, was defeated by 332 votes to 290 — a majority of 42. On this amendment, there were three Tory rebels — Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie. Read the rest of this entry »
On Brexit, the Tory government is still flailing around like the most drunk person at a wedding.
Last week, the home secretary Philip Hammond delivered a forgettable Budget dominated by the largest elephant in the room — the continuing fallout from the EU referendum in June, which he conveniently forget to mention. In the meantime, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government body set up by George Osborne to impartially assess the UK economy, provided a reality check. As the Independent described it, “A shadow has been cast over Brexit Britain as the country faces a £122 billion budget black hole, dwindling growth, slow trade, lower pay and austerity stretching into the late 2020s.” In particular the newspaper noted, the OBR “set out how Brexit was driving the UK’s public finances deep into the red, with a key factor being the cost of losing valuable foreign workers.”
Brexiteers, in a constant state of denial about the suicidal cost of their enthusiasm for leaving the EU, even though they still cannot summon up a single compelling reason for this life-threatening rupture to take place, took aim at the OBR, as they do everyone and every organisation that threatens their costs delusions out sovereignty. Martin Kettle’s take on it was that the OBR had been “kneecapped in a back alley by Brexit provos and its brand has been trashed in the anti-European press’s embrace of post-truth politics.” Read the rest of this entry »
So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.
The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.
At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »
Great, great, great news from the High Court, as three of the most senior judges in the UK — the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales — have ruled that “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union,” as the Guardian reported it, adding that the ruling was “likely to slow the pace of Britain’s departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.”
Despite Theresa May’s wishful thinking, the Lord Chief Justice reminded her — and her ministers — that “the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that Parliament is sovereign,” something that those us with better knowledge of British democracy than our most senior ministers have been pointing out for the last four months.
Lord Thomas said, specifically, “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.
A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”
This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re in London — or anywhere near — then I hope two events next week might be of interest to you, and even if you’re not, then I hope you’ll be interested in asking your MP to attend the first event, a Parliamentary briefing about Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, next Tuesday, April 19. Slahi has no UK connection, but his plight should be of interest to all MPs who care about the rule of law, as Guantánamo remains a place of shameful injustice, whose closure all decent people need to support.
Both events involve the campaign to free Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one of the best-known prisoners still held in Guantánamo. A notorious victim of torture by the US, he is also the author of the best-selling book, Guantánamo Diary, an extraordinary account of his rendition, imprisonment and torture, written in Guantánamo and published, with numerous redactions, after a long struggle with the US authorities, to widespread acclaim in January 2015.
On the evening of Tuesday April 19, there will be a Parliamentary briefing for Slahi, hosted by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), featuring the actors Jude Law, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Toby Jones, Slahi’s brother Yahdih and his lawyer, Nancy Hollander. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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