The IP Act: UK’s most extreme surveillance law

Jim Killock writes: The Investigatory Powers Act will come into force at the start of 2017, and will cement ten years of illegal surveillance into law.

It includes state powers to intercept bulk communications and collect vast amounts of communications data and content. The security and law enforcement agencies – including government organisations such as HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) – can hack into devices of people in the UK.

Under this law, the intelligence agencies can use bulk hacking powers to hack devices and networks outside the UK. They can also access and analyse entire databases, whether they are held by private companies or public organisations – even though they have admitted that most people on them will not be suspected of any crimes.

One of the new and most intrusive powers is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can be compelled to collect a record of our web browsing activity and this can be accessed by the police and 48 government departments, including the Food Standards Agency and the HMRC. [Continue reading…]


Jo Cox’s murder was followed by 50,000 tweets celebrating her death

The Guardian reports: More than 50,000 abusive and offensive tweets were sent celebrating Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder and lauding her killer, Thomas Mair, as a “hero” or “patriot” in the month following her death, prompting calls for the government to do more to tackle hate speech online.

According to researchers on the social media site, the tweets were sent from at least 25,000 individuals and have been interpreted by hate crime campaigners as a sign of an emboldened extreme rightwing support base.

On Wednesday, Mair, a white supremacist who resented immigration, was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for the murder of Cox on 16 June during the lead-up to the EU referendum.

Academics examined more than 53,000 tweets sent over the month after the MP’s murder and found that among the top 20 words used to describe Mair and Jo Cox were the terms “hero”, “patriot”, “white power”, “rapists” and “traitor”. [Continue reading…]


John Major: Case for second Brexit referendum is credible

The Guardian reports: Sir John Major has become the second former prime minister within 24 hours to question the Brexit process, saying there is a “perfectly credible” case for a second referendum on leaving the European Union.

Speaking shortly after Tony Blair argued in an interview that Brexit could be reversed if the public changed its mind, Major said that the 48% of voters who wanted to remain should not be subject to the “tyranny of the majority”.

The former Conservative prime minister said in a speech at a private dinner on Thursday that the opinions of remain voters should be heard in the debate about how Britain left the EU, the Times reported.

In his first intervention over the issue since the 23 June referendum, Major said he accepted the UK would not remain a full member of the EU, but hoped any Brexit deal would mean the UK remained as close as possible to EU members and the single market, which he described as “the richest market mankind has ever seen”. [Continue reading…]


Britain’s far right in 2016: fractured, unpredictable, dispirited … and violent

The Guardian reports: After years of austerity, and at a time of rising concern about immigration and uncertainty about the future direction of the UK, the political and economic conditions appear to be ideal for the far right. Across Europe – particularly in France, Denmark and the Netherlands – it is animated and resurgent, scenting electoral success just over the horizon.

In the UK, however, the extreme right is fractured, leaderless, confused and dispirited. It is also highly unpredictable and, on occasion, violent. Rather than one party or group – such as the British National party (BNP) or the English Defence League (EDL) – dominating the stage, a couple of dozen smaller groups vie for attention.

Some continue to contest local elections, but the growing popularity of Ukip in recent years has presented former supporters of the BNP and other far-right parties with an opportunity to vote for an anti-immigration party that is not considered disreputable.

Other groups favour so-called direct action, such as picketing mosques, invading halal abattoirs and harassing staff at Muslim-owned restaurants. Others still prefer to stage rallies and marches, bringing them into conflict with anti-fascist campaigners and, frequently, the police.

Each confrontation ensures that future events attract more people seeking violence. A handful of groups have started organising martial arts training and survivalist boot camps, and recent months have seen an increase in hate crimes. There has, in the words of the Met police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, been a “horrible spike” in such crime.

In many respects, racial nationalism in Britain in 2016 resembles that of the late 1990s, before the BNP was reorganised by its then leader, Nick Griffin. After taking control of the party in 1999, Griffin rid it of what he called “the three Hs: hobbyism, hard talk and Hitler”. Members focused more on a new enemy – Muslims and Islam. Activists swapped their boots for suits, grew their hair a little and began winning council elections. In 2009 the party won two European parliament seats.

Now the far right is back where it was almost 20 years ago, a series of micro-groups struggling to be seen and heard. Many of these groups have members in West Yorkshire, where Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, lived, although it appears he was not a member of any of them.

Paul Meszaros, the county’s coordinator for the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, says: “The far-right scene in West Yorkshire is no different to the rest of the country at the moment, which is unusual, because it used to be the BNP’s capital.”

Many veterans of the right are unsurprised by the waning of their fortunes, saying success has always been cyclical. At some point in the future, they predict, they will again be something of an electoral force.

Jim Lewthwaite, a former member of the National Front and a former BNP councillor in Bradford, says: “We’re going back to the same cyclical position as we were before 2001. The right is totally fragmented and on its back, waiting for something to happen.

“But remember how fast it went when it did take off? If things did happen, if Ukip were to fold, or if significant fragments of Ukip were to say we want a tougher line, and there were somebody leading it in our direction, or someone on our side that they trusted … we wouldn’t have to rebuild the organisation a second time.

“There are experienced people out there who are simply taking a back seat. They haven’t ceased to be nationalists, they don’t need to be reconvinced. They have concluded that nothing is happening right now, so there’s no point in doing anything. But if something caught on, and it started snowballing, they would get involved.”

The “things” that could happen, and which Lewthwaite and others believe could lead to the far right becoming an energised and coherent force in British politics, include, of course, serious Islamist terrorist attacks. [Continue reading…]


The worrying rise of Britain’s modern day ‘Hitler youth’

The Daily Mail reports: Neo-Nazi referrals to the government’s deradicalisation programme are overtaking Islamist extremism cases in parts of the UK.

Security minister Ben Wallace highlighted the increase in far-right radicalisation amid new figures showing almost 300 children were referred to officials.

The worrying statistics show 16 of the 300 flagged up for neo-Nazi links were under the age of 10.

Mr Wallace, Tory MP for Wyre and Preston North, told collegues in the Commons: ‘The Prevent strategy is seeing a growth in far-right referrals.

‘In some areas of the country, these Prevent referrals outnumber those about the other parts we are worried out.’

Parts of Wales are reporting figures of above 50 percent for far-right referrals to the Prevent strategy programme, senior fellow in extremism at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue Rashad Ali told The Times.

The landscape is similar in Leicestershire, according to the paper, who report far-right extremism makes up half of all cases. [Continue reading…]


Europe’s leaders to force Britain into hard Brexit

The Observer reports: European leaders have come to a 27-nation consensus that a “hard Brexit” is likely to be the only way to see off future populist insurgencies, which could lead to the break-up of the European Union.

The hardening line in EU capitals comes as Nigel Farage warns European leaders that Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, could deliver a political sensation bigger than Brexit and win France’s presidential election next spring – a result that would mean it was “game over” for 60 years of EU integration.

According to senior officials at the highest levels of European governments, allowing Britain favourable terms of exit could represent an existential danger to the EU, since it would encourage similar demands from other countries with significant Eurosceptic movements.

One top EU diplomat told the Observer: “If you British are not prepared to compromise on free movement, the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.”

The latest intervention by Farage will only serve to fuel fears in Europe that anti-EU movements have acquired a dangerous momentum in countries such as France and the Netherlands, following the precedent set by the Brexit vote. Ukip’s interim leader, who predicted both the vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s US victory, told the Observer that while Le Pen was still more likely to be runner-up to an establishment candidate next May, she now had to be taken seriously as a potential head of state. [Continue reading…]

Toby Helm writes: From Paris to Brussels, and Berlin to Warsaw and Bratislava, there is much sadness that the British are leaving. In the central and eastern European member states in particular, governments will fight tooth and nail to ensure their people can still travel to, and work in, the UK post-Brexit.

The right to move around the EU has symbolised, more than anything else, the break from their pre-1989 past under Soviet influence.

From his office in Bratislava, Slovakia’s state secretary at the foreign ministry, Ivan Korcok, can see Austria and speaks of the “emotional” importance of the EU to all Slovakians. “Our people are buying their apartments and building their houses across the border over there in Austria. Slovakia is a very pro-European country. People are concerned about the British situation [if it means they will no longer be able to move to and work in the UK]. The older generation here see their kids travelling abroad, and thinking differently to how they did. If one day a child in Slovakia decides to study elsewhere in Europe, including in the UK, and they can afford to, they go, they just go! This is such an emotional thing in positive terms about the EU.”

Marek Prawda, Poland’s former ambassador to the EU and now head of the European commission in Warsaw, says: “For us, being an EU member is the inverse of what was said in your referendum campaign about ‘taking back control’. To us, being a member of the EU has been about gaining back control, about freedom, about security, about being able to run an economy in a modern way. EU membership was a chance to shape our own life. We are able to borrow and invest in our economy. We are part of a rational world.” [Continue reading…]


‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper

The Guardian reports: A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.” [Continue reading…]


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…]


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…]