My interview on the Brexit deal with RT

Full transcript (including bits not broadcast on the video) 
Q: So Theresa May called it [her Brexit deal with the EU] a decisive step. Is this really the breakthrough she’s claiming, or could it all fall apart?
A: It could certainly fall apart. The deal itself is no surprise really. It basically amounts to the UK effectively staying in a customs union and Northern Ireland effectively staying in the single market – some version of which was always bound to happen since the government decided they didn’t want to reimpose a hard border in Ireland. There was going to be no other way round it really. So the deal is no surprise, and of course it will be spun by the Brexiteers, and is already being spun, as a major betrayal.
But the important thing about Brexit is that it has been a major victory for the far right. It’s a project of the far right and it’s already been a victory for them: it’s normalised virulent anti-immigration discourse, and whatever kind of Brexit happens now or doesn’t happen, it will for sure be spun as a betrayal, which will be used to further mobilise ultra-nationalist revanchist sentiment.
So when the annals come to be written of Europe’s second descent into fascism, which is what we are living through right now, then Brexit will be a majorly important milestone. It’s given a huge shot in the arm to the neofascist movements that are on the rise in Europe – and, since the Brexit referendum, many have actually entered government – but the really tragic thing about this is how Russia and yourselves at RT are actually supporting this neofascist upsurge, giving platforms regularly to these movements. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people to fascism last time around, so this does not end well for Russia. Already we see Russia is supporting Trump’s war plans on Iran, facilitating the oil sanctions by pumping extra oil, quietly facilitating US-Israeli plans to drive Iran out of Syria. This is very self-defeating for Russia, and it is very tragic to watch. And we are already seeing this policy coming back to bite Russia with Putin’s United Russia party actually losing out in elections to the fascist parties in Russia. So this is a really tragic part of this whole episode; the role that Russia and yourselves at RT are playing in pushing this neofascist upsurge of which the Brexit vote was in many ways the trigger.
Q: Something you mentioned before is that a key sticking point so far has been Northern Ireland. Is there any real clarity over how this could be resolved?
A: Well, there’s clarity; it’s clear that this was going to have to be the case from the get-go. If there was not to be a reimposition of a hard border in Ireland, and there was not to be a border within the Irish Sea, then the whole of the UK would have to accept the rules and regulations of the EU to continue trading with them without a border, that was always going to have to be the case; the chequers agreement confirmed that, and ever since, Theresa May has been trying to fudge that issue and has still tried to fudge it with this agreement. But it’s clear enough, and it was always going to be that way. But like I say, the genie’s out of the bottle with Brexit: it’s been a far right driven project from the get-go – however much leftists might want to delude themselves that it’s their project, it’s not – and they’re driving the agenda. The government didn’t really want to leave the EU so they are following as close as they can to a Brexit in name only, and this was always going to be the case. But the danger is, by capitulating to this far right project, they are only mobilising it further still and giving it further grist to the mill.
Q: My thoughts were that most of the British politicians and the British citizens as a whole somehow betrayed by this deal because – don’t you think that it doesn’t match the expectations that people and the politicians had when they voted for Brexit?
A: Sure, that’s true, because everyone deluded themselves: everyone who supported Brexit projected their own fantasies of what Brexit would be and decided that was Brexit. But in fact – and I’m not a supporter of Brexit – but as the Leavers have pointed out, the government is not really committed to Brexit, so it is trying to achieve a fudge where Britain will remain as close as possible to the EU without actually being in it. But the desires of many of the Brexiteers were projections of their own fantasies. There is a parallel to be drawn with the Arab Spring. When the Arab Spring, so called, happened, people in the West, of all different political hues, just projected their own fantasies as to what it was: so liberals thought it was a liberal democratic uprising, socialists thought that it was a great class struggle, and so on. The reality is that it was none of those things; and it is the same for Brexit: Left Brexiteers delude themselves that it is this great anti-neoliberal upsurge, the far right believe there is going to be this great British Empire 2.0 nonsense; so the reality is that actual Brexit is never going to meet people’s crazed delusional fantasies; how could it ever do that?
Q: Don’t you think that tomorrow another parliament session will take place, Theresa May is going to be attacked from both parties, because – well, I don’t expect anyone to praise her and say that it is the best deal ever.
A: Absolutely not. Well it’s really down to Labour now. Because it is unlikely the DUP will support this because, contrary to the promises made to the DUP – that there would be no separate arrangement for Northern Ireland – there will be a separate arangement for Northern Ireland, in which Northern Ireland effectively remains part of the single market, whilst the rest of the UK does not. That breaks the DUP’s red line, so they’re unlikely to support it: so straight away there Theresa May has lost her majority. And, of course, we already know that quite a sizeable handful at the least of Tory backbenchers – it could be anywhere from 30 to maybe up to 100 – will almost certainly vote against a deal – Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have already put their cards on the table and said they’re against it, they’re not going to vote for it. So if the opposition parties oppose it then the deal is dead. So really it is up to Labour now, and there is quite a strong likelihood that, if not the official leadership, then at least a sizeable, perhaps the majority of Labour MPs, might end up supporting this deal. So Theresa May, her future and the future of her deal, is now in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Q: And what do you expect – what are your forecasts on a short term perspective?
A: Well it is very difficult to predict. There are a number of possibilities. One is that MPs are effectively emotionally blackmailed, or economically blackmailed, into voting for the deal. The threat from the markets, of course, will loom very large. The idea would be that if you don’t vote for this deal then we are back to the cliff-edge no-deal scenario, the pound might plummet and so forth, so there will be a lot of pressure on MPs along the lines of ‘if you don’t vote for this deal, then you will bring about an economic catastrophe on our head’. And MPs might just capitulate to that logic and just vote it through, that’s possible. The other option, of course, then is that MPs vote it down. And then where do we go from there? The option is then a no-deal or reverse Brexit. And to be honest, I think all three options are really on the table. It’s impossible to predict. I think the majority of praliamentarians – the vast majority of whom were remainers – would obviously prefer to reverse Brexit than to have a no-deal Brexit. But how they bring that about, through another referendum, through another election, is very hard to foresee. But I still think that it is quite likely, still, that article 50 is revoked. If the deal is not voted through, and Theresa May’s government falls, then the new government may just decide to rescind article 50 and say, look, we can’t go for a no-deal Brexit, it’s too damaging, there’s no parliamentary majority for the deal, so that leaves only – we’ll just have to reverse article 50. And the post-Theresa May government – of whatever political party – may well consider that the only viable option. So i think that is still a very realistic possibility.
Q: And how likely is it that Theresa May’s government will fall?
A: Well, as I say, it’s really on a knife edge. If the deal doesn’t win parliamentary support, I think it will be difficult for Theresa May to carry on. However, of course, then there is the issue of – would her own party risk seeing her government fall, potentially triggering a general election that they might lose? But the [Brexiteer] conservative backbenchers – they play a long game. They were willing to sit back and let Theresa May dig her own grave; I think they may well be willing to sit back and let Jeremy Corbyn dig his own grave as well. People like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are strategic thinkers, very machiavellian, and they play a long game. So I think these kind of people would be willing to risk even a Labour government if they believed that that government itself would fall over the issue of Brexit, allowing them to then come back in the future and pick up the pieces. There are precedents for this. The Tories did this in the early 1920s: they handed over power to Labour, when they didn’t have to, knowing that Labour would alienate its own supporters, demoralise its support base, and then they could storm back into power, which is exactly what happened. So I think Theresa May’s government could fall – on its own sword – because these guys play a long game.
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US-UK calls for a Yemen ceasefire is a cynical piece of political theatre

Mattis: Trump’s tweet sends message that Iran is “on the ...

The UK appears now to be gearing up towards authoring a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Yemen, following years of blocking any resolutions on the issue. The UK has been the official ‘penholder’ on Yemen, meaning that it has been up to the UK to table resolutions, which it has steadfastly refused to do, whilst simultaneously blocking anyone else’s attempts to do so. The apparent about-turn is a response to last week’s statements from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis calling for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, to be followed up with UN-facilitated peace talks. The UK dutifully followed suit shortly afterwards, expressing their support for the initiative. This was somewhat ironic given that minister Alistair Burt, obviously not privy to the seeming about-turn, had just spent the day providing MPs with excruciatingly contorted explanations of why calling for a ceasefire was not a good idea in the circumstances. “Passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council” he told the House of Commons at midday; yet within 36 hours, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was telling Newsnight thatthe US call for a ceasefire was “an extremely welcome announcement because we have been working towards a cessation of hostilities in Yemen for a long time.” In the parallel universe of British double-speak, it is of course natural thatunrelenting support for what is fast turning into a war of national annihilation gets recast as “working towards a cessation of hostilities”.

Yet this latest call does appear to be at odds with the hitherto existing strategy; it was only in June, after all, when the US and UK torpedoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the face of impending famine. Many commentaries (such as this one in the Telegraph, for example), have suggested that the US is now taking advantage of pressure on Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi insider-turned-dissident Khashoggi to push the kingdom towards a less belligerent position in the disastrous Yemen war. The ever-more desperate humanitarian situation is giving the war a bad name and – so the story goes – the US are now keen to end it. David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, even called the US announcement “the most significant breakthrough in the war in Yemen for four years”.

Unfortunately, it is likely to prove nothing of the sort. The detail of the announcement makes clear that, far from representing some kind of Damascene change of heart, the ‘call for a ceasefire’ is little more than yet another rebranding exercise, a cynical attempt to whitewash escalating carnage with the rhetoric of peace. 

With every passing day, the war in Yemen becomes harder to defend. The airstrike on a bus full of schoolchildren in early August briefly caused international outrage, but it was sadly not exceptional; indeed, at least 55 civilians had been killed during the bombardment of a hospital and fish market just the week before, and the bus itself was but one of over fifty civilian vehiclestargeted by Saudi airstrikes during the first half of this year. For most of the war, around a third of coalition airstrikes have hit civilian sites; but according to the Yemen Data Project, this ratio reached 48% in September.

More grim news emerged on 29th October, when a detailed research project concluded that over five times as many people have met violent deaths in the conflict than previously estimated. For years, the media have consistently claimed a death toll of 10,000, but the true figure is closer to 56,000 since the start of 2016 according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, as the earlier estimate only covered deaths reported to official medical centres. The death toll from the start of the bombing campaign until the end of this year is expected to lie between 70,000 and 80,000.

Yet even this number, horrific as it is, is dwarfed by the deaths from the starvation and disease which have been the coalition’s weapon of choice against the population of Houthi-controlled areas. The bombing of water treatment systems, fishing boats, roads and bridges, the naval blockade of the country’s imports, and the coalition regime’s decision to stop paying salaries to health and sanitation workers in Houthi areas two years ago have combined to create mass starvation and the world’s biggest cholera outbreak since the end of WW2. An average of 130 children die of disease and malnutrition every day (Although “they are not starving”, noted a tweet from the Norwegian Refugee Council, “they are being starved”), with around 150,000 people thought to have died from such causes last year alone. And this aspect of the conflict is set to deteriorate exponentially.

On 15th October, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande warned that Yemen could face the world’s worst famine for one hundred years if the airstrikes are not stopped, with 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation. Nine days later, the agency’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock said that the risk was actually worse than they previously predicted with 14 million close to “pre-famine conditions” – half the country’s population. He noted that the UN was currently only able to feed 8 million of these, although these too would be at risk if the country’s main port Hodeidah – responsible for over 70% of imports – is attacked by the coalition.

Earlier this week, just as Mattis and Pompeo delivered their soothing words, 30,000 troops began massing to launch precisely that attack. The problem for the war’s backers in London, Paris and Washington is how to justify the holocaust this is almost certain to unleash on Yemen’s population in the delusional pursuit of reimposing an impotent and discredited quisling.

The ceasefire announcement, then, is about providing cover for the impending attack. Just at the moment the aid agencies have been warning against its devastating consequences, and calling for an immediate end to the bombing, the ‘ceasefire proposal’ gives the Saudis a month’s free pass to conduct their famine-inducing operation on Hodeidah. Rather than demanding the offensive be halted or delayed, the ‘30-day’ call eggs it on. Nor is the 30-day timeframe any kind of limit on the operation. Pompeo stated that“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen”. The term ‘subsequently’ is crucial, implying that the Saudis continued bombardment – including in “populated areas” – would be perfectly justified unless the Houthis had implemented a unilateral ceasefire first. This is little more than a call for unconditional surrender by the Houthis, dressed up as a peace initiative. By the same token, it sets the scene for laying all the blame for any continued fighting at the door of the Houthis

The reality is that the US and UK could end the war tomorrow, simply by threatening to cut off military supplies, intelligence, and training to the Saudis until the airstrikes stop, a point made by Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council to a UK Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this week. Yet the US are precisely NOT calling for an end to the bombing, nor threatening to use their leverage to bring it about. Instead, this so-called initiative is yet another cynical PR exercise designed to justify, rather than to reign in, this brutal war.

This piece originally appeared in Middle East Eye