ATHENS – The overwhelming defeat that Britain’s Parliament inflicted upon Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan was fresh confirmation that there is no substitute for democracy. Members of Parliament deserve congratulations for keeping their cool in the face of a made-up deadline. That deadline is the reason why Brexit is proving so hard and potentially so damaging. To resolve Brexit, that artificial deadline must be removed altogether, not merely re-set.
Tag Archives: UK
ATHENS – Discontent without end looms over Britain. Leavers and Remainers are equally despondent. Her Majesty’s Government and the Labour opposition are equally divided. The United Kingdom is deeply divided between a Europhile Scotland and a Euroskeptic England, between pro-EU English cities (including London) and anti-EU coastal and northern towns. Neither the working nor the ruling class can unite behind any of the Brexit options making the rounds in the House of Commons. Is it any wonder that so many Britons feel anxious and let down by their political system?
That oft-repeated notion, that a second referendum on Brexit would somehow be an affront to democracy, came to an end on Saturday afternoon. It came to an end beneath the whirring helicopters and the blazing London sun, and above the noble, angry racket of hundreds of thousands of people.
It’s not just that what they were doing was a democratic right in itself, which is to protest, it’s that they came in such large numbers – nearly 700,000, if the organisers’ own estimates are to be believed. It’s that what they made overwhelmingly, unavoidably clear is that they were asking for was the restoration of the most fundamentally important aspect of democracy itself.
“They’ve got to be held to account,” said Ann Murphy, who had travelled from Coventry with her daughter, Samantha, and was there at Marble Arch at noon, waiting to march. “I don’t even know if we’d win. But when politicians make promises they can’t keep, the people have a right to hold them to account for them. If that’s gone, then everything’s gone.”
I knew just what Jamal Khashoggi’s murder really meant in the context of the Middle East last week when I realised just who I’d have to call to explain it to me. Whom would I telephone to learn what was going on? Why, of course, I’d call Jamal Khashoggi. And that’s why his murder is so important. Because he was, as he knew, a lone and important Arab journalist who did not listen – not any more — to His Master’s Voice. And that, of course, was his problem.
This disgusting, dangerous, frightening, dirty murder – and don’t tell me a man of 60 who dies in a “fistfight” with 15 men isn’t murder – shows not just the Saudi government up for what it is, but it shows us up for what we are, too. How come we keep falling in love with Arab states – Israel does this, too – and then cry out with shock when they turn out to be extremely unpleasant and very violent?
There is, finally, some scrutiny of Britain’s sordid relationship with one of the most abhorrent dictatorships on Earth. That it has taken the murder of a journalist – rather than, say, Saudi Arabia’s remorseless war in Yemen, now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – is a travesty. Do not expect this moment to last. The British establishment and the Saudi tyranny are intertwined: the ties between our ruling elites and a regime that beheads dissidents, exports terror and slaughters Yemeni children are too lucrative to break.
Take our political elite. When he was prime minister, Tony Blair piled pressure on the attorney general to end a massive corruption scandal involving a Saudi arms deal. Since the Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen began, the British government has licensed £4.7bn of arms exports. British military advisers have even worked in Saudi war rooms. Germany has now halted arms exports to the Saudi regime; but even if more western bombs are dropped on school buses, there is no chance the Tory government will follow the German lead.
In November 2004, Britain’s foreign secretary Jack Straw laid a wreath at the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. How might this have been framed with the current Labour leader? Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon saw Arafat as a “Jew murderer”. According to the Israeli minister of parliamentary affairs at the time, Danny Naveh, Arafat was “personally involved in the planning and execution of terror attacks”. Given that the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games was carried out by an offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which Arafat led, the Israelis would have seen him as complicit in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes.
The theories which might be true about the novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal – and the ones which definitely aren’t
The latest twist in the novichok attack in Salisbury – the disclosure of the photographs of the two suspects and the names they were using – has continued the extraordinary drama surrounding an act as brutal as it was unexpected.
As has happened with other developments in this case, the revelation has been accompanied by recriminations, threats and conspiracy theories. It has also ratcheted up the confrontation between Britain and Russia to another incendiary level, with the accusation that the Kremlin has committed an act of war in this country.
The UK government remains adamant that Moscow is responsible for the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It is believed that the real identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov have now been established by British security agencies and this has proven that they are serving officers in the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service
“It’s like Spain in 1936.” Those are the words of Alexander Norton, a charismatic 31-year-old railway worker from east London, as Turkish forces besiege the Kurdish city of Afrin. Following in the tradition of Britain’s courageous International Brigades eight decades earlier, Norton has risked his life to fight Isis alongside Kurdish freedom fighters in Kurdish Syria. As you read this, a secular democracy that celebrates women’s rights is under attack, including by Turkish-aligned troops who have sung al-Qaida songs and threatened to cut off the heads of their “atheist” victims. If you’re wondering why Kurds and their supporters occupied King’s Cross and Manchester Piccadilly stations last weekend: here’s why. The Conservative government is arming to the teeth a nation ruled by an authoritarian despot, whose regime is linked to extreme jihadist groups, and which is now attempting to liquidate one of the only islands of democracy in a sea of Middle Eastern despotism: and yet virtually no one is speaking out about it.
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before.
It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community. This week the results from a trial in the Somerset town of Frome are published informally, in the magazine Resurgence & Ecologist. (A scientific paper has been submitted to a medical journal and is awaiting peer review). We should be cautious about embracing data before it is published in the academic press, and must always avoid treating correlation as causation. But this shouldn’t stop us feeling a shiver of excitement about the implications, if the figures turn out to be robust and the experiment can be replicated.