Kurdish fighters in Iraq. Photo: Getty
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The UK would “favourably consider” arming Kurdish fighters in Iraq

The government would supply weapons to the Kurds fighting extremists in Iraq, if they request arms.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed at an emergency Cobra meeting to be prepared to supply Kurdish fighters in Iraq with weapons if they request them.

There is a meeting today in Brussels of EU foreign ministers, where the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will tell his European counterparts that the UK is prepared to join the French in arming the Kurds fighting against extremists in Iraq.

France and the US have already supplied arms to the Kurds, and Downing Street sources say that although the Kurds have not yet asked the UK for direct help, it will consider any request for supplies.

The Guardian reports a Downing Street spokesperson referring to these new developments at the most recent Cobra meeting: “It is vital that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are able to stop the advance of [Isis] terrorists across the country… We will also continue our work to ensure that Kurdish forces have the military supplies they require, including transporting more equipment from eastern Europe. The Foreign Secretary will use the meeting of foreign ministers from across Europe to press for better coordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq.”

On the BBC’s Today programme this morning, the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown called for an “integrated strategy” by the West to address a “widening Sunni/Shia war”, saying it “is time we joined the dots. Instead of having a series of plans for a series of humanitarian catastrophes…”

He insisted that the UK must prioritise helping the Kurdish fighters in Iraq: “Support the Kurds, support them with arms – I can’t imagine why the government has been so reluctant about this.” He called the Kurds a “secular, northern bulwark against ISIS”.

Ashdown also urged the UK government to, “put pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop funding the Jihadis. I can’t imagine why our government has failed to put pressure on them not to do this before…”

This touches on the wider concern of the UK’s reticence to take the lead on foreign policy in this part of the world. At present, it is difficult to imagine Cameron making the first steps, ahead of, or even in step with, the US and France in the Middle East.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.