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.
The song was featured in a video (on YouTube and Facebook) for the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched last week, just after Donald Trump’s unfortunate election victory, which, sadly, makes it seems less, rather than more likely that Guantánamo will be closed unless, before he leaves office in January, President Obama can fulfill the promise to close the prison that he first made on his second day in office.
As the last verse of the song states:
Obama promised to close the prison for good
On his second day in office
But Republicans resisted his plans
And he lacked the political will to do it
But as the years drag on and on
And the men still held get older and iller
Endless imprisonment without charge or trial
Is what it always was — a form of torture
This coming Sunday, November 20, I’ll be talking about “Demonising the ‘Other’: Tackling the rise of racism and xenophobia” at a fascinating one-day festival, the Festival of Ideas for Change, organised by the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. The festival is taking place in the Mural Hall at Prendergast Hilly Fields College in Brockley, London SE4 (the address is Adelaide Avenue, SE4 1LE, but the Mural Hall is actually in the main building at the top of Hilly Fields). Entrance is free, but you do need to book here, via TicketSource.
I’m one of 17 speakers during the day, and we’ll each be speaking for ten minutes in four different sessions — ‘Participation and democracy’ at 10.30am, ‘A fairer world’ at 12 noon, ‘An inclusive society’ at 2pm (at which I’ll be speaking), and ‘Building a new economy’ at 3.30pm, and there will be questions and discussion after each session.
This is something of a first for me, and I’m looking forward to it. Regular readers will know, of course, that for over ten years I have focused most of my work on Guantánamo and related issues, although I have always made room for involvement in and commentary about other issues, particularly involving the takeover of politics by largely interchangeable parties devoted only to the enrichment of the rich, and to putting the greed of banks and corporations above the needs of the people. Over the last six years, a major focus of my non-Guantánamo work has related to the cynical age of austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories, targeting the unemployed, the disabled and immigrants. Read the rest of this entry »
Like June 23, 2016, November 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a day when dreams of progress and tolerance and hope were brutally dashed. On June 23, in the UK, a slim majority of voters who could be bothered to turn out to vote in the EU referendum gave a kicking to the British establishment and endorsed racism and xenophobia, damaging the economy for no discernibly important reason whatsoever, making us a laughing stock around the world, and resetting the UK’s default position on tolerance to one in which foreigners can be openly abused, and anyone foreign-born, or appearing to be foreign-born, can be treated as “the other.”
In the US, as Jonathan Freedland wrote for the Guardian today, “We thought the United States would step back from the abyss. We believed … that Americans would not, in the end, hand the most powerful office on earth to an unstable bigot, sexual predator and compulsive liar.”
And yet, that is exactly what happened, and the parallels with the UK are, unfortunately, illuminating. Voters gave a kicking to the establishment, represented by Hillary Clinton, and white voters turned to Trump, the showman who, like Nigel Farage, pretended to be a “man of the people,” even though that was patently untrue. 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 the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).
Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.
Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.
I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.
No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed. Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.
Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.
As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday it was 100 days since a slim majority of the British people who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum decided that they wanted us to leave the EU after 43 years’ membership, a generally ill-considered decision that I wrote about at length at the time — see my articles UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends, Not Giving Up: Photos from the March for Europe in London, Saturday July 2, 2016 and As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care.
As the Tories’ annual conference gets underway, Brexit hangs over it like a black cloud, however much our unelected Prime Minister Theresa May wishes that were not the case. The beneficiary of the collapse of David Cameron’s government after the referendum — and the discrediting of the Tories’ main cheerleaders for the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — May has done very little since coming to power, beyond expressing a largely unpopular desire to fill the nation with grammar schools.
On Brexit, as a generally unenthusiastic member of the Remain camp, she has tried to wash her hands of the referendum’s toxicity, appointing three stooges to preside over our departure from the EU — Boris Johnson brought back, embarrassingly, as foreign secretary, plus David Davis, allegedly in charge of negotiating our departure from the EU, and the crook Liam Fox, who resigned because of inappropriate behavior in 2011, when he was the defence secretary, after breaking the ministerial code by repeating allowing his friend Adam Werrity, a lobbyist, into meetings with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors. For more on the failures of Boris Johnson, David Davis and, particularly, Liam Fox, see this withering criticism by the Tories’ former business minister Anna Soubry. 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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