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Theresa May, Brexit and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Judgment, like the previous High Court Judgment, will not derail or even significantly slow down Britain’s exit from the EU. The court decisions have however forced Theresa May to say finally that Britain is heading for a “hard Brexit”: quitting the European Single Market so that it can reimpose border controls. They have also further exposed Theresa May as a weak and indecisive leader who does not know her own mind.

Alexander Mercouris

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The decision of Britain’s Supreme Court to refuse the British government’s appeal against the High Court Judgment, which said that the British government must consult the British Parliament before invoking Article 50, appears to have stirred fewer passions than the High Court Judgment did.

This is perhaps because of the general expectation that the British government would lose the appeal.  This meant that where the High Court Judgment came as a shock for many people, the Supreme Court Judgment did not.

I have discussed the High Court Judgment previously.  I said that though I am not a constitutional lawyer it appeared to me reasonable and well-considered, and though I did not think it was completely appeal proof I doubted the Supreme Court would set it aside

In my opinion this is a very well thought out and carefully considered Judgment delivered by three of the country’s top Judges.  Certainly I do not think this was a politicised Judgment intended to wreck the Brexit process. 

I do not have the constitutional law expertise to say whether this Judgment is right or wrong, or whether it will survive on appeal.  On balance I don’t agree with those who say this Judgment is appeal proof, but neither do I think that the Supreme Court will set it aside.

The Supreme Court’s 8-3 split when it decided to dismiss the government appeal, which suggests that this assessment of the High Court Judgment was roughly right.

More importantly, I also said – and I still say – that whatever the legal and constitutional importance of these court decisions, they will not derail or even significantly slow down the Brexit process as some people hope and some others fear.

What I doubt is that this Judgment will derail the Brexit process as some people think.

Though the British government will have to present legislation to the British Parliament in order to get the Article 50 process underway, I have no doubt it will be able to do this and to get this legislation passed when it does. 

Though it is true that most of the members of the British Parliament in the referendum supported Remain, the government has a majority in the House of Commons, and it would surely treat any refusal by Parliament to pass this legislation as a resigning matter. 

What that would mean is that it would threaten to call an election if the legislation were not passed, in which it would campaign as the government that was trying to carry out the will of the people as expressed in the referendum against a recalcitrant Labour opposition and any dissenting Conservatives intent on thwarting it.

With the government already far ahead in the opinion polls, that would create the conditions for a government victory by a landslide, resulting in a government and a Parliament even more committed to the ‘hard’ Brexit outcome than the one we have now.

I cannot imagine that even the most doctrinaire Remain supporters, whether in Parliament or outside it, would be unable to see this, and for that reason I expect the government to get its way.  Probably on especially contentious issues the Labour opposition will abstain after some sort of compromise is forged.

Since I wrote that in November shortly after the High Court Judgment it appears to have become the consensus view.  In fact most commentators have come to acknowledge that High Court and Supreme Court Judgments cause more political problems for the opposition Labour Party – which is far more split on the Brexit issue than the Conservatives – than it does for the government.

A more pertinent question is why these court Judgments were needed at all.  It beggars belief that the government’s lawyers didn’t warn it back in the summer and early autumn that it was running serious risks by trying to invoke Article 50 without consulting Parliament.  This is one occasion when I find myself in agreement with the Guardian’s editorial writer

It would be a major surprise if, following the leave vote last June, government lawyers had not privately offered the prime minister legal advice along broadly the lines that the supreme court upheld today. If so, Mrs May foolishly ignored the advice because she clearly wanted to keep her post-referendum strategy as secret as possible – and still does. This was the wrong way to respond to the challenges posed by the referendum result – and the Commons, which was cowed, did not challenge her with enough determination.

Indeed this episode points to what is the true heart of the whole problem: in Theresa May Britain has a weak and indecisive Prime Minister, who because she does not know her own mind is unable to give a clear lead, whether on Brexit or on any other issue.

As I wrote back in early December, her reluctance to go to Parliament was not based on any major constitutional principle or because she was seriously worried she might lose a vote there.  It was because she had no Brexit plan to put to Parliament.  To the extent that she did have one, it did not make sense

Unfortunately in the weeks which have followed it has become increasingly clear that Theresa May has no more idea of what to do on the subject of Brexit than anyone else.  For weeks she hid behind the easy but actually meaningless slogan “Brexit means Brexit”.  However she has never spelled out either what form she wants Brexit to take, or how she intends to achieve it. 

The best that could be said of her is that she seemed to want to preserve Britain’s membership of the European Single Market, whilst opting out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and regaining control of Britain’s borders.

This is a completely illogical policy.  Firstly membership of the European Single Market actually requires Britain to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  It cannot be otherwise since it is the European Court of Justice which administers the acquis, the EU’s body of law which regulates the European Single Market.

Secondly, it is not at all obvious why the EU would agree to allow Britain continued access to the European Single Market whilst simultaneously permitting Britain to reimpose its own border controls.

What the High Court and Supreme Court Judgments have done is force Theresa May to come out and say – at last – what sort of Brexit she wants.  

Since it cannot be the ‘plan’ she was hinting at back in the autumn – which was in reality nothing more than an ill-thought-out wish-list – she has finally been forced to choose between the only two realistic options: remaining in the European Single Market and surrendering British border controls (“soft Brexit”), or withdrawing from the the European Single Market and re-establishing British border controls (“hard Brexit”).  

Unsurprisingly, in light of the known views of most British Conservative voters, she has taken the line of least resistance, and opted for the later ie. for “hard Brexit”.  

She has also now finally promised a White Paper on her Brexit plan (a White Paper is the document the British government uses to outline its legislative plans), something which she ought to have done at the latest in September or October.

If the British courts have finally smoked Theresa May out on the all-important Brexit issue, the problem remains that Britain is stuck with a weak and indecisive Prime Minister, who does not know her own mind, which at a time when the international situation is exceptionally fluid and the prospect of Scottish secession looms is or should be a matter of serious concern.

Theresa May has been very fortunate that the deeply divided state of Britain’s opposition Labour Party – which is facing an existential crisis in its northern heartlands – together with the British economy’s strong performance in recent months, has left her politically unchallenged.

On her present form, her future as Prime Minister depends on how long her present luck continues to hold.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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ABC’s Ted Koppel admits mainstream media bias against Trump [Video]

The mainstream news media has traded informing the public for indoctrinating them, but the change got called out by an “old-school” journo.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported on March 19th that one of America’s most well-known TV news anchors, Ted Koppel, noted that the once-great media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have indeed traded journalistic excellence for hit pieces for political purposes. While political opinions in the mainstream press are certainly within the purview of any publication, this sort of writing can hardly be classified as “news” but as “Opinion” or more widely known, “Op-Ed.”

We have two videos on this. The first is the original clip showing the full statement that Mr. Koppel gave. It is illuminating, to say the least:

Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume, a former colleague of Mr. Koppel, added their comments on this admission in this second short video piece, shown here.

There are probably a number of people who have watched this two-year onslaught of slander and wondered why there cannot be a law preventing this sort of misleading reporting. Well, Russia passed a law to stop it, hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook. It is a smart law because it does not advocate imprisonment for bad actors in the media, but it does fine them.

Going to prison for reporting “the truth” looks very noble. Having to pay out of pocket for it is not so exciting.

Newsmax and Louder with Crowder both reported on this as well.

This situation of dishonest media has led to an astonishing 77% distrust rating among Americans of their news media, this statistic being reported by Politico in 2018. This represents a nearly diametric reversal in trust from the 72% trust rating the country’s news viewers gave their news outlets in 1972. These statistics come from Gallup polls taken through the years.

 

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