David Cameron speaks at a Downing Street press conference earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron echoes Blair on terrorism: western military action is not to blame

The PM declares that the "root cause" of terrorism is the "poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism". 

Rarely has David Cameron seemed more like the "heir to Blair" than at his Downing Street press conference this afternoon on the terrorist threat from ISIS. He emphasised in his opening statement that the "root cause" of the threat, which was raised today from "substantial" to "severe" (meaning an attack is considered "highly likely"), was not western foreign policy but the "poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism". He said: 

Let's be clear about the source of the threat that we face. The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq war 10 years ago; it existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11, themselves some time before the Iraq war. This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with the perceived grievances over western foreign policy, nor it can be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship and instability in the region, as important as these things are.

The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear: it is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and by all faith leaders. It believes in using the most brutal forms of terrorism to force people to accept a warped worldview and to live in an almost medieval state. 

Cameron is right that the threat did not begin with western intervention and will not end with it, but it is worth noting that no less a figure than Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, concluded that the Iraq war had "increased the terrorist threat" and acted as "a distraction" from the pursuit of al-Qaeda. Cameron observed that it was broken states and civil wars that allowed jihadists to thrive, while seemingly ignoring that the 2003 invasion helped to create those conditions. He seemed unable or unwilling to recognise why so many previously peaceful Muslims are drawn to extremist ideologies. 

On new security powers, while emphasising that he wanted to avoid a "knee-jerk" response to the threat (think of Boris Johnon's call for the presumption of innocence to be abandoned for terrorist suspects), Cameron warned that there were "gaps in our armoury" and that "we need to strengthen them". He announced that he would make a statement in the Commons on Monday on further steps to stop people travelling to fight for ISIS, including new legislation to "make it easier to take people's passports away". 

But he added that the threat would only be fully tackled by challenging the "ideology of Islamist extremism head-on, at root, before it takes the form of violence and terror". It is language that will hearten those such as Michael Gove, who have long argued that the government needs to "drain the swamp" that leads non-violent Islamists towards jihadism and not wait for "the crocodiles to reach the boat" (the cause of his fierce disagreement with Theresa May earlier this year). Cameron referred back to his 2011 Munich speech, in which he attacked the "doctrine of state multiculturalism", and vowed to challenge groups that "push an extremist agenda".

It was notable that Cameron sounded cooler on the prospect of British military action in Iraq and Syria than before, emphasising the measures that would be taken on the domestic level. While No.10 has been careful not to rule out the possiblity of joining US-led air strikes (unlike the option of putting "boots on the grond"), it is clear that the last year's defeat over Syria, a war-weary public and the proximity of the general election all mean that Cameron is wary of any greater involvement. 

P.S. It's worth highlighting that Cameron, who rarely gives press conferences, took just four questions (three broadcast, one print) after his 10-minute statement. Given the severity of the threat, this seemed inadequate to many present. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit has opened up big rifts among the remaining EU countries

Other non-Euro countries will miss Britain's lobbying - and Germany and France won't be too keen to make up for our lost budget contributions.

Untangling 40 years of Britain at the core of the EU has been compared to putting scrambled eggs back into their shells. On the UK side, political, legal, economic, and, not least, administrative difficulties are piling up, ranging from the Great Repeal Bill to how to process lorries at customs. But what is less appreciated is that Brexit has opened some big rifts in the EU.

This is most visible in relations between euro and non-euro countries. The UK is the EU’s second biggest economy, and after its exit the combined GDP of the non-euro member states falls from 38% of the eurozone GDP to barely 16%, or 11% of EU’s total. Unsurprisingly then, non-euro countries in Eastern Europe are worried that future integration might focus exclusively on the "euro core", leaving others in a loose periphery. This is at the core of recent discussions about a multi-speed Europe.

Previously, Britain has been central to the balance between ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, often leading opposition to centralising eurozone impulses. Most recently, this was demonstrated by David Cameron’s renegotiation, in which he secured provisional guarantees for non-euro countries. British concerns were also among the reasons why the design of the European Banking Union was calibrated with the interests of the ‘outs’ in mind. Finally, the UK insisted that the euro crisis must not detract from the development of the Single Market through initiatives such as the capital markets union. With Britain gone, this relationship becomes increasingly lop-sided.

Another context in which Brexit opens a can of worms is discussions over the EU budget. For 2015, the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget, after its rebate and EU investments, accounted for about 10% of the total. Filling in this gap will require either higher contributions by other major states or cutting the benefits of recipient states. In the former scenario, this means increasing German and French contributions by roughly 2.8 and 2 billion euros respectively. In the latter, it means lower payments to net beneficiaries of EU cohesion funds - a country like Bulgaria, for example, might take a hit of up to 0.8% of GDP.

Beyond the financial impact, Brexit poses awkward questions about the strategy for EU spending in the future. The Union’s budgets are planned over seven-year timeframes, with the next cycle due to begin in 2020. This means discussions about how to compensate for the hole left by Britain will coincide with the initial discussions on the future budget framework that will start in 2018. Once again, this is particularly worrying for those receiving EU funds, which are now likely to either be cut or made conditional on what are likely to be more political requirements.

Brexit also upends the delicate institutional balance within EU structures. A lot of the most important EU decisions are taken by qualified majority voting, even if in practice unanimity is sought most of the time. Since November 2014, this has meant the support of 55% of member states representing at least 65% of the population is required to pass decisions in the Council of the EU. Britain’s exit will destroy the blocking minority of a northern liberal German-led coalition of states, and increase the potential for blocking minorities of southern Mediterranean countries. There is also the question of what to do with the 73 British MEP mandates, which currently form almost 10% of all European Parliament seats.

Finally, there is the ‘small’ matter of foreign and defence policy. Perhaps here there are more grounds for continuity given the history of ‘outsourcing’ key decisions to NATO, whose membership remains unchanged. Furthermore, Theresa May appears to have realised that turning defence cooperation into a bargaining chip to attract Eastern European countries would backfire. Yet, with Britain gone, the EU is currently abuzz with discussions about greater military cooperation, particularly in procurement and research, suggesting that Brexit can also offer opportunities for the EU.

So, whether it is the balance between euro ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, multi-speed Europe, the EU budget, voting blocs or foreign policy, Brexit is forcing EU leaders into a load of discussions that many of them would rather avoid. This helps explain why there is clear regret among countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, at seeing such a key partner leave. It also explains why the EU has turned inwards to deal with the consequences of Brexit and why, although they need to be managed, the actual negotiations with London rank fairly low on the list of priorities in Brussels. British politicians, negotiators, and the general public would do well to take note of this.

Ivaylo Iaydjiev is a former adviser to the Bulgarian government. He is currently a DPhil student at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford

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