Brexit- a month on

It has been a month since I cast my vote in the historic EU referendum. I was one of the 48% who was deeply disappointed, and initially furious, that the other 52% voted to break the union we have in favour of perceived independence. Having a month to reflect on brexit hasn’t changed my opinion in a huge way, however, I am now in the mindset of getting the best deal possible for Britian. For me, that’s retaining access to the single market. For others, the caveat that we would have to retain freedom of movement is a betrayal. 

Prior to the referendum we were being prepped for the end of the world as we know it. At least that’s what those refusing to listen to experts were saying. Experts who were warning of the consequences of a vote to leave the union. What has happened in the last month? Put simply, chaos reigned. Markets plummeted, the pound fell to a 3 decade low, the economy waned and politics suffered an almighty earthquake. We now have a new Prime Minister who has promised to enact the will of the people and leave the EU. When is an ambiguous matter at the moment. 

But, even though I am one of the 48% who voted remain, I think we need to stay optimistic. Britain can make it alone, although it didn’t have to. Having the last month to reflect I have come to a conclusion: we may be leaving the EU but we are not and will never leave Europe. We will continue to work together for the common good. From trade to security, we will remain united once the dust has settled. 

I am hopeful that markets will regain traction and the economy will bounce back. I hope with austerity no longer being central to government policy. 

So this short blog comes with one message and that is this: let’s make the best of this situation to ensure the Britain that emerges is stronger than ever. 

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The Leaders Debates Act 2015?

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In recent days there have been a lot of insults being thrown around in the general direction of the Prime Minister, David Cameron. No, for once, it is not to do with any of his economic policies but his insistence that he only takes part in one seven-way TV debate at some point during the week after next  (23rd March onwards).

Now, the future Prime Minister (or so he hopes), Ed Miliband, has proposed that we eradicate the possibility that a PM can shirk leaders debates that ‘Britain deserves and expects’- an Act of Parliament that would enforce attendance at such debates on the Prime Minister and other party leaders. This I will hereafter refer to as the Leaders Debates Act 2015 (LDA). But is this a step too far, is this transforming our democracy into something else? After all, the founding principle of any democratic nation is the freedoms we enjoy, and the freedom to make choices, to a certain extent.

Ed Miliband plans to create this requirement by making the body that currently negotiates the terms of TV Debates a statutory trust. They will then decide on issues such as timings and venues as authorised by the LDA.

I am hesitant to support the idea that if the PM chooses, or any other party leader for that matter, to not attend a debate that (s)he should be in breach of the LDA and thus have to face civil or even an absurd criminal sanction. This is crossing a fine line between democracy and totalitarianism. Don’t misconstrue what I am saying, I do believe that the British people deserve to participate in a debate involving all parties and to be fully informed of the choices that they have, but to make this a legal requirement under the LDA is unnecessary. There is no law in the western world (that I know of) that imposes this obligation.

I say that a legal requirement under LDA to attend debates in unnecessary because to not stand by your opponent’s side, to effectively give your challenger 90-120 minutes of airtime, on their own, to sell their manifesto, seems like a very damaging stance to take. Labour isn’t smelling of roses, no party is in this age of coalitions and hung parliament, but with 8 weeks to go until polling day those precious minutes on the air could change the minds of floating voters and push them over the required majority.  

It is also necessary to take into account the schedule of the Prime Minister, something that the LDA would have to provide for. For example, during emergency situations that develop rapidly the PM’s focus should be on ensuring Britain’s security- not attending a debate. Another question is who exactly is behind this trust and are they impartial in dividing up airtime between the parties?

Ed Miliband has some great ideas, from apprenticeships to the NHS, Housing to Welfare & Jobs to Defence but this notion of legalising debates is one that is unworkable, undemocratic and downright absurd, even though his heart is in the right place. Ed should focus on using these 8 weeks and the airtime that he has, with or without Cameron by his side on April 30, to convince a disillusioned Britain that Labour can deliver on its promises and can deliver a fair and balanced Britain.

Don’t forget, you can tune into the debates on the following days:

April 2: Seven-way debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood.

April 16: Second Seven-way debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood.

April 30: Head to head with David Cameron and Ed Miliband (if he turns up that is).

Rape: Consent is Consent

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You’re on a night out and a bit worse for wear. You’ve given implied consent for the man, or woman, across the dancefloor to pounce on you. Apparently. Not so much, says the law.

David Osborne, a barrister from Somerset, issued a blog entitled, quite vulgarly, “She Was Gagging for It’. No, this isn’t the title of a 50 Shades style novel. It is, in fact, an excuse for rape, or so Osborne seems to be suggesting. I begin by saying brace yourselves. Osborne states in his blog that “I have always found distasteful and unattractive the suggestion that as the victim was blind drunk she therefore unable to give her consent to sex,”.

Hold on one cotton picking minute. That is absolute rubbish according to the previous Sexual Offences Act 1956 which provides that a LACK of consent can be demonstrated by evidence that by reason of drink, drugs, sleep, age or mental disability the complainant was unaware of what was occurring and/ or incapable of giving valid consent. Now, I do think that Osborne, despite the barrage of criticism he has received, will have supporters who say that you effectively have to sign a contract these days to evidence consent and avoid being accused of rape.

I can rubbish this argument using Osborne’s statement that “If the complainant (I do not refer to her as the victim) was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, when she was ‘raped’, this provides the accused with a complete defence. End of story and a victory for fairness, moderation and common sense!”

The current Sexual Offences Act 2003 at s1-4 provides for the prosecution to prove absence of consent so how on earth is that favouring the victim as Osborne suggests? It doesn’t.

S74 is all about whether a complainant had the capacity (i.e. the age and understanding) to make a choice about whether or not to take part in the sexual activity at the time in question.

In R v Bree[2007] EWCA 256, the Court of Appeal explored the issue of capacity and consent, stating that, if, through drink, or for any other reason, a complainant had temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have sexual intercourse, she was not consenting, and subject to the defendant’s state of mind, if intercourse took place, that would be rape. However, where a complainant had voluntarily consumed substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remained capable of choosing whether to have intercourse, and agreed to do so, that would not be rape. Further, they identified that capacity to consent may evaporate well before a complainant becomes unconscious. Whether this is so or not, however, depends on the facts of the case.

Even the CPS’ guidance states that ‘prosecutors and investigators should consider whether supporting evidence is available to demonstrate that the complainant was so intoxicated that he/she had lost their capacity to consent’ I do not see how the defendant has it bad.

Now, if the complainant is indeed intoxicated and does not give her consent does that not mean that the defendant could just say ‘we were drunk’ and get off scot free? That seems like a very dangerous precedent to set, especially given how difficult it is for victims of rape to confront their attacker and come forward in the first place.

Furthermore, , Osborne used the age old excuse that if the the complainant is dressed provocatively they are ‘asking for trouble’. That is utter nonsense, the complainant is dressed that way because that is how she wants to dress on that particular day, not because she wants the first man she sees to jump on her like a dog on heat.

Seems to me that the one who is ‘rat arsed’ here is David.

Anti-Social Twitter Orders- An effective Punishment?

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So we have all heard of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which are given to those engaging in, evidently, behaviour that is anti-social. Now there are calls from MPs to introduce what I am dubbing Anti-Social Twitter Orders (ASTO’s) although it will also involve Facebook and other social media.

Why? The reason is simple, since the dawn of the internet there has been the presence of trolls. People who deliberately attack others for a variety of reasons and those who use social media to incite violence, such as the 2011 London Riots. More recently, and this is the main reason that I gather has led to these calls, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism which has been fuelled by, at least in part, Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The MP’s that have thought of this idea, The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism, are basically extending the type of orders that are given to sex offenders, that is they will restrict the access that these trolls have to social media in order to prevent them spreading their hatred online. They stated in their report that “Hitler” and “Holocaust” were among the top 35 key words used on Twitter last summer. Very worrying indeed.

But what about those that today voiced their concerns on social media and forums that this seems to be an encroachment on our freedom of expression, as governed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights? Rubbish, I say.

These ASTO’s are not intended to clamp down on people who have an opinion about Israel or any other matter. After all, the police and CPS record data on hate crimes for five personal characteristics, that is, where the hostility relates to: (1) disability; (2) transgender identity; (3) race; (4) religion; and (5) sexual orientation. There is a huge difference between voicing an opinion, for example saying ‘What Israel is doing in Gaza is unacceptable’, and inciting violence, for example saying ‘We should do to Israel what they are doing to Gaza, go and bomb their synagogues’.

The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism stated in their report “If it can be proven in a detailed way that someone has made a considered and determined view to exploit various online networks to harm and perpetrate hate crimes against others then the accepted principles, rules and restrictions that are relevant to sex offences must surely apply.” I agree, however the problem will come in the enforcement of such measures.

How does one enforce an ASTO and keep the perpetrators offline? For example if they use the internet in a cafe or they connect to public wifi? I cannot see how these orders, as good an idea as they are, will stop the perpetrators from sending messages that go far beyond out right to freedom of expression because there will always be a way for them to use the internet to create fake profiles. It seems to me that the time of the police and of the courts will be wasted if there are loopholes in the system whereby access to the internet isn’t entirely blocked.

In my opinion, those who feel the need to incite violence or be abusive have deep rooted issues that that need to be addressed should we want to prevent, rather than just punish, future instances. These issues could be anything from anger issues to educational issues and surely it would be more effective to sentence perpetrators of abuse in a way that addresses their cause of the outbursts. For example, mandated anger management classes. I also feel that the perpetrators would benefit from meeting those who they are directing their abuse at in a supervised and secure manner, should the victim consent to this. Seeing first hand the effects of their behaviour and indeed the opinions of their victims might just make them think twice in the future.

You cannot attack an entire section of society for the actions of extremists or, in the Inquiries case, government.

So are ASTO’s the way forward? Maybe, if loopholes are closed, but addressing the underlying issues, separately or in conjunction with an ASTO, would probably be a more effective use of the court’s time.

Islamic State: Why the UK must intervene

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It is 2014. We have been confronted by a new evil. Its name? Islamic State. This has ignited a debate in Britain about what to do about IS. It is my opinion that we have no choice but to strike the militants before they become impossible to contain.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating boots on the ground. If this can be avoided then it should but we are approaching the precipice for a ground assault. Nobody has forgotten the consequences of the UK joining the invasion of Iraq which left an unprecedented number of civilians dead. However, the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks in conducting air strikes on the group to destabilise them and their machinery which they have used to butcher thousands of people in a very short period of time.

This is not a reactionary response to the killing of Briton David Haines. This, in my opinion, is a necessary step up of the war on IS, or more broadly the war on terror. But first, you must understand what IS is and what exactly they wish to do. In easy to understand terms, IS is a militant group that has drawn in fighters from across the planet, from Australia to America. They only want one thing and this is to establish an Islamic Caliphate. It should be made clear that this caliphate is not simply a small region. So far, IS have taken control of swathes of Syria and Iraq. The LOWER end estimates suggest IS control territory the size of Belgium, about 40,000sq km. They have total control of 8 million people, some of whom they have forced to convert because the alternative is death.

This is not a regional crisis. This is a crisis that is spreading beyond borders and is blurring the lines between countries. IS do not just want a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. They want their state to spread all across the region and ideally the planet, however crazy that idea is. They have the force to do. The CIA believe there are as many as 31,000 fighters now aligned to IS from 81 countries across the globe and they are increasing daily. There are now three threats that are posed by IS, in my opinion, that justify the military intervention of the UK and in order of severity these include;

1) The seizure of key territory and weaponry. You may think that because this is happening thousands of miles away it does not concern us. It does not threaten us. This would be a costly assumption to make. Last August, the Syrian government used a chemical weapon to attack those fighting the government and MSF says at least 355 people died. In the past, terror groups have not really stated an intention to use such weapons. IS is different. IS are willing and have even made plans to use weapons of mass destruction. It was reported in the Telegraph that the militants have planned to release the bubonic plague in shopping centres and have compiled manuals on how to create biological and chemical devices. This cannot be allowed to happen. This would threaten not only troops based in various Middle East countries and facilities but would threaten the West. Imagine for example a jihadist boards a plane with a undetected device containing a virus. Now imagine he detonates that device in the confined space of an air-plane cabin. This may seem like a horror movie script but with reports earlier this year that IS had seized a Syrian chemical weapon site, it could become reality very quickly.

2) The return of jihadists to their home countries is a developing and already challenging threat for the security services to tackle. There are an estimated 500 Britons fighting with IS in the territory they currently control. That is 500 individuals that MI5/MI6 have to keep an eye on and with stretched resources and busy workload it is not hard to envisage that some will slip through the net and then continue to prepare for a terror attack on their home soil. Given IS’ brutal tactics, including beheadings and burying people alive it would not be difficult for them to walk into a high street and start killing anyone and everyone who refuses to bow down and obey their version of Islam. It is necessary for the UK to step up its military involvement with its coalition partners to drive back and reduce the number of IS fighters so that the threat can be more effectively managed at home.

3) The murder of British citizens in the caliphate is increasing. The UK has a duty to protect its citizens wherever they are. There are many British workers who live in the region, especially those who work in the oil industry and all of them are now under the threat of attack by IS. Not only this but it is clear that IS do not give journalists the safety they require whilst reporting on their activities and inadvertently spreading their message. They have no problem with killing any nationalities and any faiths except their own. Men, women and children who are Britons are now at risk and the UK must protect them at all costs.

The UK is weary of war. We have been fighting for so long. But whilst we take a break our enemies regroup and grow in number. They increase their weaponry with the billions they have stolen and received in funding. They prepare for attacks that we have never seen before and attacks that could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It is time that we stop being paralysed by the mistakes we have made and take a bold and courageous stand against those that threaten our security.

Scottish Independence: The Issues

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Tomorrow, the 18th September 2014, a Union that has lasted three centuries will be tested to its limits when Scottish people go to the polls. The question: should Scotland become independent? Bizarrely, though, there is no question regarding devolution, now being dubbed ‘devo max’ by the media and politicians. This would have been a sensible alternative.

During the past few months and weeks of this debate, there have been many claims and counter claims made by the likes of Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling which could be seen as scaremongering. After all, whatever happens at the polls tomorrow, nobody can predict what the future holds for Scotland as an independent state or not. Ultimately, this is a gamble of enormous proportions being made by the Scottish people in the hope that, should the yes camp win, Scotland will become a more prosperous and fair nation.

The key issues then, in my opinion, that could be key on whether this gamble pays off are:

Oil- there have been many statements made regarding the prospect of Scotland effectively relying on oil revenues to get through what will probably be an incredibly difficult period when Scotland goes independent in 2016. Indeed, it is likely that on Friday, if the Yes camp win, there will be a major impact on the financial markets almost immediately. It has been reported as such in The Times that investors have already begun fleeing the UK markets and have already dumped £17bn. On the Yes side, Salmond stated that oil accounts for 15% of the economy and he has compared it to Norway which has a 20% economical dependency on oil. But take this further and, according to a Bloomberh comparison, Norway has the highest gas prices in the world while the UK as a whole has the 13th highest (or lowest if you look at it that way) (http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst/highest-gas-prices-countries). If Scotland goes it alone, it could find itself near the top of the list for oil prices and as such consumers may see a rapid increase in the amount they spend on gas. This gives a strong argument on the No side that Scotland will face a problem when relying on depleting stocks of oil, estimated to run out around 2050. BP has echoed this warning and Darling has warned previously that oil revenues in recent years have been 5% less than expected. Verdict: Short term financial stability but long term challenge.

Currency- This issue has been at the forefront of the referendum ever since the UK Government categorically stated that if Scotland goes it alone it can forget any notion of sharing Sterling as its official currency. This is probably the most confusing aspect. On one hand you have the Yes side stating their intent to the use the pound anyway and on the other you have the No camp denying that this will be allowed to happen due to the lack of a central bank. However, if you look at the Euro, which has been tipped as the most likely currency Scotland will use alternatively (not confirmed), this runs on a contributory basis and member states are relatively free to fund their departments as they please. This gives Scotland three choices- use the pound unauthorised, join the Euro or create a new currency which is an incredibly risky option and would impact Scotland hugely with estimates that it would drop 15% against the Sterling immediately. Verdict: Unclear currency provides a substantial case for voting No.

Defence: Trident, it is either the bane of a country or the saviour by deterring an attack. Although controversial, it has worked in preventing the outbreak of a world war. Scotland have been warned that armies do not grow overnight and that defence is a vital part of the economy. One question left unanswered is what will happen if Scottish troops currently employed the MOD and who serve Britain as a whole who wish to transfer to Scotland’s own armed forces, which are likely to be weak. Currently the UK has a very large defence budget, about £34bn. The White Paper on defence states that the Scottish budget will be £2.5bn, which in comparison to other countries is small, and the force size will be 3,500 (land), 2,000 (sea) 2,000 (air), again potentially inadequate to protect the country. I question whether the minuscule budget will cover the employment of 15,000 people plus operational costs and it is likely it has been vastly underestimated. Furthermore, if Scotland were to get rid of Trident it would likely lead to job losses. Verdict: Serious questions remain over the viability of SNP’s plans for a Scottish Defence Force (SDF). Furthermore, it would be a huge mistake to the think getting rid of the nuclear deterrent at a time when the world seems to be on the knife edge of something big will allow Scotland to defend itself to its full capability.

NHS: The main argument here is that Scotland does not yet have control over the NHS and that due to privatisation it is vital that Scotland acquires this to ensure it remains a public service. At the moment, Scotland has a budget of circa £12bn for the NHS. To contrast Norway, whom Salmond seems to admire, the budget there is NOK 800m (£76406964.23) and the WHO has ranked it number 11 in terms of performance out of 190 nations. The populations of both countries are very similar. I am therefore of the opinion that an Independent Scotland may need to increase its budget for the NHS as the population ages and this will inevitably, if the figures re oil do not hold weight, lead to higher contributions by the public. Verdict: Scottish people should vote yes if they believe the SNP will keep the NHS public but they should be prepared to face increased contributions.These issues and the conclusions are not those of an expert, I cannot state categorically that the figures will hold up. However, I do believe that given the serious questions left unanswered and unlikely to be answered provide a strong case for voting No. Inevitability this is an issue for Scottish voters and whether they are willing to gamble their future on the promises made by Alex Salmond. Maybe it is your destiny to take control of your country and , hopefully, witness something that you may never see again in your lifetime. It is an exiting but terrifying prospect.

I love the United Kingdom. It is something to admire when we stand undivided and face the challenges we face together. I really do hope that Scottish people vote to remain united with us. However, this is a democracy and whatever happens tomorrow, I wish you all the very best as you take whichever path you choose.

Has Putin crossed the line in Crimea?

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In recent weeks you would be forgiven for looking for a nuclear bunker to purchase, for the crisis in Ukraine has been speculated to be the start of a third, and probably final considering what might happen, world war. Russian President Vladamir Putin has decided, although he denies this, to effectively invade Crimea in Ukraine.

But has Putin really breached International Law in intervening militarily in Ukraine? In short- it is hard to see how he hasn’t.

Firstly, Article 39 of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter states that ‘The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security’. Note the name ‘The Security Council’-this is collective. It means that the UK, the US, France, China and Russia should all agree when to use force and not act unilaterally, unless in self defence and even then the Security Council is supposed to be informed of action and procedures followed. There was not, to my knowlege, any type of information sent to the UNSC by Russia before the operation in Crimea. Breach.  

Furthermore, Under Article 2(4) of the Charter states are prohibited from ‘the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations’. Ukraine is an independent state that, to all intents and purposes, is now under attack by Russia. It is effectively being torn apart by Moscow and certain areas, Crimea most notably, annexed by the Russian Federation. This in itself breaches these articles and in the usual circumstances would most likely be responded to by the use of force by the allies of the attacked. This is unlikely because of the cataclysmic events that could occur. Breach. (https://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter7.shtml)

Russia has, in short, decided it hates the new EU leaning government and has taken unilateral action, which is generally prohibited because the correct route is to go through the UN Security Council to recieve approval to use force against a soveriegn nation. Prima Facie, therefore, Russia is clearly in breach of the United Nations Charter but what of its excuses that it is protecting Russians in Crimea?  

This is the likely argument by Putin-that it is defending its own interests in Ukraine. This is allowed by article 51 which states ‘Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security’.

The problem here is that Russia has not been attacked in any way shape or form. It’s territory is not under siege. Ukrainains do not pose a direct threat to Moscow. Nor is there any imminent threat to the Russian Federation. In any event, it is Ukraine that is in that position. There is a floodgates argument here, too. For example, if the United Nations allowed this argument then it would send a message to world leaders that they can take unauthorised, pre-emptive and aggressive actions against states which house their interests. And with China and Japan squabbling over a few rocks (Senkaku) it isn’t hard to imagine how this could blow up in the UN’s face. Defence Failed.    

Pratically though, the consequences and options left to world leaders now are few. Sanctions are inevitable. But Russia has already warned it will retaliate so any substantial economic sanctions are unlikely because it will hurt Europe, and Germany in particular, a lot more than it would hurt Moscow. We can hardly afford a sudden and longlasting spike in oil prices. Article 6 of the UN Charter states that ‘A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be’ expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council’.The main issue here is that Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and it is impossible to fathom the idea that Russia would agree to its own expulsion. Russia also faces expulsion from the G8, which would return back to the G7.

In short summary, President Putin has made a hypocritical and illegal move that goes against his own policy of non-interference in internal affairs. There is no evidence to suggest that the interim Ukrainain government poses a threat to Moscow nor Russian speaking residents of Ukraine. I personally do not believe the standard ‘they are extremist’ arguments because I have not witnessed any actions that suggest extremists are present in the government. It seems to me that this crisis has been sparked because Russia does not want another EU state on its doorstep, reducing Moscow’s influence on its neighbours. This is an unwarranted and illegal attack on the Ukrainain people. Unfortunately, I foresee no legal consequences will be felt by Moscow for this.