Political bust-ups: the worst moments

A list of recent parliamentary punch-ups. Warning: contains violent scenes.

The physical fight that erupted inside the Italian Parliament on 27 October over pension reforms caused quite a stir -- but it was by no means the first time politicians have come to blows. Here, we present an assorted collection of parliamentary pugilism that makes The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker look like a pacifist. Judging from these clips, Bob Dylan might have had it right when he hummed "democracy don't rule the world, you'd better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence."

Ukraine - April 2010

This footage, showing carnage inside the Ukrainian parliament, ranks highly on our list of "low-lights", if only for the sheer variation of methods of attack employed. The speaker, Volodymyr Litvyn, was shielded by umbrellas as opposition members hurled hundreds of eggs. Several smoke bombs are also thrown, in protest against Viktor Yanukovych's newly formed coalition passing a motion allowing the Russian navy to extend its stay in a Ukrainian port until 2042.

India - June 2007

 

Before a debate over a sensitive civil-rights issue had even begun, members of minority parties converged on the House Leader's bench, quickly sparking a violent free-for-all. Gandhi would have wept if he had seen how quickly the debate descended into all-out war, with seriously dangerous-looking metal microphone stands becoming menacing projectiles.

South Korea - July 2009

Here, hundreds of lawmakers clash over plans to ease restrictions on the ownership of television networks. The chaotic scenes began after members of the ruling Grand National Party attempted to rush the bill through, only for opposition parties to barricade the main entrance to the National Assembly. After a concerted surge, GNP members gained entrance and a full-scale brawl ensued. This video stands out for the scale of the fight, which seemed to involve the entire parliament and notably, its female contingent. The bill was eventually passed.

Taiwan - July 2010

The accompanying Metro headline for this confrontation read "Taiwan parliament descends into traditional massive fight", as similar clashes had occurred only months earlier. Along with the usual punches and kicks, legislators can be seen flinging rubbish bins and jostling for space on the speaker's podium, as if any words could calm the situation down. The fight broke out between the ruling Kuomintang party and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, after calls to discuss a controversial trade-pact with China were rejected.

United States: Alabama Senate - June 2007

In explanation for this seemingly unprovoked attack on Democratic Senator Lowell Barron, 65, Republican Senator Charles Bishop claimed he had been called a "Sonuvabitch". He went on, "where I grew up, that's someone talkin' bad about your mother", and so "I responded with my right fist". Quite how 69-year-old Bishop became so aggrieved by this supposed slight against his (admittedly"long-dead") mother is unclear, but it shows how tensions can rapidly boil over even in an otherwise sedate atmosphere. It seems that when it comes to acting like children, old-age is no barrier.

Judo-politician

Finally, the case of the mysterious politician who can be seen calmly flipping his opponent through the air. Details of the origins of the clip are fairly sparse, but it has to rank as a favourite. The film has become a YouTube sensation and contrasts to the scenes of all-out mayhem witnessed above. As one of the comments succintly points out: "When engaging in a political brawl, its best to stay away from Judo practitioners."

 

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

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.