Tory MP's ban the burqa bill reaches parliament

Philip Hollobone, who refuses to meet constituents who wear the veil, has tabled a bill making it illegal to wear "face coverings" in public.

Back in June, three right-wing Conservative MPs, Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Christopher Chope, teamed up to produce an "alternative Queen's Speech", a set of 40 bills that appeared to be drawn from a Chris Morris satire.

The proposed laws included a ban on the burqa, the reintroduction of capital punishment, the privatisation of the BBC, a referendum on equal marriage, withdrawal from the EU and the renaming of the August bank holiday as Margaret Thatcher Day. All of these bills have been given space on the parliamentary timetable and, to David Cameron's undoubted glee, will be debated at various points between now and 28 February 2014. 

Today there are three from Hollobone before MPs: the National Service bill, the European Communities Act 1972 (repeal) bill and, most egregiously, the Face Coverings (Prohibition) bill. 

The bill states that "a person wearing a garment or other object intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face in a public place shall be guilty of an offence." It adds that "where members of the public are licensed to access private premises for the purposes of the giving or receiving of goods or services, it shall not be an offence for the owner...to request that a person wearing a garment or other object intended to obscure the face remove such garment or object; or to require that a person refusing a request...leave the premises."

In 2010, the last time he tried to introduce such a law, Hollobone revealed that he refuses to meet with constitutents who wear the burqa or the niqab. He said: "I would ask her to remove her veil. If she said: 'No', I would take the view that she could see my face, I could not see hers, I am not able to satisfy myself she is who she says she is. I would invite her to communicate with me in a different way, probably in the form of a letter."

There's no prospect of any of the bills mentioned above becoming law but their political significance is that they further poison a Tory brand still in need of detoxification. They alienate many of the voters that the party needs to win over if it is ever to win a majority again, such as ethnic minorities (just 16% of whom voted for the Tories in 2010), LGBT voters (an equal marriage referendum aimed at securing a no vote), northerners and Scots (try proposing "Margaret Thatcher Day" in those parts of the country), and makes it appear obsessed with fringe concerns. Unfortunately for Cameron, he has six months more of this to look forward to.

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has tabled bills to ban the burqa, reintroduce national service and leave the EU.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.