This British election based on deceit

May’s failure to address the cost of Brexit mirrored her failure to engage in a serious debate about terrorism.


2017/06/11 Issue: 110 Page: 18


The Arab Weekly
Francis Ghilès



British Prime Minister Theresa May implied recently that British cooperation with her European peers on security would be conditional on good exit terms from the European Union and she accused continental leaders in all but name of subverting the British snap election. Such threats hardly look serious after the appalling terrorist attacks the United Kingdom suffered during the election campaign.

The prime minister has been stung by criticism of police cuts made on her watch as home secretary from 2010-16 and hit back by portraying Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as soft on terrorism because of his past associations with Hamas and Sinn Féin, the Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

May’s failure to address the cost of Brexit mirrored her failure to engage in a serious debate about terrorism. The United Kingdom is threatened as never before by a small group of its own citizens who no longer hesitate to kill and by the chaos that has engulfed the Middle East and North Africa.

British electors deserve better than the deceitful debate on terrorism they are being offered by the Conservative and Labour parties. US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, demeans his office by tweeting insults about London Mayor Sadiq Khan, forcing May to defend a leading Labour politician.

The refusal by the two leading party leaders to engage in a serious conversation with the electorate extended to Brexit. As a former, lukewarm “Remainer,” May lacks the credibility to make compromises but her attempts at playing rough with European leaders will fail for three reasons.

The first is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron see eye to eye on the matter and are determined to strengthen the European Union. Neither politician will respond to the blustering of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson nor to the insults hurled at the European Union every day by the right-wing Tory media.

May simply refused to discuss how Britain will face up to the need to renegotiate 759 treaties after Brexit. The country does not have the number of front-line negotiators to cope, said UK Trade Policy Observatory, an independ­ent think-tank.

Corbyn’s views on the European Union are ambiguous but he has called for the rights of EU nation­als in Britain to be guaranteed, unilaterally and immediately, something the Conservative Party has refused to do.

The huge younger vote in favour of Labour shows that those under 30 feel last year’s Brexit amounts to a coup d’état of the older generation against their hopes of a future in Europe.

Voters may be tempted to avoid the hard choices that terrorism and Brexit confront them with. It is time politicians had the courage to open a real debate on both issues.

The claim of counterterrorism on public resources is growing. It engages many branches of the state and poses difficult ques­tions of what balance to strike between freedom and order.

May could argue that a harder line needs to be taken against non-violent extremism though there was no hint of such thoughts during the six years she was home secretary. Corbyn has refused to vote for all measures against terrorism. He has cast himself in the mould of a 1960s pacifist. That said, his arguments against austerity, now in its seventh year, paid off hand­somely.

Four decades of analysis on terrorism and radicalisation were published in a special issue of the journal American Psychologist. Its conclusions are sobering. Academics are no closer to comprehending why some individuals are spurred to turn radical through murderous deeds. Many questions regarding how to predict and prevent such acts remain unanswered.

Any debate about principles and trade-offs must take into account these findings. Protect­ing the security of its citizens is the prime role of any country, counterterror being an essential cog in that wheel. Yet it is usually wrapped in a thick veil of secrecy.

Corbyn has sought to frame the debate about terrorism in the broader context of Britain’s Middle East policy, which is fine. How many electors appreciate that Britain has helped light fires in Iraq and Libya, which have huge blow-back effects? How many appreciate that British policy in the Middle East — nota­bly its economic closeness to Saudi Arabia and Qatar — poses huge problems of security as private sources in both countries spend billions of dollars support­ing a bigoted form of Islam, Wahhabism or the Muslim Brotherhood. Britain sups with the devil and complains of the consequences.

May was bruised by a campaign in which her party minders focused on a simple message: Trust the boss. As luck had it, a majority of voters did not. So far, the economic effects of the phony war that followed the vote to leave the European Union have been benign but electors were kept in the dark about how they will be affected when Britain leaves the richest single market in the world and reapplies for access on much less favourable terms.

This deceitful campaign destroyed Theresa May, produced a hung parliament and put off the start of negotiations on Brexit. It has weakened Britain internation­ally and exposed a country that has few cards to play with Europe.


Francis Ghilès is an associate fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.


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