David Cameron to Stephen Fry: I won't boycott the Winter Olympics

The prime minister responds to the suggestion that Russia's anti-gay laws mean Britain should refuse to take part in the Winter Olympics.

David Cameron has refused calls for Britain to boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia because of the country's anti-gay laws. 

In a series of tweets, he said: 

Fry had earlier written that, in Russia: 

Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village.

The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma.

Several prominent gay athletes and commentators have welcomed Fry's move, but disagreed with the idea of a boycott. The BBC's Clare Balding said that she would attend:

"I'm pleased Stephen has raised the argument and I hope that his piece is read and debated at the highest levels. If the venue for the Winter Olympics remains as it is, I will be presenting from Sochi for the BBC. I will do so because I am a sports presenter who happens to be gay. I think the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission. I intend to stand proud, do my homework and do my job as well as I possibly can - as I would for any other sporting event."

Skater Johnny Weir said that it was "not Russia's public's fault that their government is so bigoted" and therefore he would attend the Olympics. 

The Daily Mail responded to Fry's blog with a feature entitled "What right has this smug luvvie to speak for the civilised world?" In it, Andrew Pierce asked: "Why do he and his luvvie friends think they can try to dictate which countries are appropriate to stage Olympic events and which are not? The problem with actors, of course, is that they think they are as clever as the lines they recite."

Fry responded yesterday with a follow-up post:

The Mail still can’t quite live with the shame that it has always, always been historically wrong about everything - large and small - from Picasso to equal pay for women.

Skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is Russian, will attend the Olympics. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.