I have generally tried to avoid excessive emphasis on terrorism issues, as only indirectly linked to the Brexit decision. But the events yesterday in Rouen are too appalling to ignore. Decent people of all religions and of none (and I include, I trust, most Muslims) will be horrified at the story of an elderly Catholic Priest who was butchered at the altar of his church.
It would be simplistic to blame immigration – and at least one of the assailants was a local man. But at the same time a number of recent attacks have involved immigrants, and the public are right to see uncontrolled or large-scale immigration from the Middle East as a risk factor. That said, the genie is out of the bottle. Even if we could halt all immigration (and no one is calling for that), the existing problem would remain.
Britain next? Several papers report an ISIS threat to London, as British churches are “put on alert”. While France and Germany have borne the brunt of the ISIS offensive, the UK will certainly be targeted. We must remain alert, but it is impossible to provide protection for all of Britain’s 50,000 churches.
How do we respond? There are no easy answers. In the UK, controlling our borders will help, and perhaps prevent the problem growing, but will not eliminate it. The BBC Today programme this morning carried a report that there are 2000 “persons of interest to the security services” in the UK, and more being added daily. Clearly it is impossible to put such numbers under surveillance. One of the Rouen attackers was actually on probation and wearing a security tag, yet still planned and committed the offence. In wartime it was possible to intern enemy aliens, but today that would be counter-productive and contrary to a range of laws.
It seems that we have to continue with what we are already seeking to do – a wide range of small measures which taken together should help. Controlling our borders, certainly. Restricting extremist material on the web. Working with Muslim communities to prevent radicalisation, and to eliminate it from mosques and Muslim schools. The work of the security services in monitoring individuals going to Syria to support ISIS. I see that the NSPCC is today announcing a help-line for parents and others concerned about radicalisation of children. This is a small but worthwhile initiative.
Cartoons of the prophet: Every so often we get a little local scandal where someone posts a comment or a cartoon which is seen as “anti-Islamic”. Occasionally this has involved members of UKIP. This is deeply unhelpful, and reflects badly on the party. UKIP is not “anti-Islamic”, but it is certainly anti-terrorism, and we should not allow critics to distort the issue. Nonetheless we are faced with an issue of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, we are asked to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. On the other, we are daily confronted not merely with isolated incidents, but with large numbers of people and large organisations committing the most appalling outrages while shouting Islamic slogans and claiming to be soldiers of Allah. So if (for example) Charlie Hebdo publishes an image of the Prophet wearing a suicide belt, that is, in Western terms, an entirely legitimate comment on current political developments (and the cartoonists paid for it with their lives).
Should we not respect the Islamic tradition which bans representations of the prophet (and indeed of the human figure generally in art)? No, we should not. We in UKIP (and I believe all decent people) defend the right of others to follow their own faiths, within the law (this would not, for example, extend to the ISIS practice of throwing gays to their deaths from roof-tops). If Muslims wish to refrain from producing or publishing pictures of the Prophet, that’s fine by me. But they have absolutely no right to impose that particular prohibition on the rest of society, and especially not on Western societies.
Wearing the veil: Does this mean that Western countries are wrong to impose a ban on the burqa? I think not, because the wearing of the veil is a social, cultural and interpersonal issue, not a religious requirement.
Immigration: Beating the rush
The Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report attacking the ambiguity of the government on EU immigration issues around Brexit, and calling for early clarification. They warn of an immigration “spike” as EU citizens seek to beat expected future restrictions. It seems to me that our government should urgently do three things: first, invoke Article 50 without further delay. Second, declare that any EU citizen legally resident in the UK before June 23rd 2016 (Referendum Day) will have an unchallenged right to remain; and third, declare that post-Referendum arrivals will not necessarily have that right. Those measures would prevent an immigration “spike”, and would give us the tools to deal with any increase that might occur.
GSK to invest £275 million in post-Brexit UK
We have seen a number of companies that warned against Brexit during the Referendum campaign, but have since come to terms with the idea – not least Siemens.
Now GSK, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, has announced a further investment of £275 million in the UK, despite having warned against Brexit during the referendum. This is a powerful endorsement of Britain’s post-Brexit prospects.
Chief Executive Andrew Witty, who backed the Remain campaign, said the UK’s skilled workforce and competitive tax system helped drive the decision.
GSK said that most of the products made at the expanded sites would be exported, and that it expected its investment to create new jobs. “It is testament to our skilled UK workforce and the country’s leading position in life sciences that we are making these investments in advanced manufacturing here,” said Mr Witty.
In other comments, GSK also pointed to the lower value of the Pound, which made investment more attractive and exports more competitive.
R&D opportunities: I commented yesterday on the letter from Prof Nick Donaldson of University College London arguing that Brexit will attract more medical research to the UK when we’re free of restrictive EU regulation. It’s worth noting that the EU’s Clinical Trials Directive virtually destroyed the clinical trials business across the EU and in the UK. The government should give high priority to repealing that measure, and making the UK an attractive place for clinical and pharmaceutical research.
Fox puts pressure on May to leave the EU Customs Union
The FT reports tensions between Trade Secretary Liam Fox and the Prime Minister over the terms of Brexit. Fox wants us out of the EU Customs Union (the “Single Market”) so as to have maximum flexibility to negotiate new trade deals around the world. May fears this may create problems for exporters, and tensions with Ireland. But clearly Fox is right. “Brexit within the EU Customs Union” is not Brexit at all. It would end up as quasi-EU-membership, with all the costs and restrictions that would imply.
As I argued at length yesterday, what we want is full independence plus a free trade deal with the EU. That’s Dr. Fox’s view, and he’s absolutely right. It’s the practical and achievable solution.
US set to resume imports of British beef and lamb
In a small but highly significant indication of post-Brexit opportunities, the Telegraph reports that exports of British beef and lamb to the USA will resume shortly, twenty years after they were banned as a result of mad cow disease. Agriculture Minister George Eustace is set to announce the decision formally tomorrow at the National Sheep Association show at Malvern. Great news, and much more to come.
Sturgeon under attack for posturing on the EU
The Express reports the attack on Nicola Sturgeon by Tory Murdo Fraser, pointing out that the EU now accounts for significantly less than half of Scotland’s exports – and the figure is declining. Adding that Scotland sells more than four times as much to the rest of the UK than it does to the rest of the EU, Murdo warns that Sturgeon should not let her EU obsession jeopardise Scotland’s relationship with its biggest market.
Brexit to boost Broadband speeds?
The Telegraph reports that one reason why Ofcom was reluctant to instruct BT to part company with Open Reach was because “Ninety percent of Ofcom’s legal basis is controlled by Brussels”. It is said that under current rules, BT could go to Brussels to challenge Ofcom’s decision, and that former state telecoms monopolies in Germany, France, Spain and Italy – some of which are still part government owned — would strongly resist moves that might create a precedent for themselves.
I thought that during the Referendum Campaign we had explored all the potential benefits of Brexit, but I have to confess that “faster broadband speeds” is one I’d missed.