deep web henry jackson society

New report calls on UK Government to be tougher on online terrorism

A report from the Henry Jackson Society says British government must do more fight terrorists on the deep web

deep web henry jackson society
Credit: Wikicommons

An influential foreign policy think tank has called for the UK Government to take tougher action on online extremism, in a report published on Sunday.

The authors say that some “areas of the web”, including the deep web and the Darknet, “have become a safe haven for Islamic State to plot its next attack.”

The research published by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) suggests that the British government should create an “Internet Regulation Body” and increase funding to “build intelligence capital on the Darknet”.

The HJS report suggests that terrorists are using encrypted apps such as Telegram to communicate, drawing some sympathisers from social media sites into Darknet forums for recruitment and indoctrination, building propaganda reservoirs out of reach of governments and tech companies, and using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to fund terrorist activities.

The deep web is distinct from the surface web, which contains information available through familiar search engines like Google and Yahoo. It holds 400 times more information, provides users with greater anonymity, and is harder access. A tiny fraction of the deep web is comprised of the Darknet – a highly unregulated part of the internet where users enjoy optimum anonymity.

Content on the Darknet ranges from secret communication between human rights activists, to illicit drug and weapons markets, hitman services and extremist forums.

In a speech given in February, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that the 5 terror attacks which struck the UK in 2017, killing 57, had an “online component”, lamenting “remote radicalisation.”

The Manchester arena bomber was alleged to have used YouTube to learn bomb making, and the Home Office found that IS used more than 400 online platforms to spread propaganda in 2017.

A number of young Britons who have left to join IS in the Middle East are said to have been radicalised online.

Despite these apparent problems, the report is likely to draw criticism from some quarters.

Freedom House, an independent civil liberties watchdog released a report in 2015, describing internet surveillance in the UK as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable.”

That same year, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal said publicly that the UK intelligence agency had been illegally collecting bulk data for 17 years. An EU court also declared that the UK’s data retention rules imposed on internet providers “cannot be justified” within a democracy.

Despite the criticism, the government passed the Investigatory Powers Act – otherwise known as the Snoopers Charter – in 2016. The legislation authorised bulk surveillance in the UK and was described by The United Nations special rapporteur on privacy as “disproportionate”.

This trend of increasing surveillance appears likely to continue, raising concerns over free speech.

Around 27% of the World’s internet users live in countries where arrests have been made, of people publishing, sharing and even “liking” Facebook content. Freedom House said in 2017 that internet freedom is declining globally for the 7th consecutive year.

Guy Verhofstadt Exclusive Interview: ‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit’

We spoke to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, to discuss Brexit, citizens’ rights and Phase Two of negotiations.

What’s the EP’s agenda regarding citizens’ rights in the second phase of the negotiations?

‘There are many outstanding issues that the European Parliament will continue to clarify, from the administrative procedures that will apply for EU citizens in the UK, to the free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU. We need the initial agreement on citizens’ rights to now be put into a legally cast iron treaty and presented for review by MEPs. We will insist that the implementation date of the withdrawal treaty starts at the end of any transition period requested by the British Government. Both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU need clarity as soon as possible and we are committed to ensuring the minimum disruption to people’s lives.

Is the coming negotiation on citizens’ rights going to be limited to the EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit or will it be extended to those applying for residency after Brexit? Same question about the British residents in the EU.

‘A number of outstanding issues remain for both groups of citizens, from free movement for UK citizens in the EU, to the governance of the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

Do you still support a version of the proposal for Associate Citizenship for UK citizens? What would this entail?

‘I will continue to push for recognition that millions of UK citizens are having their European rights taken away from them against their will. Europe should recognise this, in my opinion.’

Recent YouGov polls suggest a growing number of Brits have ‘buyers remorse’ about Brexit. What do you make of this? Do you think Brexit will actually happen?

‘The British Government, on behalf of the British people, has submitted its intentions to leave the European Union and of course we have to implement this, but we do not do so with glee. The British people must take responsibility for their own destiny.’

If Britain changed its mind, how likely would it be that the EU27 would rescind article 50 and welcome them back?     

‘President Juncker, Tusk and Macron have all said the door remains open, but this would require the agreement of all EU member states and the European Parliament.’

Some say the EU cannot officially negotiate with the UK on a trade deal as long as they are a member state. Britain would need to first revert to third country status under Article 218. Do you foresee any problems there?

‘The ongoing Brexit talks will aim to secure a political declaration outlining a possible future framework for trade negotiations, once Britain becomes a third country after “Brexit day”.’

Does anyone in Brussels regret Jean-Claude Juncker not giving concessions to David Cameron before he called the referendum?

‘The European Union offered David Cameron unprecedented concessions, including an opt-out of “ever closer union”. In the end, the renegotiation hardly featured in the referendum debate.’

What has the EU done to remedy the underlying issues that partly led to Brexit?

‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit. Support for the European project has increased profoundly since the referendum. However, I agree the European Union needs to reform if it is to survive; fixing the eurozone, doing less but better, building a real defence union so people feel safe, securing Europe’s external borders and delivering fairer globalisation are our priorities. Too many communities have been “left behind”, but the reasons for this are complex, multi-faceted and in most cases the result of a lack of investment by national governments.’

The case for ‘Lexit’

It is not just the populist right who clash ideologically with the European Union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In 2013, a senior Conservative politician was overheard referring to Eurosceptic activists as “swivel-eyed loons.” Intended as a disparaging remark, some traditionalists wore the label proudly. Michael Fabricant, the party’s former vice-chairman, uploaded a picture of the late bulbous-eyed comedian, Marty Feldman, as his Twitter avatar.

The comments came after 116 Tory MPs defied the ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, by voting for an amendment to protest his lack commitment to a referendum on EU membership before 2015. Those on the right of the Conservative party were appalled by the delay.

Hard Brexiteers continue to be stereotyped as demented, frothy-mouthed, “swivel-eyed” monsters. Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that climate change minister, Claire Perry, had used the term in a group WhatsApp conversation with other Tory MPs.

But often overlooked is euroscepticism on the left – with Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn providing an obvious starting point.

Corbyn voted to leave the EEC in the 1975 referendum and has railed against European institutions consistently since becoming an MP in 1983. In parliament, he voted against the 1993 Maastricht Treaty and the 2008 Lisbon Treaty.

During the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the Labour leader was lukewarm in his support of remain. In one chat-show appearance, Corbyn claimed to be “seven out of ten” on the EU, and was conspicuously absent throughout the Brexit campaigning period.

Corbyn is not isolated amongst left-wing intellectuals over the question of the Europe. The New Left Review, one of the most influential political science journals in the world, had been hankering for ‘Lexit’, a handy – if a little ungainly – neologism of ‘left wing’ and ‘Brexit’, for some time.

The journal’s former editor, Perry Anderson, argued that the EU was an authoritarian and neoliberal project, bent on “enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”

A right wing institution?

At the core of the European project is dogmatic commitment to the free-market. Since the 1970s, European markets have becoming increasingly integrated. The creation of a single currency, Masastricht and Lisbon Treaties, the Stability and Growth pact have driven this trend. Directives at the European Central Bank and the European Commission have now all but banned the Keynesian economic model – the very bedrock of social democracy.

With increased integration comes increased competition. EU states are now forced to compete for investment from multinationals more than ever before. In order to gain a competitive edge, states are forced to lower corporation tax, cut labour costs, weaken unions and compromise on environmental and social regulations. The result is spiralling inequality.

Some intellectual voices on the left, including Alan Johnson, have also argued that the failure of the EU to work democratically, in the interests of the majority, has created a “breeding ground for the far right.” In the US, many analysts have attributed the election of Donald Trump to anger at the unequal impact of globalization in some disaffected caucuses. The unequal spread of Economic integration benefits is perhaps a source of discontent here too.

Despite his long held opposition to the EU, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce a major policy shift next month. He is reported to be holding a meeting in early February with Labour bigwigs, in which he will discuss the prospect of remaining part of some sort of customs union.

For Corbyn this would draw clear battle lines to fight a Conservative party, currently floundering in chaos. It would appease pro-Europe sections of the Labour party. But such a policy shift would also represent a sacrifice of values for the Labour leader and some of his comrades.

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By Sam Bradpiece

Brexit: the game is up on this outdated idea

One view of our divided country is that it was always a land of potential Leavers and Remainers, the rift being merely exposed by the referendum. On this theory, Remainers were born rather than made and Leavers, like leopards, will never change their spots.

Getty Images

Yet the truth is that Leavers comprise all sorts of people, as do Remainers. They are not a different species.

I am coming round to the view that our current turmoil is not the fault of the people themselves, so much as the power of a virulent ideology that has flooded the country like a tsunami, sweeping away common sense, but which is now slowly evaporating.

It has happened before: ideas have taken hold with a force disproportionate to their merit, and caused mayhem.

Brexit and other cults

Remember the Moonies? If you were around in the 1960’s like me, you probably will. So called after the founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Moonies, or the Unification Church to give it its official title, were said to be a sinister cult who seduced people away from their families, promising salvation through sex and free love.

The nearest I got to that was driving around in a flower power van, but more impressionable youngsters were turned against their families and brainwashed by the cult’s teachings, whilst being fleeced of any money and possessions. Desperate parents, grieving for the loss of their loved ones, attempted to locate and “deprogram” their sons and daughters, often with limited success.

What the cult of the Moonies had in common with Brexit Britain was the isolation and impoverishment of its victims. It was dressed up as a spiritual movement, but its ulterior purpose was the amassment of huge wealth by its founder. In the same way, Brexit has been dressed up as a patriotic protest, but its true purpose, as Nick Clegg made clear, is to make the very rich very much richer, by removing the protections and regulations of the EU.

Today, our continental neighbours are doubtful whether they can persuade us to remain within our European family. And with some justification, for to deprogram people like Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May or Jacob Rees-Mogg would be a challenge indeed. Nevertheless, they would welcome us back with open arms if we turned up on their doorstep.

So what happened to the Moonies? They faded from the limelight amid scandal and disillusion, though the Reverend Moon retained considerable political power and influence until he died in 2012.  These cults are no fleeting fads or fashions, they can last quite a long time.

How long will the Brexit fad last?

Brexit is an edifice of fantasy resting on no solid foundation, which is already crumbling at the approach of reality.  The game is up on this expired idea, which is just waiting to buried. The earliest time for another vote will be December 2018 – not too long to wait.

Some fear that even if we win, a second referendum will inflame the divisions further, leading to a civil war between Brexiters and Remainers. However, it is more likely in my view that the situation will stabilise, and instead of the armies of Brexiters, there will be just normal people again, like before David Cameron’s ill-advised referendum.

When the Second World War put the final nail in fascism, an improbable number of French people claimed they had been fighters in the resistance. And when Brexit is finally nailed, a fair few soft Leavers will discover they had been Remainers all along, because everyone likes to be on the winning side.

~

by John King

Insufficient and ambiguous: The PanEuropean opinion on the citizens’ rights agreement

The Brexit deadlock was finally broken last Friday, when the EU agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the divorce settlement. But has the deal on citizens’ rights provided enough clarity to the millions of UK and EU immigrants affected by it?

David Davis and Michel Barnier

EU citizens in the UK

The main takeaway for both sides was that they would keep their current rights: EU citizens who have lawfully lived in the UK for a minimum of five years will be granted ‘settled status.’  The UK government has said this will be a straightforward process and cost no more than a British passport (£72.50). They will retain access to tax credits, universal credit, healthcare, pensions, etc., and can be away from the UK for up to 5 years and still retain this status. Children born in the UK to parents from an EU country will automatically become British citizens. Irish citizens will not have their rights affected by Brexit and will be able to work and travel in the UK without hindrance.

UK citizens in the EU

Likewise, UK nationals that are legally living in one of the 27 member states will be allowed to stay (though some countries will require an application process to secure this). If they have been living in the country for five years they will be entitled to ‘permanent residence’ or the chance to apply for it. Again, they can be away from the host country for 5 years and still retain permanent residence. If they have a pension, it will increase every year just as it would in the UK.

UK nationals will remain eligible for free healthcare in the EU under a continuation of the EHIC scheme, and if working in several European countries, they will maintain the right to work in all of them.

In addition, close family members (spouse/direct ascendants/direct descendants) will be able to join them if their rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Children of British nationals are also protected under the withdrawal agreement if the parents are protected or nationals of the host country.

What’s been left out

For those that have no desire to move and meet the requirements for settled status, this agreement is probably satisfactory.

But it is likely that the EU will adopt a constitutive system – meaning that British immigrants will have to apply for a new status (as EU citizens will be expected to do in the UK).

This process is unlikely to be uniform and each country will have slightly different requirements. Individuals will be asked to provide comprehensive documentation to prove they have lived in their respective host country for 5 years, and this may not be easy to find. Besides, bureaucracies can make mistakes, as the UK home office has proved.

Theresa May has made no illusions: the British PM seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented people living in Britain illegally. We have already witnessed the consequences of this draconian policy on European citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for over 15 years.

‘What will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit?’

The fact that the continuation of free movement was not even discussed is a worrying sign. It may well come up during the next phase of negotiations, but there are no guarantees, thus it is imperative we pressure both British and European parliaments to make sure this issue is not sidelined. Freedom of movement is vital, whether we are officially part of the European Union or not. Associative European citizenship must be made available to those who either wish for or need it.

Furthermore, there are a number of grey areas within the agreement: what will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit? After the UK has regained control of its laws, what safeguards are in place to protect EU citizens?

These questions will be an afterthought in the second round of negotiations, which will focus primarily on the future trading relationship between the two parties. Given that the UK and the EU already have differing interpretations of what that relationship should look like, it is unlikely that we will see further clarification on citizens’ rights in the foreseeable future.

Essentially, we feel that European and British nationals have been largely ignored. Though there have been some assurances made by European leaders, it seems citizens’ rights are more of a hindrance to the UK and the EU to negotiating more important aspects of the deal.

 

Opinion: is French about to regain dominance in Europe?

“C’est une tragédie.”  That’s how European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker referred to Brexit in a speech in May.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tragic or not, there is a silver lining for French speaking politicians like Juncker. “Slowly but surely,” he said, “English is losing importance in Europe.” Although there are currently 24 official languages in the EU, business in Brussels has mainly been conducted in English for more than a decade. To some on the continent, Brexit is an opportunity to change that.

How English usurped French 

From the 17th until the mid-20th century, French was the undisputed lingua franca of Europe. It was spoken by European diplomats and elites all over the world. That changed, however, after the United States successfully lobbied to elevate English to a position of diplomatic equality with French at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. By the time the United Nations was founded in 1945, English had definitively overtaken French as the language of diplomacy.

But the French resistance fought on. President Charles de Gaulle famously vetoed (twice) the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community, saying: “L’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grande chose” (“England is not much anymore”). Even when the UK finally did join the EU in 1973, the language of Shakespeare was reluctantly accepted.

Yet English quickly became the most common language of communication for non French-speaking civil servants. That process accelerated when thousands of Eastern European civil servants joined the ranks in Brussels in 2004, whose shared foreign language was often English. Much to the chagrin of French speaking eurocrats, the scales seemed once and for all tilted against them.

Profiting from another’s loss

Brexit, however, has opened a window of opportunity. After Britain exits the EU in 2019, English will be the official language of just two EU member states — Ireland and Malta. Their combined population constitutes less than 1 percent of the EU’s total population. In a ranking of the EU’s most widely spoken mother tongues, English would drop from its current 2nd place to a lowly 17th, coming in behind Finnish, Bulgarian and Slovak. For the pro-French camp, this is proof of the absurdity of conducting EU affairs in the language of a country that will soon turn its back on the bloc for good.

Regardless, re-establishing French as the EU’s lingua franca is easier said than done. Only the Council of the European Union is able to decide, by unanimity, to add or remove a language from the register of official working languages. Ireland, being a nation of native English speakers, would likely nominate English as an official language (alongside Gaelic) and veto the motion, as would Malta. And even if this legal obstacle were avoided, English will by far remain the most widely spoken foreign language in the European Union. With 95% of students in the EU currently studying English at secondary school, it is the language of the future. This will be true after Brexit, whatever language eurocrats in Brussels speak.

The push for greater use of French is acquiring new momentum. Those keen to banish English from Brussels seem willing to risk slowing down the efficiency of a political institution already marred by red tape. Much like the Brexiteers, the pro-French are motivated by national pride, not pragmatism. It is a rivalry not just between two languages but two world views — on the one hand, the Anglo-Saxon model of market-driven globalisation; on the other, the French instinct to preserve culture and tradition.

Granted, reduced British influence will strengthen France’s position on the continent in many ways, but language is unlikely to be one of them. Judging by the prevalence of English, both in Brussels and beyond, the French are facing an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

 

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This guest article was written by Kyrill Hartog. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

 

EU citizens' rights

Citizens’ rights: post-Brexit EU & UK proposals compared

‘Despite the bluster and grandstanding from various opposition figures and commentators in Britain,’ says Hugo Bennett on BrexitCentral.com, the UK’s post-Brexit citizens’ rights proposal ‘already comes remarkably close to the EU’s.’
citizens' rights
EU nationals in the UK are concerned about losing citizens’ rights after Brexit

The UK and the EU have published their post-Brexit citizens’ rights proposals.

Of course, there are differences, says Bennett: ‘If the EU’s opening offer was entirely acceptable to the UK, or vice versa, there would clearly be no need for a negotiation at all.’

‘Nonetheless, despite the bluster and grandstanding from various opposition figures and commentators in Britain, the UK offer already comes remarkably close to the EU’s in the majority of areas.’

Here, the key issues are split into ‘areas of broad agreement’ and ‘areas requiring substantial negotiations.’

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Areas of broad agreement

Scope of the deal. Both sides agree that the deal should apply equally to all EU27 citizens, and that the ‘existing special arrangements’ between the UK and Ireland must be preserved.

Benefits. This has historically been a sticking point for the UK and the EU. But the UK has committed to allow all EU citizens that arrive before the ‘cut-off date’ to carry on ‘exporting benefits,’ even to children living in other countries.

Bennett sees this as a ‘major compromise.’

Healthcare & Pensions. Both sides wish to preserve current citizens’ rights regarding healthcare arrangements, with UK and EU citizens ‘free to use each others’ health services, which will then be reimbursed by the appropriate member state.’

Brexit Secretary David Davis has also said that even if no deal is reached the UK will ‘continue paying unilaterally’ for the healthcare of British expats living in the EU.

citizens' rights
Brexit Secretary David Davis

He has also committed to continue ‘uprating’ the state pensions (by increasing them using the famous “triple-lock” system) of such UK nationals.

These ‘significant moves should provide much reassurance to British citizens currently living in the EU,’ says Bennett.

Students & Qualifications. Both sides agree on the need for ‘the continued mutual recognition of qualifications obtained prior to Brexit,’ and that EU students shouldn’t be restricted from starting courses in the UK over the next few years.

Application procedure. ‘The UK and the EU disagree over whether eligible citizens in the UK and the EU should be considered legally resident without documentation,’ the newly arriving citizens’ rights will change after the ‘cut-off date.’

The EU is seeking reassurances that the British application process will be ‘straightforward, following the many stories about EU citizens struggling with existing Home Office procedures.’

Areas requiring substantial negotiation

Cut-off date. The EU wants it to be ‘Brexit day itself: 29th March 2019, or the day after.’ The UK wants it to fall somewhere in-between Brexit day and the date Article 50 was triggered: 29 March 2017.

‘This is one area where the UK can probably afford to compromise,’ says Bennett, ‘in order to secure concessions from the EU in other areas.’

‘Family reunion rights is set to be a major crunch point between the UK and the EU.’

Permanence of rights. The EU wants “settled status” to be ‘permanent once acquired,’ whereas the UK says it would be lost if a person left the UK for more than 2 years.

‘This will need to be resolved but should not be overly difficult to find an acceptable compromise on,’ says Bennett.

Family reunion rights. The ‘key point of dispute’ is the EU calling for family members of EU citizens being able to join them ‘before or after the withdrawal date.’

These ‘super-rights’ for EU citizens would ‘exceed what UK nationals have themselves in the same country.’

The UK proposes to guarantee children’s rights to join EU parents after Brexit, automatically granting them British citizenship, but says that spouses (and other family members) must meet the same criteria ‘as equivalent relations of UK nationals.’

‘This is set to be a major crunch point between the UK and the EU,’ says Bennett.

Jurisdiction. ‘The biggest disagreement by far between the two sides is over how the deal should be enforced legally.’

The EU wants the deal to be enforced under the remit of the European Court of Justice, whereas the UK is insisting on some kind of joint arbitration court of UK and EU judges.

Just like the EU has made it clear that the four freedoms (goods, people, services and capital) are indivisible, this is a red line issue for the UK.

‘Compromise will be required from both sides, not just the UK, if the Brexit process is to process smoothly and successfully,’ says Bennett. ‘But there is no reason why this should ultimately not be possible.’

French nationality

Brexit: 254% spike in Brits applying for French nationality

1363 Brits applied for French nationality in 2016 compared to 385 in 2015, according to Le Monde.
French nationality
People flood the streets after the 2012, 14th of July parade in Paris.

Worried about their rights as Brits in Europe, a record number of the ‘Queens subjects’ living in France decided to apply for French nationality in 2016 – 254% more than the year before.

According to estimates, between 150,000-400,000 Brits live on French soil, which shows that only a slim percentage have taken the decision to apply for nationality since Brexit.

But the spike does show that a considerable number of Brits are anxious about losing their EU residency privileges.
And early figures suggest that applications have increased even further in 2017.

The region of Picardie, for example, has received 27 since January. They received zero in 2016.

According the ­prefecture of l’Oise, who organise the applications region-wide, “these are British people who have been living in France for a long time, often married to French people.”

It is mostly older Brits filing the applications, according to the prefecture of Ille-et-Vilaine.

“In interviews, they say that Brexit prompted them to apply for French nationality, as they have real worries about the possibility of staying in France after the negotiations.”

Brexit negotiations are due to end in March 2019, and the nationalisation process takes roughly a year and a half.

Remain French Nationality
A dejected Remain voter, 24 June 2016.

Applicants must first prove they have been living in France for five years then provide a plethora of official documents, which must all be translated.

Then individuals then face an interview in French to evaluate their assimilation into French life.

They must show that they have “an adequate understanding of history, culture and French society.”

The equivalent statistics in Germany are even higher than those in France, however, with an ‘explosive rise’ in naturalisations of Brititish citizens – 361% between 2015 and 2016.

According to the Financial Times, the number of European citizens applying for British nationality rose by a third in the same period, with French people making up the largest portion of applicants.

Brexitannia

Brexitannia: a review of the first documentary about Brexit

You’re just trying to grab on to a collective identity because you’re fucking alone, you’re busy all the time, you’ve got nothing. There’s no hope.’
Brexitannia
© Timothy George Kelly

The unexpected result of the Brexit referendum was a watershed moment in British history.

The decision to leave the EU has become the single biggest – and most polarising – political issue of our time.

After a wild election campaign, and the subsequent collapse of the ‘hard Brexit’ Conservative majority, even the government seems unsure of what Brexit really means, despite negotiations officially beginning today (19/06).

A year on, with uncertainty surrounding Britain’s future, the questions the referendum raised about what it means to be British remain unanswered.

Enter Timothy George Kelly, a London-based Australian filmmaker who travelled around the UK talking to people about being British in the months after the referendum.

The result, Brexitannia, is a beautifully crafted, sobering snapshot of a country in turmoil. ‘A portrait of democracy in all its ugly glory,’ says Kelly.

The first documentary about Brexit, Brexitannia challenges the caricatures often used to demonise Leave and Remain voters, and brings into focus several other dividing lines – the gulf between country and city, young and old, migration, automation, globalisation, and British identity.

It also crucially places the Brexit vote in its wider socio-economic context, and in doing so offers a way to move past Leave/Remain identity politics.

Brexitannia is divided into two parts. Interviews with ‘the people’ – ordinary voters who explain why they voted the way they did, and their view on what it means to be British – and interviews with ‘the experts,’ who include Noam Chomsky.

The questions the referendum raised about what it means to be British remain unanswered.

This approach sounds rather ungainly, but ‘the experts’ are able to frame the Brexit vote in its proper context – the collapse of neoliberalism – explaining how certain communities have been brought to their knees by privatisation and the free-market ideal.

‘The people’ are shot alone, from a distance – at home or at work – and given time to think aloud and express themselves openly.

Sat alone on their front drive, or standing in their back garden, there is an acute sense of ‘the people’s’ vulnerability, of the distance between them and Westminster.

By giving the interviewees a space to voice their opinions, the film shows the complexities and contradictions of collective democratic decision-making, challenging lazy narratives about what caused Brexit and why people voted Leave or Remain.

Brexitannia
© Timothy George Kelly

But the film never passes judgement.

‘It was never made to be an activist film for Leave or Remain,’ says Kelly. It’s a sociological portrait of a country.’

Shot in black and white, the documentary feels like a historical record. The interviews are interspersed with shots of the sea, soil, white cliffs, and British flags.

Gary points to his forearm and says ‘English is that colour.’

This “Rule, Britannia” imagery juxtaposed with the range of characters – from the dejected to the defiant – in the mundane setting of their everyday lives portrays a nation struggling to define itself.

Several of the interviewees in the film live up to the clichés about Leave/Remain voters.

Like Gary, who – sitting with a pint-sipping mate in the corner of a pub – points to his forearm and says ‘English is that colour,’ or the blustering man in a field wearing a Slazenger t-shirt who dreams of sending the Europeans home and forcing his employers to give him a payrise because there are no more polish workers to undercut him: ‘why should we help out? No one ever helps us.’

 Such people yearn for an idealised Britain of old. A Britain that was once Great.

Brexitannia
‘All we ever do in this country is give, give, give, give, give, give, give.’ © Timothy George Kelly

Similarly, there is the classic young, urban, Remain voter, who describes people who voted Leave as less educated – ‘coming to a pro-Remain position takes more reading.’

But others confound the stereotypes, such as the second generation British-Ghanaian woman whose parents voted Leave because they felt people had started to ‘take the mickey out of the [immigration] system.’ It’s too easy now, she says, for people to come to the UK ‘and go straight on benefits.’

Or the bald man from Plymouth, standing with his coffee in front of a lighthouse, who eloquently explains that the Brexit vote wasn’t all down to racism and xenophobia:

‘There are not 17.5 million racists in Britain.’

Then there is the fisherman who describes how the British fishing industry gets a rough deal from the EU:

‘Over 60% of the fish caught within Europe is caught within British water.’

There is the young white working-class woman from the North East who describes explaining to her Dad at the working men’s club why foreign labour is not to blame for job losses:

‘Who do you know that’s lost their house or their job to an immigrant?’

Or the old lady from Liverpool who describes her first reaction to the news of the referendum result:

‘A terrible shock when I got up in the morning and realised we were out. I just sat and cried.

And the Muslim woman, and Remain voter, who was subjected to racial abuse while sitting in her car the day after Brexit:

‘Simply because of the colour of our skin, all of a sudden we don’t belong,’ she says. ‘As a Muslim woman – and for my two daughters – I feel desperately unsafe, and desperately unhappy.’

It is unclear which way many of the other interviewees voted, which is telling.

It shows how futile the regressive – yet commonplace – practice of defining people by their Brexit stance (something many of us are guilty of) really is.

Besides, for many of the disenfranchised, predominantly working-class interviewees, nothing has changed since Brexit and they don’t expect it to.

‘The southeast of the country… is where all the work and everything is,’ says a grey-haired man sitting in a small front room. ‘Brexit doesn’t matter, because we’ve got nothing anyhow.’

Brexitannia
© Timothy George Kelly

Brexitannia portrays a downcast and deeply divided nation, humiliated by industrial decline and its waning global stature.

What attitude to adopt, then to move past these divisions, starting with the Leave-Remain dichotomy?

‘To put the burden of Brexit on a sort of mindless nationalism of those types of workers, families and cities, that have lost so much ground because of the financialising, the corporatising, and the internationalising of our national economies,’ argues sociologist Saskia Sassen, ‘is truly unfair. More importantly perhaps, that doesn’t get us anywhere.’

Pro-EU viewers will find some of the justifications for voting Leave featured in the film hard to stomach, and the frequent expression of borderline racist views is depressing.

But by the end of Brexitannia there is an overwhelming sense that ‘the people’ – all of them – are in fact victims. Victims of the failures of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism ‘undermines democracy by taking decisions from people and placing them in the hands of private power,’ says Noam Chomsky. ‘That in itself is anti-democratic, and it also turns out to be harmful to much of the population.’

There is an overwhelming sense that ‘the people’ – all of them – are in fact victims.

This, in turn, raises a difficult question. If you accept ‘the experts” premise and agree that the scapegoating of migrants and people of colour for the decline of the white working class is a diversionary tactic, then how much is Gary himself to blame for his racist views?

Brexitannia
Noam Chomsky © Timothy George Kelly

Besides posing probing questions about what it means to be British, Brexitannia also offers a glimpse into the lives of many frustrated working-class Leave voters, who feel the voting booth is the only place they can make their voices heard.

‘Brexit was one of these vary rare opportunities to say fuck off to the government.’

While Remainers who are still sore about Brexit may not agree with such rationale, they can certainly understand the pain of feeling let down by their own country.

Perhaps, in the most British way possible, recognition of this universal feeling of resentment could be the first step towards reconciling the divisions that Brexit has perpetuated.

‘Brexit is partly a cry of help, it’s a cry. There is pain in the success of Brexit. It represents pain, and that is the people who are left behind.’

~

Brexitannia will be screening for the first time in London on Friday 23rd, during the East End Film Festival. It will be followed by a Q&A with the director and a special panel. Click here for the Facebook event.

~

Frank Andrews.

Snap election theresa may

Brexit: the snap Election and the changing face of UK politics

Theresa May’s snap election gamble has turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in British political history.
Snap election theresa may
Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip outside 10 Downing Street, London, after meeting Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become Prime Minister and form a new government.

To the surprise of some (but not all) pollsters, Thursday’s (08/06) vote resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives ended up with the most seats, 318, followed by Labour on 262, which meant no single party won a majority in the House of Commons.

But what exactly does this mean for the Brexit process going forward?

According to CNN, there is frustration among EU leaders and officials that three months have passed since British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, and no progress has been made on Brexit negotiations, with the snap election provoking yet more political turmoil.

Arlene Foster, the leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), suggested her party’s ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Tories was far from a settled:

The Prime Minister has spoken with me this morning and we will enter discussions with the Conservatives to explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge.”

Arlene Foster snap election
Northern Ireland former First Minister, and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster.

If an informal deal is done “Mrs May will face an almighty struggle to pursue the policies set out in the Conservative manifesto” according to The Telegraph.

The slim majority of Commons seats will leave to Tories vulnerable to defections, and it’s not clear what legislation the DUP will commit to support.

The government is now also more facing possible rejection of legislation by the House of Lords, with major amendments almost a guarantee.

And while the ‘Salisbury Convention’ means the House of Lords don’t normally block proposed legislation, minority governments’ have minimal authority. Peers may be another thorn in May’s side.

The current political climate has a significant effect on Brexit bills. The government plans to propose a “Great Repeal Bill” that would transpose 40 years of EU law into sovereign UK law, as well as other Brexit-related legislation. But in this new political environment, the opposition parties – possibly with the help of Conservative defectors – see an opportunity to block such bills and perhaps pass their own amendments.

Whilst there are not enough MPs willing to demand a second referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal, there could be enough in favour of forcing the government to pursue some form of interim participation in the European single market, pending negotiation of a subsequent post-Brexit trade deal.

Doubts have risen over the position of the Conservatives’ new bedfellow, the DUP, as the latter is keen on maintaining a ‘frictionless’ border with the Irish Republic. This would require some form of treaty with the EU that would have to be settled as part of the overall Brexit deal.

May – who yesterday parted ways with her controversial advisors, Fiona Hunt and Nick Timothy, the pair seen as the driving force behind her hard-line Brexit approach – has insisted that the Brexit negotiations will start in a week’s time, as planned.

This was confirmed yesterday (15/06) by EU Brexit coordinator Michel Barnier and British Brexit secretary David Davis despite widespread calls for a rethink on the drastic Brexit stance adopted by May’s government, with several tory backbenchers going public after the snap election result.

A ‘softer’ Brexit is now supported by a majority of the MPs in the House of Commons.