Opinion divided by the Catalan referendum | Letters | World news

One cannot fail to have been moved by the scenes of violence in Catalonia, as Spanish forces attacked unarmed voters (Hundreds hurt as Catalonia poll descends into violence, 2 October). Whatever the view on Catalonia’s right to hold such a vote or not, the response by the Spanish national government was brutal and excessive. The sight of people being dragged from polling stations by baton-wielding police and disabled people being attacked in wheelchairs has no place in a modern western democracy.

What is deeply disappointing is the muted response from the international community, which – bar a few exceptions such as Angela Merkel, the Belgian prime minister Charles Michel and Nicola Sturgeon – has been largely silent. While the EU may argue that this is an internal situation, in the past it has been willing to act in such matters. In 2000, for example, it imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria when Jörg Haider’s extreme rightwing Austrian Freedom Party entered the government.

The Tory government is so morally bankrupt that little more was to be expected than the pathetic response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it referred to Spain as a “close ally and a good friend, whose strength and unity matters to us”. There was no condemnation of the violence.

One suspects that if there was any doubt previously over Catalonia’s desire for independence, the actions of the Spanish state have pushed it well and truly down this road.
Alex Orr

Whatever the merits or otherwise of Catalan independence, Sunday’s referendum was unquestionably illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate by every relevant national, European and international standard. The Spanish state had no alternative, therefore, but to suppress it using whatever force was reasonably necessary and proportionate. It is debatable whether police conduct always met this standard. But attempting to prevent the poll was not itself anti-democratic or a violation of human rights. Nor, given the radically different contexts and in spite of the superficial similarities, was it “Francoist”. Neither Spain nor the rest of Europe can afford to endorse attempts at secession on such terms.
Professor Steven Greer and Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells
University of Bristol Law School

I am a Spanish national who relocated to Spain after living in Northern Ireland for 13 years, which puts into perspective the problems in Catalonia.

Politics aside – which are well covered in all the media – my experience meeting Catalan people abroad was shockingly negative during my time abroad. Most young Catalans refused to mix with the Spanish for the simple reason that we were born in Seville or Madrid. Spaniards abroad are seen by Catalan people as “the enemy”. This would have not happened among people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation during the Franco years.

I find it strange that the views of Catalans who do not support independence and the referendum are nowhere to be seen in the international papers. But they hardly feature in the Spanish media either. It appears that they are a minority there, and they are afraid to lose jobs and be ostracised by their neighbours.

It was only in the last few days that that minority have spoken up. I have heard accounts of a secondary school student who reported that school staff asked students to raise their hands if their families were going to vote. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if teachers asked students if their families would support a Sinn Féin-orchestrated referendum about joining the Republic of Ireland. It would be called sectarianism.

I have not read in the international press that on Sunday people in Catalonia could vote as many times as they wanted as reported by, for example, El País. I have not read either that the advice on the day of the referendum was to bring children and form big queues for the press to photograph, or that their regional police had instructions to watch from a distance.

Northern Ireland got over the hatred and violence cycle. The mantra there is “we don’t want to go back to that”. They have accepted that there are two sides; no winners and that the only way forward is together. Unfortunately, Spain and Catalonia lack the kind of politicians and the international support that made peace and prosperity possible in Northern Ireland.
Elena Tavera
La Línea, Cadiz, Spain

Anyone watching, in horror as I did, the videos of the treatment of voters in Catalonia can see that the police did not act with “firmness and serenity” as Spain’s prime minister said, but with brutal force. They literally seized voters and threw them on to the streets, in some cases even hurling them down steps. One poor old man was thrown down with his dog, and his fears for the animal are visible. This would have been bad in a riot, but as a government attempt to stop voting it was disgusting. Spain should be hanging its head in shame.
Sara Neill
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

The contrasts between the Catalan and Iraqi Kurdish independence referendums are unsettling. Catalonia is divided with as many people opposed to its separation from Spain as in support of it. Though Catalan as a language is distinct from Castilian Spanish, there is no great cultural or ethnic divide.

The Spanish government sought legally, if harshly, to disrupt and undermine the vote. “No” voters largely stayed at home. And yet the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont claims a mandate to unilaterally declare independence.

By contrast, support for independence among Iraqi Kurds is rock solid, as it would be among the Kurds of Turkey, Syria and Iran, if they were ever to be asked. Also, there are deep ethnic and linguistic differences between the Kurds and their Arab and Turkish neighbours.

So the Catalan nationalists on limited support and an illegitimate referendum are throwing Spain and the EU into crisis and may soon achieve independence, while the Kurds, the victims of repeated genocidal injustice, will just have to wait.

It is time we stopped indulging Catalan, Scottish and other micro-nationalisms unsupported by any substantial ethnic difference, where demagogic politicians seek to split successful countries for personal glory and self-advancement.
Otto Inglis

Surely the most sensible approach for Catalan separatists is to campaign for a change in the law before embarking on the referendum. After all, they must have known that the central government would declare the vote illegal. That means that whatever the outcome, no further legal action can be taken towards independence. It will be interesting to see what the Catalan government proposes. Will it declare independence? If not then what has all this posturing been about?
Roy Hogg
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

If Catalonia, like Scotland, wants to separate from its parent state then, instead of blaming the Spanish government for mishandling the current crisis (Editorial, 2 October), shouldn’t you be seeking the root cause of the problem in the paradoxical nature of the EU?

The EU unites nations but, at the same time, it also carries within an incentive for break-up. Ambitious politicians belonging to various composites that make up the EU would always ask: why share your sovereignty with your national capitals and remain forever a “bridesmaid” when you have the option of becoming a “bride” by sharing your sovereignty with Brussels?

The EU – its claim to unity notwithstanding – is seen by many as a potential wrecker of a “marriage of convenience” between Europe’s composite states. Perhaps, it is time the EU dealt with the problem and introduced a law, barring seceding states from ever becoming a member.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

I am extremely disappointed by the coverage the British media has given to the Catalan so-called referendum, and by the reaction of many public figures in the UK. The constitutional tribunal of Catalonia, that is to say, the judiciary rather than the government, declared the vote as illegal and in contravention of the rule of law in Spain. The police therefore had no choice but to act. What happened in Catalonia on Sunday was the security forces policing a crime, and not the police preventing a vote and removing ballots, as you have presented it. It is critical to democracy that the rule of law is upheld and that the right to demonstrate, protest and exercise legal rights, which Catalan citizens have always had, is not confused with the right to break the law, which no citizen, in any democratic country, has.
Santiago Dominguez

I will not talk about politics, nor about laws but I will talk about human rights. I just ask that for a moment let us all reflect on what happened. I am sure that no member of the Spanish government party will be able to sleep with a calm conscience for the rest of their lives. There is no doubt that political responsibility is shared by the Catalan and Spanish governments and probably a referendum five years ago would have left a high “no” independence result as a clear winner. But the assault on human rights of the Catalan people that we have seen is the sole responsibility of the Spanish government. I can only say that after what we have seen, Catalonia is increasingly far from Spain. We will never forget this.
Vicente Sorribes

The superstar footballers of FC Barcelona, Messi, Suárez et al, playing against Las Palmas in an empty, huge, Camp Nou was an oddly appropriate protest against the violent crackdown on the Catalan independence vote by the Spanish government (Lionel Messi helps Barcelona extend perfect start at empty Camp Nou”, 1 October). It made for a strangely evocative and ghost-like symbol of the authoritarian and paranoid actions by the government of Mariano Rajoy.
Joe McCarthy
Dublin, Ireland

I am dismayed by the May government’s statement of reaction to developments surrounding the Catalan referendum. I have written to both the prime minister and the foreign secretary to express our disappointment.

Gibraltar looks on with great trepidation under these circumstances, witnessing no steadfast, bulldog defence of freedom and democracy in government’s official statement on this important and signal occasion, and contrasting this (for veracity’s sake) with the oft-repeated British government’s “reassurances” to the people of The Rock contained in the preamble to the Gibraltar constitution.

I therefore write to express a deep sense of disconcert, an expression of what has been an accumulated sense of disquiet represented to us over time following a years-long failure to demonstrate strong will and defence of our British Gibraltarian sovereign waters in the face of continuous and aggressive Spanish incursions.
Felix Alvarez
Chairman of Gibraltar’s Human & Civil Rights organisation (“Equality Rights Group”)

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Deportation and child removal threats – just for living legally in the UK | Politics

A Japanese woman living in London with her Polish husband has been threatened with deportation, had her child benefit stopped and driving licence revoked even though she is lawfully in the country under EU law, it has emerged.

In a two-year ordeal, photographer Haruko Tomioko, was also threatened with separation from her eight-year-old son.

She told the Guardian how her life was turned upside down, how she was ordered to pay back £5,000 in child benefit for their son and report to a Home Office immigration centre every month. If she did not comply with the reporting order, she was told she was liable to detention, a prison sentence and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

Despite several protests and futile phone calls to the Home Office, two weeks ago she was given seven days to leave the country.

“This means they can come and arrest me. I was really frightened,” she said. “I was afraid I would just get a knock on my door and I would be separated from my son and, with my husband working, who would look after him,” she said.

Lawyers say the ordeal throws the spotlight on the human cost of the “hostile environment” policy operated by the Home Office and is a taste of what could be to come for EU nationals post Brexit.

“She has been treated like a criminal,” said her husband Greg, a gaffer in the film industry, who asked that his surname was not used for fear of reprisals.

After her child benefit and driving licence was stopped. Haruko sought advice from an EU helpline, Your Europe Advice, who confirmed she was entitled to be with her husband provided he was economically active.


Guidelines from the Home Office regarding family members of EU citizens in the UK. Photograph: Home Office

She said she could not understand why she was “bullied” by the Home Office when its own website states the same.

She said she was repeatedly asked she why she ”did not go back to Japan” by enforcement officers in Becket House in London even though she explained to them she was married to an EU national exercising his rights.

Immigration barrister Jan Doerfel said Haruko could now have a case against the Home Office as they had acted unlawfully and she should never have been made to report to Becket House.

“I hated going there, it was very depressing, it made me sick. Sometimes you have to queue up outside of the building with people passing by look at you as an illegal immigrant,” she said.

The deportation order was cancelled just last week after Haruko, 48, phoned the “returns preparation team” who had sent the letter to protest that she was the spouse of an EU national. The woman she spoke to was the first person who “listened” to her in two years. When Haruko told her she was married to an EU national, she should not have received what was a “standard letter”.

She said officials at Beckett House treated her poorly.

“All of my experiences show how disorganised the Home Office is; officers don’t know immigration rules. Where are the all information I provided? “ she said.

Doerfel said the authorities’ conduct “constitute repeated violations of EC law” and their “very heavy-handed approach is indicative of the hostile atmosphere surrounding immigration”.

He said “enforcement machinery” in the Haruko case was triggered far too readily” without “scrutiny of the facts”.

Haruko and Greg met in London in 2003 and and married in 2005. For 10 years, she opted to get five-year entry clearance stamps on her passport and was not concerned about her status until David Cameron announced he was going to hold a referendum on the EU in 2015. She decided to apply for a permanent residence card for peace of mind.


Documents sent to Haruko in relation to her immigration status. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

After that, she was bombarded with threatening letters, emails and texts which started to roll in like, she says, “a tsunami”.

In October 2015, she was told to “make arrangements” to leave the country when her application was refused.

“I was devastated. I remember the day well because I was supposed to go to a Halloween party with my son, but I couldn’t go I was so upset and shocked. I thought I would be separated from my family and sent back to Japan,” she said.

Three months later, she received a text from Capita indicating enforced immigration procedures were under way.

This was followed by an email telling her she must make “immediate” plans to leave, followed by a letter from the Home Office ordering her to report to Becket House immigration centre with little explanation other than warning her she was liable to detention, prison and a fine if she failed to comply.

Text from Capita on behalf of Home Office to Haruko Tomioka

Text from Capita on behalf of Home Office to Haruko. Photograph: The Guardian – Lisa O’Carroll

Five months later, the DVLA wrote to her to say they had cancelled her driving licence. Three weeks after that, her son’s child benefit was stopped with a demand from HMRC for £5,044 in back payments.

“I was really scared because I thought I would have to pay them £5,000 and we didn’t have that kind of money,” she said. “I tried not to cry in front of my son, but sometimes I just couldn’t stop myself. It’s been really really tough.”

Reporting to Becket House last month was a frightening experience, she said, because an official threatened to separate her from her son. “I remembered clearly when I was called for an interview to the back of office, the officer told me: ‘We can remove you from the UK anytime. We can separate you from your family’ when my son was in the waiting room,” she said.

But Haruko eventually found a volunteer lawyer who wrote to the Home Office telling them she had entered the UK lawfully “as a wife of an EU citizen exercising his treaty rights”.

Within days, her driving licence and child benefit were reinstated. Now the Home Office has admitted she will not be removed from the country.

After a Guardian inquiry, the Home Office said: “Ms Tomioka is not subject to removal from the UK. We are currently working with her to explain how she can make an appropriate application should she wish to do so.”

Lawyer Doerfel says the Home Office should not have triggered enforcement proceedings because Haruko had informed it twice in 2016 and again in 2017 that she was married to an EU national. He said she was “subjected to unlawful reporting requirements, within five weeks had her driver’s licence unlawfully cancelled, and received a shocking letter from HMRC cancelling and reclaiming child benefits to which she was lawfully entitled.”

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Juncker says EU will ‘move on’ from Brexit in state of union speech | World news

Jean-Claude Juncker has declared that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” in an at times deeply personal State of the Union speech in which he gave his vision for the future of the European Union after the UK makes its “tragic” departure in 2019.

The European commission president said he would always deeply lament the UK’s decision to leave the EU. “This will be a very sad and tragic moment in our history, we will always regret this”, he said before responding to heckling from Nigel Farage, by retorting: “I think you will regret this soon, I might say.”

Calling for a special summit in Romania on the 30 March 2019, the first day of an EU of 27 member states rather than 28, Juncker said he hoped the continent would “wake up” that day to a new more unified bloc.

“We have to respect the will of the British people”, he said. “We are going to make progress. We will keep moving. We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything. It isn’t the future of Europe. It isn’t the be all and end all… On the 30 March 2019, we will be a union of 27 and I suggest we prepare very well for that date.”

He added: “I have lived the European project through my entire life. I have fought for it, I have worked for it. I have been through good times, and I have been through bad times … I have sometimes suffered with Europe and agonised over Europe.

“I have been through thick and thin with the European Union and never have I lost my love for the European Union. As we all know there is no love without disappointment, or very rarely.”

Juncker’s annual address to the European parliament in Strasbourg was notably more upbeat about the future than his speech a year ago, with economic growth outstripping the US and unemployment at a nine-year low. The commission president and former prime minister of Luxembourg, insisted the bloc should seize the moment to make widespread reforms. “As Mark Twain wrote, years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we did not do, than by the ones we did,” he said.

Juncker proposed more help for all EU countries to join the euro, so that it could be truly “the single currency of the European Union”, along with a wide range of institutional changes, including the creation of an EU finance minister and the widening of the Schengen area, in which passport-free travel is allowed.

In a call for the presidencies of the European commission and the European council, the body comprising the member states’ leaders, to be combined and directly elected in the future, Juncker said the EU needed to be more flexible and streamlined. “Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship,” he said.

He also put his weight behind calls for the European parliament seats previously held by British MEPs to be elected on a transnational basis.

Juncker added that the council should adopt qualified majority voting, rather than unanimity, on foreign policy issues and drive forward in European defence. “By 2025 we need a fully-fledged European defence union,” he said. “We need it. And Nato wants it.”

He also added the EU would establish a European cybersecurity agency. “Cyber-attacks know no borders and no one is immune,” he said.

Juncker told MEPs he intended to start trade talks with Australia and New Zealand, and promised to legislate to protect strategic interests from foreign purchases through industrial screening.

A joint statement from the French, German and Italian governments following the speech endorsed the move. The German minister for economic affairs, Brigitte Zypries, said: “We must avoid other states benefiting from our opening to advance their own industrial policy interests.”

Juncker added that the EU would respond to the “collapse of the ambitions in the US” on climate change by stepping into the vacuum and ensuring that Europe protected the world. “Let’s catch the wind in our sails”, he told MEPs.

However, he ruled out Turkey’s accession to the EU in the “foreseeable future”, and, in his strongest comments to date on the issue, he condemned the country’s slide into authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“Turkey has been moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds,” Juncker told MEPs. “Journalists belong in editorial offices amid a heated debate, and not in prison. I appeal today to the powers that be in Turkey: let our journalists go, and not just our journalists.”

Juncker was also scathing about Poland’s recent judicial reforms, which have been criticised as an attack on the judiciary, although he did not mention the country by name. Brussels has threatened to trigger a process under which Poland could lose its voting rights in the council of ministers unless it rethinks a series of recent legislative reforms.

Juncker said: “The rule of law means that law and justice are upheld by an independent judiciary. Accepting and respecting a final judgment is what it means to be part of a union based on the rule of law.”

The EU is also to step up its deportation of illegal immigrants, improve its “pathways” for legal migration and tackle the “inhumane conditions” in Libyan reception camps, which, according to some reports, are reminiscent of second world war concentration camps.

Farage, the former Ukip leader, told the Strasbourg chamber that Juncker’s speech was “worrying”. “More Europe in every single direction and all of it to be done without the consent of the people,” Farage said. “All I can say, is thank God we are leaving. You have learned nothing from Brexit. If you had given [David] Cameron concessions, particularly on immigration, the Brexit vote, I must admit, would never, never have happened.”

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The Guardian view on the European Union: sticking together | Editorial | Opinion

Not all that long ago the European Union seemed to inspire doubt not hope: a project reaching its 60th anniversary looked to many as if it might be heading for its death bed, or at least the emergency room. The eurozone, some said, would soon crumble as a result of faulty construction and rash policies. A populist wave was certain to sweep away institutions based on liberal democracy and shared sovereignty. Citizens would irreversibly turn their backs on a club which apparently combined high-mindedness and inefficiency.

With Brexit, 2016 was the EU’s annus horribilis. The year before that the refugee crisis, critics said, had exposed the EU as a fair-weather construct – unable to cope with the unforeseen. In 2014, extremist parties had already made spectacular gains in the EU parliament. In its bleakest moments the EU, it was said, had been a reputable and worthy project but one with perhaps a limited lifespan. The politics of fear were about to send it to the dustbin of history. Today, this doomsday narrative no longer applies. For one thing, Brexit has produced no domino effect. Britain’s despondency serves as daily proof that the path must be avoided by others. Far from breaking up, the eurozone is set to grow at the fastest annual pace since 2011. The migration issue hasn’t disappeared, but with the numbers down, its disruptive impacts on politics seem for now contained. Populism is no longer seen as an irrepressible force. Far-right slogans calling for a continent-wide Patriotic Spring in 2017 have come to nothing.

On Wednesday Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU commission president, will echo this sense of renewed confidence in his annual “state of the Union” address, notably outlining a more robust approach to foreign takeovers to win support among European citizens for trade deals. In France, president Emmanuel Macron will face a stern test over his proposed changes to the labour market with thousands of protests planned. The French president was wrong to describe those who oppose his plans as “lazy”. He is perhaps too confident – with the trade unions divided and a big majority in parliament. Nowhere is this being more closely watched than in Germany, where Angela Merkel looks poised to be re-elected later this month, quite a political feat given that her downfall had been described as all but inevitable after the 2015 refugee crisis. It’s true the anti-immigrant AfD party is set to enter the Bundestag for the first time, but the traditional parties are still in charge. Elsewhere, in Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, populists have failed either to reach power or remain in government coalitions.

The mood in the EU is, if anything, upbeat. Plans for deeper eurozone integration are being floated, as are moves to enhance security cooperation, and the creation of a common digital market. Public trust in the EU is rising. No doubt, there are still tensions and uncertainties. Poland’s and Hungary’s populist governments are up in arms with the EU institutions over rule of law and migration quotas. The bloc’s cohesion on values is its biggest challenge. Doubts hang over the future of eurozone governance. France and Germany have a chance to correct monetary union’s flaws, which they should seize. Italy’s politics, with elections next year, and the state of its banking sector are a concern. Post-Brexit, 80% of Nato defence spending will be non-EU. An upcoming Russian military exercise has already put nerves on edge.

But those who believed Brexit and Donald Trump would be nails in the EU’s coffin need to rethink. Viewed from the continent, Brexit is all but a side show – not even mentioned once in the German election TV debate. Trumpism has helped convince more Europeans they need to stick together, not come apart.

Europe has been under strain, but it has not cracked. If anything, the setbacks have given the EU a stronger sense of what it is – and what it is not. Better awareness of this in Britain is long overdue.

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Trump’s fascist contagion gives the anti-Brexit cause what it lacked: an emotional heart | Jonathan Freedland | Opinion

To the remainer, and even to the neutral, our current politics contains a big mystery. Put simply, where is the sentiment we hoped to call regrexit? Where is the collective outbreak of buyer’s remorse? After all, the evidence that Brexit will be the greatest error in our national history since Munich is piling up. It’s not just that a process the leavers used to say would be quick and easy is proving to be long and torturously difficult, or that the European economies are growing while ours is sluggish. It’s more fundamental than that.

It’s the fact that ending free movement will deprive our hospitals of nurses, our old-age homes of care workers and our farms of essential workers: recruitment of EU nurses is already down 96%, while farmers are already warning of food rotting in the fields.

It’s the contradictions, which are legion. We did this supposedly to stop sending money to the EU, yet now we’re negotiating over how many tens of billions we’ll pay into Brussels coffers (this time getting nothing in return). We did this to make parliament supreme once more, yet now Brexit necessitates a withdrawal bill that would see a massive shift of power away from MPs, as the executive grabs enough unchecked authority to make a Tudor king blush.

The Brexiteers tacitly concede this reality through their quiet dropping of the old promises. No longer do they insist that leaving will bring eternal sunshine. Now the best they can offer is the glum hope that things might, eventually, be no worse than if we stayed. Witness the pro-leave economist Andrew Lilico confidently telling the BBC earlier this summer that the country might recover from the transitional pain of Brexit by 2030.

When the best that can be said for leaving is that it might one day be as good as remaining, and when the worst points to national catastrophe, you might expect the public mood to shift. And yet the polls detect little sign of change. Overall, the two camps are broadly where they were on referendum day, with few leave voters having changed their mind.

The explanation surely lies in the nature of the 2016 vote. Remainers may wish it to have been based on a calm assessment of empirical evidence, so that fresh evidence now would shift opinions. But it wasn’t like that. Much of what drove that vote, like all votes, was emotion. This was remain’s weakness. And it still is.

Even now, anti-Brexiteers struggle to articulate a case that matches the emotional power of “take back control”. It certainly resonates when you say that it’s wrong to shrink the horizons of a generation of young Britons, who will now be denied easy access to an entire continent. But the deepest emotional argument for remain looked not to the future, but to the past. It centred on the second world war.

Donald Trump

‘Donald Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It contemplated the long, lethal history of Europe and saw the European Union as the answer. For a continent that had been gripped by the fever of nationalism and hatred, the EU proved to be an antidote, soothing the brow with its spirit of co-operation and sharing of sovereignty. The Britain that had fought two world wars surely was obliged to cherish, rather than risk, this remedy to the European disease.

That argument barely flew in the referendum campaign. When David Cameron tried it, Boris Johnson mocked him for it. But mentioned even less was the conflict that followed 1945: the cold war that divided Europe with a wall and left the continent – and the world – in the permanent shadow of nuclear apocalypse. Its absence was strange, given that it had been Britain, and especially the British Conservative party, that after the cold war was over had seen the EU as the means to bind together a once-ruptured Europe. It was the Tories who pushed for EU enlargement, to include the ex-communist nations of the east. Once again, the EU’s mission was to heal a continent shattered by conflict.

A reminder of that vision has come this week not from a politician or pro-remain pamphleteer, but a fictional character. George Smiley, who lived the cold war in the shadows, returns in John le Carré’s masterful new novel, A Legacy of Spies. He makes a fleeting, enigmatic appearance in which he asks himself what was it all for. “I’m a European,” he says. “If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason.”

Smiley, a veteran of both the hot war against fascism and the cold war against Soviet communism, had known that darkness first-hand. But for those who voted in last year’s EU referendum, perhaps it all seemed too long ago. Those demons were slain, the EU no longer needed.

Still, if that’s how it looked on 23 June 2016, it looks different now. In a talk on Thursday night, Le Carré spoke of the behaviour of Donald Trump and others as “absolutely comparable” to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about,” he said.

This is a warning to take seriously. Hungary is indeed led by a man who boasts that he is building an “illiberal state”, while Poland’s government is trampling over fundamental democratic protections, including an independent judiciary and freedom of the press (and Trump is cheering them on as they do so).

The US president is not making America great again, but he is making the 1930s current again. Perhaps, then, and in a way he would not want, Trump is providing the anti-Brexiteers with the one thing they always lacked: an emotional heart to their argument. Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny and hatred.

On that fateful day in June 2016, it’s possible that some of those who voted leave did so because they believed that democracy and peace were now safe and secure in Europe. In the short time that has passed since, we have seen that those things are, in fact, fragile. As the head of Nato warns that the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation, Britain’s duty, to use a word that might make Smiley wince, is surely to defend the body that helped lead Europe out of its darkness. Instead, we are turning our backs and walking away.

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Baby boomers have a good life, but don’t blame them for Brexit | Letters | Science

Nick Cohen tars all “baby boomer” pensioners with the same brush (“Must growing old mean becoming poorer and lonelier?”, Comment). As a baby boomer pensioner, I think this is very unfair.

We are certainly comparatively well off; undoubtedly we benefited from various housing booms and now benefit from our protected pensions. However, some of us feel guilty enough about this without being accused of “selfish idiocy” over the costs of Brexit, which we certainly did not vote for and are very angry and sad about.

We assuage our guilt somewhat by helping our children and grandchildren and with charitable work and donations. We pay tax on our pensions, but some of us would be more than willing to pay further national insurance contributions and can do without the winter fuel allowance (which we give away annually to the Surviving Winter fund) – as long as those who need it will continue to receive it. It is unpleasant and unfair to be blamed for being born at a lucky time.
Virginia Evans
Minehead, Somerset

A move to improve Channel 4

Peter Preston is wrong to suggest a move by Channel 4 out of London should be fought (“Channel 4 knows all about location, location, location”, Media). I believe a move, particularly to the Leeds City Region, could actually make a fundamental difference to the DNA of Channel 4.

A national public service broadcaster needs to have a greater plurality of voices and in an area such as the Leeds City Region, comprising some 3 million people, there’s a rich pool of distinctive ethnic voices and under-represented talent that could give Channel 4 a stronger regional voice.

Claims that there is a shortage of talent outside the capital are at best misguided and at worst plain ignorant. We know that this a significant step for Channel 4 and we hear its concerns. However, any move should be a bold, risky and innovative development in keeping with its ethos.
Sally Joynson
Chief executive, Screen Yorkshire

Poland’s proud past

Your editorial last week was right to highlight the danger of “Poland’s flight from democracy”, but your readers should not be under the illusion that Poland has no democratic traditions. The multiethnic Polish-Lithuanian republic, which saw itself as a continuation of the Roman republic, was a bastion for parliamentary democracy, religious tolerance and humanism in the 15th and 16th centuries.

These ideas re-emerged in Poland’s national revival at the end of the 18th century when it voted itself Europe’s first liberal constitution. In its struggle to reclaim its independence in the following two centuries, it did so under the banner of “Your Freedom and Ours”. Poland produced one of the most celebrated and successful peaceful civic resistance movements in the Solidarity Union, led by Lech Wałęsa, after which it was able to restore parliamentary democratic rule and a vibrant economy that over the next 25 years successfully rode out the recession and was a model for developing nations.

Of course, the Third Republic was not a perfect institution and many did not share in its wealth. Western Europe and EU institutions are right to sound the alarm and support the democratic opposition, but economic sanctions against Poland would be counter-productive as they would increase the current Polish paranoia and bind the majority of the electorate closer to the ruling party.

It would be more productive to give moral and material support to independent Polish institutions, such as OKO Press, that monitor transgressions of the law and ensure consistent and unbiased coverage of events.
Wiktor Moszczynski
London W5

Don’t squeeze only the rich

You report “Cable plans wealth taxes to woo Corbyn backers” (News). Presumably, Dr Cable wants to avoid raising income tax rates for fear of frightening middle-class voters, stifling enterprise and driving businesses overseas. Added to this, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has repeatedly emphasised that raising income tax for the very rich would not have a significant impact on inequality: the transfer of disposable income will have to come from upper- to middle-level earners as well.

There is another way of redistributing disposable income more equitably. Historically, redistribution has occurred accidentally and inequitably in periods of inflation, notoriously in interwar Germany. For the next few years, we are likely to experience annual inflation in the range of 2% to 3%, so we could harness this to reduce inequality by freezing the levels of income at which higher tax rates kick in, presently £45,001 for the 40% rate and £150,001 for the 45% rate.

For a few years, while salaries rise with inflation, the tax bands should not be inflation-proofed. Government revenue for public services and welfare benefits could gradually rise each year as more middle-income earners enter higher tax brackets and those already there would be paying proportionately more of their incomes.

This would achieve two goals of the political parties: a gradual but substantial redistribution of income towards the less well-off and a much-needed increase in government revenue.
Lawrence Lockhart

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William and Kate have been duped into endorsing Poland’s ugly nationalism | Kate Maltby | Opinion

Stick “Poland” into Google News this week, and you’ll have been rewarded by a slew of headlines about the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest dress. Today, the duke and duchess finish their summer tour of Europe. The Telegraph has gushed: “‘She reminds us of Princess Diana’: how Germany and Poland fell in love with the Duchess of Cambridge”. This has been billed as the “Brexit tour”: a visit to shore up links with Poland’s Eurosceptic leaders; followed by a few days making nice to Angela Merkel in Germany. Down on your knees, Britons, and thank God for Jenny Packham diplomacy.

But something else has been happening in Poland this week. On Monday, President Andrzej Duda was shaking hands with Kate and William at the presidential palace; by Tuesday he was delivering a televised address promising to soften his party’s latest attempt to take over the judiciary. That proposed softening is unlikely to have a major effect: late on Wednesday night his ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) rushed through legislation that allows the government to dismiss at will any of the 83 judges sitting on the country’s supreme court. A bill pushed through last week, before Kate and William touched down, gave parliament greater control over the body that would appoint their replacements (known in Poland as the KRS) and also gives the justice minister power to fire the judges who head lower courts.

You don’t need to have followed the ins and outs of Polish judicial legislation to know that the young British royals have spent this week shaking hands with some deeply unpleasant people. For some years, Poland has been slipping into nationalist authoritarianism: the ruling PiS is notorious for attempted crackdowns on queer rights and abortion. It’s sweet that the duchess enjoyed a family-friendly performance at the Gdansk Shakespeare festival; perhaps next time she could pop into Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny, which is being investigated for “incitement to murder” after explicitly satirising the church and state. Except that she can’t. Most of the creatives in its recent production of The Curse have seen their contracts with other theatres pulled after government pressure. They still face prosecution.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The Foreign Office already knew that by sending our photogenic young royals – complete with cutesy Prince George and Princess Charlotte – we were whitewashing an appalling government. But it gets worse. Examine the itinerary for the Cambridges’ visit to Poland, and you’ll notice that Kate and William have been co-opted into Law and Justice’s campaign of historical revision. Central to its mission is the ambition to rewrite Poland’s official history, particularly that of the second world war. Gone are any references in school textbooks to Polish collaboration with the murder of Jews and other minorities. The Princeton historian Jan Gross, whose award-winning book Neighbors explored the 1941 massacre committed by Poles against Polish Jews in the village of Jedwabne, has faced repeated harassment under new laws that ban publicly insulting the Polish nation. This is state-sponsored Holocaust denial.

You might not have heard of Stutthof, a Nazi concentration camp near Gdansk; you are more likely to have heard of Auschwitz. But the royals were taken with their mass of photographers to Stutthof because it was initially built to imprison ethnic Polish leaders among the resistance and intelligentsia. Speaking to me for this article, the LSE historian Professor Anita Prazmowska described Auschwitz as an uncomfortably prominent site of Jewish suffering in Poland. “Eventually Jewish prisoners were also held, and killed, at Stutthof, but the government are here because they are looking to publicise a rival site of Polish martyrdom.”

While in Gdansk, it would have been easy for the duke and duchess to visit the landmark Museum of the Second World War, led by internationalist Paweł Machcewicz. Naturally they didn’t. Political rows dogged the museum throughout five years of construction; Machcewicz was fired by the government within two weeks of its official opening this January. The government is now taking steps to ensure that the museum exhibits focus less on the antisemitic consequences of historic eastern European nationalism and more on the heroism of the Polish people.

So back in Warsaw the royals were taken instead to the Museum of the Warsaw Rising, a tribute to Polish resistance fighters who held out against Nazi forces for 63 days in 1944. This museum has become the government’s pride and joy. Although it did involve major civilian suffering, as Prazmowska puts it: “The uprising was doomed from the beginning, but under Law and Justice it has become the most important event in Polish war history.” President Trump was also taken to the museum earlier this month.

Brexit has left us scrabbling for allies in Europe. Each of the other 27 member states must approve EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s final offer and this tour has been specifically designed to flatter the one nation most likely to soften a punitive deal. Poland has particular reasons for resenting the heavy hand of Brussels at present: this week’s constitutional power-grab has led to condemnation by the EU and even threats to strip Poland of its voting rights. Law and Justice already has strong links with Tory Eurosceptics through the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (Acre) grouping in the European parliament.

So this is Britain now. Brexit has left us sufficiently weak that we can no longer afford to show democratic leadership in the world. Instead, we send our royals to coo over revisionist history and sup with parliamentarians in their quick breaks between tearing up a constitution. The royals should be ashamed for taking part in this week’s whitewash. But we should save much of our anger for the politicians who deployed them.

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Britons’ rights in Europe ‘must not surpass rights of EU citizens in UK’ | Politics

The Swedish minister for EU affairs has said it would be “unfair” for Britons to have more rights in Europe than EU citizens in the UK, as currently proposed by Theresa May.

Ann Linde warned that the UK must offer the EU reciprocity in its approach to citizens’ rights, and said Theresa May’s government was putting the final Brexit deal at risk if it did not engage in detail with the EU negotiating team soon.

Before a meeting in Londn with the Brexit secretary, David Davis, Linde said there was “a risk with such a short deadline that if you do not get the detailed position, that you can’t [go forward]” to the second phase of negotiations, on a trade deal and the relationship with Europe.

“We really need to get concrete negotiating positions from the UK. We got three more responses today, but they need to have more detail,” she said.

“We have to have reciprocity,” she added. “We cannot have a situation where Britons in Spain have a better situation than a Spanish person in the UK.” That would be “unfair”, she concluded.

There are an estimated 100,000 Swedish people living in the UK, and Linde said Britain needed to change its position to protect their rights along with those of other EU citizens. Earlier this year, she expressed concern about the amount of xenophobia targeted at Swedes since the EU referendum.

Her comments came after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, spoke of his frustration that the EU had issued nine position papers since the end of April, but the UK had only responded to one – the proposal on EU citizens.

Linde said “significant progress” was needed in the three areas prioritised by the EU for the first phase of negotiations: the economy, citizens’ rights and border issues.

The EU has proposed to protect all the current social, employment and residency rights enjoyed by the 1.2 million Britons settled elsewhere in the EU. Under the British proposal, EU citizens would lose some of those rights, including the right to bring in family members such as spouses or elderly relatives.

The UK proposal also offers no guarantees on reciprocal healthcare arrangements for pensioners, or protection for the estimated 45,000 Britons who commute to Europe or travel to the bloc for short-term contracts.

Lawyers have said it is unenforceable, because the UK does not want oversight by the European court of justice but has not proposed an alternative body for dispute resolution.

Linde said the British offer to EU citizens was “a good start” but needed improvement. “There needs to be more detail,” she added. “The good thing is that there is a clear wish to see that the EU citizens can stay, but it [the proposal] is in no way ready.

“People [in Sweden] really feel that UK citizens in the EU should not be better off than EU citizens in the UK,” she added.

Speaking in January, after meeting Swedes who had experienced xenophobia since the Brexit vote, Linde said: “I am astonished at what I heard. What is worrying is that they are giving me evidence that they are not being treated like normal EU members, that they have to sign specific contracts if they want to continue with new work.” The minister said this was discriminatory under EU law.

“It is probably some years before the UK will leave the EU, but still Swedish [people] are experiencing treatment of this kind, and I find that rather shocking,” she said. “It’s a kind of discrimination you are speaking about that is not allowed if you are EU members – and Britain is still an EU member.”

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King of Spain calls for Gibraltar dialogue with UK – video | World news

King Felipe of Spain reveals he is confident that Spain and Britain could work towards an acceptable arrangement over Gibraltar. Addressing an audience of peers and MPs in the House of Lords on Wednesday, he also demands greater certainty over the future rights of British and Spanish citizens living in the UK and abroad after Brexit

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King of Spain reveals hopes for new Gibraltar ‘arrangements’ | World news

King Felipe of Spain has called on the British government to work towards a new agreement over the future of Gibraltar and demanded greater certainty over the future rights of Spanish citizens living in the UK after Brexit. Addressing peers and MPs in the House of Lords as part of his state visit to the UK, King Felipe VI said there while there had “been estrangements, rivalries and disputes” in the countries’ history, those were now relegated to the past.

“I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar, and I am confident that through the necessary dialogue and effort our two governments will be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved.”

Some Conservative MPs are concerned that the fate of Gibraltar could be in fresh doubt as the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union. The European commission’s negotiating guidelines appear to give Spain a veto over future trading arrangements involving the territory, saying that once the UK leaves the EU, “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”.

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell earlier raised the issue during prime minister’s questions. He welcomed the fact that Gibraltar’s flag was among those being flown outside parliament for the King’s visit and asked Damian Green, first secretary of state, standing in for Theresa May, to ask her to “remind the King of Spain that Gibraltar is British and that its sovereignty will remain paramount”.

Green said the government’s position was that the primacy of the wishes of Gibraltararians, “which are overwhelmingly to stay British”, will be respected.

The Spanish monarch, who was due to attend a state banquet with the Queen last night, also urged the UK to reach an agreement as soon as possible about what rights will be retained after Brexit by Spaniards living in the UK, and Britons in Spain.

“These citizens have a legitimate expectation of decent and stable living conditions for themselves and for their families,” he said. “I therefore urge our two governments to continue working to ensure that the agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU provides sufficient assurance and certainty.”

The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said King Felipe’s comments suggested he was treating the British territory as one that could be “traded from one monarch to another” like a “pawn in a chess game” and urged him to understand that Gibraltar “will remain 100% British”.

May later hailed the “deep and solid” ties between Britain and Spain and insisted that the two nations would maintain the “closest possible relationship” after Brexit. As she hosted the Spanish monarch at No 10, May paid tribute to the Spanish banker Ignacio Echeverria, who died trying to save a woman from an attacker in the London Bridge terror attack.

On the two countries’ relationship, the prime minister said: “Today, we work closely together in a range of areas to ensure the security and prosperity of our people, including through our military and law enforcement cooperation to fight international terrorism, our academic collaboration on science and innovation, and our growing trade and investment ties.

“Indeed, the sheer scale of Spanish investment in Britain demonstrates Spain’s continued confidence in the strength of the UK economy, and shows that we can and will maintain the closest possible relationship.”

It came as Spanish manufacturer CAF announced plans to start building trains and trams at a new factory in Newport, south Wales, with £30m investment leading to 300 new jobs.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ornate Royal Gallery of the House of Lords was packed for the King’s speech, with the prime minister sitting in the front row alongside Jeremy Corbyn, who was accompanied by his wife, Laura Alvarez.

The king expressed regret about Britain’s decision to leave the EU, saying: “Until the present, the UK and Spain have both been partners in the project of European integration, which has brought considerable stability and prosperity to the region. Although this decision may sadden us, and indeed does, we fully respect it.”

After the EU’s negotiating guidelines appeared to give Spain a stake in the future of “the Rock”, the former Tory leader Lord Howard went so far as to hint that Britain might consider military action to defend the disputed territory.

Howard told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”

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