A UK debate on net neutrality could happen post-Brexit – we must be ready | The Friday Article

Pizzas, memes and American talk show hosts have all tried their hand at explaining one of the most complicated issues facing the world of technology today. On Wednesday, organisations staged a ‘day of action’ for Net Neutrality Day, showing the world what it would be like if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had the power to prioritise certain traffic or websites over others.

Finger browsing app icons
It’s time we started talking about net neutrality across the pond.

Watching the debate from across the pond, UK citizens breathed a sigh of relief knowing that net neutrality has been enshrined into EU law. That is, until the moment they realised that we voted to leave the bloc just over a year ago. Now, just like other EU laws, the regulation that allows us to enjoy online content regardless of whom our ISP is hangs in the balance.

Cue another piece of political news which did the rounds yesterday which could put all of this at risk: the government’s not-so-great Repeal Bill. If it passes in the state that it’s in now (somewhat unlikely), then ministers will be granted the power to pass secondary legislation. Whilst it’s nice that the Conservatives want to cut Parliament’s workload (dealing with over 50,000 pieces of legislation sounds like quite the hassle), doing so in a way which avoids the scrutiny of MPs has opposition parties raising their eyebrows – and rightly so.

Even if the Tories decide not to amend the regulation without scrutiny, a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, however flawed it may be, could see the net neutrality law scrapped. Regardless of the fact there was a ‘voluntary system’ prior to this law, given Theresa May’s calls ‘to regulate cyberspace’ and the passing of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, any opportunity to degrade internet freedoms will most likely be taken by the Tories.

We need to act now. With the latest data from the Office for National Statistics revealing that 99% of 16 to 34 year olds are recent internet users (compared to just 41% of adults aged 75 or over), a British debate on net neutrality could very well be led by the younger generation.

It would certainly be a powerful campaign from our young people, too. The Conservative Party has been left battered and bruised after the youth vote crushed her arrogance (not to mention her majority) after last month’s general election. Tory MPs scrapping net neutrality – threatening young people’s Netflix subscriptions, social media access and main campaigning platform – would be a very, very bad idea.
One must not fall into stereotypes when discussing the internet, but as much as the youth campaign should challenge any decision to allow ISP’s to control the viewing of online content, it must also ensure that older people understand the issues associated with this. Net neutrality is an issue which affects all of us. Even if an individual is offline, they will be indirectly affected by an unfair Internet.

The possibility of a second general election has left everyone in a political limbo, with a degree of uncertainty about what’s coming next. Depending on what side of the political spectrum people identify, it either fills them with hope or dread. Either way, for the sake of our online society, the surge of young people being interested in politics must never fade.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

The Tories must end the blackmail and secure the rights of EU nationals | The Friday Article

There’s a dangerous indignation sweeping the right. Donald Trump’s war against the media is an annoying distraction from his ‘Make America Great Again’ mantra, and in the UK, the judiciary and legislature continue to frustrate Theresa May’s Article 50 deadline.

The House of Lords voted to add a new amendment to the Brexit bill this week - protecting the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Photo: Liam O'Dell.
The House of Lords voted to add a new amendment to the Brexit bill this week – protecting the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Photo: Liam O’Dell.

This week, it was the House of Lords’ amendment to the Brexit bill to secure the rights of EU nationals living in Britain. It comes just over a month after the High Court ruled Parliament must have a say on the legislation, and the PM isn’t happy. The government has said that it will try to overturn the amendments.

“Our message to MPs is that we expect this bill to go through unamended,” a No. 10 spokesman said in an article on Sky News’ website. “MPs voted it through unamended and we expect that to be the case.”

Indeed they did, but the two arms of Parliament must agree in order for a bill to be passed. A constant ‘ping pong’ between the two houses until a deal is made would only highlight the pure indignation of the Tories. They must stop this childish attitude of refusing compromise on such an important issue. Their fight against the decision of the judiciary was alarming, and now their reluctance to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK is hypocritical.

“We will provide certainty wherever we can,” Theresa May said in a speech at Lancaster House in January. “There will have to be compromises. It will require imagination on both sides, and not everybody will be able to know everything at every stage.

“But I recognise how important it is to provide […] everybody with as much certainty as possible as we move through the process. So where we can offer that certainty, we will do so.”

If anything, the issue with the Lords continues to cast doubt over the whole Brexit dilemma. The above comments contradict what the Conservatives are planning to achieve at the moment. If the Tory government can’t even reach a compromise with the House of Lords, then how on earth can they compromise with the EU member states in Brussels? The worrying remark by the PM in the January speech that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain’ hardly provides certainty. It sounds like a game of blackmail with the EU – a sense of hostility which we do not need at a time when the UK is so delicate.

It’s no surprise that EU nationals living in Britain feel like bargaining chips. The government has explained that it wants the rights of Britons living in other EU countries guaranteed before it can promise that the rights of EU nationals living here will be protected. Aside from the ‘putting our own people first’ connotations that creates, what happens in the unlikely circumstance that the European Union cannot guarantee the rights of ex-pats? Will the ‘no deal’ rule still apply, and we would start deporting EU nationals living here?

As Lady Molly Meacher said to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I believe it [the amendment] can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principle” – to fail to guarantee the rights of EU nationals would be a dismissive action at a time when the definition of ‘Britishness’ is under scrutiny.

The Tories must of course keep some cards close to their chest, but the dangerous levels of blackmail which the Conservatives plan to adopt in Brussels – with EU nationals as a ‘bargaining chip’ – is an arrogant way to approach negotiations. It also contrasts the sweet-talking of Trump and the state visit invitation – why must we treat a divisive President with respect yet approach the EU with hostility?

To ‘cherrypick’ and blackmail our way to a deal will only decrease our chances of getting what we want, and could effect the strong relationships with other European countries that a post-Brexit Britain desperately needs.

Theresa May’s Brexit speech: A statement which failed to solve the problem of certainty

The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.

Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?

In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.

It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.

Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.

After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.

A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.

A disastrous EU referendum shows we need positive politics | The Friday Article

The EU referendum was a disaster. At a time where the public’s disenfranchisement with politics is continuing to rise, the last thing we want to hear from both sides of the debate is fear mongering and arguing which drifts away from the facts. Granted, with either result, there is a degree of uncertainty – be it whether we achieve reform, or achieve a better trade deal – but there are still lessons to be learnt from one of the messiest referendums in British politics. The main thing being that fear in political debates will get us nowhere.

Hope
Fear, arguments and negativity are angering the general public. We need hope and positive politics. Photo: Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign proved this all too well. It drifted away from his own policies and instead targeted Sadiq Khan’s background to stir up fear (one of the most controversial moments of his campaign being a column he wrote for the Daily Mail).

Now, both sides of the EU referendum debate have used fear tactics in an attempt to win over members of the public. However, there is a slight difference in their methods. Throughout Britain Stronger In Europe‘s campaign, the fear has always been around the loss of jobs and the £4,300 sum drawn up by the Treasury. Yet, this was the side of the argument labelled ‘Project Fear’, not the ‘leave’ campaign, which made a poor choice to make their final argument about immigration.

Whilst the only extreme comment made by David Cameron during the ‘remain’ campaign was about a possible outbreak of World War Three, Vote Leave’s referendum broadcast was shocking – claiming that the EU’s freedom of movement will ‘destroy’ the NHS (something UKIP, not Tory MPs, would say) through the use of graphics which make it sound like it’s the apocalypse. It was divisive, random and did not summarise the whole of Vote Leave’s campaign – unlike the ‘remain’ campaign, which managed to focus on a variety of points based on referenced facts. Throughout the referendum period, Vote Leave’s videos and leaflets have been full of opinions, not evidence. If we had the facts, the public interest in the referendum would have increased and it would stop invalid and hurtful opinions from being aired.

Soon after Vote Leave’s video was broadcast on national television, the campaign became defined by this fear tactic surrounding immigration. ‘Project Fear’ shifted from the remain camp to the leavers. Now, with the result announced and the referendum put to bed, we must look back at the failings of the referendum as well as looking ahead at Britain’s future.

Fear irritates the public. Not only does it create the ‘us and them’ dynamic which society has come to despise, but it’s almost patronising too. Both Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign and the EU referendum revolved around targeting the opposing view or candidate. Granted, this vote had to involve a lot of predictions and estimates (we didn’t know what the future holds either way), but that only leads to exaggeration, division and manipulative tactics.

Whilst bad news is what sells newspapers, negative politics is what has switched off members of the public from voting and getting involved in political debate. Voters have always been selfish with their votes and want to hear how a policy will positively affect them. At the end of the day, it’s a positive attitude in politics which can win back the public’s trust and lead to a hearty debate.

We may have voted to leave the European Union, and some may struggle to be positive about this, but having hope will be the first step to healing a fractured society.

Liam

The EU referendum is nearly over, and it could have been so different for both sides | The Friday Article

Vote Leave’s campaign has been filled with hyperbole and exaggeration. I’ve talked about their campaign before, and how dangerous claims that free movement will harm the NHS, along with a gradual shift to the far-right, will not win them the referendum, or Boris a place in 10 Downing Street.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, supports the Grassroots Out campaign, but it was always unlikely to be the official leave campaign. Photo: European Parliament on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

From the start, Stronger in Europe has always been the main campaign for the UK staying in the European Union and it makes sense to have the Prime Minister as the frontman for the group (however contradictory his statements on the EU have been in the past). The mistake came when Vote Leave were chosen as the official campaign for leaving the European Union – that was when the war within the Conservative Party began.

Since then, it’s dwindled down to opinions and arguments, with the undecided voters rightfully asking both sides to just state the facts. Statistics and data are two things which have been manipulated in this debate from either campaign. Claims about Norway and the £4300 sum on the remain side have been debunked as estimates and predictions, whilst Vote Leave’s misleading £350 million figure – which excludes the rebate and other money we get back from the EU – has pretty much defined their campaign for all the wrong reasons.

In the beginning, Vote Leave made the economic argument, before realising that the money we save doesn’t outweigh the risk of job losses and the single market position we have now. Instead, it moves towards immigration, alluding to stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrants affecting our healthcare. The public has already seen scare tactics in British politics – we all know what happened to Zac Goldsmith…

So now, as some leavers voice their concerns about Vote Leave towards the end of the campaign, we can only wonder what could have happened if Grassroots Out or Leave.EU were the official out campaign. Who knows? If Leave.EU did file the judicial review, not only might we have a different leave group, but there were reports it may delay the date of the referendum. It would anger those who have already made up their minds, but it would allow those who are undecided to research more into the European Union.

It is somewhat hilarious that UKIP, as the party which pushed for a referendum on membership of the European Union, hasn’t had much of a say in general. Granted, certain MPs and MEPs have spoken out, but Nigel Farage and Grassroots Out (which Farage supports) have both been brushed aside. As much as Vote Leave wanted to avoid the far-right views of UKIP when it comes to the leave vote, it couldn’t help but move towards these strong views at the end of the campaign.

The initial reluctance from Vote Leave to lean towards these views could have meant that if we had another official leave campaign group which was different, it wouldn’t be Grassroots Out. Whilst some members of the Conservative Party may have views which place them in this group, the majority of Tory leavers may be reluctant to side with this group. In the mad rush for these MPs and MEPS to pledge allegiance to a leave campaign, most may end up siding with Leave.EU.

What that would have meant for the leave campaign? We’ll never know. The sad fact of this debate is that it has become more than a referendum. After watching televised debates, I sympathise with those who have been undecided as to what they will vote for. The EU referendum was full of hyperbole, talk about the future of the Conservative Party, and accusations of scare-mongering.

Who knows? If the official campaign groups were different, all of this could have disappeared and we’d have had a proper debate. The public are fed up with scare tactics and arguments. If we started all over again, we could have had a proper debate – something the general public have wanted for a very long time.

Liam

The EU Referendum: Why a vote to remain will protect our human rights | The Friday Article

Earlier this week, the House of Commons debated our involvement with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) following Theresa May’s comments about Britain leaving the convention.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my decision to vote for us to remain in the European Union. Since publishing that article, I’ll admit that I do agree with what some of the ‘leave’ campaigners had to say in the comments, but I have yet to have someone explain how a vote to leave would benefit human rights. It is both this and this week’s debate which has prompted me to ask: even if all the reasons to stay in the EU are flawed, should we remain in the European Union to protect our human rights?

European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights. Photo: barnyz on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

This question comes down to the fact that all EU member countries must sign up to the ECHR. If we vote to leave the European Union in June, we sever ties with all aspects of the union including the European Convention on Human Rights. In turn, this paves the way for our government to work on a British Bill of Rights – which is something a single government shouldn’t be allowed to deal with.

I mean, each political party is biased towards different social classes, social topics and so forth. With that in mind, could any government or party come up with a British Bill of Rights which is fair for everyone? At the moment, the outcry towards changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could lead some to believe that the Conservatives may not be the best people to trust with our human rights – myself included.

Of course, our country does have separated powers, which mean the judiciary and judges are separate from the executive (government) and legislature (parliament). However, even if these new British rights were to be created by lawyers (like the convention was after WW2), what’s not to say that there won’t be any government influence over these new rights?

Whilst ‘leave’ voters are right to argue that the EU taking some of our sovereignty impacts our independence, it also adds more accountability to our governments. In her speech this week, Theresa May said the ECHR “binds the hands of parliament” – but isn’t that down to the accountabilty the ECHR (and indeed the ECJ) provides? If we don’t like what a government is doing, or if we need another level to appeal to in law, then both the ECJ and ECHR can help UK citizens. Why should these be removed? Does this imply that the Tories dislike accountability?

Despite this, I do appreciate the difficulty the UK had with the ECHR over the deportation of radical preachers, but that is a matter for reform, not withdrawal from the convention – reform and a possible withdrawal being something the Attorney General touched on in this week’s debate on the matter.

Very much like the EU, the ECHR has a lot of close ties with Britain that would simply cause problems if these are cut. For example, Joanna Cherry from the SNP said that because the Scotland Act is strongly bound to the ECHR, leaving the convention would cause a constitutional crisis – something all governments should avoid.

But as well as the ties to Scotland, an excellent and hilarious comedy sketch from the Guardian points out some of the flaws in the argument for us to leave the ECHR, and what the convention has done for us:

Lastly, a vote to remain would secure our ties to the ECHR. If we stay in the EU but choose to leave the convention, it’s unlikely the European Union would allow us to withdraw. It would be problematic in terms of the British Bill of Rights, but good news for those who think the government shouldn’t have control over our rights.

What do you think? How will you be voting in June’s EU referendum? Do you think we should leave the ECHR or seek reform? Comment below!

Liam