19 June 2022
Let’s celebrate: all good news this week. Well, nearly all.
The European Court of Human Rights overruled the Boris Johnson / Priti Patel plot to deport asylum seekers 4,000 miles to Ruanda, a country with a dubious human rights history. J&P Holidays had organised a charter flight costing £500,000 to deport up to seven people who’d been stupid enough to believe Britain was a safe place to live. The (huge) plane then sat on the tarmac in the sweltering heat until the ECHR ruled one of the deportations was illegal and other appeals should be awaited, so the flight never took off.
The icing on the cake was that a whole bunch of faith leaders had publicly condemned the decision to deport asylum seekers to another country without even a trial. J&P’s response was to claim faith leaders shouldn’t get involved in politics. Absolute bollocks of course but exactly what we expect from those two. Where would Christianity be if Jesus hadn’t got involved in politics?
Johnson immediately suggested that Britain should withdraw from the ECHR to avoid similar interference in human rights as misinterpreted by him and Patel. After all, after he’d intentionally infringed bits of the ministerial code of conduct, Johnson rewrote the code to ‘legalise’ his actions retrospectively, and that seemed to work.
So he’s now applying the same blasé approach to international law to his attempts to renege on his own agreement with the EU even though his own government publicly accepts its proposed Northern Ireland protocol bill doesn’t meet its obligations under international law.
And then we can have duty-free shops somewhere between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
We can only hope that people voting in next week’s by-elections ignore the no-confidence vote that so discredited and enfeebled Johnson. He deserves a 58th chance to show he can do the job – be fair, he’s only had 3 years to get it right so far.
One slight niggle about his chancellor: isn’t a ‘household’ a bunch of people, not a building? If so, why does the chancellor seem to be contributing £400 to all houses even if they’re second (or third etc) homes which aren’t occupied for most of the time? Wouldn’t one payment per family be better wherever they say they live? Or couldn’t it be means-tested so the money that would have gone to richer households can be used to increase the payments to poorer households?
But back to more good news: the journalist Carole Cadwallader won a victory for the free press. She’d been sued for libel by Arron Banks, a multi-millionaire who bankrolled Brexit, but the judge decided Cadwallader “had reasonable grounds to believe that her intended meaning was true”.
However, Julian Assange is still up for grabs and Priti Patel has decided he can be extradited to America.
I find myself rather conflicted about Assange. I’m in favour of a free press able to publish everything but I could be convinced that some things should be restricted if people’s lives are put at risk. It’s just that America has been unable to actually find even one person who died as a result of the Wikileaks revelations …
However, just imagine if all countries knew everything about what every other country was doing, from the number of nuclear weapons they have to the mental health of their leader. Mightn’t life actually be much safer for us all?
(I don’t feel at all ambivalent about the accusations of sexual impropriety in Sweden which should, however long ago it was, be given a fair hearing in court, but nobody seems to care about this anymore.)
On 4 July, parliament will debate a proposal to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, a small step in the right direction. I’m hoping enough MPs are bright enough to understand that this wouldn’t make it compulsory and it would just allow people to make decisions about their own lives for themselves, instead of suffering under laws made by people who have no experience of situations when this could improve dying for those that wanted to
America, of course, takes a radically different approach to ending life. A lot of them are terribly keen to preserve what might be ‘life’ in utero but equally enthusiastic about letting everyone have guns with which they can end their own (and other people’s) lives. At least death by chemicals just leaves a peaceful body while guns can scatter blood, guts and brains over the furniture.
Actually, a bi-partisan group of US senators are looking at how gun laws could be tightened. It’s only another a small step but again it’s in the right direction. The National Rifle Association, which represents gun makers and sellers whose profits will be reduced if guns are banned, has aired its entirely objective view and said it will “oppose … initiatives that override due constitutional process … and deprive law-abiding citizens of the fundamental right to protect themselves …”. Note that even the NRA doesn’t actually claim Americans have an unrestricted constitutional right to bear arms, though it does its best to imply this without actually lying.
And a House select committee seems to be closing in on their own liar while Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, aka the Good Liars have gained a well-earned reputation for taking the piss. In one recent event, they told Donald Trump he was “boring” and, at an NRA conference, they were applauded for saying “the NRA … has provided thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. And maybe these mass shootings would stop happening if we all thought a little bit more and we prayed a little bit more.” The satire was, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost on the audience, but not on Twitter where it has now had more than 10m views.
Still on lying, Johnson has just lost his second ethics adviser in a year and headlines in the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian all referred to the additional pressure this puts on his position. Happily, with typical Johnsonian defensiveness, he seems to have drawn the obvious conclusion that, if ethics advisers keep telling him he’s being unethical, he obviously doesn’t need one so he’s not immediately going to appoint a new one. How lucky we are to have such a positive-thinking prime minister, even if he does still believe Ethics is thomewhere between Middlethex and Thuffolk.
And there’s an organisation called Henley & Partners that claims to have invented “the concept of residence and citizenship by investment” in the 1990s? In other words, it enables (for a huge fee) millionaires to buy citizenships of other countries (such as St Lucia and Montenegro) that, for a suitably excessive payment, sell their passports. Some of them even offer a “golden passport” giving visa-free travel to 145 countries, including the UK and the EU’s Schengen Area.
It’s been estimated that more than 15,000 Russian millionaires will be leaving their fatherland following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps Ukraine could talk to Henley & Partners and raise money for its defence against Russia and for the care of people rendered homeless by Putin’s murderous attacks on civilians. If I were very rich, I’d be happy with a Ukrainian passport that gave me free access to the EU even without the war.
The closing piece of good news this week is that some gentians, attractive plants with small trumpet-shaped flowers, can feel things and respond to certain touches. A recent study showed that they can suddenly close shortly after being touched, opening again within a fairly short period.
It’s been known for years that some plants can count, and remember things: insectivorous plants such as Venus fly traps don’t move if their trigger hairs are touched once but, if they’re touched again shortly afterwards, they snap shut to trap what is, with luck, a digestible insect and not a researcher with a pencil.
Which means they can count to two; which means they also have a memory because they can remember they’ve already counted one.