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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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.