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

British tabloid newspapers attacking human rights on their front pages, in a collaged image from 2017 put together by Adam Wagner.

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As the UK government tries to pass its ‘Illegal Migration Bill’, which, in defiance of international law, seeks to criminalise the very existence of refugees, and which follows up on another recent policy whereby the government is intent on sending refugees to Rwanda rather than allowing them to stay here, I thought it would be useful to look at how we got into this shameful situation; specifically, by examining the key role that the Brexit vote — and Tory animosity towards human rights legislation — have played in transforming the UK into a marginalised outlier state, led by a government representing a minority of the British people, that is committed to erasing the rights of refugees, and our obligations towards them, and is also intent on gutting the UK of any legally enforceable human rights.

It’s nearly seven years since, in a criminally negligent referendum called by David Cameron, 37.4% of the registered electorate of the UK voted to leave the EU.

It was the start of a downward spiral of isolation that is ruining the British economy, cutting countless small- and medium-sized businesses off from their hugely important markets in the EU, and also making the UK into a pariah state when it comes to inwards investment, because, let’s face it, why would anyone want to invest in a country that has not only turned its back on frictionless trade within one of the world’s largest trading blocs, but has also sent a defiantly idiotic message to the rest of the world that we are proud of our isolation, metaphorically standing on the White Cliffs of Dover flicking V-signs at the rest of the planet.

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Two Radio Shows: I Discuss Guantánamo and Julian Assange on TNT Radio and Parallax Views

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on Jan. 11, 2020.

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This week I was delighted to take part in two interviews, to discuss the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as the 21st anniversary of its opening approaches, and the ongoing plight of Julian Assange, still held in Belmarsh maximum-security prison in London, as he continues to challenge his proposed extradition to the US to face espionage charges relating to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified US documents leaked by Chelsea Manning.

On Monday, I spoke with Jason Olbourne on TNT Radio, based in Australia, in an interview that started 21 minutes into the 55-minute show. The interview is available here, and after a great introduction, in which Jason enthused about my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, and the music of The Four Fathers (asking if people have suggested that I sound like David Byrne), we spoke about Guantánamo, with Jason asking me to run through the story of how I first got involved with Guantánamo, in 2006, and how I worked out who was held there, and how very few of them had any meaningful involvement with Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Jason suggested that people might be held at Guantánamo in future, but was, I hope, persuaded by my explanation that Guantánamo is such a disaster area, legally, that no one with any sense would consider sending anyone there in future. I explained how the majority of the men held there were insignificant, but were tortured or otherwise abused in an effort to extract information from them, because of mistaken presumptions that they were hiding actionable intelligence — presumptions that wouldn’t have been so easy to make if the US authorities had not done away with any kind of screening process when they were first seized, and which led to Guantánamo becoming a place where the authorities’ actions resembled the witch hunts of centuries past.

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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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Now that the Execrable Liz Truss Has Gone, Only a General Election Can Validly Deliver the UK’s Next Leader

Liz Truss at a press conference, before her departure as the UK’s Prime Minister.

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So it’s over, then. Just 44 days since taking office, and with eleven of those days given over to the now almost forgotten funerary rites for Queen Elizabeth II, Liz Truss has resigned as Prime Minister, having crashed the economy and revealed, inadvertently, how the Conservative Party of 2022 is in its death throes, finally succumbing to the suicidal impulses of its defining obsessions — the privatisation of everything, tax cuts for the rich, and propping up the failed fantasy of Brexit as something liberating rather than the disaster that it so clearly is, was and always will be.

The trigger for Truss’s record as Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister was the outrageous ‘mini-budget’ she cooked up with her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in which, with extraordinary arrogance, this delusional pair of shallow ideologues — marinaded in the far-right ‘libertarianism’ of the Tufton Street lobbying groups, who refuse to reveal their funding (although we know it involves climate change deniers and fossil fuel polluters) — sought to push through massive tax cuts for the rich at a time of rising inflation and spiralling energy costs. This was a recipe for disaster as the former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, repeatedly explained during the farcical summer-long leadership in which Truss, somehow, wasn’t adequately exposed as an empty vessel.

The ‘mini-budget’ — shielded by Truss and Kwarteng from scrutiny by almost anyone, including, to cite one particularly pertinent example, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which was established by George Osborne to review the public finances — spooked the markets to such an extent that the economy tanked, leading to the sacking of Kwarteng, and now the resignation of Truss.

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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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“Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality”, Doing Nothing While the World Burns and Extinction Looms

A wildfire on the Greek island of Evia, August 6, 2021 (Photo: Sotiris Dimitropoulos/Eurokinissi via Reuters).

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It’s too hot.

Three weeks since the UK experienced its hottest weather ever, with temperatures hitting 40°C, it’s become clear that that was just a spike in a long hot summer in which, for the first time ever in my 37-year history of living in London, the weather has turned hostile.

“It’s just summer”, the right-wing tabloids and right-wing politicians say, as though it isn’t the hottest year on record, as though the ten hottest years on record haven’t all been since 2002, and as if temperatures exceeding 50°C in India and Pakistan, and exceeding 40°C in France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain are nothing to worry about.

We are led by liars, mostly in the service of the oil and gas companies who have been lying about the catastrophic impact of man-made climate change, through the profligate use of fossil fuels, ever since they first discovered the awful truth in the early 1980s. This took place though their own research, but they then deliberately suppressed it, as was recently spelled out, in agonising detail, in the BBC’s excellent three-part documentary series, ‘Big Oil v. the World.’

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Celebrating 1700 Days of my Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

The latest photos from Andy Worthington’s ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Today marks 1,700 days since I first began posting a photo a day — plus accompanying essays — on ‘The State of London’ Facebook page; photos that were either taken on the day, or were drawn from the photos I’d started taking on bike rides throughout London’s 120 postcodes five years earlier. For anyone keeping count, that means that it’s now 3,526 days since I first set out on my bike to capture the changing face of London.

In the last 1,700 days, my ability to take photos has, I think, improved in general (largely because of the upgrade to my current camera, a Canon PowerShot G7 X Mk. II, in February 2019), and I have also, increasingly, devoted much more time to the essays that accompany each photo. I’m gratified to see that the project has steadily been gaining support, so that I recently welcomed my 5,000th follower.

As I have delved deeper into London’s history on my journeys, and in the research for the photos, I have come to recognize how resilient London is as a city, despite having lost so much in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and in the German bombing raids in World War II. Nevertheless, as I realized as soon as I began the project in May 2012, it has also recently been invaded, not by fire, or by a wartime enemy, but by predatory transnational capital, building huge new towers of offices in the City of London, and high-rise residential towers in Canary Wharf and in numerous former industrial sites across the capital (the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area, for example), all eagerly facilitated by conniving politicians and generally supine architects.

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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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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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