Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

The problem of marginality in public debates: evidence from The Guardian’s Charlie Hebdo coverage

Who gets to have a voice in the public debate? Using The Guardian’s coverage of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, Andrea Felicetti and Pietro Castelli Gattinara find that women and religious groups, in particular Muslims, had limited visibility; while actors challenging the dominant securitisation narrative were similarly neglected. They conclude that greater attention must be paid to this problem of marginality in democratic systems.

The January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris presented a major shock to people in France and beyond. Of the four attacks between January 7 and 9, the one at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo received the most attention, and quickly became a reference point for heated debates about the limits of freedom of speech, the nature of national identity, and the desirability of co-existence in a pluralistic world.

The goal of our research was to assess to what extent public discussions following the Charlie Hebdo shootings were inclusive and, in particular, if they featured marginality of actors and views. Our findings showed that marginality was substantial. In particular, women, minorities, and religious groups, especially Muslims, as well as all claims by actors who challenged the securitisation narratives were sidestepped. This pressed us to think of ways to tackle the problem of discursive marginality – a major yet overlooked threat to democratic life.

In our investigation, we refrained from engaging in the manifestly impossible task of tracking the debate in its entirety across Europe. We instead concentrated our attention on the case of Great Britain. In particular, we focused on what might be referred to as ‘elite debates’: articles in the printed edition of The Guardian, which has a reputation for being sensitive to contemporary debates. In so doing, we deliberately decided to look for actors whose views made it all the way to one of the most selective and influential platforms shaping contemporary public debates in the country. . We did not seek to assess the quality of the coverage. Rather, we wanted to see who was powerful enough to command the attention of a selective outlet. In short, we observed what social and political actors occupied the central stage and which ones instead had a marginal role.

We found that men accounted for more than 80% of public interventions in the Charlie Hebdo debate. The marginality of women was even more dramatic when we looked at the numbers in more detail. For instance, less than 12% of the claims made by state executive agencies (in particular, the police and the military) were by women. Claims by government actors and interventions by media actors were again overwhelmingly dominated by men. Through these findings, our research adds new evidence to studies showing that the under-representation of women across media and society remains dramatic.

As for religious actors, we found that they represented a mere 5% of those taking part in The Guardian’s debate. While we aggregated data for all religious groups, these findings speak especially to the marginality of Muslim actors in the public sphere. Despite the fact that they represent 76% of claims made by religious groups, Muslim actors intervened by and large in reaction to claims made by others. The vast majority of claims referring to religious actors are in fact concerned with Muslim actors alone (87%). Muslims are almost always the object of claims by others (about 12% of the claims) while they are very rarely engaged with — as they are the addressee in only 4.7% of the claims.

Finally, we observed that marginality does not only apply to certain groups of actors, but also to certain types of discourses. This is clear with respect to issues of national and international security, which came to dominate the Charlie Hebdo debate. Overall, pro-securitisation claims largely outnumber anti-securitisation ones: almost 80% of the total claims in the security debate were in support of increasing security domestically, and in favour of the deployment of troops against threats abroad. Interestingly, the pro-securitisation camp is overwhelmingly composed by government actors and state executive agencies. This left little space for other actors and dissenting voices. In short, a small group of powerful actors that drove the political agenda was also dominating the public debate.

Against this backdrop, one might ask whether it is possible to build a more democratic society when our debates are, in important ways, non-democratic. Moreover, we should reflect on whether the inclusion/exclusion dichotomy best serves our democratic goals. Whilst outright exclusion remains an issue, the problem we observed is not one of lack of access to a debate; instead, it is one of certain actors not being effectively heard because they are left with very little space in public debates of importance. The Charlie Hebdo debate, which has been focusing by and large on freedom of speech, seems to have been more concerned with the capacity to express oneself than with the possibility of being heard.

Scholars, commentators, and politicians sensitive to the importance of public debate in a healthy democracy should pay more attention to this problem of marginality, and more actively promote debates that minimize the extent of marginality of the most marginal participants. Striving towards this end might help us to steer away from inegalitarian debates dominated by the powerful.


Note: the above draws on the author’s published work in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

About the Authors

Andrea Felicetti is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Political Research. His research interests include democracy and innovation, public sphere and social movements. He is the author of Deliberative Democracy and Social Movements (Rowman and Littlefield International) and his work has been published in several international journals.
Pietro Castelli Gattinara is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo. His research focuses on comparative politics, the far right and migration in Europe. He is currently leading a comparative research project on far-right collective action  during the refugee crisis. He recently published The Politics of Migration in Italy (Routledge, 2016), and his work appeared in peer-reviewed journals including South European Societies and Politics and the British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).


News review – Tuesday 15 May 2018

News review – Tuesday 15 May 2018

Customs union

Theresa May has admitted to Conservative MPs that Brexit negotiations are at an impasse because neither of her current options for a customs deal with the EU will work.
The Prime Minister invited all 214 of her backbenchers to Downing Street to explain why she has had to go back to the drawing board in an attempt to find a replacement for the customs union. But her attempt at getting her critics on board appeared to backfire as the “technical briefings” increased fears among Eurosceptics that further delays will mean an extension of the 21-month transition period.

Theresa May confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg at a meeting with Tory MPs designed to break the deadlock over Britain’s future customs arrangements with the EU, The Times has learnt.
The pair clashed yesterday over the impact of rival plans on the Irish border, in what witnesses described as the prime minister “sending a tough signal” to hardline Brexiteers that she was not prepared to jeopardise the Union. It came after Mrs May went over the heads of her squabbling cabinet with a personal appeal to scores of backbench Tory MPs to help to settle Britain’s position.

Theresa May’s efforts to unite her divided cabinet over Brexit at a crunch meeting of top ministers is set end to in “more fudge” and “long grass”.
Ms May will use the Brexit “war cabinet” of senior figures to again try to find a way out of the standoff about what customs relations to adopt after Brexit, but senior sources say no decision will be reached. The EU wants future customs relations agreed at a summit in June, but Downing Street insiders pointed towards the October summit, when the final Brexit deal is expected to be sealed, as the moment when clarity might finally emerge.

Sky News
Boris Johnson has insisted he backs Theresa May’s stance on a customs relationship with the EU after Brexit. The Foreign Secretary spoke out after facing calls to resign for saying 
one of the two options being considered by Downing Street was “crazy”. It comes ahead of the Government’s “war cabinet” meeting on Tuesday to thrash out the proposals. The customs partnership scheme, believed to be favoured by the prime minister, would see the UK collect EU tariffs for goods coming into Britain on behalf of Brussels. But hardline Brexiteers favour a maximum facilitation, or “max fac”, scheme that would use technology and a “trusted trader” plan to reduce customs checks.

Single market

It really is Single Market Groundhog Day today. Guido can’t quite believe we are still having this argument two years on from the referendum, but it falls upon us once again to point out that, during the referendum, Nick Clegg was clear that Brexit meant leaving the single market. As was David Miliband
Their attempt today to pretend they never said this is why people hate politicians.

A leading Tory rebel has backed efforts to effectively keep Britain in the single market, in a sign of growing support for the plan among pro-EU MPs.
Former cabinet minister  Nicky Morgan said pursuing a Norway-style Brexit through membership of the Economic European Area (EEA) was the “sensible way forward” after the Norwegian prime minister indicated the country would be open to the idea of UK membership. Rebel peers in both Labour and Tory ranks defied their leaders to defeat the government on the issue in the Lords last week, meaning MPs will now vote on whether to take the plan forward.

The European Union on Monday warned Britain time was running out to seal a Brexit deal this autumn and ensure London does not crash out of the bloc next March, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May. May’s spokesman, however, said the “focus is on getting this right” rather than meeting a deadline. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told 27 ministers of the bloc meeting in Brussels on Monday that “no significant progress” had been made in negotiations with London since March, the Bulgarian chairwoman of the talks said. Diplomats and officials in Brussels have raised doubts about whether the bloc and London will be able to mark a milestone in the negotiations at the summit of EU leaders on June 28-29.

David Miliband is giving a speech this morning about how we should stay in the single market. On 9 May 2016, at the height of the referendum campaign, the same David Miliband told voters that voting to leave the EU would mean leaving the single market. This is from a Stronger In press release. He could not have been clearer:
“The admission by the Leave campaign that quitting the EU means quitting the single market has let the cat out of the bag: a vote to Leave would be an unprecedented act of economic self-harm.”

Norway’s prime minister has said her country would be open to Britain joining the European Economic Area – potentially giving Britain a readymade technical solution for remaining in the single market after Brexit.
Norway’s government had previously hinted it might block British membership of the EEA because such a change would likely shift the balance of power within the trade association against Norwegian interests. But in an  interview with the Financial Times newspaper Erna Solberg suggested EEA membership was now an option for Brexit Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn has told Labour MPs that a Norway-style option cannot be considered by the party, but faces a party split after rebel Lords passed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would keep membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) as an option. Speaking at a private meeting of MPs in parliament, Corbyn told them there were significant issues with the Norway-option, which could leave Britain as “rule taker” without influence at EU level. He emphasised the need to unite both leave and remain supporters, according to a senior  Labour  source. EEA membership, often described as the Norway option gives countries full access to the EU’s internal market, allowing it to trade goods with EU states without customs fees, except food and drinks which are subsidised by the EU.

On 3 July 2016, Nicky Morgan told Peston that she had 
“listened to party members” and decided that it was “important” that “somebody who wanted to leave the EU” became PM. NiMo said “it’s now up to the political class, the Westminster bubble, to realise just how people feel out in the country” as she endorsed Michael Gove for leader. This was Morgan backing leaving the single market and customs union. Gove as PM could have meant nothing else. Today she is joining Clegg and Miliband’s anti-Brexit alliance. How does that work? NiMo was fine with leaving the single market and customs union so long as she was getting a big Cabinet job.

Sky News
Former foreign secretary David Miliband has urged all parties to come together to prevent a “hard Brexit”.
Saying “Europe is Britain’s anchor”, Mr Miliband made an impassioned speech saying he is “alarmed” at the state of negotiations on Britain’s exit from the EU. Mr Miliband, an ex-Labour cabinet minister, shared a platform with Liberal Democrat former deputy minister Sir Nick Clegg and the Conservative chairwoman of the commons treasury committee, Nicky Morgan. Speaking at a Tilda Rice Mill in Rainham, Essex, the trio repeated their statement from a joint article for the Mail on Sunday that Britain was being “held to ransom” by hardline Brexiteers.

BBC News
MSPs are set to formally refuse to give Holyrood’s consent to the UK’s main piece of Brexit legislation.
The Scottish and UK governments are at odds over the EU Withdrawal Bill and what it could mean for devolved powers. Labour, Green and Lib Dem MSPs are expected to back SNP members in rejecting the Westminster bill, saying it would restrict Holyrood’s powers. The Scottish Conservatives will vote against, and have blamed the SNP for the failure to find an agreement. UK and Scottish ministers have said the door is still open to finding a deal, although both sides have admitted they remain some distance apart. The dispute centres on what will happen to devolved powers which are currently knitted into EU-wide frameworks of rules and regulations after the UK leaves the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to come up with a coherent Brexit stance means the United Kingdom is at greater risk of spiralling towards a “no deal” Brexit with catastrophic consequences, Scotland’s leader said. In a step that will shape the United Kingdom’s prosperity and global influence for generations to come, Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 next year, though the terms of the separation are still unclear.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she felt there was no majority for a hard Brexit in the country but that the United Kingdom was at a juncture when momentum could swing either towards a softer Brexit or a “no deal” Brexit.


Ministers are putting plans in place to block British companies from work on the EU’s Galileo satellite system, the UK Space Agency said yesterday. Companies working on satellite projects have been told that the government is likely to refuse permission for them to bid for further contracts on the satellite. This is after a hardening of position in the standoff between Brussels and London over the EU’s global positioning satellite system, which rivals the American GPS system.
British officials regard this as a test of whether they can have a security relationship after  Brexit, with the hard line pursued primarily by the European Commission being viewed as a bar to a strong future partnership.


The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said Britain is not being pushed out of the Galileo satellite navigation programme, but that only “a little progress” had been made in recent talks on the UK’s EU exit.
Barnier said British participation in the EU satellite programme would have to change as a result of Brexit. “The UK decided unilaterally and autonomously to withdraw from the EU,” he told an audience of foreign policy experts in Brussels. “We need to put the cooperation on Galileo between the EU and the UK on a new basis.” The EU’s rules on Galileo had been in place for a long time and were well known to the UK, he added. Earlier on Monday Barnier updated the EU27’s Europe ministers on the talks.

In news that will send shockwaves through the European Union, it looks like a governing deal between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-mass migration Lega is on. Leaders Matteo Salvini from Lega and Luigi Di Maio from Five Star are working on a “Contract for the Government of Change” that includes a flat tax that could be as low as 15%. As Mattia Diletti, a Professor at Sapienza University at Rome, laid out: “The Italian people want this government. “They want to see something new, and I think (Italian President) Sergio Mattarella understands this.” “We are writing history and we need a bit more time,” said Five Star’s Di Maio on Sunday. A few days ago Salvini tweeted a photo of him in the negotiations, saying: “As promised, I work to the last to give a #futuro better to the #Italia.”

No significant progress has been made on any of the main  Brexit issues in negotiations between the EU and UK since March, the European Union has said. 
EU27 ministers met on Monday with the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss the state of talks so far. “Mr Barnier informed us that since 23 March no significant progress has been made on the three pillars that we work on: withdrawal, future framework, and Ireland,” Ekaterina Zakharieva, the Bulgarian foreign minister chairing the council, told journalists at an official press conference  following the meeting. The renewed deadlock in Brussels comes as Theresa May’s cabinet repeatedly fails to agree with itself on what customs arrangement it wants with the EU after Brexit, despite publishing two options in August of last year.

BBC News
Brexit talks have made “little” progress since March, the EU’s chief negotiator has said.
Michel Barnier said there was a “risk of failure” in two key areas – Northern Ireland, and how the agreement will be governed. He said June’s EU summit was a “key rendezvous” to reach a deal that can be ratified before the UK leaves. And he defended the EU’s stance over the UK’s involvement in the new Galileo sat-nav system. The UK has played a key role in the programme’s development so far, but faces being shut out of key elements of the programme after Brexit. UK ministers are now considering setting up a rival version.


Telegraph (by Jacob Res-Mogg)
In recent weeks like-minded colleagues have suggested that I adopt a more conciliatory position as regards the Government’s Brexit negotiations.  If we were to do so it would completely undermine the heart of why we voted to leave, rendering our almost-reclaimed sovereignty a myth.  If we do not push on with firmness and tenacity the harm being done to our fishermen will continue, our powers to protect our borders will be compromised and our money will be squandered by needlessly paying the EU’s ransom upfront.
With everything in life there needs to be a balance.  Any negotiations need to be two-sided.  So when I ask questions about what the EU has compromised on I am met with silence.

BRITAIN will “choose the Union over the Republic” and leave Dublin with “a high price to pay” if Irish and EU bureaucrats keep trying to bumble Brexit, blasts Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Brexiteer said the EU is hiding behind “faux concern” for the Irish border and using it to delay the negotiations to terrify other nations into never leaving the bureaucratic block. The Conservative MP for North East Somerset said the UK should stop taking “Brussels too seriously about the Irish Question,” and focus on securing the best Brexit for Britain. He added: “Brexiteers, like me, have done our best to be agreeable. “It is important to be clear about the border, our shared past, and our common future. “We will not impose a border.

Plain speaking DUP MP Sammy Wilson has laid into Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, accusing him of attempting to use the issue of Brexit to “break-up the UK”.
His comments are in response to an interview Coveney gave to the BBC’s Marr Show where he dismissed the idea of using technology as a solution for the Irish border post-Brexit. Wilson has said: “The belligerent, interfering, Brit bashing Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic has once again taken to the airwaves to demand the break-up of the UK using the impact of Brexit on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as an excuse to break-up the UK.”


The Director General of MI5, Andrew Parker, has revealed that the security services have thwarted 12 Islamist terror plots since the Westminster attack in March 2017. It shows the terrifying scale of jihadi extremism in Britain, with Parker describing speaking of an “unprecedented tempo in attack planning”. He also revealed that since 2013, 25 terror plots had been stopped thanks to the police and security services. He underlined the need for continuing co-operation with other European countries moving forward to combat the terror threat. The numbers that MI5 have revealed underline the huge challenge that security services now face. So why have the British government allowed more than 400 jihadis back from Syria?

Elderly care

The number of care homes in England has fallen by more than 700 over two years, Government figures reveal.
Campaigners described the statistics as ‘extremely worrying’, with potentially ‘disastrous’ implications for the elderly. The figures released by ministers come after a financial analysis showed 148 care home businesses became insolvent in the last financial year – nearly double the number in the previous year. The figures from care minister Caroline Dinenage show the number of residential care homes fell from 12,191 at the beginning of 2016 to 11,615 this year. Of the 576 homes lost, 453 disappeared last year. Among nursing homes, 159 were lost over the two years. In total there were 735 fewer care homes by the start of 2018.

Press freedom

The House of Lords has backed an attempt to set up a new Leveson-style inquiry days after a similar proposal was voted down by MPs.
The motion, an amendment to the government’s Data Protection Bill, won by 39 votes — 252 to 213 — yesterday, less than a week after ministers extolled a “great victory for a free and fair press” in the Commons. The government will try to defeat the Lords amendment in the Commons today. Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, said that peers had opposed the freedom of the press.

UNELECTED Lords have tried to “muzzle” press freedoms as they took “revenge” and voted for a re-run of the Leveson Inquiry, despite MPs already rejecting the idea.
The House of Commons rejected a second inquiry last week but MPs will now have to vote on an amendment to the Data Protection Bill again as the Lords have triggered a constitutional crisis. The motion passed in the Lords yesterday by 252 votes to 213, despite one senior peer slamming the plans. Lord Hunt warned colleagues not to “muzzle free expression” by restricting the press.

The government has been defeated in the House of Lords as peers backed a new Leveson inquiry into the behaviour of the press by 252 votes to 213.
The outcome puts the unelected chamber on course for a constitutional clash with the Commons, which had previously rejected a demand for a further investigation into the relationship between the media and police. The amendment would force the government to establish a new inquiry into allegations of data protection breaches by national news publishers. The government has said it will seek to overturn the decision.

The House of Lords has once again voted to establish a fresh Leveson-style public inquiry into the conduct of the media, overturning a decision made by MPs last week and setting up another showdown with the government.
Peers voted by 252 to 213 on Monday evening to back an amendment that called for a full investigation into unlawful conduct by newspapers, misuse of data by social media companies, and relations between the press and the police. “It’s an inquiry into criminality, corruption and abuse,” said Lady Hollins, a crossbench who moved the amendment, justifying the decision to reject the House of Commons’ verdict.

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UK and EU test limits of security partnership after Brexit

LONDON — When it comes to security, both Brussels and London would love to remain best friends after Brexit — but breakups rarely work that way.

International events since the U.K.’s June 2016 referendum have only served to highlight that on foreign policy, defense and internal security, the U.K. and the EU are on the same page and intend to remain there. Amid fears of increasing terrorist threats and with transatlantic relations strained by a less predictable American president, the interests of those on both sides of the Channel appear increasingly closely aligned.

“Our world is in a state of chaos and in the midst of such confusion the EU and the U.K. need one another,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday. As if to underline the point, she spoke alongside Michel Barnier, the EU27’s chief Brexit negotiator, at the EU Institute for Security Studies.

A few hours earlier, in Berlin, the U.K. delivered exactly the same message, via Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, the U.K. security service. Hailing the collaboration between British and European security agencies — joint working which he said he could “confidently” assert had saved European lives — Parker added: “In today’s uncertain world we all need that shared strength more than ever.”

But despite the warm rhetoric, talks over a future security partnership have already become difficult, notably over the depth of U.K. access to and involvement with the EU’s satellite navigation system Galileo, which has quickly become a litmus test for how deep a security partnership can really be.

“Solidarity is not to be negotiated” — Michel Barnier

Even as both sides publicly stressed their shared interests, the UK Space Agency wrote to British companies working on the Galileo system to remind them they needed U.K. government security clearance for any future work, the department of business said Monday.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, both Barnier and Mogherini said Monday, must have “consequences,” and while discussions about security are currently only at an “exploratory” phase, Barnier said, the extent to which those consequences will impact security cooperation will become more apparent in less than a year’s time once the U.K. can negotiate its future relationship with the bloc as a third country.

A common enemy

Despite the awkward political context, the two sides’ common interests are abundantly clear.

As the heightened terror threat across Europe — Parker pointed to 45 terror attacks across the continent since 2016 — demonstrates the importance of close cooperation on internal security, so the geopolitical context highlights the extent to which the U.K. and the EU stand together on the world stage, increasingly in solidarity against Donald Trump’s policy reversals.

Speaking in London on Friday, Simon McDonald, the U.K. foreign office’s top official, cited support for the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord and opposition to locating embassies to Israel in the city of Jerusalem as examples of areas of agreement between the U.K and “European partners.” The point was not lost that on all three, the EU and Britain are opposed to the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will meet his French and German counterparts in Brussels with a view to salvaging what is left of the Iran deal, by discussing measures to protect European companies doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions, Johnson said after holding a preliminary meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in London on Monday.

Despite broad agreement that, on foreign policy, the U.K. must accept its third country status post Brexit and become a closely consulted partner, but without a role in EU decision-making, the details are less than clear.

Barnier said there had been “misunderstandings” about Galileo but the dispute goes to the heart of the two sides differing approaches to Brexit negotiations.

Barnier said the U.K. “knows perfectly” that rules agreed unanimously in the past by EU members, including the U.K., bar British companies from “the development of security sensitive matters such as the manufacturing of PRS security” — referring to the encrypted part of Galileo at the center of the dispute. He added there was nothing to stop the U.K. from using the encrypted Galileo signal as a third country, so long as an agreement was in place.

This approach has not been welcomed in London. A paper outlining the U.K.’s preferred future security relations, which was published by the U.K. government last week, stated pointedly that “arrangements for any U.K. cooperation on Galileo are an important test case of the depth of operational cooperation and information sharing envisaged under the Security Partnership [sic].”

Monday’s letter to businesses working on the project suggested that test was not going well.

Fear of a trade-off

Running beneath all the exchanges on security since the U.K. referendum is the suspicion, felt at times on both sides, that the other will use security to their advantage in the wider Brexit talks.

As long ago as March 2017, May’s reference of the risk to security cooperation in her letter triggering the beginning of the U.K.’s divorce from the EU was perceived by many in Brussels as a threat.

“Solidarity is not to be negotiated,” Barnier said Monday. “Any trade-off between security and trade would lead to an historic failure and it would be a strategic mistake benefitting those who want to weaken us.”

Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, looks on prior to a General Affairs council on article 50 at the European Council in Brussels on May 14, 2018 | François Walschaerts/AFP via Getty Images

British negotiators insist nothing is further from their minds than using the U.K.’s undeniable heft in this area — 20 percent of European defense spending, according to McDonald, and internationally respected security and intelligence services MI5 and MI6 — as leverage to get a more generous or flexible trade deal from the EU.

The U.K. government may hope Parker’s trip to Berlin — the first ever public speech by a head of MI5 outside of the U.K. — will help their cause.

“I don’t do politics but it is of course political arrangements, laws and treaties that permit or constrain what we can do together as agencies protecting our countries and Europe,” he said, in a message apparently aimed at the EU’s Brexit negotiators and their legal advisors.

“So it’s as a security practitioner that I hope for a comprehensive and enduring agreement that tackles obstacles and allows the professionals to get on with the job together. We owe that to all our citizens across Europe.”

MI5 chief calls for close security cooperation with Europe after Brexit

Britain and the EU need to maintain a close security relationship after Brexit to counter the threat posed by Russia and the terror group Islamic State, MI5 chief Andrew Parker is expected to say today.

“In today’s world, we need that shared strength more than ever,” the head of Britain’s intelligence services will tell EU heads of state in Berlin, according to Reuters.

The event marks the first public speech delivered by a head of MI5 outside the U.K., and comes amid growing concern that the proposed security treaty between Britain and Europe is under threat from a series of rows, including over Britain’s proposed exclusion from the EU’s Galileo satellite program.

Parker will formally accuse Russia of carrying out the March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, and will also blame Moscow for “flagrant breaches of international rules.” Russia has denied involvement in the attack.

The MI5 chief is also expected to warn of the threat posed by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for a deadly knife-attack in Paris Saturday. The group, he will say, is plotting more “devastating and more complex attacks.”

Parker is expected to say he is “confident about our ability to tackle these threats, because of the strength and resilience of our democratic systems, the resilience of our societies and the values we share with our European partners.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will deliver a speech on European security policy post-Brexit in Brussels later today.

Paul F. Scott: The Belhaj Saga: The Beginning of the End?


The announcement today that the government has apologised to Abdelhakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, as well as paying compensation of £500,000 to the latter, would seem to mark the beginning of the end of the process of attempting to secure accountability for some of the most astonishing events in which the British government is known to have been involved in recent decades. In this post I outline the different strands of that process and consider where today’s announcement leaves us, and what remains to be done.


Belhaj was a senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist group which opposed Colonel Gaddafi during the later years of his period as Libyan Leader. Belhaj and Boudchar, his wife, had been living in China when they decided to seek to travel to the United Kingdom in order to claim asylum. They were instead detained and transported, eventually, to Tripoli where they were mistreated. Though Boudchar – who was pregnant at the time of her ordeal – was released shortly thereafter, Belhaj was detained for seven years, and on his release fought in the Libyan Civil War of 2011, commanding the Tripoli Military Council.

British involvement in the rendition of Belhaj was revealed only when a letter from Sir Mark Allen, MI6’s head of counter-terrorism during the relevant period, was unearthed in the office of Gaddafi’s head of security after the fall of the regime. The letter, as extracted by (and with the insertions of) the Court of Appeal, read as follows:

Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Mr. Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built up over recent years. I am so glad… [Mr. Belhaj’s] information on the situation in this Country is of urgent importance to us. Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from [Mr. Belhaj] through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence about [Mr. Belhaj] was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo. But I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful to you for the help you are giving us.

These events took place very shortly before Tony Blair concluded his famous ‘deal in the desert’ aimed at bringing Libya back into the international community. Ever since the UK’s involvement came to light, attempts have been made to seek some form of redress, with the NGO Reprieve assisting Belhaj and Boudchar and their son on a number of fronts. Today’s announcement brings to an end several of the strands of the process. I consider those strands in turn.

Tort claims  

A number of tort claims were brought against Sir Mark Allen and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the relevant time, as well as various public bodies (including the Security Service – MI5 – and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6). In related cases and previous cases – including those relating to persons held in Guantanamo bay – the Government has settled the claims without admitting liability, arguing that to do so avoids a situation in which the Security and Intelligence Agencies are distracted by the need to spend time and energy resisting claims. Belhaj refused to agree to such an approach, offering instead to settle the case for a token sum from each of the defendants if it was accompanied by an apology. The government instead resisted the litigation in every conceivable way, at one point finding itself before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to face claims that it had intercepted the communications between Belhaj and his legal representatives.

The key plank of this resistance was the deployment of the doctrine of Foreign Act of State, a rule of non-justiciability (in the fullest sense) which means that the courts cannot adjudicate certain claims where to do so would be to impugn the sovereign actions of a foreign state. Perhaps tellingly, it was not claimed that the British involvement itself was protected by the related but distinct doctrine of Crown Act of State, which relates to the sovereign acts of the United Kingdom. At the beginning of last year, the Supreme Court held that even if the doctrine of Foreign Act of State was engaged here, British action fell within the public policy exception to it, and so the claims could proceed to trial. Where the Guantanamo cases, however, were brought against a background of uncertainty as to whether the courts had the power at common law to order a closed material procedure (the Supreme Court eventually holding, in Al Rawi v Security Service, that they did not), the Belhaj case was to be tried in the era of the Justice and Security Act 2013, which makes closed material procedures available in civil proceedings generally. It had already been accepted that the criteria for the holding of a closed hearing were met here, and so had the claims been tired, that trial would have taken place behind a veil of secrecy. Belhaj’s representatives would have been unable to see much of the material upon which the government was relying to resist the claims, with that material instead shown to a security-cleared Special Advocate not permitted to communicate with the claimants. Given the multitude of jurisdictions in which relevant events took place, and the involvement of a number of different state actors, justice would not only not be seen to be done, but may in fact not have been done. Today’s announcement of compensation for Boudchar, and the making of an apology to both – though without any admission of liability – brings to an end this element of the affair.

Criminal law

The private law element was accompanied by a criminal investigation. In summer 2016, four years after the Metropolitan Police and the CPS had set up a panel to investigate issues around the treatment of detainees, it was announced that no charges would be brought against one suspect as there was ‘insufficient evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction for any criminal offence’. It nevertheless noted that there was sufficient evidence to support the contention that the person in question had:

  1. been in communication with individuals from the foreign countries responsible for the detention and transfer of the Belhadj and Al Saadi families;
  2. disclosed aspects of what was occurring to others within this country; and
  3. sought political authority for some of his actions albeit not within a formal written process nor in detail which covered all his communications and conduct.

Several months later, it was said by the Mayor of London that the Metropolitan Police had ‘submitted a comprehensive file of evidence (in excess of 28,000 pages) to the Crown Prosecution Service seeking to demonstrate that the conduct of a British official amounted to Misconduct in Public Office.’

The decision not to bring charges was the subject of a judicial review. In that case too the Government claimed that considerations of national security made it necessary to hold a closed hearing. That presented a problem: the Justice and Security Act 2013 makes closed proceedings possible in ‘relevant civil proceedings’, which is defined to mean ‘any proceedings (other than proceedings in a criminal cause or matter)’ before the High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court etc. Is the judicial review of a charging decision by the CPS ‘proceedings in a criminal cause or matter’?

This dispute recalls one of the great controversies surrounding the law of public interest immunity (‘PII’), which was the key mechanism for protecting the public interest against disclosure of sensitive material prior to the emergence of the closed proceeding (and which, in fact, remains available even in the context of closed proceedings under the 2013 Act). PII traditionally came in two flavours: content claims and class claims. The former amount to the claim that documents were sensitive because of the content of those specific documents themselves; the latter that they were sensitive not because of their content but because of the class of documents to which they belonged. When the Matrix Churchill trial collapsed as a result of the abuse of PII, one of the disputes was over whether class claims were possible in the criminal context. The authority which had been relied upon for claiming that they were was in fact an extradition case, which was hardly equivalent to a criminal trial. In relation to the judicial review of the CPS’s decision, the High Court held that an application could be made for a closed hearing. That judgment was appealed, on the leapfrog procedure, to the Supreme Court, where it was heard over two days in March. That application for judicial review has now also been withdrawn.

The public inquiry

The third element of the accountability process is an ongoing inquiry into the British involvement in the mistreatment of detainees, being carried out – and, in theory at least, due to be published this year – by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. Here too, the process has been a rather tortuous one. The ISC carried out earlier inquiries into the topics of rendition and the handling of detainees, both of which were widely agreed to be unsatisfactory in a number of respects. This second inquiry was originally to be a public inquiry carried out by Sir Peter Gibson. The Gibson Inquiry – which was not a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, and so did not enjoy the powers contained therein to compel the production of material etc – was wrapped up prematurely when the criminal investigation started. At the time, it was said by the Justice Secretary that it was still intended to ‘hold a judge-led inquiry into these issues, once it is possible to do so and all related police investigations have been concluded’. This intention was confounded by handing the matter over to the ISC, which by now had been granted a new status (and new powers), also by the 2013 Act, and which in effect promised to show it was deserving of a second chance:

Those previous Reports were incomplete and, in some important respects, unsatisfactory since, after they had been published, new information which had not been made available to the Committee became known. At that time the intelligence Agencies were not under any statutory obligation to provide the Committee with all relevant information in their possession. They were entitled to reach their own decision as to what to provide. Since those reports were produced, the ISC has been given important new powers under the Justice and Security Act. The Agencies are now under a statutory obligation to provide the Committee with all relevant material. The Committee now has a statutory right to consider all aspects of work across the intelligence community, which is backed by the power for its staff to go into the Agencies themselves and inspect their files. These powers are already being used and will be available for all the Committee’s future work. The Committee is, therefore, satisfied that the problems that occurred in the past will not, and cannot, recur.

The announcement of the settlement of the tort claims should not impact this element of the process for securing accountability for any British involvement in the mistreatment of Belhaj and Boudchar and others.


As this – necessarily truncated – overview of the matter suggests, efforts to establish what exactly was the nature of the United Kingdom’s involvement in what was done to Belhaj and Boudchar, and to secure accountability for any wrongdoing, has been a tortuous one. It is to the great credit of the two, and those who have worked with them, that such persistence has been shown and that this positive result has been achieved.

And while it is tempting to understand the affair as simply (yet) another example of the difficulties of accountability in the field of national security, I would suggest there is something more to it than that. First, what we see in the Belhaj case is an example of the increased likelihood of wrongdoing where the United Kingdom, rather than acting alone, acts in concert with other states. This likelihood is increased when these States would be willing to undertake activities from which the UK authorities are happy to benefit, even though they would not be willing to undertake those activities themselves. The apology offered today noted that ‘We should have understood sooner the unacceptable practices of some of our partners’, but it seems very difficult to believe that the practices of Gaddafi’s regime in particular were not already well-understood.

Second, this affair shows that the state will resist accountability to the greatest extent in those cases which implicate not only its own wrongdoing, but also that of its foreign allies. Given that more and more (perhaps soon all) activities in the domain of national security have an international aspect, this in particular bodes poorly for the possibility of securing accountability in the modern national security context. Though today’s events represent a victory for the claimants, eyes will now turn to the ISC in order to understand whether enough has been or will be done to prevent a repeat of the events for which the UK has today apologised.

Paul F. Scott, Lecturer in Public Law, University of Glasgow

(Suggested citation: P.F. Scott, ‘The Belhaj Saga: The Beginning of the End?’, U.K. Const. L. Blog (11th May 2018) (available at

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