Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Hate Crime in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 22 2018

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a hate crime is ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice’ based on one of five categories – religion, faith or belief; race, ethnicity or nationality; sexual orientation; disability; or gender identity.

According to Nottingham police there was no information to suggest the attack which led to the death of Mariam Moustafa was motivated by hate. Was it tough love? The 18-year-old Egyptian engineering student died on 15 March, 2018 following an attack that took place on 20 February. Nottinghamshire Police said Miss Moustafa was ‘punched several times’ by a group of women while waiting for a bus outside the Victoria Centre in Parliament Street.

Video footage is available showing the attack continuing on the bus. A 17-year-old girl was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. Mariam’s uncle, Amr El Hariry, said two of the girls had attacked Mariam and her sister Mallak, 16, four months prior to this assault. Mallak’s leg had been broken in the previous attack. He said the police had done nothing.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Miss Moustafa’s death ‘cannot go unpunished.’ Crimes committed in one country are often condemned by other countries. At the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council on 8 March, 2018, the UK condemned just about everybody. Honduras, Thailand, Philippines, DRC, Israel and Vietnam all got a good kicking.

“Finally, we share concerns about recent inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka. We support the government’s determination to end it swiftly, using measures that are proportionate and respect human rights, and urge it to hold the perpetrators to account.”

A report by The Home office, compiled by Aoife O’Neill and published in October 2017, shows that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29%, the largest percentage increase seen since the series began in 2011/12. In 2016/17, there were 80,393 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. 62,685 (78%) were race hate crimes.

‘Race hate crime can include any group defined by race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin, including countries within the UK, and Gypsy or Irish Travellers. It automatically includes a person who is targeted because they are an asylum seeker or refugee as this is intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and origins. Policy and legislation takes a ‘human rights’ approach and covers majority as well as minority groups.’

I got into an intense discussion on Facebook with a woman who described the story of Mariam’s death as ‘fake news.’ She asserted that there would not even be a charge of manslaughter. Indeed, a post-mortem was ‘inconclusive.’ Mallak, told the BBC that her sister was ‘born with half a heart.’

My interlocutor seemed to be saying that the girl deserved to die because she was foolish enough to be out and about in St Ann’s after dark, because that is a notoriously rough area. She hinted that Mariam was attacked because she was a ‘snitch.’ She found it odd that Mariam and her extended family seemed to be middle class but lived in an area that was ‘stereotypical inner city full of drug dealers and drug wars.’ She described the normal inhabitants of St Ann’s as an ‘underclass’ and as ‘scum.’ It would be difficult for Mariam to live in St Ann’s without going out.

I have spent a lot of time in Nottingham and first heard about St Ann’s 51 years ago when Ken Coates and Richard Silburn published a study of the area which was then inhabited by 30,000 people living in dire conditions. In his preface to the 2007 reissue of the book, Coates wrote, ‘Poverty has certainly changed its aspect since the 1960s, but since we were primarily concerned with its moral effects, our report remains depressingly familiar, and points up a whole constellation of attitudes and experiences which are all-too-familiar in modern times.’

According to my Facebook interlocutor, St Ann’s is more of a hellhole today than it was in the 1960s. Although she was vituperative in her comments, my interlocutor seemed to me to be agreeing on some basic points. It seems she is not a native of Britain and disapproves of much that is British, “your entire society is responsible for it. As well as Brexit.”


Robber Barons: The Public Always Pays

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 8 2018


The Wolverhampton-based firm Carillion was a big player in providing services that had once been provided by the public sector. In 2016, £1.7bn, a third of Carillion’s total revenue, came from public sector contracts. In the health service it was responsible for maintaining buildings, cleaning, providing meals for patients as well as the construction of new hospitals. It maintained 50,000 homes for military personnel and 50 prisons, provided meals for 218 schools, and was in charge of the £400 million Battersea power station development.


Carillion went into compulsory liquidation on 15 January 2018. It had been the second largest construction company in the UK and had 43,000 employees. Temporary CEO, Keith Cochrane made some lame excuses about the company’s collapse and saw Carillion, rather than the taxpayer, as the victim. He said that they had accepted too many projects which had turned out unprofitable and for which the amount paid was insufficient for the cost of work done “we were building a Rolls Royce but only getting paid to build a Mini”. The House of Commons business and work and pensions committees found the Carillion personnel that came before them, evasive and delusional and described Cochrane as having only a ‘vague’ knowledge of finance. In January 2018, The Times commented that the company’s problems had been known for around four years, with too many poorly managed contracts, delays to works, and monies withheld by clients.


The liquidation announcement had an immediate impact on 30,000 subcontractors and suppliers, Carillion employees and pensioners, plus shareholders, lenders, joint venture partners and customers in the UK and other countries. Five UK banks incurred heavy losses on loans to Carillion. What Private Eye refers to as the ‘bean counters’ have once again disgraced themselves. Chairman of the House of Commons pensions select committee, Frank Field, described them as “feasting on what was soon to become a carcass” after collecting fees of £72m for Carillion work during the years leading up to its collapse. Carillion’s auditor KPMG will have its role examined by the Financial Reporting Council. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling faced calls to resign, having awarded a major HS2 (high speed project) rail contract to Carillion in July 2017, when many people (Grayling should have been one of them) knew the company was in deep do-do. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of cretin gives of £1.4 billion to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down.

Ponzi Overreach

Cochrane may have had a point but it did not excuse the company. It would have been more accurate to describe Carillion’s modus operandi as a Ponzi scheme. All firms involved in public-private partnerships put in low tenders to get the contract. They are able to work on thin margins because they get big money up front from the state and failure is rewarded by the taxpayer. They begin work on construction without paying sub-contractors for another 120 days. They use the upfront money to pay debts within the business, which means they have to win new contracts just to keep going. Overreaching itself to take on lucrative contracts, Carillion failed to deliver and ran up debts of nearly £1.5bn and a pension fund shortfall of almost £600m.


A National Audit Office (NAO) report into wider PFIs shows that the taxpayer will be handing over £199bn to private firms well into the 2040s.The NAO concluded that that there was little published evidence of the benefits of private finance deals. The NAO found that a group of schools could cost the taxpayer 40% more when funded through PFI rather than government borrowing, with further research suggesting hospitals could cost as much as 70% more.

The PFI deals struck with companies like Carillion mean that private companies whose main obligation is to shareholders actually own the assets which were once public and rent them back to the taxpayer. Carillion’ mismanagement means that huge areas of the public sector are threatened with cuts or complete closure.

How ‘Capita’ Became ‘Crapita’

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 15 2018

Rod Aldridge, or Sir Rodney Malcolm Aldridge OBE, FRSA, to give him his full title, worked in local government for ten years, employed by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants. For CIPFA, Aldridge ran a company specialising in helping local councils run their computers.

Aldridge bought the company and called it Capita. Since it was founded, as a two-man consultancy firm in 1984, Capita has grown to become the UK Government’s favoured company for outsourcing of public services. In 1987, it became an independent company with 33 staff and now has 36,000 workers based at more than 300 sites, predominantly in the UK and Ireland, and has also extended its operations to India. If the Sri Lankan Government has any plans to use Capita, read this article carefully and heed Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice about privatisation and public private finance initiatives.

In March 2006, Aldridge resigned as Executive Chairman following allegations that contracts awarded to Capita were influenced by his loan of £1 million to the Labour Party. Aldridge is now reputedly worth £110m. He was replaced by his long-time associate Paul Pindar, who has complained about being called a ‘fat cat’. Pindar received a paltry £770,000 per annum salary and was reduced driving around in an Aston Martin DB9. The average Capita employee salary at the time was £28,000 per year.

Jack of All Trades

Capita’s influence spread malevolently throughout what used to be the public sector – health, education, prisons, health assessments for benefits, administration of benefit and pension payments. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee received nearly 4,000 submissions – the most ever by a select committee inquiry – after calling for evidence on the assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

People with Down’s syndrome were asked by Capita representatives when they ‘caught’ it. A woman reporting frequent suicidal thoughts was asked why she had not yet killed herself. Relevant information was often omitted from, and fundamental errors included in, the medical assessment reports. One report said the subject was fit enough to walk her dog every day even though she did not have a dog. Civil servants had to be drafted in to help Capita out because waiting times were so long that in some cases people with terminal conditions died before receiving a penny. Atos and Capita were paid over £500m from tax payers’ money for assessing fitness to work but 61 per cent who appealed against failed claims won their appeals.


Capita has demonstrated similar incompetence and insensitivity in other areas in which it operates. Capita’s education arm sent a truancy notice to a pupil who had died two months before. While administering housing benefit for Lambeth Council, Capita wrote to a man telling him he no longer qualified for benefits because he was dead. Tens of thousands of unprocessed claims left many Lambeth families in danger of eviction.

In August 2016, a survey of General Practitioners found 85 per cent were missing records of recently registered patients, 65 per cent had experienced shortages of clinical supplies or delays in deliveries, and 32 per cent had suffered from missed or delayed payments.

In June 2014, it was reported that at least five of eight Liverpool National Health Service Trusts which had contracted their payroll and recruitment to Capita in 2012 were withdrawing because of concerns about the quality of the service provided.

The Great Training Robbery

Capita was guilty of maladministration in the Government’s £290m flagship training support scheme, the Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) which was implemented in 2000 and abruptly ended in 2001.Computer disks containing account holder names and PINs circulated on the black market. People were still being prosecuted for fraud as late as seven years after the ILA debacle.

On 31 January 2018, Capita announced a profit warning and dividend suspension as net debts were predicted to hit £1.15bn and a pension deficit to  reach £381m. The announcement knocked 47 per cent off Capita’s shares, reducing its market value by over £1.1bn.  In handing public service provision over to the robber barons, the Government sacked hundreds of thousands of civil servants. Brexit will close the door on foreign labour. Who will provide public services in the UK in the future?


The Dark Side of the DUP

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday November 30 2018


The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has started to withdraw its support from Theresa May’s beleaguered government and plans to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. They abstained on the first two votes on the Finance Bill, and eight DUP MPs voted against the government in a third vote, on an amendment to the bill proposed by the Labour party.

Dubious Friends

When Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017 (despite there being a fixed-term parliament as claimed for Sri Lanka) it turned out to be serious error of judgement. The Conservatives won the most seats but failed to get an overall majority, worse than the majority of 17 she had before the election. The incumbent Conservative prime minister, announced her intention on 9 June 2017 to form a minority government with support from the DUP, whom she described as “friends and allies”. Those friends and allies were even stranger bedfellows than MS and RW. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things that group did was collaborate with terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. Chris Patten described the deal as toxic.

The DUP are a rum bunch of individuals. Arlene Foster, the current leader, wasted £500 million of public money by her poor oversight of renewable energy incentive scheme; Jonathan Bell conveyed a public image of Christian rectitude but got horribly drunk in New York while promoting Northern Ireland; Ian Paisley Jr was suspended from parliament for taking bribes from the Rajapaksas; David Simpson opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools; Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”; Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011; Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned”; Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham; Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little, leader of the Ulster Resistance movement in the 1980s, who was convicted for being involved in a gun-running plot.

With friends like this…!

Money Tree

Protracted and difficult talks between these “friends” led to an agreement which secured DUP confidence-and-supply support for a Conservative minority government led by Theresa May. A confidence and supply agreement is one whereby a party will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation or budget (supply) votes, by either voting in favour or abstaining. The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, told the BBC it did not consider the recent votes a breach of their confidence and supply agreement.

May’s government, which had long been practising austerity and bleating about the lack of a “money tree”, agreed to put an extra £1bn into Northern Ireland for infrastructure, education, health, to maintain the guarantee to increase state pensions by at least 2.5% a year, to maintain defence spending, and agriculture spending in Northern Ireland at the same level for the rest of the current parliament (which theoretically takes us to June 2022). There was concern that the money could only be spent when Stormont was restored. In March, the government announced that £410m of the £1bn deal would be included in a new Stormont budget with money dished out to various areas. Downing Street has said that so far £430m has been released. In 2017/18, £20m was given to health and education while the £410m allocated for the Stormont budget is currently going through parliamentary approval procedures.

Are the DUP grateful? Are they ‘eck as like!

DUP Buys Ads where its Voters Won’t See

Two days before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The law is different in Northern Ireland and political parties do not have to declare the source of their funding. The DUP initially refused to give any information and then grudgingly said that the money came from “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”. Later they disclosed that the money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from “pro-Union business people” via the CRC (Constitutional Research Council).

The BBC Spotlight programme revealed that the Metro ad had been placed by one Richard Cook. Spotlight’s investigation of Cook revealed a long trail of illegal activities. Retired FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman told the programme: “I think there is a good chance that law enforcement in New York City would be interested in taking a further look at this and possibly opening something up”.

Five Star

In April 2013, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, with Richard Cook, jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments. Prince Nawwaf is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75% of the shares. He was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. He was a very powerful and influential man in Saudi Arabia and well-known internationally. Why was he teaming up with a dodgy non-entity like Richard Cook? The nature of the company’s business is obscure. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved.

As well as being vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Cook’s illustrious CV includes being accused of presenting fake documents to the authorities in 2009 to illegally ship used tires to India and he left a shipping company with a bill of more than £1m. He was a founding director and shareholder of a company called DDR Recycling in Glasgow which went out of business owing £150,000 in unpaid tax. In Ukraine, Cook’s company signed an $80m contract in 2013 supposedly for the purchase of used railway tracks. The person behind the company in Ukraine was a convicted criminal from Germany who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in a large-scale food fraud.

Saudi Connection

Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz died in September 2015. He was the twenty-second son of Ibn Saud, born in 1932. He became a senior member of the House of Saud and was a close ally of King Abdullah. He was thoroughly familiar with international policy and law, and was also an expert on Middle East affairs. In September 2001, he was appointed director general of the Saudi intelligence agency, Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah. His eldest son has been Saudi ambassador to the UK and Ireland since 2005. The son ran up debts of more than £3m in an orgy of acquisition of luxury goods. Bell-Pottinger, who made shedloads of money doing a grand job with Sri Lanka’s image, handled PR for the profligate prince.

Constitutional Research Council

Richard Cook is the frontman for a shadowy organisation called the CRC, which helped to fund the DUP’s Leave campaign in Northern Ireland during the Brexit referendum in 2016. The CRC has also funded the European Research Group (which includes Jacob Rees-Mogg) and its chairman, the current (i.e. for this week) Brexit Secretary of State, Steve Baker. The CRC has no formal or legal status and refuses to name its members. There is no evidence that it generates income. It seems to exist merely to funnel money from dodgy sources into political campaigns. The un-Presbyterian life-style of the ambassador shows there is a lot of money slopping around the Saudi royal family.

Where Does the Money Come from?

Open Democracy is an independent global media platform partly funded by George Soros. OD did a lot of thorough research to eliminate wealthy donors from the list of possible benefactors of CRC. OD were fairly confident in saying who did not give the money to the DUP but are still appealing to readers for information who did give it.

As Fintan O’Toole put it: “The UK electoral commission is clear: ‘a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified’. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal.”

The DUP seems to be keeping company out of keeping with its Spartan and dour Presbyterian ethos. It gets worse. They recently embarrassed themselves by inviting Boris Johnson as their keynote speaker.

Foxy Liam

According to a website called vipfaq, (“the latest news, scandals, facts and gossip on your favourite celebrities!”) they did not have any facts about Liam Fox’s sexual orientation, but claimed to have done a poll in which 0 per cent thought he was straight. Fox’s voting record in Parliament is generally against gay rights, and he voted against same-sex marriage. Vipfaq says: “Supposedly, Liam Fox has been having a busy year in 2018. However, we do not have any detailed information on what Liam Fox is doing these days. Maybe you know more. Feel free to add the latest news and gossip. According to our best knowledge, Liam Fox is still alive. We are not aware of any death rumours.”

Vipfaq is probably a spoof, but many people are indeed wondering what Liam Fox is doing these days, as Britain teeters towards Brexit. He has been cruelly called the “most pointless minister in the Government.” He is supposed to be Secretary of State for International Trade in charge of finding trading partners for the UK post-EU. He does not seem to have found any so far.

Marina Hyde described Fox as “an expert in the self-inflicted wound.” In the 2009 expenses scandal, Fox was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and was forced to repay the most money.

In 2010, he resigned as Defence Secretary, over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence, and allowed him to join official trips overseas.  Fox and Werritty lived together in a flat near Tower Bridge, before Fox married Jesme Baird in 2005.

Fox has long been a friend of Sri Lanka, as has Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley was suspended from Parliament and the DUP for taking bribes from the Rajapaksa Government. Fox seems to have got away with similar crimes, although he is no stranger to controversy. Fox had first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1995, as a Junior Foreign Office Minister.

In Singapore in 2007, Fox, by then Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, had a chance meeting with Rajapaksa’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. Towards the end of the war with the LTTE, Fox, who was seen in the capital Colombo as a possible future Tory leader, became an influential messenger boy, even for Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Fox behaved recklessly, by taking Werritty with him to countless Ministry of Defence meetings, and allowing his friend to hand out business cards, describing himself as a special adviser to the ministry. Ursula Brennan (who I remember as a formidable person), Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, chastised Fox for this. Fox was forced to resign in 2011, after it emerged that he and Werritty, had been given free holidays in Sri Lanka, in return for saying nice things about the Rajapaksa Government. Fox and Werritty stayed in five-star hotels and enjoyed first-class travel.

Back in government

Fox is back in government with a leading role in implementing Brexit, as Secretary of State for International Trade. This has resulted in him being taken less seriously than ever. No wonder Brexit is a mess.

On 9 March 2018, Arab News reported that “British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox said that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 can build strongly on what is already a strong alliance with Britain. UK and KSA have agreed landmark ambition for around £ 65 billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities. Both kingdoms are transforming their economic prospects and roles in the world.”

This was before Saudi Arabia revealed how it was transforming its role in the world, by bombing school buses in Yemen with British arms, and chopping up a Washington Post journalist.

On 18 April 2018, Fox told Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena that steps would be taken to include new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka on the website of the UK’s Ministry of International Trade. Joy was unconfined. It is such an honour to be on Liam’s website.

In June 2018, Open Democracy reported that Fox was again having difficulty seeing the line that should be drawn between adviser and privately-backed lobbyist. Shanker Singham is a member of Fox’s ‘committee of experts.’

Singham is also a Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a position he took after he left the controversial think tank Legatum earlier this year. Tamasin Cave from Spinwatch, which monitors the lobbying industry, said: “Singham is simultaneously advising Liam Fox, and has unrivalled access to many other ministers, while at the same time working for a firm that is paid to influence the decisions of ministers. That’s a glaring conflict of interest.”

Scottish National Party MP Neil Gray said: “There has been an effective sub-contracting of the hard thinking normally undertaken by government to a series of ‘think tanks,’ who refuse to reveal where their funding comes from and whose proposals seem coincidentally to reflect the narrow interests of a small group of private companies.

Marina Hyde again: “Brexit has performed a questionable alchemy, allowing various of the politically undead to lumber out of the where-are-they-now files, all the way back into key operational positions.” Britain is paying the price for their resurrection.

Ain’t Going Nowhere, Just Leaving. Brexit Breakdown

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 19 2018

I used to write a monthly column on Europe for a Sri Lankan business magazine. Looking back on those articles now I can see that most of what I wrote was hostile to the way the European project was working out in practice. Nevertheless, had I been in the UK at the time of the referendum I would have voted for the UK to remain in the EU. One of my reasons for this would be that a great deal of valuable social policy would be lost to UK citizens if the nation withdrew from the EU.

One might respect an argument for leaving, but it soon became clear that there was no plan for the practicalities of exit. It was clear that there was a lot of complicated work to be done disentangling UK law from EU law with which it had been entwined for over 40 years. This is the kind of tedious work normally done by civil servants. Unfortunately, this is an extinct species because successive governments of both parties have for years been boasting about slashing public services.

Confederacy of Dunces

A number of people who were at the forefront of the campaign to persuade the British people to vote to leave were demonstrably shifty and of low moral standing. Eyebrows were raised when Theresa May appointed her crack team to implement the difficult task of getting the UK out of the EU. Secretary of State for Exiting was David Davis who had for decades demonstrated that he was a bumbling idiot. As John Crace wrote in The Guardian, Davis had never been the right man for this complex task. “Davis had been totally exhausted by the four hours of negotiations he had completed with Michel Barnier during his time in office”.

The job of foreign secretary was given to Boris Johnson who consistently avoids giving straight answers and his lies about EU regulations will cause British people to lose their jobs. Norman Baker, who worked with Johnson, said “the bumbling facade was just a clever construct to hide the moral vacuum inside.” In a BBC interview Eddie Mair reminded Boris he had agreed to supply an address of a third party to a friend who wanted to fix up a physical assault on that person. “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”

International Trade was given to Liam Fox who is well-known in Sri Lanka as a paid toady of the Rajapaksa regime. In the 2009 expenses scandal, he was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and, as a result, was forced to repay the most money. In 2010, he was appointed Defence Secretary. He resigned on 14 October 2011 over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join official trips overseas.

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt wrote: “Brexit negotiations haven’t made any progress because the UK government has spent more time negotiating with itself rather than Brussels, which has simply had to wait for London to sort itself out.”

The New Team

David Davis resigned declaring that he could not support May’s plan to unite her divided cabinet, saying it involved too close a relationship with the EU. Johnson soon followed, writing that Britain was “headed for the status of colony — and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantage of that particular arrangement.”

Johnson was replaced by Jeremy Hunt who has overseen the worst collapse in patient standards of any health secretary in the history of the NHS. He is universally loathed by doctors and nurses and leaves a legacy of soaring waiting lists, huge staffing shortages, and patients left with treatments rationed and operations cancelled in record numbers. This will all get worse when the NHS can no longer recruit staff from the EU and privatisation gathers pace.

Davis was replaced by Dominic Raab, who, as housing minister,  claimed that that immigration had “put house prices up by something like 20%” over the past 25 years. He was a member of a Facebook group called British Ultra Liberal Youth, which called for the return of workhouses, the sale of all council homes, and advocated the full privatisation of the NHS. Raab believes leaving the EU will allow the UK to scrap various worker protections. He published a pamphlet asserting that UK employment legislation represents a “straitjacket” for the economy and proposed allowing employers to fire at will. He contributed to a book called Britannia Unchained, in which the British were described as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

Oh, not to be in England now that May is there.

The UK and Torture

Almost ten years ago, David Miliband, then UK foreign secretary, was making great efforts to prevent GOSL from completing its imminent victory over the LTTE. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian accused him of “pipsqueak diplomacy”. I published an article suggesting that Miliband should be tried for war crimes. This is why. When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in torture. Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans and others to be tortured but, as David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening. He certainly played a very active role in covering up torture.

In 2011, the UK government paid £ 2.2m compensation to Sami al-Saadi. He was an opponent of Quadaffi and claimed that in 2004 he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports and phone numbers relating to Libyan dissidents living in Britain. The compensation payment did not constitute an admission of guilt.  A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “There has been no admission of liability and no finding by any court of liability.”

Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, did get a fulsome apology. Fatima was pregnant when the couple was detained by the CIA in Thailand and deported to Malaysia in February 2004 on their way to London. Mr Belhaj claims that MI6 sent a fax to the Libyan intelligence services informing them of their detention. They were flown to Tripoli, blindfolded, hooded and shackled to stretchers. Mr Belhaj alleges he suffered four years of torture and isolation. On May 10, 2018 Theresa May apologized to them and said the British government was “profoundly sorry” for their “appalling treatment.”

Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian UK resident who spent seven years in US custody. He returned to the UK in 2009 after all charges were dropped. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands represented him. After being captured, Mohamed was first taken to Pakistan and tortured by Pakistani guards while being interrogated by US and UK intelligence officers. He was then taken to Morocco. Another human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, wrote in the London Review of Books: “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest. He spent 18 months in Morocco and was then taken to the Dark Prison in Afghanistan where he was kept in total darkness and tortured for another six months. He then spent four years in Guantanamo. MI5 supplied questions to his interrogators



Sands criticized Miliband’s judgment in making efforts to keep this case quiet and to defend and lose many other cases which could have been dealt with by other means. Miliband must have “seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA”. Sands claimed: “The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable (legally valid) case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11.“ Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records.


This issue has come to light again following the release on 28 June 2018 of two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee. The reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite mistreatment. The committee found three individual cases where MI6 or MI5 made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies either suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. Britain is not a virgin when it comes to torture. See:



Jack Straw said: The report also shows that where I was involved in decisions I consistently sought to ensure that the United Kingdom did act in accordance with its long-stated policies, and international norms.”


Theresa May said: ““We should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances, but it is only right that they should be held to the highest possible standards in protecting our national security.”


That’s OK then!



Motes and Beams

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 5 2018

A number of Sri Lankan news items came to my mind while reading about Howard Jones’s book My Lai: Vietnam, 1968 and the Descent into Darkness. These are the news items. The US government announced that it is withdrawing from the UNHRC because that body was a “protector of human-rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias” and therefore the US “should not provide it with any credibility”. One of the first foreign policy decisions of the Sirisena government was to co-sponsor UNHRC Resolution No.30/1 of 1 October 2015. How does that stand with the US absent from the UNHRC? Another news item that took my notice was that the departing US ambassador said that his government would prevent Gotabaya Rajapaksa being elected president of Sri Lanka because of his abuses of human rights. Yet another item concerned “civil society representatives” opposing the appointment of Dayan Jayatilleka as ambassador to Russia because he successfully defended the Rajapaksa government’s actions when he was ambassador to UNHRC.

At the risk of being accused of “whataboutery” I cannot resist exclaiming: how can the nation that was responsible for My Lai (and countless other atrocities) have the gall face to criticize the actions of the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE? The Ministry of Defence published a defence explaining how “the Government of Sri Lanka engaged in a military strategy against the LTTE, why Security Forces used the level of force they did, and how at each stage in the operation Sri Lanka took extraordinary steps to respect and protect the lives of civilians.”


On 16 March 1968, between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered by soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division. Victims included civilian men, women, children, and babies. Women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. On 14 March a patrol of C Company had triggered a booby trap that killed two men, tore the legs off two more and injured another two. Soldiers angry at the casualties saw a woman working in the fields. Private Greg Olsen, a Mormon, wrote to his father describing what happened: “They shot and wounded her. Then they kicked her to death and emptied their magazines in her head. They slugged every little kid they came across. Why in God’s name does this have to happen? These are all seemingly normal guys; some were friends of mine. For a while they were like wild animals. It was murder, and I’m ashamed of myself for not trying to do anything about it. This isn’t the first time, Dad. I’ve seen it many times before.”

The My Lai massacre was not a momentary lapse of reason. The slaughter lasted for several hours and at least 40 of C Company’s 105 men took an active part. The US army in Vietnam in 1968 was pervaded by a culture of cruelty. Phil Caputo wrote in his memoir of life with the US marines in Vietnam, A Rumour of War. “Many had petty jealousies, hatreds and prejudices. And an arrogance tempered their ingrained American idealism.” The overwhelming majority of US forces felt a cultural disdain for Vietnam’s inhabitants.

Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted and given a life sentence. He only served three and a half years under house arrest. There were whistle-blowers. US servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors Commanders ignored a report made by a helicopter pilot called Hugh Thompson, who for the rest of his life received hate mail and death threats. In March 1969 Ronald Ridenhour, a helicopter door-gunner, wrote to thirty members of Congress, describing atrocities that he had heard described in vivid detail by those who had participated in them. Private Tom Glen, a 21-year-old from Tucson wrote to Creighton Abrams, the US army’s commander-in-chief, describing the dreadful deeds that he had been told other units in his division had committed. Major Colin Powell, then 23rd Division staff officer and later US secretary of state, produced a whitewash report.

The ultimate function of soldiers is to kill. That is what they are trained and paid to do. In her profound book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry wrote: “the act of killing, motivated by care ‘for the nation’, is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation.” It is inevitable that armed conflict generates moral compromise. Nations emerge from wars with many moral questions. There is a kind of PTSD for nations as well as individuals.



Getting Better?

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday June 1 2018.


I recently purchased the 50th anniversary remastering of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I am enjoying hearing Paul McCartney optimistically sing “It’s getting better all the time” with John Lennon cynically commenting in the background, “Couldn’t get any worse”. Is it getting better?

Sometimes the unkindness of humankind makes me weep. A gang of disreputable dogs hangs around the shopping precinct near my home. I would not blame the shopkeepers for chasing them away. If you are trying to make a living by selling food, you do not want a pile of dog turds covered in flies in front of your establishment. Most of the shopkeepers tolerate the dogs and even feed them. Anonymous strangers see that the dogs get veterinary attention when necessary. There is kindness. I am thinking of the sort of mentality that would allow someone to dump a dog on the street.

There are many who lament the state of the world today and bemoan the cruelty of modern humans. Steven Pinker is not one of them – he is an optimist. In his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Pinker, a Canadian cognitive scientist who teaches at Harvard, covers similar ground to that trodden in his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature.

In the 2011 book, he argued that violence in the world has declined. He specifically rejects the view that humans are inherently violent, but cites reasons for the decline in violence, reasons which have to do with controlling human behaviour: the rise of the modern nation-state and judiciary “with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force”; the rise of “technological progress [allowing] the exchange of goods and services over longer distances and larger groups of trading partners,” – people tend not to want to kill their customers; increasing respect for “the interests and values of women”; the rise of forces such as literacy, mobility, and mass media, which “can prompt people to take the perspectives of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them”; an “intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which reframes “violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.”

The books were generally very well-received (fans included Bill Gates and Peter Singer) but there were dissenting voices. John Gray described Enlightenment Now as “embarrassing and feeble”. Statistician Nassim Taleb wrote:  “Pinker doesn’t have a clear idea of the difference between science and journalism, or the one between rigorous empiricism and anecdotal statements.”

Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct, agrees with much of what Pinker says but finds the books dangerous because of his unearned influence with the world’s movers and shakers –  a “coterie of neoliberal technocrats “. “His work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity.” Lent accuses Pinker of being blasé about the fact that humankind is destroying the planet. When Pinker does address the issue, he relies on a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes, ignoring the fact that “Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, are driven only by increasing short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity.”

Pinker claims that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century”. Lent dismisses this: “Instead, it has become institutionalized into US national policy” with African- American males six times more likely to be arrested than white men and one in every three African-American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime.

The greatest flaw is Pinker’s assertion that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being”. In 2017, the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 77 percent of the nation’s wealth. The wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Economist Mujeed Jamaldeen has calculated that it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. There is enough evidence that inequality is harmful. In blithely dismissing it Pinker undermines his whole case.

Another economist, Ganesh Sitaraman, in his book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic , argues that inequality brings “an erosion of trust as people become more dissimilar, interact less, and begin to see themselves as different from others in society. In political terms, the elites soon begin to believe they are more capable of governing society. This kind of thinking is inherently at odds with republican government, which is rooted directly in the right of the people to govern themselves.”

The Trump presidency is increasing inequality and class conflict. Throughout the US, young people are sinking into addiction and jobs are disappearing. Gun ownership is increasing and people are joining militia groups. Armed confrontations have taken place in Montana, New Mexico, Texas, and California. There were more than fifty attacks on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service employees, including two by snipers, between 2010 and 2014.A militia leader from Utah was arrested in 2016 after trying to bomb a BLM outpost in Arizona. How will these people react if Trump is ousted?

Someone was evil enough to mercilessly and persistently beat a dog that lived rough near our shops to the extent that the poor creature’s spine was damaged. Another human was good enough to take the dog home and care for it. It is now happy and healthy. Evil people carried out the Sri Lankan pogrom in 1983; decent people were courageous enough to risk their own lives to protect Tamil strangers. During every disaster, including the current flooding, individuals take risks to help their fellow humans. Let us be optimistic about the altruism endemic to what Isaiah Berlin called “the crooked timber of humanity”. Keep an eye open for the


Cutting to Spite Part Two

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 25 2018.


The National Health Service is already chronically understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. In many sectors of the British economy there are labour shortages. Net migration to the UK fell by 106,000 to 230,000 in the year following the EU referendum. The number of EU citizens leaving the UK has increased – up 28,000 to 123,000. Professor Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist for the Cabinet Office and senior fellow of the group UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the UK is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result.”

Rotting Crops

The NFU (National Farmers’ Union) monthly labour survey showed a 29 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September 2017. Low unemployment rates and the seasonal nature of farm work makes it difficult to attract domestic pickers, which means the UK farming industry is heavily dependent on pickers from the EU. The UK has become less attractive to workers from Romania and Bulgaria because of the fall in the value of sterling against the euro since Britain voted to leave the EU. Fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on British farms. A soft fruit farmer in Scotland who grows 350 tons of blueberries had to leave between 50 to 100 tons to waste at a cost of £500,000 because of a labour shortage. A Kent soft fruit farmer couldn’t find enough labour to pick 100 tons of raspberries, out of a total of 2,000 tons, and lost £700,000. Farmers were reluctant to speak publicly about this for fear that supermarket groups would think they were not running their businesses effectively.

Service Sector

It is not just manual labour that is in short supply because of government policy. Research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed 71% of businesses in the services sector are finding it difficult to hire the right workers – the highest figure ever recorded. BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “Labour and skills shortages are set to be the biggest potential drag anchor on business in 2018, since ultimately it is people that make businesses work.

Entrepreneur Drain

Many skilled people and entrepreneurs are being threatened with deportation. The Home Office sets out in its Immigration Rules general grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK. Paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Act was designed to tackle criminals and terrorists. The wording is very loose and discretionary and offers everything to the Home Office yet nothing to the applicant. It seems that the Home Office is abusing the discretion which allows them to refuse an applicant by inferring that their “character and conduct” make them undesirable to be allowed to live in the UK. Officials are abusing powers granted to them under section 322(5) by wrongly applying it to those not accused of any crime. HMRC (Revenue) takes a fairly relaxed view about errors in notifying financial details for taxation purposes. The Home Office uses such errors as grounds for deportation. Home Office officials themselves introduce errors where there were none and the innocent applicant is punished.

The impending deportation of Saleem Dadabhoy would directly lead to the loss of 20 jobs, all held by British citizens, and the closure of a British company worth £1.5m. What is his crime? The Home Office says that discrepancies in the financial documents he provided show that he has fraudulently provided false evidence. Dadabhoy’s lawyer says the discrepancy is the result of Home Office incompetence. Officials made two basic accounting errors, comparing gross income to net income, and comparing a tax return from an April to April tax year to a return from a December to December accounting year.

Taxing Discretion

There is no real guidance that the public can examine about how the rules should be applied by Home Office staff. What level of tax discrepancy can amount to a threat to national security? Immigration barrister Paul Turner writes: “there are stories in the press of doctors in hospitals where there are shortages of doctors being deported probably as a result of a tax error”. Turner says: “I have seen Freedom of Information Requests where the government has refused to answer how many people have been granted under 322 (5), remember it is discretionary, and how many refused.” Turner says a doctor could be saving lives in the UK one day and deported the next on the basis of someone’s else’s error of over five years ago.

Sidarth Vijay is a specialist computer programmer, a profession on the government’s list of shortage occupations. He arrived in the UK in 2011 and has never earned less than £50,000 a year. He has been employed full-time by companies including Toshiba while running his own IT consultancy company.

In 2014, Sidarth Vijay was sent a 2012-13 tax calculation by HMRC. He spotted an accounting error which meant he owed £4,000. He contacted HMRC and paid the shortfall. Despite his amendment being made in time, he has been refused indefinite leave to remain (ILR) by the Home Office under paragraph 322(5) of immigration law. He is nearly destitute after paying £15,000 in legal costs and Home Office fees.

His Home Office casework notes show he was found to be “credible” and that his refusal in February 2018 under 322(5) was entirely triggered by figures obtained from the SA02 tax documents submitted by the applicant. This is odd because he did not submit SA02 documents because they are only issued when a tax amendment has been made late, which his was not. He has a letter from HMRC which says: ““I can confirm, as discussed today, there has been no out-of-time adjustment to any of your previous years liabilities and therefore no issue of a SA02 at any point.”

He has a letter from the Home Office dated August 2017 which refers August 2017, which refers to an interview they state he attended and again refers him giving them an SA02 form. “I never attended an interview with the Home Office,” he said.


What is the sense of deporting people when the UK needs workers?

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