Saving capitalism? The price could be democracy

Greece is faced with severe austerity measures. Why shouldn't its people have their say?

Right now everyone seems to be getting terribly excited about saving capitalism. Which is fair enough, in the face of global meltdown.

However, it seems to me that the price of saving capitalism is increasingly likely to be "democracy". Which would be a shame as I'm a big fan of democracy. On the whole, I think it's a good thing.

"What insight," I hear you cry, "what understanding of the basic tenants of human rights".

No? Well, consider this.

Let's start with Occupy London (or Wall Street, Oakland, Tunbridge Wells, wherever). Apart from the fact that some folk think they make the place look a bit untidy, the main issue people have with the Occupy crowd is "that they don't have any answers".

They have a list of things they don't want -- but not a list of things they do.

And I say, so what? What's wrong with just asking the questions? The Occupy folk aren't standing for elected office, nor claiming to be able to solve the problems of the global economy. The finest economic minds in the world, plus George Osborne, haven't cracked that one. So it seems a bit unreasonable to expect some bloke in a tent who just thinks that taxpayers' money shouldn't be shuffled through to bankers in the form of bonuses, to then have all the answers to the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. If it was that easy, we'd all just pop into Millets and seek the opinion of the man on the till.

We'll ask the questions. It's the job of our elected elders and betters to answer them.

And now it would also seem we're not allowed to mark our representatives' homework either. Hence every democratically elected politician in the world goes white as a sheet at the thought of asking the Greek people if they're happy with the deal done on their behalf.

Funnily enough, I'm not a huge fan of referendums at the drop of a hat. I rather like Edmund Burke's view of democracy: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

But there's a time and a place for everything. And when years of extreme austerity measures stretch out before a population, pensions are slashed, public spending is squeezed, every ministry has an independent "observer" installed from Brussels, and none of it ever featured in any sort of manifesto proposal -- well, asking the people if they are up for it doesn't seem so bad? Does it?

So, we seem to be in a world where asking questions without knowing the answers, or questioning the answers you've been given, is seen as a thoroughly bad thing. Which to me is an affront to democracy.

Still, at least no-one's raising the spectre of war or postulating about the chances of a military coup to force things through.

Oh? Lordy.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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What are the consequences of Brexit for the refugee crisis?

Politicians neglected the refugee crisis whilst campaigning – but they shouldn't now concede to the darker undertones of the debate.

In the chaotic aftermath of Brexit, the refugee crisis seems like a distant memory. Yet not even a year has passed since the body of a young Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, shocking the world.

When campaigning for the EU referendum began, politicians neglected the crisis. Not because the situation had ameliorated, but because the issue had become strategically toxic. Nigel Farage's infamous poster aside, the Leave side preferred scare stories about economic migrants rather than refugees; the Remain side because the refugee crisis, more than anything else since its inception, highlighted the fragility of the ideals that underpin the European Union.

Many of the main issues aired in the course of the referendum debate were related to the refugee crisis, regardless of how little it impacted on them in reality; immigration, strain on public services, national identity. The refugee crisis became a proxy issue; implied, but not addressed, for fear of detrimental impact in the polls.

However, in his repugnant posters (it should be stressed, nothing to do with Leave campaign itself), Nigel Farage made explicit what he thought posed the greatest threat to the UK. Rightly, the posters have been condemned by both sides of the referendum debate, but the underlying suspicion of refugees it reflects has concerned many organisations.Their concern has only been exacerbated by the result of the referendum. The spike in hate crime compounds their fears.

Paul Dillane, head of UKLGIG, a charity that supports LGBTI asylum seekers to the UK, expressed unease at the reaction of his clients: “The asylum seekers I work with do not understand the decision that has been made – they feel vulnerable, they feel unwelcome. Yes the law hasn’t changed, and if they’re at risk of persecution, they will be protected. But they don’t feel like that now.”

Despite the troubling situation, the result of the referendum changes little when it comes to refugee law. “Refugee policy is shaped in London, not in Brussels”, said Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugees Action. “The decision about how well we support refugees in terms of integration is a matter for the UK, not Brussels. The number of Syrian refugees we choose to resettle is a matter for the UK, not Brussels.”

Although the law may not have changed, from a diplomatic or political perspective, the same cannot be said. This does have the power to negatively impact legislation. Post-Brexit reaction in France surrounding the Touquet Treaty typifies this.

The Touquet Treaty, reached between the UK and France in 2003, permits each country to carry out passport checks on the other countries’ soil. It is what, according to French politicians in Calais, has accelerated the growth of the "Jungle", which currently accommodates close to 5,000 refugees.

Because the agreement was signed outside the auspices of the European Union, Brexit does not affect its legal legitimacy. However, for France, EU membership was crucial to the nature of the agreement. Speaking earlier this year, Harlem Desir, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, said the Touquet Treaty is “a bilaterial agreement. So, there will be no blackmail, nor threat, but it’s true that we cooperate more easily in both being members of the EU.”

Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais and a long-time critic of the treaty, has been vocal in her demands for legislative change since the result. Speaking to French broadcaster BGM TV, she said: “The British must take on the consequences of their choice. We are in a strong position to push, to press this request for a review and we are asking the President to bring his weight to the issue.” Some have adopted the slogan of the Leave campaign, telling them to now “take back control of your borders.”

Modification of the Touquet Treaty was branded part of ‘Project Fear’ by the Leave campaign. Because of this, change – if indeed it does happen – needs to be handled carefully by both the British and French governments.

The reaction of Natacha Bouchart is already a worrying sign for refugees. Firstly, it perpetuates the toxic narrative that casts refugees as an inconvenience. And secondly, any souring of relations between the UK and France over Brexit and the Touquet Treaty only increases the likelihood of refugees being used as political bargaining chips in the broader EU crisis over Schengen.

A divided government and disintegrating opposition do little to aid the situation. Furthermore, come October, how likely is a Brexit Tory cabinet – governing off the back of a manifesto predicated on reducing immigration – to extend the support networks offered to refugees? Even before the referendum, Theresa May, a supporter of the Remain campaign, said that Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, replacing it with the more questionable Bill of Rights.

Uncertainty of any kind is the most immediate danger to refugees. “Everyone is talking about it,” said Clare Mosesly, founder of Care4Calais. “But opinions on the impact are divided, which is creating yet more uncertainty.” Refugees, unsure whether Brexit will lead to increased fortification of the border, are prone to take ever more dangerous risks to reach the UK. Even economic uncertainty, seemingly distinct from issues such as the refugee crisis or immigration, has a negative impact. “The thing that worries me about a fragile economy”, said Paul Dillane, “is that when a country’s economy suffers, minorities suffer as well. Tolerance and inclusivity are undermined.”

The government must stress that the welcoming principles and legislation Britain had prior to Brexit remain in place. Andrej Mahecic, from the UNHCR, said “we will continue to rely on the UK’s strong support for humanitarian responses to refugee crises. Our work with the government on the UK’s asylum system and refugee resettlement schemes continues.”

The will from NGOs is there. The political will is less assured. In the aftermath of Brexit, the government must not concede to the darker side of the referendum debate.