Gina Miller: The woman who put Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU in peril

The Guardian reports: The businesswoman at the centre of the legal challenge to ensure parliament is consulted before Theresa May triggers Brexit has said the landmark case was motivated by her fear that the UK faced a “treacherous future”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Gina Miller said she knew the ruling would leave her unpopular with many EU referendum voters, but believed that the UK had failed itself and the rest of Europe by voting to leave the bloc rather than reform it from within.

“I was never binary remain or leave. I was very much of the sentiment, and still am, that it was about remain, reform and review,” Miller said. “The UK actually has a very powerful place in Europe … and we have not just let ourselves down but I think the whole of Europe down by not taking up that challenge.”

Before launching her case, the 51-year-old who runs the investment firm SCM Private with her husband, Alan, had spent a decade campaigning for transparency in investment and pension funds, and for reform in the charity sector. “I’ve stood up and made myself very unpopular,” she said. “But it’s not about being unpopular, it’s about doing the right thing.”

Miller told the Guardian she felt compelled to take some form of action following the referendum result in June, hiring City law firm Mishcon de Reya with her own money. “I simply couldn’t keep going to bed every night thinking, well what does [the Brexit vote] mean for my children, what does this mean for the future, what does it mean for everyone?” Miller said. “Knowing that there was no plan in place, and knowing that we were really facing a treacherous future … I just felt I had no other alternative.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish government will “actively consider” whether it will formally join in the next legal battle over the right of MPs to vote on article 50 after the British government’s defeat in the high court.

Scotland’s first minister told Holyrood on Thursday that the court ruling was “hugely significant and it underlines the total chaos and confusion at the heart of the UK government”.

Sturgeon hinted that the SNP’s 56 MPs in Westminster would vote against the triggering of article 50, given that Scotland voted to remain in the EU. [Continue reading…]

Heather Stewart writes: If you’re an ardent remainer hoping the high court judgment is a chink of light that could ultimately result in Britain remaining in the European Union, don’t hold your breath. Brexit itself was not on trial – but Theresa May’s bullish approach to it, and ultimately her political judgment, was.

If the government fails in its bid to have the ruling overturned on appeal, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has made clear he would put a bill before both houses of parliament, presumably authorising the government to trigger article 50.

But while there are plenty of MPs on both sides of the House of Commons who backed remain during the referendum campaign, and still believe Britain would be better off in, only a handful of diehards now say they want to block Brexit.

One prominent pro-EU MP on the Conservative back benches told the Guardian “almost every one of my colleagues, apart perhaps from Ken Clarke, will vote to trigger article 50”.

In the House of Lords, meanwhile, where there is a strong remain majority, Labour’s leader Baroness Smith says there is little appetite for trying to prevent it. “It’s not a case of the Lords trying to block the government,” she insists. [Continue reading…]


British high court rules parliament must vote on Brexit to trigger Article 50

Polly Toynbee writes: A momentous constitutional decision was taken by the high court of England and Wales this morning. A prime minister’s absolute power to do what they like, when they like, regardless of laws and treaties, was struck down. Theresa May cannot tear up our right to be EU citizens without the authority of parliament. Those rights were bestowed by parliamentary votes in a series of treaties. She can’t high-handedly abandon them and trigger our exit from the EU without parliament’s agreement.

Judges, wisely, do not generally want to usurp the power of elected governments to govern. Laws made by judges are a poor substitute for those made by elected MPs in parliament. But this is a matter of the profoundest constitutional importance, with deep implications, controversial whichever way they had decided. They rightly pronounced that parliament is sovereign – which is what the Brexiters claimed we were voting on, until it no longer suited them.

What now? The government will appeal to the supreme court in December, though some suggest May should dash to the Commons immediately for a quick vote, before an as-yet hazy coalition of cross-party remainers has time to organise and solidify. If the appeal fails, will MPs galvanise? Leaving it to the unelected Lords is no answer.

There are times when MPs need to rise above their party interests, their own interests and the views of their constituents. That may risk being voted out, but they may earn more respect by standing up for the national interest as best they can determine: that’s what representative democracy is for. In times of war or national crisis, defending the country from grave error, at whatever personal cost, is their duty. Brexit is the greatest threat to national wellbeing since the war, and this will test the mettle not just of individual MPs, but of the nature and purpose of a representative democratic system. [Continue reading…]


The crisis in the West’s liberal democracies is strengthening the Kremlin’s hand

Natalie Nougayrède writes: Lenin once said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Vladimir Putin is no Lenin, nor can his regime – run by an elite that enjoys offshore accounts and oligarchic privileges – quite be described as anti-capitalist. Yet in Russia’s new confrontation with the west, the Kremlin’s strategy is to exploit western weaknesses and confusion as much as it is geared towards showing a bellicose face, whether in Ukraine, Syria or cyberspace. Perhaps this is why the head of MI5 has warned of the need to fend off Russia’s hostile interference.

Lenin is not Putin’s ideological guru. Foreigners, whether public officials or investors, who have at length met with Putin sometimes point to his particular brand of pragmatism (even if Angela Merkel once said he “lives in another world”). If he senses strong pushback, he adapts. If he detects gaps, he strikes at the Achilles heel.

There is little doubt Russian power is on the offensive. Since 2014, when it deployed its troops in Ukraine and annexed territory there, and since its policies in Syria have been analysed as overtly hostile to western endeavours, “Russian aggressiveness” has become a mainstay of the west’s official political discourse. But beyond boasting about Russia’s nuclear forces, demonstrating its new conventional military capacities and activating an army of internet trollers (none of which should be minimised), Putin’s regime is banking on the hope that western democracies will falter and be unable to offer up genuine resistance.

He’s essentially waiting for that rope to be handed over. Brexit is one section of it, because in Russian eyes it has the potential to divide the west. The growth of national-populist movements in Europe and elsewhere is another, because it echoes the Kremlin’s illiberal narrative and produces useful allies. Radical leftwing anti-Americanism also fits handily into the picture, as it did decades ago when pacifists demonstrated in the west while missiles were being deployed by the eastern bloc during the cold war. [Continue reading…]


Vladimir Putin’s campaign to seduce, subvert and screw over Western democracies — including ours

The Daily Beast reports: The golden domes would look at home on Moscow’s Red Square. There are five of them, onion-shaped and glistening in the sun, each one bearing a cross — potent symbols of the Russian Orthodox Church. But here in front of them flows the Seine River. Behind them rises the Eiffel Tower. Down the street is the French foreign ministry, known as the Quai d’Orsay.

That much you can see.

What French and other Western intelligence agencies have been concerned about as they watched the building go up over the last six years is what you don’t see when you look at the just-inaugurated Holy Trinity Cathedral and Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center.

French journalist Nicolas Hénin in his new book La France Russe notes that the building abuts an apartment used (at least until recently) by the French Secretary General of Defense and National Security, as well as the mail service of the French presidential palace.

An inter-ministerial note on the state of France’s intelligence agencies cited by Hénin observed that the cathedral domes, made of composite materials, could hide sophisticated listening devices, and since the “cultural center” enjoys diplomatic immunity, there’s no obvious way to get inside to look.

According to other sources, the French are now employing active countermeasures, just in case, and several Western embassies and enterprises have checked to make sure there is no line of sight contact between them and the domes.

It’s a strange spectacle, an obvious outpost of Mother Russia, even if all its aspects are benign, which was assumed to be the case when then-President Nicolas Sarkozy approved its construction in 2010. But since then, “benign” has become a word hard to associate with the Kremlin. So when Russian President Vladimir Putin was supposed to open the center here this month, the current French president, François Hollande, said he wouldn’t attend, and if he talked to Putin at all, his office declared, it would be about war crimes in Syria. Putin decided to postpone his visit more or less indefinitely.

Perhaps this seems like crazy neo-Cold War paranoia. High-tech spookery hiding behind onion domes on the Left Bank? Yet almost anything seems possible at a time when Putin has been using every conceivable means at his disposal to extend Russian influence and disrupt or discredit Western democracy in Europe, and, indeed, in the United States.

If there is a new cold war chill, it’s coming from the east. [Continue reading…]


Remain means remain: Nicola Sturgeon cannot be ignored on Brexit

By Andrew Scott Crines, University of Liverpool

The meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations was a significant moment in setting the tone for the Brexit negotiations ahead.

May has pledged to advance a single UK position when negotiations with the EU begin next year. This pledge could be interpreted in either of two ways. She could be attempting to compel the nations of the UK to conform to the Westminster government’s Brexit position, or she could be opening the door to other positions in the hope of destabilising the moves towards leaving the EU. The former is the most likely, however May cannot be seen to be overtly imposing the will of the Brexiteers on the devolved institutions without risking political consequences.

In the case of Scotland such consequences are well advertised. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to at least keep Scotland in the single market and, really, her ultimate goal is to stay in the EU. The Scottish people voted to remain, which Sturgeon is interpreting as a solid mandate to oppose moves in London to take Scotland out.

Similarly, Northern Ireland voted to remain. The deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, warned of dire consequences if it is also taken out of the EU, both economically and constitutionally. Only Wales and England voted to leave, which was enough to deliver a Brexit vote.

[Read more…]


What Theresa May really thinks about Brexit shown in leaked recording

The Guardian reports: Theresa May privately warned that companies would leave the UK if the country voted for Brexit during a secret audience with investment bankers a month before the EU referendum.

A recording of her remarks to Goldman Sachs, leaked to the Guardian, reveals she had numerous concerns about Britain leaving the EU. It contrasts with her nuanced public speeches, which dismayed remain campaigners before the vote in June.

Speaking at the bank in London on 26 May, the then home secretary appeared to go further than her public remarks to explain more clearly the economic benefits of staying in the EU. She told staff it was time the UK took a lead in Europe, and that she hoped voters would look to the future rather than the past.

In an hour-long session before the City bankers, she also worried about the effect of Brexit on the British economy.

“I think the economic arguments are clear,” she said. “I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe. [Continue reading…]


Anger as Spain prepares to let Russian warships refuel on way back to Aleppo bombing

The Guardian reports: Spain is facing criticism for reportedly preparing to allow the refuelling of Russian warships en route to bolstering the bombing campaign against the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

Warships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov are expected to take on fuel and supplies at the Spanish port of Ceuta after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.

Spanish media reported that two Spanish vessels, the frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón and logistical ship Cantabria, were shadowing the warships as they passed through international waters, and that the Admiral Kuznetsov, along with other Russian vessels and submarines, would dock at Ceuta to restock after 10 days at sea. [Continue reading…]


German terrorism case highlights Europe’s security challenges

The New York Times reports: The warning came to the German security authorities in early September from “our best partners,” as they euphemistically refer to the American intelligence agencies: A terrorist assault might be in the works.

In the weeks that followed, the Germans identified a suspect, a refugee from Syria. They unearthed evidence that he had been casing a Berlin airport for an attack, and they recovered powerful explosives from his apartment, only to see him slip through their fingers. When they eventually captured him, the suspect promptly hanged himself in his jail cell.

The case was notable for its dramatic turns. But it also underscored two central challenges facing the Continent: getting a handle on the security risk related to the arrival of more than a million migrants last year, and addressing the continued reliance of European governments on intelligence from the United States to avert attacks.

Both issues have been plaguing Europe since the high-profile attacks in France and Belgium over the past two years. Governments have scrambled to counter the threat even as migrants, many with little or no documentation of their identity or country of origin, came over their borders in previously unheard-of numbers. The challenge has become more pressing in Germany in recent months after a spate of arrests and attacks, some linked to migrants.

“In a way, we have outsourced our counterterrorism to the United States,” said Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “The Germans are not ready to build up their intelligence capabilities for political reasons, so this will continue.” [Continue reading…]


Brexit: Leading banks set to pull out of UK early next year

The Guardian reports: Britain’s biggest banks are preparing to relocate out of the UK in the first few months of 2017 amid growing fears over the impending Brexit negotiations, while smaller banks are making plans to get out before Christmas.

The dramatic claim is made in the Observer by the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, Anthony Browne, who warns “the public and political debate at the moment is taking us in the wrong direction”.

A source close to Brexit secretary David Davis said he and the chancellor Philip Hammond had last week sought to offer reassurance that they were determined to secure the status of the City of London.

However, the government’s stated intention to take control of the freedom of movement into the UK is widely recognised among officials to be a hammer blow to any chance of retaining the present terms of trade for banks, particularly given the bellicose rhetoric of major politicians on the continent. [Continue reading…]


The crew are cutting each other’s throats on Mrs May’s leaking ship

Andrew Rawnsley writes: It is the classic Spitting Image sketch of Margaret Thatcher in her pomp. The satirists created a scene in which the rubber puppet of the prime minster sat at a restaurant table surrounded by her cabinet. She orders raw steak. The waitress then asks: “And what about the vegetables?” Motioning to her cringing ministers, Mrs T replies: “They’ll have the same as me.”

That was a caricature. In his recently published memoir, Ken Clarke contends that the “Iron Lady” liked ministers who argued back and she promoted him even though they had many humdinger rows. But the Thatcher legend remains very lively in the Tory imagination. It was played up to by Theresa May when she arrived at Number 10 just over 100 days ago. “Iron Mayden” and “the new Maggie” were among the welcoming headlines in the rightwing press. Her team didn’t object. They did not discourage anyone from portraying her as a reincarnation of the dominatrix of folklore.

In her early days at Number 10, there was an ambition to achieve a grip over government more steely than that achieved by Mrs T even at the zenith of her power. Ministers reported that they were being forbidden to make any statement or give any interview unless it had first been cleared through Number 10. I wrote at the time that Mrs May would discover that she would not be able to impose such a stifling level of control. What I did not foresee – and neither did she nor anyone else – is just how rapidly cabinet cohesion would unravel. Discipline is now breaking down in a way that Mrs T would never have tolerated.

There are almost daily reveals of confidential papers prepared for internal discussions between ministers, especially of anything touching on Brexit. Mrs May says she will not give a “running commentary” on how she plans to approach the negotiations. We don’t need one because we have a running tap of leaks from within her cabinet. These are being accompanied by a drip feed of poisonous briefings, as some ministers try to promote themselves and their ambitions at the expense of rivals they seek to thwart or damage. [Continue reading…]


European leaders threaten new sanctions against Russia

The Washington Post reports: Furious over Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo, European leaders warned the Kremlin on Thursday that it could face consequences if it maintains its offensive against the besieged rebel-held part of the Syrian city, although they fell short of the unity required to impose new sanctions.

The sharp rhetoric was a substantial departure for European leaders, who have long been focused on when they can dial back existing sanctions on Russia, not ramp them up. Instead, Russian actions in recent weeks have upended the conversation. From the Russian-backed pummeling of Aleppo to the shipment of nuclear-capable missiles to ­Kaliningrad, the recent steps have galvanized Western anger and plunged relations to fresh depths. The warnings came as leaders gathered in Brussels for a summit in part to discuss relations with Russia.

Europe’s toughened stance marks a partial victory for Washington, which has struggled to maintain European unity on sanctions and has long taken a harder position on Russia than its partners across the Atlantic. The stand also reflects the toll of Russia’s actions in Syria, where it has partnered with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a punishing campaign that has made little distinction between combatant and civilian. [Continue reading…]


UK security agencies unlawfully collected data for 17 years, court rules

The Guardian reports: British security agencies have secretly and unlawfully collected massive volumes of confidential personal data, including financial information, on citizens for more than a decade, senior judges have ruled.

The investigatory powers tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, said the security services operated an illegal regime to collect vast amounts of communications data, tracking individual phone and web use and other confidential personal information, without adequate safeguards or supervision for 17 years.

Privacy campaigners described the ruling as “one of the most significant indictments of the secret use of the government’s mass surveillance powers” since Edward Snowden first began exposing the extent of British and American state digital surveillance of citizens in 2013.

The tribunal said the regime governing the collection of bulk communications data (BCD) – the who, where, when and what of personal phone and web communications – failed to comply with article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR) between 1998, when it started, and 4 November 2015, when it was made public. [Continue reading…]