Abdulqader Hilal Al-Dabab, known as Hilal, was the mayor of Sana’a. He died in March, alongside more than 140 others, when a Saudi ‘double tap air strike’ hit a funeral ceremony. The falling walls of the Grand Hall buried him; and he passed away in the ambulance to the hospital.
Host Nicolas Niarchos speaks to Hilal’s son, a student in the US, about his father’s path and principles, and how we tried to keep Sana’a running throughout the war. Zooming out, the podcast also critically examines origins of the war and the British and American support to the Saudi air force, which keeps it going. And it talks about the future, which has just gotten even a bit bleaker, as a whole generation of potential peacemakers died that day in March.
Today the Liberal Democrats published their manifesto for the upcoming general election. In it, they pledged to legalise cannabis, raise £6bn to be spent on the NHS, social care, and public health, and to hold a referendum on the Brexit deal.
Labour’s manifesto, which was published yesterday, stated that they wouldn’t fight the referendum result, but would campaign for a ‘Brexit that works for everyone.’
The Lib Dems, however, are unequivocal in their desire to remain in the European Union.
In a campaign video released today, party leader Tim Farron addressed the British public: ‘if you accept [the Brexit] deal, then that’s what Britain gets, and if you don’t, you should be entitled to vote to remain in the European Union.’
With the Conservatives ‘take it or leave it’ approach to the Brexit talks, and Labour’s acceptance of the split, the Lib Dems are not only trying to appeal to remainers, but also to the leave voters who they believe are disillusioned with Theresa May’s tough Brexit stance.
They are hoping to build on their 9 MPs in parliament by harnessing what they see as the untapped pro-EU sentiment and embodying ‘Remainia.’
However, a recent YouGov poll showed that growing numbers of Brits feel the government has a duty to leave the EU, 23% more than in last years’ referendum in fact. ‘Forget 52%,’ this new demographic – knows as ‘Re-leavers’ – means the ‘pro-Brexit electorate’ now stands at 68%.
In what has been dubbed the ‘Brexit election,’ the success of the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to replace Labour as the UK’s official opposition rests largely on their Brexit stance.
In the manifesto, the Lib Dems clearly state their belief that ‘Britain is better off in the EU: it has led directly to greater prosperity, increased trade, investment and jobs, better security, and a greener environment.’
In the aftermath of Brexit, they say, ‘the value of the pound has plummeted, inflation has risen, growth in the economy has slowed, and the government is already borrowing billions more to fill the gap in lost tax revenue.’
And to make matters worse, the message being sent to young people is that their vote counts for nothing, while priority issues – ‘such as the future of the NHS’ – have been put on the back burner as the government concentrates on leaving the EU.
According to the Lib Dems, the Conservatives campaign for a ‘Hard Brexit will make all these problems worse.’
During Brexit negotiations, the Lib Dems say they will commit to using their ‘strength in Parliament to press for keeping Britain as close as possible to Europe,’ and will fight to:
Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal, ‘with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper.’
Protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in Europe, and simplify the requirements for EU nationals to obtain permanent residence and British citizenship whilst urging European leaders to do the same for Brits living abroad.
Maintain membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union.
Support Freedom of Movement – ‘to abandon it would threaten Britain’s prosperity, and reputation as an open, tolerant society’ – so Brits are able to live and work in the EU.
Protect Erasmus and other EU-schemes aimed at young people.
Preserve EU-derived social rights and equality laws such as ’52 weeks’ maternity leave and rights to annual leave.’
Cooperate as closely as possible on climate and energy policy with the EU, which has ‘the highest environmental standards in the world.’
Maintain ‘maximum cooperation’ with Europol, continue sharing police databases, and retain the European Arrest Warrant.
Safeguard support for British industry, such as ‘farming, tourism and the creative industries,’ and ‘regional support for deprived areas.’
Allow London to retain its ‘full rights in EU financial markets: The City of London is Europe’s financial capital.’
Reject any decrease in investment in UK universities, and campaign for their right to apply for EU funding.
‘Retain traveller and tourist benefits such as the European Health Insurance Card, reduced roaming charges and pet passports.’
And finally, the Lib Dems say they will ‘oppose any moves that threaten’ Northern Irish political stability, and ‘campaign to protect the rights of the people of Gibraltar.’
The Lib Dems increased their vote share from 7% to 18% in the recent local elections.
But they also lost 28 seats, and the growing ‘Re-leaver’ trend is cause for concern. In the run-up to the elections on June 8th, the last thing that the Lib Dems want to hear is that Remainers have moved on.
After the British general election on June 8th, representatives of the European Union and the UK government will begin painstakingly unpicking Britain’s ties with the EU.
Predictably, tensions are already running high.
Amid rumours of a disastrous dinner at 10 Downing Street with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that he would soon find her to be a ‘bloody difficult woman.’
And recently Mrs May accused the EU of trying to influence the result of the general election, stoking anti-Europe sentiment in an effort to court wavering UKIP voters and the right wing British press.
Tory claims that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ are a bad omen for Remainers hoping to retain EU citizens’ rights, and not wishing to alienate their continental neighbours.
In the blue corner. Representing Britain during the Brexit talks will be the self-styled no-nonsense deal-maker, Brexit Secretary David Davis, who explained his bullish negotiating strategy in his book ‘How to Turn Round a Company:’
‘The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.’
He recently claimed that Jean-Claude Juncker was trying to get him sacked.
In the… darker blue corner. Representing the European Union is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who has been called ‘the most dangerous man in Europe.’
He has already made it clear that the ‘four freedoms’ (free movement of goods, people, services and capital across borders) are indivisible, and that ‘EU membership must always remain the most advantageous status.’
Then, representing the European Parliament – who recently published their red lines on the Brexit negotiations – will be Brexit coordinator, and Nigel Farage’s favourite whipping boy, Guy Verhofstadt.
The former Prime Minister of Belgium won’t take part in negotiations, but his presence will be acutely felt. Acting on behalf of the European Parliament (EP), Mr. Verhofstadt will have the power to ultimately reject a deal if it is not to the member states’ liking.
And Verhofstadt won’t hesitate to brandish this veto.
In fact, he has already said that the EP would reject a deal that failed to preserve the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe.
Spoiler alert. Guy Verhofstadt is unlikely to find himself seeing eye to eye with the British negotiating team.
He is aware of the existential crisis facing the EU, but Verhofstadt argues that its roots lie in the EU’s lack of power, not in its incompetence or tendency to meddle in national affairs.
The only way forward is to ‘finish the federal project,’ he writes, and create a ‘United States of Europe.’
So, what do we know about what Mr. Verhofstadt thinks about Brexit? And when might he use the European Parliament veto?
In his new book, Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, his analysis is unequivocal: Brexit was a historic mistake.
Here are his 7 main takeaways from the UK’s decision to leave the EU:
1. Brexit was irrational
Britain owes much of its recent economic growth to the EU internal market, Verhofstadt argues, and both the middle and the working classes are going to suffer the consequences of the decision to leave.
He gives the example of British workers seeing the value of their pensions decrease, ‘or their dreams of living in Spain curtailed,’ in the aftermath of the vote.
Students ‘will be excluded from Erasmus,’ UK universities will no longer benefit from European research grants, he says, and the poorer areas of southwest and northeast England will stop receiving EU aid.
Vote Leave ‘campaigned with emotion,’ writes Verhofstadt, ‘not rationality.’
‘This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox.’
2. Brexit felt like the end of the United Kingdom
‘The day after the referendum,’ he writes, ‘Brits woke up feeling eerie in a divided country. Racism and xenophobia had been let loose.’
After a ‘merciless leave campaign that had focussed in the nastiest way imaginable on migration instead of whether to remain or leave,’ he says, it is no surprise that there was a sharp spike in hate crimes when Brexit was announced.
‘This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox,’ Verhofstadt argues, quoting a line published post-referendum in the British tabloid The Sun: ‘Streets full of Polish shops. Kids not speaking English. But the Union jack flying high again.’
And the campaign reached its ‘nadir,’ he says, when former UKIP leader Nigel Farage unveiled a billboard showing queuing refugees that was emblazoned with the words “Breaking Point:” ‘a ploy directly inspired by a Nazi propaganda film from the late 1930s.’
3. A minority of Brits wanted to leave the EU
Many Leave voters declared that they had only wanted to see the back of David Cameron, Verhofstadt writes, and that ‘they would have voted differently had they known that Brexit was going to happen.’
‘If the Brexit vote proved anything, it proved the “remain” camp right,’ he argues, considering the negative societal and economic consequences the split has already had.
‘It has turned into a divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted,’ while deepening divisions between the Tories, ‘splitting the whole country, and dragging the rest of the EU down with it.’
4. There is ‘no way back’ from Brexit
Given that Tory constituencies voted heavily in favour of Brexit, Verhofstadt sees a second referendum – or a ‘reversal of the first one’ – as ‘highly unlikely:’ ‘There is no way back.’
The biggest risk going forward is that Brexit negotiations ‘drag on for years,’ and join the ‘long list’ of unsolved EU crises: ‘the Greek crisis, the refugee crisis, an unresolved economic crisis, and the seemingly ever-present terrorist threat.’
5. The EU can’t be soft with Britain
‘The British were right to question the ability of the European Union to meet the challenges we Europeans face,’ writes Verhofstadt, but it would be a mistake to be ‘soft’ with them.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin channelling money to the far-right French Front National and the increasingly anti-Islam United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), giving Britain ‘too much wiggle room to extract favours and deals’ will only embolden anti-European parties who already see the EU as a ‘doormat.’
‘Brexit has turned into a divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted.’
6. Remaining in the internal market would be costly
Theresa May must decide what “remaining close to European neighbours” means, Verhofstadt argues.
‘Does the UK want a trade deal with the EU, like Canada or Japan?’
Or does it want to ‘go a step further’ and retain access to the internal market? If so, Verhofstadt is clear that the UK must accept the ‘four freedoms,’ which would mean agreeing to uncapped immigration from other EU states.
‘The à la carte Europe satisfies no one.’
While Britain and Europe remain close, and are ‘major trading partners,’ retaining the privileges of internal market access ‘would entail Britain’s complete acceptance of EU rules without having a seat at the table, while paying a hefty membership fee.’
7. Brexit must inspire the EU to commit to reform
If there is one thing that can be learnt from the Brexit vote, Verhofstadt argues, it’s that the ‘à la carte Europe,’ with its multiple different levels of membership, ‘ultimately satisfies no one,’ neither the Eurosceptics, nor the European federalists: ‘it makes Europe inexplicable and unsellable to broader public opinion.’
‘The British referendum should lead to a clear choice – between full membership, associated status, or no relationship at all.’
‘No deal’ would mean UK-EU trade terms would default to World Trade Organisation rules, which many believe would be disastrous for the British economy.
But with Mr. Verhofstadt unafraid to lean on his veto powers, and the Conservative government seemingly determined to play hardball, the possibility of one side walking away from the negotiating table during the Brexit talks feels very real.