You're not bringing that in here...

A table cloth triggers a police crackdown at Climate Camp

Dear Marina,

It was lovely to meet you at Climate Camp last week. My Harold was quite taken with you. And you make such a wonderful pot of tea. Thank you for taking the time to help us and listen to our concerns. When we’re moved out of our home we will take with us a lifetime of memories including time spent with people like you at Climate Camp. I was very concerned at the heavy handedness of the police. Did you have any problems?
Hilda, Sipson Village

Thank you Hilda and up yours! Since I was doing no wrong – merely exercising my right to empower others to protest – I haven’t come away with any lasting problems, other than having my grandmother’s table cloth confiscated under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act. I might, apparently, have used it as a weapon.

It was in fact, required to keep up my own exacting standards while serving tea to protesters. The tea was still served – but it’s never the same without doilies and a cloth.

The police have since lost the cloth – claiming they returned it to camp. I have no recourse for complaint because under Section 60 the police can do anything. Their words.

I am left bereft of a family heirloom and scratching my head: you never notice the erosion of civil liberties until the rug of rights is gone from under your feet or more pertinently the cloth of democracy is gone from the table.

Male officers, despite declaring my wit as the only sharp thing about my person, also subjected me to some pretty full on body searches. Once again I cannot complain because under Section 60 the police have the powers "to do anything" as they repeatedly insisted.

During one search, to put this into context, with that many witnesses, had it been a member of the public rather than the long arm of the law touching me in that way, I’d be pressing charges for sexual assault and expect justice to be done.

Tell me Hilda, have you and Harold ever considered anarchy? I only ask because it seems to me that dismantling our current system of government is our only hope if we are seriously going to address systemic problems within planning law. Without changes any efforts to halt or curb the progression of climate chaos are futile.

But hey, given the current trajectory of state interference and the rise of police powers, I guess they’ll shoot us all long before progress is made.

Dear Marina,

I’m all for saving money. That’s why I’ve turned down the thermostat and installed energy efficient light bulbs. But I’d hardly claim I was playing my part to halt climate change given government plans for airport expansion and no plans for improving public transport. Should I give up or what?
Confused, Leith

Saving money is a good thing, especially when you spend your savings wisely. And of course every drop of greenhouse gas prevented from escaping into the atmosphere has to be a good thing. So obviously, don’t give up.

If anything, now is the time to increase activity that may help us stabilize the climate. Eating more vegan food and less meat and dairy products is good. As is super gluing yourself to the doors of the Department of Transport or DEFRA. Such actions won’t make much of a difference to your own personal carbon footprint, or indeed to that of the civil servants employed in such places. It will however highlight the scale of the problem to others and give you a day in court on charges of criminal damage. But since once the glue has been dissolved, it's hardly likely to be a scratch on any structure you might adhere yourself to, you’d have to come before a pretty grumpy judge not to have your case dismissed. Good luck!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”