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.”
However, the pretence that all is well continues to come unstuck, even as Theresa May, an authoritarian out of her depth, and her three Brexit ministers — the clown Boris Johnson, David Davis, also out of his depth, and the unhinged, corrupt and dangerous right-winger Liam Fox — continue to try and maintain the illusion that all is fine.
Just before the Budget, 90 Labour MPs wrote a letter to the Guardian pointing out how a “hard Brexit,” which the government seemed to be favouring, would be a disaster (although John Harris also pointed out how Labour lacks leadership on the question of opposing the Tories’ recklessness), and on November 28 a study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, one of the UK’s leading economics consultancies, which had been commissioned by an alliance of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians opposed to the “hard Brexit” option, revealed how “[l]eaving the single market would be damaging to almost every sector of the British economy, from manufacturing and energy to retail and financial services.”
The report also “found that every major wealth-creating sector would be affected negatively, with manufacturing hit if there were tariff barriers to EU trade and the creative industries suffering a ‘body blow’ if there were strict controls on immigration.”
Examining “the consequences of leaving the single market in favour of a free trade agreement struck on a bespoke basis for individual industries,” which Theresa May has hinted she favours, the CEBR warned that “all major sectors are linked to the EU and could be harmed if the UK government sought a free trade agreement which prioritised some sectors over others”.
The Guardian noted that the release of the report “comes at a time of growing mobilisation among MPs and political figures trying to stop the UK heading for a clean break with the EU single market and customs union, which is favoured by the most Eurosceptic cabinet ministers and leading Brexit campaigners such as Michael Gove,” and also noted that, for the first time since the referendum, a cross-party alliance of MPs – including Labour’s Chuka Umunna, the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg and the Tory Anna Soubry – appeared together at an press conference called by Open Britain, the organisation that emerged from the ashes of the Stronger In campaign, who have made their focus continued membership of the single market.
At the press conference, Chuka Umunna said he “was concerned about the tone of the debate when it came to the practicalities of leaving” the EU, as the Guardian described it. He explained, “There are those who want to muzzle any debate; they don’t want to see a debate on the terms of our leaving, as if we live in some dictatorship,” he said, and referred to recent attacks on the Bank of England governor, the judiciary, and the Office of Budget Responsibility. He added, “If we allow this to go unchallenged we will be going down a very dangerous path indeed as a country, betraying our history and our tradition of promoting lively discussion and free speech. Those under attack are public servants.”
Open Britain also defended the involvement of former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major in the debate about how — or indeed, if — the UK should leave the EU. Blair had been criticised for stating in an interview that leaving the EU could be stopped if the British people changed their minds. “It can be stopped if the British people decide that, having seen what it means, the pain-gain, cost-benefit analysis doesn’t stack up,” he said, adding, as the Guardian described it, that this process “could take place in one of two ways, hinging on negotiations over access to the EU’s single market.”
As Blair put it, “Either you get maximum access to the single market, in which case you’ll end up accepting a significant number of the rules on immigration, on payment into the budget, on the European court’s jurisdiction. People may then say, ‘Well, hang on, why are we leaving then?’ Or alternatively, you’ll be out of the single market and the economic pain may be very great, because beyond doubt if you do that you’ll have years, maybe a decade, of economic restructuring.” Brexit, Blair added, was “like agreeing to a house swap without having seen the other house”, and he also hoped that eventually those who voted Leave would “look at this in a practical way, not an ideological way.”
In a Facebook post, I explained my belief that “here, in a nutshell, is Britain’s problem. The war criminal Tony Blair, whose enthusiasm for the rich destroyed oppositional politics and turned the UK into the country it is today, with an ever-growing chasm between the rich and poor, and money as the only arbiter of success, is, in contrast, absolutely spot-on when it comes to Brexit and why and how it should be stopped.” I hope that what we’re starting to see is a broadly centrist coalition, although one that also includes figures on the left and the right, because the tragedy of Britons’ suicidal enthusiasm for Brexit is three-fold: most predictably, the right-wing Tories and UKIP supporters who support it, but also the disaffected people whose politics are more fluid, to whom no one is providing any kind of helpful advice, and, last but to least, those on the left who, in general, are also cheerleading our departure from the EU.
Fortunately, legal challenges are also continuing. Last month, the High Court’s ruling that “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union,” and that Theresa May cannot, like a tyrant, make us leave the EU without consulting Parliament, attracted unprecedented criticism and even threats from Brexiteers, who, like petulant children, throw a hissy fit — or worse — every time someone points out that we cannot actually leave the EU without working out what that means, and how it should be achieved. The government appealed, and this week the Supreme Court is expected to back the High Court, prompting, in advance, further petulance from the increasingly inept Theresa May.
The government also faces a second legal challenge, “over whether it should seek to retain membership of the single market during the Brexit process,” as the Guardian described it, explaining that lawyers “will argue that June’s referendum asked the public a single question over whether the UK should leave the EU, and did not delve into the more complex issue of economic access. The group British Influence will use a judicial review to suggest the government could be acting unlawfully if it uses Brexit to also leave the wider European Economic Area – through which non-EU countries such as Norway are inside the single market.”
Jonathan Lis, the deputy director of British Influence, said, “The single market wasn’t on the ballot paper. To leave it would be devastating for the economy, smash our free trading arrangement and put thousands of jobs at risk. Why should people not only throw the baby out with the bath water, but the bath out of the window?”
In my recent Facebook post, I explained how “[m]y hope is that, if the Supreme Court upholds the constitutional obligation for MPs to be involved in discussions about our departure from the EU, those who place our economic survival above pointless arguments about sovereignty will not let the result (in an advisory referendum that won with a very narrow majority) go ahead if it becomes apparent that we cannot do anything about immigration without leaving the single market, and that leaving the single market will be too high a cost for nominal control of our borders (control that, I suspect, would be spectral anyway). “
As I added, “Three-quarters of MPs supported Remain. Those of us who urge resistance to leaving the EU because it is the most stupid idea we could conceive of — and actually has no redeeming features whatsoever — need to work out how to encourage them to make sure they are not steamrollered into silence, or to allow them to silence themselves for political expediency.” The Independent reckons that, to date, “around 80 MPs will vote against the legislation in the Commons,” including “the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney.”
I hope that number increases — or, at the very least, that MPs will refuse to be cowed by the bullying stupidity of Theresa May and her ministers.
And in the meantime, demonstrating, yet again, how little regard she has for anyone who is not British, Theresa May refused this week to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK, as part of an inter-EU row about reciprocal rights for UK citizens in other EU countries, and EU citizens here.
In response, Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said, as the Guardian put it, that Theresa May “should unilaterally pass legislation to secure the rights of up to 3 million European Union citizens to stay in Britain or risk souring the tone of the Brexit talks,” adding that she “should act immediately and abandon her increasingly controversial position of refusing to make any concession over the rights of EU citizens in the UK without securing equivalent guarantees for the 1.2 million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.”
As Starmer said, “It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me from my discussions in Brussels with those that are likely to be involved in the negotiations that they are very concerned about the fact that we are not giving comfort and status to their citizens. They have said to me, pretty well in terms, the UK should sort this out before March, and that would ensure that the article 50 negotiations got off to a much better start than they will otherwise do.”
Despite his intervention, the current situation is appalling for the EU citizens living and working here, as was explained by The 3 Million, a grassroots organisation by EU citizens for EU citizens, which “takes its name from the estimated number of EU citizens who moved from another member state and live and work, and have generally established their life in the UK, many for a very long time.”
On their website, The 3 Million state, “”We are not bargaining chips, we are people,” and, in a letter to home secretary Amber Rudd, Nicolas Hatton, the chair of The 3 Million, warned the government that “up to 1 million EU citizens living in the UK could be at risk of deportation if it does not come up with a simple way of recognising their status in the country,” in the Guardian’s words. The letter added that the organization “has told the home secretary it would take the Home Office 47 years to process applications from EU citizens for permanent residency (PR).”
The 3 Million’s letter stated, “We are people with families, children, friends and work colleagues, and we are rightly worried about a very uncertain future. EU citizens have been feeling very anxious about their future since the referendum, and this set of data will not reassure them. We call on you to remove the threat of deportation without notice and give us, today, guarantees that all EU citizens living legally in the UK will be able to exercise their right to remain before the UK leaves the EU.”
For further information, please read the moving stories in the Guardian’s article, “EU citizens in Britain post Brexit vote: ‘I feel betrayed, not at home, sad.’”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
31 years ago, the British state, under Margaret Thatcher, committed one of its most violent acts against its own citizens, at the Battle of the Beanfield, when a group of travellers — men, women and children — who were driving to Stonehenge from Savernake Forest to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival were set upon by tooled-up police from six counties, and the Ministry of Defence. The travellers were outnumbered three to one, while the police were at the height of their use as a paramilitary force by Margaret Thatcher.
The year before, the police had crushed the miners at Orgreave (promoting calls this year for an official inquiry after the belated triumph of victims’ families against the police at the Hillsborough Inquest), and the assault on the travelling community had started shortly after, when a group of travellers were harried from a festival in the north of England. Some of this group joined up with other travellers, festival-goers and green activists at Molesworth, in Cambridgeshire, the planned location for Britain’s second cruise missile base, where a peace camp was set up, following the example of the Women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, set up in opposition to the first cruise missile base. The Molesworth camp was, in turn, shut down by the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops, in February 1985, and for the next four months the travellers were harassed until June 1, when the Battle of the Beanfield took place.
The Beanfield was a horrible example of state violence, with both short-term and long-term implications. Severe damage was done to Britain’s traveller community, who had been seeking to create an alternative culture of free festivals from May to October every year, and who, as Molesworth showed, were not just hedonists, but also had ecological and anti-nuclear aims. Read the rest of this entry »
Good news for a change, as the Tories definitively lose control of London (OK, I’m slightly jumping the gun, but the Guardian is reporting that “Sadiq Khan ‘has won’ London mayoral race,” and Jeremy Corbyn has already sent Khan his congratulations). The Tories, who were already down in terms of MPs after last year’s General Election (when 45 of the capital’s 73 Parliamentary seats went to Labour), have now lost the Mayor, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan soundly beating Zac Goldsmith, and in the capital-wide elections for members of the Greater London Assembly, with 14 of the 25 seats counted, Labour had nine seats (a gain of one), and the Tories had five (a loss of one). The BBC reported that 43% of Londoners had voted Labour, 31% had voted Tory, and the Green Party had come third.
This is good news for Sadiq Khan, of course, but also for Jeremy Corbyn, in his first electoral test as Labour Party leader, and for the Labour Party as a whole the results are a vindication of his leadership — especially satisfying after the artificial anti-Semitism row that Labour right-wingers and a throughly unprincipled mainstream media were all too delighted to promote. At the time of writing Labour had held almost all its council seats across England, and had also held 29 seats in Wales (just short of a majority). The only dimmed light is in Scotland, where the SNP continues to replace them as the party of the left — and where, shockingly, the Tories pushed them into third place.
In London, of course, the Tories persistently shot themselves in the foot. Zac Goldsmith failed to connect with people and looked like he didn’t want the job — and it’s interesting to see how people aren’t fooled by a lack of desire for the job. However, his woes multiplied in the last few weeks when he hired the black propagandist Lynton Crosby, the Australian who has been behind the Tories’ relentlessly black propaganda for the last six years, which, it is important to note, is single-handedly responsible for the horrendous increase in the petty hatreds that have come to typify modern Britain — dominated, in particular, by racism, but also targeting anyone vulnerable, as can be seen by the government’s relentless assault on the unemployed and the disabled. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.
Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »
29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.
The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.
The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.
Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.
Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?
The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I came to bury Margaret Thatcher, not to praise her. However, due to a hospital appointment, I missed the procession and only arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral after the funeral service, when the guests were leaving, although I was in time to take a few photos as reminders of the day when the woman was laid to rest who, during my lifetime, did more than any other individual to wreck the country that is my home.
My most fervent hope is that I will live to see Margaret Thatcher’s legacy overturned, and for a caring, inclusive society to replace the one based on greed, selfishness and cruelty that was her malignant gift to the people of Britain.
Since her death last week, I have largely avoided the sickening attempts by the Tories to use it for political gain, although I was absolutely delighted that their insistence on providing a lavish funeral at taxpayers’ expense backfired, because only 25 percent of the public thought that a state funeral was appropriate, and 60 percent opposed it. Read the rest of this entry »
A Riot of Colour, Solidarity and Indignation on the TUC March in London, a set on Flickr.
Following up on the photos I published yesterday of the best placards and banners I saw on Saturday’s 150,000-strong march and rally in central London (“A Future That Works,” organised by the TUC), this second set of photos features the march more generally, and includes photos I took of various union members and activists on Victoria Embankment, and also as the march proceeded up Whitehall, along Piccadilly, and into Hyde Park for the rally at the end of the day.
There various speakers, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, addressed the government’s crimes against British workers — and also schoolchildren, students, the old, the ill, the homeless, the unemployed and the disabled. My archive of articles about the Tories’ wretched policies, and the resistance to them, is here. Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.
The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.
In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.
Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada — and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. 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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