Meet the arrestables

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express up to Scotland to protest at the Faslane naval base against the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system.

After a very short night’s sleep in Edinburgh, our group from the English and Welsh Greens set off at 4am on the Sunday with members of the Scottish Green Party, including Mark Ballard MSP. After picking up more people and another MSP in Glasgow, we arrived just before dawn near the base, which sits at the top of a spectacular sea loch on the west coast of Scotland.

We made on foot for the south gate of the base, which is easiest to block as it lies at the end of a narrow road running along the edge of the loch. There we found two friendly policemen - it turned out that on Sundays the South gate isn’t actually used so, after a short picnic breakfast, we set off again for the North gate, which is next to a busy roundabout.

Unfurling our banners - one 6 metres long - we arranged ourselves dressed in black into the vague shape of a nuclear submarine in front of the entrance to the base. True to the rumours we had heard, the Scottish police were very nice and tolerated this for a while, before sending their friendliest officer to warn us we would be arrested if we didn’t move out of the way. A few delaying tactics disguised as meetings between the organisers later, all of us not keen to spend 24 hours in a Glasgow jail moved aside, leaving our ‘arrestables’ (some very charming women) sitting in the road.

This remained the situation for the rest of the day. We lost count of the number of times the police gave our ladies their absolute final warnings, but they never carried out their promise to take them away, instead steering the base traffic carefully around them. So we kept them supplied with tea and cakes and settled down to enjoy the convivial atmosphere that has developed around the base since the start of the campaign on 1st October.

After a few hours about 30 young Finns and Swedes joined us, bringing more cakes, as well as hula-hoops and footballs to play with and a book of rock song lyrics which they had doctored on the ferry to produce a range of funky peace songs. The Scandinavians were due to blockade the following day - likely to be a bit more lively being a Monday. Later on, a group of Quakers arrived at the other side of the road to hold a meeting, which several of our group joined and more Glasgow Greens turned up with a big tub of soup for us all.

Other visitors included Angie Zelter, the instigator of the Faslane 365 campaign, who came down from the permanent peace camp up the road and filled us in on progress so far. Arrests have varied on different days (clearly the Green Party isn’t seen as a serious threat) – with a total of 118 people taken into custody, all of whom have been warned but not charged. Entry to the base has been seriously disrupted on 12 of the 16 days so far.

Angie set up Faslane 365 this year to apply pressure for the disarmament of our current nuclear missiles and to raise opposition to a replacement for Trident – a decision on which is likely to be taken by the government early in 2007.

This isn’t your usual issue of right versus wrong, or even of ‘real world’ practicalities versus ‘nice idea’ moral imperatives. The groups taking part in Faslane 365 are, in fact, enforcing the law. The UK is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which we have promised to negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament. With North Korea’s exit from the NPT and development of nuclear weapons, and with the current scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear power programme, it is more important than ever that we stick to both the letter and the spirit of our commitments.

By keeping Trident and planning a replacement, the government is failing to do this in two ways, hence our slogan, ‘What part of non-proliferation don’t you understand?’ (and hence the 6m length of the banner!).

Greens will be back at Faslane over the next few months with other blockading groups. These groups are an eclectic mix, ranging from clowns to Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and including authors, musicians, elected representatives and geographically based groups of campaigners from across the UK and Europe.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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France to bulldoze Calais Jungle days after child refugees arrive in the UK

The camp houses thousands. 

Refugees and migrants in Calais began queuing up for buses this morning as the French authorities plan to demolish the "Jungle" camp.

But activists fear that, unless France significantly speeds up its asylum process, the displaced people will simply move to other camps along the northern French coast.

Meanwhile, the first children of Calais brought to the UK under the Dubs Amendment arrived at the weekend.

The camp known as the Jungle, in a wasteland by the port of Calais, is actually the latest manifestation in a series of camps established since 1999, when a French reception centre became too crowded.

However, it has swelled as a result of the refugee crisis, and attempts by residents to sneak onto lorries entering the Channel Tunnel have become daily occurences. The French authorities bulldozed part of it earlier this year.

Ahead of the latest demolishment, which is expected to happen on Tuesday, Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “In February this year over 50 per cent of the camp was demolished and yet six months later the camp is bigger than it has ever been before. 

"This is clear evidence that demolitions do not act as a deterrent.  The refugees come because they have no choice."

Future refugees will go to other camps with even less facilities, she warned.

The camp houses thousands of residents, but because of the authorities' unwillingness to legitimise it, there is no official presence. Instead, the residents must rely on volunteer aid services and have little means to stop intruders entering. 

Although conditions in the camp can be dire, residents have created a high street with basic tent shops and restaurants catering to the needs of its displaced population. Many of those in the camp say they are there because they hope to be reunited with family in Britain, or they have given up on ever being processed by the French authorities. 

After the UK government was pressurised into passing the Dubs Amendment, which provides sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees, some children from the camp have arrived in the UK. The first group is reportedly mostly girls from Eritrea, who will be processed at a UK immigration centre.

One of the MPs crucial to ensuring the Dubs Amendment delivered, Stella Creasy, said many more still needed help. 

Children reunited with their families under the Dublin Convention arrived in the UK last week, although their arrival was overshadowed by a debate over age checks.  

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.