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The parliament building at Stormont is 365ft wide, representing one foot for each day of the year, but if she lasts in the job long enough it may also refer to the number of times Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland’s secretary of state, puts her foot in it. Politicians in Northern Ireland have lost count, but agree she outdid herself last week by telling Westminster that security force killings during the Troubles were “not crimes” but the actions of people “fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”. Her subsequent apologies did not douse a clamour for her resignation. But few in Stormont think her departure would solve much. Northern Ireland has had no functioning elected government since power sharing between the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and Sinn Féin collapsed in January 2017. Civil servants are left to run things but cannot make key decisions. “What’s surprising to me is we’re a third year into the breakdown and the public doesn’t seem to care very much.” Stormont, sited on an estate outside Belfast, looks formidable. Some assembly members still work from their offices but on really quiet days, one member confided, it can feel like the Overlook hotel in The Shining. Dissident republicans sense a historic opportunity. The DUP blames the collapse of power sharing on Sinn Féin, saying the party wants instability to portray Northern Ireland as a failed state.
He will turn 70 in May, shortly after the local elections, which will be handy for his political obituarists if Labour does as poorly as polls currently suggest. The Labour left has been othered. In recent weeks, MPs at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party have reportedly applauded the Independent Group breakaway, despite the immense damage it has done to the chances of a Labour government. Despite, or, rather, partly because of, all the panics about the Labour left, it has rarely been dominant in the party. “Labour leaders tremble at the relentless advance of Benn’s army,” warned the Express in May 1981, after Benn launched his famous bid for the party’s deputy leadership. And yet, in large part because the press othered him so effectively, as a kind of foreign demagogue – “Ayatollah Benn”, according to the Sun, after Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini – he did not win. He co-founded the SDP partly to block it. Last month, at the launch of the Independent Group, Leslie caricatured Corbynism in almost exactly the same way. Does it matter that so many people don’t want British politics to include a left of any significance? Even if you’re not at all leftwing, recent British history suggests it does.
The cabinet minister in charge of Brexit has held detailed talks with Labour MPs who are championing plans for a second referendum – amid signs of mounting desperation inside Theresa May’s government about what to do if the prime minister’s deal suffers another crushing defeat on Tuesday. The Observer view on the case for a second Brexit vote remaining as strong as ever Read more Kyle told the Observer on Saturday that Barclay had “remained loyal to government policy”, which is to oppose any second referendum. Under the Kyle-Wilson plan, which could receive Labour’s official backing after Tuesday’s vote but before Brexit day on 29 March, an amendment would be put down in parliament allowing MPs to approve May’s deal, but on the condition that it is then put to the country in a second public vote. Read more Kyle said: “Clearly the Brexit secretary is fully engaged in the battle to deliver support for the vote on Tuesday. We didn’t enter the meeting with expectations of converting him to our cause but we hope that government now understands what our plan offers, should a new direction be demanded by parliament in the coming days.” A senior Downing Street source said May remained “100% opposed to a second referendum, with bells on” and insisted that she and all cabinet ministers were still determined to persuade enough Tory MPs and the 10 DUP members to rally behind her deal this week. “The PM, ministers and her negotiating team are intensely focused this weekend on making progress so that ultimately we can, in the country’s best interests, leave the EU with a deal.” If May loses on Tuesday, she has said she will call a vote on Wednesday on whether parliament should rule out a no-deal Brexit and then a further one, probably on Thursday, on delaying Brexit. It is understood that if she loses, the prime minister has not ruled out trying to bring back her deal to parliament a third time, nearer to Brexit day, when she would tell MPs that the only alternative to backing her would be a lengthy delay that could mean Brexit not happening at all. Labour will delay putting down an amendment in favour of a second referendum until nearer Brexit day. But the new Independent Group of MPs will table an amendment for a second referendum to take place after a series of indicative votes on alternatives to May’s deal had been held. Some two million young people who could not vote last time due to their age would now be able to do so.
Britain’s equality watchdog has said it believes Labour may have “unlawfully discriminated against people”, as it announced the first step of a statutory inquiry into the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints. An Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) spokesperson said: “Having received a number of complaints regarding antisemitism in the Labour party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs. As set out in our enforcement policy, we are now engaging with the Labour party to give them an opportunity to respond.” The action by the regulator followed legal complaints made by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and the Jewish Labour Movement last year, which have argued that the party was not compliant with equalities law in dealing with antisemitism. The move is the first step in an investigatory process by the EHRC, and if the regulator concludes Labour has a case to answer it could go on to open a rare full inquiry under section 20 of the Equalities Act 2006. The EHRC will send a formal letter to the party at the end of this week or early next week that sets out draft terms of reference for a section 20 inquiry. Labour then has 14 days to respond. If the regulator decides the reply is insufficient, it would then have the power to demand that Labour produce documents, emails and other evidence, as well as request interviews from staff, past and present. In its reply to the EHRC letter, the party has the option of proposing its own reforms to its complaints processes. It could enter into a voluntary legal agreement with the regulator under section 23 of the Equalities Act in lieu of a full investigation. “Antisemitism complaints received since April 2018 relate to about 0.1% of our membership, but one antisemite in our party is one too many.
Formby accused Watson of “completely unacceptable” behaviour after he asked for antisemitism complaints to be forwarded to him. They said that during and soon after the period in question, Formby overhauled the process she inherited, to cut out the leader’s office and her team. In response, Murray called for an investigation without a suspension. “I was asked by party staff a year ago to give advice on 13 individual cases relating to alleged antisemitism, to assist in getting through the backlog,” he said. In April, Formby’s official opposed a recommendation to suspend a member who claimed that a Labour Jewish group had links to the Freemasons, instead backing an investigation with no suspension. Play Video 0:41 In another April case, a recommendation to suspend a member who had already been given a warning was opposed by Formby’s official, who instead backed an investigation. In each of the cases, Labour staff dropped their recommendation in favour of the action backed by the official or, in the mural case, Murray. The Observer has also seen cases in which the pair agreed with the recommendation from Labour staff. Members can be suspended while further investigations are carried out. Staff in the investigations team have always led on investigations and recommendations on individual cases.
The party has had a dramatic effect on both the major parties with talk of further defections to come. LONDON — The Independent Group (TIG) of 11 former Labour and Conservative MPs has already had a dramatic impact on British politics. In just a few short weeks, it has snatched 11 MPs from the two major parties, surged in the opinion polls, and arguably helped force a major shift in the Labour party's Brexit policy. one TIG MP said this week, reflecting on the two weeks since the group's dramatic launch. TIG targets new MPs REUTERS/Henry Nicholls The group does not yet have an official leader, and doesn't plan to elect one until it is a party, but this week appointed former Labour MP Chuka Umunna as its chief spokesperson and main figurehead. One former Labour shadow minister told BI on Friday that they planned to join TIG as soon as the Umunna-fronted group unveiled its first batch of policies. Julian Dunkerton — the co-founder of clothing range Superdry who donated one million pounds to the People's Vote campaign in August— is also weighing up becoming a financial backer, sources in to the anti-Brexit campaign said. A TIG MP said on Friday there would be "no pacts, no alliances" with the Lib Dems amid suggestions from people including Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable that the two could work together in certain seats at the next election. They added that Lib Dem MPs and supporters have already signaled that they could quit to join TIG. Comments by members of the group that they would refuse to back a vote of no confidence in the current government have only fueled those charges.
A Labour activist who has waited almost 16 months for her complaint of sexual harassment against an MP to be resolved has called on the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, to take charge of more abuse complaints. In a letter to the deputy leader, shared with the Guardian, she said Watson should take charge of monitoring the process in the same way he has pledged to with complaints about antisemitism and bullying. “I, like many survivors of sexual harassment and assault, would like you to take the same measures to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct within the Labour party,” Etemadzadeh wrote to Watson. Etemadzadeh, who first made her complaint about Hopkins in November 2017, is scheduled to have it heard by the party’s highest disciplinary body in late April but said she had lost faith in the process. She has previously accused Hopkins of sending her a text saying young men would be “lucky to have you as a girlfriend and a lover” and has accused him of rubbing his crotch against her during an embrace at an event in 2014. Hopkins has said he “absolutely and categorically” denies any inappropriate conduct. Etemadzadeh said the handling of her case “shares many of the same flaws as its handling of allegations of antisemitism” and particularly criticised the makeup of the elected disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee, which she said was elected according to “factional politics”. Etemadzadeh said she had found herself in the position similar to those who had made complaints about antisemitism. “It is complainants, rather than perpetrators, who are accused of exercising a malign power and bringing the party into disrepute,” she said. Etemadzadeh also asked Watson to advocate for the release of a June 2018 report by Karon Monaghan QC on reforming the party’s complaints procedure, which she said she had contributed to but had not been allowed to read.
Britain’s Labour party celebrated its 119th anniversary this week. Founded on 27 February 1900 from the fledgling socialist and trade union movements, it grew to become one of the world’s most influential political forces of the left, and remains the biggest of any party by membership in western Europe. But last week saw of nine of its MPs resign – eight of whom, along with three Tories, have formed a new alignment known as the Independent Group. With Brexit and social decline driving British politics to the margins, both Labour and the Tories are now at risk of fractures that could shatter the country’s familiar two-party landscape. Our cover story this week asks how Labour, in particular, can survive the bitter infighting surrounding its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his seemingly ambivalent attitude both to Brexit and to alleged antisemitism within the party. None of which might mean much to cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, who earn on average less than $1 a day. In our Spotlight opener, the Observer’s Tim Adams reports on how Ivorian farming cooperatives hope to get a better deal through initiatives such as Fairtrade. Then, Paul Tullis asks whether we can ever wean ourselves off palm oil, and spare the world the catastrophic environmental damage caused by its mega-plantations. Shamima Begum is a London schoolgirl who ran away to Syria to join Islamic State aged 15. Now, four years later, with the terrorist group all but destroyed in Syria, Begum wants to return to the UK with her newborn baby.
All the evidence points to not leaving the EU, and the reasons given for leaving are generally vague or false. Should the new party that will surely follow the formation of the Independent Group, continues to promote a “people’s vote”, it will likely be quite attractive to people like me. Just as many feel that Brexit makes no sense, I felt that austerity, which started in 2010, went against all our knowledge and evidence. That analysis begins my book based on the blog I started as a result of austerity. But austerity was not Brexit’s main cause. To see what the cause was, we need to look at the second period in which I felt similar to how I today feel about Brexit: the run up to the 2015 general election. In reality the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s caused by a Global Financial Crisis had pushed up the deficit, but the media had pushed, or accepted, the idea that the Coalition was clearing up the mess that a profligate Labour government had left. The fact that people thought the Conservatives were strong on the economy only confirmed the media’s narrative. Brexit would not have been possible without the UK media. A large part of the press pushed anti-EU propaganda, and the broadcast media balanced the view of the overwhelming majority of experts against the lies of a few.
Fiona Onasanya is expected to become the first MP to vote while wearing an electronic tag after being released from prison. The MP for Peterborough could return to parliament for a crucial Brexit vote on Wednesday after serving a month of her sentence for perverting the course of justice. Onasanya, who was expelled by the Labour party, was driven out of HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey, on Tuesday morning. She is appealing against her conviction at a hearing scheduled for 5 March. She insisted, before she was jailed, that she would continue to represent her constituents while maintaining her innocence. Following her conviction on 19 December, she has voted 12 times in the Commons. Whether she is able to vote on Wednesday will depend in part on the terms of her curfew. A prison sentence of at least 12 months is required for the automatic removal of an MP under parliamentary rules. Onasanya is expected to have to obey strict conditions as part of her early release. Festus Onasanya was sentenced to 10 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to three counts of perverting the course of justice over speeding, including in relation to the 24 July incident.