A woman holds a banner as she takes part in a "slut walk" in London in 2012. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nigel Evans and Ben Sullivan are wrong: rape suspects should not be given anonymity

From 1976 until 1988, both sides in sexual cases had anonymity. The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences.

The fashionable thing to do on being cleared of rape these days is to walk free from the courtroom or police station and loudly issue a public statement calling for those accused of rape to be granted anonymity by the courts because of your “ordeal”.

The former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans did – and now he’s been followed in this campaign by the former President of the Oxford Union, Ben Sullivan, of “banter squadron” fame. In a particularly classy move, the Mail on Sunday ran an interview with Sullivan with the headline “DEVASTATED BY OXFORD RAPE LIES”. The headline struck me because it so brilliantly demonstrates why anonymity should not be extended to those accused of rape. All that anonymising alleged perpetrators does is institutionalise the belief that people often lie about being raped.

The recent spate of cases that have been thrown out have provided stacks of ammunition to the sorts of Men’s Rights Activists who make me ashamed to have testicles. Offering legal protection to the accused suggests that lying about being raped is common; that rape victims are vindictive. That’s total bollocks.

In actual fact, false rape claims are far lower than they are for other crimes, and are very low in general – a man is about 42 times more likely to accidentally poison himself with a household chemical than be falsely accused of rape.

At the other end of the spectrum, I suspect there are some people who think “I could definitely have been a rapist that one time with that drunk girl”, and like the idea that their mum would probably never find out what they did, even if the woman involved did go to the police.

The “I don’t want my mum or boss – or constituents – knowing I’ve been accused of rape” argument is the main one advanced by Sullivan, Evans and their ilk – the argument is that being accused of rape is incredibly damaging to your reputation. 

Well, frankly, good. The only way rape rates will fall is if people stop committing rapes, and to do that, both victims and perpetrators have to be convinced that the justice system works. Would it be such a terrible world if (let's face it) white men in positions of power felt a little more chilled by the idea that if they aren’t 100 per cent sure the other person wants to have sex, they might be arrested for rape? Is not getting your cock out unless you have enthusiastic consent really a challenge? Ultimately, we need to foster a culture where the fear of raping someone is real.

Also, it’s not like this is some untried legal frontier. From 1976 until 1988, both sides in sexual cases had anonymity. The Thatcher government – not generally known for its strong stand on women’s rights – repealed it, because it had appalling consequences. Among other things, it meant that the public could not be warned when an accused rapist went on the run before conviction – as he was merely accused, he couldn’t be named.

It also prevented public appeals for information, which are crucial in catching serial rapists. For example, John Worboys, the “black cab rapist”, was identified as a serial offender after publicity around his trial made more survivors come forward. This isn’t a one-off example – the pathology of rape is that it’s often not a one-off crime, and as many as 90 per cent of rapes are thought to be carried out by serial attackers. Indeed the only way the stats on the number of rapes per year can be true is either if a small number of men carry out a gargantuan, monstrous number of rapes, or if most men do one or two in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, I believe the stats – although I’d rather believe the former explanation.

Ultimately, anonymity for suspects helps rapists at the expense of rape victims. That’s why we shouldn’t listen to Ben Sullivan, or Nigel Evans.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.