Stephen Booth: There are reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. But its security provisions aren’t one of them.

At the root of concerns seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

In the vociferous debate about the proposed Brexit deal, the implications for UK security and foreign policy have come a distant second to economic and institutional considerations. However, this week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways” and bind the UK into “new sets of EU controlled relationships”. We certainly should debate the UK’s future security and foreign policies in light of Brexit, but there are several reasons why these dire warnings about the proposed deal are either misplaced or implausible.

Successive UK governments have cooperated selectively with the EU in security and foreign policy, reflecting concerns about the direction of travel or degree of integration. The UK secured opt-outs from EU law enforcement and internal security integration and many Brexiteers cited the erosion of these protections by ECJ jurisprudence as justification for withdrawal. Nonetheless, matters of external security, defence and foreign policy were largely protected by our national veto, the threat of which the UK successfully used to prevent EU ambitions for an autonomous military HQ, for example.

At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for “vital and stated reasons of national policy” – we have a de jure veto. The UK will be bound by existing EU rules on police and judicial cooperation during this time, but will be excluded from new rules that fall under our existing law enforcement and Schengen opt-outs.

If the UK were to enter the Backstop, either in 2021 or by 2023, there is no agreed provision for UK-EU security and foreign policy cooperation. UK commitments under EU law and the Withdrawal Agreement would fall away and the basis for cooperation would need to be negotiated either separately or under the auspices of a comprehensive UK-EU future partnership. The UK would not be legally obliged as a result of the deal to do anything, although the Withdrawal Agreement provides both sides with the option of agreeing a successor security agreement – obviously the UK would have a veto over this.

It is further argued by the deal’s critics that “buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep, and special relationship with the EU in defence, security and intelligence”, which would undermine the UK’s three core security and foreign policy relationships with NATO, our US bilateral agreements and Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements”. This warning presumably refers to the joint UK-EU Political Declaration on the framework for the future partnership.

First, as many critics of the deal have pointed out, the Political Declaration is not legally enforceable, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement would be. At this stage, it is simply an “offer” and does not bind the UK. Indeed, the lack of legal enforceability of the Political Declaration is the typically-cited reason for opposing the deal. Here the assumption is that the Political Declaration is binding. It is not.

Second, the future relationship foreseen in the Political Declaration is impossible to reconcile with the claim that it would undermine the UK’s core security relationships. Indeed, the declaration states that the entire future relationship should provide exceptions for matters of national security, which is the “sole responsibility” of the UK and the EU’s member states respectively. The UK could “participate on a case by case basis” in EU-led security and defence missions and be consulted accordingly. Intelligence sharing would be “voluntary” and the parties would “produce intelligence products autonomously”. The UK and the EU would pursue “independent sanctions policies driven by their respective foreign policies”. None of this would compel the UK, or the EU, to do anything at all with regards to external or security policy, other than keep the other party informed.

Finally, it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable. There is no doubt that past and future UK governments would rank the three core relationships with NATO, bilaterally with the US and Five Eyes, as the most important (a Jeremy Corbyn-led government might prove the exception). However, successive governments have also acknowledged that the UK must also promote its interests, both offensively and defensively, with European partners and allies. The UK has a close bilateral relationship with Europe’s only other globally-relevant military and defence power, France. This is underpinned by bilateral treaty, but France is actively pursuing its foreign policy interests via the EU and therefore cooperation with the French could well mean working with the EU to some degree. The question is on what basis.

Leaving the EU is likely to mean the UK will not be able to formally shape, lead or veto EU foreign policy or defence decisions in the future. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. Equally it means we will not be directly bound by them. It is possible to argue that the EU is being short-sighted in only offering the UK take it or leave it European cooperation on security and foreign policy issues. This may yet change, and if the EU wants to secure UK cooperation, our ability to provide resources and capabilities will be of immense value and therefore provide us with influence.

Nevertheless, it will be up to future governments to work out how best to further UK foreign policy interests independently of and sometimes in cooperation with the EU. Nothing agreed to date would prevent the UK from refusing to take part in EU-led or “controlled” initiatives or from insisting that any future cooperation would only be provided under a NATO umbrella.

There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Japanese PM warns UK: ‘World is watching’ on Brexit

‘We truly hope a no-deal Brexit will be avoided,’ said Shinzō Abe.

LONDON — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe warned Thursday that “the world is watching” Britain over Brexit as he urged parliament to avoid leaving without a deal.

Abe, visiting the U.K. after a stop in Netherlands Wednesday, used a joint press conference with Theresa May in Downing Street to claim the “whole world” wanted the U.K. not to leave the EU without an agreement.

Abe paid tribute to the “strong will and hard work” of the prime minister, but his message came with a clear warning about future Japanese investment.

He said Japan saw Britain as the “gateway” to the European market and promised to “further develop” this partnership if the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by May with Brussels was ratified by MPs.

He said: “We truly hope a no-deal Brexit will be avoided. In fact this is the wish of the whole world.”

Abe later added: “Even post Brexit, Japan intends to maintain this very good relationship. We truly hope more investment will be made by Japanese businesses.”

“This draft agreement … is very much welcomed and we very much hope it will be realised. At any rate Japan and the U.K. will be further developing our economic ties,” he said.


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Benedict Rogers: Hunt’s review of British policy on the persecution of Christians is crucial and courageous

The Foreign Secretary had already impressed me with his focus on human rights. Now he has created new hope for Christians around the world.

Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute. He is the author of six books, including “The Very Stones Cry Out: The Persecuted Church – Pain, Passion and Praise” (co-authored with Baroness Cox).

I have always been passionate about defending freedom of religion or belief as a human right for everyone, of all religions and none. I have worked for many years with and for the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma, the Ahmadiyya and Shi’a in Indonesia, the Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in China and twice visited and campaigned for an atheist in jail in Indonesia. My colleagues in CSW have similarly championed the cause of the Baha’is, the Yazidis, Hindus in Pakistan and others. Our motto is “everyone free to believe”.

However, for some time there has been a sense that the persecution of Christians has not been receiving the attention it deserves in certain quarters of our foreign policy establishment. Regardless of your views of Christianity, in simple statistical terms Christians around the world are persecuted in the most countries, from the widest range of sources – from radical Islamism, extremist Hinduism, Buddhist nationalism, from Communist authoritarianism, militant secularism or non-State actors such as paramilitaries and drug cartels in parts of Latin America. The International Society for Human Rights estimates that Christians are victims of 80 per cent of all acts of religious intolerance, even though they only represent 30 per cent of the global population. The Pew Research Center’s most recent report on global restrictions on religion states that the number of countries where various religious groups were harassed either by governments or social groups increased in 2016, and the most widely targeted groups were Christians, who face harassment in 144 countries, closely followed by Muslims, in 142 countries.

That is why Jeremy Hunt’s announcement on Boxing Day, to conduct a review of the Foreign Office’s response to the persecution of Christians worldwide, is so significant. In the five months since he became Foreign Secretary, I have already been impressed by the way Hunt has prioritised human rights, and shown personal leadership on many issues. As I have written on this site previously, his Policy Exchange speech was one of the most important speeches I have read by any Foreign Secretary. His focus on media freedom, his handling of Yemen, his decision to meet the wives of human rights lawyers jailed in China, his visit to Burma, his statements on the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, handling of the case of Matthew Hedges jailed in the United Arab Emirates, and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in prison in Iran, are just a few examples of how he has increased attention on human rights. This latest announcement is another, and is potentially the most courageous.

I had the privilege of participating in a meeting a week ago, hosted by the Foreign Secretary, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, other senior church leaders and NGOs, and survivors of persecution from Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea. I had the opportunity to highlight the situation in China, Indonesia, Burma and North Korea. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is of course the most egregious, but it is not the only part of the world where Christians are in danger. I told Hunt that just three days before our meeting, I had received an email report about a Christian community in Burma holding a pre-Christmas celebration and being attacked and stoned by a mob of fifty militant Buddhist nationalists. China is facing the most severe crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, involving the closure of many churches, the imprisonment of pastors and the destruction of crosses. In Indonesia, I visited three churches in Surabaya earlier this year which had been attacked by a family of suicide bombers. Across Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the Middle East, Christians increasingly live in fear.

So a review of the Foreign Office’s policy specifically on the persecution of Christians worldwide is extremely welcome. We will see what comes out of the review when the Bishop of Truro, appointed to lead it, reports next Easter. I hope that at a minimum it will lead to the British government being more consistently outspoken, using its diplomatic networks to better defend persecuted Christians, ensuring our aid policy genuinely does not discriminate on religious grounds, for or against any religion, but recognises that faith-based aid groups can be part of the solution, and co-ordinates better with like-minded governments – particularly the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief – to ensure that the crisis facing Christians worldwide is no longer ignored.

As the Foreign Secretary says, “Britain has long championed international religious freedom. So often, the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority… We must never allow a misguided political correctness to inhibit our response to the persecution of any religious minority.”

The test will be in the outcomes of the review and in the implementation of what recommendations may come, but in taking this initiative Hunt has already symbolically shifted the Foreign Office in a better direction, and for that he deserves our appreciation.

Garvan Walshe: Conservatives should defend human rights in Eastern Europe – Hunt must condemn Orbán

This autocratic thuggery is happening less than two hours’ flight away. We must not turn a blind eye to it.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the British Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Budapest. Thousands march towards the state TV building to demand they cover days of popular protests they have studiously been ignoring (pigeons and their fate, among other things, have been prime time news on Hungarian official channels).

1988? No, this week. Opposition parliamentarians demand access to the building, as is their right in Hungarian law. Entrance is refused, but they find their way in. They want to read their demands, which include the restoration of media freedom and the abolition of new courts established under the direct control of the justice ministry, on TV. Their request is refused. Finally, the next morning, they’re roughed up and expelled from the building by private security guards. One, Laszlo Varju, is beaten so badly he is hospitalised.

Something is changing. The precarious balance where Viktor Orbán pretends not to be a dictator, and the opposition pretend there’s no need or possibility to rise up against him, has shattered.

Since taking power in 2010, he has hollowed out Hungary’s democratic institutions one by one. He calls this “illiberal democracy” but it´s really zombie democracy in which people’s formal power is ignored in the service of a governing clique.

Let me declare an interest. I’m no fan of Orbán. I chair Unhack Democracy Europe, which is running an initiative to investigate irregularities in the 2018 election. I believe that people who still live in functioning democracies should help people whose institutions are under threat.

With a two-thirds majority in the parliament, control of 87 per cent of the media (state and nominally independent) Orbán seemed unassailable. He could expel Hungary’s most reputed university, pass legislation that taxed political activity he didn’t agree with watch his cronies get inexplicably wealthy, all the while subsidised by British taxpayers’ EU contributions.

Then he made a fateful mistake. Alongside the constitutional manipulation of which he is a past master (this time to set up a network of courts directly under government control) he rammed through a new labour law in an irregular session.

The tumult (including a visibly shaken Orbán) was livestreamed by MPs and found its way to millions of mobile phones across Hungary.

The labour law, that involved extending the amount of overtime that could be included in contracts, contained one crucial catch: employees would have to wait three years to actually get paid for their extra work.

Unions and opposition campaigners swiftly denounced this as the “Slave Law” — an exaggeration, but hardly as exaggerated as the florid claims of a George Soros led conspiracy made by Orbán himself.

What had been a recondite debate about the powers of government that only elements of society already opposed to Orbán concerned themselves with suddenly became something that hit people’s daily lives.

As thousands took to the street official propaganda mouthpieces denounced them as agents of, guess who, George Soros, and, in a slip that betrays official Hungary’s alignment with Putin, accused them of plotting a Ukraine-style “Euromaidan” peaceful overthrow of a corrupt autocrat.

Pigeons were indeed a safer choice of topic for the state broadcaster.

Tomorrow, a bigger demonstration is planned. As in Communist times, the target is the state lie machine the regime uses to hide from its own people the costs of its corruption and mismanagement, and blame them, as though taking its lines from a Nasserite dictatorship, on the machinations of a Jewish financier.

In Hungary, despite consistent and fast economic growth, public services are suffering after political cronies have replaced competent managers. Hospitals struggle to retain staff, who have left for freer places, and even, in an echo of Communist times, remain under-stocked with toilet paper.

Until recently, the regime has kept its repression financial: taxes on private advertising to bankrupt independent media; tilting public procurement to cow the private sector; direct interference in universities and ministerial pre-clearance of cultural institutes’ output; politically motivated audits of businesses affiliated with the opposition.

In recent weeks, however, the pressure has turned darker. A mysterious fire at an opposition party’s offices. Police pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators. And now the assault on an opposition MP. The issue is not a single law, but abuse of power by an unaccountable ruling clique.

This raises an important question of conscience of the Conservative Party.

Indeed, Péter Niedermüller, an MEP for the DK party whose offices suffered the fire, told me he was “saddened” by Tory MEPs vote with Orbán over the application of the EU’s Article 7 in September.

Rumour has it it was done in an attempt to curry favour with Orbán in the Brexit negotiations. If that was the reason, it has clearly failed.

The Hungarian government’s behaviour has now crossed the line beyond which considerations of national sovereignty should affect Britain´s diplomatic stance.

The Conservative Party stood up for human rights in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and it´s time we did so again.

Jeremy Hunt should condemn this autocratic thuggery, which is happening less than two hours’ flight away.Leaving the EU must not mean leaving the European community of democratic values.

David Snoxell: The International Criminal Court may put more pressure on the UK over the Chagos Islands

The Government’s long rearguard defence of the British Indian Ocean Territory has reached a higher theatre than I ever expected.

David Snoxell is Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group.

Before Mauritian independence in 1968, the UK detached the Chagos Archipelago in 1965 to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), for the construction of a US military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

The UK promised to return the territory to Mauritius when no longer required. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher told Parliament that sovereignty would “revert” to Mauritius when the islands were no longer needed for defence purposes. That commitment has been repeated by successive governments.

In 1968-73 the Chagos Islanders were deported to Mauritius and Seychelles, although they could have remained on the 54 “Outer Islands” which have never been required for defence facilities.

It is 45 years since the last of the Chagossians living in the British Indian Ocean Territory were deported, 42 years since the issue was first raised in Parliament, 20 years since the most recent litigation began, 18 years since the High Court re-instated the right of abode, 14 years since the Foreign Secretary used the Royal Prerogative to overrule that decision and 10 years since the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established.

Since my last piece in ConservativeHome in December 2017 a resolution of the UN General Assembly in June 2017 referred the issue of decolonisation and Chagossian resettlement to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). I have been dealing with Chagos since 1995 and never expected it to reach the ICJ. I attended the hearings in The Hague, 3-6 September.

The Mauritian team, led by Sir Anerood Jugnuath QC, PC, former Prime Minister and President, supported by Philippe Sands QC, spoke with passion and vigour, the UK team led by Robert Buckland QC, the Solicitor General, with detached forensic analysis.

But how could the UK team do otherwise? Their unenviable task was to defend the UK’s conduct of 53 years, which continues to violate the human rights of the Chagossians and avoid a diplomatic resolution of the sovereignty question.

Mauritius and the UK were each allocated three hours on the first day; 22 states then made oral submissions followed by the African Union, representing 55 member states. The UK was supported by the US, Israel, and Australia, and on the jurisdictional point by Germany. All other states supported Mauritius. The UK and its supporters argued from technical legal grounds, leaving Mauritius and the Chagossians occupying the ethical high ground.

A Chagossian contingent was part of the Mauritian delegation. None spoke but the Court was shown a moving video of Marie Liseby Elisé, who was present, describing her experience of being deported from Peros Banhos (Outer Islands) in 1973 and the death of her baby as a result. Both the UK and US expressed sympathy with the Chagossians, the US referring to their “sufferings” and the UK to their “shameful and wrong treatment”.

As the new Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC, has been a member of the APPG since 2008 and Standing Counsel for Mauritius, the UK was represented by the Solicitor General. The UK arguments were predicated on four assertions: no legal right to self-determination existed in 1965 or in 1968; the people of Mauritius had repeatedly consented to detachment (“freely expressed will of the people” in UN language); territorial integrity did not exist as a concept for non-self governing territories at that time; and the Mauritian authorities were not put under duress to agree to detachment. These historical arguments were strongly contested by Mauritius and her allies.

It was unfortunate that in addressing the Court, one UK lawyer noted that it was being asked to form an Opinion “in the absence of the witnesses to the key meetings, as they have long since died”. He was standing near the only surviving politician who was at the 1965 Lancaster House Constitutional Conference, a point Sir Anerood had made in his opening address.

The UK proposition that the people gave their consent is preposterous. In 1965 few Mauritians knew about the Chagos Archipelago. There was no referendum or plebiscite and Chagossians were neither consulted nor consented. The 1967 Mauritian general election was about forthcoming independence and economic issues. And yet the UK legal team claimed that “The UK sought and obtained consent in multiple steps, with time for reflection and consultation by the people of Mauritius and their representatives”.

On duress the UK cited several comments by Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam, the then Chief Minister, in support of its claim. No mention was made of what he later told the 1982 Select Committee of the National Assembly that the prime reason he had accepted the excision was that he felt “he had no legal instrument to prohibit the UK Government from exercising the powers conferred upon it by the Colonial Boundaries Act 1895, which powers could not be resisted even by India when the partition of that country took place before its independence.”

The Court could decide that it does not have jurisdiction to give an Advisory Opinion. If it gives one I would expect the APPG to mount pressure in Parliament to ensure that the Government respects it. As a founding member of the ICJ and strong advocate of the rule of international law it is unlikely that the UK would ignore an Advisory Opinion.

A decision is expected before the end of March 2019. Whatever the legal outcome the profile of Chagos and the Chagossians has been raised to the international level and is back on the UN agenda after 52 years. At its 70th meeting on 10 October the APPG agreed proposals for breaking the political impasse which it hoped the Foreign Office would consider in anticipation of an Advisory Opinion.

A judicial review of the Government’s decision in November 2016 not to restore the right of abode and allow resettlement is being heard in the High Court, commencing 10 December. This will be the seventh case which Governments have contested since 1999. Had they stood by Robin Cook’s decision in 2000 to accept the High Court judgment much of this costly litigation could have been avoided.

At a time when the UK’s standing and future in the world is uncertain an ICJ Opinion offers a diplomatic way forward with the potential for compromise and negotiation.

Opining for the fjords

Norway-to-Canada was one thing. Norway-plus-the-backstop is another. It is inferior even to the Prime Minister’s proposed deal.

“It’s time to study the map that leads from Norway to Canada,” we wrote in October – having already given the scheme “conceived by George Yarrow, written by Rupert Darwall, produced by George Trefgarne and now choreographed by Nick Boles” a fair wind last summer.  This site trawled through the pluses and minuses of the proposal as best it could, urging Downing Street to drop its defunct Chequers Plan and study Norway-to-Canada as an alternative.

The scheme has since run on to the rocks – and this Norwegian group has divided – for three main reasons.  First, most Brexiteer MPs have been cool about the scheme at best and cold at worst.  Second, the Government set out to strangle it at birth: it is unlikely that Erna Solberg will have consistently poured icy water on the plan without Downing Street’s approval.  Finally, and more significantly still, the EU has discouraged it, since its preferred models are either Norway-plus-the-backstop or Canada-plus-the-backstop.

Rather than drop the plan, Boles has taken the only practicable route now available to him – namely, making a virtue of necessity, and swallowing Norway-plus-the-backstop, teaming up recently with Stephen Kinnock to promote it.  While we can see a case for Norway to Canada (or “Norway for Now”, as its supporters then called it) and some pluses from permanent EEA membership, we can’t see an upside from Norway-plus-the-backstop (or “Norway Plus”, as its backers now label it, though “Norway Minus” would be a better label, since the possibility of a permanent customs union arrangement is a negative, not a positive).

Its supporters sometimes argue that the backstop may fall away in time.  But since it therefore may not, the scheme is left in the same condition as Theresa May’s proposed deal in this regard.  In other crucial respects, it is inferior to it, since the Prime Minister’s plan would end freedom of movement and payments to EU budgets.  Norway Plus would deliver the latter – though some money would pass from the UK to the EU27 – but not the former.

On borders, the EEA Agreement allows for “safeguard measures” – the so-called “emergency brake” – and “limitations justified on grounds of public policy”.  We are not in a position to apply the former, given the fall in EU migration, and it would be a stretch to work the latter, which could be used to limit work permits, into fully-fledged control of borders.  On money, we’d presumably have to pay “EFTA grants” to the poorer EU states.  That might well cost less than payments into the EU budget – but these would still be payments none the less.

Debating these points leads inevitably to a bigger one.  Supporters of all the Norway variants tend to argue that the UK is leaving the EU, not the EEA – and that we can therefore simply take up our EEA rights.  Legally, they may be correct.  But we suspect that the determinant of whether we could take up the Norwegian plans in any form would be politics, not law.  And our columnist Henry Newman has a point when he suggests that the EEA states, whether EU members or not, believe that the UK is too big to be treated like Norway.

The long and short of it is that we would probably, under any kind of EEA and EFTA arrangement, have to draw up our own special deal – a separate UK “pillar”.  Negotiating it would throw up distinct problems.  Henry writes that the EU won’t want us to have Norway’ services deal, and that “others don’t want us out of the Fisheries Policy & CAP, nor under the EFTA Court & Surveillance Authority (rather than the European Court of Justice). While they are at it we will probably end up asked to pay more money.  Add these together and they could quickly take away any advantages of Norway Plus and move it towards non-voting EU membership in all but name.”

To be clear: on paper, pure EEA membership has some positives.  We would be outside the EU’s jurisdiction on fisheries, farming, criminal justice, foreign affairs, defence and immigration.  The scale of the EU acquis would be smaller.  Our role in shaping it wouldn’t end: while it is true that we would technically become a rule-taker, is an exaggeration to claim that, in practical terms, we would end up as a vassal state.

But Norway Plus is not undistilled EEA membership.  And the latter is unlikely to be on offer in any event.  None the less, the Boles proposal has one big advantage over that other option currently being pushed in the Commons – postponing and then reversing Brexit via a second referendum.  Norway in any form equals leaving the EU – technically, anyway.  It could not truthfully be claimed that Norway Plus would dishonour the referendum instruction, though it can certainly be argued that while it sticks to the letter it is wide of the spirit.

That may matter if – or perhaps we should say when – May’s deal goes down.  Remove from its opponents the minority of MPs who would tolerate or welcome no deal, and what remains looks like a potential majority for either a second referendum or for Norway Plus.  Given a choice between the two, we would plump for the latter.  But we firmly believe the Government can avoid having to make it, by opting instead for the managed no deal that a mass of Cabinet Ministers and leadership candidates are now preparing to push for.

Ashley Fox: Spain should abandon its attempts to cleave Gibraltar from the UK

Pandering to nationalist sentiments didn’t save his socialists from a crushing electoral defeat. He should return to his previous course.

Ashley Fox is an MEP for South West England, and is the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs.

On Sunday morning voters in the Spanish region of Andalucia went to the polls with the words of Pedro Sanchez, the Prime Minister, about Gibraltar fresh in their minds.

Sanchez had boasted that the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 in Brussels a week earlier meant Gibraltar’s sovereignty was back on the agenda and that he was “going to resolve a conflict that has been going on for over 300 years.”

It was empty rhetoric, but Sanchez clearly hoped that a dose of nationalistic tub thumping would help see off the rising Vox Party.

The tactic failed. Twenty four hours later it was clear that support for his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party had collapsed in an area it had ruled since 1982, while right-wing Vox took 12 seats in its first success at the ballot box.

As an MEP for Gibraltar, I hope the weekend’s events have convinced Sanchez that making undeliverable promises on Gibraltar is not going to help his struggling government. The territory’s sovereignty is not, and never has been, on the agenda, and nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement changes that.

As for his claim that the Political Declaration excludes Gibraltar from future UK/EU agreements without Spain’s express consent, that too is smoke and mirrors.

The British Government has been clear throughout the Brexit process that it will negotiate the future relationship on behalf of all territories for which it is responsible. Under EU rules trade deals require the unanimous support of all member states and Spain, like every other country, will have a veto on the eventual UK/EU agreement. But that does not mean, as Sanchez has suggested, that it will be able to cleave Gibraltar way from the UK.

Instead of fostering division in the vain hope of electoral gain, the Spanish Prime Minister should resume the co-operation which produced real benefits for both Spaniards and Gibraltarians in the form of memoranda of understanding attached to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Covering citizens’ rights, tobacco, the environment, and police and customs co-operation, the memoranda are time-limited until the end of the implementation period. A further agreement on taxation and the protection of financial interests is expected to be concluded shortly. Amongst other things, they recognise the importance of free movement continuing during the implementation period, which is of particular importance to Spain as thousands of Spaniards cross the border each day to work in Gibraltar. They also crack down on the illicit trade in tobacco, alcohol and petrol.

The memoranda were approved by the Government of Gibraltar and have been described by Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister, as “safe, sensible and secure” measures that “deal with issues we are as concerned about as our neighbours.” They state explicitly that nothing in the agreements modifies issues of “sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.”

Before Sanchez changed his approach ahead of the poll in Andalucia Josep Borrell, the Spanish Foreign Minister, also spoke enthusiastically of the memoranda, tweeting: “These agreements are a good foundation for the negotiation on the future relationship and their application will generate benefits for citizens and a climate of better understanding.”

I would now urge Sanchez to return to this spirit of co-operation and explain to voters how he has secured practical gains for Spaniards living in depressed areas close to the Gibraltar border, and how continued closer ties could produce more.

I know Gibraltar and its people well and have worked closely with both Picardo and his predecessor Peter Caruana.

Gibraltarians may have voted heavily to remain in the EU, but their loyalty to the UK is much stronger. Remember that they endured 13 years of the border being closed under General Franco. The Chief Minister has said they will suffer any hardship rather than compromise on sovereignty. So although Gibraltar does not want to face a no deal situation, it is prepared to do so if it becomes necessary.

Spain needs to understand that and choose to build on the progress made in the last 18 months, not continue the fruitless posturing of the past fortnight.

Ben Rogers: Ofcom must not give China’s TV propagandists special treatment

CCTV is closely entwined with the ruling Communist Party. If it is to operate in London, we must not fail to uphold British values.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, the co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and author of three books on Burma.

Two months ago I came face-to-face with the shrieking, ferocious, thuggish human face of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the Conservative Party Conference.

As we were concluding a fringe meeting on Hong Kong hosted by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Hong Kong Watch, Kong Linlin, a reporter for China Central Television (CCTV), the CCP’s propaganda arm, screamed abuse at me. It was yet another example of China’s “tantrum diplomacy”.

I had ended by saying that I am pro-China, even if I am critical of the regime. I have spent much of my life in China and I want China to succeed. But, I argued, it is in China’s interests for Hong Kong to succeed, so China must honour its promises to the people of Hong Kong.

With a venom which I have never before encountered, Ms Kong yelled out: “Liar, liar. You are anti-China. You want to divide China”. She continued to yell at me and our three speakers from Hong Kong – Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, and Benny Tai and Nathan Law, leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

Then, when she refused to sit down, she slapped a young student, Enoch Lieu, three times after he politely asked her to leave. Part of the incident was captured on video and went viral. She was arrested and charged, although last week the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges.

After that experience, it was a shock to learn that CCTV is opening their largest media hub outside China in Chiswick next month, employing over 300 staff. The thought of hundreds of CCP agents roaming around Britain is alarming. Kong Linlin’s behaviour is part of the Chinese regime’s growing pattern of thuggery around the world, and it should not continue unchallenged.

That is why I was delighted when Peter Humphrey, a former Reuters journalist-turned-corporate investigator, filed a complaint last Friday with Ofcom. At a press conference after filing the complaint, Mr Humphrey was joined by Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin to launch a new report on China’s use of forced televised confessions, titled Trial by Media: China’s new show trials and the global expansion of Chinese media.

Humphrey and Dahlin have first-hand experience of the CCP’s most brutal behaviour. Both have been imprisoned in China – Humphrey and his wife for 23 months in a Chinese jail, Dahlin for 23 days in secret detention. Humphrey was forced to confess on television twice.

“They drugged me, locked me to a tiger chair, and placed me and the chair inside a small metal cage,” he says. “CCTV journalists then aimed their cameras at me and recorded me reading out the answers already prepared for me by the police. No questions were asked.” His confession was broadcast on CCTV, before his case had even come to trial.

Humphrey was subjected to a catalogue of abuse: an overcrowded cell, poor sanitary conditions, meagre food rations, sleep deprivation, separation from family, denial of legal representation or consular access for part of the time and denial of medical treatment for cancer. “The aggregate of these different types of duress adds up to what the UN would describe as torture,” he says.

Complicit in this torture was CCTV. In his complaint to Ofcom, Humphrey writes: “CCTV was working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state”. Under duress, Humphrey was paraded on CCTV’s domestic and international broadcasts, “confessing” to crimes he had not yet been convicted of.

Seven years ago, Ofcom ruled that Iran’s Press TV was in violation of Britain’s Broadcasting Code for airing a forced televised confession. Press TV’s license in the UK was revoked. It was this precedent that prompted Humphrey to file a 17-page complaint with Ofcom, detailing 15 violations of the Broadcasting Code by CCTV.

Dahlin was subjected to psychological torture in secret detention. His organisation Safeguard Defenders has published two previous books – The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and Scripted and Staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced televised confessions. Their new book, Trial by Media, provides analysis of CCTV’s key role in China’s apparatus of repression.

Forced televised confessions, filmed and broadcast by CCTV, are now commonplace in China. Typically, Dahlin explains, confessions fall into three categories – “defend”, “deny” or “denounce”. The person giving the statement must defend the CCP, deny any mistreatment, and denounce their own ‘crimes’ and the regime’s critics. Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was abducted from Thailand in 2015 and continues to be held in China, was forced to read a statement denouncing Sweden.

My own experience pales into insignificance compared to the trauma which these two men endured, and the even worse treatment to which Chinese detainees are subjected. All I have experienced is being denied entry to Hong Kong on Beijing’s orders, receiving seven rather absurd anonymous threatening letters to me, my neighbours, employers and mother, and a woman screaming at me. I didn’t even get slapped.

But what I have experienced gives me a glimpse into CCTV’s character and its relationship to the CCP, and what I have heard from these two brave men leaves me in no doubt that allowing CCTV to build its media centre in London without reference to our Broadcasting Code would be an appalling surrender of our values. When I asked Peter Humphrey what he made of Kong Linlin’s behaviour, he responded with stark clarity: “Kong Linlin’s conduct reminds me of the woman who interrogated me while I was strapped to a tiger chair in a small metal cage – a total viciousness that is in the bloodstream of the CCP.”

Yet it is important to emphasise that at the heart of this are the values that make Britain different from China. We believe in a free press. Strangely, after Kong Linlin was arrested by West Midlands Police, the Chinese Embassy tried to portray her as a victim, suggesting that her right to freedom of expression as a journalist was denied. In the next sentence, the Chinese Embassy demanded that the organisers of the meeting apologise, because apparently we have no right to discuss Hong Kong.

Without a hint of irony, the CCP defends the freedom of its representatives to assault people, but denies the freedom of expression of the co-signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration to discuss Hong Kong.

The truth is, if she had asked a question or made a comment, however hostile, in an appropriate manner, she would have been welcome to do so. And Dahlin is clear that the Ofcom complaint is not about trying to drive CCTV out or to “silence them,” even though most western media is banned in China. “This is not about revenge or retaliation,” he said. “On the contrary, we want them to participate in the conversation – but on the same rules as everybody else. We want this to influence their behaviour”. China, he adds, “should not be afforded special treatment”.

That is all that Humphrey and Dahlin seek. They want Ofcom to enforce its own Broadcasting Code, and act according to precedent. I hope Ofcom will respond accordingly. Broadcasters cannot be accomplices to torture.

WATCH: Hunt refuses to rule out the collapse of the Government

“It’s all about the balance of risks, because this isn’t a perfect deal for everyone but it does have a lot of what everyone wants.”

Nabil Najjar: The Government must take a tougher line to protect British nationals abroad

It’s no good boasting about this country’s ‘soft power’ arsenal if even our putative allies can take UK citizens hostage at will.

Nabil Najjar is a political consultant working in the UK and the Middle East. He is an elected councillor in Wiltshire, Director of Conservative Progress.

Earlier this week Matthew Hedges, a British tourist and PhD student, was sentenced to life in prison in the United Arab Emirates. His alleged crime? Spying for the British Government.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a Western citizen has been locked up in a Middle Eastern prison on unproven, sometimes frankly spurious, intelligence-related charges, and if we do not act decisively it will not be the last.

In 2016 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, was detained in Iran for ‘allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime’, and last year Xiyue Wang, an American student from Princeton University, was convicted of spying in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The US State Department described this as the latest in a succession of ‘fabricated charges’ against US nationals.

Whether through cases such as these, or for that matter the assassination of journalists or former spies on foreign soil, Middle Eastern powers such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran, as well as Russia, have begun flexing their muscles and projecting their own questionable human rights records on an international stage, in flagrant disregard for international precedents.

Opinions abound as to the reasons why. But the nature of our response to a complex international chain of events boils down to a simple one: how much do we as a country value the welfare of our citizens?

The oft-repeated argument about how these countries (and Saudi Arabia in particular) are valuable allies and strategic partners in a tumultuous region, and must not be upset, is one which is well understood, and I am in the camp that believes that, by and large, it is not the UK’s obligation to act as an international policeman. Once, however, this pattern of passive aggression begins to impact the lives of British people, the time has come to lay down a new set of rules of engagement, one which places the interests of our own citizens ahead of economic gain, and puts principle above politics.

Essentially, these governments are taking British nationals hostage; political bargaining chips to be exchanged when needed or returned when expedient. Diplomacy alone yielded pitiful results in the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, and if we are to avoid another protracted (and potentially unsuccessful) parley with Abu Dhabi, our Government needs to be tough and act decisively from the outset. Rhetoric alone is not enough.

Successive governments have boasted about the UK’s unrivalled arsenal of ‘soft power’ – its ability to use diplomacy, intelligence and negotiation to further its interests – but our Government must be bolder in backing up its soft power with the threat of action, a combination of soft and hard power today known as ‘smart power’.

Whether it comes in the form of issuing travel warnings against holidaying in Dubai, threatening economic sanctions, or expelling diplomats, it is time for ministers to make a bold statement that actions have consequences, and that, in the United Kingdom, we put the human rights of our citizens first, even whilst they are abroad. Imprisonment without due cause will not be tolerated.

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

This sentence is printed on the inside cover of each British passport – perhaps it is time that those whom it may concern are issued with a reminder. If we do not, then we have only ourselves to blame when another British citizen is taken captive.