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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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