European ambassadors feared Iranian lock-in

WikiLeaks exposes officials’ worries of being trapped at Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

It appears that tactically thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions is not the only concern on the mind of state representatives in managing relations with the Persian nation. A document from the WikiLeaks batch of US cables, dated July 2009, exposes the back-room politics of EU diplomats as they prepared to attend the inauguration of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although prepared to send ambassadors to the ceremony in the Iranian parliament, member states had reportedly agreed to a secret caveat that would see them walk out if the leader crossed the "Durban Red Lines". Any denial of the Holocaust or threats against the State of Israel would trigger leaders' exit from the ceremony.

Despite their best intentions, the leak exposes the concern of members regarding the plan's practicality. Never having entered the building in Tehran where the event was to take place, attendants feared that their lack of territorial knowledge might prevent them from staging a successful escape.

Though threatened by seating layouts, floor plans and aisle widths, diplomats' greatest fear is said to have been the danger that the Iranians would simply lock them in:

They are not sure how they will stage their walkout, logistically, should they need to do so. They are worried that the doors may be locked.

Officials presumably felt that Iran might take its cue from China, who used the "locked-door" tactic to great effect in 2005. After facing hostile questions at a Beijing news conference, President George W Bush attempted to make a hasty exit from the room, only to find his way blocked. His shock and embarrassment at being held awkwardly in the conference has been replayed millions of times online.

The threat of viral videos exposing a stalled diplomatic stampede at the doors of the Iranian parliament would be enough to scare even the most seasoned ambassador. International relations can be a dangerous battlefield, and it is the responsibility of any serious professional to plan not only his strategies, but also his exits.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

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.