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Failure to control inflation or mitigate its effects helps to control us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/05/2022 - 6:55am in

Inflationary fears are another useful tool to keep the masses suppressed and more fearful than they should be – particulalrly when this government, as it does, tells us there is not much they can do about it. While usually infation is controllable, government seems to suggest this time it is an ‘act of God’. Actually... Read more

Constitutional Culture Wars: Johnson’s Next Divide-and-Rule Campaign?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 8:53pm in

AV Deggar considers how the Vote Leave coalition may react to emboldened separatist forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland

This month’s local elections left Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party with a bloody nose, losing almost 500 seats across the UK – their worst performance in a quarter of a century.

As well as losing symbolic English councils like Westminster and Margaret Thatcher’s beloved Wandsworth to Labour, across the border in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) romped to victory, adding a further 22 councillors to their record 2017 total.

The shockwave became seismic a few days later, when Sinn Féin was confirmed as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly – becoming the first Irish Republican party to top the polls in the history of the nation.

Mid-term malaise, the ongoing ‘Partygate’ saga, the cost of living crisis and disenchantment with Boris Johnson have all been mooted as contributing factors to the Conservative Party’s local election collapse. While all are valid contributors, it is the Brexit effect that has intensified discontent in the regions where Remain majorities persist.

Johnson’s hardest-of-all possible Brexits has galvanised the independence movement in Scotland and has aided the cause of Irish reunification. In the process, the Conservative and Unionist Party has nurtured its ideal bête noire in the ongoing culture war – the treachery of the separatists.

Nationalist Flashpoints

Before the counting had finished in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the President of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, stated that her party would seek to hold a border poll on the integration of Ulster with the Republic of Ireland by 2027.

Although Unionist parties still represent the largest bloc within the legislative assembly, the biggest single Loyalist presence, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), experienced a decreased vote share in every constituency in Northern Ireland.

A major part of the DUP’s fall from grace was its confidence-and-supply partnership with Theresa May and later Johnson’s governments, which propped up successive Conservative regimes at Westminster but ended with the Northern Ireland Protocol and a border down the Irish Sea.

Seen as a dislocation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, the DUP opposes the Protocol, which protects the integrity of the EU single market without the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland, but does not allow goods to move unrestricted from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

While 54 out of the 90 newly-elected members to the Stormont Assembly are pro-Protocol, the DUP has confirmed it will not enter into power sharing until there is “decisive action” on it – meaning radical modification or total repeal. 

Obligingly, the UK Government has been threatening to renege on its responsibilities under the Protocol since September 2020, admitting that it would break international law in the process.

The sabre rattling has become deafening in the past few days, with the UK Attorney General approving a withdrawal from large chunks of the Protocol, and the Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss threatening to scrap it altogether – possibly precipitating unrest in Northern Ireland and a wider trade war with the EU.

Similarly in Scotland, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon backed by her Scottish Green partners in government, has committed to holding a second referendum on independence by 2026, and preferably before the end of 2023.

After 15 years in power and winning 11 elections at Holyrood and Westminster, the SNP’s grip on power is unassailable. With a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, another plebiscite on independence is inevitable. Granting IndyRef2 is within the gift of the UK Government at Westminster alone, and denying Scots a second vote would be unjustifiable.

Outside of the ongoing cost of living crisis, the biggest headache for whichever flavour of Conservative administration fights the next election will be constitutional – and could be cynically weaponised to become their best asset at the ballot box.

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A Wedge Strategy

What we know today as ‘culture wars’ have existed as a fixture in the US political mainstream since the Richard Nixon era as ‘wedge issues’ – social sticking points that have the potential to split or enforce a polarity of opinion. ‘God, guns and gays’ is a perfect example.

Typified by Ronald Reagan advisor Lee Atwater, and practised to this day by Johnson stalwart and on-off Conservative election consultant Lynton Crosby, wedge strategy has been rebranded for the digital age, where a largely unregulated social media and compliant client press permits contentious issues to be extruded to their most sensationalist apogee.

Wedge strategy found its ultimate expression in UK politics in the build-up and aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016, when polemic issues like immigration melded with British hyper-nationalism and Europhobia – largely confected and driven by right-wing voices in the conventional and digital media.

As Byline Times has shown on numerous occasions, the pernicious role of the media in the EU Referendum result cannot be overstated.

In 2015, pollster Ipsos MORI showed that just 1% of the British population believed that the EU was “the most important issue facing Britain today”, alongside the likes of “overpopulation” and “morality”. A month before the Withdrawal Agreement was signed in 2019, 57% believed that Brexit was the country’s largest concern. People who hadn’t given a passing thought to the EU were now burning blue and gold flags in the streets. The politically disaffected and unengaged had become radicalised.

Cutting across traditional ideological lines and the broad-church coalitions of Westminster parties, internecine hostilities fractured party and populous alike. Allegiances and priorities were reformatted to align with Leave or Remain tendencies, exacerbated by the parliamentary gridlock that meant Brexit sucked in all the political oxygen for three and a half years, exhaling only toxins into an already poisonous political atmosphere.

The Brexit wedge became a coverall for the damage that was being wrought on wider society – five years of swingeing austerity became 10 before Brexit was “done”. Health inequalities rose, the wage gap increased, state spending per child sank, general poverty skyrocketed, homelessness soared, the public sector shrank to its smallest size since World War Two, libraries and youth clubs were replaced by foodbanks and community kitchens. The fabric of the nation was shredded, only noticed by those whose lives were ripped apart at the seams.

Whether sought or unsought, wedge strategy and populism based on cultural mores had acted to mask the socioeconomic rot setting into British life, as well as creating a valuable new adversary, an ‘othered’ target for the basest forces of jingoism. In the shared enmity for the EU, a powerful new reactionary coalition was formed that could be periodically reactivated with the same Pavlovian inputs, and for similarly destructive ends.

A Rhetoric of Betrayal

In the coming years, the ‘treason of separatism’ may well become the primary wedge issue around which to reassemble Brexit’s reactionary core, reuniting a cross-party consensus against a common foe and papering over the cracks of economic hardship.

Whichever moniker is used to describe those advocating Scottish independence and Irish reunification – separatists, secessionists, mutineers, insurrectionists, traitors – it is likely that these nationalists will be painted as wreckers and turncoats, Confederates seeking to implode the Union from within in an act of self-harm that strikes at the very heart of British identity.

The mode of attack is already tested, and the precedent has been set for the rhetoric of betrayal to pervade public discourse. Boris Johnson’s repeated use, and defence in 2019, of calling a law that would compel him to seek further time to agree a Brexit deal “The Surrender Act”, was the perfect trial balloon for inflammatory speech. While he was implored to moderate his tone, a Parliament with no punishment for intemperate language relies on self-censure – something that has not been forthcoming.

With multiple once-in-a-generation crises unfolding concurrently, a Government which occults its failings behind the blame of others, needs both an enemy and scapegoat – with the casting of Scottish and Irish nationalism as treason, it can have both, with all of the collateral damage that demonising an enemy within could entail for British society.

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UK Regulators ‘Fumbling in Dark’ After Brexit, Report Finds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 9:01am in

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee raises serious concerns around recruitment and information sharing at three of the country's key watchdogs

Key UK regulators covering food and chemical safety are “fumbling around in the dark” after Brexit, the chair of an influential parliamentary committee has said.

Labour's Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, made the comments in relation to a new National Audit Office (NAO) report revealing how three regulators have been cut off from EU safety data and cannot recruit enough qualified staff to do their job in protecting the public from food risks and chemical safety.

The NAO looked at three regulators – the Food Standards Agency (FSA); the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA); and the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) role in chemicals regulation.

After the UK left the EU, the three regulators had to build – from scratch – new regulatory systems and recruit hundreds of qualified staff to run them. The report reveals that they failed to find enough vets and toxicologists to do the job and had to introduce five-year training programmes to get new staff properly qualified.

All three regulators have lost access to data and information sharing arrangements with EU regulators, which they say has negatively impacted their ability to assess risks and carry out their work. Discussions between the EU and the UK on how to improve co-operation have not yet started.

The FSA has lost full access to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, which it used to exchange information about food safety risks and responses across the EU. Instead civil servants now have to scour public announcements to find out about food safety risks abroad. The report says it requires around 65% more resource to deliver the same international information exchange on food safety incidents now than it did using the EU system.

The FSA has been hit with an upsurge, from an expected 150 to 428 new products needing approval. It is also being hit by getting very little advance notice of new EU food safety regulations which have to be implemented in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Meanwhile, changes at the CMA have affected consumer protection.

"The UK also no longer has a legal gateway to share confidential data with the EU and member states on consumer protection cases," the report states. "This means that... a French consumer enforcement agency that is taking forward a case that has affected UK consumers no longer has the legal means to share details of its investigation with CMA.”

The regulation of chemicals has also been affected, with the HSE having to extend expired licences for some chemicals because it no longer has access to EU data on them.

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“The cost of replicating testing data has been estimated at up to £800 million by industry," the report says. "To address these concerns, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs extended the deadlines set in the initial transitional provisions for companies to meet the full data requirements to between October 2023 and October 2027.”

Hillier said that Brexit has "heaped more work onto UK regulators" but progress is "hampered by shortfalls in skills and the door being closed on EU data sharing".

“There is a building tension between the high-minded talk of new Brexit freedoms and what it means in practice for regulation," she added. "Clear long-term strategies are needed to avoid short-term wasted effort. Government must clearly light the way to prevent regulators fumbling around in the dark.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said that Brexit has had a "major impact" on UK regulators.

"It is essential that regulators and policy-makers develop their future strategies as soon as possible to avoid wasting effort on short-term work and to ensure the decisions they make now meet their longer-term goals," he added.

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Boris Johnson’s Real Brexit Betrayal Was to Abandon the Single Market

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 9:40pm in

The Conservatives promised to keep the UK wedded to its biggest international market after Brexit, but have instead left us in ruinous isolation, reports Adam Bienkov

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Almost all of Britain’s most-pressing political crises can be traced back to a single act by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on Brexit back in 2016 triggered a series of rolling political crises that continue to this day.

The current political paralysis in Northern Ireland, as well as the growing cost of living crisis across the UK, are just two examples of problems that were either directly caused, or significantly worsened, by Brexit.

Yet as the Bank of England governor warns of “apocalyptic” food price rises, the Government has attempted to claim that our current problems are all somehow inevitable results of long-term global political trends.

However, while Brexit did not directly cause all of our current problems, it has certainly made most of them measurably worse.

A report by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank last month found that Britain's exit from the EU has directly led to a 6% increase in food prices.

This problem will only grow. If Johnson follows through on his threat to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol, then the inevitable new trade barriers imposed by the EU will make the current increase in our food bills look like small change.

Yet whenever such arguments are raised, supporters of Brexit inevitably fall back on accusing their critics of being undemocratic.

But while it is true to say that a narrow majority did support leaving the EU back in 2016, that vote did not state what form our exit should take, nor the terms on which our relationship with Europe should remain.

And while Johnson now appears determined to keep the UK permanently in conflict with the rest of Europe, it is vital to remember that this is very much not what either he or his predecessors, told us to expect.

A Timeline of Broken Promises

'We say yes to the Single Market'

"We are clear about what we want from Europe”, the Conservative Party stated in its 2015 manifesto.

“We say: yes to the Single Market”.

Conservative Party manifesto 2015.

The history of the Conservative Party’s abandonment of the idea of the European Single Market tells us a lot about the current mess we are in.

Championed by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Single Market was for decades a matter of straightforward political orthodoxy for Conservative politicians.

Asked in 2013 about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union, Johnson told Sky News that whatever happened, he would support Britain's continued membership of the market.

"I would vote to stay in the single market", Johnson said.

"I'm in favour of the single market. I want us to be able to trade freely with our European friends and partners."

Asked again later that year about the possibility of Brexit, he replied that: "personally, I would like to stay in the Single Market".

"We need to stay in the council of ministers of the internal market. In my view, the British have done good things for Europe."

Staying in the Single Market is 'essential and deliverable'

Even as the possibility of an EU referendum grew, Johnson remained committed to Britain's Single Market membership.

At one point he called for the Brexit referendum to be held on the question of whether to remain in a "boiled down" version of the EU, inside the Single Market.

"We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland" he explained, referring to those countries' semi-detached relationship with the rest of Europe.

He added that such an arrangement would be "essential and deliverable".

'If we did not have [the EU] we would have to invent it'

Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave rally in 2016. Photo: Stuart Boulton / Alamy

There have long been doubts about the honesty of Johnson's supposed anti-European politics

Indeed, long term friends and former colleagues of the Prime Minister suggest that far from being a committed Europhobe, he was actually always broadly in favour of the EU.

The truth of this can be found right back at the start of his political career.

"I am not by any means an ultra-Eurosceptic", he told the House of Commons in 2003.

"In some ways, I am a bit of a fan of the European Union.

He added that: "If we did not have one, we would invent something like it".

Not only did Johnson back the continued existence of the EU, but he actively supported enlarging it.

While his Brexit campaign would later stoke fears about Turkey joining the EU, he told MPs in 2003 that the UK would be "foolish" to prevent the country's entry to the bloc.

The most 'pro-immigration' politician in Britain

Vote Leave badges. Photo: Stuart Boulton / Alamy

Johnson's Government now poses as fiercely anti-immigration and is imposing what even ministers believe could be illegal plans to deport refugees to Rwanda.

These draconian new restrictions on our borders are sold to the public as a "benefit" of Brexit and Britain's exit from the Single Market.

However, it's worth remembering that Johnson's rise to power came off the back of his claim to be an actively pro-immigration politician.

Indeed when he was Mayor of London, Johnson claimed to be the most pro-immigration politician in the country.

"I'm probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he's pro-immigration", Johnson said in 2013.

And far from arguing for an immigration clampdown, he would regularly boast of the benefits of EU immigration to the capital.

And despite his recent stance on Rwanda, as Mayor he repeatedly called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

"Ultimately you have got to reflect reality", he told LBC back in 2013.

"Otherwise they are not engaged in the economy, they are not being honest with the system, they are not paying their taxes properly and it is completely crazy."

Remaining in the EU would be a 'boon for the world'

Johnson now portrays anyone who campaigned for Britain to Remain in the EU as being part of an out of touch metropolitan elite.

However, what is sometimes forgotten is that the Prime Minister came incredibly close to being among them himself.

In fact, when Johnson sat down to write his endorsement for the Brexit campaign, we now know that he also secretly wrote another article arguing the complete opposite.

In the drafted article he suggested that remaining in the European Union would be a "boon for the world and for Europe".

"This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms", he wrote.

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"The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?"

Johnson later claimed the article was merely a "thought experiment".

However, some of his own friends and allies believe this is untrue.

One close colleague of the Prime Minister says that in reality he never really wanted to leave the EU and certainly never believed it would actually happen.

They say that Johnson's last-minute decision to back Brexit was in reality "all about the leadership" and merely a cynical gamble designed to secure his place in Downing Street.

Johnson's Real Brexit Betrayal Boris Johnson. Photo: Horst Friedrichs / Alamy

In some respects, Johnson's gamble paid off. His role in leading the Brexit campaign convinced Conservative MPs to make him their leader and he went on to win the last general election on the promise to "Get Brexit Done".

Yet some six years after the referendum, Brexit remains very much not done.

The political crisis triggered by Cameron's referendum has so far led to the deposal of two prime ministers, the calling of two general elections and a growing constitutional paralysis which could ultimately result in the break up of the United Kingdom.

And while some of these shorter-term crises may ultimately resolve themselves, Britain's longer-term outlook is as a nation made permanently poorer by the decision to cut our ties to the EU.

A forecast by the International Monetary Fund last month suggested that the UK will next year have the lowest growth of any major developed economy, with only sanctioned Russia experiencing lower growth.

By leaving the European Single Market and then threatening a trade war with the EU, Johnson is driving the UK to the most economically and politically ruinous form of Brexit.

Not only is this a disaster in its own terms, but it is also a direct betrayal of the Brexit we were told to expect.

When Johnson campaigned for Brexit, we were told that it would lead to lower prices, liberalised free trade, and a new 'global Britain' set free of its chains to the EU.

In reality, we now have surging prices, a looming trade war and a nation permanently paralysed by never-ending negotiations with our European neighbours.

None of this was inevitable, but was in fact the result of a deliberate political choice to choose one particular version of Brexit over many others.

After six years of political paralysis, it is time that we thought again about that choice.

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And Johnson even admits he was responsible

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 12:25pm in

And to a BBC journalist: He must feel that never mind the UK, he, Johnson, now has nothing to lose. The duped nation simply has to look on in hopeless resignation.... Read more

Johnson demonstrates yet again that he is unfit for office

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 11:30am in

In this, quite remarkable clip: Johnson says he signed the NI protocol because he ‘hoped & believed our [European] friends would not necessarily want to apply it.’ So that was yet another lie that the Brexit deal was ‘oven-ready’. He now admits that he simply signed an internationl treaty in the full expectation that it... Read more

Just Imagine if the EU was Behaving as the UK Is

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 1:05am in

Chris Grey poses a thought experiment around the Government's plans to scrap part of the Northern Ireland Protocol

Imagine an alternative history of Brexit. In it, everything happens as it has in reality, except for one difference: after all the painful negotiations, the Withdrawal Agreement is finally signed by the EU and the UK, and it is legally binding both parties under international law – but immediately afterwards key figures in the EU start saying some extraordinary things. 

These things relate to what had once been a highly controversial issue that was central to the Withdrawal Agreement – the financial settlement. In the early days, many Brexiters insisted that no such settlement was due. Boris Johnson, for instance, said the EU could “go whistle” for the money. Some even said that, if anything, the EU should refund some of the money Britain had paid it over the years. But, even if reluctantly on the part of the UK Government, a settlement had been reached. 

But, within a few days of the signature, imagine that senior people in the EU said that, of course, this didn’t mean that the amount owed was fixed – really, the UK owed much more. At first, this would be pretty much ignored in the UK; dismissed as posturing within the EU in order to appease hardliners who want to punish Britain. 

Yet, gradually, it would emerge that the EU is deadly serious. How could this possibly be? 

In a series of articles and speeches the EU’s Chief Negotiator, and numerous EU politicians, would explain: the EU had only signed the Withdrawal Agreement because it was under internal pressure from some member states to reach an agreement, whereas others wanted to hold out and demand a bigger financial settlement. So the EU signed it without really meaning it and told those who were unhappy that, once it had done so, the EU would re-negotiate with the UK. In effect, the EU only signed under duress from its members and the UK took advantage of that temporary weakness to impose a fraudulent settlement upon it. In any case, the EU would claim that it never expected that the UK would insist that the agreement had to be followed to the letter.

What, at this point, would the reaction of the UK Government and Brexiters be? Abject fury at the EU’s duplicity most likely. 

But imagine then that things get worse.

Suddenly, the EU starts saying that, while it had been agreed that the financial settlement would be paid over a ‘grace’ period of several years, it has now decided that this period will be changed – and it starts putting in larger and larger invoices. The UK Government is shocked, but takes no decisive action and goes along with what the EU has unilaterally decided, hoping that through negotiation the EU will see reason.

Briefly, some British Government ministers announce that, given the financial situation caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the UK will suspend all payments of the financial settlement – though within a few hours of doing so they retract the threat, realising how unreasonable it was. But the EU sees this as proof of the UK's dishonesty and says that it justifies it now increasing the entire financial settlement, as it had always intended.

Of course the UK would have a very easy response to so absurd a suggestion: the financial settlement is part of an agreement enshrined in international law, so if the EU doesn't like it, then just too bad. Surely that’s obvious?

Imagine then that the EU makes a truly bizarre announcement. It says that it intends to pass an EU law unilaterally changing the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement so as to set a higher exit bill for the UK. What’s more, its own lawyers have said that this is fully legal in the circumstances, and that EU law takes precedence over international law. And, anyway, with war in Ukraine, is the UK really going quibble about paying a few billion pounds more than it had agreed?

Again, it is very easy to imagine the response of the UK Government and the newspaper articles that Brexiter columnists would be writing. The anger would be off the scale. The EU would be excoriated for its dishonesty and its contempt for international law. The UK would be seen as the well-intentioned, law-abiding victim of a grotesque act of bad faith. Certainly, it would not comply with something that self-evidently had no legal standing. Meanwhile, other countries, including no doubt the US, would be openly condemning the EU or quietly appalled by its descent into international pariahdom. 

This thought experiment isn’t a perfect analogy, but it captures the essence of how, in reality, the UK Government has behaved over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a contentious part of the Brexit settlement that formed a key component of the eventual Withdrawal Agreement. But, ever since the UK Government signed it, it has denied the meaning of the protocol in terms of the establishment of an Irish Sea border.

It has since been claimed that the Government regarded it as an unsatisfactory deal forced upon it by domestic political pressures – while telling voters it was a ‘great’ and represented an ‘oven-ready' deal that would 'get Brexit done'; and assuring Conservative backbenchers that it was a provisional deal that would be re-negotiated later. Crucially, it signed an international treaty that it has ever since sought to renege on.

If, as in the thought experiment, the EU had acted in this way then – with very good reason – the Government, Brexiter commentators and, indeed, the many people who had wanted to remain in the EU, would have been angry and disgusted.

In fact, it’s not even necessary to imagine all the twists and turns of the thought experiment – suppose, very simply, that the EU had sought to change any aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland Protocol, in a direction closer to its preferences and against those of the UK. The result, in terms of Government and Brexiter anger, would be similar – that it was intolerable for the EU not to stick to what it had agreed.

There’s a long-established precept in ethical philosophy to the effect that you should only act in a certain way if you would want, and accept, everyone else acting in that same way. That’s sometimes rendered as ‘do as you would be done by’ or just ‘what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’. However formulated, it applies here.

So anyone who can see how outrageous it would be if the EU had behaved as described in this thought experiment ought to recognise how outrageous the UK’s behaviour, in actual fact, is and continues to be. And to condemn it accordingly.

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‘Addicted to Exploiting Migrant Labour’: The Hidden Hostile Environment in the Fishing Industry

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 7:22pm in

Post-Brexit immigration rules are pushing more and more foreign fishermen to the margins of an already exploitative system, reports Frankie Vetch

When Emmanuel* came to work in the UK, the conditions on the boat were the worst he had ever seen. Having grown up around fishing in Ghana, for him it was a way of life. But when he came to Northern Ireland in 2018, his positive perception of the industry was shattered. Emmanuel has since been registered as a victim of modern slavery. Now he can tell his story of how the UK immigration system drove him into human trafficking.

Like so many other fishermen, Emmanuel entered the UK on a transit visa; a loophole used by employers to bypass strict migration laws. When he flew the more than 3,000 miles from his home in Ghana, he was picked up at Belfast airport and taken straight to work on a boat. An experienced fisherman, Emmanuel was shocked to find the boat was not fit to go out to sea. He was even more surprised to learn that this is where he would have to live, eat, and sleep.

Despite his contract stating that he was assigned to one specific vessel, Emmanuel was quickly transferred to another. And then another. And then another. At times he would be transferred at midnight, not even knowing the name of the new vessel he was working on. Back home in Ghana, Emmanuel says he would have been given proper accommodation. Constantly living under the threat of being sent home or having his passport confiscated by his employer was psychologically damaging.

“You feel like you have been trapped on a boat where you don’t have any means to even say you want to leave,” he says. “You and your skipper only know what really happens on the boat.”

Fishing After Brexit

The UK’s strict post-Brexit immigration system is increasing the risk of exploitation for foreign fishermen. As part of the point-based system, most foreigners working in the UK must come on a skilled worker visa. Following lobbying from the industry, last April the Government opened up the visa to fishermen. But Byline Times can reveal that so far not a single visa has been granted to a fisherman.

Due to poor working conditions, long hours and low pay, fishing has become an unattractive occupation for young people in the UK. According to Alison Godfrey, deputy chief executive at the Fishermen’s Mission, “For a number of years, it has been hard to find Brits who want to fish. It is the most dangerous peacetime occupation. It doesn’t pay well and has long hours.”

With a decline in domestic and EU fishermen, the industry has become increasingly reliant on non-EEA workers like Emmanuel. According to a survey by the organisation Seafish – a government-funded body – around 35% of fishermen are not from the UK. Ghanaians and Filipinos represent the largest proportion of this figure.

Without access to skilled worker visas, fishermen enter the UK on a transit visa. These largely unregulated visas force workers to operate outside the UK’s territorial zone – meaning that any boat carrying transit visa workers should fish at a minimum of 12 nautical miles (the equivalent of around 14 miles) from domestic shorelines.

Sea conditions this far out are harsher, making it more dangerous for crews. And for fishing vessel owners in places like the west of Scotland, the shape of the coastline can make it difficult to even access these waters.

According to a new report by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the transit visa is not designed to be used for fishermen, but for seafarers transiting through the UK to board vessels operating in international waters. But the report says that for the last 15 years, the transit visa has been used to systematically exploit foreign labour.

Exploiting Migrant Labour

Byline Times spoke to several other Ghanaian fishermen who recounted similar experiences of exploitation.

Some of them worked for a company with a well-documented history of exploitation. The fishermen described being verbally abused, underpaid, and threatened with deportation while working off British coastlines. They say captains used racist abuse against them and described feeling threatened. Some were even physically attacked.

In the UK if you are over the age of 23 and are working 40 hours a week, the minimum wage is £1,520 a month. The fishermen, who were usually working well over 40 hours, had contracts for as little as £700 a month – but in practice they were sometimes paid even less. 

One fisherman, called James*, who still works in the UK, has been employed on vessels where there were no toilets or showers. Sometimes he has gone five days without a shower. Often the boats are small and dangerous to operate in bad weather. Despite these conditions, because he can only enter the UK on a transit visa, he must sleep and live on the boats that he is contracted to work on. The only time he can go ashore is to shop. With a family to feed back home, James has no choice but to continue working in the UK.

“It is so cold on board it can be minus one or two degrees, and you are living without a heater. If I had a visa, I could rent a house or a room and have heat,” he says.  

These experiences substantiate the concerns of experts that the immigration system is driving workers into exploitation. Due to the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies, the risk of being deported is significant for migrant fishermen. This plays into the hands of exploitative employers who wield the threat of deportation. According to the ITF report, by criminalising fishermen violating immigration rules, the Government is increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.

It was recently reported that P&O ferries had replaced 800 UK staff with a crew of foreign seafarers who are to be paid £1.80 an hour. It is this same under-regulated system that allows fishermen to be exploited.

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Vessels inside the territorial zone are meant to be regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Even within this area, there is confusion among public authorities about who is responsible for regulation. Those vessels fishing outside the zone are subject to International Maritime Law and in this largely unregulated environment, fishermen are at even greater risk of exploitation.

“Any suspected employment issue on a vessel will be investigated fully by the MCA and a surveyor will conduct checks on any vessel that reportedly holds victims of human trafficking,” the MCA says. “If there is evidence which supports the suspicion of modern slavery or human trafficking, the MCA will work with other enforcement agencies (the police, Border Force etc.) to ensure action is taken. The MCA is strongly committed to halting human trafficking and being a part of the solution to prevent modern slavery.”

Skilled worker visas should ensure employees are paid properly. Workers over the age of 25 are guaranteed a minimum salary of £25,600, which is more than double the £12,000 or less the Ghanaian fishermen we spoke to were earning.

The biggest barrier facing fishermen seeking to obtain a skilled worker visa is the English language test. Harry Wick, CEO of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation, believes the test is unnecessarily hard as it requires fishermen to write to a level that does not match the requirements of the job. Many foreign fishermen can speak good enough English and have enough specialist language knowledge to safely work on vessels. But to pass the test can take years of learning English. This is time and money many fishermen do not have.

A Culture of Silence

It is because of the experiences suffered by the likes of Emmanuel and James that Chris Williams, from ITF, is advocating for skilled worker visas to be opened to more fishermen and for the transit visa loophole to be closed.

Williams has worked with several fishermen who have been exploited and says, “UK legislation is enabling conditions for forced labour and modern slavery.” He added: “The fishing industry is addicted to exploiting migrant labour and underpaying them.”

Freedom of Information data obtained from the Home Office by Byline Times reveals that a minimum of six fishermen were referred to the UK’s modern slavery referral mechanism in 2021. Data obtained from Scottish and Northern Irish police forces indicates that there were five cases in those countries.

In 2022, there have been four cases referred to the Northern Irish police. The true scale is hard to gauge because of the dangerous repercussions facing those willing to speak out. Not many people are willing to take the risk that Emmanuel has for fear of being blacklisted by the industry or even physically attacked.

Representatives of the UK fishing industry were reluctant to acknowledge there is a problem with exploitation. One Democratic Unionist Party MP, who represents a constituency with a large fishing community in it, when asked if there was a problem with exploitation of non-EEA fishermen said: “No not at all. Definitely not. Not even hinted at.”

Emmanuel believes that he was lured into trafficking through the transit visa system. A skilled worker visa would have ensured that he was paid above the minimum wage, received paid leave, and that he was assigned work he was contracted to do.

Because of his experiences, Emmanuel has given up fishing to work in the construction industry. He is not alone. Others back in Ghana are reluctant to work on UK fishing vessels at a time when the industry desperately needs skilled foreign labour.

“This experience has changed my perception of fishing, which back home is a noble profession”, Emmanuel told Byline Times. “I learnt my trade in fishing, so everything about me is fishing. But since coming to the UK and going through this I don’t want to go back to fishing. The people that work in the fishing industry in this country only think about profit, they don’t think about you.”

*Not his real name

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What Man Has Made of Man: Confessions of an Optimist

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 9:04pm in

Alexandra Hall Hall considers the mistakes she has made in believing that the arc of history was travelling in a more progressive direction

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Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,

While in a grove I sat reclined,

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

By William Wordsworth

Much has been written about the many misjudgements of Russian President Vladimir Putin in launching his invasion of Ukraine. He is regarded as having over-estimated the strength and capability of his own military, and the ease with which they would be able to defeat Ukrainian forces. He under-estimated the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people, and the inspiring leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky. He also grossly miscalculated the reaction of the West. He believed that NATO had become so divided, distracted and demoralised by problems at home and abroad that it would never be able to muster the will or the unity to mount a strong or sustained response to support Ukraine.

Putin is now suffering the consequences of his many errors. His forces are suffering numerous setbacks in Ukraine. Russia’s economy is being buffeted by sanctions. Russia’s international standing is undermined. Putin’s personal legacy, at least outside Russia, is in tatters. But while there is a certain grim satisfaction in seeing Putin proved wrong on so many counts, I ask, who amongst us can really claim to have got many of the big calls right either?

Certainly, I would argue that many of us have also been surprised by how things have turned out in Ukraine so far. I don’t think many of us expected the Russian army to fare so badly, or the Ukrainians to mount such a heroic resistance. The very fact that Zelensky apparently rejected a US proposal to take refuge in a neighbouring country – prompting his famous statement “I need weapons, not a ride” – suggests many assumed his Government would crumble.

I think many of us have also been pleasantly surprised by the robustness of the Western response to the conflict. Who could have imagined, just a few weeks ago, millions of Ukrainian refugees being welcomed into private homes across Europe with minimal popular backlash; Germany blocking Nordstream 2 and sending weapons to Ukraine; the UK clamping down on Russian money and oligarchs; the EU imposing punishing sanctions and working to end its dependency on Russian oil and gas; the US overcoming its domestic political divides to lead a strong international response; and Sweden and Finland talking about joining NATO?

Yet, as I survey the current geopolitical scene, I feel no sense of smugness or superiority, but instead a deep worry about the many other misjudgments I have made, which have far less positive implications.

For example, high on feelings of national pride, and the emotions generated by the spirit and success of the London Olympics in 2012, I did not foresee that four years later my country would descend into bitter infighting and rancour over the Brexit referendum. I also never imagined that six years later, Brexit would still not be “done”; that people would still be arguing over the rights and wrongs of that vote; and that our society would if anything be even more divided.

I also misjudged the extent to which Brexit-supporting politicians on both sides of the Chamber were willing to mislead the British public by claiming we could “have our cake and eat it”. Or, for that matter, how easily so many people were gulled by these false promises and lies.

I misjudged the extent to which Brexiters were willing to slander and insult political opponents as “enemies of the people” or “out of touch elites”. I also never anticipated that they would claim a mandate to drive through the hardest form of Brexit, instead of trying to lead a process of national consultation and reconciliation, to bridge some of the Brexit divides.

George Orwell’s books 1984 and Animal Farm are still on bestseller lists, not as cautionary tales about what once happened in the past, but as a troubling sign of what many fear might be happening in the present.

I miscalculated the extent to which Brexit politicians were willing to act so duplicitously, claiming the intention to sustain a good relationship with the EU, while continuing to blame the EU for some of the entirely foreseen negative impacts of Brexit, such as greater red tape and bureaucracy. I miscalculated the ability of opposition political parties to highlight the flaws and inconsistencies in the Government’s approach. I miscalculated their ability to offer a credible alternative, attractive to the electorate.

I underestimated our current Government’s brazenness in continuing to downplay the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement. I underestimated their lack of shame in misrespresenting some of the details of the Northern Ireland Protocol. I underestimated their shamelessness in trying to shift onto the EU the responsibility for fixing the current problems with the Protocol, even though these were created by our own Government, through its own choices.

I never anticipated that having sold the Withdrawal Agreement to the British people as a great success, barely two years later the politicians who negotiated it would be trying to walk away from its terms. I never believed that a country which presented itself to the world as a ‘force for good’ and a stalwart defender of international law, would itself threaten to renege on a treaty that it had signed. I underestimated the extent to which a British government would be willing to act in such bad faith towards neighbours and allies.

I am also guilty of being complacent about the strength of our own democracy. I had assumed that the kind of populist demagoguery seen in some other Western democracies recently would not be possible in the UK. I over-relied on a sense of innate decency amongst most British politicians, to act as a check on executive overreach, and prevent breaches of the norms and conventions of our unwritten constitution.

In particular, I had always assumed that British politicians would honour the convention to treat their political opponents with respect. I assumed that a UK Prime Minister would never wilfully lie to the Queen, or prorogue Parliament unlawfully. I assumed that a UK Prime Minister asking for great sacrifices of the British public during a pandemic crisis would scrupulously adhere to those same rules himself. I assumed that politicians found guilty of breaking the law or lying to Parliament would step down, in accordance with the Ministerial Code. I misjudged the extent to which Brexit had so poisoned our politics that it has become almost impossible to acknowledge any good in the other side, or accept any mistakes as honest ones.

I also always trusted that even if parliamentary standards began to erode, other institutions in our democracy would hold our government to account. I assumed that our free press would always expose wrongdoing. But I underestimated the extent to which much of our press has been taken over by vested interests, with unhealthy connections and loyalty to certain political parties. I misjudged the extent to which this would lead many of our newspapers to shamefully slant their coverage of events to the benefit of one political party or another.

I also overestimated the extent to which our society has become more tolerant and accepting of diversity. I never anticipated any UK Government indulging in grotesque dog-whistle racist politics, and tacitly encouraging hostility towards migrants. I never imagined that a country which had helped to draft both the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on Refugees would ever seek to evade its obligations under those treaties.

On the international level, I never expected in my lifetime to see a conflict in Europe reminiscent of the horrors of World War Two. I never expected to see a Russian President celebrate his country’s defeat of Naziism while allowing his troops to use Nazi methods of brutality themselves. I never expected to see the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, and in less than a year remove the right to education for women and girls, and require them to be veiled from head to toe. I never expected a politician from the National Front, deeply opposed to the EU, coming so close to winning the presidency in France. I never expected ‘genocide’ to be a term which applied to conflicts in the 21st Century. I never expected our global community to be struggling to protect the very climate we all depend on for survival.

But, then again, I never expected to see an American President reject the outcome of an election and encourage a physical assault on the buildings at the heart of American democracy. I never expected medieval attitudes to women to resurface in America – with a leaked Supreme Court memorandum on abortion containing references to judicial rulings from the 13th Century.

I never expected common-sense education and discussion about sexual orientation and preferences to be recharacterised as “grooming” of young children by sexual predators. I never expected the long-overdue debate about the history of racism and slavery in America to be badged as extremist, or harmful to white people. I never expected Americans to be campaigning to remove books from libraries, or a state governor to set up a hotline for pupils to report teachers allegedly deviating from approved educational material.

I never expected America to remain so tolerant of the shockingly high number of mass shootings caused by the widespread private ownership of guns.  I could never have imagined living in a country where state officials matter-of-factly debate different methods of executing people sentenced to death.

In fact, when I step back to reflect, I realise I have been guilty of gross naïvety on many, many fronts.

Above all, I trusted in human beings learning from past mistakes and becoming better over time. I repeatedly and misguidedly trusted in the slogan ‘never again’. I put misplaced confidence in democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and peace steadily spreading around the world, as nations and communities became better educated and more intertwined. I trusted that nationalism, racism, misogyny and other prejudices would recede, and tolerance, diversity and mutual respect for each other would spread.

I never expected the degree to which, in the 21st Century, we would still have so many charlatans and corrupt officials in public office. I never thought we would still have so many dictatorships and military-led regimes around the world, still able to brutalise and suppress their people with impunity. I never expected ‘great power’ politics to be an ongoing theme.

And I could never imagine living at a time when words have become so twisted, trust in institutions has become so eroded, and truth has become so relative, that facts are no longer facts, but merely interpretations. George Orwell’s books 1984 and Animal Farm are still on bestseller lists, not as cautionary tales about what once happened in the past, but as a troubling sign of what many fear might be happening in the present.

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So, yes, Putin has got many things wrong in his lifetime. Hopefully, perhaps that also means he may misjudge the strength of his own position at home. Conventional wisdom says it will be hard for any internal opposition to overthrow him, but perhaps we will be proved wrong here too.

But if I have learned anything from the last few years, it is that wishful thinking is a mistake. It is wiser not to rely on man’s better nature prevailing, or to assume that bad things won’t happen. The lesson from history is that bad people frequently get away with things they shouldn’t; and, while we can certainly hope and strive for the best, we should always be prepared for the worst.

As William Wordsworth wrote at the end of his famous poem:

“Have I not reason to lament

What man has made of man?”

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat with more than 30 years experience, with postings in Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Bogota and Tbilisi. She resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 because she felt unable to represent the Government’s position on Brexit with integrity

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The UK – seems to be run by idiots…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 10:16am in

I have just seen a ‘UK’ sticker on the back of a van. This is what the Tory government, having thought about unity – and of course it has since done its best to undermine it – thinks is better than a sticker that has long been familiar in the EU – a GB sticker.... Read more

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