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Tom Arms’ World Review

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is gambling on British xenophobia to return him to Downing Street. Or at the very least limit the damage to his troubled and divided ruling Conservative Party.

Of course, there are other factors he is throwing into the electoral mix. The lowering of inflation, the threat of China and the Ukraine War being a few of the political ingredients he is hoping will counter 14 years of Conservative austerity, corruption and misrule.

But playing on the average British voter’s deep-seated fear and mistrust of foreigners is one of the few issues the prime minister can control. And at the same time claim that the opposition Labour Party will not or cannot control.

Immigration played a major role in the Brexit vote. It should not have. But it did and being tough on it proved to be a vote winner. The average Briton dislikes foreigners, especially when they speak differently, pray differently, dress differently and eat different foods. They are perceived as a threat to British culture.

The “small boats people” – as they are known – are in their own xenophobic category. Not because there are a lot of them (29,347 in 2023), but because they are visible. They are shown on the nightly news and British Coast Guard vessels are sent to rescue them and long-faced quayside crowds watch them land.

Rishi Sunak’s policy of shipping them off to Rwanda as soon as their feet touched British soil has been one of his government’s top priorities. It was blocked by the UK Supreme Court because under British law people cannot be deported to unsafe countries. So the Sunak government passed a law which said parliament had the right to declare a country safe and to overrule the courts if they ruled otherwise.

With the legislation in place, Sunak pledged that the first refugees would be Rwandan-bound “within weeks.” That was another untruth. More legal challenges – and possibly industrial action by civil servants – are planned and would have delayed the Rwandan flights for several more months.

Calling the election for the 4th of July has turned the Rwanda Policy into an election issue. Vote for me, says Sunak, and  we will air freight the refugees to Rwanda. Vote for Labour and the Rwanda policy is lost.

Iran

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi provides Iran’s political elite with a massive opportunity. They won’t take it.

Elections to replace President Raisi have to be held within 50 days of his death. The candidates for the job are chosen by religious leaders on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They could dramatically change their country by opening up the nomination list to reformers.

This would mean that 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini would be willing to risk the country taking a different course from the hardline anti-Western, anti-Israeli, heavily Islamic direction that he has pursued. This would be a major break with all past and present policies.

Ebrahim Raisi was more or less hand-picked for the presidential job by Khameini because of his impeccable hardline Islamic revolutionary credentials. His nickname was “Butcher of Tehran” and it was well-deserved. According to Human Rights Watch, during five months in 1988, Raisi ordered the execution of between 2,800 and 5,000 political prisoners.

Raisi was the favourite to succeed the ageing and ailing Ayatollah Khameini. So his death creates a dual problem for the regime – finding a replacement for the presidency and the supreme leadership.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Germany

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party has problem in Thuringia. The East German Lander is an AfD stronghold, but their main candidate, MEP Maximilian Krah, has become a non-person.

The reason for his disappearance from the campaign for the European Parliament is the arrest of his aide Jian Guo on charges of spying for China. Krah himself, may not be above suspicion. He is known as one of the Asian giant’s biggest backers in the European Parliament.

The case of Jian Guo is only one of several scandals affecting AfD candidates for June’s European parliament elections. There have also been allegations that another AfD politician, Petr Byrstron, was paid $21,300 by a Russian disinformation network.

The ensuing political disgrace appears to be having effect on the electorate. In December, opinion polls showed the AfD with 23 percent of the national German vote. Another poll at the end of April showed them with the support of only 16 percent of the electorate.

In the meantime, Herr Krah’s name remains on the ballot in Thuringia. It has to. Once the parties submit their list of candidates then their names cannot be removed. Krah’s name is right at the top. But he is at the bottom of the list for speaking opportunities.

Gaza

Compromise appears to be in the air in the Hamas-Israel talks in Egypt. Israel is talking to negotiators about a six-week truce – possibly longer. Hamas is saying that it is looking at the latest proposals in a “positive light”.

So, what are the proposals? Specifics are a diplomatic secret. But what can be gleaned so far indicates that international pressure on Israel and Israeli pressure on Hamas is wringing concessions out of both sides.

A long truce will almost certainly mean the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge of total victory and the destruction of Hamas. But in return he wants to release of about 100 hostages which means that Hamas will have to relinquish their only bargaining chip.

The proposal currently on the table would call for a phased deal which American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators hope will lead to a permanent ceasefire.

The first phase would be the release of all female hostages in exchange for an undetermined number of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Once the initial exchange is completed Israeli troops would withdraw from the coastal road in Gaza. This would facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid and allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in northern Gaza. Once northern Gaza is re-opened the remaining hostages would be released along with the remains of hostages who have died in captivity. Israel would also release another batch of Palestinian prisoners.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States of America

Here’s the problem facing the US Supreme Court: Should US presidents – in and out of office – have total or partial immunity from criminal prosecution for acts they committed while in the Oval Office?

Or does the failure to provide this blanket immunity expose past presidents to political vendettas by their successors or other political opponents?

Or would Donald Trump’s appeal for blanket immunity – in the words of Justice Elena Kagan – “turn the Oval Office into a sea of criminality.”

This week the Justices heard oral arguments from lawyers representing Trump on one side and Special Prosecutor Jack Smith on the other. The latter is attempting to bring the former president to trial for his role in the 6 January Capitol Hill riots.

The Justices will now go away and ponder the arguments and issue a decision several weeks from now. Court-watchers are split on what the decision is likely to be. Quite often one can determine the outcome from the questions the Justices ask. Not so, this time as the Justices are painfully aware of the impact of their decision on the actions of future presidents as well as those of Donald Jesus Trump.

Many observers think the Supreme Court will issue a split decision. This would please the Trump team as it would mean referral back to the lower courts and delay, delay, delay.

As the Justices ponder, they may consider the words of pamphleteer Thomas Paine, whose 1776 “Common Sense” had a major impact on the American War of Independence and the constitution which the Justices are sworn to protect. “Where,” wrote Paine, “is the King of America? In America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

United Kingdom and Rwanda

The British government has declared itself the final arbiter of reality. It has decreed that if it says that a country is safe then it is safe, regardless of whether it is or not.

Most everyone – except for the government of Rishi Sunak – agrees that Rwanda is not safe. Freedom House judges it as “not free”. Human Rights Watch says that protesting refugees have been fired on by Rwandan police. Others have simply disappeared. The Rwandan government is supporting the M23, a violent faction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has been accused of war crimes.

For all of these reasons – and others – the UK Supreme Court in November ruled that the Sunak’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was “unlawful” because Rwanda is not a safe country.

So the government passed a bill which decreed that Rwanda is safe and the UK Supreme Court cannot say otherwise if the UK government say it is. A clear blow to the traditional independence of the British judiciary and its much vaunted respect for the rule of law.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

NATO

French President Emmanuel Macron set the cat among the NATO pigeons this week when he hinted that France just might – no stronger than might at this stage – send troops to Ukraine.

The suggestion was definitely on the table when 21 Western heads of state or government and six foreign ministers met in Paris this week. Polish President Andresz Duda confirmed it.

It was apparently raised by Macron and we know that the frontline Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania backed it. We also know that the British, American and Germans vetoed it – for the time being. Everyone else is keeping their cards close to their chests.

On two things the allies were agreed: Russia is stepping up its cyber and disinformation attacks and that some time in the next few years, according to Macron, “we have to be prepared for Russia to attack the (NATO) countries.”

Immediately following the Paris summit, President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address in which he warned that any further NATO involvement in Ukraine “raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilisation.”

On a slightly less apocalyptic note, Putin said that he would be strengthening Russian forces on its Western flank which means recently annexed Eastern Ukraine, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian borders with the Baltic States and new NATO member Finland.

Ideally, NATO would avoid a head to head with Russia by providing Ukraine with the means to keep fighting. But Europe’s defense industries lack the capacity and America’s $60 billion military aid package is being blocked by MAGA Republicans.

One solution was voiced this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She suggested using the $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to purchase weapons for Ukraine. The money had been earmarked for reconstruction purposes. But if Ukraine is defeated than there will be nothing to reconstruct.

Russia

Meanwhile, as of this writing, martyred Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being laid to rest in Moscow’s Borisovskoye Cemetery.

The funeral service was held in a Russian Orthodox Church near the Navalny home in southeast Moscow. A large crowd gathered outside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God. As Navalny’s body was carried in and out of the church the crowd chanted “Navalny, Navalny” interspersed with “executioners, “executioners”

The church was surrounded by masked police guards who blocked several of Navalny’s closest allies still in Russia from entering the church. They also banned cameras and videos from the church, although Navalny’s supporters were able to broadcast much of the event on a You Tube channel which was watched by hundreds of thousands.

The state media did not report the funeral and the Kremlin, when asked to express condolences, refused to do so.

Navalny’s death is the most high profile and dramatic anti-dissident action by the Putin regime. But it is not the only one. This week 70-year-old Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to two and a half years for criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov is best known as the co-chair of Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation which was one of three winners of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. In October he was fined $1,600 for an article in which the state said he “discredited” the army. Not enough, decreed Putin. So the verdict and sentence were cancelled and Orlov was this week placed on trial for the same crime and this time sent to prison.

Orlov and Navalny are only two of thousands of Russians who have dared to criticise Putin. Most of them have either joined Navalny in the grave or Orlov in prison.

United Kingdom

Islam is the new scapegoat of Europe. Actually, that is not accurate, fear of Islamisation has been around since before the Battle of Tours in 732.

But it appears to have reached a fresh apogee in Britain. And the rest of Europe’s far-right parties are no slouches in the Islamaphobic stakes.

Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden…. They have all helped to move the anti-Islam dial and, in doing so, have infected the mainstream political parties.

In Britain it stayed on the distant fringes of the far-right for a long time. Parties such as the British National Party and English Defence League were associated with football hooliganism as much as Islamaphobia.

That started to change with the rise of UKIP and its successor party Reform. They have been gradually chipping away at the right-wing of the Conservative party with the result that the Tories have started to steal some of their anti-Islamic clothes in order to keep their voters.

This became all too apparent this week when Conservative Party Chairman Lee Anderson told the right-wing news channel GB News that the Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists and that he had given the city away “to his mates.”

For working purposes, the term “Islamists” is generally interpreted as either Islamic extremists or Islamic fundamentalists. I personally know Sadiq Khan. Before I joined Liberal Democrats I had a brief flirtation with the Labour Party and deputised for Sadiq on two occasions when he was my constituency MP. He is almost as far from being an Islamic extremist as the Pope.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China and USA

The Sino-American goalposts have changed. Two years ago, the Chinese economy was booming and the US was struggling to emerge from a damaging coronavirus pandemic.

But as Presidents Biden and XI met in San Francisco this week the American economy was booming at 4.7 percent. The Chinese economy was reeling from a burst property bubble and government crackdowns have led to a flight of foreign capital.

When the Chinese star was in the ascendant so were the sabre-rattling “Wolf Warriors”. But the changed circumstances has led to the dismissal of bellicose foreign minister Qin Gang and last month Xi replaced Defense Minister General Li Shangu who was under US sanctions for overseeing the sale of weapons to Russia.

Beijing cannot afford poor relations with Washington at the moment. And Washington – with the problems of Ukraine, Gaza and forthcoming presidential elections, doesn’t want to have to worry about China. All of which could explain why the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries managed a cordial meeting in San Francisco this week.

But will it hold and can they build on it? The question is still hanging. A week before the meeting US and Chinese diplomats held a meeting to discuss each other’s nuclear arsenals. It was the first such a meeting and a good sign.

Climate change is clearly a topic to build on. It is difficult for the two biggest economies to dispute the importance of saving the planet. There are differences on how to handle fossil fuels but agreement on methane gas emissions.

A big topic in the US is opioid abuse, in particular fentanyl. A sizeable chunk of the drug is produced in Chinese laboratories and shipped to America. Last year fentanyl was responsible for 75,000 American deaths. The two leaders agreed to discuss the issue further Xi stressed that the easiest way to stop the problem would be for Americans to stop buying the drug.

Touchiest topic is Taiwan. On that Biden-Xi agreed to disagree. But they did agree to resume communications between each other’s military establishments. These were suspended after the visit to Taiwan of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both sides that it was vital for the opposing militaries to talk to one another to avoid accidents. As Xi put it: “Conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”

Taiwan

The potential spanner in the Sino-American diplomatic thaw is January’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan.

At the moment the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) controls both the presidency and the parliament and opinion polls show them way ahead to stay in power.

This is not good news for either Washington or Beijing. This is because the DPP is moving Taiwan to declare itself an independent sovereign nation. This is opposed by Beijing because Taiwan would then be able to offer itself as a multi-party capitalist democratic alternative to the one-party autocracy on the mainland.

The US administration would be unhappy because an independent Taiwan would undermine its policy of “strategic ambiguity” which allows it bestow de jure diplomatic recognition on communist China while enjoying de facto relations with Taiwan.

The problem is an old one. It dates back to 1949 when the Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan and claimed to represent all of China from the offshore island. Until 1979 successive American administrations agreed with him.

The unilateral independence route is not a foregone conclusion. The Kuomintang Party (KMT) is committed to watering down the independence demands and improving relations with Beijing. This week the party announced it was joining forces with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) to fight the elections. The outcome could have far-reaching consequences.

Turkey and Germany

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Is Britain being rebranded – is it time for an English Government?

At the time that Boris Johnson was talking up post BREXIT Global Britain and assuring the Democratic Unionist Party that there would be no border in the Irish Sea (despite one being included in his “oven ready agreement” which Teresa May had said no British Prime Minister could sign) the Government was requesting that the stickers on cars travelling abroad be changed from GB to UK.

The move was only revealed by the United Nations which said it had received “a notification stating that the United Kingdom is changing the distinguishing sign that it had previously selected for display in international traffic on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom, from ‘GB’ to ‘UK'”.

The rules changed in September 2021 and yet it has not proved possible to find any reference to a debate in, or approval by, Parliament on such a potentially significant change in identity.

The Department for Transport said that it was part of a wider move across Government. One reason was GB – Great Britain – only formally included England, Wales and Scotland, whereas the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is inclusive of Northern Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales, it said.

It is true that Great Britain is the official collective name of England, Scotland and Wales and their associated islands and does not include Northern Ireland.

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28 October 2020 – the overnight press release

Four nations summit needed to keep families safe at Christmas, liberals warn

Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Wales and England have joined with the Alliance Party in calling for a “four nations summit” to consider a united approach to keeping family gatherings safe during the festive season.

In a joint letter to the four governments of the UK, the Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, Scottish Leader Willie Rennie, Welsh Leader Jane Dodds and Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP warned the “interlinked nature of life in the United Kingdom means no one government can devise guidance for the festive season in isolation.”

The letter follows uncertainty about students returning for Christmas and conflicting comments about family gatherings, with Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch branding multi-household gatherings “fiction” while the Prime Minister indicated rules could be relaxed.

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Constitutional reform: amending Motion F11 “The Creation of a Federal United Kingdom”

In my earlier two-part article ‘Constitutional reform: a coherent national policy or not?’, I described how I view it as essential that a constitutional reform policy be framed to encompass the constitutional arrangements of all parts of the United Kingdom, lest it otherwise make a mockery of the term ‘federal’. This requires us to answer the English Question.

In discussing English regionalism and federalism on various forums including the Liberal Democrat Federalists group on Facebook, I have observed criticism of Motion F11, our proposed amendment and the party’s overall policy slate, some focusing various aspects such as the lack of detail on the fiscal arrangements within a union of bodies having considerable autonomy, legislative and tax-varying powers. Unfortunately, we seem to be rather good at not putting flesh on the bones of complicated policies: Land Value Tax has been on the back-burner for 100 years, the Universal Basic Income motion up at Autumn Conference faces criticism of its lack of depth, and Local Income Tax came and then vanished in a puff of smoke over twenty years ago. The latter was something I hoped would lead to the diverse political landscape I espoused in part one of my earlier article. With regards to federalism, what did we do with Policy Paper 117 after it was endorsed in 2014? I’m tempted to paraphrase Indiana Jones and say “we might as well have mailed it to the Marx Brothers”.

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8 November 2019 – the overnight press releases

  • UK family of nations must work together to stop Brexit
  • Jardine: The Tories visa plan is a tax on nurses

UK family of nations must work together to stop Brexit

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson will tomorrow make the case to Remain voters in Scotland to back the Liberal Democrats to protect Scotland’s place at the heart of the EU, as she visits North East Fife as part of her Leader’s Tour of the UK.

Jo Swinson will be visiting Crafty Maltsters Farm in Auchtermuchty alongside Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie. Speaking ahead of the visit, Jo Swinson said:

Voters in Scotland who despair

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Opinion: The UK is dead – long live the EU

The English are the last on this sceptred isle to realise that Britain is dead.

It’s hard to remember that the nation-state is a modern invention: the Treaty of Westphalia gave birth to the conception of crown and country. Britain herself was an elaboration on 18th Century statecraft.

Each of our constitutional nations brought their talents to bear on Britain’s great endeavour: the British Empire. A merchant empire defended with regiments of Welsh and Scots infantry and English seamen; managed by a ruling class composed of feudal aristocrats and nouveaux riche industrialists and merchants.

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Opinion: now that the Games are over…

For a very long time I have been of the view that the outcome of Scotland’s Independence Referendum this September will be a 60:40 split for the Union. Of course, it’s possible that something dramatic will happen in the next few weeks to change this, but I doubt it. I get the impression that most voters have made up their mind, and despite a higher than usual number of undecided, I can’t see the Yes campaign succeeding. That does not mean however that nothing will change. It seems to me, as a committed Unionist, that everything must change post referendum, …

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Opinion: Scottish independence – bleak consequences for LibDem and Labour Westminster representation

It seems to me that murmurs in political circles regarding the Scottish desire for independence are on the increase. It’s a very tangible situation. – Not least with the SNP as a single-party government in Holyrood and some polls showing a strong desire to break away from the UK. (I should point out, that many polls show that the English are more in favour of Scottish independence than the Scots).

What, then, are the consequences for Liberal Democrats and the composition of Westminster, should Scotland secede from the Union?

On first investigation, I’d say ‘bleak’ at best. Scotland has provided many of …

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Opinion: A New Approach to our Union

The current approach to the United Kingdom doesn’t work.

The current approach treats each home nation as an individual, yet this approach leads to everyone pulling the centre in every direction. It leads to infighting, or to one country taking control and dictating to the others how they should be run. Neither result leads to a strong union.

We currently have the Scotland Bill going through Parliament devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament; Wales passed a referendum giving its citizens the ability to pass primary legislation; and Nick Clegg has set up a commission to address the …

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