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 »
Many thanks to RT for their excellent coverage of Thursday’s press launch, opposite Parliament, of the Fast For Shaker campaign set up by myself and Joanne MacInnes, the founders of the We Stand With Shaker Campaign that we launched 11 months ago, with a giant inflatable figure of the last British resident in Guantánamo that grabbed people’s attention, with celebrities and MPs happy to Stand With Shaker and to call for his release, as the years roll on since he was first approved for release — in 2007 under George W. Bush, and in 2009 under Barack Obama.
I was fasting on Thursday, with 75 other people around the world — a few of whom were also in London for the launch, including Jo — and it was quite demanding, as a result, running around trying to make sure it all ran smoothly, although I’m glad to say it did. See my photos here, and my report here.
RT interviewed me, John McDonnell, the comedian Sara Pascoe, and Shaker’s father-in-law Saeed Siddique, and I recommend all those interviews as well as the interview with the actor and director Mark Rylance, who took place a few days before. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s eight months since the Labour MP John McDonnell MP, an indefatigable campaigner for justice, established the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007, under George W. Bush, and in 2009, under Barack Obama.
With support from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which spent many years working to get the Parliamentary Group established, and also from We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group established by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes, which was also launched eight months ago, the Parliamentary Group sent a delegation to Washington D.C. after the General Election in May. The four MPs involved — the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — met with Senators, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials, in the hope of securing a timeline for Shaker’s release, although no date has been given, despite repeated rumors that it would be this summer, and despite a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times by the MPs, who wrote, “There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody,” and also stated, “It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government,” adding that this is “a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.”
Prior to this, in March, the Parliamentary Group also secured a hugely important debate in the House of Commons, which led to the government supporting the motion “call[ing] on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.” Read the rest of this entry »
On March 17, as I have been writing about over the last few days, a long-awaited — and long fought for — Parliamentary debate took place in the main chamber of the House of Commons, with MPs debating the motion, “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”
I was there for the debate, in the public gallery behind bulletproof glass, along with around a hundred other supporters of Shaker Aamer, including representatives of We Stand With Shaker, which I co-founded with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November, and the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with whom I have worked for many years.
I wrote a detailed article about the debate here, noting that Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, who was speaking for the British government, supported the motion, and stated, “I hope I have made it clear that the UK Government are absolutely committed to securing the release of Mr Aamer. Today I would like to underline that commitment and join the House in calling for the US Government to approve the release of Shaker Aamer to the UK.” 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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