Should I Stay Or Should I Go – Brexit and the EU Referendum
David Cameron has announced the date for a referendum on EU membership on 23rd June 2016. Following negotiations for changes to Britain’s privileges within the EU, a deal struck with EU leaders by the PM has been described as “irreversible” by Downing Street but criticized for not being “legally binding” by Michael Gove and others – amid some complicated legal arguments, the consensus among experts seems to be that a legal challenge to the agreements is theoretically possible, but unlikely given their compatibility with existing treaties within the EU and the necessity of consensus among member states (including the UK) in order for challenges to be posed.
The much-debated deal secured by Cameron includes: a “red card” provision, whereby if over 55% of parliaments agree, their states could join to veto an EU commission proposal; an “emergency brake” on in-work benefits for new EU migrants for up to four years that could be invoked in times of “excessive strain” on the state welfare; an assurance that none-Eurozone EU-members will be consulted on issues affecting the EU as a whole financially. While some of these are victories, they are small ones, much watered-down versions of the agreements the prime minister had hoped to secure.
The deal has been seized by Brexit campaigners as evidence of the UK’s powerlessness in the face of EU power, while Cameron has refused to accept that it is anything less than what he set out to secure. In truth, the deal is unlikely to convince anyone that remaining in the EU is a good idea – the prime minister should probably be concentrating on the convincing arguments for remaining in the European Union that are not quite so defensive.
Real Doctors Not Spin Doctors – Walk-Outs Announced
The British Medical Association has announced the scheduling of 3 48-hour walk-outs in protest against Jeremy Hunt’s undemocratic enforcement of a proposed contract that, they argue, would see patients lives put at risk. In the wake of thousands of junior doctors’ protests being ignored by the Health Secretary’s imposition of the new contract that would redefine “normal working hours” and stretch staff-levels, the BMA is now also launching a judicial review into why no Equality Impact Assessment was undertaken by the government prior to this action.
Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Hunt of misrepresenting data, challenging him to provide a source for the much-touted figure of 6000 unnecessary deaths supposedly occurring as a result of an inadequate weekend service. While David Cameron responding during Prime Minister’s Question Time with the defence that the actual figure of weekend deaths was in fact 11000 rather than 6000, both figures are irrelevant to the debate – neither represent avoidable weekend deaths. The study cited had not been published or peer-reviewed when the claims were first made last summer, and one of its authors objected then to the health secretary’s use of it; this week, a doctor involved in the study has claimed the Department of Health has actually misrepresented its findings. These “excess weekend deaths” cited by the government could be due to a number of factors, and without research these cannot be accurately determined, but Hunt has nevertheless continued to mislead the public regarding their significance. With even NHS employers in favour of the contract now opposing its imposition, this latest resurgence of objection to the figures cited are likely to further draw sympathy for the junior doctors the health secretary seems so determined not to listen to. One wonders how the health secretary hopes to strengthen a workforce he is entirely at loggerheads with.
Anti-Semitism and BDS - Banning the Right to Boycott
Conservative Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock is set to announce a UK-wide ban on boycotting by publicly-funded bodies – local councils, NHS trusts and universities – on his next trip to Israel. Deployed in retaliation to the growing Boycott/ Divest/Sanction (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the ban aims specifically to combat the perceived encouragement of anti-semitism and divisive anti-Israel campaigns. The boundary between anti-semitic prejudice and a pro-Palestinian political perspective is non-existent in Conservative rhetoric justifying the ban, while Corbyn and others have denounced it as undemocratic.
Flying in the face of the advice of the Foreign Office to steer clear of products produced in West Bank Israeli settlements, and contradicting the government’s own drive for devolution and localism, this ban poses a direct threat to democracy by dictating how locally elected officials may ethically manage public funds. We do not have to agree with the BDS movement to recognise the danger of foreclosing debate on how taxpayers’ money may be ethically invested and managed. With Canada and half of the USA poised to follow suit, this silencing of dissent is ominous not only for the Palestinian cause, but for the national and international control of local government issues.
Justice for Sarah Reed
The death in Holloway prison of the mentally ill Sarah Reed last month has spurred an online campaign and protests against the institutional failures and discriminatory behaviour against black women in particular, discernible in public mental health services as well as in the criminal justice system. Having previously been the victim of police brutality, Reed’s sudden and unexplained removal to prison where she was denied treatment was sadly in keeping with statistics cited in the Guardian, which state that “people from the UK’s African-Caribbean communities are 50% more likely to be subject to detention under the Mental Health Act via police referrals than their white counterparts.”
The abuse Reed appears to have suffered there – the withholding of mental health treatment – may be linked to her experience of police brutality, with her family suspecting that this confrontation may have prompted her being remanded in retribution. While this is not known, it is certain that a catalogue of institutional failures led to a woman in need of care being denied it, and ultimately her death. Reports that women inside the prison who have protested Sarah’s case are being “victimised, bullied and harassed by prison authorities” (BlakSox) prompted last night’s “Protect the Prisoners” vigil outside Holloway prison, where Reed’s mother gave a speech. Until the truth is known, the protests and vigils are likely to continue.
- In Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has bought the land it’s been leasing for 8 years as a “seabird city” wildlife sanctuary for…puffins! The breeding ground should help rescue the dwindling population.
- The new Crossrail line in London is to be named The Elizabeth Line in honour of the Queen. This alone may not be a particularly uplifting story unless you really love the monarchy… but it has prompted a hilarious social media response that may just make your day. In addition to some pretty cutting remarks about the Royals’ relationship with public transport, a New York businesswoman has also responded with confusion as to why her name is now trending on twitter.
3. On this day in 1582, the calendar happened. Look it up.
Written by Amardeep Singh Dhillon