Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Those for and against Dreyfus were often at loggerheads, as they took sides within their own family groups, and French society was split down the middle. Often provoking violence, and inevitably causing public angst, in the end Dreyfus was exonerated of all charges in 1906, and continued to serve in the French army, retiring with the rank of Colonel. But what has this got to do with Brexit?
Before the referendum, Great Britain was a fairly homogeneous country, although divided by the haves and have nots, most families followed traditional party lines. Especially the Tory shopkeepers and the professions, who would rather cut their ears off, than to take any political side roads, and vote against their tribal customs. Because, Brexit was not just a political choice as such, but more a question of ageism.
Whilst cotton top politicians espoused the wonders of leaving the EU, most of the younger generation disagreed with them. Described as promoting a better future for the UK and for future generations – by which time the majority of the Brexiteers would be dead in any case – the young people; who they claimed they represented, heartily disagreed with them.
Although the referendum in its initial stages encouraged lively debate, many families became split down the middle, as the frequently unreliable, and wildly inaccurate rhetoric was bandied about. When the referendum was complete, and the 4% leave margin established, these family arguments continued. Especially during the most recent General Election, when the Tory mandate was finally declared. Because, despite May’s promise for a fairer society, there was little real evidence to support this proclamation, even in the Queens Speech.
Young people are not fools, quite the opposite, and with eons of political and economic information on the web, in the recent election, they very cleverly made up their own minds about how caring Mrs Mays team really was. Having practically lost the election, and with the Tory party in disarray, very few British youngsters believed that the tedious mantra, “The best possible deal,” meant anything at all.
And they are not the only ones who think that Mays team are a bunch of losers, because so do the Scottish Nationalists, UKIP, and New Labour – granted not all for the same reasons – and in particular, the European Union itself. But, why does this divide continue when we are told it is all so final? Well, you will have had to have gone to the Glastonbuty Festival 2017, to find out.
Is it that there are too many immigrants in the UK picking strawberries? No, it is about well educated EU professionals, taking skilled UK jobs, because there is no other commercial choice. In most of the EU, education at all levels, is free. So, is it any wonder that British youngsters view the student loan system as obnoxious, and unnecessary? How would you like to be lumbered with a 50,000 GBP debt, for the rest of your life – on top of a mortgage that is – and why on earth would any government wish that on today's eighteen year olds?
Any eighteen year old student, fortunate enough to be studying Economics and Politics, will tell you that both subjects are not an exact science. Clearly a matter of fact at the present time, and as Dreyfus was once pilloried by French society with families divided by prejudice, so the pendulum swings on the subject of Brexit, towards the middle ground and amicable consensus.
Will the neo-colonialists and traditionalists accept a compromise, or will they hark back to the 18th century and Great Britain's place in the world? And, will they stop telling everybody what is good for them, when it is clearly not! Will we see a change of direction, when the present team retires, and a new political group emerges from the scorched remains of David Camerons famous referendum, or can we rely on good old British common sense to find a way?
Saturday, 17 June 2017
France is not famous for having tall presidents – with the exception of General De Gaulle that is – but in terms of height, Emmanuel Macron certainly towers over the last three, particularly in popularity. As the result of beating Marin Du Pen by some two thirds majority, in the recent election, considering that he did so with an independent mandate, might well underline Europes fear of right wing extremism as well as its past oscillation, between the right and the left. By securing the middle ground, perhaps we are now seeing a Blairite reawakening in European politics?
By ignoring the boring and stale views of traditional political parties, stigma infested clichés, rampant popularism, bewildering and unworkable manifestos – presently being banded around by British politicians – is it any wonder that the EU itself, is now looking for a new view on Europe? Seeming to ally himself with free thinking politico’s, as well as good old common sense, perhaps we can now look to Macron, France and Germany, for some new ideas in the future?
It is hard to imagine the UK; now looking across the Atlantic at its oft declared special relationship, seeking any new ideas from the US, since the Trump camp is now exclusively backing a closed economy, and which it can easily afford to do. Britain, on the other hand, might have big ideas about the wonders of Brexit and the Commonwealth, but it simply cannot exist without a strong position in Europe. That cannot be described as a win win situation, because, on the contrary, Mays – getting a good deal for the UK – can never be as good as the one it already has. Macron stated his position some months before the French election, indicating that he will not allow the British Government an easy Brexit passage, and he shows no signs of changing his views.
As an Englishman abroad, I find it easy to discern the difference between internal British propaganda, and the views of Europe, despite a dogged attempt by the British news media to bang the drum of nationalism. Because, that is how Brexit is now conceived in the UK press. The churlishness and deceit of the right wing press – discounting the 48% of voters who chose to remain in the EU – and the rotten means they used to sway the miniscule 2% of the British population in voting leave, defies all definitions of honesty and integrity.
And now – if you have been unwise enough to admit voting to remain – certain groups will, unbelievably, brand you as a traitor. Well, George Orwell had this situation summed up in in his book 1984, and to some extent in Animal Farm! In the new era of ‘Alternative Facts,’ must we commend politicians for their bare faced lies? Is that all Donald Trump has done for the world?
According to the Observer newspaper, on the 25th January last – ‘People were already comparing the Trump era to George Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984, but all it took was one comment from Kellyanne Conway to send the books flying off the shelves. In the wake of her use of the phrase “alternative facts” to refer to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about Donald Trump’s inauguration attracting “the largest audience ever,” the book surged to #6 on Amazon’s Bestseller list, reached #2 Tuesday night and took the #1 spot by Wednesday morning.’
There is a certain air of superiority in Europe, which I admire greatly. They do not fall for the vulgar and brash, or the bone crunching handshakes of Donald Trump, nor do they appreciate the fool he has made of himself, at the G7 Conference?
I suppose internally, the US either doesn’t see, or understand the amused contempt Europe has for America’s new jackass president. But then again, neither does Trump have much time for Europe. Why? Because he does not understand it, nor could he care less about it. Displaying a degree of ignorance, unprecedented in modern times, he reflects the post WW2 view of US servicemen in the UK, that – ‘They are overpaid, and over here!’
Thursday, 18 May 2017
It was 2004, and Kevin Irrawaddi Patel gazed despondently at the newspaper account of Saddam Hussein’s famous List of Largess, or Barrelgate as it had become known. Noticing how absurdly his name had been placed next to that of Mr. George Galloway - the ex New Labour MP – some Bulgarian professor, and half the government ministers of the Russian Federation, he was considerably baffled.
As he stared at an account of the billions of barrels of crude oil Russia had received for the Iraqi Oil for Food Program, his own published score of one single barrel seemed woefully insignificant. Astonished at the vast amounts of crude oil given to these other individuals – and for enormously spurious reasons - he sat in his Peckham corner-shop, trying to make sense of this dramatic life changing event. For what was, after all, a seemingly casual event that had taken place two years previously, his somewhat dubious place in history, had now been assured. But what had actually happened?
It had been a wet Wednesday, in the autumn of 2002, and he remembered it well. Accustomed as he was to visits by all the nutters in Avondale Rise, it was no surprise to him to see a burly Arab looking man entering his shop, lugging a large metal barrel.
“What you got there mate,” said Kevin in his typical South London Bombay accent, whilst viewing the shiny barrel with some suspicion.
The man glared at him as if Kevin was a total tosser - “I’ve brought you some oil,” said the windswept and dripping man, as he took off his beret, and shook off the rain.
“Do you mind,” said Kevin, “You will make the floor wet!”
The dark haired man fixed him with an icy stare - “Well, where do you want it, then?” His gruff voice made it sound less like a question, and than an order.
How odd, thought Kevin, he seems to be wearing some sort of uniform under his mackintosh - “If it is for the Greek chippy,” he said, pointing through the door, “It's in the next street, you should ask for Stavros.”
But by now, the man's demeanour had become even more threatening - “It's not that kind of oil, you Indian git,” the stranger said.
His penetrating eyes now seemed more familiar to Kevin, and he instinctively backed into the Mars Bar and Twix rack, which was immediately behind him, causing three boxes of Smarties to simultaneously hit the floor. Bursting open as he mistakenly trod on them, the contents scattered, leaving them to rattle around the shop like multi coloured ball bearings, as they went flying.
“You look like that Iraqi bloke Saddam what’s-his-name,” Kevin’s face gleamed with nervous self-satisfaction, as he demonstrated his considerable knowledge of world events.
But the man showed not signs of response - “This is Iraqi Heavy,” the man said stiffly, “I have brought it to Peckham on the UN Food for Oil Program. So, don’t mess me about, or I will get really annoyed.”
Kevin searched his mind for some connection between the humdrum existence, he experienced, in the nether regions of Avonmore Rise, and this man's last remark. Finally, his face lit up.
“Is that the cooking program on ITV with Marco Pierre White? You know, the chef who gets pissed in the kitchen, and finally thumps one of the waiters? Wicked.”
At this Saddam – whose age was estimated at between 35 and 140 years – and shouting with consummate rage, banged his fist on the counter.
“Listen to me, you Indian wally, I am extremely hungry. So stop pissing around will you, and give me some food, or I will go get some WMD, and give you a bit of really serious grief.”
Not wishing to aggravate this newly discovered Middle-Eastern nutter more than absolutely necessary, Kevin wisely did not ask the question, which now lay dormant on his lips.
Was WMD an acronym for something he had once heard on the news, or was it Magic Roundabout? Perhaps it stood for William Morris Designs, or even Waitrose Marketing Department; he was unsure. But, his silence probably saved his life.
“What’s that barrel worth, then mate?” Kevin’s mind raced as finally the fear of the moment gripped him. Realizing his imminent danger, his only thought was how he might get rid of this obviously deranged and obnoxious man. The Police were no good, and would probably turn up the following week, and granny Patel was deaf, so there was no point in shouting up the stairs. So he decided he had better comply with the nutters demands.
“Twenty five dollars US,” was the curt reply “Which does not include delivery, because this week it is on a free offer. So make up your mind quickly!”
Kevin didn’t know much about dollars, or even euros for that matter, and although the occasional rupee had passed hands in his shop, he doubted whether that nice Mr. Bush or any other American would ever visit Peckham.
Anyway, according to the newspapers – of which he had hundreds for sale, but rarely read – Mr. Bush probably thought that Peckham was a suburb of Peking, and Iraq an island off the coast of Cuba. Nevertheless, it was obvious he would have to give this man something, or he would never go away.
“Well,” said Kevin, “ I have thought about it very carefully, sir, and I am prepared to give you a bag of cheese and onion crisps, some frozen sausage rolls, a box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and a bag of King Edwards. But, that's the best I can do for you I am afraid!”
Saddam glared at him and spluttered “What? You bastard! Last night I got the full monty for my other barrel, from the Star on India in Westbourne Grove, and they gave me extra chutney as well. So you had better watch it, you insignificant Indian twat!”
Furious, Saddam grabbed the cheese and onion crisps, the frozen sausage rolls, the spuds, and the box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and stormed out of the shop. As he did so, he slammed the door so hard, that everything in the shop wobbled, leaving Kevin baffled and perplexed. Contemplating what to do with the shiny barrel of oil, which now stood next to the counter, his problem seemed insurmountable.
It was February 2004, and the barrel continued to sit unmoved, in the corner of the shop, but it was now used to support a rack displaying assorted dog food. Fido, the Finest Food for your Pet, it announced, with a further big sign saying Special Offer. The sign on the barrel simply said Iraqi Oil for Sale, and nothing else. But, alas, nobody was much interested in either commodity, because, there were very few dogs living in Avonmore Road, and the nearest oil refinery was in Depford. After he reported the incident to the local community watch, a number of days passed, before the visits began.
First to appear was a funny sort of policeman, with a red nose, a plumy accent, and wearing a scruffy green Barbour jacket. He demanded to know the whole story from Kevin, or else he would have to go down to the local Police Station for a thorough grilling. So Kevin blurted out the whole story, confirming even the most insignificant details.
“Yes, I think that must have been him after all,” the red nosed man said, leaving a business card stating that he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. After him, it was the press.
Second to appear was a reporter from the Peckham Gazette, who entered the shop with some apprehension, knowing some of the basic truths behind the Food for Oil report. But his interest was of a local nature, and it was Kevin who was now in the limelight!
“What did he look like Kev?” Sidney Nodes knew how to keep his reading public entertained.
“He was some geezer, but a bit of a Muppet, really,” Kevins mind casually harped back to his strange encounter. “He kept going on about extra chutney at the Star of India, for some reason, and something about WMD, whatever that is?”
Having heard the food for oil deal Kevin had been forced to comply with, Sidney Nodes asked for a bag of cheese and onion crisps, in order somehow to feel closer to this bizarre incident, and – foregoing the Cadbury’s chocolate fingers – a packet of Silk Cut cigarettes.
Lighting his first smoke of the day, Sidney Nodes mused – “Evan that nice Mr. Bush and Tony Blair don’t seem to know much about WMD either, according to the telly!”
The next day, the headlines in the Peckham Gazette announced – ‘Saddam Demands Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers.’
Sidney Nodes knew that it was not very accurate, but that was the general condition of journalism at the time. The dailies didn’t say much either, being too busy Blair- bashing, so Kevin Irrawaddi Patel finally sank back once more, into obscurity.
Sidney Nodes wrote one more follow up story, for the Peckham Gazette, when Kevin Patel decided to change his image a bit, by renaming his shop. The new sign now proclaimed that it was, The Patel Emporium – Purveyors of Fine Food & Wines to World Leaders.
That weekend, Sidney Node's newspaper headlines announced – ‘Patel Emporium Peckham, runs out of cheese and onion crisps,’ and quite frankly, Kevin Patel has never really looked back!
Monday, 15 May 2017
This is probably the most cogent and descriptive photograph taken during Michel Barnier’s epic address to the Dublin parliament. It makes it clear that, however well intentioned he may be, the ghosts from the recent past are ever present in the Irish Republic, and still mean business.
To put himself in this position, was a remarkable piece of EU chutzpah, and by claiming that the EU would stand behind the Republic of Ireland, during these Brexit negotiations, was to hit the very weak spot that Theresa May and David Davis were hoping to sidestep. Putting the Irish position at the forefront of the proposed Brexit pull out, was not an idle threat, but a very real EU spanner in the works for the British Government to contend with.
Ireland, protected by the huge and powerful EU, sent a strong message to a waffling and incoherent British Government in London. With their absurd claims of getting a better deal, and hiding behind the usual smokescreen of establishment figures, political nonentities, and grinning Brexit opportunists, this has, once more, put the whole question of Irish reunification back on the table.
While the Brexiteers were regaling the British public with their wild and flippant rhetoric – claiming all sorts of wonderful changes, most of which will fade away over the next two years or be denied altogether – did any of them actually consider the possibility of a breakup of the United Kingdom, and that it might encourage parts of the UK to take a positive step towards a federated Europe?
Did these entitled politico’s actually believe, that there would never be a downside to their vote inducing antics? And, did it ever occur to them that – prompted by purely economic reasons – that even the most disenfranchised in the North of Ireland might prefer Irish unification, rather than some half baked, unworkable, retrogressive customs and passport control checkpoint, on the border between the two – soon to be – separated parts of Ireland.
One persons democracy, might well be another’s Bedlam. So, it follows that – other than Little England, and Wales – Britains immediate EU neighbour of EIRE, was also none too pleased. With English voters incipient madness, and Scotland and Northern Ireland not wanting out of the EU – by some a significant margin of votes – once more, the Brits completely misread the Irish position.
Nor, in turn, did the EU itself, and for that matter, neither did other EU members – or even potential EU members – begin to understand the UK position. So, despite all the handshakes and photo opportunities, clearly Messers May and Davis, PLC, are in for a hard time. But what is happening from inside the UK itself, and how is the media coping with the withering storm?
I am so lucky to live in Greece, to view world events through a clear pane of glass, and not through the prism of the British press, because right wing views are beginning to distort the Brexit debate altogether. It now appears, that many of the right of centre groups are beginning to view any Brexit decent as a form of national betrayal. It further seems that a particular category of Middle English, middle class extremists, are attempting to motivate dissenters from the middle ground, to get behind the Tories in the forthcoming June 8th Election, by calling them traitors!
Although there is little doubt that Theresa May will enjoy a landslide victory, as I sit this quiet Sunday in the birthplace of democracy, I do wonder how far right is right? As I cling to the arms of my front row seat, watching the boxers weigh up before the fight, I can’t help noticing how right wing politicians in Europe, have recently done rather badly in certain elections, and that the victors remain unashamedly pro Europe and the EU.
Perhaps it is time for these inward looking and self congratulating British right wing extremists, to stop thinking of Ireland as a vegetable patch, or a cheap labour market for navvy’s, and to wonder why it is that half the banks in the City of London are likely to relocate to Dublin, where the Celtic Tigre – with its legendary computer skills – is ready to pounce!
Tuesday, 2 May 2017
It has been the source of great wonderment, that I should ever have met Ahmed Chalabi. Ever since his death in November 2015, little has been said about him, and probably never will. But he was instrumental in convincing both President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction – or WMD’s as they became known – and that he was prepared to use these weapons, despite careful inspection by Hans Blix. Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verifications and Inspection Commission – and previously head of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA – he was a very distinguished and highly respected Swedish diplomat.
It seemed that Blix’s findings were not what Bush or Blair wanted to hear, nor the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Although Blix admonished Saddam Hussein for playing a cat and mouse game, and warned Iraq of serious consequences, if it attempted to hinder or delay his mission, in his report to the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003, Blix clearly stated that –
“So far, UNMOVIC has not found any weapons of mass destruction, only a small number of empty chemical munitions.” In 2004, Blix made a further statement that – “There have been about 700 inspections, and in no case, did we find weapons of mass destruction.”
I will never forget watching Colin Powell at the UN, stating quite clearly, that the CIA was sure that Saddam had hidden his WMD’s in underground secret trailers – drawings provided – and I knew then, that he was lying. But, it ultimately and finally convinced both the Bush administration; together with the UK, to go to war.
In 1992, an umbrella organisation was founded by the US Government, to overthrow Saddam. Called the Iraqi National Congress – or INC – it was a name chosen by an American PR specialist, a name which resonated with groups such as the Indian National Congress and the African National Congress. All it needed was a leader, with the charisma of Gandhi or Mandela, but what it got was Ahmed Chalabi.
At the time he was facing charges of allegedly embezzling money from the Petra Bank in Jordan, a bank which he had helped to establish. Nevertheless, he came from Iraq’s majority Shia population, and was very westernised. Destined – at one time – to be the new Iraq’s first President, he was capable of saying almost anything, to oust Saddam from power, a man he truly hated.
Chalabi had lived on and off in the UK for some time, finally leaving Iraq with his family in 1958, following the 14 July Revolution. Spending his formative years abroad, he was educated firstly at Baghdad College, and finally Seaford College in Sussex – in the south of England – before leaving for America. But where do I come in?
It was 1991, and living at the time in St Johns Avenue, Putney – South West London – one of my occasional haunts was a pub called The Green Man. A convivial place, it was and still is one of those London pubs where you can chat with almost anyone. One evening I noticed a foreign looking man, sitting by the bar, who stood out from the rest. Partly because he was wearing a peaked cap – reminiscent of Lenin – and wire framed spectacles, he looked like an early 20th Century revolutionary.
The man said he was staying with his father at Ross Court, on Putney Hill. We introduced ourselves, told me to call him Ali, and so the usual questions followed about what we did and where we worked.
He quite openly stated that up until recently, he had been working as a banker in Jordan, and in turn I told him about a project I had in mind in Bulgaria. I had heard recently that some builders from Kent had been very successful in Moscow, renting run down flats and houses, renovating them to a high standard, and then re-letting them for premium rents, to western companies and their managers.
Not knowing Bulgaria as I do now, but with many western companies moving into Eastern Europe, I had no reason to suspect that Sofia would be any different. Consequently, I had organized a cash flow spreadsheet, which made my proposals look very inviting. As a banker, Chalabi understand these figures very well, and he told me that he could help with finance, should there be a need.
He clearly knew Eastern Europe, and spoke as though he had been to Bulgaria in the past, and so I enlisted the help of an English friend, who was a civil engineer who worked at the time, for a Kuwaiti company in London. He also spoke a little Arabic – because in the past, he had served in the British Army – and so it seemed that there was a possible company in the offing.
Days passed before our arranged meeting, but meanwhile one day Chalabi introduced me to his father Abdul Hadi Chalabi. A very distinguished looking man, sporting a well trimmed and virtually white beard, he seemed to have all the airs of a country gentleman. Dressed in a Prince of Wales gray suit and waistcoat, I never met him again, but later in Sofia, I did come across his photograph.
It was presented to me by an alleged Iraqi dissident in Sofia, called Ahmed Taleb, who said it was a picture of his father. I knew that wasn’t true, and surely it didn’t come from the Iraqi Embassy? After all, if it had, it implied he was still one of Saddams boys; so I let it go!
I had known the Civil Engineer for some time, due to a land deal we had put together -opposite the Houses of Parliament – on behalf of his Kuwaiti employers. A few days later we turned up to meet Chalabi, to discuss some of the finer details of this project. Especially so concerning financial structuring, because most Bulgarian banks at the time were practically bankrupt, and finance was an important item.
We had only been there a few minutes, when Ahmed Chalabi suddenly got up, without a word, leaving his drink untouched, and was never seen by us again. What had spooked him, can be any bodies guess, maybe it was my friends bearing, maybe it was my amazing personality, but as far as he was concerned, it was a sudden and dramatic end.
I went on to live and work in Bulgaria, but my scheme never came to fruition. Bulgarians found my re-letting programme to be almost an infamy. It seemed to them, at the time, for a foreigner to be allowed to make a profit, or succeed at anything at all in Bulgaria, was against all natural justice.
Many of my contemporaries also found this to be the case, often learning the hard way. As did the Kent Builders in Moscow. One day they had a visit from some black suits, did a deal which they couldn’t refuse, and swiftly returned to the pleasant surrounds of Kent.
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
The Brussels view is typically laid back, remembering that much of the EU is devouted to the collection and redistribution of money and resources. There are no visible panic attacks in progress, and one can hear an almost monotonous, monosyllabic drone, coming from EU technocrats as they reveal the present and future present facts. One such person is Siegfried Mugason, who was interviewed recently by Dan Alexe, on behalf of New Europe. Dan says –
After the European Parliament’s adopted its priorities for the next year’s EU Budget, or “The Report on the General Guidelines for the preparation of the 2018 EU Budget,” New Europe has asked the Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan – chief negotiator of the EU Parliament for the 2018 budget of approximately 160 billion euros, as well as spokesman for the EPP and vice president of the Committee for budgetary affairs in the Parliament, if Brexit – Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, is having any impact on the EU’s budget as a whole? Also. asked if HRM Queen Elizabeth’s – Britain’s reigning monarch – farms would continue to receive EU subsidies? Our gallant Romanian MEP replied-
“Yes, during the whole period of the Brexit negotiations, the UK remains an EU member with total rights, paying its contributions and benefitting from EU structural and cohesion funds. Although the UK is a performing economy, there are British regions that are less developed than others, so they qualify for EU funds, including in agriculture. It is interesting and revealing that such regions, that plainly benefit from EU funds, have voted in favour of Brexit, and leaving the EU. This shows us that the benefits of belonging to the EU were not convincingly communicated by the political forces. Populists won, by trafficking the truth, and by using the wrong figures in their pamphlets. That explains why people from poorer UK zones voted in favour of leaving the EU, against their own interests.”
Asked what lessons should be drawn from Brexit, his reply was very clear- “That populists have to be confronted. We have to be able to explain to the population the benefits of staying in Europe, but this has to be done there, not by speaking out from the Brussels bubble. If your name is David Cameron and you have built your whole career in the last ten years in Europe bashing, you cannot be credible if, for the last six weeks of your campaign, you switch your discourse, and start saying that in the end, staying in the EU is not such a bad idea after all. The EU needs politicians with a clear message, that can confront the populists.”
Well, you could not be much clearer than that, and that is the general consensus of most EU countries, but each has its little addition to such cold techno -thinking. Some said au revoir and good riddance, while others were more supportive. In France, following the historic Brexit vote, and according to ‘The Local,’ a French English language news magazine-
“France has shown a divided response to the news, that the UK has voted to leave the EU, although a vocal majority – online at least – appear to have been pleased. A survey of newspaper Le Figaro’s readers found recently, that most respondents in France were satisfied with the result of the vote. And this majority was the most vocal on Twitter, as many French people vented their anger – as well as predictable digs at “Les Anglais, over the Brexit vote.”
The hashtag #BonDebarras – Good Riddance – spoke for itself, and one user sniped – ‘Les Anglais are beginning to realise that most Europeans are delighted that they are splitting.”
Other snarky tweets recalled that Britain had always had an arm’s-length relationship with the European Union, having opted out of the euro, the visa-free Schengen zone and the Common Agricultural Policy. “Have they ever really been a part of the EU?” one asked. Another said – “They were a pain in the ass when they wanted in, now they’re a pain in the ass going out: The English are the cats of Europe!”
But, let’s now see how the UK fared in Germany?Jan Henrik Schimkus, writing for ‘The Smarter German Magazine,’ had this to say- “When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least; some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.
As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere, it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals; as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.
But taking the British people and the British media into account, that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany. Germany is one of the very few countries which would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.”
And finally from Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe Magazine. He asks the big question– “What can the UK offer, to secure Italian continued goodwill?
One interesting answer he received was that Italy sees the Brexit negotiations as an opportunity to relaunch the broader discussion about the future direction of EU integration – along the lines of the two-circle Europe model – laid out by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni with his then UK counterpart Philip Hammond. This was concerning the preservation, and the cohesion of the EU-27 as an absolute priority for Rome. He says –
“From Italy’s standpoint, it would be helpful if the UK made it clear from the very beginning of their negotiations that, although it is leaving, it wants the EU-27 to be united and successful in the years and decades to come. A fragmented EU-27, I was told in Rome, would ultimately be more likely to give the UK a bad deal. In other words, playing ‘divide and rule’ in their negotiations, would not be in the UK’s best interest.”
“The related risk of Brexit for the Western Balkans, is the ascendance of geopolitics. European integration as a political project is based on the idea of inter-connectivity, and the conception of power as cooperation. Europeanisation of the Western Balkans, entails forging political, economic and cultural connections with the EU, as well as between Balkan states. But the geopolitical outlook is its antithesis; all about going it alone, and the conception of power as a threat.”
“The Balkans has been a geopolitical battleground throughout history, and its position as a non-EU enclave within the EU makes it particularly conducive to the logic of competition and protection. Russia and Turkey have each stamped their mark on the region, while the EU tries to exercise its magic power of attraction and transformation. But unlike the EU’s vision, which is future orientated, Russia and Turkey have drawn on certain historic links, reinforced by religious affinities. Russia appeals to the idea of Slavic brotherhood – a notion that resonates with large sections of the Christian population in the Orthodox world, and Turkey is seen as a natural guardian of fellow Muslims.”
So clearly, there is a lot more going on, than a couple of friends might think, discussing Brexit down the pub in terms of foreigners taking jobs away from UK workers, and stories of foreigners damaging our English society. Muslims planting bombs everywhere, is simply extremist rubbish, and blatant lies are nearly always propagated, by well known Brexiteer zealots, on the unwary and the ignorant.
Finally, apart from French angst, it seems that most of EU member countries are level headed and practical, but nevertheless the general view is that by leaving, Great Britain might somehow cause a populist uprising, clearly based on further lies and alternative facts! There is talk of possible war in the Balkans, the breakdown of trust amongst the EU membership, and a return to European chaos, or even a new Cold War, although in my view, this is most unlikely to happen.
Friday, 31 March 2017
‘Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies?’ In this article, Patrick Brigham attempt’s to unravel the Iraq Historic Allegations Team or IHAT mystery, of legacy investigation, but in juxtaposition to Northern Ireland, Stormont and ‘The Good Friday Agreement.’
It seems that British military personnel, during the course of their duty, are often damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, and since many retired service men and women live here in the Balkans, I will attempt to keep them up to date. But firstly, what is IHAT?
The general view by military personnel at least, is that IHAT has very little to do with the realities of war. For them, it is another branch of the UK’s over stretched and self serving civil service, which believes that soldiers of all ranks, should act more like social workers than well trained combat troops. Many unpleasant things happen in wartime, and although a soldier should be accountable for his actions, it is never totally possible, in the heat of battle. The unfairness of IHAT, has been likened to that of The Spanish Inquisition, and with powers which touch on persecution, and intimidation, it has caused great hardship to battle weary veterans and their family’s.
Blatantly open to abuse, many lawyers have taken advantage of the loose requirements regarding evidence, that IHAT needed before instigating a case against a soldier or ex-soldier; the worst culprit being a Solicitor called Philip Shiner. With 250 cases to his credit, Shiner was recently charged, before a tribunal of the Solicitors Regulations Authority.
Shiner has subsequently admitted to eight allegations, and of acting without integrity, including that he made “unsolicited direct approaches to potential clients’, and one other allegation of acting recklessly.. Andrew Tabachnik, prosecuting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said that Shiner’s defence to the dishonesty charges, was effectively to say that – “I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time, and I didn’t know right from wrong, or what I was doing.”
The tribunal found him guilty of multiple professional misconduct charges, including dishonesty and lack of integrity, and.twenty two misconduct charges, were proved to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. Two other charges were left to lie on the file, and by February 2017, the tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority had him struck off as a solicitor, and also ordered him to pay for the full costs of the prosecution, starting with an interim down payment of £250,000.
By the time he was struck off in February 2017, IHAT had fewer than 250 active investigations, and so a week later, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that IHAT would soon be shut down, largely due to the exposing of Shiner’s dishonesty.
When welcoming the decision to strike him off, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip, stated – “His misconduct has caused real distress to soldiers, their families and to the families of Iraqi people who thought that their loved ones had been murdered or tortured. More than £30m of public funds were spent on investigating what proved to be false and dishonest allegations.”
In remarks made by the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, chairman of the defence sub-committee meeting in the UK Parliament, he made it clear that IHAT had never really worked nor would it do so.
Here follows his summary of that meeting –
Dr Julian Lewis MP
“The UK’s military must be equally subject to the law as any civilian, whether in barracks or on operations. The UK military rightly demands that those who fall short of these standards should pay the full penalty for doing so. However, just as in civilian life, investigations into wrongdoing must be fair and be seen to be fair.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up in 2010 to investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians against UK armed forces personnel, that were said to have occurred between 2003 and 2009. It was expected to take two years to complete its work. Exploited by two law firms in particular, caseloads rose from 165 to over 3,000 over subsequent years. It is now expected to complete its work in 2019 and will have cost the taxpayer nearly £60 million.
A large number of those claims were taken up by IHAT despite a lack of credible evidence and the investigations have taken years to complete. As a result, those under investigation have suffered unacceptable stress, have had their lives put on hold and their careers damaged. They have been, and in some cases continue to be, treated in an unacceptable manner as a result of serving the United Kingdom.
The catalogue of serious failings in the conduct of IHAT’s investigations points to a loss of control in its management. Service personnel and veterans have been contacted unannounced – sometimes years after service – despite assurances that this would not happen. Covert surveillance appears to have been used on serving and retired members of the armed forces. IHAT investigators have impersonated police officers in order to gain access to military establishments or threaten arrest. Investigations, which had previously been closed down were re-opened on the back of dubious evidence.
Perhaps the most telling failure of IHAT is the absence of a single prosecution against the UK military. It has been an unmitigated failure for both ‘victims’ and military personnel alike. Of the total number of cases investigated by IHAT – more than 3,500 – most have or will shortly be, dismissed. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that he hoped that the number would be reduced to 60 by summer 2017. Once the number of cases outstanding reaches that target, it is our view that IHAT must be closed down, with the remaining cases passed to the service police, with support from civilian police.
Throughout this process, there has been an almost total disregard of the welfare of current and former service personnel and their families. Soldiers have had to fund their own defence and have been left in the dark by a chain of command which has appeared to be unable or unwilling to interfere with the process.
IHAT has operated without any regard to its impact on the UK military, which has directly harmed their reputation across the world, and negatively affected the way this country conducts military operations and defends itself.
The MoD must take its share of responsibility for this. Both the MoD and IHAT have focused too much on satisfying the accusers and too little on defending those under investigation. Ministers must take the lead in ensuring that this is rectified.
The MoD is now reforming its package of support for servicemen and women. In October 2016, it announced that it would now cover the legal costs for all of those under investigation by IHAT. It has also started work on how the UK can derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights so that claims through the European Court of Human Rights cannot be made for future conflicts.
The manner in which the armed forces are investigated requires fundamental reform. The focus has been on satisfying perceived international obligations and outside bodies, with far too little regard for those who have fought under the UK’s flag. Our report contains a set of principles to which the MoD and any future investigatory body should adhere. The armed forces deserve to be held in the highest esteem and a repeat of IHAT must never be allowed to happen again.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was an organisation set up to review and investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces personnel in Iraq during the period of 2003 to July 2009.
The alleged offences ranged from murder to low-level violence and the time period covers the start of the military campaign in Iraq, in March 2003, through the major combat operations of April 2003 and the following years spent maintaining security as part of the Multinational Force and mentoring and training Iraqi security forces.
Because the MOD and Service Police do not have sufficiently experienced professional investigators, the unit is led by retired senior civilian police detective, Mark Warwick, and comprises some 145 employees, including Royal Navy Police personnel, civilian investigators and civil servants. The MOD funds the IHAT, consistent with its obligations to ensure that allegations are investigated in compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).”
The Stormont Parliament Northern Ireland
Well, IHAT seems by now to be dead in the water, and so I now go on to Northern Ireland, where military personnel – although sent there on peacekeeping duty - ultimately became front line troops, in their own country. In the presence of three eminent Law professors from London, Lancaster, and Belfast Universities, a case was also put by various members of the committee, whereby legacy investigation, should include UK military activities worldwide, and it was agreed that there should be one law for all.
That and any investigation should be carried out by Service Police, and by using the same resources as the civilian authorities, they should do so with direct assistance from the civilian Police Force. They also recommended a ‘Statute of Limitations,’ or amnesty period, which would affect both the military and the civilian sides. As a point of fairness, there should also be a strong emphasis on ‘A Truth Commission,’ whereby a party once forgiven or absolved, should be encouraged to ‘spill the beans.’
At this point, a twenty year period cut off point was recommended, and it was further said that a Bill could shortly be presented to Parliament, although – as far as Northern Ireland was concerned – it would still be subject to ratification by the Stormont Parliament, and under The Good Friday Agreement. This is also subject to Stormont having an elected government, which it presently does not, suggesting direct rule from London, and all that this implies.
Monday, 27 February 2017
What happened in reality, was that although many Americans appeared on the scene after the changes, they were all paid for by Uncle Sam. Very little cash emerged into the respective Balkan economies, and while a great deal of hot air was expelled, a considerable amount of US publicity was accrued into the bargain, and little else.
Many of these imported US democracy brokers were constantly being accused by the locals of being ‘spooks,’ which was laughable in most cases. The expression, intelligence officer, is often regarded as a contradiction in terms, and most of the so called consultants, according to me at least, were hardly in the Mensa stream of political consciousness. But one thing became very clear, that America’s largesse was exclusively devoted to the many US citizens living in the Balkans, and no one else.
In the end, after all the initial excitement, it was the EU, which came to the rescue, with Great Britain as the inevitable back marker. The indifference of the British Embassy at the time, was legion, and very little happened. One bright spark even renamed the British Know How Fund, as the Not Know Fund, and it was occasionally referred to, as The Got No Money Fund. But, enough of that, because things have changed dramatically over the past twenty years, and the British are now held in considerable esteem within the Balkan communities.
The US mainly likes to talk about NATO, and even though EU member countries are seen to subscribe to it, the Americans have the greater presence. They also have the greatest say, and within the past few years have even been called the aggressor, as NATO assets have been lined up close to Russia in Eastern Europe. Seen as a ‘chicken and egg,’ scenario, it matters little who made the first move, when ratcheting up the stakes in this unnecessary game of poker. Because in the end, even with detente, there can only be losers.
Trumps position is still unclear, although he has announced that he wants to be friends once more with Russia, and in particular with Mr. Putin. But the question remains of how much of this is true, or even possible, under present US internal political conditions. Nevertheless, there has been a sea change in the Balkans.
Balkan nations are now turning back to their old compatriot Russia, in many ways, because despite 25 years separation, there still remains a sneaking regard for Russia and particularly its hard man Putin. Not simply due to the complexities of history, nor the enormous wealth of Russias natural resources, it is also because of the character of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, and their capacity to change sides.
Europe does not need any further conflict, and despite the present EU economic disturbances, it is the only real hope for most of the member countries future development. With trade comes peace and prosperity, one hopes, but there is some real fear in the offing. Starting with Trumps contempt for the EU itself – don’t underestimate the Nigel Farage connection – and his protectionist views on American trade, it is clear he regards the EU as rubbish. How he views the political stability it brings with its fatherly embrace, is another matter, or couldn't he care less?
It would be a very myopic politician who ignores the possibilities of a negative outcome for the EU, and with an American President who intends to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he may also be intending to build a wall around the United Sates as well! In the words of Rhett Butler, from Margaret Mitchell's epic tale of the American Civil War, called Gone With the Wind –Trump might easily say - ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ Which makes him a very dangerous man.
Friday, 24 February 2017
The Editor: Living in the Balkans is a bit like falling down an unexpected hole, where- as in Alice in Wonderland – on arrival, nothing is what it seems. The official government edicts from the capital, in whichever country you are living, are often not the same as other parts of the same country. Whether this is a matter of rugged individualism, of incipient Bolshevism, is a matter for further discussion. That is why the official British Government disclaimer, has its virtues in reality, and must be taken seriously. The following is all official British Embassy advice, with my cryptic comments in italics, in-between.
British Embassy Disclaimer: Please note that this information is provided as a general guide only, and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual, neither can it be regarded as legal advice. definitive information should be obtained from the Bulgarian/Greek authorities or by consulting a suitably qualified professional. The British Embassy bares no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided on the external websites, quoted and cannot guarantee that it is comprehensive and up to date.
Permanent import of vehicles – Change of residence certificate: European Union nationals, resident in another European Union state for at least two years, who decide to transfer their place of residence to Greece, are exempt from VAT, and Registration currently levied in Greece on:
Cars (owned and used privately)
Within one month from the date of importation, owners of such vehicles must appear in person at the nearest Customs Authority, to request exemption from payment of registration and VAT. The owner will then be granted special Greek registration plates. Vehicles entering Greece are also required to undergo a test at a Vehicle Technical Control Centre (KTEO). A vehicle imported under the above regulation may not be transferred, leased, pawned or lent, nor its use assigned in any other manner without prior approval of the customs authorities. In the event of transfer, lease, pawning, lending or assignment of the use of such a vehicle before the lapse of one year, the total amount of tax due shall be collected.
A full list of requirements and more detailed information is available through-
Greek Ministry of Finance:
Director of Customs
Ministry of Finance,
40 Amalias St
Athens 105 62
Tel 210 324 5552 / 210 324 5587
The Editor: Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on! The only way that provincial Greek Customs is going to wear this, is if; whilst you are driving from another EU country in your nice nearly new car, you bring a new Greek wife or husband with you! Also, the only way that you will get any kind of response from the Greek Ministry of Finance, is if you have a friend working there. Sending a registered letter is a waste of time; or especially phoning, because each time a new assortment of officials is assembled at the ministry, all the paperwork mysteriously disappears. Buy a Greek car, pleasure craft, motorcycle or mobile home, and it’s a doddle – well, most of the time – but beware hidden costs, guarantees, and the availability of spare parts. Most Greek mechanics are well trained and dependable, and many speak English and German.
Customs formalities: From 1 January 1993 EU nationals visiting Greece may freely import and re-export personal effects and are not subject to any customs controls or other formalities at points of direct entry from another EU Member State. However, for vehicles, please see the above paragraph. The Greek Embassy in London provides information on moving residence to Greece.
Property purchase: It is important that you retain the services of a competent lawyer to assist you in any purchase and we recommend that a lawyer works independently of the other parties involved in the transaction. There is no Legal Section at the British Embassy and Consular staff are not legally trained; therefore we are not able to advise you on legal matters, interfere in private disputes over property, or other issues. However, we can provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers. Please note the disclaimer. You may also want to approach a notary public or a Greek broker for authoritative advice in this matter.
Registering with the Bulgarian authorities: British citizens can enter Bulgaria without a visa and stay for a period up to 3 months. If you intend to stay for longer than 3 months, you will need to apply for a long-term residence permit from the Migration Directorate of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior.
The Editor: This can be a nightmare, and is best shared with a friendly and patient lawyer. Despite claims by the Bulgarian Authorities that they have competent linguists on board, take it with a pinch of salt! These people are masters of procrastination, and pedantic to the point, that you might believe that they really don’t want you in their country at all. A leftover from previous times, this is where the unwary will experience at first hand, how life was under Communism. The mildest glitch in your paperwork will cause you to visit on another occasion – increasing your costs and frustration- and any infringement of a time requirement, will attract a fine. Beware these smiling acolytes, who often disappear for hours at a time – allegedly on immigration work – in order to have a leisurely lunch nearby. Marie Louisa is a Sofia hellhole!
British nationals who have resided legally in Bulgaria for a period of five years on the basis of a consecutive long-term residence permit are entitled to a permanent residence permit. Step-by-step guidance in English on obtaining long-term and permanent residence permits is available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior’s Migration Directorate’s website. For further information and feedback, please contact your local migration office or call +359 (2) 982 4808, email: email@example.com.
The European Commission guide to free movement is a useful source of general information and guidance to your rights as an EU citizen. Your Europe Advice provides custom-made legal advice on your rights within the EU free of charge, within 8 calendar days and in any official EU language.
The secret of a successful long-term move to Bulgaria is to integrate with your local community as much as possible by learning the language and by learning as much as possible about the local laws, regulations and customs.
Social security rights: For information about social security rights and pensions, please read the UK leaflet designed to offer you a basic introduction to your pension, benefit and healthcare rights and responsibilities. Don’t listen to rumours. Instead, use our list of official sources to start planning ahead today.
The Editor: You may be employed quite happily in Bulgaria, and enjoy the work experience, but there is still a reluctance for you to receive any form of state benefit, pension, or even free health care if you are a foreigner. It is regarded by many as a form of robbery – from the Bulgarian state that is – because as a foreigner, you are expected to arrive in Bulgaria, with vast financial resources. Many expats do not bother to collect the small Bulgarian pension – no matter how long they have worked in Bulgaria or at least over the 15 year limit – but it is well worth the aggravation, if nothing else, than to prove that EU legislation has some bearing in fact.
Healthcare: You can find out more about how to plan for your health care if you are going to live abroad on a permanent basis on the NHS website. If you are planning to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis, you must register with the National Health Insurance Fund and then choose a GP and a dentist. This will entitle you to the basic public health care package available for Bulgarian nationals. There are a number of private health insurance funds which offer various healthcare plans based on an annual fee. These plans can top up the services available under the basic public health care package depending on your individual circumstances and needs.
The Editor: There is no guarantee that private clinics are any better than the Bulgarian state health service, other than having certain language abilities. In any case, these private clinics do not always have specialist consultants, and often manned by GPs, there is a tendency to ship any serious case off to the local hospital. At this point, patients are usually advised to have necessary or occasionally even unnecessary procedures, and it is a moot point whether this is not the time, to go back to one’s own country, to receive treatment, if you are permanently resident in Bulgaria.
Before you go to Bulgaria on holiday make sure you bring a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, and take out private travel insurance. UK state pensions: If you have retired and you live in Bulgaria/Greece, you may be able to claim your pension from the UK. For detailed information on how to claim your state pension, please check the Pension Service or the Department for Social Development.
The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you. To find out when you reach State Pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.
If you live but have not worked in Bulgaria, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) in the UK by telephone: +44 (0) 191 218 7777.
If you spend time in both the UK and another EEA country or Switzerland, and are unsure about how this affects your UK pension, benefit and healthcare rights, always consult the relevant UK authority.
Moving to Bulgaria/Greece once in receipt of a state pension: If you are moving to Bulgaria/greece from the UK, you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments. It will also help you to get the right access to healthcare in Bulgaria/Greece.
Life certificates for UK state pensions: If you have received a life certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible, otherwise your benefit man be stopped. You’ll need to get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form.
Check the list of people who can witness a life certificate – this is now the same as the list of people who can countersign a passport photograph, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport. The british Embassy in Bulgaria/Greece, no longer provides life certificates for british nations, claiming british pensions abroad.
“Spending time out of the UK, whether for a holiday or to live, doesn’t necessarily mean that your benefits will be affected. But failing to notify your local benefit office of time spent abroad is considered an offence and could lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.”
You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or are already living abroad, and what you’re entitled to depends on where you are going and how long for.
For further information on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Spain see the information on benefits if you are abroad. Information about local Bulgarian benefits and pensions is available from the National Social Security Institute.
The Editor: Generally, claiming one’s pension is a fairly painless process, and many pensioners live quite contended lives in Bulgaria, where their UK pensions seem to go a long way. However, there is the little matter of which bank you choose to collect pensions, and my advice is to stick to foreign owned banks, which have a good relationship with ATM machines nationwide.
It has not been my intention to gainsay the British Embassy, in any country within the EU, but it is often the case that their websites are either hard to navigate – especially for some oldies – who have difficulty in gathering the correct information. Having been away from England myself, for some years now, there has been little first hand information which might effect me, and so I have tended to ignore the possibility, but there will always be a little surprise somewhere, especially with driving licences and passport renewals.
Most of the official websites make it sound all too easy to live abroad, which is not always true, especially with Brexit on the horizon, and many problems will mount up, causing retirees and expats to wonder about their future.