Moscow vows to hit back in row over RT TV channel’s UK bank accounts

Reuters reports: Russia has promised to retaliate against Britain after a British state-owned bank said it was withdrawing its services from Kremlin-backed Russian broadcaster RT.

RT said on Monday that NatWest, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS), had given notice it intended to withdraw its banking services from the channel’s British arm. RT accused the bank of attacking freedom of speech.

RBS responded by saying it was reviewing the situation and would contact RT to discuss the matter, which caused a furor in Russia where the Russian Foreign Ministry said it looked like a politically-motivated move to silence an inconvenient outlet. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Dmitry K. Kiselyov, the head of RT’s parent organization, was placed on the European sanctions list in 2014 over his encouragement of the annexation of Crimea. Barclays, the company’s previous bank in Britain, closed its accounts in July 2015.

In Moscow, the management of RT said on Monday that its lawyers were dealing with the banking situation and that the network would remain in operation.

“We have no idea what this is connected with, because nothing new happened to us, and we received no threats — neither yesterday, nor a day before yesterday, or a month ago,” the RBK news website quoted Ms. Simonyan, the editor in chief, as saying.

Jonathan Eyal, assistant director of Russian and European security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that the bank’s action might have reflected concerns over RT’s links to the Kremlin. “Certain questions are being raised over the corporation and its sources of funding,” he said, “and the bank must have been aware that this is not a happy commercial transaction.”

Mr. Eyal noted that some financial institutions had recently faced large fines for handling questionable accounts, and he speculated that NatWest may “prefer the controversy of closing the bank account over dealing with a business that may have tainted money.”

Beyond that, he said, the bank may be following a lead, either directly or indirectly, from the United States, which has been weighing its response to Russian hacking of American computers and servers. The bank’s action could be a kind of “veiled sanction,” he said, aimed at “trying to convey to the propaganda sources that they are increasingly finding their life difficult in the West.” [Continue reading…]

In 2015, following the closure of Kiselyov’s Barclays account, The Independent reported: Mr Kiselyov is a leading TV personality on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television and warned last year, in the wake of the Crimean referendum on 16 March, that Russia could turn the United States into “radioactive dust”.

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” Mr Kiselyov said at the time, standing in front of a large screen depicting a mushroom cloud produced by a nuclear explosion.

He added that President Vladimir Putin was a much stronger leader than Barack Obama, pointing to opinion polls on his screen. “Americans themselves consider Putin to be a stronger leader than Obama,” he said. “Why is Obama phoning Putin all the time and talking to him for hours on end?”

Crimea voted 93 per cent in favour of coming under Russian rule in the controversial referendum, while Kiev said it would not recognise the results.

Mr Kiselyov previously caused outrage when he called for tougher anti-gay laws and suggested that homosexuals should be barred from donating organs, blood and sperm because they were not fit. [Continue reading…]

In spite of numerous claims being made that the withdrawal of NatWest banking services amounts to an attack on free speech, the bank’s decision is no such thing. RT has been censured 15 times by Ofcom (Britain’s equivalent of the FCC) for breaching broadcast regulations but it hasn’t been shut down. The Russian network, funded by a government that has very little appetite for free speech, has less interest in defending freedom than it has in exploiting free speech in order to corrupt democracy through the propagation of disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Coincidental with NatWest’s decision, the Express reports: Russia’s VTB Bank has announced it will move its European headquarters out of London in the wake of Brexit.

The state-controlled bank is the first major lender to desert the UK following its historic decision to leave the European Union (EU). [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…]


Offshore secrets of Brexit backer Arron Banks revealed in Panama Papers

The Guardian reports: The network of offshore companies linked to the man who financed Britain’s campaign to quit the European Union has been revealed in previously unpublished documents from the Panama Papers.

The British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar emerge as key locations in the financial affairs of Arron Banks, who spent £7.5m funding Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU campaign group ahead of the Brexit referendum on 23 June. New details of Banks’s financial dealings are contained in the massive leaked database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which has revealed the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.

Banks is a close friend of the Ukip leader, revealing last month that the two men went “skinny-dipping” in Bournemouth to celebrate Farage’s short-lived retirement from heading the party. Banks has also been at Farage’s side in America, where he has been supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. [Continue reading…]


Britain, get real: Brexit means whatever the EU says it means

Joris Luyendijk writes: If you still believe Britain will get a sweet deal out of Brexit because “the EU needs the UK more than vice versa”, ask yourself: why don’t we hear European politicians pleading with Britain “not to punish the EU over Brexit”? Why is the pound plunging against the euro and not the other way around? Why do we not hear of companies escaping from the EU to “free-trading Britain” while there is almost a traffic jam in the other direction? Why do EU leaders look rather relaxed when Brexit comes up, even cracking the odd joke or two about sending the British foreign minister, Boris Johnson, a copy of the Lisbon treaty so he can read up on reality?

The negotiating cards with the EU are “incredibly stacked our way”, the Brexit minister, David Davis, told the House of Commons on Monday. The cards certainly are “incredibly stacked” – but not in the way Davis imagines.

To understand why, get a map of the EU and find Slovenia, a nation of 2 million people. No, that is Slovakia, with 5.4 million, almost three times bigger. Next look up Lithuania (population: 3.3 million), Latvia (2 million), Estonia (1.3 million) and Luxembourg (500,000).

Now repeat after me: all these EU members, as well as the other 21, hold veto power over whatever deal the UK (65 million) manages to negotiate with the EU (population: 508 million).

That is right, 1.2 million Cypriots can paralyse the British economy by blocking a deal, and the same holds true for Malta (400,000). Did I mention the Walloon parliament in Namur (get that atlas out again) has veto power too? And then there is, of course, the European parliament in Strasbourg. [Continue reading…]


Theresa May in ‘U-turn’ over pre-article 50 Brexit debate in parliament

The Guardian reports: Theresa May has accepted the need to have “full and transparent” parliamentary scrutiny before triggering Brexit, as Labour demanded answers to 170 questions about leaving the EU.

In a last-minute concession, the government accepted a Labour motion calling for MPs to have more say over the strategy for leaving the EU before article 50 is triggered by the end of March.

May had been facing her first government defeat over the motion on Wednesday, as a number of Conservatives indicated they were prepared to vote with Labour to demand greater public debate over the Brexit negotiating strategy.

The concession does not go as far as specifying that MPs should get a formal vote on article 50 or any Brexit deal and slightly amends Labour’s version to say the government’s negotiating position must not be undermined.

However, it does mean there will have to be a substantive parliamentary debate on No 10’s strategy at a later date before the UK embarks on Brexit. One Tory MP said this meant the Commons would have to broadly approve the negotiating position before article 50 is invoked. [Continue reading…]


Activists decry British plan to suspend key human rights convention

VOA reports: Rights activists and lawyers are up in arms over Britain’s plan to suspend an international human rights convention during times of war, a step the government said would protect British troops from “spurious” legal claims of torture and murder against them.

The move by British Prime Minister Theresa May followed years of mounting anger in the Conservative Party and the country’s tabloid press over thousands of cases filed against soldiers who served in Iraq. The British government has spent about $135 million since 2004 defending the cases, many of which were launched under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the government has paid out $24 million in the settlement of 326 cases without admitting liability.

Britain’s tabloid press has railed against what they see as meddling, unelected European judges, arguing they are wrecking British law.

Under the plan, Britain would temporarily suspend parts of the Human Rights Convention before planned military actions. The suspensions would mainly focus on Article 2, which imposes upon the 47 signatory states the duty to refrain from unlawful deprivation of life, to investigate suspicious deaths and to prevent avoidable deaths.

Established in 1953 and effective across Europe, the convention grew out of a continent-wide determination never to see again the appalling rights violations of the Second World War and was inspired partly by Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill. It was drafted in large part by the British Conservative politician and Nuremberg trials prosecutor David Maxwell Fyfe. [Continue reading…]


West must confront Russia over Aleppo, British MPs to be told

The Guardian reports: Western air forces must be willing to confront Russian military jets over the skies of Syria to enforce a no-fly zone and protect the citizens of eastern Aleppo from a bombardment akin to the attack on Guernica during the Spanish civil war, UK MPs will be told by a former cabinet minister in an emergency three-hour Commons debate on Tuesday.

The intervention by Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary, and the granting of the debate itself, will force the UK’s Foreign Office to set out how it intends to respond after Russia’s veto of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in eastern Aleppo. The west has been criticised for lacking any leverage over Russia in Syria.

Britain has criticised Russia but set out no clear plan on how to respond to the growing threat posed by Moscow not just in the Middle East, but across eastern Europe. Mitchell argues the whole post-cold war international diplomatic architecture is being torn down by Russian actions. [Continue reading…]


‘Hard Brexit’ could cost 66 billion pounds a year

Reuters reports: The United Kingdom could lose up to 66 billion pounds a year under a “hard Brexit”, The Times reported citing leaked government papers.

GDP could fall by as much 9.5 percent if Britain leaves the European Union compared with if it stays within the union, The Times reported.

The 66-billion-pound figure was in a draft cabinet committee paper which was seen by The Times. [Continue reading…]


Polish workers, Indian students and Italian politicians voice fears over Brexit effect on British culture

The Observer reports: Two young Polish women on the train from Gatwick into London are chattering away, bags at their feet. Off the flight from Kraków after five days at home with family, they followed the news, and the speeches, from Britain all week. “You have to – so as to get an idea of how long before we will be driven out of England. I’m sure it will happen,” said Angela, who is the manager of a gastropub near Oxford.

“It’s sad this is the way things are going because I was pleased to have a woman prime minister, but my boss said to me it will be bad. He’s angry because he wants to choose staff for how good they are, not their nationality. He says it will be hard to replace me, which is nice to hear,” she said.

Angela and her friend, Martina, are among the 600,000 people who will not have been in the UK for five years – giving, under present rules, permanent residency rights – by the time the UK leaves the EU in 2019. Now she and her friend are alarmed by the tone of the rhetoric that emerged from last week’s Tory conference. They are among thousands across Europe and beyond who fear that life for people hoping to settle in Britain may be about to become more difficult.

Of the 2.1 million EU nationals employed in the UK, Poles are the biggest group. Of EU nationals in the UK, Poles number 916,000, Irish 332,000, Romanians 233,000 and Portuguese 219,000, according to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics.

“My cousin is a priest here, he would rather be in Poland, close to his old mother, but he came where there is a shortage [of priests] and to be where he is needed. Britain does need workers,” Angela said. “In Poland people are worried, shocked. They say Britain is now dangerous and tell stories in the newspaper of race attacks and murders. People are scared if their children are living here,” she added. [Continue reading…]


Nearly half the adults in Britain and elsewhere in Europe hold extremist views

BuzzFeed reports: Almost half of the adults in 12 European countries now hold anti-immigrant, nationalist views, according to major new research that reveals the spread of fringe political views into the mainstream.

BuzzFeed News has been given exclusive access to new data from YouGov, which polled more than 12,000 people across the continent to measure the extent of what it termed “authoritarian populist” opinions – a combination of anti-immigration sentiments, strong foreign policy views, and opposition to human rights laws, EU institutions, and European integration policies.

The YouGov findings are the first to capture the political attitudes that are both fuelling, and being fuelled by, upheaval across Europe and beyond – from the continent’s refugee crisis and the Brexit vote in Britain, to the burkini ban in France, to the rise of Donald Trump and the radical “alternative right” in the US.

In Britain, the poll found authoritarian populist attitudes were shared by 48% of adults, despite less than 20% of the population identifying itself as right-wing. Three months on from the EU referendum, prime minister Theresa May has responded this week by appealing directly to disaffected working-class voters with a promise to crackdown on immigration and reassert British sovereignty. [Continue reading…]


Xenophobia inside British government: Foreign experts are now barred from offering advice on Brexit

The Guardian reports: Leading foreign academics acting as expert advisers to the UK government have been told they will not be asked to contribute to any government analysis and reports on Brexit because they are not British nationals.

“It is utterly baffling that the government is turning down expert, independent advice on Brexit simply because someone is from another country,” said Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ EU spokesman.

“This is yet more evidence of the Conservatives’ alarming embrace of petty chauvinism over rational policymaking.”

Sara Hagemann, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics who specialises in EU policymaking processes, EU treaty matters, the role of national parliaments and the consequences of EU enlargements, said she had been told her services would not be required. [Continue reading…]


Theresa May walks into a Brexit trap

Gideon Rachman writes: Theresa May has one great advantage as a politician. She looks serious and responsible. But appearances can be deceptive. If you examine how the UK prime minister is handling Brexit, a different sort of politician emerges.

By announcing that she will start the formal negotiations for Britain to leave the EU by March 2017, the prime minister has walked into a trap. She has given away what little leverage Britain has in the negotiations — without receiving any of the assurances that she needs to achieve a successful outcome.

The announcement of the decision about when the UK will trigger Article 50 — the process by which Britain gives formal notice that it intends to leave the EU — was made in a statesmanlike fashion. But the actual content of the decision is reckless and driven by politics, rather than Britain’s national interest.

Once Mrs May triggers Article 50, she has precisely two years to negotiate a new deal with the EU. Senior civil servants have told the prime minister that it is highly unlikely that the UK will be able to negotiate both the terms of its divorce and a new trade deal with the EU within the two-year deadline. As a result, they warned the prime minister that she must have assurances on what an interim trade agreement with the EU would look like in the long period between the UK leaving the bloc and a definitive new deal being put into place.

Mrs May has chosen to ignore this advice. In doing so, she has knowingly placed Britain at a massive disadvantage in the forthcoming negotiations. [Continue reading…]