Category Archives: UK

Boris Johnson: Democracy Is In Retreat Across World

Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Democracy Is In Retreat Across WorldBoris Johnson will issue a warning that democracy is in retreat across the world and that a “cult of the strongman” is taking hold, raising the prospect that the concept of a global liberal order will fade into irrelevance.

In his first set piece speech as foreign secretary, he will argue that Britain outside the European Union could still play a global role in preventing a dystopian future in which the powerful devour the weak.

He will also set out a strong warning to Russia that the UK will not normalise relations with Moscow, or buckle over Ukraine or Syria, adding that he fully supports Donald Trump, the US president-elect, in demanding that more Nato member countries lift the levels of their defence spending.

The speech will be important in shaping Johnson’s secretaryship, as well as shoring up his credibility as someone at the heart of the cabinet’s discussions on the shape of Brexit.

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The Tory Snoopers’ Charter Is Now Law

Thomas G. Clark writes for Another Angry Voice:

The Snooper’s Charter became law on the 29th of November 2016 meaning that the United Kingdom now has by far the most invasive state surveillance laws of any nation in the developed world.

The invasive domestic snooping legislation means that the UK state will attempt to maintain a massive database recording the Internet browsing history of every person in the UK, innocent or guilty. They will then allow dozens and dozens of government agencies and quangos to trawl through this database looking for dirt.

Of course it makes sense to allow the secret services to look into what suspected terrorists are plotting, but this legislation doesn’t just do that. It goes much much further. The first thing it does is presume that every single UK citizen is a potential criminal who needs to be spied on, then it allows all kinds of non-terrorism related agencies to trawl through people’s Internet browsing histories.

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MPs Launch New Attempt to Interrogate Tony Blair Over Iraq

Chris Ames and Jamie Doward report for The Observer:

Image result for Tony BlairA cross-party group of MPs will make a fresh effort to hold Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading parliament and the public over the Iraq war.

The move, which could see Blair stripped of membership of the privy council, comes as the former prime minister tries to re-enter the political fray, promising to champion the “politically homeless” who are alienated from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and the Brexit-promoting government of Theresa May.

The group, which includes MPs from six parties, will put down a Commons motion on Monday calling for a parliamentary committee to investigate the difference between what Blair said publicly to the Chilcot inquiry into the war and privately, including assurances to then US president George W Bush.

Backing the motion are Alex Salmond, the SNP MP and former first minister of Scotland; Hywel Williams, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru; and Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

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Snoopers Charter and Section 40 Likely to Push UK Further Down Press Freedom Index

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

Reporters Without Borders mapThe UK is likely to slip further down the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index when it is published next year, according to the charity’s UK bureau director, Rebecca Vincent.

She was speaking to Press Gazette ahead of the launch of the organisation’s first UK office in London next month.

The UK is currently ranked 38th out of 180 countries around the world on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which Vincent said is “not great for a democracy”.

She added: “I think it’s likely that the UK will slide further down the list when the new index is released next year. We should be really concerned about that downward trend.”

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The Global Web of Nazi Power That Links Jo Cox’s Killer and Donald Trump

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

Mounting evidence shows that Thomas Mair, who has received a ‘whole life’ sentence for his brutal “terrorist” murder of Labour MP Joe Cox on 16 June, was radicalised by neo-Nazi ideology.

But an in-depth investigation commissioned by the hate crime charity Tell Mama (available here) reveals that this ideology has found succour with an astonishingly powerful trans-Atlantic network of far-right political parties and organisations.

So powerful is this far-right network, according to the Tell Mama investigation, that it has alarming connections to mainstream political parties across the world, from the Republican Party in the US, to the Conservative Party in Britain, along with several ruling parties in key European countries.

And despite its hatred of the European Union, ironically, the network has grown its reach by parasitically exploiting the EU system.

And with the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, this network has just grown monumentally stronger.

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Jo Cox’s Killer Sent To Prison For The Rest Of His Life

Iraq War: Chilcot Inquiry Was Set Up ‘To Avoid Blame’

Chris Ames and Jamie Doward report for The Observer:

Image result for Chilcot InquiryThe Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war was designed to “avoid blame” and reduce the risk that individuals and the government could face legal proceedings, newly released documents reveal.

The papers show the thinking and advice at “the highest level of government” prior to Gordon Brown’s announcement of an inquiry. They were disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, after the Cabinet Office lost a two-year battle during which it stated that disclosure threatened to “undermine the inquiry”. They confirm that many officials who took part in the events that the inquiry investigated, including former spy chief Sir John Scarlett, were involved in setting it up.

And they reveal that Sir (now Lord) Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary under Brown, went against Whitehall protocol when he appointed a civil servant with significant involvement in Iraq policy during the period covered by the inquiry to the key role of inquiry secretary.

The documents, a series of memos by Whitehall officials, cover a four-week period in May and June 2009. They show the officials favoured from the outset a secret inquiry to be conducted by privy counsellors, based on the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war.

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Say Goodbye To Your Privacy: UK Government Just Passed The Most Extreme Surveillance Law In History

Silkie Carlo, policy officer at Liberty, writes for The Independent:

theresa-may2.gifThis week a law was passed that silently rips privacy from the modern world. It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.

The hundreds of chilling mass surveillance programmes revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 were – we assumed – the result of a failure of the democratic process. Snowden’s bravery finally gave Parliament and the public the opportunity to scrutinise this industrial-scale spying and bring the state back into check.

But, in an environment of devastatingly poor political opposition, the Government has actually extended state spying powers beyond those exposed by Snowden – setting a “world-leading” precedent.

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Tony Blair ‘Returning to Politics’: Thinks Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘Nutter’ and Theresa May is a ‘Light weight’

Siobhan Fenton reports for The Independent:

Image result for Tony BlairTony Blair is positioning himself to return to British politics, it has been reported.

The controversial former Prime Minister is engineering a comeback because he feels he can fill a political vacuum caused by Theresa May being a “light weight” and Jeremy Corbyn being a “nutter”, The Sunday Times reports. A source said Mr Blair is sourcing premises near Westminster in order to relocate 130 staff to the UK’s political hub.

A source allegedly told the newspaper: “He’s not impressed with Theresa May. He thinks she’s a total lightweight. He thinks Jeremy Corbyn’s a nutter and the Tories are screwing up Brexit. He thinks there’s a massive hole in British politics that he can fill.”

In response, a representative or Mr Blair reportedly said he has not made a decision to relocate the company there.

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Europe’s Leaders to Force Britain into Hard Brexit

Toby Helm reports for The Observer:

Image result for hard brexitEuropean 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.

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Snoopers Charter: ‘Extreme Surveillance’ Becomes UK Law with Barely a Whimper

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Investigatory Powers ActA 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.”

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The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the Western World

It might be tempting to view the political success of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as something uniquely American. But, argues Gary Younge, rightwing populism and scapegoating of society’s vulnerable is cropping up all across the west. This is what happens when big business has more power than governments. (The Guardian)

Brexit Court Defeat For UK Government

BBC News reports:

Image result for Brexit Court Defeat For UK GovernmentParliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU, the High Court has ruled.

This means the government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – beginning formal exit negotiations with the EU – on its own.

Theresa May says the referendum – and existing ministerial powers – mean MPs do not need to vote, but campaigners called this unconstitutional.

The government is appealing, with a further hearing expected next month.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said she would be calling President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to say she intended to stick to her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50.

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Why Is MI5 Making Such a Fuss About Russia?

Mary Dejevsky writes for The Guardian:

Image result for MI5 Russia[…] Why does Russia remain bogeyman-in-chief?

Here are a few ideas. The first is that blaming Russia carries little cost. Russia is not China. Investment is not a big consideration. For all sorts of reasons, political relations have long been dire. Applying the same virulent rhetoric to terrorism conducted in the name of Islam, on the other hand, risks fomenting social and cultural strife here at home.

A second reason, now as in the past, is that blaming Russia aligns us comfortably with the US, where stalwarts in Congress and at the Pentagon have never emerged from their old thinking about the threat. The Russia card has been played to exhaustion during this presidential campaign, to the point where it could swing the election – and I don’t mean in Donald Trump’s favour.

A third factor is the consensus about a strong and malevolent Russia that still rules the “expert” community, and will probably do so for a few years yet – helped along by the hatchet-faced Putin. There are younger specialists who take a rather different view, but they are drowned out by the ingrained cliches. Note how quickly Boris Johnson was “turned” from the realist of his journalist days to the fierce cold warrior foreign secretary. Such a U-turn makes him look intellectually foolish – but no more foolish, some might argue, than he has made himself look on so many other scores.

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HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis

Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)

TiSA Agreement Leaks Show Corporations Pushing Privatization of Public Services

Sharmini Peries speaks to Deborah James, Director of International Programs at CEPR, who discusses TiSA. (The Real News)

A Peculiar Coincidence

Craig Murray writes:

Today, Swedish prosecutors were meant to question Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy, something for which the Assange legal team has been pressing for years. They believe that once this step has been taken, prosecutors will no longer be able to keep from the scrutiny of Swedish courts the fact that there is no viable evidence whatsoever to back up the ludicrous allegations which have been made.

Frustratingly, Swedish prosecutors cancelled the interview last week, with no explanation given. Anyone would think they do not wish the investigation to progress… Then this same day Assange’s internet access is cut, WikiLeaks say by a state actor. To add to this string of coincidence, at the same time Russia Today has its bank accounts frozen by the Royal Bank of Scotland, again without explanation

This series of events are all aimed at those who seek to counter the neo-con narrative pumped out by the state and corporate media. It could be coincidence, but it looks like co-ordinated clampdown to me.

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Russia Today Bank Accounts ‘Frozen In UK’

BBC News reports:

The UK has frozen all bank accounts owned by Russia’s state-run broadcaster, Russia Today (RT), its editor-in-chief has claimed.

Margarita Simonyan tweeted: “They’ve closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. ‘The decision is not subject to review.’ Praise be to freedom of speech!”

RT has previously been sanctioned by Ofcom for biased reporting on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

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RBS ‘Dash for Cash’ Scandal: 500 Firms Suing Bank Turn Anger on Regulator

Ian Fraser, author of Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain, writes for the Scottish Herald:

RBS ‘Dash for Cash’ scandal: 500 firms suing bank turn anger on regulatorA group of almost 500 businesses suing the Royal Bank of Scotland for allegedly destroying their firms and seizing their assets is threatening legal action against the Financial Conduct Authority if it does not immediately publish its long-awaited report into the scandal.

The central allegation of the so-called “Dash for Cash” scandal was that firms – in some cases healthy ones – were preyed on by RBS which effectively bankrupted the companies, bought the assets and made a profit from their suffering. RBS denies the allegations. David Stewart, spokesman for the RBS GRG Business Action Group, said:“Unless the FCA gives an immediate commitment to publishing the Section 166 report, we will initiate judicial review proceedings against them.”

The FCA, the financial regulator, launched a probe into the Dash for Cash scandal in January 2014. The report, produced by consultants Promontory and Mazars, was handed to the FCA in late summer but the regulator only confirmed receipt on October 5.

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A No-Fly Zone For Aleppo Risks a War That Could Engulf Us All

Jonathan Steele writes for The Guardian:

Much was made in this week’s Commons debate on Syria of the need for a no-fly zone over Aleppo. Given that the Syrian government and the Russians have a monopoly of air power over the city, the idea of denting or deterring it might seem attractive. Hillary Clinton also advocated such a zone in Sunday’s presidential TV debate.

In 1991 the US and Britain imposed a successful no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. But they were already at war with Saddam Hussein, having just defeated him in Kuwait. Saddam was on his own internationally, despised and isolated. He had no support from Russia or any Arab allies. The last thing he wanted was to confront the US any further. Enforcing a no-fly zone (even though it had no clear UN security council authorisation) involved no risk to the US or UK. Saddam made little effort to resist and not one of their manned aircraft was shot down.

Today’s situation in Syria is different. The Syrian air force is fully engaged and will not back down in its campaign to defeat its enemies in Aleppo. After three years of military stalemate, Bashar al-Assad feels he has regained the upper hand and is determined to retake his country’s largest city.

More importantly, the Russians are also active in the air. Imposing a no-fly zone unilaterally (it would never gain a security council mandate) would be a declaration of war on Russia as well as on Assad.

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Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness, That’s What’s Wrenching Society Apart

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

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How RBS Squeezed Struggling Businesses For Profit

Thousands of confidential documents obtained by Newsnight and BuzzFeed News reveal how the bank systematically squeezed struggling businesses with fees and higher interest rates. RBS said it had let some small business customers down in the past but denied it deliberately caused them to fail. Andy Verity reports. (BBC Newsnight)

The Dash For Cash: Leaked Files Reveal RBS Systematically Crushed British Businesses For Profit

Heidi Blake, Tom Warren, Jane Bradley and Richard Holmes report for Buzzfeed:

The Royal Bank of Scotland killed or crippled thousands of businesses during the recession as a result of a deliberate plan to add billions of pounds to its balance sheet, according to a leaked cache of thousands of secret documents.

The RBS Files – revealed today by BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight – lay bare the secret policies under which firms were pushed into the bank’s feared troubled-business unit, Global Restructuring Group (GRG), which chased profits by hitting them with massive fees and fines and by snapping up their assets at rock-bottom prices.

The internal documents starkly contradict the bank’s public insistence that GRG acted as an “intensive care unit” for ailing firms, tasked with restructuring their loan agreements to “help them back to health”.

RBS has repeatedly denied allegations that it destroyed healthy businesses for profit – first raised in a damning report on its treatment of small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by the government adviser Lawrence Tomlinson three years ago. The bank paid the magic circle law firm Clifford Chance to conduct an “independent investigation” that found “no evidence” of the claims, and an official inquiry by the banking regulator has been long delayed.

The RBS Files now reveal for the first time that, under pressure from the government, the taxpayer-owned bank ran down businesses in its restructuring unit as part of a deliberate, premeditated strategy to cut lending and bolster profits. And they show that GRG, ignoring repeated warnings about conflict of interest, collaborated closely with the bank’s own property division, West Register, to buy up heavily discounted assets it had forced its customers to sell.

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The Questionable Science Behind Government Terrorist-Prevention Efforts

Aviva Stahl reports for VICE:

In the early hours of a Sunday morning this June, Omar Mateen walked into Latin Night at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and opened fire. This was a space that often served as a refuge for the area’s LGBTQ community, but by the time daylight broke, 50 people were dead and another 53 wounded. Speaking from the White House hours later that day, President Obama told reporters that the attack appeared to be “an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about.”

The attack rightfully outraged the American public. But the bloodshed that day was just the latest example of how the war on terror has changed since 9/11, when the greatest threat was generally understood to come from outside America’s borders. Like that in Orlando, the attack on the Boston Marathon, and more recently in Brussels and in Paris have highlighted the fact that acts of terrorism are often committed by people born or raised in our communities. Governments from the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond have sought to address this emerging phenomenon by establishing multiagency programs to help them identify who might be vulnerable extremism.

But is it ethical—or even possible—to determine who’s a terrorist in the making?

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‘Rogue’ Algorithm Blamed for Historic Crash of the British Pound

George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo:

[…] Normally, dramatic drops like this are triggered by major news events, such a declaration of war or a monumental political development. But experts say this incident was likely the result of trading algorithms that were reacting to recent comments made by French President Francois Hollande, who called for tougher Brexit negotiations.

“Apparently it was a rogue algorithm that triggered the sell-off after it picked up comments made by the French President, Francois Hollande, who said if Theresa May and [company] want hard Brexit, they will get hard Brexit,” noted Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index.

She says that some modern algorithms trade on the back of news sites, and even on what’s trending on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. “[A] deluge of negative Brexit headlines could have led to an algo taking that as a major sell signal for GBP,” said Brooks. “Once the pound started moving lower than more technical algos could have followed suit.”

High frequency stock trading is a form of rapid-fire trading that involves algorithms, or bots, that can make decisions on the order of milliseconds. They’re guided by factors such as time, price, some fancy math—and even headline news. Compared to these lightning-fast traders, humans are slower by an order of magnitude, which means we’re increasingly being left out of the loop. Stock trading represents the first major domain in which we’re getting AI to do most of the work, and an entirely new digital ecology is emerging.

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UK Government Works ‘Hand in Glove’ With Arms Firms, Say Campaigners

Alice Ross reports for The Guardian:

The British government and the UK arms industry have a “politically intimate and hugely compromising relationship” that sees government officials working “hand in glove” with companies promoting weapons exports, according to campaigners who have tracked thousands of meetings between officials and arms trade representatives.

Officials from the government’s dedicated arms export department, the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO), attended more than 1,000 meetings since the 2010 election – more than a third of all meetings recorded by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has published data on contact between the government and the arms industry.

The data reveals how crucial the export of British-made weapons and security equipment – totalling £8bn last year – has become to both government and the industry, ensuring that Britain is among the world’s largest arms exporters.

“The government may talk about the importance of human rights, but its role is absolutely central to the UK arms trade,” said a CAAT spokesman, Andrew Smith.

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Britain’s Labour Leadership Contest: Who Will Be Leader of Europe’s Largest Socialist Party?

Afshin Rattansi speaks to former Shadow Schools Minister Nic Dakin, and upcoming member of Labour’s NEC Claudia Webbe, about Britain’s Labour Party leadership contest and who will be leader of the party when the votes are counted this weekend. (Going Underground)

The Man Who Squeezes Muscles

Jon Kelly writes for BBC News Magazine:

Image result for The man who squeezes musclesFor three decades, a bizarre offender has racked up dozens of court appearances and several spells in prison over a strange fetish that drives him to touch young men’s muscles.

Across the North West, Akinwale Arobieke has become a modern-day bogeyman and an internet sensation, and now a court order that curtailed his activities has been lifted.

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Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on Whether War Should Have Waged on Libya

Afshin Rattansi speaks to British MP Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, about the new report on the 2011 military intervention in Libya. (Going Underground)

MPs Deliver Damning Verdict on David Cameron’s Libya Intervention

Patrick Wintour and Jessica Elgot report for The Guardian:

David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.

The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds.

The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. The findings are also likely to be seized on by Donald Trump, who has tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials by repeatedly condemning her handling of the Libyan intervention in 2011, when she was US secretary of state.

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