Nuclear powers, spiralling tension – and Kashmir’s fallout in urban Britain

Brokenshire must keep an eye on the potential knock-on from the latest flare-up over terror, reprisals, a captured pilot and the disputed territory.

The community cohesion post at HCLG is viewed as the most junior in the department.  Which is why it was originally siphoned off to Andrew Stunell, the only Liberal Democrat placed in it when the Coalition was formed, while the Conservatives bagged housing, planning and local government finance.  The present holder of the post isn’t even in the Commons: he is Nick Bourne, the former leader of the Welsh Party, now Lord Bourne and re-badged as Minister for Faith.

Given this set-up, it would be well worth James Brokenshire keeping half an eye on the military escalation between India and Pakistan.  The two countries have fought three wars since they were founded over a territory about which both make claims: the former princely state of Kashmir.  In a nutshell, India occupies a part of it, the valley, against the wishes of its inhabitants, and has a long record of committing human rights abuses there; Pakistan, meanwhile, equips, trains and manipulates jihadi terrorists, who cross the line of control to commit atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir and in India itself.

The present flare-up was sparked by an attack on Indian police in the valley which left 40 of them dead.  The Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group was responsible for the assault.  A line of control separates the Indian and Pakistani-occupied parts of Kashmir.  The terrorists will almost certainly have crossed it to carry out the attack.  They would not be able to operate in Pakistani-controlled territory without the protection of the Pakistan Government.

Consequently, India launched retaliatory air strikes.  Unsurprisingly, there are conflicting accounts of who they hit and to what effect, but what is certain is that at least one Indian plane was shot down and at least one pilot captured.  He has duly been paraded on Pakistani television.  That Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, faces an election shortly is inflaming the situation: he must prove to the country’s voters that he won’t go soft on terror.  Imran Khan, his Pakistani counterpart (yes: that Imran Khan), has sought to pour oil on these troubled waters.  There will be more to his motives than meets the eye, but his words are worth pondering none the less.

“With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford a miscalculation?  Shouldn’t we think about what will happen if the situation escalates?” he said, calling for talks.  As we write, Modi, doubtless with that election in view and outraged Indian voters in mind, isn’t willing to take up the offer.  Most likely, the confrontation will simmer down, and the near-70 year old Kashmir dispute duly vanish from the headlines, before duly simmering up again.

But there is always a chance that it will not.  There will now be over 1.5 million people of Indian origin in Britain and at least that many people of Pakistani origin.  Roughly 60 per of these are, strictly speaking, not Pakistanis at all: they originate from the Mirpur area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.  The two populations don’t exactly live side by side, but they do share parts of some cities, such as Birmingham and Leicester.  Local councils will be in the lead when it comes to defusing potential tensions, but national government also has a role – just as it does in relation to the Israel-Palestine dispute, which is more visible, at least to Britain’s white majority.

The Attlee Government may not have handled Britain’s departure from the old imperial India well, but given the country’s communalism there would doubtless have been mass bloodshed in any event.  In a different world, there would be some Northern Ireland-type solution to the Kashmir problem.  But neither India nor Pakistan are remotely, to borrow a phrase that Brokenshire sometimes uses in other contexts, “in that space”.  For the moment, he can only watch, get briefed and plan, but “they also serve who only stand and wait”.

Catching up with Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander was probably best described as the marmite minister of Lib Dem coalition politics. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he completed the “Quad”, the 4 ministers who decided the course of the coalition government. He, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne fought out the major battles of those years. It’s no secret […]

Danny Alexander was probably best described as the marmite minister of Lib Dem coalition politics.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he completed the “Quad”, the 4 ministers who decided the course of the coalition government. He, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne fought out the major battles of those years.

It’s no secret that he and Osborne got on very well. After the Coalition, Danny ended up as Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure  Investment Bank, based in Beijing.

A BBC Scotland programme, Scots in China, caught up with Danny and his family recently. You see him at his work, talking about how he spends a lot of time focusing towards India. A sure sign of where the balance of power now lies in the world. We also see him trying to learn Chinese.

Neil Oliver caught up with his family, including their new dog, Rocky. Their older daughter has some really compelling insights to offer about life in city of 22 million people. Her liberal heritage is clear.

Obviously, in China, Danny is much closer to the natural habitat of the panda. Some of you might remember the 2011 Christmas song “Danny Alexander, feed him to the pandas.” I restrained myself from sharing this on any form of social media until I came across him laughing his head off at it at the Party’s Inverness Conference in 2012. And having mentioned it, it would be so rude of me not to let you see it.

The band might want to change their name, though.

But back to Neil Oliver’s programme. Watch here from about 27 minutes in to see how the family is getting on.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Brexit presents an opportunity to reinvigorate relations with the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth

The British people were told during the EU referendum that a vote to Leave would be a move towards isolationism, that the EU was Britain’s gateway to prosperity and that we should not turn our backs on the rest of the world. Given Britain’s proud history as a seafaring nation and commitment to global trade prior to the […]

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The British people were told during the EU referendum that a vote to Leave would be a move towards isolationism, that the EU was Britain’s gateway to prosperity and that we should not turn our backs on the rest of the world. Given Britain’s proud history as a seafaring nation and commitment to global trade prior to the establishment of any European Community or Union, this argument fell on deaf ears.

In fact, it was joining the European Union that closed Britain off from the world in many respects and cut ties with allies around the world. With a renewed independence and freed from the shackles of one of the largest bureaucracies on Earth, Britain can embrace the wider world.

The Commonwealth of Nations

Advocates of closer ties with Commonwealth countries are often disregarded as nostalgic for the British Empire. Whilst it is true that the vast majority of member countries were former colonies or dominions of the Empire, the Commonwealth today is a modern and flexible gathering of 53 countries with significant cultural, diplomatic and historic bonds. This community of nations now represent a third of the world’s entire population, with some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Where the Commonwealth differs significantly from the European Union is that, despite the impression that having a monarch at the head of the organisation may give, there is nothing authoritarian about the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lacks the rigid structures of the EU and instead is valued by members because membership invites – and does not force – closer ties.

Commonwealth countries are respected as autonomous; sovereign nations voluntarily agree to work together on various areas of policy. These policies are discussed at the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which have thus far focused on shared goals on climate change, human rights and the promotion of peace and democracy.

Britain’s membership of the EU has overshadowed its commitment to collaborating with Commonwealth nations. With such a strong emphasis placed on diplomatic relations with the European Union in recent decades, many young Britons are unaware of the UK’s leading role in the modern Commonwealth.

Trade with Australia, CANZUK and the Commonwealth

Before joining the European Economic Community in 1973, Britain enjoyed a close trading relationship with Commonwealth countries, as natural allies and partners. When the news reached Australia that Britain was turning its back on the Commonwealth in favour of the EEC, there was a strong backlash and sentiment of betrayal. In the decades since, both of our countries have changed. Britain has become eurocentric in its thinking and trade – and has allowed the European Union to take decisions on her behalf. Australia has turned to Asia, with over 66% of its exports going to the region. Given that so much has changed for both of our countries, can Brexit restore the friendship that once was? Can Britain now re-engage with Australia, and with the wider Commonwealth The answer, I hope, is yes.

The UK is right to prioritise trade negotiations with the EU at this early stage, but once that arrangement is settled, there will be a huge opportunity for Britain to pursue free trade agreements with countries with whom Brussels has failed to negotiate a deal. Trade negotiations don’t need to take as long as EU talks traditionally do, because most agreements don’t require the approval of 27 nation states. In fact, the US-Australia FTA, for example, was concluded in less than two years.

A free trade agreement with Australia isn’t just a possibility, but something that our governments are working towards. On a visit in London, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared that both the British and Australian governments “stand ready to agree a free trade agreement as soon as circumstances allow.”

Other Commonwealth countries such as Canada and New Zealand have also expressed an interest in a Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom, and there have been proposals for a free trade area or zone between the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Unlike a customs union, a free trade area between CANZUK countries would remove trade barriers internally without binding the four nations into a collective external tariff or customs policy. Britain would still be allowed to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, whilst improving trade relations with its closest allies.

Whilst negotiating deals with Australia, Canada and New Zealand would be the obvious starting point, because of the political goodwill shared between nations, there are also longer term opportunities for agreements to be made with other Commonwealth countries with fast-growing economies, such as India and Singapore. Although many of these countries are at a distance geographically, some researchers have noted a ‘Commonwealth Effect’, which is a phenomenon describing the uniquely strong trading relationship that exists between member countries. A report by the Royal Commonwealth Society concluded that:

“The value of trade is likely to be a third to a half more between Commonwealth member states compared to pairs of countries where one or both are not Commonwealth members. This effect can be seen even after controlling for a range of other factors that might also explain trade patterns.”

It’s important to point out that advocating a closer trading relationship with Commonwealth countries doesn’t imply that these trade agreements would act as a replacement for Britain’s important trading relationship with Europe. Britain can and should aim to continue a close trading relationship with the EU, whilst also seeking opportunities elsewhere. In the long term it must be considered that growth forecasts for EU economies are in many cases quite dire, whereas the majority of Commonwealth countries are set to see their GDP ranking rise.

It’s also crucial to recognise that these opportunities are only possible if Britain leaves the EU’s Customs Union. An ideal arrangement would be a Canada plus model, whereby the UK Government leaves the EU with a similar Free Trade Agreement to the Canada-EU FTA, but maintains Britain’s independence from the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.

Uniting the Anglosphere to fight terrorism

It is often forgotten, and somewhat ignored by history lessons in Britain (which now prefer a more European centric version of events), that in two World Wars Commonwealth soldiers – including thousands from my home country of Australia – crossed the seas to come to Britain’s defence. The established peace in Europe rests on the shoulders of many of those soldiers, whose stories have been left out of the European Union’s propaganda about being the sole custodians of the peace in Europe.

The European Union, which was formed many years after this peace was secured, did have a role to play in establishing a good trading relationship between countries on the continent. But it was not a trading arrangement that defeated the Nazis. For a period of time Britain and her Commonwealth allies stood alone to face down Germany, with the help of the United States and Russia. When the threat of the Soviet Union seized the continent, it was the United States, Canada, and individual Western European nations that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – not the European Union.

Those who attempt to position the EU as the sole defender of peace in Europe are disingenuous historical revisionists. In fact, there is an argument to be made that moves towards federalisation and the encouragement of mass immigration has fuelled divisions within European countries. There is a growing dissatisfaction and anger amongst citizens on the continent, and increasing civil unrest, in response to the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis and on the further centralisation of democratic powers. Far-right parties are gaining traction in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Italy.

Mainstream political parties are losing the faith of voters because they are invariably pro-EU and refusing to address concerns about immigration. These mainstream politicians can’t advocate EU membership without a recognition that there is nothing a national government can do to change its immigration policy, which is fuelling the popularity of extreme far-right political parties. The EU parades as the saviour of Europe but contributed nothing to peace settlements or NATO, and is in fact fostering divisions and tensions in member countries by asserting dominance over national governments.

However, the greater concern to Britain is the establishment of a European Defence Force. Britain has signed up to several agreements with the EU which would obligate the UK to pool defence resources with EU countries after Brexit and, even if withdrawn from these agreements, it is still of great concern to the Anglosphere that the EU are persisting with a defence union that would duplicate, and essentially undermine, NATO.

It appears that in response to the United States urging European countries to meet their NATO spending requirements, the EU has decided instead to divert funds into a defence union excluding America. Britain must be resolved to separate itself from this vanity project, and encourage the EU to instead call on member countries to meet NATO spending requirements.

Of course, Britain’s closest and longest lasting security partnerships have been with Commonwealth and Anglosphere nations. The Five Eyes Alliance – one of the most comprehensive alliances of its kind – is an intelligence sharing network bringing together security agencies from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who together represent over 40% of global defence spending.

This high level of trust and co-operation on intelligence matters is reliant on an incredibly close cultural bond and commitment to a set of shared values. At a speaking engagement in London on the future of the Five Eyes Alliance, Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard said:

“It’s hard for me to think of five countries in the world that comfortably relate to each other, when it comes to fundamental democratic values… There is something about the intimacy of the relationship and it rests on the fact that when the chips are down, the Five Eyes participants trust each other on a political and cultural level. Beyond the level of trust that is found with other countries.”

Leaving the EU is an opportunity to strengthen this important partnership without interference from European partners. The former head of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, noted in 2016 that the EU often ‘gets in the way’ and, and the UK must be mindful that any commitment or obligation to collaborate on intelligence or with the European Defence Force could jeopardise the exclusive and restricted nature of the Five Eyes relationship.

When it comes to tackling extremism, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings have discussed further collaboration; the 2018 April CHOGM Communique encouraged member countries to “actively share expertise and best practice” in countering violent extremism, which is certainly a welcome start. But with Brexit bringing into focus Britain’s role as a global power and leading voice in the Commonwealth, these annual meetings could be an opportunity to set clearer and more ambitious goals for defence and security co-operation.

Conclusion

The vote to leave the EU wasn’t about turning inwards, but a decision taken about who is in charge of Britain’s destiny. Outside the EU’s Customs Union, it will be up to elected British politicians to decide which countries to pursue free trade agreements with, and provided the UK is not tied to the new European Defence Force, it will be Britain – not the European Union – that decides which allies to collaborate with on matters of defence and security. These opportunities are within reach, if only those who believe in an empowered Commonwealth and an empowered Anglosphere continue to advocate them.

This article is an extract from Clean Break, Bright Future: Leaving the EU, Rejoining the World, published by the Freedom Association’s Better Off Out campaign

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The EU’s discrimination between EU and non-EU immigrants helped drive me to back Brexit

Brexiteers come in all sizes and shapes. Some primarily object to Brussels imposing rules and regulations on us. Others complain about surrendering our jobs to immigrants from the EU. Another group may argue that we British are distinct, so why should we throw in our lot with the foreigners who appreciate none of our traditions […]

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Brexiteers come in all sizes and shapes. Some primarily object to Brussels imposing rules and regulations on us. Others complain about surrendering our jobs to immigrants from the EU. Another group may argue that we British are distinct, so why should we throw in our lot with the foreigners who appreciate none of our traditions and way of life.

I do not belong to any of these groups. I am a development economist. I believe in the complementarity between trade and labour flows – especially so in the case of trade in services that is on the upsurge. I believe that immigrants, especially skilled immigrants, have a lot to offer to the UK economy, especially so for an economy with a high population dependency ratio — one fifth of UK’s population is of retirement age.

Recent policy measures under discussion, such as according permanent residence status to EU immigrants in Britain and the relaxation of regulations on doctors and nurses from non-EU countries, attest to the contribution of immigrants to the British economy, especially in the health service and education sectors. These measures are pragmatic and vital for the growth and development of the economy. According permanent residence to EU citizens resident in Britain is but fair and essential for the promotion of trade in goods and factor flows between EU countries and the UK post-Brexit.

Indeed, one of the reasons for my advocacy of Brexit is the current immigration policy that discriminates between EU and non-EU immigrants. The policy discrimination between economic agents from the EU and outside the EU is not only inequitable but also inefficient. It is inefficient as it reduces the pool of skilled labour and the choices open to employers in the labour market. It is inequitable in that it accords priority to the geographic origin of prospective immigrants rather than their skill endowments.

Admittedly, the UK, if it so wishes, is free to liberalise inflows of labour from non-EU countries too. However, such a policy would cause havoc in labour markets with excessive inflows of labour. The pragmatic alternative would be to organise labour inflows, irrespective of their origin, with a set of rules and regulations that promote both equity and efficiency. The regulations in place that require non-EU immigrants – such as nurses and doctors – to undergo various tests, pay an annual visa fee, a medical fee and earn more than £32,000 per annum to gain permanent residency, are inequitable and all but prohibitive. It is odd that whilst immigrants from Commonwealth countries are subject to these rules and regulations, they are accorded the privilege of exercising their franchise in not only elections but also in referendums. A strange case of representation with taxation but no rights.

It is odd that the UK should downgrade trade and factor flows with Commonwealth countries, most of which – especially India – have, for historical reasons, adopted British traits and institutions; use of the English language for business, government ,education, and the judiciary; British style business institutions; and cricket (a universal religion in India). Indeed, as an Indian historian has remarked, India – a highly non-homogenous country with several languages and innumerable Gods – is held together by English, cricket and Lata Mangeshkar – a background singer from Bollywood and an avid fan of cricket.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the economy of India fulfils most of the criteria for an integrated economic union, much more so than the EU. Trade between the 29 states and 7 centrally administered territories that constitute the Indian Union is free of all restrictions. Monetary policy administered by the Central Bank of India is coordinated with fiscal policy administered by the Ministry of Finance. Income tax and customs duties collected by central government are distributed to the state governments based on criteria reviewed and administered by the finance commission every five years, while the Government has recently devised a value added tax with uniform rates across the 29 states. The supreme court is the highest law-enforcing body in the state. History and socio-cultural ties with the UK have endowed India with the sort of institutions that underlie a successful economic union.

I have chosen to be a Brexiteer for yet another reason. The EU is an odd institution that combines free trade with protection, a policy framework referred to by trade economists as a second best policy. The common external tariff on imports, coupled with free trade between member countries, is hardly the sort of policy that would augment the welfare of the relatively low-income citizens of the EU. Much more disconcerting are the heavy subsidies to agriculture, coupled with tariffs on imports from non-member countries, that have lowered growth and development of several developing countries that export agricultural products.

In sum, I am a Brexiteer because of:

  • The UK’s immigration and trade policies that discriminate in favour of the EU and against Commonwealth countries
  • The nature of an EU that straddles protection and free trade, with its economic policies impeding the international trade of developing countries
  • The UK’s neglect of Commonwealth countries, especially India, whose economic and political structure it has shaped

So what will happen after Brexit? Whatever the nature of Brexit, the UK’s trade and international factor flows will undergo a period of adjustment. The UK will be forced to seek new markets or extended markets in emerging economies, including Commonwealth countries, China and the USA, whilst maintaining trade ties with the EU, albeit at a lower level than at present. The adjustments may not be all that painful for the UK, for it will be all too familiar with the institutions and the cultural traits that govern its trade and capital flows with the non-EU countries, principally those in the Commonwealth.

The light-hearted comment of a former British politician that the national dish of the country is Chicken Tikka Masala captures it all.

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