Thirteen million people are facing starvation due to the war in Yemen. Today’s call by the US State Department and Pentagon for Saudi Arabia to end the bombing of urban areas in Yemen within the next thirty days is an important policy change. The tireless advocacy of ceasefire and peace by international human rights and humanitarian organisations together with a number of smaller NGOs has played its part.
The UK is blessed by a large number of such voluntary groups, associations and formal organisations in civil society, one of its great strengths. They represent the country’s values more faithfully than successive governments, and put them into practice both in the fields of international relations and domestic poverty. They are often invisible, persevering on non-existent budgets.
Below is a letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent on 26 October from one such group. The authors await a reply. The US policy change will likely make the reply more than a routine acknowledgement of concern.
Yemen Safe Passage Group
“Dear Foreign Secretary,
Yemen: the famine of this century is rapidly becoming the crime of this century
The Yemen Safe Passage Group (YSPG) is writing to you as a group of former ambassadors and other diplomats, military officers, academics and aid professionals with a shared experience of working in Yemen. Yemen is back in the news following the renewal of fighting around Hodeidah and the UN’s revised estimate that half the population now faces starvation. There is still time to respond effectively to this crisis. The United Kingdom is in a position of exceptional influence. Working jointly with key allies and involving the regional powerbrokers, we can work for a ceasefire to avert complete disaster in Yemen and start to plan the country’s long road to recovery. Under your leadership, the Foreign Office has the opportunity for a fundamental rethink of the UK’s role.
Fundamental UK policy reset on the Yemen conflict
With the Khashoggi debacle, the veil has been lifted on Saudi Arabia’s lack of respect for international law. We have been arguing since our inception about the illegality of economic blockades and the military targeting of civilians. Those implicated in the Khashoggi affair have both initiated and continue to supervise Saudi involvement in Yemen’s war with all the breaches of international principles and laws that are so evident. The opportunity now presents itself for a strategic change of UK policy. To regain public confidence there needs to be a thorough review of UK interests, both upsides and downsides, which must be transparent and public. We continue to support the ever-growing calls for the suspension of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia until HMG is satisfied a sustainable peace in Yemen has been achieved.
Our analysis developed through extensive consultation with actors on every side of the conflict, indicates that the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia deploys two strategies in its attempt to prevail in Yemen – to escalate its military operations or to squeeze economically the areas outside its control in the hope that the population will then rise in its favour. However, a military victory is wholly unrealistic, as has been recognised in a succession of HMG statements, and its pursuit is unacceptable given the inevitable level of civilian casualties and wanton destruction. Economic warfare is banned by international law as is the targeting of schools and hospitals, which nevertheless continues. Such tactics leave a toxic legacy of bitterness and hatred towards those inflicting such suffering.
The UK has played a leading role in several positive initiatives in Yemen, including increasing humanitarian aid and supporting the efforts of the UN’s Special Envoy. However, HMG has allowed itself to be unduly influenced by the Saudis, and the benefits of our bilateral relationship have been greatly overstated. Rather than giving the UK ‘leverage’ over Saudi actions, the opposite has been the case. Recent academic research points convincingly in this direction. Specifically, the relationship has been deeply damaging to precisely what you yourself have been highlighting: British values and the rule of law. HMG succumbed to pressure in failing to halt the Coalition’s military action on Hodeidah in the full knowledge of its massive humanitarian implications. It has sought to defend licences for arms exports when their use against civilians has been well documented and is placing itself increasingly at risk of being implicated in war crimes. You have stressed that Saudi Arabia has helped keep terrorism off British streets, but at the same time we must recognise that, by creating such instability and resentment, the continuing war is feeding the underlying threat to the UK from terrorism.
In addition, HMG is not helping the long-term interests of our primary ally in the region. The bitter truth is that the Yemen war has been a disaster for the Saudis. It has increased rather than curtailed the influence of Iran on their southern border, has provided the Houthis with an excuse for their cross-border attacks on Saudi cities, and due to repeated and well publicised attacks on civilian targets has played a major role in destroying Saudi Arabia’s international reputation.
Need to decisively avert Yemen’s downward spiral to mass famine
We support the call from the UK’s Ambassador to the UN3 for unhindered access for commercial food supplies, especially on the main transport routes being threatened by current military operations, and for an end to Houthi interference with the humanitarian response. On the latter, we urge HMG to use its backchannel contacts with the Houthis to bring this to an end.
We urge HMG to focus on what lies ahead, and to consider where Yemen’s calamity is leading – a crippled economy, destitution, political instability and terrorism in a highly strategic location. The lack of governance and rampant corruption that have bedevilled Yemen have contributed to the paucity of basic services, have been major drivers of the resentments fuelling this war and have contributed to the rise of extreme Islamism. The war in turn is leading to a massive loss of human potential, so vital for the rebuilding of the country, with a generation out of school, the de-skilling of youth, and war forcing early marriage of Yemeni girls.
HMG needs to recognise the ever-growing opportunity cost of reconstruction from an ever-lower base and start to plan with others how Yemen will finance a balanced reconstruction reaching all areas, whatever political control they are under. This will allow for a future less dominated by outside interests and could dramatically contribute towards peace efforts.
The UK’s role in achieving a sustainable peace
Of the P5, the UK is uniquely placed to sponsor and prioritise an urgent ceasefire on all fronts especially Hodeidah. The recent joint statements made with major European powers are a welcome development and need to be maintained and extended to exert the necessary leverage. Only a ceasefire will allow the proper resumption of the UN Special Envoy’s diplomacy, which needs continuing and robust support, but additionally a more vocal and visible commitment from Western leaders, and a readiness to match words with action.
Immediate action to address the threatened famine
Decisive international action is needed to support the Yemeni riyal and address the reasons for its collapse, which include irresponsible currency printing, uncertainties over trade, and major hard currency revenues failing to be deposited at either of the components of the split Central Bank. Credible banking measures need to be put in place to allow unimpeded trading operations, including letters of credit for importers and the urgent reversal of Government of Yemen’s ‘Decree 75’ which in practice restricts the movement of goods. Credible sanctions are needed to thwart individuals, on all sides, who are making massive financial gains from their positions.
We urge the UK to play a leadership role by calling for Saudi Arabia and other parties to the conflict to agree a ceasefire and decisively move to bring the war in Yemen to an end. The UK can draw on its key role on Yemen within the UN, while working with European allies and the US to support such a change in Saudi strategy. Given the UK's historical links with Yemen, our alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and our continuing dialogue with Iran, the UK is best placed to bring the international community towards a working consensus to achieve a lasting and meaningful peace. This will start the process of rebuilding Yemen as a functioning State.
Yemen Safe Passage Coordinating Group, after extensive consultation within the wider group. See https://yemensafepassage.org/yspg-membership/ for the full listing.
James Firebrace (YSPG Coordinator). Please address replies to email@example.com Frances Guy (former UK Ambassador to Yemen) Captain Philip Holihead (former Head of Western Indian Ocean Counter–Piracy)”.
China is passing through “a second cultural revolution”, or at least a return to further conflation of State and Communist Party. Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Party and President of the Peoples Republic embodies the ethos of the regime. This year the National People’s Congress lifted term limits on his stay in power. Since 2012, repression of dissent and a quest for complete Party control of all major institutions has gained momentum under his autocratic rule. A symptom of this development, relations with religions were transferred in March from the State’s Department of Religious Affairs to the Party’s United Front Work Department formerly in charge of ethnic minorities, traditionally a peripheral - dangerous - phenomenon.
In China, citizens and Churches are banned from using the internet for anything that might be seen as evangelization. Party/Government employees are not allowed to express a religious faith. There is a general prohibition on young people under eighteen attending churches. In strong Christian centres such as Wenzhou City in Zheijang Province, medical staff, school and university teachers have a duty to report religious behavior; OFSTED-style inspections ensure compliance. In some schools, students must submit a formal commitment not to “believe in religions”. Even family prayers can fall under local oversight. In Luzhou Catholic Diocese, crosses on churches have been pulled down and priests ordered to fly the national flag with a portrait of the President displayed prominently in the building. Overall some 1,500 churches have lost their crosses.
How much is zealous local initiative or on direct orders from Beijing is unclear. This level of repression is far from uniform across the country. The large Zion church in Beijing was shut down in February. Non-Party Protestant and house churches suffer more. The Xinjiang Muslim Uighurs suffer most with an estimated million people now dispersed into “re-education camps”.
This persecution has three drivers: Sinicization, the Party’s demand that religion “serve overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people and support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”; fear of religions’ disruptive power, viewed as irrational and emotional, in contrast to an ordered and harmonious development of Chinese society. Finally, less overtly: China’s historical experience of foreign influences retained and expressed in the mutated form of authoritarian Communist rule with religion feared as an exploitable weapon against Communism and Poland as a warning.
Last month the Vatican signed an historic interim agreement with the Chinese State/Communist Party to resolve the issue of the quasi- schism (relationships are complex) between the government- controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Roman Catholic Church whose bishops are appointed by the Pope. The government will now propose candidates’ names. The Pope will make the final choice of bishop. The excommunication of seven Patriotic Association bishops has been lifted. To date, details of the agreement have not been made public. But assurances have been given to Taiwan that current diplomatic relations will not change.
The interim accord between China and the Vatican was the fruit of many years of difficult negotiation. Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has praised it as a significant achievement for Vatican diplomacy. His were not sentiments universally shared. Timing was unfortunate: an anniversary of the ratification of the Vatican’s 1933 Reichskonkordat with the nascent Nazi Germany that cut the ground from under the Catholic Centre Party, the major source of parliamentary opposition to the National Socialist juggernaut.
But no-one should fear loopholes in the wording of the Accord. Vatican negotiators leave no comma or semi-colon safe from scrutiny. No hostages to fortune pass muster. This is not why many people - most notably emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong - are opposed. They do not trust the regime to honour its promises.
Was it right to do a deal with Beijing whilst the detention of some dozen priests remains unresolved and persecution grows of people of faith? Isn’t counting on the good faith of the government negotiators and Xi Jinping risky? And is this another assault on the Church’s moral integrity? The answers hinge on your understanding of the purpose of Vatican diplomacy in the life of the Church.
Vatican diplomats mainly aim to do two, sometimes incompatible, things: to promote the implementation of the living tradition of Catholic social teaching around the world, seeking peace and justice, and also to nurture and protect Catholic communities. For example, Vatican diplomacy came in strongly behind the Jubilee Campaign to reduce Third World debt and in support of poverty reduction strategies. But it held back, for example, from public criticism of US bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia limiting itself to diplomatic initiatives for peace and pauses in the air-strikes. In the first instance priority was given to moral leadership on debt reduction. In the second, criticism of what had become an offensive war with savage bombing of Hanoi/Haiphong, prosecuted by the USA, was much delayed; protection of South Vietnam’s then large Catholic population from Communist take-over took prededence.*
What was the Vatican’s thinking when it came to dealing with communist China? There was a benign precedent in a recent Accord with Vietnam. There was historically the equivocal experience of Ostpolitik after the second Vatican Council, a diplomatic démarche to Communist States that evoked the prolonged resistance of the Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty and other eastern bloc bishops. I suspect that Rome thought a divided Church in China would not survive the mounting tide of persecution. The nurture and protection of the country’s over 12 million Catholics took precedence over a denunciation of human rights abuses. What in Christian-speak is called “the prophetic voice” was muted. Though this has proved contentious, and some bishops appointed by Rome obliged to resign, or retire early, to make way for new “dual control” bishops, the Accord shores up Catholic defenses by building institutional unity.
Experience has taught the Church that a determined and reasonably efficient State has the power to reduce it to a remnant. A prophetic voice can carry high costs in a world of conflicting national interests. The Accord is arguably the least bad strategic option for the Catholic Church in China today. I hope the difficult prudential judgment of the Pope and the lead Catholic negotiators, Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Celli, turns out to be wise. The Protestant Churches must feel more exposed to government pressure. It makes me uncomfortable. But that may have more to do with wanting to enjoy the moral high ground than concern for the moral integrity of Vatican diplomacy, and the fate of China’s Catholics.
*See A. Alexander Stumvoll A Living Tradition: Catholic Social Doctrine and Holy See Diplomacy Cascade Books 2018
The game of chess can either end in checkmate or stalemate. With negotiations deadlocked, BREXIT negotiations are now being described as a stalemate. Stalemate means that a player not in check can only move into check. No-one loses. The result is a draw. Checkmate occurs when a player’s King is both in check and will be captured wherever it moves. Someone wins. Someone loses. You can’t be stalemated and checkmated at the same time.
If it is a real stalemate the UK loses the game; “no deal” is a disaster. So the Tories have managed to get the UK stalemated and checkmated at the same time. They have pulled off an impossible feat. No wonder they engage in magical thinking. The UK government has not acquitted itself well nor even understood the rules of the game and the thinking behind their opponents’ moves. Pity the poor civil servants who negotiated and played skillfully but to no avail.
But who cares whether chess terms give a true picture of the mess we are in? Not the Conservative Party, which like the Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass, manages to believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. Our Prime Minister, due for a great fall, adopts the worldview of Humpty Dumpty: “a word means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less”. Which is just what the incantation “BREXIT means BREXIT” means – if you see what I mean. “The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.
The Brexiteers, led by the European Research Group (ERG), disport themselves in this magical Wonderland. For example, when they first got into a corner over a hard border in Ireland, mere mention of the words “latest technology” was supposed, in one mighty bound, to get them out of it. Drones hovering over Crossmaglen would count cows crossing the Republic’s border. Artificially Intelligent customs robots in roadside haystacks in Armagh, or on ferries to Stranraer, would register the country of origin of goods. Or something like that. Then they shifted to producing a weighty tome on less-techy bureaucratic controls with electronic form-filling in factories. And all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well. Just saying it makes it happen. Because, you see, it’s MAGIC.
In case you hadn’t realized it, CanadaPLusPlus is Brexiteer for Abracadabra. Just speak the words. They trip nicely off the tongue. If the spell doesn’t work, all you need do is a “pivot”. This is clever new trick from the National Association of ERG Magicians. It means magically getting the EU and Parliament to accept another unworkable solution to the problems thrown up by BREXIT. The Merlin Award this year should go to the inventor of “The Pivot”. Deciding you have made a calamitous mistake and radically taking the situation in hand with firm leadership? Well, we all know no ERG magician would hold their audience for one minute with that kind of performance.
The magicians of the ERG cannot, or will not, recognize that the EU starts off with principles and deductively comes to policy decisions. And then mean what they say. Whereas Little England starts off with the incantation “BREXIT means BREXIT”, and ends with touches of World War II nostalgia, standing alone, getting by with only a ball of string, duct tape, flack jacket, and lots of jolly optimism…. and, if desperate, some latest technology.
Under pressure, a principle may emerge like a genie out of the bottle of pragmatism; for example there can be no “economic separation of Northern Ireland from the UK” (Prime Minister) or, if you prefer our more colourful Attorney-General, be “torn out of the UK”. But some economic difference is an inevitable product of devolution. In addition, the Democratic Unionists (DUP) celebrate having laws different from those of the rest of the UK: notably their own restrictive laws on abortion and gay marriage. These two big issues are apparently less important than the remote – backstop - possibility of being legally consigned to a customs arrangement different from that of post-BREXIT Great Britain.
To jog your memory, the DUP are supposed to be governing Northern Ireland alongside Sinn Fein rather than taking bungs from Theresa May and threatening the UK government about the direction of BREXIT negotiations. The checkmated player has two possible ways to behave: stomp off in a huff after knocking the board over or politely shake hands. The DUP can expect to forfeit respect when they threaten the former. They could, though, shake hands on the UK remaining in a/the Customs Union and Single Market, the only possible solution, barring a short-term fudge, to a clash of two irreconcilable principles.
How many legions has the DUP? They only won 28 out of the 90 seats in the 2017 Stormont Legislative Assembly elections, just 28.1% of the votes cast. And remember, 56% of the Northern Irish referendum vote was for Remain. Are we really going to let the future of the United Kingdom be determined by ten DUP members in the London Parliament plus the ERG? Perhaps the DUP should pivot to concentrate on doing the job they were elected to do in Northern Ireland: co-governing the province on behalf of all its citizens in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, an International Treaty. For, as I’m sure all good Ulster men and women would agree, the Devil makes work for idle hands.
The gunman at the door of the church must have taken aim carefully. The Archbishop, his sermon just ended, must have seen him. Then the sudden deep physical fear; they found salt crystals from copious sweat in his black woollen trousers.
He knew that his sermons might result in his assassination. Broadcast nationally on church radio to a huge audience, they provided the only news of the Salvadorian military’s latest barbarous acts, and his appeals to the army to stop the repression. The death squads and the military in1980s El Salvador were murdering with impunity all they deemed a threat.
The cry “Santo Romero” went up in Latin America, and around the world, soon after the gunshot that killed Archbishop Oscar Romero on 23 March 1980. The army had silenced a resonant prophetic voice speaking of justice and peace. Yet thirty five years passed before Romero's beatification in May 2015, a formal recognition of his holiness attended by a quarter of a million people. It was a first step towards his canonisation this Sunday, 14 October 2018.
Romero’s story has been editorialised by those who opposed his beatification, for whatever reason, and those who promoted it, for whatever reason. For example, Romero's words, supposedly in a telephone conversation, “If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador”, were invented by a Guatemalan journalist. In catching the Christian essence of what happened that day the “quote” has a lingering quality: not true but not false either. Yet the words he didn’t utter could be exploited as a sign of hubris against him.
Romero was an unexpected hero of radical Catholicism. He was close to Opus Dei members, a Catholic association distrusted by radical, and liberal, Catholics; he enjoyed watching cartoons in his slippers on Sunday afternoons with his friends, the Barraza family. And he innocently loved Rome, praying at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul between defending his actions, his outspoken sermons, and his support for the poor of El Salvador. For very understandable reasons, he shared with the Pope whom he revered from his younger days, Paul VI, a struggle with anxiety. With the papal nuncio to El Salvador and most of his fellow bishops against him, denouncing him to Rome, with political pressure from all sides and horrific bloodshed around him from the civil war, he had good cause.
There is a revealing entry in Romero's diary: he recounts how Pope John-Paul II, misapplying his Polish experience of Communist rule, put great weight on the importance of maintaining unity in El Salvador's Bishops' Conference. This advice could only have worried him further. Any prophetic witness to truth precluded unity; most of his fellow bishops were solidly opposed to his stance. Such were his dilemmas as a bishop traditionally obedient to the Pope. The response to his death, like to his later life and sermons, reflected the deep conflicts in a Church tragically divided by the Cold War. In El Salvador, with the oligarchy and army supported by the CIA, there was only the unity of the grave.
George Orwell once said that “who controls the past controls the future” but “who controls the present controls the past”. The way different Church leaders spun Romero's story confirms Orwell. For some Vatican bureaucrats and some important Latin American Cardinals defending their past record, Romero's cause fell under the category of “sensitive”. The “sensitivity” stemmed from a surfeit of calumny and detraction. Or was just a product of bad theology. His canonisation process was blocked for “prudential reasons”.
It was only in 2012 that Pope Benedict unblocked the process and it was cleared by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Then a Pope from Argentina with a similar love of the poor could enthusiastically add San Romero of the Americas to the litany of saints.
Whatever the past opposition to Romero, if a theological plumb line is imagined indicating the centre of Catholic thought, “thinking with the mind of the Church” in Catholic-speak, Romero's words and actions fell plumb along it. He had received a classic - ordinary -seminary formation. He was committed to the vision of the Second Vatican Council, its pastoral theology and the option for the poor endorsed by the Latin American Bishops' Conferences (CELAM). The strength of this formation, the reality of El Salvador, drew him into sharing to the utmost in the pain and suffering of his people. By thinking, preaching and acting with the mind of the Church in the context of El Salvador in 1980, he qualified for martyrdom. The message of his life and death is almost as simple as that.
Almost as simple. Romero’s sermons suggest that he inhabited a traditional Catholic world of binaries: religious/spiritual versus political, the mind of the Church or liberation theology, ideology or sound doctrine. But rejecting the “political”, Romero adopted a deeper understanding of what politics might mean for Christians: he lived it, striving for conformity with the politics of the historical Jesus. Romero's “no” to violence, whether of the oppressed or oppressor, entailed his “yes” to a deeper liberation than promised by the political and armed struggle against tyranny and the rule of the military and oligarchies in Latin America. Liberation theology was not political enough. His martyrdom at the altar, under the cross in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital, San Salvador, bore testimony to this truth.
This Sunday will be a time of joy for those who persevered in promoting the cause of Romero’s canonisation. His story will be celebrated not only by many Catholics round the world. There is a message here for everyone. It is that anxiety and fear can accompany great courage, vision and moral leadership. And the good news is that the ordinary really can become extraordinary.
To read more see Roberto Morozzo Della Rocca Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope Darton Longman Todd 2015
Tory Brexiters should be careful what they wish for. They seem to have regard for neither the Conservative past nor the country’s future. Several aspects of the UK government’s positions on BREXIT are either quixotic or dishonest. First amongst them is the quest to leave the jurisdiction of the European court.
Actually there is more than one European court. But for political effect they are frequently conflated or confused. Which one is supposed to be most objectionable to a true patriot is unclear. Is it the Court of Justice in Luxembourg which adjudicates on the correct reading and implementation of EU laws and treaties by national governments, or is it the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg overseen by the Council of Europe, not the EU, that rules on alleged infringements of the human rights of citizens in member states?
The Court of Justice gives judgments on disputes about the EU regulation of a wide range of matters reflecting the wide areas regulated by EU member States: customs duties, fisheries and so on. The idea that Britain can leave the EU to emerge into a strong and beneficial relationship with its European partners outside the existing regulatory system and the supranational jurisdiction of the EU, its standards and its Courts, is frankly nonsense. Even after the BREXIT referendum the UK expressed its intention of joining a new Unified Patent Court being set up under the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice. Transnational space in Europe has too many vital things going on in it not to require transnational legal bodies enabling common standards and practices to prevail. In the real world, Britain cannot vacate this space and prosper.
The origins of the European courts hold surprises. The Court of Justice and the Strasbourg ECHR were set up in the early 1950s at a time of profound distrust of totalitarian regimes and their disregard for civil liberties. Winston Churchill broadcast a call for European unity in a speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946: “If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance” he declared in a romantic vision, “there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity, and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy”. Churchill’s fear that the Atlee government would impose its state-heavy socialism on the citizens of Britain lay beneath his promotion of a noble inheritance like an unwanted ice cube in his whisky. Churchill saw a European supranational juridical body as a necessary protection of civil liberties because it would defend “fundamental personal rights” as the lynchpin of “European democratic civilization”.
Marco Duranti sheds much light on this post-war period in his The Conservative Human Rights Revolution Oxford University Press, 2017. He analyses the European ideological mix, both NGO and governmental, that led to the creation of the Council of Europe, the writing and adoption of European Convention on Human Rights and the establishing of the ECHR that enforced it. Calling this process a revolution is no exaggeration. It was the first time individuals and groups could petition for their human rights in a supranational court. The rights in the European Code were individual rights or civil liberties. There was no mention of social rights beyond the right of parental choice in education – thanks to a strong Catholic lobby. In comparison, the UN’s – more extensive and global - rights regime had no such body to legally ensure compliance. The establishment of the ECHR was an extraordinary achievement. Here was a firewall against the state over-reaching itself, creating an imagined Europe defining itself in distinction to the Soviet Union and its satellites. Socialist Parties worried it would impede the state’s economic planning and their domestic agendas. To understand what people see as desirable transnationally, always factor in domestic circumstance and historical experience
So why are a clique of right-wing conservatives so desperate to turn the clock back demanding that we “take back control of our laws”? Clearly not back to 1950s and Churchill. Could it be that the European Research Group simply wish for elites to have greater freedom to accumulate wealth and privilege? I cannot believe that Mr. Gove enjoys being referred, with five other European states, to the Court of Justice by the European Commission for the UK government’s dilatory approach to air pollution. Effective action would reduce company profits. The Court of Justice fined Google $2.4 billion for abuse of its position as the world’s dominant search-engine. It has the power to do so. Alone, we don’t.
The mass media’s refrain is “unaccountable bureaucrats” reveling in petty regulation. But who was being petty when UK prisoners got back the vote? I recently bought a new freezer. It was the same overall size but much smaller inside; stuff had to be chucked out or defrosted and eaten. The helpful installer told me this was “all down to the EU”. It sounded petty. But he explained why: they had ruled that insulation had to be much thicker to preserve energy and a shield was required at the back to stop fires.
Will control taken back by an extreme right-wing government increase national investment in curbing air pollution, or deter the great cyber-corporations behaving more or less as they like, or come to that , result in better insulated freezers to save energy and avoid fires? Yes, we have a distinguished Supreme Court but, observing the USA, will ours always remain as un-politicised as today? Is upholding what the French Catholic Europeanists in the 1950s called “the rights of persons and communities”, not least those of workers, safe in the hands of BREXIT extremists?
Many rashly assume so. But, like Churchill, however unfairly distrustful of political opponents, I think it is wise to hedge our bets. We need the safety valve of the European courts and the values that they try to reflect in their judgements. Yes, Conservatism has come a long way since the Eurocentric 1950s. But where is it going?