Category Archives: UK Politics/Society

Don’t Blame Corbyn for the Sins of Blair, Brown and New Labour

Ken Loach writes for The Guardian:

Image result for Corbyn New Labour[…] Now let’s ask the real questions. What are the big problems people face? What is the Labour leadership’s analysis and programme? Why is Labour apparently unpopular? Who is responsible for the party’s divisions?

The problems are well rehearsed but rarely related to the leadership question. A vulnerable working class that knows job insecurity, low wages, bogus “self-employment”, poverty for many including those in work, whole regions left to rot: these are the consequences of both Tory and New Labour’s free market economics. Employers’ “flexibility” is workers’ exploitation. Public services are being dismembered, outsourced, closed down, the source of profit for a few and an impoverished society for the many. The central fact is blindingly obvious: the Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson years were central to this degeneration. That is why Labour members voted for Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, make a different analysis, and are proposing different policies. The market will never provide a secure, dignified life for the vast majority. If there is a need but no profit, the need goes unanswered. Collectively we can plan a secure future, use new technology to benefit everyone, ensure that all regions are regenerated with real industries, and rebuild our public services and the quality of our civic life. It is a vision of a world transformed and a rejection of the bitter, divided and impoverished society we see around us.

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UK Refuses to Back UN Statement on Bahrain Rights Abuses

Jamie Merrill reports for Middle East Eye:

The British government has refused to back a joint United Nations statement criticising Bahrain over its deteriorating human rights record, Middle East Eye can reveal.

The Gulf kingdom has been on the receiving end of fierce international criticism after it resumed executions earlier this year, amid warnings the country was on the brink of a “human rights crisis”.

Human rights groups have described prisoners being burned with cigarettes, given electric shock and burned with irons, among other forms of torture, but to the dismay of campaigners, officials from the UK Mission to the UN in Geneva have refused to back a planned statement condemning the country’s actions.

Britain signed the last joint-resolution on Bahrain in 2015, but a foreign office source told MEE that it would refuse to back a new joint motion on the country being proposed by the Swiss government this week.

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With the US Distracted by Trump and the UK by Brexit, They’re About to See a Decline in Their Global Power

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

donald-trump.jpgBoris Yeltsin was making a presidential visit to Washington in 1995 when he was found one night outside the White House dressed only in his underpants. He explained in a slurred voice to US secret service agents that he was trying to hail a cab so he could go and buy a pizza. The following night he was discovered by a guard, who thought he was an intruder, wandering drunkenly around the basement of his official residence.

Drunk or sober, Yeltsin and his escapades became the living symbol for the world, not just of the collapse of the Soviet Union but of a dysfunctional administration in the Kremlin and the decline of Russia as a great power. It was impossible to take seriously a state whose leader was visibly inebriated much of the time and in which policy was determined by a coterie of corrupt family members and officials serving at Yeltsin’s whim.

Donald Trump is often compared to Vladimir Putin by the media which detects ominous parallels between the two men as populist nationalist leaders. The message is that Trump with his furious attacks on the media would like to emulate Putin’s authoritarianism. There is some truth in this, but when it comes to the effect on US status and power in the world, the similarities are greater between Trump and Yeltsin than between Trump and Putin.

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How US Billionaire Robert Mercer Helped to Back Brexit

Carole Cadwalladr reports for The Observer:

Image result for robert mercer[…] It has emerged that Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire, who helped to finance the Trump campaign and who was revealed this weekend as one of the owners of the rightwing Breitbart News Network, is a long-time friend of Nigel Farage. He directed his data analytics firm to provide expert advice to the Leave campaign on how to target swing voters via Facebook – a donation of services that was not declared to the electoral commission.

Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British company, SCL Group, which has 25 years’ experience in military disinformation campaigns and “election management”, claims to use cutting-edge technology to build intimate psychometric profiles of voters to find and target their emotional triggers. Trump’s team paid the firm more than $6m (£4.8m) to target swing voters, and it has now emerged that Mercer also introduced the firm – in which he has a major stake – to Farage.

The communications director of Leave.eu, Andy Wigmore, told the Observer that the longstanding friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family led Mercer to offer his help – free – to the Brexit campaign because of their shared goals. Wigmore said that he introduced Farage and Leave.eu to Cambridge Analytica: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you’. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information.”

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How Blair and Clinton created the conditions for Brexit and Trump

Thomas G. Clark writes for Another Angry Voice:

[…] In my view the ruptures in British and American politics happened in the 1990s with the accession of Bill Clinton in 1993 and Tony Blair in 1997. These were men who inherited the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Labour Party of Clement Attlee, but instead of pursuing the kind of prosperity yielding democratic socialism of their predecessors they adopted a “third way” strategy.

Clinton and Blair held onto power by slightly slowing down the radical and destructive right-wing neoliberalisation agenda rather than actively working to reverse the worst of the damage. Of course they seemed like an improvement after the chaotic crisis-ridden 1980s, but both men slowly continued the progress of the right-wing zealotry introduced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

One of Clinton’s most overt moves towards hard-right economic dogma was a piece of legislation called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 which exempted all manner of derivatives trading from financial regulation. a move that unleashed the frenzy of speculative derivative trading that resulted in the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis.

Aside from the extraordinarily dodgy PFI privatisation scams and the commodification of the higher education system through the introduction of student fees (aspiration taxes), one of Tory Blair’s most blatant rightward lurches saw the de facto privatisation of the Bank of England and the establishment of what turned out to be an astoundingly weak tripartite system of financial sector regulation.

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Who’s Paying for the UK Government’s ‘Free’ Smart Meters?

Afshin Rattansi speaks to Chris Choi, ITN’s Consumer Editor for ITV News, about why Theresa May wants the UK to spend £11 billion on so-called ‘free’ smart meters. (Going Underground)

News Corp execs visit Downing Street more than any other company in the UK

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

New analysis of UK government hospitality registers suggests executives from News Corp are more likely to visit Downing Street than any other company.

The Media Reform Coalition, a campaign group which objects to the the concentration of media powers in the hands of News Corp proprietor Rupert Murdoch, has compiled the data.

It has looked at the quarterly returns filed by government departments detailing meetings with outside organisations from April 2015 to September 2016. The time span covers two governments.

News Corp includes The Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapersin the UK.

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How Corporate Dark Money Is Taking Power on Both Sides of the Atlantic

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

Image result for Corporate Dark MoneyIt took corporate America a while to warm to Donald Trump. Some of his positions, especially on trade, horrified business leaders. Many of them favoured Ted Cruz or Scott Walker. But once Trump had secured the nomination, the big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.

Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it. Dark money is the term used in the US for the funding of organisations involved in political advocacy that are not obliged to disclose where the money comes from. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. In order to advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf.

Soon after the second world war, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who fund them.

We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates.

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City Lobby Group Comes Out Fighting for Global Brexit in Dramatic U-Turn

Tim Wallace reports for The Telegraph:

City of LondonThe City’s top lobby group has performed a dramatic u-turn on Brexit, scrapping its previous campaign to remain in the EU and instead hailing the vote to leave as “unprecedented opportunity” for the UK to develop a powerful new set of trade and investment policies.

The group, which represents banks, finance firms and the professional services industry, now believes that Britain’s departure from the EU represents “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” for a strategic re-think of commercial relationships with the rest of the globe.

Before the EU referendum the organisation had planned for a way to cope with Brexit just in case voters chose to leave the group of 28 nations.

But the new proposals are more than just an effort to make the best out of Brexit – in an apparently major conversion, the group actively points out the ways in which EU membership has proved to be a “straitjacket” in terms of global trade, holding Britain back from building relationships with non-EU nations.

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Brexit: Past the Point of No-Return

British flag and EU flag in Parliament Square in London, June 19, 2016After decades of debate, years of acrimony over the issue in the Conservative Party, months of brutal brinksmanship in Westminster, and hours of debate this week, MPs have just approved the very first step in the process of Britain leaving the European Union.

There are many hurdles ahead, probably thousands of hours of debate here, years of negotiations for Theresa May with our friends and rivals around the EU, as she seeks a deal – and possibly as long as a decade of administrative adjustments, as the country extricates itself from the EU.

On a wet Wednesday, the debate didn’t feel epoch-making, but think for a moment about what has just happened.

MPs, most of whom wanted to stay in the EU, have just agreed that we are off.

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UK Court Ruling on Brexit Emboldens Right-Wing of the Tory Party

Sharmini Peries speaks to economist John Weeks who discusses the recent Surpeme Court ruling that said the British Parliament must be consulted before Theresa May’s government can trigger an exit from the European Union (Article 50), and how Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has come under a lot of pressure to oppose attempts to negotiate quickly. (The Real News)

Theresa May Tells Trump U.S. and Britain Can Lead World Together Once Again

Kim Hjelmgaard reports for USA Today:

Image result for trump mayBritish Prime Minister Theresa May came Thursday to the city where the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain to reaffirm the “special relationship” the United Kingdom and United States have shared for more than two centuries.

“The leadership provided by our two countries through the ‘special relationship’ has done more than win wars and overcome adversity. It made the modern world,” May told an annual congressional retreat in Philadelphia.

“It is through our actions over many years, working together to defeat evil or to open up the world, that we have been able to fulfill the promise of those who first spoke of the special nature of the relationship between us,” she said. “The promise of freedom, liberty and the rights of man.”

May’s comments come ahead of her visit Friday to the White House, when she will bask in the political glow of being the first foreign leader to hold face-to-face talks with President Trump. The two leaders will discuss terrorism, ending Syria’s civil war, relations with Russia, NATO cooperation and a bilateral trade deal once the U.K. leaves the European Union, probably by 2019. Trade between the two countries is worth about $187 billion, and the U.S. is the largest single investor in the U.K.

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Survey: When Asked Which Type of News in Newspapers They Trust, One in Three Said ‘None of It’

Freddy Mayhew reports for Press Gazette:

Almost one third of British adults believe that no type of news – from politics to crime – is reported accurately, honestly and without bias, in newspapers according to a new YouGov survey.

A total of 32 per cent of the 2,068 people surveyed online deemed no news to be “trustworthy”, with sports receiving the highest vote of confidence at 17 per cent.

The poll was carried out between 9 and 10 January on behalf of communications firm Matter PR.

Those surveyed were asked: “In general, which one, if any of the following types of news do you think tends to be most trustworthy in newspapers in the UK (i.e. print or online)?”

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George Osborne’s New, Ethically Dubious Job With BlackRock Investments

Grace Dent writes for The Independent:

george-osborne.jpgLike several leading panto baddies in our current brooding dystopian landscape, George Osborne doesn’t help himself – well, not in the popularity stakes at least.

Osborne, we have learned this week, will join the investment research arm of the BlackRock Investment Institute as a senior adviser this February for a six-figure sum. Osborne’s windfall comes shortly after his £600,000 autumn speaking tour in which BlackRock generously gave him £34,109 for one talk. There are no current indications that Osborne will give up his role as MP for Tatton, representing his 65,200 constituents.

My cynical self feels dubious that Osborne can remain entirely focused on the hoi polloi of South-west Manchester’s piffling agonies: their closing A&E, their HS2 worries, their superfast broadband and super-slow traffic and so on, while at the same time feathering his nest via BlackRock, but then the company’s name doesn’t help. BlackRock sounds like a twisted confederacy of steampunk nihilist megalomaniacs situated just Beyond Thunderdome. It sounds like a cannibal-strewn landmass, cursed yet useful in a military sense, to which a 17th-century sociopath played by Tom Hardy owns the deeds.

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CIA Fears About 1980s Labour ‘Threat’ Revealed

CIA papers naming Jeremy Corbyn as attending a meeting in San SalvadorThe Labour Party is “in the hands of urban leftists given to ideological extremes with only fringe appeal”.

That isn’t an assertion about today’s politics. It was the verdict of the US Central Intelligence Agency on Labour back in 1985, in a memo for the agency’s director on the early phase of Neil Kinnock’s leadership.

This memo is one of millions of the CIA’s historical records which have just been made available online. Previously researchers had to actually visit the US National Archives in Maryland in order to access this database of declassified documents.

The records reveal the deep level of concern inside the CIA about the strength of the Left within Labour in the early 1980s, a political force which the agency regarded as anti-American.

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Theresa May Reassures British and Foreign Capital Over Brexit

Sharmini Peries speaks to political scientist Leo Panitch who says leaving the European Union won’t have a major impact on capitalist globalization, but it reflects the political rise of a xenophobic right that could soon undermine the remaining environmental, labor, and social protections in Britain. (The Real News)

Jeremy Corbyn Accused of Being Russian “Collaborator” for Questioning NATO Troop Build-Up on Border

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a “de-escalation” of tensions between NATO and Russia, adding in a BBC interview on Thursday: “I want to see a de-militarisation of the border between them.” Along with the U.S., the UK has been rapidly building up its military presence in the Baltic region, including states which border Russia, and is now about to send another 800 troops to Estonia, 500 of which will be permanently based.

In response, Russia has moved its own troops within its country near those borders, causing serious military tensions to rise among multiple nuclear-armed powers. Throughout 2016, the Russian and U.S. militaries have engaged in increasingly provocative and aggressive maneuvers against one another. This week, the U.S. began deploying 4,000 troops to Poland, “the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war.”

It was in this context that Corbyn said it is “unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides,” adding that “he wanted to see better relations between Russia, NATO and the EU.” The Labour leader explained that while Russia has engaged in serious human rights abuses both domestically and in Syria, there must be a “better relationships between both sides . . .  there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality.”

The response to Corbyn’s call for better relations and de-escalation of tensions with Moscow was swift and predictable.

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If Another Country Had a Press Law Like Section 40, Britain Would Condemn it for Persecuting Journalists

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine, writes for The Telegraph:

gagged manFor years Index of Censorship has monitored state interference in news reporting, from the authoritarian Chile in 1970s to North Korea today. With a history of scrutinising government pressure on media, we were never going to join Impress, the new state-approved UK press regulator.

There should always be a clear distance between any government and journalists that report on it. Again and again Index has reported how governments have set up bodies that stop the media covering stories they don’t like.

[…] The UK Government is considering triggering Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which will ratchet up pressure to self-censor. This repressive legislation would pressurise newspapers to avoid the controversial and not publish things others would rather were not heard.

If such laws were introduced in another country, British politicians would be speaking out against such shocking media censorship. There’s no doubt that authoritarian powers will use this example to bolster their own cases in imposing media regulation.

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Over 5,000 Hacked Off Supporters Urge UK Government to Enact Section 40 as Consultation Deadline Looms

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

More than 5,000 individuals have responded to the Government consultation calling for it enact Section 40 in full thus forcing UK publishers into a state-backed system of press regulation.

This is the number who have responded through the form on the website of campaign group Hacked Off.

Set against this there has been a mountain of opposition against enacting Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act voiced by UK news publishers.

Section 40 states that news publishers who are not signed up to a press regulator which complies with Parliament’s Royal Charter on press regulation must pay both sides’ costs in libel and privacy actions that they win.

The law has been kept on ice by the Government since it was passed by Parliament in 2013. A Government consultation which asks whether it should finally enact Section 40, reform it or scrap it closes on Tuesday 10 January.

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The Right Is Emboldened, But It’s Not In The Ascendancy

Gary Younge writes for The Guardian:

Image result for The right is emboldenedWhen there’s a cloud this large and foreboding no lining, silver or otherwise, will suffice. This was a year in which vulgarity, divisiveness and exclusion won – a triumph for dystopian visions of race, nation and ethnicity. Those thought dangerous and marginal are now not only mainstream, they have power. Immigrants and minorities are fearful, bigots are emboldened, discourse is coarsened. Progressive alternatives, while available, have yet to find a coherent electoral voice. You can polish this turd of a year all you like – it won’t stop it stinking to high heaven.

But while the prospects for hope are scarce there is, none the less, one thing from which we might draw solace. The right is emboldened but it is not in the ascendancy. The problem is that the centre has collapsed, and liberalism is in retreat. There is nothing to celebrate in the latter but there is much to ponder in the former. It suggests that this moment is less the product of some unstoppable force than the desperate choice of last resort.

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UK Fuels Carnage in Yemen Through Political and Military Support to Saudi Arabia

Kim Brown speaks to Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) who says Theresa May’s apologetics for arming Saudi Arabia reflects the arms industry’s role in shaping British foreign policy. (The Real News)

Britain’s Trade And Aid Policy After Brexit – Neo-Liberalism Goes Mad

British historian Mark Curtis writes for The Huffington Post:

A picture is emerging of likely British trade and aid policies towards developing countries after Brexit. That picture is just as disturbing as two other likely consequences of Brexit that I detailed in my previous article – a deepening of relations with authoritarian regimes and a new era of military power projection. Together, these policies indicate that Britain will try to lead the world not in promoting human rights or economic diversity but in championing a hardline, neo-liberal economic order benefitting British and Western corporations.

First, the big policy constantly highlighted by the government since the June referendum is its role as the ‘global leader’ for free trade. Prime Minister Theresa May has said:

Trade Minister Mark Garnier says that policy is to ‘ensure that Britain becomes the global leader in free trade once we leave the EU’.

This championing of free trade refers not only to developed countries but also to the poorest and developing countries. Britain will ‘drive even greater openness with international partners’ including the Commonwealth.

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The UK’s ‘National Security’ Plan? It’s a Blueprint for a Police State

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

In early December, the British government released its first annual report on the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Despite the total media blackout, the document reveals in stark detail the Conservative government’s plans to expand Britain’s military activities around the world.

In the name of defending “national security”, Britain is building a “permanent” military presence in the Gulf to defend Britain’s access to regional energy resources; deploying more troops into Eastern Europe, near Russia’s border; and drumming up support for rampant arms sales to despots in search of better tools to repress their own populations. This is all happening as it promotes economic aid as a mechanism to open up poorer economies to “UK businesses”.

To illustrate the levels of official delusion that saturate the thinking behind this document, it opens with a foreword from Prime Minister Theresa May, which describes “the phenomenon of mass migration” as “one of the global challenges of our times”, having “become more pronounced in the last 12 months”.

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British Councils Used RIPA to Secretly Spy on Public

Anushka Asthana reports for The Guardian:

Image result for British Councils RIPACouncils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping, the Guardian can reveal.

A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives.

Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons.

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Ian Hislop on 30 Years as Editor of Private Eye

Ian Hislop joins Adam Macqueen to discuss his three decades as editor of Private Eye magazine. (Page 94)

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Makes Sky Bid Five Years After Hacking Scandal

Jasper Jackson and Jane Martinson report for The Guardian:

Image result for 21st century Fox Sky logosRupert Murdoch swooped in with an £11.2bn offer to take full control of the satellite broadcaster Sky, five years after he was forced to abandon a similar deal amid public revulsion over the phone-hacking scandal.

The media mogul’s 21st Century Fox film and television group said it had reached an agreement in principle to buy Sky, which would bring together the company behind Fox News with the largest pay-TV broadcaster in Britain to create the most powerful media group in the UK.

Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians said the government had to intervene and demanded an inquiry on the grounds of public interest. Fox owns the controversial rightwing Fox News network in the US, while Sky News is a politically neutral service in competition with the BBC and ITV news.

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Survey: 18% Trust Britain’s National Press to Tell the Truth, Tabloids Less Trusted Than Estate Agents

Jasper Cox reports for Press Gazette:

British newspapers are displayed at a newsagent's stand in central London January 22, 2011. The British prime minister's media chief quit on Friday over phone hacking allegations when he was a newspaper editor, a move that will embarrass the prime minister and could complicate News Corp's bid to buy BSkyB.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (REUTERS - Tags: BUSINESS CRIME LAW POLITICS) - RTXWX2MA YouGov poll for Royal Charter-backed press regulator Impress suggests trust in national newspaper journalism has halved over the last ten years.

The survey asked how much people trusted journalists on red-top tabloids, mid-market tabloids and up-market titles to tell the truth. The average total for national newspapers was 18 per cent.

According to Impress when the same question was asked by YouGov in May 2006, 37 per cent said they trusted national newspaper journalists to tell the truth.

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