How Brexit Gave Us Vile, Broken Politicians Who Despise Human Rights and Seek to Criminalise Refugees: Part Two

The home secretary Suella Braverman laughing hysterically, and entirely inappropriately, during a visit to the UK’s proposed “migrant camp” in Rwanda yesterday, March 18, 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seemingly emerging from a coffin while announcing the Tory government’s shameful ‘Stop the Boats’ policy on March 7, 2023, and then-home secretary Priti Patel smirking at a press conference in Rwanda, announcing the Rwanda plan, on April 14, 2022.

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The second of two articles in which I examine how the Tory government’s vile anti-immigration policies, pursued with such vigour by Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, have their origins in the dangerous isolationism of Brexit, and its unleashing of false and disturbing notions that, post-Brexit, the UK should no longer be constrained by international law. In this first article, I looked at how Brexit happened, how Theresa May paved the way for the shoddy and cruel lawlessness of Patel and Braverman, and how the Tories, even before Brexit, consistently sought to undermine the European Convention on Human Rights, with a particular focus on Theresa May’s obsessive pursuit of the Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada. (See Part One here).

Ruthlessly self-seeking and, morally, a complete vacuum, Boris Johnson swept to power in December 2019 by following the populists’ playbook established by Donald Trump — a three- or four-word slogan, hammered home at every opportunity. For Trump it was ‘Make America Great Again’, while for Johnson it was ‘Get Brexit Done’, delivered despite the evident impossibility of getting it done without consigning us to relentless economic decline and international irrelevance.

While Johnson’s dithering over Covid, his persistent lying and his corruption (not least in fast-tracking billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to cronies during the Covid lockdowns for services that they were patently unable to provide) defined his Premiership, what must not be overlooked is the extent to which he also empowered the far right of the Conservative Party in their rabid enthusiasm for a post-Brexit bonfire of fundamental rights.

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Under Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Fourth Tory Brexit Government, Already Obsessed with Austerity, Is Doomed to Fail

How the Daily Mirror, on its front page, responded to the news that Rishi Sunak had been chosen as the latest Prime Minister by Tory MPs.

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In the ongoing farce that is Britain’s Tory government, we now have our third Prime Minister in seven weeks — Rishi Sunak, the first Asian to hold the top job, but also the richest PM in British history, with a £730 million fortune via his marriage to Akshata Murty. The daughter of the Indian billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy, who founded the technology company Infosys, she has a 0.91% stake in the company, which constitutes most of the Sunak family’s wealth. Sunak himself was a banker from 2001 until his election in 2015, working first for Goldman Sachs, and then for a number of hedge funds.

Promoted to the role of Chancellor under Boris Johnson, Sunak is credited with successfully preventing a total meltdown of the economy during the Covid lockdowns, primarily through the furlough scheme for workers, although, to be honest, any Chancellor in place at the time would have had to do the same. Defeated by Liz Truss in the leadership campaign in the summer, he is now seen as a credible leader by the majority of Tory MPs who backed him over the last week — many, no doubt, pressurised to do so to prevent the choice of leader going back to the untrustworthy Party members who elected Truss — instead of the other contenders, Penny Mordaunt and Boris Johnson, who somehow thought that he could miraculously return from the political grave into which he had dug himself.

Nevertheless, the painful truth for Sunak is that no one — not even the 81,326 Tory Party members who voted for Liz Truss — voted for him, and it will be hard for him to claim any kind of popular mandate as a result. Hopefully, the calls for a General Election that increased throughout Liz Truss’s disastrous premiership will not fall away now that Truss has gone, because the only way for Sunak to genuinely claim any legitimacy is to ask the public to support him — and not merely to claim that the result of an election nearly three years ago, fought solely on Boris Johnson’s risible claim that he would ‘Get Brexit Done’, has any relevance.

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Radio: I Discuss Liz Truss and the UK’s Ongoing Tory Brexit Nightmare – Plus Guantánamo and Julian Assange – with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during the Tory leadership campaign in summer. After just 44 days in the top job, Truss’s departure has led to Sunak being appointed as her successor by Tory MPs.

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I’m delighted to have been interviewed on Saturday by Chris Cook, in Canada, for his Gorilla Radio show, available worldwide through the miracle of the internet, via his brand-new Substack account. The show is also available here as an MP3.

The first 20 minutes of our half-hour discussion involved the sad decline of post-Brexit Britain under a succession of witless Prime Ministers — most recently Liz Truss, who lasted just 44 days, but managed in her brief window of opportunity to crash the economy, as the markets reacted with revulsion to a ‘mini-budget’ that promised massive unfunded tax cuts for the rich at the worst time imaginable, during a time of rampant inflation and spiralling energy prices. 

Our discussion followed on from my recent article, Now that the Execrable Liz Truss Has Gone, Only a General Election Can Validly Deliver the UK’s Next Leader, and I was pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss the role played in the mad ideology of Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng by a number of supposed ‘free market’ lobbying groups based in Tufton Street, close to Parliament — including the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute, Civitas and the climate change-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) — who dress themselves up as think-tanks, and, shamefully, have secured charitable status, even though they have persistently failed to explain who funds them (although US far-right dark money is clearly involved).

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The Death Throes of the Brexit Disaster: Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng Declare Class War on the British People

Architects of disaster: Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng in the House of Commons.

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Six years into the Brexit disaster, the malevolent anti-democratic forces who did so much to facilitate the success of the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 are finally where they always wanted to be: running the government, and able to implement their four prevailing obsessions: enriching the already rich at everyone else’s expense; shrinking the state (or preferably entirely obliterating the state provision of any services whatsoever); using the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to scrap all the inconvenient ‘rights’ that have protected the British people and the environment from grotesque exploitation; and denying the existence of catastrophic climate change to further enrich the oil and gas companies that are driving the planet to extinction.

These anti-democratic forces, largely clustered in a handful of buildings in Tufton Street in Westminster, just a stone’s throw from Parliament, include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute, all far-right ‘libertarian’ think-tanks representing “the extreme fringe of neoliberalism”, as George Monbiot explained in an article for the Guardian on Friday. Also related, though located 400 yards to the north, is Policy Exchange, another right-wing think-tank, and Tufton Street was also initially home to the Vote Leave campaign, which was registered there, as well as Leave Means Leave, which campaigned for a hard Brexit after the EU referendum. It is also currently home to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

This latter group has been described by climate researchers and environmental groups as “the UK’s most prominent source of climate denialism”, as was explained in an OpenDemocracy article in May, when “two MPs, three Lords members and more than 70 scientists, writers, and campaign groups” sent a letter to the Charity Commission complaining that the GWPF was “not a charity but a fossil fuel lobby group”, after evidence emerged establishing that it “had received donations from a foundation with millions of dollars’ worth of shares in oil, gas and coal companies — despite claiming it would not take cash from anyone with a fossil fuel interest.”

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The Evil Heart of Brexit Britain Under Boris Johnson’s Bigoted Government and the UK’s Rabid Right-Wing Media

A dinghy carries migrants to the UK from France across the Channel (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images).

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For the last five and a half years, since bigotry, racism and xenophobia became official UK government policy following the disastrous EU referendum in June 2016, I have frequently been ashamed to be British; I might almost say, in fact, that I have carried with me a perpetual shame at the way in which the Brexiteers’ narrow victory in the referendum brought racism and intolerance out of the shadows, where decent people had been striving for decades to keep it at bay.

On occasion, events have conspired to make that shame flare up into full-blown anger and despair, and the deaths of 27 refugees in the Channel three days ago is one of those occasions. That these 27 people — men, women and children — were so desperate to get to the UK, in the hope of a better life, that they had become involved with people-traffickers, and ended up in a dinghy that couldn’t cope with the perils of the Channel crossing, ought to elicit, first of all, compassion for the plight in which they found themselves, and for their tragic deaths. However, the rhetoric regarding refugees has become so vile and so toxic in Brexit Britain that the knee-jerk reaction of far too many people has been to dismiss them as “illegal migrants” or “economic migrants”, and to revel in their deaths.

In this, the mainstream media and the government bear huge responsibility for having cynically encouraged racism, xenophobia and cold-heartedness as part of their various agendas for damagingly isolating Britain from the rest of the world in order to stay in power or to secure a pliable populace that will soak up their venom in an unquestioning manner.

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The Hell That is Boris Johnson’s Broken, Brexit-Deluded, Covid-Ravaged England

Boris Johnson leaves a media briefing in Downing Street on December 24, 2020.

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For the last two months, my physical world has shrunk immensely. For nine years I cycled almost every day, capturing the changing face of London on bike rides that have taken me to the furthest postcodes of Europe’s largest city, and that, since the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, involved me cycling most days into central London — the City and the West End — to capture what began as apocalyptic emptiness, to which, by degrees, human activity eventually returned, but on nothing like the scale that it was before Covid hit. I post a photo a day from those bike rides — with accompanying essays — on my Facebook page ‘The State of London’, and also on Twitter.

Two months ago, however, I sprained my leg quite badly — crossing an unexpected line when what I thought was healthy activity turned out to be something that, instead, signified that my body’s resilience was finite, and that I was wearing it out.

Since then, I’ve barely left my immediate neighbourhood. For most of the last two months, I felt fortunate if I was able to hobble to the bottom of the street I live in in Brockley, in south east London. The worst of it is now over, as the muscle I sprained has finally healed, but in the process of compensating my knee itself is now bruised and painful, and although I can walk further — up to and and around my local park, Hilly Fields, and around the streets nearest to me, I haven’t been able to venture further afield, except on a few occasions when my wife has driven me somewhere.

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Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial

Kill the Bill: protestors in Parliament Square on March 15, 2021 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

With the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown approaching, I look at how how the protest movements that have arisen over the last 12 months — about racist oppression, the safety of women and an attempted ban on protest itself — have spontaneously arisen when the logical limits of strict lockdowns have been reached. I also note how these movements stand in stark opposition to the protests of those engaged in Covid denial, who wilfully flout genuine public safety concerns through a toxic mix of dangerous conspiracy theories.

The devastatingly incompetent and corrupt government of Boris Johnson

Ever since the first Covid lockdown was declared in the UK, on March 23 last year, the British people have, for the most part, complied with the rules laid down by a government that was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, that has handled it with shattering incompetence, and that has also engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent.

Elected in December 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ by just 29% of the registered electorate, Boris Johnson stacked his cabinet with inadequate, second-rate politicians whose only requirement for being chosen was that they were fanatically committed to Britain leaving the EU, an astonishingly misguided policy of national suicide that came out of David Cameron’s shameful capitulation to Euro-sceptics in his own party, and the threat posed by UKIP under Nigel Farage.

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COVID-19: Institutional Inertia, the Need for Vision, and the Collapse of the US and the UK

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus COVID-19. Trump wore a mask in public for thew first time just a month ago, having previously said that he would not do so. The day before, Johnson, who is rarely seen at all, wore a mask for the first time in public while visiting businesses in his Uxbridge constituency.

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Six months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, prompted an unprecedented lockdown on social and economic activity, a veneer of normality has been resumed, although it remains an uneasy time. Pubs and restaurants are open, cars once more fill the streets, turning the taste of the air to one of petrol after months without it, and zombie shoppers once more return to high streets and shopping malls to buy clothing produced in factories — mostly in the “developing world” — that involves economic exploitation of the unseen, and nothing short of environmental destruction, as these factories kill off rivers with their noxious chemicals.

As I see on an almost daily basis, however, on my bike rides into the West End and the City of London to take photos for my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, the veneer is very thin. Although people have been returning to the West End since June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to to reopen, the numbers are down, and massively so.

As I explained in my most recent COVID-related article, COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”, 5.1m people visited the West End in the first full month of the post-lockdown re-opening of retail outlets, but that was 73% down year-on-year, and will not enable businesses to survive unless landlords also write off 73% of their rents. If they do, the virus will have succeeded in denting the wealth of the rich; if they don’t, the West End will soon be a wasteland of shuttered shops, because however much some people are enjoying al fresco street dining in pedestrianised streets in Soho, there is an achingly huge financial hole where the tourists and office workers used to be.

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COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”

An almost entirely deserted Liverpool Street station on April 2, 2020 – a previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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In Sunday’s Observer, the paper’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley related how, a few weeks ago, a group of civil servants at the Cabinet Office were “told to find a way of re-opening nightclubs in a coronavirus-safe way.” Although they were, in Rawnsley’s words, a “bright group”, they couldn’t overcome the fundamental  — one might say fatal — flaw at the heart of the exercise. “The socially distanced nightclub is a contradiction in terms”, as Rawnsley put it, adding, “Nightclubs, by their very nature, are all about social intimacy.”

Rawnsley proceeded to explain that he was telling this story “to illustrate just how very desperate the government has been to release Britain from every aspect of lockdown and return us to something that resembles the pre-coronavirus world as closely as possible.” Our leaders, as he put it, “dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease. While never quite saying it explicitly, their ambition has essentially been to get everything open again.”

This indeed seems to be the case, and it is typical of a government made up largely of inadequate ministers who are only in place because of their enthusiasm for the insanity of Brexit, and who are led by the laziest example of a Prime Minister in living memory, that the nuances of the challenges facing us — and the unexpected opportunities for a less chaotic and more environmentally sustainable world — are being ignored.

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3,000 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

Some of the most recent photos from ‘The State of London’ on Facebook, where I post a photo a day from eight years of photos taken on bike rides around the capital.

Check out all ‘The State of London’ photos here!

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My photo-journalism project ’The State of London’ has just reached a noteworthy milestone — 3,000 days since I first consciously went out on my bike, on May 11, 2012, to cycle around London taking photos to chronicle the fabric of London and the many changes wrought upon it, beginning with the upheaval that attended the capital’s role as the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games. I began posting a photo a day on Facebook on the fifth anniversary of that first trip, on May 11, 2017, and have been posting a photo a day for the 1,176 days since.

In the eight years since, I have taken many tens of thousands of photos, covering all 120 of London’s postcodes in the 241 square miles of the London postal district (those beginning EC, WC, W, NW, N, E, SE and SW), with a particular focus on central London — the City (EC1 to EC4) and the West End (WC1, WC2 and W1), and the immediate surrounding postcodes (SE1, SW1, NW1, N1 and E1) — and with other clusters of repeated activity in the whole of south east London, where I live, in east London, most readily accessed via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and in parts of south west London — particularly, it seems, Brixton, Vauxhall and Battersea and Chelsea — and west London; especially Paddington, Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove.

These 3,000 days have not only been a way of keeping physically fit; they have also played a major role in ensuring some sort of mental equilibrium amidst the general chaos of the state of the world — even if some aspects of ‘The State of London’ have added to my sense of rage rather than placating it; in particular, the colossal and colossally expensive construction projects that have transformed the city to an alarming degree over the last eight years.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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