Category Archives: Brexit

Stomping in Britain: Donald Trump and May’s Brexit

What a rotten guest, but then again, that was to be expected.  Ahead of his visit to Britain, there was some indignation that US President Donald Trump should even be visiting in the first place.  Protesters were readying their assortment of paraphernalia in anticipation.  Walls of noise were promised.  Trump, on the other hand, was bullish after his NATO performance, which did a good deal to stir and unsettle partners and leaders.  On leaving Brussels, his singular account was that all partners had, in fact, agreed to a marked rise in defence spending.

Having settled into dinner with British Prime Minister Theresa May at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, there was a whirring buzz that the president had been busy, having given an interview to that infamous rag of reaction The Sun newspaper.  It was spectacularly poor form, featuring a series of pot shots against his host on how she had handled Brexit negotiations so far.  Not that May’s handling has been brilliantly smooth. Characterised by Tory saboteurs, confusion and ill-expertise, the British tangle with the European Union has persisted with barnacle tenacity.

This did not inspire confidence from Trump, and the Chequers agreement that May had reached with cabinet members was deemed “very unfortunate”.  For the president, a Brexit softened and defanged to keep it bound up in some form in the EU could well spell an end to a separate, post-separation trade pact with the United States.  “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.”

The sting was greater for the fact that May was using the dinner to pitch her case for a separate trade arrangement.  “As we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more.”  Any free trade agreement between the countries, she asserted, would create “jobs and growth here is in the UK and right across the United States.” Bureaucracy would be defeated in the transatlantic venture.

Trump, as he tends to, was operating on a different frequency, claiming that he, brilliant chap that he is, had the formula for how May might best get a workable Brexit through. If only the prime minister had listened instead of chasing her own flight of fancy.

May was not the only British politician rostered for a tongue lashing. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who reached some prominence criticising Trump’s election promise to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration to the United States, also came in for special mention.  “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad.”  Reflecting on the problems facing European cities as a result, he told The Sun that London had “a mayor who has done a terrible job in London.  He has done a terrible job.”  The mayor had blotted his copybook by doing “a very terrible job on terrorism” and, just for good measure, crime in general.

Not content at leaving it at that, Trump revealed that childish vulnerability typical in unstoppable, and encouraged egomaniacs. This had undoubtedly been spurred on by Khan’s refusal to ban the flying of a 20ft blimp depicting Trump as an indignant, orange infant, nappy and all.  “I think [Khan] has not been hospitable to a government that is very important.  Now he might not like the current President, but I represent the United States.”

Having said earlier in the week that the issue of whether May should continue as British prime minister was “up to the people”, Trump was less judicious in his liberating interview. In what could be construed as an act of direct meddling (foreign interference for the US imperium is genetic, programmed and inevitable), Trump had his own views about who would make a suitable replacement.  The blundering, now ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a person with his own conditioning of Trumpism, would “make a great prime minister.”

For those incensed by Trump’s say in the matter, it is worth noting that his predecessor was no less terse in warning, not just the Cameron government, but the British people, that leaving the EU would banish Britain to the end of any trade agreement queue.  Britain was far better being part of a collective voice generated by the EU, rather than a single power going its own way.  At “some point down the line,” President Barack Obama explained at a press conference held at the Foreign Office on a visit in April 2016, “there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done.”

Perhaps the most striking delusion that runs so deeply through the Brexit pathology is the idea the Britannia’s flag will again fly high, and that power shall, mysteriously, be reclaimed by a nation made anew.  Other powers will heed that; respect shall be observed.  What Presidents Obama and Trump have shown from different sides of the coin is that such hopes might be terribly misplaced.

Making Heavy Weather: Boris Johnson the Despoiler

There is a certain haunting similarity between the President of the United States and the now former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson.  This does not merely extend to mad, oddly positioned hair, and misshaped mullets.  Both share a philosophy of upending the order and permanent disruption, impossible for those on their putative side of politics to measure, predict or contain.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May thought that her cabinet, moulded by cabinet responsibility, would be able to go forth with the bare bones of a plan for negotiations with the European Union for Britain’s departure.  Johnson, with characteristic muddling, had signed on to the Chequers statement, but had issued public utterances about his dissatisfaction.  He was on board, but only in wobbly fashion.

Having first seen which way the wind would turn, Johnson waited for the initial resignations of the Brexit team led by David Davis to take the plunge. His resignation was intended as an improvised explosive device, timed to blow up in the prime minister’s face just before she was to address members of parliament on Monday.

The letter has all the elements of BJ the opportunist, the cad, the slippery debater.  It has no definite shape in terms of what should be done, but is filled with defiance and, dare one say it, hope. Central to the argument is a defence of the “British people”, those subjects for whom he supposedly speaks for.  “They were told that they would be able to manage their own immigration policy, repatriate the sums of UK cash currently spent by the EU, and, above all, that they would be able to pass laws independently and in the interests of the people of this country.”

He warned, with irate frustration, that the “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”  Decisions had been postponed on vital issues “with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system.”

Ever chancing his arm, and interpretation of events, Johnson brought a touch of drama into the note.  The new plan proposed by May, he argued, seemed to take Britain further back since the last Chequers meeting in February.  Then, he described frustrations “as Mayor of London, in trying to protect cyclists from juggernauts.  We had wanted to lower the cabin windows to improve visibility; and even though such designs were already on the market, and even though there had been a horrific spate of deaths, mainly of female cyclists, we were told that we had to wait for the EU to legislate on the matter.”

Ever forceful with the dire scenario, Johnson insisted that the May plan would put Britain into a “ludicrous position” of asserting that “huge amounts” of EU law would have to be accepted “without changing an iota”, while shutting Britain out from influencing them. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of a colony”.

Such imagery qualifies as both entertainment and conceit.  Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer summed up the Johnson approach in a sentence: “Boris Johnson’s whole political career has been characterised by self-promotion and spreading misinformation.”

On the issue of introducing cab design changes to improve visibility for trucks, Johnson conveniently avoided the European Parliament’s vote in 2014 requiring such improvements to be made, a point subsequently decreed by a 2015 directive.  A more complex picture to emerge from here is one of institutional lethargy and foot dragging across a range of institutions, of which Johnson’s own stint as London mayor may count as one.

The resignation has been read in some circles of British commentary as decisively damning for Johnson’s future influence over the Tories.  His stint as foreign secretary, suggested Stephen Bush of The New Statesman, was so gaffe-strewn as to erode “his standing among MPs”. Where his effect becomes different is in the realms of disruption: encouraging Tory members to press for a confidence motion in the prime minister.  A mere 15 percent of Conservative MPs are needed to sign letters calling for such a vote.

Such readings of Johnson ignore the beguiling force he retains in politics.  His buffoonery and populism do have retail value.  Deemed unelectable at points of his career, let alone beyond promotion, he managed to win the mayorship of London.  He was indispensable to swinging the mood to Brexit prior to the 2016 referendum.  To that end, dismissive interpretations of Johnson’s career suffer, to some extent, from a rational view that sees politics as predictable and reasonable.  It was exactly such an approach that missed, almost in its entirety, the furious rise of Donald Trump.

“Johnson,” went William Davies in the London Review Books on March 8 this year, “approaches public life as a game in which he commits sackable offences as a way of demonstrating his unsackability.”

Making him foreign secretary had served only one purpose: a restraint, and a means of minimising any potential damage to May. But his presence, his bravado and his disruptive penchant made Davies wonder whether Trumpism was, as matter of reality, a British problem. “Johnson,” he admitted, “is as close as British politics has to a Trump problem; and his seniority suggests that Trumpism has permeated our political culture more deeply than we like to admit.”  This streak of British-styled Trumpism is bound to provide Johnson more nourishment, though its duration, and depth, remain questionable.

Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt

It was meant to be an away day at Chequers in total hermetic isolation, an effort on the part of UK Prime Minister Theresa May to sketch some common ground in a cabinet that has struggled to agree on much regarding the imminent departure of Britain from the European Union.  The clock is ticking, for many ominously, with the departure date slated for March 29, 2019.

The initial signs seemed good: a consensus had, initially, been reached by all brands of Brexiter. Chief Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had, in principle, come on board, though there were mutterings of dissatisfaction at the PM’s new plan.  At least for a time, collective cabinet responsibility had been satisfied.

The plan focused on, in the words of the Chequers statement, a proposal establishing “a free trade area for goods. This would avoid friction at the border, protect jobs and livelihoods, and ensure both sides meet their commitment to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship.”  Such a vision free of friction would entail maintaining “a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food” with a stress on harmonising UK laws with those of the EU.  Parliament have the ultimate say on their passage. “Regulatory flexibility” would govern the issue of services; “strong reciprocal commitments related to open and free trade” would characterise UK-EU relations.

The issue of the role played by EU courts, always trouble for the fanatical leavers, would continue to play a part in so far as UK courts would heed “the common rulebook”.  A joint institutional framework would ensure consistent interpretation and application of such rules, but “the supremacy of UK courts” would be assured.

As for the issue most worrying to the market types amongst the Tories, the proposal suggested “a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if a combined customs territory.”  This would leave Britain to have its own seat at the World Trade Organisation and strike trade deals with other states, another cherry for the harsh Brexiters.

The populist element was also considered: free movement, a central EU principle, would end, but the UK would seek a principle of ensuring that UK and EU citizens would still be permitted to visit, work and live in respective jurisdictions with ease.  Large annual payments to the EU, those so heavily stigmatised during the 2016 referendum campaign, would also end, though this would not terminate specific contributions to areas of “joint action”.

It did not take long for the ruptures within government ranks to begin.  After the discomforting unity came the blood filled flood; first three resignations, all associated with the “hard” variety of Brexit lore.  The most prominent of them was Davis himself who had shown various, and variable colourings of competence during his time in that newly created position in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum.  He had been marginalised of late, the Prime Minister evidently feeling that the issue was simply too important to leave to him. More to the point, he had threatened some five times to resign since November 2017, making him seem like a purveyor of empty threats.

With Davis’ exit went deputy Steve Baker and junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman.  “The general direction of policy,” came a liberated Davis in his letter of resignation, “will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”  Parliamentary control, he opined, would be “illusory rather than real”.  The “common rule book” policy would effectively hand “control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”

On Monday, just minutes before May’s address to members of parliament, Downing Street announced that Johnson was also making a dash for it.  His resignation letter was certainly heavy with opportunistic John Bull flavour; Britain, he charged, risked heading “for the status of a colony”.  The PM, he accused, was “sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them” in preparations for a “semi-Brexit”.  “It now seems that the opening bid of our negotiations involves accepting that we are not actually going to be able to make our own laws.”

There is not much sincerity all around.  Individuals like Environment Minister Michael Gove are backing May for the moment, thinking that a streak of sound pragmatism runs through this flawed plan.  But anyone having Gove’s backing is bound to feel the sheath of a blade, if not the blade itself, at some point.

Those remaining on May’s rocked ship have become apocalyptic in a different way, suddenly seeing the EU as less problematic than their opponents opposite the Parliamentary chamber.  “If we don’t pull together,” went a Cabinet minister to The Guardian, “we risk the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.”  Never mind Europe, went this particular line of reasoning: Labour might just walk in.

Within British politics, May’s Friday product does not seem to be flying well, though it had taken off in a fashion.  Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, taking the Scottish angle on this, suggested that the plan had started to unravel early, though it had a kernel of good sense. “It simply underlines the fact that the UK is leaving the EU (which I wish it wasn’t) the only workable solution is to stay in single market and customs union.”

Then comes the most obvious point that would render this whole exercise drily spent and academic: Will the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his crew have a bar of it?  There is, superficially, too much of the Swiss solution to this, too much of the “give me your market” but spare me the regulatory trade-off.  Having expressed his dislike for such a solution in the past, it is clear that May is facing the toughest of sells.   The EU apparatchiks still wish to make an example of Britain, a form of deterrence against others who wish to take the exiting step in the name of reclaiming sovereignty.

But there is something striking about the latest chapter in the ever ballooning Brexit script.  The Chequers statement is a product of a person who has not only survived, but shredded the hard Brexit base within her cabinet.  With Davis and Johnson gone into the dangerous ether of political disruption, the issue is whether the positions will firm up or loosen.  Till then, and even after, few sane individuals will want May’s job.

Vassals and Victims

Nothing better illustrates the disaster of Britain leaving the EU than Donald Trump. Once we’re no longer able to enjoy the huge benefits of the European single market we will be compelled to try to arrange favourable independent trade deals with other countries, the largest of which will almost certainly be the USA. Having to rely on the US for our primary trading partner is the truly nightmare scenario of Brexit, and one example of why this is so was provided last week.

It was reported that the US will “use trade talks to force the NHS to pay more for drugs“. No matter that many medicines are already vastly overpriced, it’s still not enough for the giant drug companies who net billions of dollars profiteering from desperately sick people. They want to make even more because their greed knows no limit, and Mr Trump will “not be cheated by foreign countries” (1).

The US has a long and inglorious history of reneging on its promises and treaties. Ask Native Americans. More recently we’ve seen the US turn its back on its own Transpacific Partnership agreement, pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and effectively scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal, ignoring the fury of European counter-signatories. The US government has, of course, always totally ignored international law, as well as its own laws and federal constitution, whenever it felt like it. Henry Kissinger once infamously quipped, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”  It imposes vicious trade sanctions whenever it wants (more often than any other country), and last year this champion of free trade slapped a 200% trade tariff on Bombardier. This is the country we’ll be relying on after Brexit.

Of course, it’s easy, and true, to say that Donald Trump will not last forever, but Trump isn’t the main problem. The main problem is the whole US system of government, which appears to see the US as the only country in the world of any importance. The president is a distraction, designed to suggest that better days will come once the current one moves on. But the better days never come. Presidents come and go but the empire gets ever stronger, and more catastrophically dystopian.

Most of the people who voted for Brexit don’t understand this global reality. Most Brexit supporters have a worldview shaped almost entirely by deceitful tabloids and Hollywood propaganda movies. They think America is our friend. It isn’t. It has no friends, it only has vassals and victims, and neither of those is a very pleasant prospect for post-Brexit Britain.

Four Days to Declare a Cold War

The week that has just ended was exceptionally rich in events. But no media were able to report it, because they had all deliberately masked certain of their number in order to protect the story that was being woven by their government.

The British government and certain of its allies, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have attempted to launch a Cold War against Russia. Their plan was to fabricate an attack against an ex-double agent in Salisbury and at the same time a chemical attack against the “moderate rebels” in the Ghouta. The conspirators’ intention was to profit from the efforts of Syria to liberate the suburbs of its capital city and the disorganisation of Russia on the occasion of its Presidential election. Had these manipulations worked, the United Kingdom would have pushed the USA to bomb Damascus, including the Presidential palace, and demand that the United Nations General Assembly exclude Russia from the Security Council.

However, the Syrian and Russian intelligence got wind of what was being plotted. They realised that the US agents in the Ghouta who were preparing an attack against the Ghouta were not working for the Pentagon, but for another US agency.

In Damascus, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fayçal Miqdad, set up an emergency Press conference for 10 March, in order to alert his fellow citizens. From its own side, Moscow had first of all tried to contact Washington via the diplomatic channels. But aware that the US ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr, is the director of Caterpillar, the company which had supplied tunneling materials to the jihadists so that they could build their fortifications, Moscow decided to bypass the usual diplomatic channels.

Here’s how things played out:

12 March 2018

The Syrian army seized two chemical weapons laboratories, the first on 12 March in Aftris, and the second on the following day in Chifonya. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats pushed the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to get involved in the criminal investigation in Salisbury.

In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Theresa May violently accused Russia of having ordered the attack in Salisbury. According to her, the ex-double agent Sergueï Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military nerve gas of a type “developed by Russia” under the name of Novitchok. Since the Kremlin considers Russian citizens who have defected as legitimate targets, it is therefore highly likely that they ordered the crime.

Novitchok is known by what has been revealed by two Soviet personalities, Lev Fyodorov and Vil Mirzayanov. The scientist Fyodorov published an article in the Russian weekly Top Secret in July 1992, warning about the extremely dangerous nature of this product, and warning against the use of old Soviet weaponry by the Western powers to destroy the environment in Russia and make it unlivable. In October 1992, he published a second article (link in Russian) in the News of Moscow with Mirzayanov, denouncing the corruption of certain generals and the traffic of Novitchok in which they were involved. However, they did not know to whom they may have sold the product. Mirzayanov was first of all arrested for high treason, then released. Fyodorov died in Russia last August, but Mirzayanov is living in exile in the United States, where he collaborates with the Department of Defense.

Soviet chemist Vil Mirzayanov defected to the United States in 1995. Now 83 years old, he comments on the Skripal affair from Boston.

Novitchok was fabricated in a Soviet laboratory in Nukus, in what is now Uzbekistan. In 1999 USA and Uzbekistan agreed to destroy that plant. United States, by necessity, have therefore possessed and studied samples of this substance. They are both capable of producing it.

British Minister for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson summoned the Russian ambassador in London, Alexandre Iakovenko. He gave him an ultimatum of 36 hours to check if any Novitchok was missing from their stocks. The ambassador replied that none was missing, because Russia had destroyed all of the chemical weapons it had inherited from the Soviet Union, as witnessed by the OPCW, which had drawn up a certified report.

After a telephone discussion with Boris Johnson, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in turn condemned Russia for the attack in Salisbury.

Meanwhile, a debate was under way at the UN Security Council concerning the situation in the Ghouta. The permanent representative for the US, Nikki Haley, declared:

Almost a year ago, in the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s sarin gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun, the United States offered a warning to this Council. We said that when the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action. The Security Council failed to act. And the United States successfully struck the airbase from which Assad had launched his chemical attack. We repeat this warning today…

The Russian side handed out documents from the US staff. They showed that the Pentagon was ready to bomb the Presidential palace and the Syrian Ministries, on the model of what it had done during the taking of Baghdad (3 to 12 April 2003).

Commenting on the declaration by Nikki Haley, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had always called the attack in Khan Sheikhoun a “Western manipulation”, revealed that the false information which had led the White House into error and triggered the bombing of the Al-Chaayrate air base, had, in fact, come from a British laboratory which had never revealed how it came to possess its samples.

13 March 2018

The Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs published a press release condemning a possible US military intervention, and announcing that if Russian citizens were harmed in Damascus, Moscow would riposte proportionally, since the Russian President is constitutionally responsible for the security of his fellow citizens.

Bypassing the official diplomatic channels, Russian Chief of Staff General Valeri Gerasimov contacted his US counterpart General Joseph Dunford to inform him of his fear of a false flag chemical attack in Ghouta. Dunford took this information very seriously, and alerted US Defense Secretary General Jim Mattis, who referred the matter to President Donald Trump. In view of the Russian insistence that this piece of foul play was being prepared without the knowledge of the Pentagon, the White House asked the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, to identify those responsible for the conspiracy.

We do not know the result of this internal enquiry, but President Trump acquired the conviction that his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was implicated. The Secretary of State was immediately asked to interrupt his official journey in Africa and return to Washington.

Theresa May wrote to the General Secretary of the United Nations accusing Russia of having ordered the attack in Salisbury, and convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council. Without waiting, she expelled 23 Russian diplomats.

At the request of President of the House of Commons Interior Committee Yvette Cooper, British Secretary for the Interior Amber Rudd announced that MI5 (Military Interior Secret Services ) is going to re-open 14 enquiries into deaths which, according to US sources, “were ordered by the Kremlin”.

By doing do, the British government adopted the theories of Professor Amy Knight. On 22 January 2018, this US Sovietologist published a very strange book – Orders to Kill – the Putin régime and political murder. The author, who is “the specialist on the ex-KGB”, attempts to demonstrate that Vladimir Putin is a serial killer responsible for dozens of political assassinations, from the terrorist attacks in Moscow in 1999 to the attack on the Boston Marathon in 2013, by way of the execution of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 or that of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in 2015. However, she admits herself that there is absolutely no proof of her accusations.

The European Liberals then joined the fray. Ex-Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt, who presides their group in the European Parliament, called on the European Union to adopt sanctions against Russia. His counterpart at the head of their British party, Sir Vince Cable, proposed a European boycott of the World Football Cup. And already, Buckingham Palace announced that the royal family has canceled their trip to Russia.

The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, announced that it might ban the channel RT as a retaliatory measure, even though RT has on no occasion violated British law.

The Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs summoned the British ambassador in Moscow to inform him that reciprocal measures would soon be indicated in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from London.

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

President Trump announced on Twitter that he had fired his Secretary of State, with whom he had not yet been in contact. He was replaced by Mike Pompeo, ex-Director of the CIA, who, the night before, had confirmed the authenticity of the Russian information transmitted by General Dunford. On his arrival in Washington, Tillerson obtained confirmation of his dismissal from White House General Secretary General John Kelly.

Ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a product of the Texan middle class. He and his family worked for the US Scouts, of whom he became the National President (2010-12). Culturally close to England, he did not hesitate, when he became President of the mega-multinational Exxon-Mobil (2006-16), not only to wage a politically correct campaign favouring the acceptance of young gays into the Scouts, but also to recruit mercenaries in British Guiana. He is said to be a member of the Pilgrims Society, the most prestigious of Anglo-US clubs, presided by Queen Elizabeth II, a number of whose members were part of the Obama administration.

During his functions as Secretary of State, the quality of his education provided a bond for Donald Trump, considered by US high society to be a buffoon. He was in disagreement with his President on three major subjects which allow us to define the ideology of the conspirators:

(a) Like London and the US deep state, he thought it would be useful to diabolise Russia in order to consolidate the power of the Anglo-Saxons in the Western camp;

(b) Like London, he thought that in order to maintain Western colonialism in the Middle East, it was necessary to favour Iranian President Cheikh Rohani against the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei. He therefore supported the 5+1 agreement.

(c) Like the US deep state, he considered that the swing of North Korea towards the United States should remain secret, and be used to justify a military deployment which would be directed in reality against the People’s Repubic of China. He was therefore in favour of official talks with Pyongyang, but opposed to a meeting between the two heads of state.

14 March 2018

While Washington was still in shock, Theresa May spoke once again before the House of Commons to develop her accusation, while all around the world, British diplomats spoke to numerous inter-governmental organisations in order to broadcast the message. Responding to the Prime Minister, Blairist deputy Chris Leslie qualified Russia as a rogue state and demanded its suspension from the UN Security Council. Theresa May agreed to examine the question, but stressed that the outcome could only be decided by the General Assembly in order to avoid the Russian veto.

Theresa May speaking at the House of Commons on March 14, 2018

The North Atlantic Council (NATO) met in Brussels at the request of the United Kingdom. The 29 member states drew a link between the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the attack in Salisbury. They then decided that Russia was “probably” responsible for these two events.

In New York, the permanent representative of Russia, Vasily Nebenzya, proposed to the members of the Security Council that they adopt a declaration attesting to their common will to shed light on the attack in Salisbury and handing over the enquiry to the OPCW in the respect of international procedures. But the United Kingdom refused any text which did not contain the expression that Russia was “probably responsible” for the attack.

During the public debate which followed, UK chargé d’affaire Jonathan Allen represented his country. He is an agent of MI6 who created the British War Propaganda Service and gives active support to the jihadists in Syria. He declared:

Russia has already interfered in the affairs of other countries, Russia has already violated international law in Ukraine, Russia has comtempt for civilian life, as witnessed by the attack on a commercial aircraft over Ukraine by Russian mercenaries, Russia protects the use of chemical weapons by Assad (…) The Russian state is responsible for this attempted murder.

The permanent representative for France, François Delattre, who, by virtue of a derogation by President Sarkozy, was trained at the US State Department, noted that his country had launched an initiative to end the impunity of those who use chemical weapons. He implied that the initiative, originally directed at Syria, could also be turned against Russia.

Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya pointed out that the session had been convened at London’s request, but that it is public at Moscow’s request. He observed that the United Kingdom is violating international law by treating this subject at the Security Council while keeping the OPCW out of its enquiry. He noted that if London had been able to identify the ” Novotchik”, it’s because it has the formula and can therefore make its own. He noted Russia’s desire to collaborate with the OPCW in the respect for international procedures.

15 March 2018

The United Kingdom published a common declaration which had been cosigned the night before by France and Germany, as well as Rex Tillerson, who at that moment was still US Secretary of State. The text reiterated British suspicions. It denounced the use of “a neurotoxic agent of military quality, and of a type developed by Russia”, and affirmed that it was “highly probable that Russia is responsible for the attack”.

The Washington Post published an op-ed piece by Boris Johnson, while the US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, established new sanctions against Russia. These are not connected to the current affair, but to allegations of interference in US public life. The decree nonetheless mentions the attack in Salisbury as proof of the underhand methods of Russia.

British Secretary for Defence, the young Gavin Williamson, declared that after the expulsion of its diplomats, Russia should “shut up and go away” (sic). This is the first time since the end of the Second World War that a representative of a permanent member state of the Security Council has employed such a vocabulary in the face of another member of the Council. Sergueï Lavrov commented: “He’s a charming young man. He must want to ensure his place in History, by making shock declarations […] Perhaps he lacks education”.

Conclusion

In the space of four days, the United Kingdom and its allies have laid the premises of a new division of the world, a Cold War.

However, Syria is not Iraq and the UN is not the G8 (from which Russia has been excluded because of its adhesion to Crimea and its support of Syria). The United States are not going to destroy Damascus, and Russia will not be excluded from the Security Council. After having resigned from the European Union, then having refused to sign the Chinese declaration about the Silk Road, the United Kingdom thought to improve its stature by eliminating a competitor. By this piece of dirty work, it imagined that it would acquire a new dimension and become the “Global Britain” announced by Madame May. But it is destroying its own credibility.

• First published in Voltaire Network

The Ease of Accusation: The Skripal Affair

The policy of responding to assassinations on British soil is a near non-existent one.  Her Majesty’s Government is certainly in the habit of huffing, and steam can issue from deliberations in the House of Commons. But substance is often absent.

When Buzzfeed conducted an investigation into the mortuary of incidents in 2017, it found a degree of indifference on the part of British authorities.  Trumpeting findings that fourteen individuals had “been assassinated on British soil by Russia’s security services or mafia groups, two forces that sometimes work in tandem”, the reporters honed in on British sluggishness.  While the Russian bear was busy, Britannia was asleep.

The attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia by a nerve agent is coloured by such a backdrop.  With each day, Downing Street has had to seem to be doing something in linking the attempted killings with identifiable culprits.  Britain is at a low ebb, barely finding its place at the Brexit negotiation table with the European Union.  Weakness and questionable competence is all around.

While this has happened, President Vladimir Putin has been re-elected.  Russia is revitalised.  The Kremlin comes with conveniently heavy baggage of blame.  A perfect situation, then, to point a distracting finger of accusation, making Britain the first state to accuse another of attacking it with a chemical weapon since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has obviously been landed the job of running the accusations which have been beaded together with faux consistency. The case for the prosecution, he argues, is that the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack was of the Novichok group “according to our scientists at Porton Down.”

The second point is track record and experience. “You also have to consider,” he explained to Deutsche Welle, “that Sergei Skripal is somebody who is being identified as a target for liquidation and that Vladimir Putin has himself said that traitors, i.e. defectors such as Mr. Skripal, should be poisoned.”

Let us take the Novichok suggestion.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which oversees the implementation of the CWC, claimed on March 16 that there was “no record of the Novichok group of nerve agents having been declared by a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Where intelligence matters are politicised, links will be forged and tenuous ties made.  The Russian factor, goes the British line, is unmistakable and unimpeachable.  This, despite certification by the OPCW that Russia destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons pursuant to the CWC.  Or that its source of production – the Nukus plant in Uzbekistan – was dismantled and decontaminated with the assistance of the United States in accordance with the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program in 1999.  Brows might well crease with suspicion at that very fact.

Then comes the ease with which Novichok agents can be made.  According to military chemist Vil Mirzayanov, the man who first revealed the existence of the chemical family, making such compounds using commercial ingredients is hardly a herculean task.  This very fact flies in the face of the British claim of Russian exclusivity.

Despite such spanners being cast into the works, individuals such as John Lamb of Birmingham City University insist that, “The Novichok family was specifically created by Russia to be unknown in the West and as such it’ll be one of their most tightly guarded secrets.”

Except, of course, when US scientists made contact with the Uzbek plant in question.  Couple this with the throwaway line in a 2007 Stratfor study on makers of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the singular premise starts to wither: “Cuba is believed to have developed these chemical weapons: tabun, sarin, soman, yellow rain, novichok, phosgene oxime, arsine trihydride, and hydrogen cyanide.”

The second point – the poisoning of traitors, defectors or the like – only makes sense if Skripal had turned a newly rotten leaf.  Political opponents, dissidents and journalists constitute ongoing threats; a double agent living out his days away from the service in Salisbury – if it can be assumed he ever left it – hardly cuts the mustard.  It would, for one thing, make the largest post-Cold War spy exchange moot.

“If they really wanted the man dead,” suggests Justin Glyn, “a convenient accident could surely have been arranged while he was still in prison.”  Yet here was a statement of blatant, open incrimination, delivered with distinctly odd timing.

Even major papers are pondering the sense of targeting Skripal. “So far,” goes the Financial Times, “the picture that has emerged of Mr Skripal suggests he was living a quiet life and had left his days as a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU, and as a high-value M16 informant, well behind him.”  Links to private intelligence firms such as Christopher Steele’s Orbis, the entity behind the Trump-Russia dossier, are also discounted.

That said, the paper goes on to suggest that Skripal had not been fully decommissioned.  A “senior security source” – anonymously cited, naturally – is quoted as claiming that, “There was interest from friendly foreign services after he was released in the spy swap. He was useful for a limited period.” Hardly a ringing endorsement for murder.

Putin, however, remains irresistible as the accused. He furnishes Johnson with historical elevation and purpose. “We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.”

On this occasion, domestic politics, as it often does, is driving the international response.  Diplomats have been expelled from both states.  Harsh words are being traded.  Strikingly, Britain, in defiance of the spirit behind the CWC, has refused to surrender any of the Novichok samples to Russian investigators.  The dense incongruity of it all might, in time, only be illuminated by Skripal himself.  Double agents, let alone ones dedicated to one side, never quite abandon their briefs.

The Ease of Accusation: The Skripal Affair

The policy of responding to assassinations on British soil is a near non-existent one.  Her Majesty’s Government is certainly in the habit of huffing, and steam can issue from deliberations in the House of Commons. But substance is often absent.

When Buzzfeed conducted an investigation into the mortuary of incidents in 2017, it found a degree of indifference on the part of British authorities.  Trumpeting findings that fourteen individuals had “been assassinated on British soil by Russia’s security services or mafia groups, two forces that sometimes work in tandem”, the reporters honed in on British sluggishness.  While the Russian bear was busy, Britannia was asleep.

The attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia by a nerve agent is coloured by such a backdrop.  With each day, Downing Street has had to seem to be doing something in linking the attempted killings with identifiable culprits.  Britain is at a low ebb, barely finding its place at the Brexit negotiation table with the European Union.  Weakness and questionable competence is all around.

While this has happened, President Vladimir Putin has been re-elected.  Russia is revitalised.  The Kremlin comes with conveniently heavy baggage of blame.  A perfect situation, then, to point a distracting finger of accusation, making Britain the first state to accuse another of attacking it with a chemical weapon since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has obviously been landed the job of running the accusations which have been beaded together with faux consistency. The case for the prosecution, he argues, is that the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack was of the Novichok group “according to our scientists at Porton Down.”

The second point is track record and experience. “You also have to consider,” he explained to Deutsche Welle, “that Sergei Skripal is somebody who is being identified as a target for liquidation and that Vladimir Putin has himself said that traitors, i.e. defectors such as Mr. Skripal, should be poisoned.”

Let us take the Novichok suggestion.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which oversees the implementation of the CWC, claimed on March 16 that there was “no record of the Novichok group of nerve agents having been declared by a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Where intelligence matters are politicised, links will be forged and tenuous ties made.  The Russian factor, goes the British line, is unmistakable and unimpeachable.  This, despite certification by the OPCW that Russia destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons pursuant to the CWC.  Or that its source of production – the Nukus plant in Uzbekistan – was dismantled and decontaminated with the assistance of the United States in accordance with the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program in 1999.  Brows might well crease with suspicion at that very fact.

Then comes the ease with which Novichok agents can be made.  According to military chemist Vil Mirzayanov, the man who first revealed the existence of the chemical family, making such compounds using commercial ingredients is hardly a herculean task.  This very fact flies in the face of the British claim of Russian exclusivity.

Despite such spanners being cast into the works, individuals such as John Lamb of Birmingham City University insist that, “The Novichok family was specifically created by Russia to be unknown in the West and as such it’ll be one of their most tightly guarded secrets.”

Except, of course, when US scientists made contact with the Uzbek plant in question.  Couple this with the throwaway line in a 2007 Stratfor study on makers of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the singular premise starts to wither: “Cuba is believed to have developed these chemical weapons: tabun, sarin, soman, yellow rain, novichok, phosgene oxime, arsine trihydride, and hydrogen cyanide.”

The second point – the poisoning of traitors, defectors or the like – only makes sense if Skripal had turned a newly rotten leaf.  Political opponents, dissidents and journalists constitute ongoing threats; a double agent living out his days away from the service in Salisbury – if it can be assumed he ever left it – hardly cuts the mustard.  It would, for one thing, make the largest post-Cold War spy exchange moot.

“If they really wanted the man dead,” suggests Justin Glyn, “a convenient accident could surely have been arranged while he was still in prison.”  Yet here was a statement of blatant, open incrimination, delivered with distinctly odd timing.

Even major papers are pondering the sense of targeting Skripal. “So far,” goes the Financial Times, “the picture that has emerged of Mr Skripal suggests he was living a quiet life and had left his days as a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU, and as a high-value M16 informant, well behind him.”  Links to private intelligence firms such as Christopher Steele’s Orbis, the entity behind the Trump-Russia dossier, are also discounted.

That said, the paper goes on to suggest that Skripal had not been fully decommissioned.  A “senior security source” – anonymously cited, naturally – is quoted as claiming that, “There was interest from friendly foreign services after he was released in the spy swap. He was useful for a limited period.” Hardly a ringing endorsement for murder.

Putin, however, remains irresistible as the accused. He furnishes Johnson with historical elevation and purpose. “We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.”

On this occasion, domestic politics, as it often does, is driving the international response.  Diplomats have been expelled from both states.  Harsh words are being traded.  Strikingly, Britain, in defiance of the spirit behind the CWC, has refused to surrender any of the Novichok samples to Russian investigators.  The dense incongruity of it all might, in time, only be illuminated by Skripal himself.  Double agents, let alone ones dedicated to one side, never quite abandon their briefs.

Salisbury, Skripal and Novichok: A Local View

From the moment the news came out that on Sunday March 4th in Salisbury, one of England’s revered cathedral cities, a Russian spy and his daughter had been poisoned by some form of ‘nerve agent’ my reaction was ‘Oh dear’.

Jeremy Corbyn correctly reminded Parliament of Tony Blair’s attempt to frighten people into going to war with Iraq with his ‘’dodgy dossier’ and 45 minutes claim.  But most have forgotten that, four days before the huge demonstration in London the Army very visibly arrived at Heathrow airport, because there was a possible threat of planes being hit by al Qa’ida missiles.  They disappeared after a day or so as it was obvious the protest by millions would go ahead anyway.

The ever-increasing hysteria of the government and mainstream media in the days that followed the Salisbury incident was giving off the same nasty smell.  All the ‘news’ was evidence-light and full of anomalies that no one addressed.  It seems that once again, a government is trying to scare everyone, this time to make us point the accusing finger at Russia.

Then I read a comment by a Salisbury resident: “It’s like a ghost town.”  The government’s reaction had so frightened everyone that people weren’t coming to the city.  Shops and businesses were suffering.  I don’t exactly live a million miles from Salisbury, so I hopped on the train to see for myself how it was coping.

Visit Salisbury at any time of the year and it will be heaving with people coming to shop, to eat at one of the many cafes, restaurants and pubs, to visit the Cathedral and to walk through the ancient narrow streets.  Not now, it isn’t.  From the moment I walked out of the station towards the city centre I was struck by the lack of people.  Plenty of traffic winding its way through the narrow medieval streets but pedestrians?  No.

I made my way to the Maltings where Skripal and his daughter had been found, collapsed on a bench.  It’s a pedestrianised area, with a central green area (where that bench was) beside a river, surrounded by some big stores and lots of little, individual shops.  Walk through it from the car parks and you come out into the old city centre with its ancient timber-frame and brick buildings.  It’s not just popular with the locals, it is tourist heaven.

On my way in there was a policemen on duty and blue-and-white cordon tape.  Further in were more police guarding cordoned-off areas and some media – cameras and reporters making their filmed reports to Sky News or whoever.  I overheard one of them saying “She is due to arrive…”  Could I possibly have arrived just before our useless Prime Minister Theresa May finally came to Salisbury?  I would have to wait and see.

I filled in time with looking at some of the shops.  There were five within the cordon, forced to close for nearly two weeks, and no end in sight.  Beyond them, just outside the cordon, was an Original Factory Shop with open doors.  I didn’t go in.  I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of being the only person in a large store not standing behind a counter.  Sainsbury’s supermarket, on the edge of the Maltings, wasn’t faring much better.

I tried the little shops, loved by visitors to Salisbury.  It is nearly Easter.  Windows were filled with Easter displays, and no public to enjoy them.  In each was a lonely person waiting in vain for customers.  I asked one of them how bad the trade was.  “It’s twice as bad as it was last week,” she said, “and it’s getting worse.”  Depressed, I went back and stood by the bridge over the river, waiting for May.

The press were gathering, more cameras, microphones held ready.  A Wiltshire policeman passed me and grinned. “We don’t usually have exciting things happen in Salisbury!” he said cheerfully.  But Salisbury really could do without this thrill.

May appeared with Chief Constable Pritchard and was immediately surrounded by the press.  I heard an animated conversation going on behind me.  It was Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, talking to some local people.  They only realised who he was after he walked off, back to the city centre and away from the media scrum.  Sensible man.

Two schoolgirls passed May on their way back to school after lunch, one of them saying, “I don’t really care about her.”  May went on a tiny walk-about and met one or two shop owners, probably handpicked for being Prime Minister-friendly.  Then it was off to the Guildhall for a meeting with first-responders.

The empty Guildhall Square at lunchtime – every building in the photo is a café, pub or restaurant!

Outside was a crowd, rubber necking, along with lots of police, some noisy police dogs, and a fire engine.  Hovering overhead were helicopters and a drone.  No wonder Salisbury residents and visitors are becoming fearful and staying away.  Apart from the crowd standing outside the Guildhall, the large Guildhall Square was almost deserted, and this at lunchtime when offices empty and people fill the cafes, restaurants and pubs that surround the Square and it’s hard to find a free table anywhere.  Now they were almost all free.

Here and there I saw large signs outside the shops declaring, ‘Open for Business’.  I had never seen the city like this and it broke my heart.  It is scheduled to get worse.  On Monday March 12th the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner said that all the cordoned areas (of which there are several around the city) could remain in place for weeks, and that more could be set up.

But Salisbury has had enough and is fighting back.  In a narrow street going towards the cathedral I found a shop window with a message strung across it: #SALISBURYISOPEN.  Naturally I went in and asked the woman behind the counter what it meant.  And it all came pouring out.  “We’ve just recovered from all the ‘regeneration work’ on the car parks and the Maltings, when this happens,” she said, while explaining her message.

The Salisbury Journal, the city’s weekly paper, is one to be envied by other places.  The March 15th issue has a 12-page focus on the incident which puts the hyperventilating national press to shame.  The Journal is also doing what government has failed to do.  Ministers might insist Salisbury is ‘safe’, but that doesn’t match their scare-mongering.  So the Journal launched the ‘Salisbury is Open’ campaign.  That is what the ‘Open for Business’ signs are about.

Twitter: #salisburyisopen

I was told how Salisbury residents are too frightened to come into the centre to shop.  I was told of suspect vehicles being taken by the military to Porton Down, a fact confirmed by the Journal.  The Journal carefully lists them: ambulances, police cars (some unmarked) and two vehicle recovery vans, over several days.

Altogether, about 10 or 11 vehicles, for the scientists at Porton Down to examine for the presence of a ‘nerve agent’.  Scientists there must be tired of this, having apparently refused to identify it as Russian-made.

But the real question, says the lady in the shop, is ‘What about Skripal’s car?’ a red BMW series 3.  Why was it taking so long for the police to find it?  Surely they would look in the Sainsbury’s car park first?  They cordoned off the car park, but not until 8 days after the poisoning.  Later they came back and cordoned off the ticket machine.

It is known Skripal’s car entered the car park at about 1:40 pm on March 4th.  When was it taken to the Ashley Wood Recovery Garage, and by whom?  And indeed, why, unless to get it out of the way?

Why did ‘incident response units’ examine a red BMW at the Garage on Thursday March 8th, remove an Ashley Wood recovery van from Winterslow village on Monday 12th, return to the Garage on Tuesday 13th, remove another recovery van from a Dorset town on Thursday March 14th and only then on Friday, 12 whole days after the incident, it is officially identified as Skripal’s car, and the Journal reports that it is being removed from Ashley Wood Recovery Garage, with the national media limping in a day later.

12 days.  If this nerve agent is so very dangerous why is there so little to show for so much activity, and so many delays in dealing with it?  Doesn’t it look like an exercise in propaganda?

Are the counter terrorism police going to trace all those who used the car park ticket machine?  Are they going to cordon off any place (the cemetery is already out of bounds) where Skripal may possibly have been?  Are they going to spin this out even more and gradually put all of Ashley Wood’s vehicles in Porton Down, and all its staff in hospital?  Another local business ruined to further the UK’s anti-Russia campaign.

There is no thought for the city of Salisbury and its people in any of the government’s actions, so focused are they on their unsubstantiated accusations against Russia.  A Foreign Office statement claimed:

Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable.

The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was a ‘state-sponsored murder attempt’.  But which ‘state’ are we talking about?

It’s been clear for months that the government was using the Brexit shambles to hide the fact that they couldn’t govern the country and tackle its pressing issues – the health crisis, homelessness and lack of social housing, poverty and the awful results of its austerity programme.  Now it seems that the government is using Skripal to hide the fact that they can’t govern Brexit either.

And while they’re sorting out their fantastical mess, and if you live anywhere near Salisbury, go visit, eat out and buy something in the shops.

• Photos by Lesley Docksey

Salisbury, Skripal and Novichok: A Local View

From the moment the news came out that on Sunday March 4th in Salisbury, one of England’s revered cathedral cities, a Russian spy and his daughter had been poisoned by some form of ‘nerve agent’ my reaction was ‘Oh dear’.

Jeremy Corbyn correctly reminded Parliament of Tony Blair’s attempt to frighten people into going to war with Iraq with his ‘’dodgy dossier’ and 45 minutes claim.  But most have forgotten that, four days before the huge demonstration in London the Army very visibly arrived at Heathrow airport, because there was a possible threat of planes being hit by al Qa’ida missiles.  They disappeared after a day or so as it was obvious the protest by millions would go ahead anyway.

The ever-increasing hysteria of the government and mainstream media in the days that followed the Salisbury incident was giving off the same nasty smell.  All the ‘news’ was evidence-light and full of anomalies that no one addressed.  It seems that once again, a government is trying to scare everyone, this time to make us point the accusing finger at Russia.

Then I read a comment by a Salisbury resident: “It’s like a ghost town.”  The government’s reaction had so frightened everyone that people weren’t coming to the city.  Shops and businesses were suffering.  I don’t exactly live a million miles from Salisbury, so I hopped on the train to see for myself how it was coping.

Visit Salisbury at any time of the year and it will be heaving with people coming to shop, to eat at one of the many cafes, restaurants and pubs, to visit the Cathedral and to walk through the ancient narrow streets.  Not now, it isn’t.  From the moment I walked out of the station towards the city centre I was struck by the lack of people.  Plenty of traffic winding its way through the narrow medieval streets but pedestrians?  No.

I made my way to the Maltings where Skripal and his daughter had been found, collapsed on a bench.  It’s a pedestrianised area, with a central green area (where that bench was) beside a river, surrounded by some big stores and lots of little, individual shops.  Walk through it from the car parks and you come out into the old city centre with its ancient timber-frame and brick buildings.  It’s not just popular with the locals, it is tourist heaven.

On my way in there was a policemen on duty and blue-and-white cordon tape.  Further in were more police guarding cordoned-off areas and some media – cameras and reporters making their filmed reports to Sky News or whoever.  I overheard one of them saying “She is due to arrive…”  Could I possibly have arrived just before our useless Prime Minister Theresa May finally came to Salisbury?  I would have to wait and see.

I filled in time with looking at some of the shops.  There were five within the cordon, forced to close for nearly two weeks, and no end in sight.  Beyond them, just outside the cordon, was an Original Factory Shop with open doors.  I didn’t go in.  I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of being the only person in a large store not standing behind a counter.  Sainsbury’s supermarket, on the edge of the Maltings, wasn’t faring much better.

I tried the little shops, loved by visitors to Salisbury.  It is nearly Easter.  Windows were filled with Easter displays, and no public to enjoy them.  In each was a lonely person waiting in vain for customers.  I asked one of them how bad the trade was.  “It’s twice as bad as it was last week,” she said, “and it’s getting worse.”  Depressed, I went back and stood by the bridge over the river, waiting for May.

The press were gathering, more cameras, microphones held ready.  A Wiltshire policeman passed me and grinned. “We don’t usually have exciting things happen in Salisbury!” he said cheerfully.  But Salisbury really could do without this thrill.

May appeared with Chief Constable Pritchard and was immediately surrounded by the press.  I heard an animated conversation going on behind me.  It was Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, talking to some local people.  They only realised who he was after he walked off, back to the city centre and away from the media scrum.  Sensible man.

Two schoolgirls passed May on their way back to school after lunch, one of them saying, “I don’t really care about her.”  May went on a tiny walk-about and met one or two shop owners, probably handpicked for being Prime Minister-friendly.  Then it was off to the Guildhall for a meeting with first-responders.

The empty Guildhall Square at lunchtime – every building in the photo is a café, pub or restaurant!

Outside was a crowd, rubber necking, along with lots of police, some noisy police dogs, and a fire engine.  Hovering overhead were helicopters and a drone.  No wonder Salisbury residents and visitors are becoming fearful and staying away.  Apart from the crowd standing outside the Guildhall, the large Guildhall Square was almost deserted, and this at lunchtime when offices empty and people fill the cafes, restaurants and pubs that surround the Square and it’s hard to find a free table anywhere.  Now they were almost all free.

Here and there I saw large signs outside the shops declaring, ‘Open for Business’.  I had never seen the city like this and it broke my heart.  It is scheduled to get worse.  On Monday March 12th the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner said that all the cordoned areas (of which there are several around the city) could remain in place for weeks, and that more could be set up.

But Salisbury has had enough and is fighting back.  In a narrow street going towards the cathedral I found a shop window with a message strung across it: #SALISBURYISOPEN.  Naturally I went in and asked the woman behind the counter what it meant.  And it all came pouring out.  “We’ve just recovered from all the ‘regeneration work’ on the car parks and the Maltings, when this happens,” she said, while explaining her message.

The Salisbury Journal, the city’s weekly paper, is one to be envied by other places.  The March 15th issue has a 12-page focus on the incident which puts the hyperventilating national press to shame.  The Journal is also doing what government has failed to do.  Ministers might insist Salisbury is ‘safe’, but that doesn’t match their scare-mongering.  So the Journal launched the ‘Salisbury is Open’ campaign.  That is what the ‘Open for Business’ signs are about.

Twitter: #salisburyisopen

I was told how Salisbury residents are too frightened to come into the centre to shop.  I was told of suspect vehicles being taken by the military to Porton Down, a fact confirmed by the Journal.  The Journal carefully lists them: ambulances, police cars (some unmarked) and two vehicle recovery vans, over several days.

Altogether, about 10 or 11 vehicles, for the scientists at Porton Down to examine for the presence of a ‘nerve agent’.  Scientists there must be tired of this, having apparently refused to identify it as Russian-made.

But the real question, says the lady in the shop, is ‘What about Skripal’s car?’ a red BMW series 3.  Why was it taking so long for the police to find it?  Surely they would look in the Sainsbury’s car park first?  They cordoned off the car park, but not until 8 days after the poisoning.  Later they came back and cordoned off the ticket machine.

It is known Skripal’s car entered the car park at about 1:40 pm on March 4th.  When was it taken to the Ashley Wood Recovery Garage, and by whom?  And indeed, why, unless to get it out of the way?

Why did ‘incident response units’ examine a red BMW at the Garage on Thursday March 8th, remove an Ashley Wood recovery van from Winterslow village on Monday 12th, return to the Garage on Tuesday 13th, remove another recovery van from a Dorset town on Thursday March 14th and only then on Friday, 12 whole days after the incident, it is officially identified as Skripal’s car, and the Journal reports that it is being removed from Ashley Wood Recovery Garage, with the national media limping in a day later.

12 days.  If this nerve agent is so very dangerous why is there so little to show for so much activity, and so many delays in dealing with it?  Doesn’t it look like an exercise in propaganda?

Are the counter terrorism police going to trace all those who used the car park ticket machine?  Are they going to cordon off any place (the cemetery is already out of bounds) where Skripal may possibly have been?  Are they going to spin this out even more and gradually put all of Ashley Wood’s vehicles in Porton Down, and all its staff in hospital?  Another local business ruined to further the UK’s anti-Russia campaign.

There is no thought for the city of Salisbury and its people in any of the government’s actions, so focused are they on their unsubstantiated accusations against Russia.  A Foreign Office statement claimed:

Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable.

The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was a ‘state-sponsored murder attempt’.  But which ‘state’ are we talking about?

It’s been clear for months that the government was using the Brexit shambles to hide the fact that they couldn’t govern the country and tackle its pressing issues – the health crisis, homelessness and lack of social housing, poverty and the awful results of its austerity programme.  Now it seems that the government is using Skripal to hide the fact that they can’t govern Brexit either.

And while they’re sorting out their fantastical mess, and if you live anywhere near Salisbury, go visit, eat out and buy something in the shops.

• Photos by Lesley Docksey

Possessed! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised

Europe is suffering the tortures of the damned as it struggles with split-personality psychosis.

Here in the center of Western Europe one can tune in Germany’s national public broadcasting networks any day of the week and hear scornful diatribes against Trump, outrage over his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, shock and anger regarding his threats against our German automobile industry in his incipient trade war, calls for more EU independence and self-sufficiency.

Every Washington Post CIA-funded-Big-Breaking-News-Report about Mueller’s latest move to impeach and bring down the Orange Menace is always the top headline here: “The Washington Post reports that …”  No mention of Jeff Bezos and his relationship to the CIA. If the Post says Trump is on shaky ground and cruisin’ for a bruisin’, Europe gets excited. They wanted Hillary here, badly.

Europeans knew Hillary. They trusted Hillary. They associated her with that good-looking, smooth-talking young President Barack Obama. Sure, he blew it with the NSA stuff, but nobody cares about that anymore, either here or in the USA. All forgotten. Obama talked a good game on Europe. Polite young man. Went to Harvard.

I want to tell you that there was some serious panicking and freaking out going on here in Europe the morning after election day 2016. Europeans don’t often run around shrieking their fears in public, a cool façade is the preferred mode here, but they did that day, and for many weeks afterward.

They had just spent more than a year sneering and raising their eyebrows and scoffing at the ludicrous orange-cartoon-figure-come-to life, both physically and in print. They had reassured each other and the public in endless columns and debates and editorials that he didn’t have a chance to (first) win the nomination and (then later) to become President. They were already doing a major freak over Brexit. Trump winning was just too much. The sky was falling.

And he has not disappointed them in putting into effect the catalogue of horrors they had anticipated. Pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. Refused to pay even lip service to gun control (lip service goes a long way here in the EU, actual progress is less important). Continued to flaunt that ridiculous comb-over that looks as though it’s deliberately designed to show his contempt for fashion and good taste. Threatened to pull out of the nuclear treaty with Iran, which is very popular here – and practically the only way in which the EU has ever been willing to go against Israel, otherwise we are World Champion Israel-Ass-Kissers here. Trump ranted against Muslims and foreigners, defended white racists (here we mostly just pretend they don’t exist, although they carried out 1,000 attacks on Muslims last year in Germany alone), created new legal hurdles to immigration. Of course, the EU does all of that last bit with immigrants too, except for the ranting part. One does these things quietly, don’t you see, while simultaneously claiming to care about refugees and wanting to help them.

No-sirree, the new man in the White House is near the bottom on the European Hit Parade of Favorite Americans. What is the dang DEAL with these Americans?  How could they elect such a monstrous ambulatory joke? Time to stand up and get independent and show the world that Europe will not sit still for just any old nonsense. Most of us highly-progressive and politically conscious Euros agree about that.

Therefore one might think the EU would be ready to go cold turkey from that highly addictive CIA-Neocon Brand Evil Russia Kool-Aid … right?

(extended silence)

Well, uh …  on the other hand … I mean, now let’s not get TOO carried away with this independence business.

As a matter of fact, all of these American military bases here in Europe, specifically all of these NATO nuclear weapons here in our allegedly once-again-sovereign Germany (a sovereignty which is often called into question by smartasses peddling conspiracy theories, who assert Germany is still controlled by the USA), make some of us feel a whole lot safer from the wicked Lord Sauron aka/ Vlad the Impaler just a few hundred kilometers to the east.

While the government has agreed in principle to gradually increase German military expenditures to 2% of the gross domestic product – thereby almost doubling military spending – in the coming years, mostly under pressure from the USA, it doesn’t want to get nailed down too firmly to that unofficial commitment. There are other things it would rather use that money for. And as long as the USA maintains its military outposts and missile installations in Europe, EU countries feel as if there’s no big rush.

There is also the fact to consider that NATO already outspends Russia on military matters by 900 billion dollars per year to 60 billion dollars per year. But that imbalance rarely comes into the “aggressive Russia” debate, any more than does the fact that Russia (and China too for that matter) is encircled by US military bases. A real extremist who did not understand Russia’s evil nature might go so far as to say that NO ONE needs to increase military spending, and that if anyone is a threat, it is NATO, in particular its leading nation which has already laid to waste much of the Middle East and overthrown numerous governments around the world – often installing nasty and brutal authoritarian rulers as puppets to do its bidding.

But we Europeans never mention such nuances in our advocacy of a Weltanschauung (“way of looking at the world”) which has to be kept very black and white, good versus evil, if the empire is to function properly. And if we want to keep the USA in Europe, in charge of the nuclear arsenal and continuing to give EU nations the luxury of not having to put any of this to the test, then there must be some terrifying menace to justify having those troops and atomic weapons here. We are very nervous about Trump’s threats to force Europe to stand up on its own, but we fervently hope that in a few years he will disappear and our good old Democrats or more moderate Republicans – yes, of course, they still exist, they must — will return to pamper us.

No, for us here in Europe it’s not the USA that is the problem, it’s Trump. As psychotic and bizarre as America is, with its mass shootings and its primitive death penalty, its shocking refusal to enact a reasonable national healthcare program, its police killings of unarmed blacks, its warmongering and overthrowing of foreign governments, its drone massacres of wedding parties, drone massacres and assassinations which we generously allow to be controlled from here on German soil — we would have happily continued to overlook all of that if the USA had only elected another head of state who pretended to care about those things, or at least put a noble and urbane mask on them. Someone like Obama, like Hillary. The way we here in the EU pretend to have noble values while deporting helpless refugees into war zones, turning them back over to Libyan torturers and slave traders, etc., intoning solemn avowals of “European Democratic Values” all the while. Presidents like Obama, or like Hillary would have been — make it so very much easier to get away with our pretense of innocence. It’s embarrassing having Trump as an ally. It’s painful and frightening too.

It’s like being possessed by a demon.