Chorus of concern over Britain’s counter extremism strategy grows louder

By Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

If worries about extremism in 2016 show no signs of abating, then neither does the debate over how to counter it in the UK. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, is the latest in a long line to raise concerns over government policy to tackle extremism. Although the government has promised to introduce a counter-extremism bill, none has yet been forthcoming.

In a report released on July 22, the committee flagged up a number of concerns about the government’s extremism strategy. These include the lack of a precise definition of extremism, the potential impact on universities, and the potential for religious discrimination. It also criticised the false premise of an “escalator” model in which there is a progression from holding conservative religious ideals to violent extremism.

The committee, made up of MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, called on the government to “reconsider” its counter-extremism strategy.

But the government may be reluctant to backtrack on an issue it has kept raising over the last few years. Since a 2011 speech in Munich warning against extremism by then-prime minister, David Cameron, the government has repeatedly pledged to target it. This year’s Queen’s speech continued the trend with promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”, “provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists”, and “enable the government and law enforcement to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.”

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Sturgeon preparing for Scottish independence to keep post-Brexit options open

Reuters reports: Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday she would start preparatory work on splitting Scotland from the rest of Britain in order to keep the option of independence available following the June 23 vote to leave the European Union.

Although Britain voted to end its EU membership at the referendum, Scottish voters overwhelmingly backed remaining inside the bloc, reigniting the debate over Scotland’s future as a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon renewed her position that a fresh independence bid, only two years after the country voted against it, should remain an option, depending on the shape of Britain’s future ties with the bloc and how well they worked for Scotland. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Johnson rebuked for blaming Munich shooting on terrorists

The Guardian reports: The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was urged to avoid passing politically sensitive judgments on world events until he was in full possession of the facts after he prematurely blamed Islamist terrorists for the killings in Munich on Friday.

Johnson made his remarks before the identity of the killer – an 18-year-old German citizen of Iranian descent who was obsessed with mass slaughter – had been known.

Although early reports of the attack, in which Ali Sonboly shot nine people dead before killing himself, suggested a gang of three people might be on the loose in Munich in a terror attack reminiscent of the killings in Paris, no definitive information was available and the authorities had not identified a motive for the killings.

Speaking about the attack on Friday while in New York, Johnson told the press that that the “global sickness” of terrorism needed to be tackled at its source in the Middle East.

“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at the source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”

He added: “We have to ask ourselves, what is going on? How is the switch being thrown in the minds of these people?”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, told the Guardian: “Just days into his new role, Boris demonstrates again why it was a huge gamble appointing him. The off-the-cuff remark may suit Have I Got News for You, but it doesn’t the tragedy in Munich. In future, Boris needs to hold his tongue until he is in full possession of the facts. There is too much as stake.” [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May to rule out return of border checks between UK and Ireland

The Guardian reports: Theresa May will reassure the first minister of Northern Ireland that there will be no return to border checks for people entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland despite Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister will make the pledge to Arlene Foster during a visit to Belfast on Monday, during which she will also promise to engage with the region’s devolved administration in preparation for Brexit negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the trip that completes a tour of all four parts of the UK within the first two weeks of her premiership, May said: “I made clear when I became prime minister that I place particular value on the precious bonds between the nations of the United Kingdom.

“I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government [that] works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.

She added: “I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

It is understood that May will support the position of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, that there will be no “hard border” between the two countries, which have a common travel area. [Continue reading…]

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How Brexit has inspired Europe’s far right

 

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Politicians to blame for rise of ‘respectable racism’ in Britain, says Lady Warsi

The Guardian reports: Politicians have allowed xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism to enter the mainstream as a result of their toxic and divisive campaigning, according to Lady Warsi.

The Conservative peer and former party co-chair told the Guardian she was deeply worried about the current political climate, claiming a surge in “respectable racism” was feeding the far right.

“I was still disgusted but more comfortable with the racism of the 70s and 80s that was overt and thuggish, than this new form of respectable xenophobia where it is done in political circles, journalism and academia,” she said.

Warsi argued that the EU referendum and London mayoralty campaigns had helped create a climate in which people feel it is acceptable to tell long-established British communities “it’s time for you to leave”. [Continue reading…]

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These Brexiters will grind our environment into the dust

George Monbiot writes: The more urgent the environmental crisis becomes, the less we hear about it. It exposes the economic policies of all major parties – whether neoliberal or Keynesian – as incompatible with the times in which we live. To remark on what we are doing to the living planet is to fall into cognitive dissonance. It is easier to ignore it.

This is the spirit in which our new prime minister has engaged with our greatest predicament. Climate change clashes with the economic model, so let’s scrub it from the departmental register. Wildlife is collapsing and, at current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just 100 harvests left. So let’s appoint an extreme neoliberal fiercely opposed to constraints on industry as secretary of state for the environment. When the model is wrong, adjust the real world to make it fit.

I do not see the European Union as a lost Avalon. It brought us much that is good, such as directives that enable us to hold our governments to account for their environmental failures. But the good things it has done for the living world are counteracted – perhaps much more than counteracted – by a few astonishing idiocies. They arise from remote, unresponsive authority that is accessible to corporate lobby groups but not to mere mortals. In some respects the Brexit campaigners were right – though generally for the wrong reasons. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Johnson says Assad must go if Syrians’ suffering is to end

The Guardian reports: Boris Johnson has said Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power in Syria as he prepares for his first talks as the British foreign secretary on Tuesday with his US counterpart, John Kerry.

Johnson, who had previously argued Assad could help defeat the Islamic State (Isis) in Syria, made the statement within days of being appointed the UK’s top diplomat by its new prime minister, Theresa May.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph in December, Johnson, then mayor of London, said the west could not afford to be picky in its choice of allies since Isis in Syria could not be defeated without terrestrial forces.

“We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies,” he wrote.

“We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaida.

“Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian airstrikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaida-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.”

In a statement before Tuesday’s talks, Johnson said: “I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power. The international community, including Russia, must be united on this.”

The official Foreign Office view is that Assad can stay only for a short period as part of a transitional government. [Continue reading…]

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IMF says Brexit has ‘thrown a spanner in the works’ of global recovery

The Guardian reports: The International Monetary Fund has slashed its forecast for UK growth next year after warning that the decision to leave the EU has damaged the British economy’s short-term prospects and “thrown a spanner in the works” of the global recovery.

The IMF, which voiced strong misgivings about a vote for Brexit in the runup to the EU referendum, said it expected the UK economy to grow by 1.3% in 2017, 0.9 points lower than a previous estimate made in its April world economic outlook (WEO).

The fund said it had cut its forecasts for the global economy due to the likely knock-on effect of the vote on other countries, particularly in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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The EU must move closer to reality

Vernon Bogdanor writes: ow should Britain leave the European Union? The question hangs over Theresa May’s new administration as it considers when to invoke article 50, which will lay out the procedure for a withdrawal agreement, and indicate what sort of future relationship Britain wants with the EU.

Will it be membership of the European Economic Area, like Norway? A trade agreement with the EU, or reliance on World Trade Organisation rules? Yet the future relationship depends not only on the conditions in Britain but also on developments in the EU. And in that respect there are encouraging signs that European leaders are, at long last, listening to what their peoples have been telling them.

As Donald Tusk, president of the European council, declared before the referendum, the EU needs to take a “long hard look at itself and listen to the British warning signal”. After the vote for Brexit, that is needed more than ever. During the campaign much was made of the dangers of an overweening Europe, aiming to become a federal superstate. Yet things have changed following the eurozone and migration crises.

Despite the rhetoric of ever closer union, the member states are no longer prepared to sacrifice more of their sovereignty. Germany has no appetite for fiscal union, and Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has said that integration has gone “too far”. Poland has no wish to adopt the euro; there is clearly little desire for a common migration policy; and anti-EU feeling is growing throughout the continent. The EU has become economically, politically and culturally too diverse for any drive towards ever closer union to be successful. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland could see ‘reunification referendum’ says opposition leader

Press Association reports: The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party said he hopes Brexit will move Ireland closer to reunification.

Micheál Martin said a reunification referendum should be called if it becomes clear a majority want to see an end to Irish partition over the UK decision to leave the EU.

The Fianna Fáil leader added that Northern Ireland’s 56% majority vote to remain within the bloc could be a defining moment for the region. He made his remarks delivering the annual John Hume lecture at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

“It may very well be that the decision of Northern Ireland to oppose the English-driven anti-EU UK majority is a defining moment in Northern politics,” he said.

“The remain vote may show people the need to rethink current arrangements. I hope it moves us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum.

“However, at this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction, and beyond that with the rest of Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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‘UK approach’ to Brexit will allow Scotland to determine when Article 50 gets invoked

The possibility of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU leading to the demise of the UK, is reminiscent of the case in which the doctor comes out of the operating theater and says, “the surgery was successful but unfortunately the patient died.”

The EU referendum question — “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” — had a false simplicity because it didn’t address the issue of the UK’s ability to remain intact outside the EU.

For this reason, Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, is adopting a “UK approach” to Brexit which takes the UK’s continued existence as a requirement in the unfolding political process.

 

The Telegraph reports: Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation.

In a sign that the new Prime Minister is committed to keeping the Union intact, she said she will not trigger Article 50 – the formal process for withdrawing from the EU – until all the devolved nations in the country agree.

Her comments could prompt anger from EU leaders, who want Mrs May to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Mrs May said: “I have already said that I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a U.K. approach and objectives for negotiations. I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50.”

Ms Sturgeon has promised to explore every option to keep Scotland in the EU, and has repeatedly warned that if that is not possible as part of the UK, it is “highly likely” to lead to a second independence vote. [Continue reading…]

In the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, the strongest argument that was made against independence was that it would only be by remaining part of the UK that Scotland could ensure its continuing membership of the EU. Both in 2014 and now, the Scottish people have shown that whatever Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK might end up being, Scotland’s overriding priority is to remain in the EU.

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