Bob Seely: The rule of law is an absolute. It cannot be dispensed with when we deal with ISIS terrorists.

A key moral from the case of Shamima Begum is that we need better information both to protect and prosecute.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

The case of Shamima Begum, who ran away to live under ISIS rule when she was a teenager, is deeply troubling. In 2015, aged just 15, she went to Syria to support the terror group, and was almost immediately married to a Dutch jihadi convert. She now wants to return to the UK with her surviving child.  Two other are dead.

She is one of hundreds of former and current ISIS supporters who hold UK passports, and who now may try to make their way back to Britain as ISIS faces final collapse.

Before I entered Parliament, I served with our armed forces during the campaign to destroy ISIS’ so-called caliphate. I was proud to do so. The territory that ISIS controlled, which initially stretched from central Syria through to Mosul in Northern Iraq, was a true heart of darkness. It was a revolting regime that mixed mediaeval theocracy with police state practises, and which advertised its death cult in infamous beheading videos.

Four years of bombing and ground force assault by the US, its British and French allies, our Kurdish partners on the ground in Iraq (the Peshmerga) and Syria (the SDF) have defeated ISIS as a physical force, but this victory intensifies a problem: what are we to do with returning ISIS fighters and their fellow travellers? What do we do with those who continue to nurture the idea of violent jihad in their minds? Getting our decision wrong could cost lives.

There is a natural – and exceptionally understandable – instinct to feel anger and contempt for the decisions made by Begum and others. The public revulsion has been rightly expressed by Sajid Javid.

However, it has proved hard to prosecute those who went to live in the ISIS-controlled area. As a result, Javid and his team steered through the Counter Terror and Border Security Act, which this week became law. First, it brings in a designated area offence, allowing prosecution for being in a geographical location without good reason. Second, it makes revoking UK citizenship easier. Third, it brings in Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures – ‘super ASBOs’ – to disrupt those engaged in extremism in the UK.

However, this law can’t be used retrospectively. In addition, if Begum is a British citizen and does not have a second citizenship, she has the right to return. This is not a negotiable point. It is illegal to make her stateless, and attempts to do so will see the Government in court. Furthermore, she was a child when she left. She has made some dire life choices, but her age should be taken into account. Either way, if she makes it to our shores, we will have to find a solution for her and for people who have done worse.

Public anger is understandable, but our priority must be public safety – and that means making some difficult choices.

In practical terms, it means continuing to develop intelligence on ISIS returnees. We need to be ‘collecting’ on both UK and other ‘internationals’ who served ISIS. We need to do so to be able to make judgements on their relative danger to our societies, how we monitor them and how they can be deradicalised. The more information we have, the more we can judge which returnees are a threat. Everything we do, including the deals we strike and whom we decide to prosecute, has to be based on that.

Back in 2016, it was reckoned that 700 UK citizens were fighting for, or supporting, ISIS. That figure now totals between 800 and 1,000. Of those, between 100 and 250 have died. UK air power killed some of them; the US and the French others. More were killed by our Kurdish the Peshmerga and the SDF. Other UK fighters who survived and who have a second passport will not be able to return – because they have been quietly stripped of their UK citizenship.

However, even if we identify most of those British citizens who served ISIS and are now considering returning, we will miss some of them. However good our agencies’ information is, some will have slipped through. Therefore, the need for information, on both known and unknown ISIS terrorists and fellow travellers, is our priority. The greatest protection we have against another Manchester bombing, 7/7 or Borough attack is knowledge.

We do not have to help ISIS terrorists and their war brides to return. But for those who make it here, whether they are prosecuted or not, there must be a price for returning and living their lives in the freedom that they denied others when they lived in ISIS-controlled territory. That price is information.

Pence demands EU powers abandon Iran nuclear deal

American vice president condemns efforts to ‘break’ US sanctions on ‘murderous revolutionary regime.’

WARSAW — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had a blunt message Thursday for EU powers on the Iran nuclear deal: Get out now, and get on America’s side.

Breaking from his prepared text to slam allies for sticking with the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Pence used his speech at a U.S.-sponsored conference on the Middle East to demand that France, Germany and the United Kingdom abandon the accord and stop trying to break American sanctions.

“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world, the peace, security and freedom they deserve,” Pence said in his lunchtime speech.

Pence’s forthright demand sets the Trump administration up for a similarly blunt rebuff from EU powers, who have repeatedly stated they are committed to the deal despite Washington’s withdrawal.

Although the meeting in Warsaw was initially conceived as a meeting focused on Iran, the U.S. State Department amid criticism had denied that it was aimed at any one country. But comments ahead of the event by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others made clear that one of the goals of the gathering in Warsaw is to rally governments against Tehran.

“Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative — in fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions” — Mike Pence

“The universal view of those who spoke last night at this conference was that Iran has actually become more aggressive since the JCPOA was signed, not less,” Pence said. “The United States reimposed sanctions that should never have been lifted in the first place.”

Pence praised Middle Eastern nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that he said have done more in recent months to pressure Tehran, but the vice president had harsh words for the Europeans.

“Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative — in fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions,” Pence complained. “Just two weeks ago, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom announced the creation of a special financial mechanism designed to oversee mirror-image transactions that would replace sanctionable international payments between EU businesses and Iran.”

“They call this scheme a Special Purpose Vehicle,” Pence said. “We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime. It’s an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States.”

Comments ahead of the event by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and others made clear that one of the goals of the gathering in Warsaw is to rally governments against Tehran | Radek Pietruszka/EPA

The EU has stated that it views the sanctions reimposed by Trump as illegal and illegitimate extra-territorial measures, and that Europe does not recognize them.

The special purpose vehicle, which is registered as a corporate entity in France, is not expected to help much in terms of continued economic activity with Iran. Many large corporations are too afraid of losing access to the U.S. market to risk angering the Trump administration. But European officials said the special purpose vehicle would help with some transactions, especially the sale of food and medicine, and send a political signal to Tehran that it remains committed to the nuclear accord.

At the competing summit in Sochi, Erdogan said that Turkey is willing to join the special purpose vehicle and also take additional bilateral steps to preserve economic ties with Iran.

The European powers, and EU officials in Brussels, insist that the JCPOA is worth preserving because it has successfully halted Iran’s nuclear weapons program — an assertion that Pence rejected in his speech. The Europeans say they share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program, its role in military conflicts throughout the Middle East, and at least two recent Tehran-sponsored assassination attempts on European soil. But they argue that stopping the nuclear weapons program is so important these other issues should be dealt with separately.

In Warsaw, Pence warned that the U.S. is prepared to intensify sanctions to bring the Iranian regime into submission.

“Today, America’s economic sanctions on Iran are the toughest in history and will get tougher still unless and until Iran changes its dangerous and destabilizing behavior,” he said.

“The winds of change can already be felt across the Middle East” — Mike Pence

A number of important nations boycotted the Warsaw event. And President Vladimir Putin of Russia held a rival summit in Sochi on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, in a closed-door session in Warsaw, told officials that the U.S. would present a Middle East peace plan after Israel’s general election on April 9. According to officials in the room, Kushner said the Israeli and Palestinian sides would each have to compromise.

But any Middle East peace effort will face difficulties without the participation of Putin, who asserted heavy military force to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as Erdogan and Rouhani, who are among the region’s leading power players.

Pence insisted things are changing in the region.

“The winds of change can already be felt across the Middle East,” he said. “Israel’s prime minister openly visits Oman. Just last week, Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates. Longstanding enemies are becoming partners. Old foes are finding new ground for cooperation. And the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause as never before.”

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The most pro-intervention speech by a Defence Secretary since the Iraq War

Is the Treasury up for funding and voters up for supporting the ideas he sketched out ealier this week?

Some of the Conservative Party’s most knowledgeable foreign affairs specialists are a bit sniffy about Gavin Williamson’s defence policy speech earlier this week.  One of its centre pieces was the announcement that “the first operational mission of the HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region.  “Significantly, British and American F35s will be embedded in the carrier’s air wing,” he continued, with a nod to our close relationship with America, before speaking of enhancing “the reach and lethality of our armed forces”.

That sounds a lot like a metaphorical, though certainly not a literal, shot across China’s bows in that last case.  One senior MP with an interest in security policy told ConservativeHome that he is all for stepping up activity in the South China Sea.  But “if you go out every few years for a few months, there’s no point.  It doesn’t show strength, it advertises weakness”.

Williamson’s answer to that might be to highlight the £1 billion that he screwed out of Philip Hammond in last autumn’s Budget, which itself came on top of an £800 million increase during the summer.  One point of the speech was to signal that he will soon be back for more: after all, there is a £7 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence’s equipment budgets.  Without money to help reduce it, and more, the Defence Secretary will have no chance whatsoever of achieving the aims he set out.  These were so striking that it is well worth pondering their implications.

Only a few years ago, when the Coalition Government was formed, Russia was not considered a serious danger to national security at all.  It was only last year that Williamson tore up previous assumptions and told the Defence Select Committee that it is now a bigger threat to us than terrorism.  And earlier this week, he duly added China to the list of British security problems: “all the while, [it] is developing its modern military capability and its commercial power,” he said.  It was the most pro-intervention speech that any Defence Secretary has made since the Iraq War, listing “Kuwait, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo” as earlier, successful, valuable incursions.

Hence his reference not only to cyber and to new drones for the RAF, but to new Poseidon P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, new equipment for the army, and two naval “littoral strike groups complete with escorts, support vessels and helicopters. One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic”.

All this raises three questions.  First, is it the Government’s collective position that China is no longer the friend that George Osborne saw it as, but is instead, in effect, a foe – or at least to be treated with a premis of suspicion?  Second, are the voters really up for a more interventionist-leaning foreign and defence posture, especially at a time when America seems to be entering a period of relative isolationism?  (“We stand ready to support our friends in Ukraine and the Balkans,” the Defence Secretary declared.)  Finally, Williamson’s programme implies higher defence spending still.  Is the Treasury willing to fund it?

The speech might have been delivered in much the same way were Britain not due to leave the EU.  There is no necessary connection between the re-ordering to which the Defence Secretary referred and Brexit.  But quitting the EU does make a difference to defence policy.  If we are to remain committed to our common continent, that implies solidifying the army presence in Eastern Europe – at a time when its manpower is at its lowest for more than a century.  And if we are also to become Global Britain, that suggests extending our reach and capabilities.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Williamson has no military background and, in the Conservative Party, the post that he holds is greatly prized – and seen as almost on a rank with the great offices of state.  His promotion was therefore not a popular one, and he has been widely briefed against.

Furthermore, the speech is bound to be read, by a cynical Westminster Village, as a leadership election preparation exercise.  Our plea for the Defence Secretary is that he is damned if he does and also if he doesn’t.  If he sets out a policy direction, he will be accused of ulterior motives. If he doesn’t, it will be claimed that he has nothing to say.

At a time when Brexit is all-consuming, and most Cabinet Ministers other than Michael Gove seem unwilling to make an impression, it ought to be thoroughly welcome that one of the others is developing a policy, even if you don’t agree it – which by and large we do, as believers in higher defence spending.

Bulgaria probes possible link between Skripal and Sofia poisonings

Authorities say a suspect in the Salisbury case was in Bulgaria when a local arms dealer was poisoned.

Bulgarian and British authorities said Monday they are examining possible connections between a nerve-agent attack on a Russian ex-spy in the U.K. last year and the poisoning of an arms dealer in Sofia in 2015.

Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov told reporters that one of the three suspects linked to the attempted killing of former spy Sergei Skripal visited Bulgaria three times in 2015 and was there in April when local arms dealer Emilian Gebrev was poisoned, according to Reuters.

“We are establishing all moments while he was on Bulgarian territory, the hotels, the vehicles he used, contacts with Bulgarian citizens,” Tsatsarov said.

Tsatsarov said prosecutors had compiled “significant” data on the Russian man, identified as Sergei Fedotov, and his trips to Bulgaria.

Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in the English town of Salisbury in March last year, and both later recovered. British authorities identified the chemical used in the attack as Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union. The investigation into Gebrev’s case was reopened in October after he told prosecutors he had reason to believe he may have been poisoned by a substance similar to Novichok.

Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev during a press conference in Sofia in October 2017 | Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

The Skripal poisoning set off a diplomatic row between the U.K. and Russia, which the British government blames for the attack. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Britain’s ambassador to Sofia, Emma Hopkins, said after a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and law enforcement officials that Gebrev’s case had been discussed, the AP reported.

“We are working in a joint team and a close partnership, and we are going to find out the facts in this case,” Hopkins told reporters.

“All questions about the national security of the U.K. and Bulgaria are of paramount importance to us, and we will continue this investigation even after Brexit,” she added.

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Neil Shastri-Hurst: The fog of war – blurring the lines in the separation of powers

A new report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers argues that prior Parliamentary approval for military action is a dangerous game and has no constitutional law basis.

Neil Shastri-Hurst is a former British Army Officer, doctor, lawyer, and Conservative activist in the West Midlands

With Brexit dominating the political debate and headlines you, would be forgiven if news of the Society of Conservative Lawyers’ upcoming publication, Prior Parliamentary Approval for Military Action, had slipped by unnoticed. But this report, launched today in Committee Room 15 at the Palace of Westminster, addresses an important issue relating to the relationship between the executive and legislature, and the use of prerogative powers.

A V Dicey, the renowned constitutional theorist, defined the royal prerogative as “the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact exercised by the King himself or by his Ministers”. Traditionally, one such power has enabled the government of the day to take the country into conflict. It allows military operations to be instigated with the required level of stealth to ensure their maximal effectiveness.

Yet, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a new convention has developed: seeking parliamentary approval before committing troops to combat operations. Tony Blair went as far as stating, following the 2003 vote, that he could not “conceive of a situation in which a Government…is going to go to war – except in circumstances where militarily for the security of the country in needs to act immediately – without a full parliamentary debate”.

As evidenced by the 2013 vote on Syria, when the Commons defeated the Coalition Government’s motion on military action, Parliament’s approval goes way beyond an indicative vote of support with the executive’s plan. In essence, it usurps the Government’s role in making the decision. This is a dangerous game and has no constitutional law basis. Conventions, by their very nature, must be entrenched in parliamentary procedure. This is not the case here.

The role of the legislature is to provide checks and balances upon the executive. Its role is to hold the Government to account. By making decisions on the latter’s behalf, the lines between the separation of powers are blurred. It would be near on impossible for any Parliament which had voted for military intervention to legitimately hold the Government’s feet to the fire when analysing and critiquing the decision. The responsibility would be shifted to the whole of Parliament.

The UK’s recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have divided opinion. There is a reluctance amongst many politicians to engage in major foreign policy interventions. There is a real risk that we will miss strategically opportune times to strike because of their fear that they may get it wrong. This fear is perpetuated by the sparsity of military intelligence briefings available to the Commons as a whole. The Executive, by contrast, has the full raft of intelligence and legal advice required to make these judgements. In truth, the new convention is setting parliament up to fail by providing only a fraction of the information required to make an informed and fully judged decision.

Lord Houghton summed it up by writing that the new convention had “caused unease within military ranks”. It would be an unwise Parliament that failed to heed the words of a former Chief of the Defence Staff. The general knows that without flexibility, speed, and the element of surprise military operations can rapidly lose their desired impact. For this reason alone, it is imperative that we do not allow our Armed Force’s efficacy to be undermined by our own Parliament.

Rights group says global democracy ‘in retreat’ for 13th year

Freedom House criticizes Hungary and Poland.

Global democracy has been “in retreat” for 13 consecutive years, according to the annual report by the watchdog Freedom House.

In its Freedom in the World report for 2018, out Tuesday, the Washington-based rights group said that between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries it ranked as “not free” fell from 37 to 23 percent, while the share of so-called free countries grew from 36 to 46 percent. However, between 2005 and 2018, the share of “not free” countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of “free countries” fell to 44 percent.

As a result, political rights and civil liberties have become weaker in 68 countries since last year’s report, and improved in 50 countries.

The report cites a shifting global balance of power in favor of countries including China, and “anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and the loss of personal status,” as underlying causes of the strains on democratic institutions.

In Europe, the report says Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “has presided over one of the most dramatic declines ever charted by Freedom House within the European Union,” citing increasing attacks on media independence. As a result, Hungary is described in this year’s report as “partly free” after “five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.”

In Poland, the report says the conservative Law and Justice party’s attempt to “laid waste to the country’s legal framework in its drive to assert political control over the entire judiciary.”

Other countries in the EU also saw a decline in their democracy score — Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the U.K.

The report said the U.S. has fallen behind the likes of the U.K., France and Germany over the past eight years.

The Freedom House blames longstanding problems such as political polarization, loss of economic mobility, the influence of special interests and the rise of partisan media. But it also warns that President Donald Trump “exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system.”

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Garvan Walshe: Can civil war be avoided in Venezuela?

A wise US president with a clever plan would be able to reduce the risks. But this one may well squander the opportunity for a peaceful return to democracy.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He grew up in Latin America and now runs TRD Policy.

Lacking the persuasive skills of their charismatic predecessor, the leader lives on borrowed time. A disastrous election campaign took away the government’s parliamentary majority. The streets have been filled with opposition demonstrators. Regional allies have turned against their former friend. The administration’s policy provokes only exasperation from economists. Its oil resources are not what they once were. Opposition media are filled with stories of food shortages and stockpiling. Hints are dropped of emergency powers and even the declaration of martial law. European Union leaders have turned up the pressure by demanding concessions by a strict deadline.

But whereas Theresa May managed this week to retain control of Britain’s legislative agenda (the Cooper and Grieve amendments having been defeated thanks at least in part to Labour frontbenchers breaking their whip), Nicolas Maduro is in a much deeper hole.

Having been defeated in elections for the national assembly in 2015, he got his handpicked Supreme Court to anoint a puppet parliament and remains in office as an unvarnished dictator. His security forces torture and imprison opposition leaders while his country goes without food. Three million Venezuelans have fled – to America, Spain and Chile if they can; to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador if they must.

Last week, Juan Guaidó, the young head of the democratically elected National Assembly — himself only installed because Leopoldo López, the real leader, has been placed under house arrest by the regime — declared the presidency vacant, and, under Venezuela´s constitution, proclaimed himself interim president, and demanded free elections.

He immediately received the support of the Organisation of American States, and with it the democratically elected governments of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and the United States as well as several smaller countries. Britain has followed their lead.

The European Union is due to follow suit. Led by Spain’s centre-left government, they gave Maduro days to agree to hold free elections, and will transfer recognition to Guaidó if, as everyone expects, Maduro digs in with the support of Russia and China.

It’s not a matter of much surprise that Britain’s Labour Party has avoided facing this issue square on. It has instead taken refuge in myths of Cold War era US “intervention”. It allows them to evade the obvious failure of a regime that promised “Socialism in the 21st Century” and which is unable to supply basic services to its people despite owning what are by some measures the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet the bankruptcy of this position, taken by John McDonnell among others, is clear, and has been dismissed by none other than the notorious far-right US Senator, Bernie Sanders.

Far from a US provocation, the Venezuelan crisis is domestic in origin. The Chavez-Maduro regime politicised the oil industry, failed to keep control of law and order, and rather than improving the conditions of the poor, made them far worse. Food, medicines and basic sanitary products are often unavailable. Beset by mass demonstrations and sporadic military revolts, Caracas now relies on Russian and Chinese security assistance to keep itself in power.

The stage is now set for a stand-off between the democratically elected National Assembly and what Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, calls the “tyrant”. Maduro stays installed Caracas’s Miraflores palace, while his secret police operate from a post-modernist disused shopping centre converted into a warren of torture chambers known as the Helicóide.

The transfer of international recognition to the National Assembly is more than just symbolic. Pursued fully, it would mean that, in the view of the countries that recognise it, the Assembly will be the legitimate representative of the Venezuelan state abroad. Its appointees, not Maduro’s, will be recognised as diplomats. Property belonging to the Venezuelan state can be assigned to it, and not to Maduro’s government. Efforts are under way to transfer oil revenues to its control. Conversely, Maduro and his agents will no longer be, in the eyes of major world democracies and the international financial system at least, legitimate forces of order. They will have been converted into rebels using force to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela, as represented by the National Assembly.

This could begin to change the balance of power, but to stand a chance of bringing democracy back to Venezuela, further steps must be taken. What is needed is a diplomatic process to put pressure on the regime to acquiesce in free elections that will continue alongside what will it is hoped will continue to be peaceful popular opposition to Maduro, and the role of the United States will be crucial.

A wise US administration would stay in the shadows, and leave public leadership to Latin American countries, while providing diplomatic heft (in particular in dissuading Russia and China from provocation) and practical and organisational assistance to the regional anti-Maduro coalition. Such discretion would shield Venezuela’s democracy movement from the charges of American imperialism that Maduro has already begun to deploy and which are being enthusiastically if hypocritically relayed by pro-Russian satellite TV.

We don’t, however, have such a wise administration. This one, understaffed diplomatically, incapable of consistent action, with a president beholden to Moscow, and a counterproductive fondness for the theatrical may well squander the opportunity for a peaceful return to democracy in Venezuela. Among the risks facing the world in 2019 we may now have to add further deterioration. Descent into prolonged violence or even low-level civil war now looks all too possible.

Richard Kemp and Lee Rotherham: The backstop’s not the only danger in May’s deal. Its defence and security plans will undermine NATO.

Given proven trends, that time will come. The UK will then, by negligence, have contributed to a catastrophic defence rift between the continents of Europe and North America.

Colonel Richard Kemp was an infantry battalion commanding officer, headed the international terrorism team of the Joint Intelligence Organisation in the Cabinet Office, and was Chairman of the COBRA Intelligence Group and of the EU and Nato Intelligence Support Committee. Dr Lee Rotherham is Director of the Red Cell, and is Executive Director of Veterans for Britain.

This week’s Aachen summit declaring closer integration between Germany and France in defence and foreign policy will inevitably give rise to headlines about an EU military force. Commentators here in the UK often describe these developments as risible and unnecessary, like endless EU’s directives on cucumbers, and look no further.  But neglecting the details and the hazardous effects for the UK is a serious error.

To date, even many MPs still have failed to familiarise themselves with developments and the extent to which the UK has become involved. The topic has been almost absent from the public debate over the future shape of the post-Brexit deal, despite its consequences for defence and, more broadly, for the encompassing range of security and international relations issues with which the matter is closely bound.

So how does defence creep into the Brexit negotiations?  The Barnier Model envisages a deal comprising four pillars, in which two are the old Justice and Home Affairs and Defence pillars, re-established from Maastricht Treaty days. The Chequers approach also envisaged a form of pillar structure in which both form separate units. In both cases, close institutional cooperation is anticipated, and Parliament does not seem to have been given much opportunity to consider the ramifications or its ability to provide future oversight, and safeguard national interests.

There are several risks arising from a lack of strategic reflection on the nature of those ties, given that the EU is now in a period of acceleration towards a defence union. A dispassionate audit of past trends, stated objectives, and highlighted ambitions clearly indicates that the side arrangements already being made during transition generate real risk for the UK’s strategic global interests; and, consequently, that this element of the negotiation also needs a radical rethink, and that instructions to civil servants engaged in ongoing planning needs to change.

Consequently, I have reviewed the very recent history of these developments in a new paper, Brexit’s Troubled Flank – The Departure Deal and EU Defence Integration, written with Dr Lee Rotherham.

The paper sheds light on the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, alongside its twin, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which take an indisputable course of direction towards the declared aim of a ‘common defence’. We show how it has taken place over five phases, and now is advancing apace with a mandate that unblocks major integrational opportunities for the EU.

We briefly explain how this process is part of a wider horizon of integration across a range of other policy areas, meaning that firewalling within a close association agreement with the EU (such as Chequers provides) is ultimately an impossible task. And we contextualise UK historic engagement on defence with its European neighbours from the Treaty of Dunkirk onwards, showing the policy bipolarity between the sure anchor of NATO, and the flexing shift from multilateral intergovernmental arrangements between European states that the EU is now authorised to swallow up.

There are now four key threats from being too closely tied to the new landscape of EU Defence structures;

  • The pursuit of a single market in defence, which creates a new risk to the UK’s independent strategic capability;
  • The creation of a major defence budget, with procurement leading the way, whereby UK finances may be diverted away from UK theatre requirements;
  • Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – the creation of structures that increasingly duplicate and in time will rival NATO, notwithstanding current shallow caveats;
  • The generation of common assets and common units, thus providing the kernel of a future common European standing army.

In the language of the Chequers Cabinet agreement and the White Paper that followed, the UK Government does talk in terms of the principality of NATO and of its separate status. But the pragmatic reality, when speaking with diplomats, is that European capitals are, behind the scenes, divided along very different faultlines. Different alliances flow over different aspects of future defence integration, with some governments prepared so sign off on certain arrangements while objecting to different proposals.

This fluidity creates a dangerous dynamic in Brussels negotiations, since it is the very prerequisite required for states to concede that ends up generating motion towards deeper defence union, and across a wider range of policy areas. As the process is slow, the evolution follows over time, but the nature of the EU treaties and the acquis communautaire means it never recedes, and the direction is one way.

For this very reason, expressions inserted at the demand of certain EU states that EU defence integration will not undermine NATO cannot be taken at face value. The aspiration is undermined by the practical effect over time of assigning strategic ambitions, creating big budgets, identifying defence obligations, harmonising forces, creating common units, and creating a single defence industry (with all the shutting down of peripheral factories that will follow). NATO is under real threat from this since the EU ambitions run on a steady long term trend.

The Government, meanwhile, is running a Brexit policy on defence that aspires to being institutionally close to the entities pursuing this process. It will therefore share the risks and damage when these policies develop. It will encourage elements of Whitehall to pursue even further the policy of the past 20 years of pooling resources in order to cut UK costs, and with them independent capability. Too close an institutional affiliation meanwhile leads to too close a UK orbit, and no prospect of an easy escape vector when the ongoing process of EU integration bites into the bone.

A Whitehall mantra of ad hoc participation contrasts with the heavy and legalistic obligations stated in the entry agreements that Whitehall has permitted and which the EU has no will to change, nor any requirement to do so.

Given proven trends, and demonstrable ambition, that time will come. The UK will then, by negligence, have contributed to a catastrophic defence rift between the continents of Europe and North America. And of more direct and immediate concern, it will have triggered the breakdown the unique and irreplaceable defence and security relationship that the UK has with the US.

Alastair Thompson: Corbyn – the apologist for the tyrant who rules Venezuela by fear. Let a Commons vote put him on the spot.

Let’s see if Labour stands with Venezuela’s oppressed. For what party could truly say that it supports labour, while lending support to the butchery of labourers?

Alastair Thompson is reading Politics and Economics at Bath University.

Venezuela, the poster child for a nation gone to ruin, is at a precipice. The former jewel of South America has been crippled by a form of typical socialist tyranny – a dictatorship. One whose origins have routinely been praised by not only odious backbenchers within the Labour Party, such as Chris Williamson, but even the Leader of the Opposition himself, Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet earlier this week, Venezuela took a step back from tyranny and a step towards freedom. Juan Guaidó took a public oath swearing himself in as the acting President of Venezuela. A move was recognised as legitimate by the Organisation of American States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the United States. Yet his move has not been accepted by some within Venezuela itself.

Nicolas Maduro, the dictator who has overseen the mass murder of protestors and who has overseen political opponents detained, remains in power. His legitimacy lies under the faux authority of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. This tribunal is the highest court of law within Venezuela: its authority cannot be challenged. Yet Venezuela’s judicial system is so barren of legitimacy that it was declared by the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International in 2014. This corruption was exceptionally apparent when, in early 2016, three lawmakers were stripped of their seats, preventing a challenge to Maduro’s dictatorship.

The United Kingdom should take a stand. The motto of the Conservative Party relating to Brexit has been a “global Britain”.  What could be more global than standing for the democratic rights of oppressed peoples abroad? Let us stand with the people of Venezuala, as we would hope they would stand for us under tyranny.

But let us not simply denounce Maduro, as Jeremy Hunt rightly did yesterday, and have the Government praise Guaidó.  Let’s not just have Theresa May announce that the Government recognises his legitimacy. If we wish to announce our support for democracy, we should do so democratically. Let’s have our representatives, our Parliamentarians, vote on the matter. Jeremy Corbyn and his cabal of appeasers should be challenged on their record, in Parliament – so let’s have them vote. Let’s see if the Labour Party stand with the many oppressed in Venezuela, or the few who oppress them for reasons of ideology and corrupt self-benefit.

Across the pond, Senator Lloyd Bentsen famously said to Senator Dan Quayle “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” It is time for the Conservative Party to step forward and show that Corbyn is no Clement Attlee, no Harold Wilson. Rather, he is besotted with whichever left-wing dictator is in fashion amongst the Hard Left. He is not the friend to human rights that the other Attlee and Wilson were.  He is simply the friend of tyrants.

Let’s see that truth demonstrated in Parliament itself. If Corbyn is challenged on this matter, the likely outcome is that will he vote, in effect, for Maduro’s dictatorship, and show his support for tyranny in law. How then, could moderate Labour MPs stand with a man who prioritises ideology over innocent life? How can these MPs support a leader who stands by as lives are sacrificed on the altar of socialism?

So let’s bring forward a bill to recognise Venezuela’s rightful president. Let us help to save a country where even such basics as food are so devoid of supply that hard-working citizens have turned to eating their pets. And let us demonstrate to the people of the UK that we are seeing the death of any Labour Party worthy of the name. For what party could truly say that it supports labour, while lending support to the butchery of labourers?

Brussels caught off-guard by Venezuela’s political turmoil

The EU does not want to follow Donald Trump in recognizing Juan Guaidó as Interim president — for now.

Just don’t ask Brussels who is in charge in Venezuela.

As the political crisis in the South American country deepens — with parliamentary chief Juan Guaidó declaring himself interim president Wednesday, while strongman Nicolás Maduro clings to power — the European Union appears taken aback by developments and unable to endorse a leader.

U.S. President Donald Trump pressed ahead with recognizing Guaidó as interim president Wednesday, stating that the opposition leader represented “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people.” Others, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Colombia and Peru, quickly followed suit, while the leftist governments of Bolivia and Mexico, as well as Russia, said they continue to recognize Maduro as the legitimate ruler.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets Wednesday, expressing their anger over spiraling inflation, a persistent shortage of basic goods and electoral fraud, and demanded the resignation of Maduro, who was inaugurated for a second term as president on January 10. At least 13 people died in violent clashes with security forces, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS).

“Unlike Maduro, the parliamentary assembly, including Juan Guaidó, have a democratic mandate from Venezuelan citizens” — European Council President Donald Tusk

In a declaration published late Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU “strongly calls for the start of an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections,” while it “fully supports the national assembly as the democratically elected institution whose powers need to be restored and respected.”

However, Mogherini fell short of recognizing Guaidó’s declaration as interim president, and called instead for the restoration of democracy and rule of law “through a credible peaceful political process in line with the Venezuelan constitution.”

Pressed by reporters about this ambiguity Thursday, an EU spokesperson refused to say who Brussels recognizes as Venezuela’s legitimate president. “The way we see the situation is how it is described in the declaration,” said Maja Kocijančič, spokeswoman for the European External Action Service. “We will continue contacts and follow developments on the ground.”

Kocijančič said Mogherini’s statement had been “agreed with all 28 member states,” but some EU countries have already indicated that they had sought a clearer line on Venezuela.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen appeared to throw his weight behind Guaidó Wednesday when he tweeted: “Denmark will always support legitimate elected democratic institutions — not least the parliamentary assembly including Juan Guaidó.” Samuelsen added that he was pushing to obtain “a strong EU statement.”

Juan Guaidó (C), President of the Venezuelan Parliament, greets the crowd in Caracas, Venezuela, January 23, 2019 | Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE

French President Emmanuel Macron also indirectly backed the 35-year-old opposition leader when he tweeted that Maduro’s reelection last year had been “illegitimate” and said that he “welcomed the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who march for their freedom.”

And European Council President Donald Tusk also issued a strong call for recognizing Guaidó. “I hope that all of Europe will unite in support of democratic forces in Venezuela,” he wrote late Wednesday. “Unlike Maduro, the parliamentary assembly, including Juan Guaidó, have a democratic mandate from Venezuelan citizens.”

During a visit to Washington Thursday, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Guaidó is the right person to take Venezuela forward, and Britain is “supporting the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina to make that happen.”

Britain did not regard Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, Hunt said, adding that last year’s election had been “deeply flawed.”

Trumpian surprise

Spain — which traditionally has strong links to Latin American countries — has opposed directly recognizing Guaidó as interim president, according to EU diplomats. Madrid cited concerns that such a step would deepen divisions and even risk a civil war in Venezuela, they said, adding that Spain had instead promoted setting up a “contact group” that would get both the regime and opposition around a table to negotiate free elections.

One diplomat said that Spain, which has been trying for a long time to establish itself as mediator in Venezuela, had been taken off-guard by Trump’s sudden move to recognize Guaidó.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez spoke on the phone to Guaidó Thursday, citing the need for “holding free elections,” according to his office. But he has come under pressure as leaders from the Spanish opposition Popular Party and Ciudadanos, as well as former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González, demand the recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.

People raise their hands during a mass opposition rally against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas on January 23, 2019 | Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

In Germany, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas offered little more than a call to all sides “to be prudent and to renounce violence.” But Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesperson of the parliamentary group of the Christian Democratic Union and its sister party the CSU, said Thursday that Guaidó was “the only legitimate representative of the Venezuelan people.”

Spokesperson Kocijančič said EU foreign ministers would have the opportunity to elaborate on the bloc’s position at an informal meeting on Thursday and Friday next week in Bucharest.

Meanwhile, the situation in Venezuela remains tense as the powerful military appears to back Maduro. “The soldiers of the fatherland do not accept a president who is imposed in the shadow of obscure interests or self-proclaimed outside the boundaries of law,” tweeted Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.

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