Now we have the truth about Hillsborough, it is time for justice

The report proves that it was the fans who were the real heroes on the day.

A national tragedy requires a national response. At such a time, it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to speak to Britain, for Britain. It is a task that only the Prime Minister can fulfil and its symbolism has a profound effect on those directly and indirectly associated with the tragedy. Today, the Prime Minister delivered, for the families, survivors, and the city of Liverpool.

Hillsborough will always be synonymous with one of the biggest losses of British life in any one day since the end of the Second World War. In the 23 years that have passed, two very different stories have emerged about that day, and three key elements have haunted those associated with it. The failure of the authorities to help protect people. The attempt to blame the fans. And the doubt cast on the original Coroner's Inquest.

The real version of events was told today and I am confident it will become known simply as ‘the truth’. It is a version of events that depicts the carnage at Hillsborough through the eyes of the survivors and the families of the victims. It makes clear that whilst the police froze and did nothing, the fans reacted and saved many more lives.

The second version, which has now been proven to be false, was told through the eyes of a warped media. The Sun newspaper despicably produced a headline that suggested Liverpool fans had stolen money from the dead, had urinated on the "brave cops" who were trying to save lives and had been drunk and ticketless. As the Prime Minister said, "This was clearly wrong."

Today's report has shocked the nation. 96 deaths, of which 41 could and should have survived if those responsible for our safety had done their jobs. 164 police officer statements amended, 116 negative comments removed from witness statements, and a 23 year campaign for truth and justice.

It proved, once and for all, that it was the fans who were the real heroes on the day and that the police, press and politicians, conspired to instigate a cover up that would smear a city and its people, whilst allowing the guilty to evade responsibility for their deadly mistakes. Liverpool has been exonerated. The guilt for the deaths lies squarely at the door of South Yorkshire Police, who made catastrophic mistakes and unashamedly sought to deflect the blame onto the fans.

The Hillsborough families cannot accept the Coroner’s verdict of "accidental death" and some have never even picked up the death certificates for their loved ones. It has been proved that some victims were alive well past the 3.15pm cut off and that if the authorities had acted quicker, more people would have survived.  After today’s publication, the families will be appealing for the Attorney General to make an application to the High Court for the inquests to be reopened and a new cause of death to be determined.

Hillsborough was a tragedy that transcends party politics and unites parliament and the country. So whilst the overwhelming majority of Merseyside fundamentally disagrees with the Prime Minister’s politics and the direction he is taking the country, today we are eternally grateful.

His apology will not be met with celebrations on Merseyside. Instead, there will simply be dignified remembrance from a city that will no longer be a lone voice in a sea of ignorance and scepticism. Whilst for some, the true horror of 15 April 1989 has been eclipsed by the passage of time. For others, today’s news will see the conclusion of half our 23 year cause. Now that the truth has been ascertained, it is time for justice to be delivered.

Steve Rotheram is Labour MP for Liverpool Walton.

A Liverpool Football Club shirt with 'The Truth Now Justice At Last, RIP The 96' is tied to the Shankly gates at Anfield stadium. Photograph: Getty Images.

Steve Rotheram is Labour MP for Liverpool Walton.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.