Shed no tears for Osama Bin Laden

George W Bush warned Bin Laden: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” The reality was different.

Let's not weep for him. Construct elaborate conspiracy theories around him. Pretend there is some moral ambiguity to the manner of his passing.

Osama Bin Laden was not, as the Hamas leadership tellingly tried to claim, a "Holy Warrior". He was a murderer and a mercenary, an atrocity for hire.

Nor was yesterday a day when, according to Stop the War, "The US and Britain should remind themselves of the grievances which Bin Laden claimed in 2001." It was a day for remembering the thousands who died in the 11 September attacks, and the grotesque global slaughter that followed.

"This hasn't made us any safer," will become the refrain over the days to come. True enough. Bin Laden's profile made him an operational liability. And al-Qaeda is so structurally diffuse that it is now a concept, rather than a cohesive organisation.

But yesterday was not about security. It was about justice.

I have no personal link to 9/11. I know no one who was in the twin towers, on on United 93, or in the Pentagon. But I visited New York about six weeks after the attack and walked around Ground Zero.

It looked like a giant building site, unremarkable except for the images of the missing that were posted on the exterior fencing. Normal life had resumed. The yellow cabs were passing, the hot-dog vendors doing brisk trade. The office workers were already rushing by without a second glance.

But death was standing beside me on the side walk: it was palpable. An act of indescribable violence had scarred that place, and even if you hadn't any context of time or location you would have sensed it.

Bin Laden was the perpetrator. We need no court appearance to confirm that fact. He confessed himself.

Actually he didn't confess. No orange jumpsuits or prison dogs or waterboarding were needed to loosen his tongue.

He boasted about it. Videoed himself exulting in the massacre. And distributed it, like a promo tape, for broadcast in prime time.

There are some who question his killing rather than his capture. Reports of the Navy Seal insertion team being greeted with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire hold the answer. From everything we know about Bin Laden, this was not a man inclined to throw up his hands and say, "It's a fair cop, guv."

I do have a passing regret he wasn't seized and placed on trial. It's been argued that this would have been a process fraught with complexity. It would have given him a platform and further boosted his status as challenger of western imperialist oppression.

I think it would have had the opposite effect. Demythologised him. Made him real and human and ordinary. As with Eichmann in Jerusalem, the world would again have borne witness to the banality of evil.

But these are details, not issues of great substance. Yes, perhaps there was something slightly tasteless about the scenes of celebration that marked his demise. But flying an airliner packed with innocent men, women and children into the side of a skyscraper is pretty tasteless, too.

It's a trite phrase, but no less true because of it: the world is a better place. Every global despot and dictator is looking over his shoulder. The good old days when they could place entire populations between themselves and an international reckoning are over. Or they fear they are, which, for the moment at least, will suffice.

And why yesterday was not the best day for the Independent to run the headline "Targeted assassinations are a strategic mistake".

The political dynamics of the globe's sole, if ageing, superpower have also shifted. It's not that the incumbent president is now a certainty for re-election in 2012; that Donald Trump was being seriously discussed as a potential challenger proved it was never in doubt. But the settled wisdom that Republicans are strong on national security and Democrats weak has been turned on its head.

George W Bush warned Bin Laden, "You can run, but you can't hide." But the fact was that he could run from Bush, but he couldn't hide from Barack Obama.

And what of basic humanity? A fellow human being is dead, a life silenced for ever. Surely that should give pause?

No. True humanity should not give pause. Compassion, empathy and understanding demand only one response: that we recall those who fell at Bin Laden's command. Empathise with those who were left behind. And understand the reaction of those who rejoice in the closure his own death brings.

In truth there will be no closure. The families will always mourn. The images of that crisp, clear day will always be with us. The war it unleashed, in reality just another battle in a war we have been fighting for centuries, will continue.

But Osama Bin Laden has passed into history. We need shed no tears over that.

Getty
Show Hide image

After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.