Nicky Morgan. Photo: Getty
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Nicky Morgan appears to agree that non-doms should pay tax. What?

But she’s a Conservative minister! This mole is confused.

Nicky Morgan, Conservative education minister, was the sole Tory spokesperson on the Today programme this morning, so she was the unlucky enough to have to respond to Labour’s “non-doms should pay tax” policy announcement. (An actual policy being announced during a general election campaign, I hear you say? Try not to be too surprised, they slip out sometimes.)

Jim Naughtie naughtily tacked it onto an otherwise unremarkable interview about primary education. That’s when it all got confusing.

The key part is here, at about 2hrs40mins.

Morgan says:

Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

She makes it sound as if all reasonable people would, of course, agree that people living in this country should pay tax on their earnings. Except that hasn’t been her government’s policy up until now, and she’s currently supposed to be rebutting exactly this proposal from the opposition party. Naughtie pounces:

Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

She responds:

Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

They go back and forth a few more times on the levy, and then Naughtie gently reminds her that this “isn’t your government’s policy”. At which point she staggers backwards and attempts to walk to party line for the rest of the interview.

This mole is confused. What should reasonable people be agreeing with about non-doms paying tax, Minister Morgan?

Here’s a transcript of the whole exchange:

NM My reaction is that once you look at the detail, actually they’re not proposing to abolish non-dom status. They’re talking about potentially changing the length of time someone will be able to be here...

JN ...they’re tightening the rules, no argument about that, they’re tightening the rules. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

NM Well, we have already tightened the rules in this parliament. And we are very clear, the Conservative Party and George Osborne in the Treasury has been very clear that people who are based here should pay taxes here, we’ve introduced from last week a tax on companies...

JN ...Well hang on, a lot of them don’t...

NM But we have absolutely cracked down. We’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament, non-doms are paying more than they’ve ever paid before. Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

JN Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

NM Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

JN Well why aren’t they?

NM We have increased the non-dom levy...

JN No, the levy is one thing, and the level at which it is set is one thing, paying the tax is another. Are you saying they should pay the tax? Because that’s not your government’s policy.

NM I’m saying that we have at the Treasury clawed back £5bn in this parliament, a crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion and I think that’s exactly what we should do. They’re now paying more in stamp duty...

JN That’s a different issue...

NM I think it’s overall the same issue, that people who are based here should pay their taxes here, and that’s exactly why the diverted profit tax which we saw come into force last week is exactly what we have done in this parliament, because those taxes are essential to pay for those essential services, like education, health and other critical public services which people expect to be fully funded.

JN Are you saying that you, personally, from what you’ve just said, would like to see people with non-dom status paying tax in this country on their overseas earnings?

NM Well, I think we can have the debate about it. I think what the Labour Party are...

JN No, I’m just asking you. Would you like that to happen?

NM What the Labour Party are not being clear about today is on whether they are intending to abolish non-dom status, or simply change or consult on the length of time people would be here to before they have to pay their taxes...

JN Well, that’s fine. John talked to Ed Balls about that earlier. But I’m asking you: would you like to see non-doms paying tax on their overseas earnings or not?

NM Well, we certainly...As I say, that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament. Non-doms are now paying more in this parliament thanks to the Conseravtive-led government policies over the course of the past five years, I think that’s the right thing to happen.

JN Nicky Morgan, thank you very much.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Guns and bullets and nothing more: The Syrian Kurds fighting Isis

They are the US-led coalition's main ally in the fight against Isis, but as Turkey keeps bombing them, the sense of betrayal is growing.

A sense of a betrayal pervaded the funeral, giving an angry edge to the mourners’ grief. The Kurds were used to the Turks killing their people. It was almost expected. What was different in their attitude to the killing of the 14 men and women buried that hot afternoon in the cemetery at Derik, among 20 fighters killed by Turkish air strikes just three days earlier, was that it had occurred under the watchful auspices of the Syrian Kurds’ big ally: America.

So when a US armoured patrol arrived at the edge of the cemetery in northern Syria, the American troops had been met with sullen stares and silence. I watched Aldar Khalil, one of the most influential advisers with the local Syrian Kurdish administration, approach the US army officer while a cordon of armed YPG fighters surrounded the patrol to keep civilians away.

“I told the American officer how angry people felt,” he told me afterwards, “and advised them that as soon as they had achieved what they wanted to at the funeral they should go. Emotions are high. People expected more.”

The air strikes had been far more significant than anything previously visited by the Turks on the YPG, the Syrian Kurd fighting group that has become the Americans’ primary ally in the forthcoming battle to capture the city of Raqqa from Isis. Operations to shape the battlefield around the militants’ capital are ongoing, and some sections of the front YPG units, the mainstay of the anti-Isis alliance, are now less than four kilometres from the outskirts of Raqqa.

However, the entire operation was thrown into jeopardy early on the morning of 25 April, just days before US officials confirmed that President Donald Trump had authorised the direct supply of weapons to the YPG. Turkish jets repeatedly bombed the YPG’s main command centre on Qarachok Mountain, just above the small town of Derik, destroying ammunition stocks, a communications centre and accommodation blocks. The dead included Mohammed Khalil, a top commander involved in planning the Raqqa operation.

The attack immediately drove a wedge between US troops and the Syrian Kurds, who felt they had been knowingly betrayed by the United States, which had acted as the YPG’s ally in the fight for Raqqa with the one hand while allowing its fellow Nato and coalition member Turkey to stab the YPG in the back with the other.

“There were a couple of days after the Qarachok strikes when several of our leading commanders, and many of our people, put on the pressure to withdraw our forces from the Raqqa front altogether and send them to protect our borders with Turkey,” Khalil, the Syrian Kurd adviser, told me. “They wanted to stop the Raqqa operation. We had to explain very carefully that this was [the Turkish president] Erdogan’s goal, and to persuade them to continue.”

Senior YPG commanders suffered deep personal losses in the Turkish air strikes. Among the mourners at Derik was ­Rojda Felat, a joint commander of the overall Raqqa operation. Standing beside the grave of Jiyan Ahmed, one of her closest friends, she clasped a portrait of the dead woman in her hands.

“She survived fighting Da’esh [Isis] in Kobane, in Tal Hamis and Manbij,” Felat said. “She survived all that, only to be killed by a Turkish jet.”

Later, illustrating the fragile contradictions of the coalition’s alliances, Felat explained that she had gone to sleep in the early hours of 25 April, after finishing a series of late-night planning meetings with British and US officers at the forward headquarters she shares with them on the north side of Lake Assad, Syria’s largest lake, when word of the air strikes came through.

“It was very clear to me that the Americans I was with had not known about the air strikes,” said Felat, 35, a legendary figure among Syria’s Kurds whose role models include Napoleon and the socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. “They could see how upset and angry I was to learn in an instant that so many friends had been killed, and the Americans dealt with that compassionately. I was extremely distressed, to say the least,” she added, looking away.

Within a few hours of the strikes, Felat was on a US helicopter alongside US officers flown to Qarachok to assess the damage in a very public display of US-YPG solidarity.

The Americans were quick to try to mitigate the damage to their Kurdish allies. A further 250 US troops were sent into Syria to run observation patrols along the Syria-Turkey border in an attempt to de-escalate the tension, bringing the number of US troops there to more than 1,200. In addition, US weapons consignments to the Syrian Kurds increased “manifold” in a matter of days, Felat said.

Yet these measures are unlikely to stop the fallout from a strategy – that of arming the Syrian Kurds – which risks broadening Turkey’s overall conflict with the YPG, unless certain crucial political objectives are attained parallel to the push on Raqqa.

Turkey, at present regarded as a mercurial and mendacious “frenemy” by Western coalition commanders, perceives the YPG as a terrorist organisation that is an extension of its arch-enemy the PKK, a left-wing group demanding greater auton­omy within Turkey. Hence Ankara’s deep concern that the YPG’s growing power in Syria will strengthen the PKK inside Turkey. The Turks would rather their own proxies in Syria – an unattractive hotchpotch of Syrian Islamist groups mistrusted by the West – reaped the rewards for the capture of Raqqa than the YPG.

Although US commanders find the YPG more reliable and militarily effective than the Turkish-backed Islamist groups, the Syrian Kurds are a non-state actor, a definition that ensures B-grade status in the cut and thrust of foreign policy. Nevertheless, recalling the painful lesson of 2003 – that military success is impotent unless it serves a political vision – the US should be devoting energy to imposing conditions on the supply of arms to the YPG as a way of containing Turkish aggression against their ally.

Salient conditions could include the YPG disassociating from the PKK; a cessation in repressing rival political parties in YPG areas; the withdrawal of YPG fighters from northern Iraq, where they are involved in a needless stand-off with Iraqi Kurds; and an agreement by the YPG to withdraw from Raqqa, an Arab city, once it is captured.

As a quid pro quo, and in return for the YPG blood spilled in Raqqa, the Syrian Kurds should have their desire for autonomy supported; have the crippling trade embargo placed on them by the government of Iraqi Kurdistan lifted; and, by means of buffer zones, have their territories protected from further attacks by Turkey and its Islamist proxies.

So far, none of these measures is in play, and comments by US officials have only strengthened a growing suspicion among Syria’s Kurds that they will be discarded by the US the moment the YPG have fulfilled their use and captured Raqqa.

“We have not promised the YPG anything,” Jonathan Cohen, a senior US state department official, told the Middle East Institute in Washington on 17 May – a day after President Erdogan’s visit to the US. “They are in this fight because they want to be in this fight. Our relationship is temporary, transactional and tactical.”

Cohen further said: “We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. That is where it stops.”

The sense of betrayal felt by the mourners at Derik was perfectly understandable. But Syria’s Kurds should not be so surprised the next time it happens. America, it seems, has promised them nothing more than guns and bullets. 

Anthony Loyd is a war correspondent for the Times

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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