Interview with Dominic Raab: The EU’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol is “pretty analogue in a digital age”

18 Jun

Brexit has resulted in “a massive empowering of the Foreign Office to go out and have a genuine global foreign policy”. So says Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary since July 2019.

There has not, he suggests, been any comparable change in the attitude of the European Commission, particularly with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol, where “the approach that Brussels seems to be wedded to is pretty analogue in a digital age”.

Raab questions the idea that the conflicts in Kashmir, and in Israel/Palestine, risk spilling over into British politics.

He denies he is better at chairing meetings than Boris Johnson, admits he is “still not wild” about taking the knee, and contends that the Conservative Party’s new appeal to voters in the North need not be gained at the expense of support in seats such as his own, in the home counties:

“What we’re trying to do is forge that crucial alliance between aspirational working and middle class voters. That’s the elixir of Conservative strategy I think.”

The interview was carried out on Wednesday evening, and ConHome began by asking about the material released that morning by Dominic Cummings, and the period when Johnson was at death’s door and Raab was “covering for the boss”.

ConHome: “Do you agree with today’s report that you are better than the Prime Minister at chairing meetings?”

Raab: “No [laughter].”

ConHome: “Here’s the full quote: ‘Unlike the Prime Minister Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes. He lets good officials actually question people, so we started to get to the truth.'”

Raab: “What is the question?”

ConHome: “Is this an accurate account?”

Raab: “No, no. I try to do things professionally, and I think the Prime Minister deploys me for that. But actually I think to the extent we’re talking about the period when I was covering for the boss, we were all focussed on doing what he wanted.

“There was a good team effort, in order to get ourselves into good shape for when we hoped he would be back at the helm.”

ConHome: “And what do you think of Cummings himself?”

Raab: “I can’t see any value added from me commenting on the commentary.”

ConHome: “Was there ever actually a moment when the Prime Minister was ill when you thought, ‘I’m going to have to take over’?”

Raab: “When you say ‘take over’, you mean beyond…”

ConHome: “Beyond what you were doing anyway.”

Raab: “I was conscious that he was not well, but also I think I had the pretty firm conviction he’d pull through. But I didn’t know.

“The truth is I thought he was in good hands with the doctors, which he was, exceptional care, and what I knew he’d want, when he came to, and was able to engage, was to know we hadn’t been sitting there, fretting so much over him, but that we’d been getting on doing what needed to be done for the country.

“That was the rationale. And the truth is the Cabinet were brilliant, because it’s a team effort, very disciplined, very professional, and I suppose that sense of worry and concern for someone who’s a colleague, not just our boss, kicked in.”

ConHome: “You never felt a moment of absolute terror, thinking ‘I’m going to have to be a kind of interim figure who…'”

Raab: “Well not really. There was never any news that gave me credible cause for concern. The truth is, people ask me this a lot, I didn’t have a lot of time for my mind to wander. It was pretty hectic.

“The Foreign Office was very busy at the time, and then there was obviously trying to make sure that we steered things through.

“I think I’m right in saying it was around the point at which we were edging towards the five tests of how we would come through lockdown.

“So there was a huge amount of substantive work, the Prime Minister had given us our steer, so there was a load to get on with, and I was just focussed on that really.”

ConHome: “Only a few weeks ago, a convoy went down the Finchley Road with someone shouting ‘F*** the Jews, rape their daughters’.

“Do you think the effect of foreign affairs, and of Israel/Palestine, is intensifying in a malign way here in the UK?”

Raab: “That was a deeply worrying incident and we jumped on it very quick, both in terms of condemning it, but also making sure the Met were aware, and satisfying ourselves that they were on the case, to give the Jewish community the reassurance they needed.

“But this cross-fertilisation of the international realm into domestic policy actually is much more prevalent than that. You can see it on a whole range of issues.

“Because we’ve got such a wonderful international mix in the UK. I am very, very sensitive to the impact on the British Chinese community of what we’re doing.

“When you think about that community, one of the most entrepreneurial, I sat on the Education Select Committee for two years, the British Chinese standards, the parenting, the engagement, from every class level, was exceptional. The contribution they make to cultural life, in lots of different ways.

“You can think of it from both sides in relations to Kashmir.

“If global Britain is going to mean what it says, which we do, of course we’re going to have to be sensitive to and take into account the feelings of those who have immigrated or settled here, or second, third, fourth generation communities.

“The same is true the other way as well. One of the big things that happened, which didn’t get a huge amount of attention, is the Prime Minister’s meeting – it had to be virtual in the end – with Prime Minister Modi, where we set out a road map for ten years, the 2030 road map, including the road map to an FTA.

“Some great stuff on migration and mobility, and young people, young professionals from here and from India being able to come and take advantage of everything the UK and India has to offer.

“Some stuff on cyber and other things, climate change.

“India deemed the UK a Comprehensive Strategic Partner. We’re only the fourth country India’s done that with. Now Prime Minister Modi himself has talked about the living bridge between the UK and India.

“He’s quite a lyrical leader, but actually it’s quite a good way of looking at it.

“And we have quite a few countries, because of our Commonwealth links, because of the travelling nature of Brits, where that’s true.

“But the truth is, if your foreign policy is a combination of pursuing a principled approach, but also delivering the national interest for the people of your country, you ought to be able to navigate that.”

ConHome: “Do you feel, in relation to Israel/Palestine and Kashmir, that the skies are darkening?”

Raab: “Well I don’t think you can combine them together.

“But let me take Israel and the Palestinians. I’ve been out there twice. I was out there recently. I met Yair Lapid as well as Prime Minister, as then was, Netanyahu, and a range of other leading figures.

“There is still going to be a measure of instability. I think the coalition may be fragile, it may be ground-breaking, we don’t know.

“But I think there seems to be a consensus that they need to firm up the ceasefire, and we need to try to avoid a vacuum taking hold, and there’s all sorts of ways we can do that.

“On the Palestinian side, there is an urgent need to shore up and support the moderate Palestinian leadership, and isolate and marginalise Hamas.

“I’m not expecting final status peace talks round the corner by Christmas. On the other hand, if you allow a vacuum to take hold then Hamas will take advantage.

“It’s in the moral and strategic interests of both sides to avoid that.”

ConHome: “In relation to antisemitism here, the effect of Israel/Palestine here, you don’t feel it’s getting worse?”

Raab: “Well I talked to the Chief Rabbi recently, I talked to the Board of Deputies, obviously I’ve got some history of my own.

“I think off the back of Corbyn, and with some of the radicalised elements of the Left articulating themselves, I think there has been a heightened sense of nervousness.

“But I also feel that we can provide the reassurance and that there is enough community cohesion here, not just among the Jewish community, but among British society as a whole, to stand up very vigorously and robustly against that.

“You look back in the Seventies, and you had radicalised groups seeking to take advantage of what was going on in the Middle East, and making their point here at home.

“I think we need to watch it very carefully, but I don’t think there’s a ground shift or a gear change in that happening.”

ConHome: “On India, Labour have put out a leaflet in the Batley and Spen byelection that is almost entirely about foreign affairs. There’s a section about Israel/Palestine, there’s a section about Kashmir where it says, ‘The Conservatives’ links to the BJP must not stand in the way of justice for Kashmir.’

“Are you worried at all that the Kashmir issue is dividing up on party political lines?

“Labour look at the Conservative Party and they say, ‘There are three ministers of Indian heritage in the Cabinet – the Conservatives are taking up a pro-Indian position,’ and you end up with that kind of division, which would be a very bad thing.”

Raab: “Well I don’t think the Labour Party could credibly do that, a) because of the British Indian communities in their constituencies, so from a pure or political interest, or b) given their historic approach to Kashmir, which is that it is for the two sides to resolve this long-standing dispute.

“I’ve never ducked raising the issue of Kashmir and human rights with the Indian government. I did it when I was in Delhi.

“The Labour Party would look incredibly hypocritical, and they would get a backlash from the other community, if they were to try to create this as a wedge issue.”

ConHome: “The Conservatives are now widely perceived as having shifted North both electorally and emotionally. Now you sit for a Surrey seat, Walton and Esher, a commuter seat, a traditionally Tory seat.

“Is there now a danger of your constituents believing the Conservatives are no longer quite so behind them?”

Raab: “The strategy, in political terms, is always to forge an alliance between the aspirational working and middle classes of this country.

“And that’s not new. Look at how successful Thatcher was, albeit in a different time and place, and a different context.

“What we’re doing as global Britain, as a force for good in the world, far from alienating Conservative voters, small-l liberal Conservative voters, I think goes down very well.

“The fact that we put Magnitsky sanctions on everyone from those persecuting the Rohingya to those persecuting the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

“The fact that Brexit is no longer a live issue for most of our constituents, they’re not being asked to vote on it.

“What we’re trying to do is forge that crucial alliance between aspirational working and middle class voters. That’s the elixir of Conservative strategy I think.

“There’s a ceiling on the Lib Dem vote if they only rely on the negative. Can anyone remember a single positive Lib Dem policy, now Brexit’s done?

“They’re campaigning in Chesham and Amersham on HS2, but they voted for it.”

ConHome: “Was Biden right in saying the G7 is in ‘a contest with autocracies’?”

Raab: “I think there’s definitely a sense that democracies are in retreat, if you just look at the numbers. And that the battle for the hearts and minds of the centre ground of the international community is there to be won but needs to be fought with a great vigour and energy.

“It’s great having the US return to the Paris Agreement on climate change. We cannot as a cluster of like-minded countries leave that vacuum in those multilateral institutions, because China and Russia or whoever else will fill it.”

ConHome: “Our ambassadors in say Paris or Berlin, who do they report to? Is it you, as Foreign Secretary? Or is it Lord Frost?”

Raab: “David [Frost] deals with the stuff that takes place under the EU formal mechanisms. He’s responsible for the EU business in relation to the Free Trade Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement.

“I’m responsible for the stuff in relation to the foreign affairs co-operation that we have, and I lead on the bilateral relationships, but obviously the two dovetail quite closely together.

“I don’t feel desperately proprietorial about it for two reasons. One, David’s a brilliant colleague.

“Secondly we are engaged it a process now where we look at our foreign policy in a much more integrated way.

“The truth is the Foreign Office is now much more central. We have a Prime Minister who really believes in the Foreign Office.

“With the merger [with the Department for International Development] I think we can all see that.”

ConHome: “So Brexit has actually worked out to the advantage of the Foreign Office? Because our foreign policy isn’t delegated in any way to Brussels any more. It’s our foreign policy.”

Raab: “I think there’s a massive empowering of the Foreign Office to go out and have a genuine global foreign policy. I’ve been out to the Nordics, I’m very keen on building up the N5 relationship, and the same with the Baltic Three, the Visegrad Four.

“Obviously with the Indo-Pacific stuff that we’re doing, I’m going out to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore next week, there is just a real chance for us to be more energetic, more activist.”

ConHome: “Do you still think that taking the knee is ‘a symbol of subjugation and subordination’?”

Raab: “I think we all ought to be united in the fight against racism, and we also, if tolerance is to mean anything, should be able to find our own way to express it.

“I’m personally not wild about taking the knee, but if the England team want to do it, it shouldn’t just be respected, it should be supported.”

ConHome: “And should not be booed?”

Raab: “I’m one of those people who don’t believe in booing your own team. Certainly not the England team as they’re embarking on the European championships.”

ConHome: “On the Northern Ireland Protocol, is there any intrinsic greater difficulty in dealing with a Democrat administration, because of the pressure that comes on an American President from an Irish diaspora who are not necessarily familiar with all the intricacies and nuances of policy in Northern Ireland?”

Raab: “So first of all there’s always a slightly different constellation of opportunities and risks depending on who’s in the White House.

“Also, the make-up of Congress. And that’s true regardless of who’s in the White House. I was going and talking to the likes of Richie Neal and the Irish caucus when I was Foreign Secretary before and after the recent US election.

“The Irish lobby on the Hill, which is not just Democrats, it also includes Republicans, feels like it’s got a stake, and does have a stake, in the Good Friday Agreement, I think we respect that, I remember the work that George Mitchell and other Americans did.

“But there’s certainly a job for us to do to make sure first of all that a full, comprehensive picture of what’s going on on the ground is understood, and the impact the Northern Ireland Protocol has for communities on all sides in Northern Ireland.

“And frankly just the bare facts of what’s been going on in terms of the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“If you look at the perimeter of the EU, and you think about the challenges they’ve got from the Central and Eastern European border, right down to the Mediterranean border, and you think of the sliver of the border in Northern Ireland, it is rather striking that one in five of controls and checks for the whole of the EU to police the single market takes place in Northern Ireland.

“I think talking in reasonable terms about the lack of proportionality in that is important. And having a sensible conversation with our US partners is really important. We can’t shrink from that.”

ConHome: “Do you feel you made any progress on that issue at the G7, given what happened before it with the demarche?”

Raab: “I think we’ve made steady progress right the way through, I didn’t read too much into the leaking of what happened, I think we make steady progress when we explain our position in sober terms.”

ConHome: “On the Protocol, you can’t rule out having to implement Article 16. If we do, we would need presumably to protect ourselves from the effects of Article 16 in domestic law and pass a Bill to that effect, would we not?”

Raab: “Look I’m not going to speculate on the decision or the things that would need to accompany the decision. The over-riding message we get across is we want a pragmatic, flexible approach from the EU, and if we don’t get it we’ll do whatever it takes to protect the economic and the constitutional integrity of the Union.

“Ideally, the ball is in the EU’s court, David Frost has sent a range of proposals over.

“What we just cannot have is a situation where Northern Ireland is receiving three times the volume of checks that you see in Rotterdam, double the number of checks that you see in France, to police the EU single market. That cannot be right.”

ConHome: “Did Martin Selmayr say that “losing Northern Ireland was the price the UK would pay for Brexit?”

Raab: “So as I said at the time, when I was asked about this, when I was Brexit Secretary I would get, not from political hacks or spin doctors, I would get constantly fed back to me that there was a political dimension to this.

“And so from officials I had fed back to me that Selmayr had made this point.

“All the officials fed back that for the EU this is existential, and therefore they’re going to want to deter leaving the EU.

“My relationship with Michel Barnier was perfectly cordial and constructive, I respect the guy, but I remember him losing his temper with me when I said we ought to be trying to forge something that is win-win.

“And I think there is a mindset in the Commission, and probably in some other parts of the EU, but I still think it was a fairly narrow mindset, but it was a controlling one, that there was no win-win to be found.

“I look at the thing, my father was Czech, I feel a very strong sense of European identity, we’re not leaving Europe, we’re leaving the EU, let’s try and forge win-win.

“As people might say after the divorce, you can understand why one side of it or the other don’t feel that way. But I still think that’s what we should be aiming for. And that’s our foreign policy. That’s what the Prime Minister believes.”

ConHome: “Do you believe this ethos of punishment is still there in relation to the Protocol?”

Raab: “I don’t want to impute bad intentions, but put it this way, what I do deal with are the facts, and the facts do not justify the fact that one in five controls or checks for the whole of the EU’s external border are now taking place in Northern Ireland.

“That just cannot be right. And that’s not born of protecting the equities of the single market, so there must be some more to it.

“I go and look at borders all around the world. Frankly the approach that Brussels seems to be wedded to is pretty analogue in a digital age.”

Ben Obese-Jecty: As an ethnic minority party member, my experiences have been positive. But Singh’s report shows room for growth.

27 May

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

The publication of Dr Swaran Singh’s independent investigation into alleged discrimination within the Conservative Party has made for interesting and at times tough reading for Conservative members.

Allegations of discrimination, particularly racial and specifically Islamophobic, have dogged the party in recent years, and while this report offers a welcome degree of closure to the issue, it also offers a robust and granular view of where there is significant scope to address current failings.

My own experience as a party member spans across multiple associations, as an association executive officer and even as a prospective parliamentary candidate, but across these varied groups I am yet to experience, or indeed encounter, any racism. Even within the febrile atmosphere of social media, particularly Twitter, I am yet to experience any intra-party bigotry.

The findings of Singh’s investigation are thorough and sometimes scathing, pulling no punches in revealing the number of incidents of alleged discrimination and their respective outcomes. It is notable that the investigation details how the party takes an even-handed approach to the handling of all complaints, whether they are anti-Muslim in nature or otherwise. But amid the findings and recommendations it is also important to recognise that the report found no evidence of institutional racism, which is hugely welcome.

While those on the Left continue to bivouac on the moral high ground on matters of race, despite the damning EHRC report into Labour anti-Semitism only last year, the abuse I have endured during my time in politics has always come from the supposedly more “inclusive” end of the political spectrum. A narrative that often depicts black Conservatives with the ugly neo-racism of race-treachery, of “Uncle Toms” and “House Negroes” accompanied by social media memes of tap-dancing cartoon characters that play on the most racist tropes of the American Deep South. This is bigotry that largely goes unseen, or washes over those who are happy to ignore it. To hear it casually used on Good Morning Britain without an eyebrow raised by presenters is astonishing.

The Conservative Party has undoubtedly grown and changed over the course of my lifetime. Where once a non-white Conservative MP would be extremely unlikely, the contemporary party is now more diverse and more representative than at any previous point in its history. Indeed, the Conservative Party has now had double the number of ethnic minority Cabinet members that the Labour Party has had. There are currently as many British Indians around the Cabinet table as the Labour Party have had ethnic minority Cabinet members in its entire history.

Much has been written before of the diversity we have seen in the Cabinet and the great offices of state during this government. More yet has been written by those who view this as the wrong type of diversity, of brown-washing Conservative racism. Accusations that are mired in their own soft bigotry. The belief that black and brown Conservatives lack the agency to forge their own path. But the success that the party has had regarding the diversification of its MPs is indicative of an organisation that has already recognised the need to evolve and is doing so with aplomb.

No political party can claim to be completely free of those with prejudices, be they overt or more pernicious, any large organisation can expect to contain those with unsavoury views. But removing those whose bigotry is known before it can be allowed to fester and spread is a key step to assuaging fears and convincing sceptics that it is an issue being taken seriously.

That the party leadership has committed its time to being subjected to this level of scrutiny should provide a degree of reassurance in that regard, and the fact it has agreed to implement all of Singh’s recommendations in full shows the party’s commitment to improving things where there have been failures.

The findings from the Singh investigation propose deep reforms and provide a welcome chance for the party to assess how best to adapt and address the opportunity to make it a political home for all those who wish to be a part of it. As a party we should welcome measures that can help address existing shortcomings, transform the way the party works and broaden its appeal beyond its core voter base.

While the Conservative Party has not traditionally been seen as a natural home for voters from Britain’s ethnic minority populations, there is no reason why an ideology that speaks to personal responsibility, hard work and aspiration cannot continue to win support from those who feel that they are values which represent them. With the party committed to a levelling up agenda across the country, why shouldn’t a place where talented individuals are able to thrive no matter their background be the most attractive proposition?

Corbyn’s re-admission to the Labour Party shows the limits of Starmer’s power to change it

18 Nov

For people used to the absolute monarchy (‘moderated by regicide) that is the Conservative Party, watching Labour much more feudal arrangements can be very odd.

Less than a month ago, Sir Keir Starmer was being fêted for taking decisive action against Jeremy Corbyn after the latter reacted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into anti-Semitism by once again downplaying the whole issue. The message was clear: Labour had changed.

Yet today’s papers are full of reports of a fresh bout of Opposition infighting after the National Executive Committee (NEC) voted to lift Corbyn’s suspension from party membership with only the mildest of sanctions.

Starmer’s defenders can make two points. First, he has refused to restore the whip to Corbyn – although there is a quite arcane row over whether this is in fact him undoing an automatic restoration of the whip following the NEC’s decision. Second, and related, is that whilst the whip is in his gift has leader he doesn’t control the NEC, which remains well-stocked with Corbyn loyalists.

But his critics apparently smell a rat. Whilst the NEC panel is out of the leader’s hands, the decision on when to hear a case is usually determined by the General Secretary, whom Starmer appoints. There was no reason Corbyn’s case needed to be heard so quickly, and Paul Waugh reports that his successor is now under fire for not waiting so all outstanding cases could be heard under the new, independent procedures ordered by the ECHR.

Instead, Starmer is accused in some quarters of having struck a deal with Corbyn in which the latter would accept sanction in exchange for being quietly re-admitted. If so, it has blown up in his face. This incomplete rehabilitation and second snub of their idol will be far more aggravating than simply leaving him in limbo would have been.

Starmer’s speech: Passionate, confident – yet, will it prove his patriotism?

22 Sep

After Labour’s disastrous performance at the last General Election, Keir Starmer was keen to put the Corbyn years behind him at the party’s conference today. He gave one of the most passionate speeches of his career, telling voters that “[t]his party is under new leadership.”

It had been carefully constructed, and tried to address many of the reasons why Labour lost, as well as giving Starmer some much-needed personality. At one point he commented that “while Boris Johnson was writing flippant columns about bendy bananas, I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists”. He later attacked the Tories on Covid-19 and social care, the latter of which the Labour leader said was a “disgrace to a rich nation”.

Starmer reinforced his commitment to “root out the antisemitism that has infected” Labour and repeatedly spoke about “security”, in yet another attempt to reverse Corbynism. No doubt many voters will still remember the former leader failing to condemn Russia after it launched a chemical attack on Britain, among other events, and Starmer knows he has a lot to do – to prove that Labour can protect the country.

This is why patriotism was such a dominant feature of Starmer’s speech. He talked about “the country I love”; his desire for Britain to be “the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in”, and how he’s “hugely ambitious for this country”.

But will this do the trick? Much of the reaction – on Twitter, at least – was incredibly optimistic about Starmer, partly spurred by recent polling on Labour – which shows the party closing in on Conservatives.

Even so, it’ll take a lot more than overuse of the word “country” to convince the electorate, particularly in the Red Wall, that Labour is now patriotic. The biggest reason for this is Brexit, in which voters expected all politicians to stick up for Britain – and instead found Starmer and others pushing for a second referendum.

Today he promised that Labour “is not going to be a party that keeps banging on about Europe” – and it’s no wonder he wants to move on, given his previous actions. During the speech he discussed “decency” and “fairness”, but 17.4 million people will be wondering where these traits were when he, and other MPs, tried to overturn their vote.

Furthermore, Starmer’s speech lacked substance. Though he has promised new leadership for the party, it’s not obvious what this looks like in policy terms, although he promised Labour’s manifesto “will sound like the future arriving” (whatever that means). Without more concrete proposals, and given the continued factionalism of Labour, many will simply think it sounds like more of the same.

Starmer’s desire to “draw a line” under anti-Semitism in Labour will be harder than he thinks

24 Jul

Since becoming Labour Party leader in March of this year, Keir Starmer has made tackling anti-Semitism a top priority. In his acceptance speech he promised to “tear out this poison by its roots”, and one of his first actions was to set up a video conference with Jewish leaders, in which he told them he would create an independent complaints procedure. They welcomed these actions, and said that he had “achieved more in four days” than Jeremy Corbyn had “in four years”.

The extent to which Starmer is determined to address anti-Semitism was clear in June 2020, when he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Education Secretary, for retweeting an interview with the actress Maxine Peake. In it, Peake had said an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, namely that the tactic deployed in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis “was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

Upon becoming aware of Long-Bailey’s Retweet, Starmer acted quickly and decisively in sacking her, winning praise from people across the political spectrum. After years of Corbyn’s ineffective ways, it was quite a change.

Even in spite of these efforts, though, recent events demonstrate just how difficult it will be for Starmer to stamp out anti-Semitism in his party, due to disagreements about Corbyn’s tenure. The factionalism of Labour was highlighted this week after the party apologised and paid damages of around £200,000 to a group of ex-staffer whistleblowers, who Corbyn’s Labour had criticised for appearing in a BBC documentary titled Is Labour anti-Semitic? During this they’d spoken about various incidents within the party, only to be accused of having “personal and political axes to grind”, hence why legal action was brought forward. 

Starmer no doubt believed the settlement would help everything. “I made it clear that we would draw a line under anti-Semitism. Settling this case was important in that respect”, were his words. Case closed, some might think (Starmer was a barrister, after all.)

But instead, Corbyn contradicted his successor’s words, issuing a statement in which he called the decision “disappointing”, a “political” not “legal” one, which risked giving “credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.” 

John Ware, who made the documentary, and some of the whistleblowers have since instructed Mark Lewis to pursue a defamation case against Corbyn. (Lewis, incidentally, has said he’s been approached by 32 individuals who want to take action against Labour). 

In response to this, some have called for Starmer to withdraw the whip from Corbyn, suspend or expel him. But he is clearly wary of doing this, as it would lead to an “uncontrollable civil war”, as Tom Harris put it for The Telegraph, “that would conceivably split the party and leave each half as unelectable as the other.” Other Labour figures, such as Len McCluskey, have already argued against the court settlement. It has met strong resistance.

The other thought that will linger at the back of many people’s minds is that Starmer, for all his decisiveness now, campaigned for Corbyn to be Prime Minister. He did this at the same time that Jewish MPs, such as Luciana Berger, were the targets of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats. 

MPs and many party members couldn’t stand by as this happened. Frank Field quit the party, saying that the leadership had become “a force for anti-Semitism in British politics”, and nine MPs left in 2019 for the same reason. 

In essence, Starmer can apologise and try to correct things all he wants, but that legacy of doing nothing – when it mattered the most – will stay in hearts and minds.

With Starmer recently receiving a draft report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to how Labour handled anti-Semitism allegations under Corbyn’s leadership, there will be significant pressure for him to continue to “tear out this poison”, as he put it. He reassured parliament on Wednesday that Labour was “under new management”, and he clearly believes that he is the man to end this dire era.

Let’s hope so, of course. But due to the instabilities in his party, along with his past lack of action on anti-Semitism, his wish to “draw a line” under it will be harder than he thinks.

Natasha Hausdorff: Ministers must set an international example and support Israel’s latest proposals

3 Jul

Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist. She specialises in international law, foreign affairs and national security policy.

Last week saw Rebecca Long-Bailey’s removal from her post, as shadow education secretary, for sharing an antisemitic conspiracy theory linking Israel to the death of George Floyd in the US.

But is it truly that surprising that conspiracy theories against Israel abound, across a range of left-wing campaigns, when even this Conservative Government has fallen into the trap of propagating falsehoods against the Jewish State?

The Government has sadly been misinformed on the proposal Israel is to consider this week: to apply Israeli civilian law to parts of Area C in the West Bank. The move is consistently misrepresented as “annexation” and a “violation” of international law.

Both allegations are false. The misconceptions betray a concerning level of ignorance, but most importantly, they prevent the formulation of sensible foreign policy on the part of the UK.

There is an urgent need to realise that what is being considered is a change to the internal administrative legal framework in certain parts of Area C of the West Bank, which would replace military law with the civilian law that applies throughout Israel – benefiting all inhabitants of the affected area.

The existing framework was intended to be temporary, but it has been dragged out for 53 years, through decades of failed negotiations. It is regarded as an inadequate and antiquated administration, comprising a confusing patchwork of Ottoman, British Mandate, and Jordanian law as well as aspects of international humanitarian law.

The British Government’s current approach rejects fundamental principles of international law and deploys double standards against Israel. Any legal analysis of the status of the disputed territory cannot ignore the basic principle that a country cannot be said to “occupy” territory that does not belong to another sovereign and to which it has a credible claim of title.

The UK certainly does not recognise Palestinian sovereignty over the territory. Israel has the strongest legal claim to the territory, based on a fundamental principle of international law governing the formation of new states and the delineation of their boundaries.

The universal rule for determining borders for emerging states, ‘uti possideitis juris’, dictates that they inherit the administrative boundaries of the prior administrative entity. Israel was preceded by the ‘Mandate for Palestine’, which was established by the League of Nations and administered by Britain. As the only state to emerge from the Mandate in 1948, international law dictates that Israel inherited the Mandate’s administrative boundaries.

This principle provides that the territory concerned has been under Israeli sovereignty since Israel’s independence. Even if the territory is politically disputed, the legal principle is clear. The term “annexation” is fundamentally misconceived.

The principle that a new state inherits the borders of the last top-level administrative unit has been universally applied upon the independence of new states, including to the emergence of states in Asia, Africa, South America, and from the former Soviet Union. The one and only exception now appears to be with respect to the establishment of Israel.

However, the record on this point was straightened in November last year when Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, clarified that Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. This repudiated the conclusions of a 1978 State Department memorandum, which had, by its own reasoning, been overtaken by the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan.

The West has little leverage over terrorist organisations and rogue regimes. So far as negotiations are concerned, it is Israel that is expected to make concessions that are damaging to its security and that seem to reward terror and incitement to violence. When generations of Israelis have witnessed every compromise lead to more blood on the streets, it has become harder and harder to explain why the next time will be different. The three election results in the past year and the decimation of the traditional left-wing parties clearly illustrate this point.

The policy of “land for peace” (where Israel hands over land and the Palestinians promise peace) has been revealed, through the Oslo Accords and the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, to be a gargantuan failure. And yet successive Israeli governments have sought further negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, in the hope that further concessions on security will lead to a renunciation of violence by the Palestinian Authority.

The real danger here is that the misrepresentations, together with calls for the unilateral surrender of Israeli territory, hamstring the Palestinians. Advancing positions that misstate international law, demand unrealistic concessions, and call for unachievable goals, fundamentally weakens the negotiating position of the current, or future, Palestinian leadership by setting a high bar from which they cannot deviate without being accused of treachery.

Mahmoud Abbas has already made it clear that it is impossible for him to demand anything less than the positions for which certain elements of the international community clamour, impracticable and fanciful though they may be.

It cannot be over-stressed that, contrary to much of the rhetoric, the proposals with respect to Area C would not prejudice future negotiations in any way. Any proposals around a two-state solution have envisioned sovereign Israeli territory being transferred via land-swaps; most recently, the ‘Trump Plan’ envisages significant parts of undisputed Israeli sovereignty territory in the Negev being transferred in that fashion. Israel has negotiated over land to which its law applied in full and has shown every intention of continuing to do so.

It has been the unwavering position of the parties, and the international community, that a final peace settlement can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations. If there is even the slightest chance that these proposals may bring the Palestinian leadership to the negotiation table, then they merit the full support of the international community.

Labour clearly have a long road ahead in recovering from the anti-Israel obsession that has engulfed the party for so long. This Conservative Prime Minister should be leading by example.

Garvan Walshe: To win re-election, Poland’s President Duda is counting on the homophobic, sexist Konfederacja party

2 Jul

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Incumbent Polish president Andrzej Duda found out on Sunday that populist indignation is all very well when you’re running against an unpopular government, but much less when the demands for change are directed against you.

After a cock-up in which emergency legislation to hold an all-postal ballot was defeated in the Senate and then scotched by the ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) coalition partners, the first round of Poland’s presidential elections proved much closer than had seemed likely had the Coronavirus not caused their postponement.

The delay gave the opposition KO (Civic Coalition) a much needed chance to swap out the underperforming Malgorzata Kidawa-Bionska for Rafal Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The substitution proved effective, denying Duda a victory on the first round against a divided field of anti-PiS candidates. (Duda got 43 per cent of the vote, and Trzaskowki 30 per cent).

Turnout was high in recognition of the stakes produced by Law and Justice’s divisive political style: the campaign was marred, the mild-mannered Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights noted, by Duda’s “inflammatory” and “homophobic” language. His messages were parroted by state TV: “the public broadcaster became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

It came after five years of constitutional vandalism by PiS that even extended to keeping judgements of the constitutional court that struck down PiS legislation, secret. Because Poland’s president can veto legislation, a victory for Trzaskowski would decisively shift the balance of power in Poland. At present the opposition only controls the Senate, which can only delay laws for 30 days.

The luck of the political calendar (parliamentary terms are four years long, but presidential terms last five) had given PiS control of both houses of the Polish parliament, and the presidency in 2015, when their support was at a high point, and their opposition tired and divided.

Though they campaigned as moderates focused on social distribution, they governed as radicals, engaging in all-out war with the judiciary, politicising public broadcasting, clearing out senior ranks of the civil service and armed forces, attempting to ban abortion, and showing considerable tolerance to Poland’s ultra-nationalist paramilitary fringe.

This shook up the opposition, causing rival parties Civic Platform (PO) and Nowoczesna to form an alliance, which fielded Trzaskowski as its presidential candidate, as well as inspiring Szymon Holownia, an independent conservative, to run (and win 14 per cent of the vote).

Another mayor, the openly gay Robert Biedron, sought to revive the left, and while he did well enough in last year’s parliamentary elections faded in the presidential contest. This leaves the second-round result on a knife edge.

It is likely that most of Biedron’s and Holownia’s voters together, with those for the agrarian Wladyslaw Kosinak-Kamysz, will swing behind Trzaskowski, giving him another five per cent, and bringing his vote up to between 45 and 48 per cent of the total, and possibly an edge over Duda.

Duda however seems close to his ceiling. His 43.5 per cent of the vote is essentially unchanged of his party’s 43.6 per cent share at last year’s parliamentary election, and desperate attempts to drive up turnout among his base, which included awarding a fire engine to villages with high turnout (PiS is strongest in the countryside), don’t seem to have worked.

The only available vote bank is the seven per cent of supporters of Krysztof Bosak, the candidate for the anti-semitic, pro-Russian, economically libertarian and deeply misogynistic Konfederacja party. The electoral impact of this love-child of Von Ribbentrop, Molotov and Jordan Peterson is less clear than its designation as “far right” would indicate.

One might think they would naturally support Duda’s against the evils of “LGBT ideology”. Yet they differ radically from PiS on economic policy, favouring high-tech free markets over redistribution to rural communities, and consider PiS’s pro-Catholicism at best naive. Demographically, they are young and educated, more in line with Trszaskowski’s generation than Duda’s, and unlikely to be inspired by Duda’s message of continuity.

Duda has to hope that his homophobia can bring them over without alienating some of his more centrist backers. Trzaskowski had sought to woo them by making references to economic freedom. Bosak himself has endorsed neither candidate and it is not unlikely quite a few of his more cynical voters will sit the second round out. The final result may depend on whether they’re more scared of gay men or the tax man.