Saturday 29 February 2020

Covering His Back

It is not that the coverage of Julian Assange has been bad. It is that there has been none at all. And the reason for that is the ferociously media-backed candidacy of Sir Keir Starmer for Leader of the Labour Party. As a Commonwealth citizen resident in the United Kingdom, Assange should contest Starmer's seat in 2024. If he is unable to do so, then George Galloway, who brought down even Roy Jenkins, ought to step up to the plate.

Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

A Better Offer

I do not know whether this ever made it into any of the many newspapers to which it was sent, but here it now is as a matter of record:

The People’s Voice is a new political party to uphold family and community values by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty. In 2024, our parliamentary candidates will have lived throughout the previous 10 years in their constituencies or in immediately adjacent constituencies, and they will have annual incomes not higher than £25,000.

As part of the process of selecting those candidates, then applicants will have to be endorsed by The Full Brexit, by Action 4 Life, by Woman’s Place UK, by Fathers4Justice, by at least three of the 84 BAME organisations that wrote on 17th August 2018 to oppose the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, by the Evangelical Alliance, and by the person or nominee of the Roman Catholic bishop in whose diocese the constituency was located. Each of those would remain strictly independent.

I am writing to advise you and them of this provision. If I had not heard otherwise via by 6pm on Monday 2nd March, then The People’s Voice would assume that this offer had been accepted. None of the above will be getting a better offer, or any other offer.

Disclosure Watch: Day 34

With less than two weeks to go until the fourth attempt to put me on trial, we still have no disclosure.

This post will appear daily until further notice.

Councillor Watch: Day 230

I hereby invite all Labour members of Durham County Council who believe me to be guilty of the criminal charges against me to email and say so.

I would not be able to reply to those emails, but every day the names of those who had sent them to me would appear here. So far, I have received none.

No More Khyber Pass Free Pass

And so ends the war in Afghanistan, as these things always end, in an unconditional surrender, dressed up as something else for the sake of decorum, on the part of the side that was always going to leave eventually, since it was the side that had anywhere else to go. This whole thing has been for nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

Forget about UN Security Council Resolutions, and forget about House of Commons resolutions to authorise the use of military force, never mind Peace Pledge ballots of party members or what have you.

Britain should only ever use such force in self-defence, and MPs should make it perfectly clear that they would vote against a motion of confidence in any Government, regardless of party, that did not adhere to that principle.

That should be taken as a given. It should be universally and even unspokenly accepted as a fact of political life that MPs would bring down any Government that used military force in anything other than self-defence.

Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Right Out

You cannot now suggest cutting the basic rate of income tax by two pence in the pound if you want to remain as Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Cabinet. The game has changed. The seats that now make the difference voted for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, and they would have done so again if it had not been for the Brexit that will not be an issue in 2024.

With nowhere else to go, and in any case not all that numerous in the present House of Commons, the Right is finished. Sajid Javid sacked, Andrea Leadsom sacked, Jacob Rees-Mogg with no policy role, and now Priti Patel being sued by her Permanent Secretary. The Right is on the way out as the big spending ramps up in order to hold the Red Wall and turn more of it Blue.

What is still Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party is going to have a job defending Sir Windrush Scandal, although a former Director of Public Prosecutions is about to become its new Leader. Perhaps the Government should have sacked Sir Philip Rutnam over one of his past failures? But it didn't. It did this instead. So now, he is going to see the Home Secretary in court. Although she might not be the Home Secretary by then.

Still, the Conservative Party must face the competition in which it professes to believe. Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Friday 28 February 2020

Disclosure Watch: Day 33

With less than two weeks to go until the fourth attempt to put me on trial, we still have no disclosure.

This post will appear daily until further notice.

Councillor Watch: Day 229

I hereby invite all Labour members of Durham County Council who believe me to be guilty of the criminal charges against me to email and say so.

I would not be able to reply to those emails, but every day the names of those who had sent them to me would appear here. So far, I have received none.


Idlib is held by head-chopping, heart-cutting jihadis, including a large number of Chinese Uighurs. They are supported by the Islamist regime in Turkey. And Turkey is our brother in NATO, an alliance that may not be questioned, with even the 2019 Labour manifesto committing Britain to continued membership. That is before the Leadership passes to Keir Starmer.

Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Starmer Impediments

Either Julian Assange or Keir Starmer will address this year's Durham Miners' Gala. Alas, we all know which of them it is going to be. Yet, although the trends had been in evidence for decades, as the architect of the disastrous 2019 Brexit policy, Starmer was the man who finally lost Labour the North.

Since Starmer is now the standard-bearer of most Labour MPs' opposition to the Government's economic programme from the right, a further 50 Red Wall seats could easily turn Blue under him. He is the metropolitan liberal elite made flesh. Just wait for that list of donors on Monday.

And those will just be the ones that he declared. He is significantly less Americosceptical than Boris Johnson. Starmer lives and breathes the axiomatic universal sovereignty of the Democratic National Committee, the Provisional Army Council of the world.

Bull Connor was on the Democratic National Committee. But at least he was never the Presidential nominee. Labour expects to hold the Black Wall by presenting BAME London with the prospect of a Prime Minister who had previously been the Director of Public Prosecutions. Mere mass abstention would be enough to hand scores of metropolitan non-elite seats to whoever was in second place, usually the Conservatives.

Starmer's history in the Crown Prosecution Service, the ruthless enforcers of the right-wing Labour machine, also makes him the only Leader who could lose Merseyside for Labour even while the other side was led by Johnson. On this Global Scouse Day, consider that the CPS deliberately constructed too weak a case to convict a man of killing 95 Scousers, and that it did so in order to ensure that Rupert Murdoch might eventually allow Starmer to become Prime Minister.

Away with all of this. Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Virtute et Industria

There is a long and noble history of school strikes. But Greta's Greeny Groupies are probably not on strike at all. Regardless of any nonbinding "home-school contract" or what have you, the legal requirement is 90 per cent attendance. Take off a morning or an afternoon every week, or take off a day every fortnight, and you are within the law. Take off an odd day here and there, and you are well within it.

Greta Thunberg herself is, of course, a different story. She never goes to school, and if she came from a less privileged background, then her parents would be up in court. Moreover, since we have now left the EU, then there is no reason for a Swedish national to be admitted to this country in order to cause a public nuisance in a British city centre.

The question of how far the green policies of Bernie Sanders were in the interests of the working class came up at the Durham Miners' Gala a couple of years ago, when a video message from Sanders had to be corrected from the platform by Ian Lavery. See also the ongoing activities of Extinction Rebellion right here in North West Durham. It is a Yes-No question, "Do you regret the defeat of the miners in 1985?"

The Banks Group and other potential donors, please take note that ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

The British Government’s Covert Propaganda Campaign In Syria

The British government covertly established a network of citizen journalists across Syria during the early years of the country’s civil war in an attempt to shape perceptions of the conflict, frequently recruiting people who were unaware that they were being directed from London.

A number of leaked documents seen by Middle East Eye show how the propaganda initiative began in 2012 and gathered pace the following year, shortly after the UK parliament refused to authorise British military action in Syria.

Drawing upon British, American and Canadian funding, UK government contractors set up offices in Istanbul and Amman, where they hired members of the Syrian diaspora, who in turn recruited citizen journalists inside Syria.

These journalists, many of them young, were commissioned to produce TV footage, radio programmes, social media, posters, magazines and even children’s comics. 

While many Syrians turned spontaneously to media activism from the start of the war, the documents describe the way in which the British government sought to guide some of their output, seeing citizen journalism as a way of covertly influencing Syrian audiences. 

The papers also make clear that those people who were recruited were often unaware that they were part of a British propaganda initiative.

Some of those who were recruited have defended their involvement, however, saying that they were reliant on western support in their efforts to counter pro-government reporting in Syrian state media, and in Iranian and Russian-backed media.

At a time when the last opposition-held enclave in Idlib province is under assault by pro-government forces, they questioned whether western countries could have contributed more material support to moderate rebels.

Some Syrian journalists complained that western support for their work was decreasing even as it was most needed, after Russia's entry into the war in 2015 tipped the balance in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.

The documents were drawn up as blueprints for the initiative by an anthropologist working in counter-terrorism at the foreign office in London. They were issued in late 2014 to a small number of communications companies that were invited to bid for three contracts to deliver the work. 

One says: “The objective of the project is contribute [sic] towards positive attitudinal and behavioural change.” This was further defined as: “Reinforcement of popular rejection of the Assad regime and extremist alternatives; promotion of the moderate values of the revolution; promotion of Syrian national identity.” 

The documents show that the over-arching aim of the citizen journalism project – and a series of interlinked British propaganda initiatives – was to promote the UK’s strategic interests in Syria and the Middle East. 

These are defined in the leaked papers as “a more stable and democratic Syria that better meets the needs and aspirations of its people,” support for a political solution to the conflict, the alleviation of humanitarian suffering, and enhanced UK security. 

As well as developing grassroots journalism aligned with British government values, the UK and other western governments were at the same time attempting to build civil society in areas controlled by some of Assad’s opponents, financing and training police forces and civil defence teams. 

The anthropologist’s blueprint makes clear that this was being done not just to help maintain law and order and provide humanitarian assistance, but “to build confidence in a future Syria free from extremist rule”. 

However, the documents acknowledge the risks to the young journalists who had unwittingly been co-opted by the British government. “Media coverage of the project will be distinctly unwelcome due to the risks to Syrian employees and to project effectiveness that it would generate,” says one.

“The implementer is not permitted to speak publicly (to the media or at academic conferences) about their work without the explicit permission of HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]. This will be enforced by a Non Disclosure Agreement.” 

A number of young Syrian citizen journalists were detained and murdered by the Islamic State (IS) group after it began capturing territory in the country in 2015. The group frequently denounced its victims as western “spies”, and some Syrian citizen journalists were pursued across the border to Turkey and killed. 

Whilst many of the victims were not thought to be involved in British-sponsored projects, MEE is aware of two who were.

Three-pronged campaign 

The British government’s citizen journalism project was part of a three-pronged propaganda initiative that was developed in London and was, according to the documents, intended to “have a synergistic effect”. 

The first strand, named Syrian Identity, sought to “unite Syrians through positive affirmation of common cultures and practices and to restore trust between neighbours, while illustrating Syrians’ strength in numbers,” according to the blueprint. 

The documents explain that the second strand, called Free Syria, “seeks to build confidence in a future Syria free from extremist rule". It “amplifies the work of the ‘free’ police, civil defence teams and wider public service provision and broader developments in civil society and seeks to unite the moderate opposition (civil and armed) to work for a common future.” 

The third, known as Undermine, “seeks to degrade the effectiveness of VE [violent extremist] networks in Syria by undermining the credibility of VE narratives and actors and isolating VE organisations from the populace.” 

The document goes on, using a different acronym for IS: “ISIL is an explicit and named focus, Al Nusra Front (due to its current popularity within Syria) is addressed indirectly through its behaviour. 

“The purpose of the project to directly ‘Undermine’ (degrading the effectiveness of) VE networks in Syria through the delivery of media product, the emboldening and empowering of moderate voices, and supporting community coalescence around a vision of a tolerant, pluralist Syria. Ultimately, active Syrian rejection of VE is the requirement.” 

The documents add that the research underpinning the initiative “will need to be able to draw upon open source material, jihadist discourse and, in particular, a network of assets inside Syria”. 

Military intelligence officers 

Individuals familiar with the project say that around nine companies were invited to bid for the contracts. They included a number of firms established by former British diplomats, intelligence officers and army officers. 

Although the contracts were awarded by the UK’s foreign office, they were managed by the country’s Ministry of Defence, and sometimes by military intelligence officers. These companies set up offices in Amman, Istanbul and, for a period, at Reyhanli in southeast Turkey. 

From here they would employ Syrians who would in turn recruit citizen journalists inside Syria, who were under the impression that they were working for the media offices of Syrian opposition groups. 

“It was a shady, shady business,” says one person involved in the work, adding that frequently the individual journalist would believe they were working for an opposition group, and have no idea that a British communications company was running their media office, under contract to the UK government. 

A second person involved with the initiative added that if you hired Syrians “to pump out propaganda, inside Syria and outside,” attributing their work in any way to the British government would have undermined its effectiveness. 

Many of these citizen journalists would be using equipment that they believed was being supplied by opposition groups but which had in fact been bought using funds supplied by the UK government as part of the contract. 

Some would be paid a retainer of between $250-$500 a month, while others were paid for individual pieces of media – around $50 for each picture or $200 for a short piece of video. These would then be distributed to Arabic language media organisations, through what purported to be the press offices of Syrian opposition groups. 

Favoured video clips might be film of fighters from the moderate opposition handing out food, or using sophisticated weaponry to good effect. “Then that would go to Sky News Arabia, BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, those sort of outlets,” said one person involved. 

Whenever British government officials wished to discuss the work, meetings would be held away from the newly established offices, to avoid contact with the locally hired Syrians. British staff running the offices would also be expected to prepare reports on their meetings with Syrians, which would be passed back to the foreign office. 

Opposition social media accounts

Meanwhile, other leaked documents seen by MEE show that the British government had awarded contracts to communications companies, which selected and trained opposition spokespeople, ran press offices that operated 24 hours a day, and developed opposition social media accounts. 

British staff running these offices were told that their Syrian employees were permitted to talk to British journalists – as spokespeople for the Syrian opposition – but only after receiving clearance from officials at the British consulate in Istanbul. 

One of the responsibilities of the press offices set up covertly by the British government under the terms of these contracts was to “maintain an effective network of correspondents/stringers inside Syria to report on MAO [moderate armed opposition] activity.”

In this way, the British government was able to exert behind-the-scenes influence over conversations that the UK media was having with individuals who presented themselves as Syrian opposition representatives. 

People involved with the operation say that some prominent British journalists visiting Istanbul would be introduced to Syrians acting as opposition spokespeople, who had been prepared for the encounter by British handlers. 

They say they would brief the Syrians before the meeting, and avoid any face-to-face contact with the visiting journalists themselves. The propaganda initiative was primarily aimed at Syrians, living both inside and outside Syria. 

The blueprint explains that “radicalised UK citizens are not an explicit focus (target audience) for this work,” adding: “Those efforts are the responsibility of another government department.” It adds: “Nevertheless, it is accepted that some C-VE [countering violent extremist] material may reach the UK information space.” 

Furthermore, UK audiences could on occasion be “a specified target” of some media being produced as part of the initiative, with the permission of British officials in Istanbul. The different strands of the propaganda programme were evaluated by a scientist from the UK’s Ministry of Defence, looking for evidence of “behavioural and attitudinal change”.

The companies bidding for the contracts were told: “Behavioural changes linked… to campaign activity will be especially highly valued.” During 2015, Free Syria, Syrian Identity and Undermine were funded in both British pounds and Canadian dollars, with the equivalent of around £410,000 ($540,000) being spent each month.

Some Syrians who became involved in the programme say that the money they received was the only means by which they could hope to support their families. “I have a wife and family,” said one. “We need support in order to be able to live. Is there an independent media outlet in this world?”

The British government appears to have regarded its propaganda initiative as being in part a way to maintain a presence in Syria until it was able to become militarily engaged, with the blueprint saying that it should have “the capability to expand back into the strategic as and when the opportunity arises, to help build an effective opposition political-military interface.”

Around the same time that the initiative was being developed, the British government “loaned” a number of its pilots to the US, French and Canadian air forces, enabling them to take part in combat missions against Syrian targets, despite the country’s parliament having voted against such action. 

British government enthusiasm for much of the work appears to have begun to wane as it became increasingly clear that the Assad government and its Russian and Iranian allies were winning the civil war, and funding for contracts began to dry up. 

Early in 2019, the Free Syrian Police, a British-backed organisation, finally ceased operations following a militant takeover of Idlib province, much to the dismay of civilians and civil society activists.

The Turkish government is also said to have become less tolerant of the propaganda initiatives being co-ordinated from its territory. One British contractor is understood to have been expelled after the Turkish authorities discovered she had entered the country on a tourist visa.

In Its Proper Meaning

Craig Murray writes:

Please try this experiment for me. Try asking this question out loud, in a tone of intellectual interest and engagement: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?” Now try asking this question out loud, in a tone of hostility and incredulity bordering on sarcasm: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?”

Firstly, congratulations on your acting skills, you take direction very well. Secondly, is it not fascinating how precisely the same words can convey the opposite meaning dependent on modulation of stress, pitch, and volume?

Yesterday the prosecution continued its argument that the provision in the 2007 UK/US Extradition Treaty that bars extradition for political offences is a dead letter, and that Julian Assange’s objectives are not political in any event.

James Lewis QC for the prosecution spoke for about an hour, and Edward Fitzgerald QC replied for the defence for about the same time. During Lewis’ presentation, he was interrupted by Judge Baraitser precisely once. During Fitzgerald’s reply, Baraitser interjected seventeen times.

In the transcript, those interruptions will not look unreasonable: “Could you clarify that for me Mr Fitzgerald…” “So how do you cope with Mr Lewis’s point that…” “But surely that’s a circular argument…” “But it’s not incorporated, is it?…” All these and the other dozen interruptions were designed to appear to show the judge attempting to clarify the defence’s argument in a spirit of intellectual testing.

But if you heard the tone of Baraitser’s voice, saw her body language and facial expressions, it was anything but. The false picture a transcript might give is exacerbated by the courtly Fitzgerald’s continually replying to each obvious harassment with “Thank you Madam, that is very helpful”, which again if you were there, plainly meant the opposite.

But what a transcript will helpfully nevertheless show was the bully pulpit of Baraitser’s tactic in interrupting Fitzgerald again and again and again, belittling his points and very deliberately indeed preventing him from getting into the flow of his argument. The contrast in every way with her treatment of Lewis could not be more pronounced. 

So now to report the legal arguments themselves. James Lewis for the prosecution, continuing his arguments from the day before, said that Parliament had not included a bar on extradition for political offences in the 2003 Act. It could therefore not be reintroduced into law by a treaty. “To introduce a Political Offences bar by the back door would be to subvert the intention of Parliament.” 

Lewis also argued that these were not political offences. The definition of a political offence was in the UK limited to behaviour intended “to overturn or change a government or induce it to change its policy.” Furthermore the aim must be to change government or policy in the short term, not the indeterminate future. 

Lewis stated that further the term “political offence” could only be applied to offences committed within the territory where it was attempted to make the change. So to be classified as political offences, Assange would have had to commit them within the territory of the USA, but he did not.

If Baraitser did decide the bar on political offences applied, the court would have to determine the meaning of “political offence” in the UK/US Extradition Treaty and construe the meaning of paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 of the Treaty. To construe the terms of an international treaty was beyond the powers of the court. 

Lewis perorated that the conduct of Julian Assange cannot possibly be classified as a political offence. “It is impossible to place Julian Assange in the position of a political refugee.” The activity in which Wikileaks was engaged was not in its proper meaning political opposition to the US Administration or an attempt to overthrow that administration. Therefore the offence was not political.

For the defence Edward Fitzgerald replied that the 2003 Extradition Act was an enabling act under which treaties could operate. Parliament had been concerned to remove any threat of abuse of the political offence bar to cover terrorist acts of violence against innocent civilians. But there remained a clear protection, accepted worldwide, for peaceful political dissent. This was reflected in the Extradition Treaty on the basis of which the court was acting.

Baraitser interrupted that the UK/US Extradition Treaty was not incorporated into English Law. Fitzgerald replied that the entire extradition request is on the basis of the treaty. It is an abuse of process for the authorities to rely on the treaty for the application but then to claim that its provisions do not apply. “On the face of it, it is a very bizarre argument that a treaty which gives rise to the extradition, on which the extradition is founded, can be disregarded in its provisions. It is on the face of it absurd.” 

Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence added that English Courts construe treaties all the time. He gave examples. Fitzgerald went on that the defence did not accept that treason, espionage and sedition were not regarded as political offences in England. But even if one did accept Lewis’s too narrow definition of political offence, Assange’s behaviour still met the test. 

What on earth could be the motive of publishing evidence of government war crimes and corruption, other than to change the policy of the government? Indeed, the evidence would prove that Wikileaks had effectively changed the policy of the US government, particularly on Iraq.

Baraitser interjected that to expose government wrongdoing was not the same thing as to try to change government policy. Fitzgerald asked her, finally in some exasperation after umpteen interruptions, what other point could there be in exposing government wrongdoing other than to induce a change in government policy? That concluded opening arguments for the prosecution and defence.


Let me put this as neutrally as possible. If you could fairly state that Lewis’s argument was much more logical, rational and intuitive than Fitzgerald’s, you could understand why Lewis did not need an interruption while Fitzgerald had to be continually interrupted for “clarification”.

But in fact it was Lewis who was making out the case that the provisions of the very treaty under which the extradition is being made, do not in fact apply, a logical step which I suggest the man on the Clapham omnibus might reason to need rather more testing than Fitzgerald’s assertion to the contrary. 

Baraitser’s comparative harassment of Fitzgerald when he had the prosecution on the ropes was straight out of the Stalin show trial playbook. The defence did not mention it, and I do not know if it features in their written arguments, but I thought Lewis’s point that these could not be political offences, because Julian Assange was not in the USA when he committed them, was breathtakingly dishonest. 

The USA claims universal jurisdiction. Assange is being charged with crimes of publishing committed while he was outside the USA. The USA claims the right to charge anyone of any nationality, anywhere in the world, who harms US interests. They also in addition here claim that as the materials could be seen on the internet in the USA, there was an offence in the USA.

At the same time to claim this could not be a political offence as the crime was committed outside the USA is, as Edward Fitzgerald might say, on the face of it absurd. Which curiously Baraitser did not pick up on. 

Lewis’ argument that the Treaty does not have any standing in English law is not something he just made up. Nigel Farage did not materialise from nowhere. There is in truth a long tradition in English Law that even a treaty signed and ratified with some bloody Johnny Foreigner country, can in no way bind an English court.

Lewis could and did spout reams and reams of judgements from old beetroot faced judges holding forth to say exactly that in the House of Lords, before going off to shoot grouse and spank the footman’s son. Lewis was especially fond of the Tin Council case. 

There is of course a contrary and more enlightened tradition, and a number of judgements that say the exact opposite, mostly more recent. This is why there was so much repetitive argument as each side piled up more and more volumes of “authorities” on their side of the case.

The difficulty for Lewis – and for Baraitser – is that this case is not analagous to me buying a Mars bar and then going to court because an International Treaty on Mars Bars says mine is too small. Rather the 2003 Extradition Act is an Enabling Act on which extradition treaties then depend. You can’t thus extradite under the 2003 Act without the Treaty.

So the Extradition Treaty of 2007 in a very real sense becomes an executive instrument legally required to authorise the extradition. For the executing authorities to breach the terms of the necessary executive instrument under which they are acting, simply has to be an abuse of process.

So the Extradition Treaty owing to its type and its necessity for legal action, is in fact incorporated in English Law by the Extradition Act of 2003 on which it depends. The Extradition Treaty is a necessary precondition of the extradition, whereas a Mars Bar Treaty is not a necessary precondition to buying the Mars Bar.

That is as plain as I can put it. I do hope that is comprehensible. It is of course difficult for Lewis that on the same day the Court of Appeal was ruling against the construction of the Heathrow Third Runway, partly because of its incompatibility with the Paris Agreement of 2016, despite the latter not being fully incorporated into English Law by the Climate Change Act of 2008.


It is intensely embarrassing for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) when an English court repudiates the application of a treaty the UK has ratified with one or more foreign states. For that reason, in the modern world, very serious procedures and precautions have been put into place to make certain that this cannot happen. Therefore the prosecution’s argument that all the provisions of the UK/US Extradition Treaty of 2007 are not able to be implemented under the Extradition Act of 2003, ought to be impossible.

I need to explain I have myself negotiated and overseen the entry into force of treaties within the FCO. The last one in which I personally tied the ribbon and applied the sealing wax (literally) was the Anglo-Belgian Continental Shelf Treaty of 1991, but I was involved in negotiating others and the system I am going to describe was still in place when I left the FCO as an Ambassador in 2005, and I believe is unchanged today (and remember the Extradition Act was 2003 and the US/UK Extradition Treaty ratified 2007, so my knowledge is not outdated).

Departmental nomenclatures change from time to time and so does structural organisation. But the offices and functions I will describe remain, even if names may be different. All international treaties have a two stage process. First they are signed to show the government agrees to the treaty. Then, after a delay, they are ratified. This second stage takes place when the government has enabled the legislation and other required agency to implement the treaty.

This is the answer to Lewis’s observation about the roles of the executive and legislature. The ratification stage only takes place after any required legislative action. That is the whole point. This is how it happens in the FCO. 

Officials negotiate the extradition treaty. It is signed for the UK. The signed treaty then gets returned to FCO Legal Advisers, Nationality and Treaty Department, Consular Department, North American Department and others and is sent on to Treasury/Cabinet Office Solicitors and to Home Office, Parliament and to any other Government Department whose area is impacted by the individual treaty. 

The Treaty is extensively vetted to check that it can be fully implemented in all the jurisdictions of the UK. If it cannot, then amendments to the law have to be made so that it can. These amendments can be made by Act of Parliament or more generally by secondary legislation using powers conferred on the Secretary of State by an Act. If there is already an Act of Parliament under which the Treaty can be implemented, then no enabling legislation needs to be passed.

International Agreements are not all individually incorporated into English or Scottish laws by specific new legislation. This is a very careful step by step process, carried out by lawyers and officials in the FCO, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office, Parliament and elsewhere. Each will in parallel look at every clause of the Treaty and check that it can be applied.

All changes needed to give effect to the Treaty then have to be made – amending legislation, and necessary administrative steps. Only when all hurdles have been cleared, including legislation, and Parliamentary officials, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office and FCO all certify that the Treaty is capable of having effect in the UK, will the FCO Legal Advisers give the go ahead for the Treaty to be ratified. You absolutely cannot ratify the treaty before FCO Legal Advisers have given this clearance.

This is a serious process. That is why the US/UK Extradition Treaty was signed in 2003 and ratified in 2007. That is not an abnormal delay. So I know for certain that ALL the relevant British Government legal departments MUST have agreed that Article 4.1 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty was capable of being given effect under the 2003 Extradition Act. That certification has to have happened or the Treaty could never have been ratified.

It follows of necessity that the UK Government, in seeking to argue now that Article 4.1 is incompatible with the 2003 Act, is knowingly lying. There could not be a more gross abuse of process. I have been keen for the hearing on this particular point to conclude so that I could give you the benefit of my experience. I shall rest there for now, but later today hope to post further on yesterday’s row in court over releasing Julian from the anti-terrorist armoured dock.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. I wish to stress again that I absolutely do not want anybody to give anything if it causes them the slightest possibility of financial strain. This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.


This very day, Harvey Weinstein could self-identify as a woman. And then, what? Should he be sent to a women's prison? We can win this one, you know. If we hold our nerve, then we can win this one. Deep down, everyone really knows that we are right.

It has been pointed out to me that old guard lesbian feminists were at least as likely to be found on the Conservative benches as anywhere else in the House of Commons, and that those who would insist on matching penis ownership as a minimum requirement for subcultural admission were very considerably more so.

Nevertheless, I tend to think that any Conservative opposition to gender self-identification, and none has yet been expressed, will come, not from Christmas and Easter churchgoers, but from people who held very specific religious beliefs that were now peripheral to British society and culture. There will be far more Labour abstainers, and possibly more Labour opponents, than there will be Conservatives in the Division Lobby against what will have to be this Government Bill.

Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides. I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Dreadnought, Indeed

David Lowry writes:

Secretary Ben Wallace issued a written statement late on Tuesday afternoon, asserting: “To ensure the government maintains an effective deterrent throughout the commission of the Dreadnought class ballistic missile submarine we are replacing our existing nuclear warhead to respond to future threats and the security environment.”

This followed an exclusive in Sunday’s Observer that broke probably the most important news story of the week, although for reasons hard to fathom, the editor placed it on page 20.

Broken by investigative reporter Jamie Doward — who has a track record of breaking nuclear stories governments don’t want the media to report — it concerned the long-expected development, now confirmed by the MoD, of Britain collaborating with the US to replace the ageing Trident nuclear warheads — jointly designed by Aldermaston and Los Alamos weapons labs scientists — in its stockpile. 

Wallace added: “We will continue to work closely with the US to ensure our warhead remains compatible with the Trident Strategic Weapon System. Delivery of the replacement warhead will be subject to the government’s major programme approvals and oversight.”

Doward had revealed that “earlier this month, Pentagon officials confirmed that its proposed W93 sea-launched warhead, the nuclear tip of the next generation of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, would share technology with the UK’s next nuclear weapon, implying that a decision had been taken between the two countries to work on the programme.”

The Observer explained that last week Admiral Charles Richard, commander of the US strategic command, told the Senate defence committee that there was a requirement for a new warhead, which would be called the W93 or Mk7. Richard said: “This effort will also support a parallel replacement warhead programme in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear deterrent plays an absolutely vital role in Nato’s overall defence posture.” 

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, said the development of the new warhead posed significant geopolitical problems.

“Britain and the US have come a long away from being leaders in reducing the role of nuclear weapons and contemplating the possible road toward potential disarmament to re-embracing nuclear weapons for the long haul. They are obviously not alone in this, with Russia, China and France doing their own work. So, overall, this is a serious challenge for the international non-proliferation regime,” he pointed out. 

SNP defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald rightly raised the question about how the decision could affect Britain’s commitment to the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), saying: “This is a quite astonishing story. The [NPT] makes it clear that nuclear armed states are required to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.’ This programme clearly rips up that commitment and that is of utmost concern.”

David Cullen, director of technical research group the Nuclear Information Service, told The Observer: “The UK’s reliance on US knowledge and assistance for their nuclear weapons programme means they will find it almost impossible to diverge from any development path the US decides to take. We are legally bound to take steps towards disarmament under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this would take us in the opposite direction.”

The concern over nuclear warhead development for Britain’s nuclear WMD — including contemporaneously the rented rockets from the US Trident missile stocks at King’s Bay, in Georgia — has a long legacy. This has been raised in Parliament over the past 60 or so years by a very small number of MPs who have scrutinised this least transparent of defence procurement exercises.

One such MP with a consistently strong record of serious scrutiny is outgoing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. For example, he asked the MoD in June 1990 what information in support of British nuclear weapons and warhead design and development had been made available by the United States under the 1958-59 as amended mutual-defence agreement on atomic-energy matters.

Defence minister Alan Clark said helpfully in response: “It has been the policy of successive British governments not to disclose information exchanged under the terms of the 1958 United Kingdom/United States defence agreement.” Corbyn also asked: “What would be the financial savings made if the planned number of warheads for the Trident D5 programme were reduced by (i) 50 per cent and (ii) 75 per cent?” Clark added again, helpfully: “It has been the policy of successive governments not to reveal details of this nature, for security reasons.”

A decade later, Corbyn brought up the issue on Trident nuclear warheads, this time with Labour defence secretary Geoff Hoon, whom he asked what information senior officers on Trident submarines were given on the specific yields and likely targets of the missiles they were responsible for.

Hoon replied: “The Trident missiles on which our nuclear deterrent is based have been detargeted since 1994. In the circumstances of our having to use our nuclear weapons, members of the patrolling submarine crew would be provided with the information they need to discharge their duties,” adding, ever helpfully: “I am withholding the details of this information under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information relating to defence, security and international relations.” 

Hoon also stressed: “The United Kingdom’s minimum nuclear deterrent is consistent with international law. It follows that UK military personnel engaged in the operation or support of Trident are acting legally under the Nuremberg principles. This has been made clear down the chain of command and members of the armed services who seek further guidance on these issues can in the first instance do so through their chain of command.”

A further decade later, in late March 2009, and Corbyn was still probing the MoD on Trident warheads, asking the MoD what was its most recent estimate is of the cost of the replacement of the Trident nuclear warhead system. Labour’s defence secretary John Hutton — then the MP for Barrow-in-Furness, where Trident submarines are built — responded, stating:

“We published our initial estimate of the costs for the possible refurbishment or replacement of the warhead for our future nuclear deterrent capability in the December 2006 nuclear white paper. This is in the range of £2 billion to £3 billion at 2006-07 prices. We have not yet made a decision to develop a new UK nuclear warhead. However, work is being undertaken to inform decisions, likely to be taken in the next parliament, on whether and how we might need to refurbish or replace our current warhead.” 

Corbyn followed up with a perspicacious question — in the light of The Observer revelations that the WMD warhead replacement was being undertaken behind the back of parliamentary scrutiny – requesting the defence secretary to assure the House of Commons that there would be “no expenditure on developing a new warhead without the specific approval of the House of Commons,” and added the supplementary seeking assurance that the MoD was “satisfied that the development of a whole new warhead system is legal within the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” 

Unsurprisingly, but disingenuously, Hutton retorted: “Yes, I believe that it certainly would be within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT did not require unilateral disarmament on the part of the United Kingdom, and we are able to maintain very properly within the terms of the NPT our minimum nuclear deterrent; and, yes, I believe that there should be a vote in this House before such a decision was taken.” 

It may be noted that Corbyn asked nothing about unilateral nuclear disarmament, but this was gratuitously included in the answer. 

Dr David Lowry is a senior international research fellow at the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hurtling Towards A Cashless Economy

Estimates vary but it’s widely predicted that Britain is well on the way to becoming a cashless society, and could reach that state within ten to 15 years. Has the public been consulted? No. Is the Government showing signs of concern about the millions of people who would struggle to cope with a cashless society? Not that I’ve noticed. 

Most of us will have experienced how increasingly difficult it is even to get access to one’s own money. First of all came the bank closures. A staggering 3,303 branches in the UK put up their shutters between January 2015 and August 2019 — equivalent to 34 per cent of all the banks in the country. 

Last week, Money Mail carried a harrowing story of the disastrous effect of closures on local businesses in St Ives in Cornwall. The seaside town has lost seven banks since 2015, and the sole surviving one may be for the chop. 

And as that process continues apace nationwide, the banks are decreasing their financial support for the network that administers cash machines. Between January 2018 and December 2019, the number of free-to-use machines fell from 54,500 to 45,000. 

More and more ATMs charge up to £2 per transaction. As a result, fees paid by the public to withdraw their own cash have risen from £29 million to £104 million a year. In my bailiwick of Oxford — hardly the back of beyond — the four cash machines closest to my house have all closed in recent years, so that a car or bus journey is now obligatory in search of bank notes.

According to the consumer group Which?, the remaining network of free cash machines faces collapse within two years unless the Government forces banks to maintain the system. Isn’t it clear that, whether we like it or not, the banks are deliberately pushing us towards a cashless society by making it so hard for us to use cash? 

What’s in it for them are greater profits. They want us to use bank cards or smartphone apps such as Apple Pay wherever possible because it saves them the expense and time of counting and handling cash, and the cost of transporting the stuff. Banks and companies such as Visa and Mastercard also make billions worldwide in fees — typically paid by the retailer — for processing electronic payments.

The big retailers also far prefer cards to cash. Whenever we use a piece of plastic, there is a record of our purchase. The data can be used by the shop, or sold on so that other retailers can target us with advertising for similar products.

As for the Government, it likes cards because, unlike cash, their usage is theoretically traceable. They are supposed to reduce crime, and cut tax evasion in the black economy. In fact, these benefits could well be outweighed by the explosion in online fraud. 

This, then, is where we are — hurtling towards a cashless economy without any questions being asked. 

I don’t say it is all bad. Cards can obviously be more convenient. Like most people, I prefer to use them rather than cash for large payments. I can also see that ‘contactless’ cards for purchases up to £30 can be handy if your wallet is empty. Introduced in 2007, they now account for a fifth of all payment transactions, according to government figures.

It is also true that some young people live most of their lives without ever using money, though I can’t help wondering whether their unfamiliarity with it may undermine their sense of what it is really worth. 

So I’m no Luddite. Plastic is not always bad. But I’ve no doubt there are many millions of people like me who don’t want to be deprived of their cash by avaricious banks and sly retailers, aided and abetted by the Treasury. As recently as 2017, research by retail analysts Mintel suggested that only 33 per cent of adults are in favour of a cashless society. Among those over 55, that figure fell to 20 per cent.

What’s wrong with cash? Whenever you spend it, you are not being tracked by Big Brother. There is a marvellous sense of freedom and security simply in having it. You’re not a statistic on someone else’s screen. It’s yours. You can put a coin in a beggar’s hat, or give £5 on a whim to a favourite grandchild, or drop a note into the church collection (though some parishes are, almost unbelievably, introducing card readers).

It is also undoubtedly the case that many people, most of them quite old, simply can’t manage (or don’t want to) the challenges of contactless cards or Apple Pay. Why on earth should they? A report last year by a body called Access To Cash Review speculated that there are eight million adults who would struggle to cope in a world without cash. That is an awful lot of people.

I don’t think I’m particularly technophobic, but I am driven half-mad when I find myself, say in Central London, required to pay a parking charge on the street via a smartphone rather than with old-fashioned coins. Why should it be assumed that everyone has a mobile? What happens if one has left it at home? The business of texting or telephoning is about ten times more drawn-out than inserting coins, but of course it suits the council in question.

Nor will I be hurrying to Tesco’s first cashless store on High Holborn in London, which opened on Tuesday. Is this really the way to treat customers who would prefer to use good old bank notes? I find it quite irritating enough to be made to use a card on a British Airways flight in Europe to buy food and drink — which incidentally used to be free.

Conspiracy is a much overused word, but it’s hard not to see a kind of orchestrated attempt by banks and shops to force us to change our established way of doing things to make life simpler — and more profitable — for them.

We’ve seen quite enough of banks’ misbehaviour over the past couple of decades — from the duplicity of PPI to the scandal of dodgy mortgages before the 2008 financial crash — to realise they are not going to do the decent thing voluntarily. The Government (and this means the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak) must force banks to maintain the failing system of cash machines so that it does not become a major challenge for people to get their hands on their own money.

And although preventing banks endlessly closing branches may not be possible, the Treasury cannot simply stand aside while small communities are deprived of these crucial financial institutions on which they so depend.

Not all of us are tech-savvy, sleek, youthful, metropolitan types with agile fingers dancing effortlessly over smartphones, distributing money and settling bills in a flash. Millions of us value banks (ideally staffed with competent humans, not machines) and would like to be able to draw out, and spend, our own hard-earned cash.

Does Boris Johnson’s Government, with its eye supposedly fixed on ordinary folk far beyond the capital, realise that we don’t want to be bamboozled by banks into a cashless society?

Thursday 27 February 2020

Disclosure Watch: Day 32

With less than two weeks to go until the fourth attempt to put me on trial, we still have no disclosure.

This post will appear daily until further notice.

Councillor Watch: Day 228

I hereby invite all Labour members of Durham County Council who believe me to be guilty of the criminal charges against me to email and say so.

I would not be able to reply to those emails, but every day the names of those who had sent them to me would appear here. So far, I have received none.

As Safe As Houses

As "No DSS" is finally ruled unlawful, three cheers for the three-term Labour Government that never banned such mortgages and insurance policies.

A long time ago, I worked in Housing Benefit, and the discrimination against claimants has never made any sense to me. Paid by the Council, often to the Council, it is an absolutely secure source of income for a landlord.

Just specify in the Tenancy Agreement that the rent would be whatever was awarded as Housing Benefit, and watch the quids roll in. I have genuinely never understood why that was not the model of one or more of the biggest businesses in the country.

Arrest, Warrant

Jolly good that we are out of the European Arrest Warrant. Now to get out of the Extradition Treaty with the United States, which has also been criticised in no uncertain terms by Boris Johnson, but which is also vigorously defended by the next Leader of the Labour Party.

Ours is the 2020 Vision of a new political party, a new think tank, a new weekly newspaper, a new monthly cultural review, a new quarterly academic journal, and so much else besides.

I will be standing for Parliament again here at North West Durham next time, so please give generously. In any event, please email Very many thanks.

Scarlet Letters

Today, it has been one year since Cardinal Pell was imprisoned for a crime that it was physically impossible to commit.  Please send messages of support to:

George Pell
Locked Bag 7

Please note that anything addressing him as "Cardinal", which he rightly remains, will be refused.

Long Moved Beyond Caricature

Craig Murray writes:

In yesterday’s proceedings in court, the prosecution adopted arguments so stark and apparently unreasonable I have been fretting on how to write them up in a way that does not seem like caricature or unfair exaggeration on my part.

What has been happening in this court has long moved beyond caricature. All I can do is give you my personal assurance that what I recount actually is what happened As usual, I shall deal with procedural matters and Julian’s treatment first, before getting in to a clear account of the legal arguments made.

Vanessa Baraitser is under a clear instruction to mimic concern by asking, near the end of every session just before we break anyway, if Julian is feeling well and whether he would like a break. She then routinely ignores his response. 

Yesterday he replied at some length he could not hear properly in his glass box and could not communicate with his lawyers (at some point yesterday they had started preventing him passing notes to his counsel, which I learn was the background to the aggressive prevention of his shaking Garzon’s hand goodbye).

Baraitser insisted he might only be heard through his counsel, which given he was prevented from instructing them was a bit rich. This being pointed out, we had a ten minute adjournment while Julian and his counsel were allowed to talk down in the cells – presumably where they could be more conveniently bugged yet again. 

On return, Edward Fitzgerald made a formal application for Julian to be allowed to sit beside his lawyers in the court. Julian was “a gentle, intellectual man” and not a terrorist. Baraitser replied that releasing Assange from the dock into the body of the court would mean he was released from custody. To achieve that would require an application for bail. 

Again, the prosecution counsel James Lewis intervened on the side of the defence to try to make Julian’s treatment less extreme. He was not, he suggested diffidently, quite sure that it was correct that it required bail for Julian to be in the body of the court, or that being in the body of the court accompanied by security officers meant that a prisoner was no longer in custody. 

Prisoners, even the most dangerous of terrorists, gave evidence from the witness box in the body of the court next to the lawyers and magistrate. In the High Court prisoners frequently sat with their lawyers in extradition hearings, in extreme cases of violent criminals handcuffed to a security officer. 

Baraitser replied that Assange might pose a danger to the public. It was a question of health and safety. How did Fitzgerald and Lewis think that she had the ability to carry out the necessary risk assessment? It would have to be up to Group 4 to decide if this was possible. Yes, she really did say that. Group 4 would have to decide.

Baraitser started to throw out jargon like a Dalek when it spins out of control. “Risk assessment” and “health and safety” featured a lot. She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade. “No jurisdiction” – “Up to Group 4”. 

Recovering slightly, she stated firmly that delivery to custody can only mean delivery to the dock of the court, nowhere else in the room. If the defence wanted him in the courtroom where he could hear proceedings better, they could only apply for bail and his release from custody in general. 

She then peered at both barristers in the hope this would have sat them down, but both were still on their feet. In his diffident manner (which I confess is growing on me) Lewis said “the prosecution is neutral on this request, of course but, err, I really don’t think that’s right”. He looked at her like a kindly uncle whose favourite niece has just started drinking tequila from the bottle at a family party. 

Baraitser concluded the matter by stating that the defence should submit written arguments by 10am tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.

The day had begun with a very angry Magistrate Baraitser addressing the public gallery. Yesterday, she said, a photo had been taken inside the courtroom. It was a criminal offence to take or attempt to take photographs inside the courtroom. Vanessa Baraitser looked at this point very keen to lock someone up. She also seemed in her anger to be making the unfounded assumption that whoever took the photo from the public gallery on Tuesday was still there on Wednesday; I suspect not. 

Being angry at the public at random must be very stressful for her. I suspect she shouts a lot on trains. Ms Baraitser is not fond of photography – she appears to be the only public figure in Western Europe with no photo on the internet. Indeed the average proprietor of a rural car wash has left more evidence of their existence and life history on the internet than Vanessa Baraitser. Which is no crime on her part, but I suspect the expunging is not achieved without considerable effort. Somebody suggested to me she might be a hologram, but I think not. Holograms have more empathy. 

I was amused by the criminal offence of attempting to take photos in the courtroom. How incompetent would you need to be to attempt to take a photo and fail to do so? And if no photo was taken, how do they prove you were attempting to take one, as opposed to texting your mum? I suppose “attempting to take a photo” is a crime that could catch somebody arriving with a large SLR, tripod and several mounted lighting boxes, but none of those appeared to have made it into the public gallery. 

Baraitser did not state whether it was a criminal offence to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom (or indeed to attempt to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom). I suspect it is. Anyway Le Grand Soir has published a translation of my report yesterday, and there you can see a photo of Julian in his bulletproof glass anti-terrorist cage. Not, I hasten to add, taken by me. 

We now come to the consideration of yesterday’s legal arguments on the extradition request itself. Fortunately, these are basically fairly simple to summarise, because although we had five hours of legal disquisition, it largely consisted of both sides competing in citing scores of “authorities”, e.g. dead judges, to endorse their point of view, and thus repeating the same points continually with little value from exegesis of the innumerable quotes.

As prefigured yesterday by magistrate Baraitser, the prosecution is arguing that Article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty has no force in law. The UK and US Governments say that the court enforces domestic law, not international law, and therefore the treaty has no standing. This argument has been made to the court in written form to which I do not have access. 

But from discussion in court it was plain that the prosecution argue that the Extradition Act of 2003, under which the court is operating, makes no exception for political offences. All previous Extradition Acts had excluded extradition for political offences, so it must be the intention of the sovereign parliament that political offenders can now be extradited. 

Opening his argument, Edward Fitzgerald QC argued that the Extradition Act of 2003 alone is not enough to make an actual extradition. The extradition requires two things in place; the general Extradition Act and the Extradition Treaty with the country or countries concerned. “No Treaty, No Extradition” was an unbreakable rule. 

The Treaty was the very basis of the request. So to say that the extradition was not governed by the terms of the very treaty under which it was made, was to create a legal absurdity and thus an abuse of process. He cited examples of judgements made by the House of Lords and Privy Council where treaty rights were deemed enforceable despite the lack of incorporation into domestic legislation, particularly in order to stop people being extradited to potential execution from British colonies. 

Fitzgerald pointed out that while the Extradition Act of 2003 did not contain a bar on extraditions for political offences, it did not state there could not be such a bar in extradition treaties. And the extradition treaty of 2007 was ratified after the 2003 extradition act. At this stage Baraitser interrupted that it was plain the intention of parliament was that there could be extradition for political offences. Otherwise they would not have removed the bar in previous legislation. 

Fitzgerald declined to agree, saying the Act did not say extradition for political offences could not be banned by the treaty enabling extradition. Fitzgerald then continued to say that international jurisprudence had accepted for a century or more that you did not extradite political offenders. No political extradition was in the European Convention on Extradition, the Model United Nations Extradition Treaty and the Interpol Convention on Extradition. 

It was in every single one of the United States’ extradition treaties with other countries, and had been for over a century, at the insistence of the United States. For both the UK and US Governments to say it did not apply was astonishing and would set a terrible precedent that would endanger dissidents and potential political prisoners from China, Russia and regimes all over the world who had escaped to third countries. 

Fitzgerald stated that all major authorities agreed there were two types of political offence. The pure political offence and the relative political offence. A “pure” political offence was defined as treason, espionage or sedition. A “relative” political offence was an act which was normally criminal, like assault or vandalism, conducted with a political motive. Every one of the charges against Assange was a “pure” political offence. 

All but one were espionage charges, and the computer misuse charge had been compared by the prosecution to breach of the official secrets act to meet the dual criminality test. The overriding accusation that Assange was seeking to harm the political and military interests of the United States was in the very definition of a political offence in all the authorities.

In reply Lewis stated that a treaty could not be binding in English law unless specifically incorporated in English law by Parliament. This was a necessary democratic defence. Treaties were made by the executive which could not make law. This went to the sovereignty of Parliament. 

Lewis quoted many judgements stating that international treaties signed and ratified by the UK could not be enforced in British courts. “It may come as a surprise to other countries that their treaties with the British government can have no legal force” he joked. 

Lewis said there was no abuse of process here and thus no rights were invoked under the European Convention. It was just the normal operation of the law that the treaty provision on no extradition for political offences had no legal standing. Lewis said that the US government disputes that Assange’s offences are political.

In the UK/Australia/US there was a different definition of political offence to the rest of the world. We viewed the “pure” political offences of treason, espionage and sedition as not political offences. Only “relative” political offences – ordinary crimes committed with a political motive – were viewed as political offences in our tradition. In this tradition, the definition of “political” was also limited to supporting a contending political party in a state. Lewis will continue with this argument tomorrow. 

That concludes my account of proceedings. I have some important commentary to make on this and will try to do another posting later today. Now rushing to court. With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

Return The Relics Robbed

When the Prime Minister was nominally the MP for Sedgefield, then we were told endlessly that the Gospels were coming home. They never have yet. But in these better days, James Barr writes:

When Sutton Hoo reopened last summer following a seven-month-long, multi-million pound restoration, one crucial relic remained missing. Although the displays have been dramatically updated, and visitors to the site — the ship burial of a seventh century Anglo-Saxon king, Raedwald — can now see a full-size sculpture of the ship and better appreciate the lumpy contours from a 17-metre high observation tower, the discovery for which Sutton Hoo is known isn’t even there. To see King Raedwald’s famous rust-brown helmet you still have to go to London. It’s 90 miles away in Room 41 of the British Museum. 

The same is true of many of the most stunning glimpses into the early history of these islands. The famously grumpy Lewis chessmen, found on the west coast of the Hebrides island in 1831, are feet away from Raedwald’s helmet in Room 40, but 600 miles away from Uig, where they were found. 

The Mildenhall Treasure, the extraordinary silver service for a late Roman Come Dine With Me, was found in west Suffolk in 1942 but seeing it requires a trip to London as well. So, too, do less renowned discoveries like the Cuerdale Hoard (one of the largest Viking silver hoards, found in the Ribble Valley) and the Fishpool Hoard (gold buried during the Wars of the Roses near Ravenshead in Nottinghamshire). 

What if you would like to see the Hinton St Mary mosaic, from Dorset, with what may be one of the earliest depictions of Christ? Or the Mold Cape, a magnificent, gold, chasuble-like garment dating to at least 1500 BC, reflecting a time when north Wales was north-west Europe’s main supplier of copper which, when combined with tin, made bronze? You know the answer. You’ll need to come to WC1 to see them. 

And lest I be accused of picking on the British Museum, it’s worth remembering the location of two books that recall the time Northumbria was a northern powerhouse of manuscript illumination. The Lindisfarne Gospel, which was created on Holy Island, and the St Cuthbert Gospel, found in the saint’s tomb in Durham Cathedral, and which was almost certainly made in Jarrow, are in the Treasures gallery of the British Library up the road. 

At a time when there is renewed speculation about whether Greece will make the return of the Parthenon Marbles a condition of a Brexit deal, we are missing, or perhaps ignoring, an issue underneath our noses. It is striking that many of these objects — and others, like the Vindolanda tablets, the Iron Age Snettisham hoard with its fabulous gold torcs, or the gold Ringlemere Cup found in Sandwich ten years ago — come from precisely the sort of places which have been overlooked in recent years. They have all been hoovered up by the museums of one of the richest cities on the planet. 

If we are serious about levelling up in this country, then it is time we returned as many of these extraordinary objects as possible to the places where they were found. I don’t believe for a minute that Chinese guidebooks to London dwell long on any of these local items. And those who have come from abroad specifically to see them will be willing to go the extra mile.

If you have been on holiday to France you will know that the French are better at this than we are. A journey along any autoroute is punctuated with large brown signs that advertise the historical and cultural opportunities if you turn off at the next junction. We need to do something very similar in Britain.

No doubt there will be grave objections from the British Museum, concerning legal implications, the cost of security, and the risks of contravening the terms under which funds were raised to purchase items, or the small print attached to a donation. I imagine some of the legal hurdles could be vaulted if the British Museum itself — of which and of whose experts I am an enormous fan — spearheaded the push to create multiple regional outposts, rather in the way that the Imperial War Museum or Royal Armouries have already done. 

These initiatives, incidentally, suggest that the tide is already turning. So too does the successful crowd-funder launched by the Birmingham and Potteries Museums to buy the extraordinary Staffordshire hoard — a collection which bears out details of the poem Beowulf and which David Starkey described as five and a half kilos of Anglo-Saxon “gangland bling”. The question of what will happen to future discoveries is likely to come up again, given the archaeological work that has already started ahead of the construction of HS2.

The short-term economics of adding wings to existing museums or building a constellation of new ones won’t be compelling. But ultimately this is not a calculation that can be easily summed up by numbers, unless you want to try putting a cost to swelling local pride.

In the long-term it seems a fair prediction that reversing a 200-year-old policy of concentrating our commonwealth in London would encourage the kind of people who go to museums to visit corners of the country they do not know. It would also inspire some of the foreign tourists who currently do the London, Oxford, Stratford circuit to break from tradition.

It is not just about incentivising richer folk to visit poorer areas of the country. Imagine you are a primary school teacher in Birkenhead, in the Wirral, planning an affordable new day trip that would inspire your children about our past. Now imagine that the Mold Cape, that powerful symbol of the fabulous wealth that copper mining in North Wales generated 2500 years ago, returned to form the centrepiece of a new Museum of the Bronze Age in the town where it was found.

For a school on a limited budget, a trip to the British Museum is out of the question because of time and cost. But Mold is only half an hour from Birkenhead by coach or car.

The fact that many of these treasures are hoards of hundreds, even thousands of gold and silver coins creates another opportunity for the bold. A few months ago I visited the British Museum on a Saturday with our children. A woman sitting at a table in one of the galleries offered us the opportunity to hold various antique coins. I had never previously seen a Fatimid-era dinar, the tenth-century equivalent of the US dollar. Now one nestled like a golden tiddlywink in my hand.

In an era when museums are chasing each other to introduce ever more sophisticated computer animation and interactivity, the thrill I felt as I held that tenth-century coin in my hand was one of the little moments of last year, not least because I had not expected it. 

I might be able to swipe to turn the computer-generated pages of a book about historical artefacts, but nothing beats seeing the object itself, and where possible, having a chance to touch it. That is what a renaissance of local museums should be for.

In Defence of Homer

I do not know when "the Dark Ages" were, although I suppose that he is from the South. But back in the Blair years, then a mere title with the word "Homer" in it would have elicited some belching or other about The Simpsons, and that really would have been the end of the matter, with the swot bawled out as the last word. In these better days, however, Gareth Sturdy writes:

Oxford University is on the brink of a scandalous act of cultural vandalism: it is considering removing the obligatory study of Homer and Virgil from its classics syllabus.

The university was founded on the principle of opening up the treasures of Greek and Roman culture to scholarship in order to end the ignorance of the Dark Ages. Making Homer and Virgil optional would demote the status of literature it has taught as foundational for 900 years.

Oxford’s classics department, ranked second in the UK, says that today’s students find learning Latin and Greek too difficult. It is considering whether to remove the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid from its ‘mods’ exams – the compulsory topics which are assessed in the first two undergraduate years – in favour of making them optional in the ‘greats’ exams taken in the third year.

Speaking like a true bureaucrat, classics professor Jonathan Prag was quoted in the Daily Mail saying: ‘The process of review has involved extensive analysis of course data and discussions across the faculty, and has been underway for almost a year. A survey has already been conducted of faculty members, and a survey of undergraduate members is likely to follow; and in that context we welcome all contributions to the ongoing discussions.’ 

The main reason this proposal is so destructive is that Homer’s two epic poems – the Iliad and the Odyssey – are the primary works of the Western canon. They are two of the most influential stories that have ever been told. In the thousands of years since they were written, their ideas and themes have shaped and structured the attitudes and values of our civilisation. 

The events of the Battle of Troy, as recounted in the Iliad, inspired Alexander the Great, Aeneas (the founder of Rome), Julius Caesar and the Emperor Julian, to name a few. When Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Medieval history of Britain, he was at pains to make explicit connections between these stories and the foundation of Britain. He even named London ‘New Troy’. 

Homer and Virgil’s epic narratives served as models for Dante, Michelangelo, Rubens, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and Joyce. Hollywood movies continue to be made following their themes, such as Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy from 2004. A blockbuster exhibition is running right now at the British Museum entitled Troy: Myth and Reality

As Adam Nicolson writes in The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, ‘Homer tells us how we became who we are’. This is because Homer’s poetry was perhaps the earliest (recorded) Western artwork that tackled fundamental questions of the human condition. What is free will? To what extent are the gods bound by laws? What is the meaning of suffering or redemption? What is a noble act or a just conflict? Does war ever have a legitimate victor? Homer poses all these questions, in a way that is strikingly immediate, even in translation. 

Yet one can never fully engage with the full depth of Homer when reading in translation. The evolution in Bronze Age language was absolutely central to Homer’s accomplishment. As the classical scholar HJ Rose set out in his seminal Outlines of Classical Literature, the Achaeans who populated the Iliad’s world were most notable for their ‘copious and flexible language, especially well equipped in its elaborate verb-system, by which it was possible to convey a very wide range of meanings’.

It was a melodious language, rich in vowels and diphthongs and lacking harsh, guttural elements, and it revolutionised the Mediterranean world. It allowed for the development of the hexameter: an intricately constructed line of six metrical feet which could vary in length from 12 to 17 syllables. This is a style of speech that is difficult if not impossible to replicate in English.

Such speech would naturally be suited to poetic expression, in singing and public recitation. Thus this new type of language gave birth to a fecund oral tradition that, during the Iron Age, was distilled and recorded by the individual or collective we know as Homer into immortal lines of written text. The hexameter form became standard for all Greek and Latin epic verse. These are the épea pteróenta, the ‘winged words’ which the heroes of the Odyssey speak to such sublime effect. 

In his preface to his translation of the Iliad, published in 1715, Alexander Pope discussed Homer’s use of language vividly. ‘The course of his verses… pour along like a fire that sweeps the whole earth before it’, he wrote. Pope makes clear the true significance of the act of translation. Nicolson sums up Pope’s attitude: ‘Translation was not a calm carrying over of the meaning in Greek into the meaning in English, but a vision of the processes of the mind as a flaming crucible in which the sensibilities of translator and translated were fused into a new radiant alloy.’ 

A scholarly understanding of classical literature is therefore impossible without a solid grounding in the workings of the classical languages. It is like a student of music not learning an instrument. Trying to teach classics while avoiding the source languages is nonsensical. For Oxford to consider dropping Homer because of the difficulty of reading the language raises disturbing questions.

The whole point of a teacher is to decide which knowledge is important and non-negotiable. By definition, students do not yet possess the knowledge necessary to do so. In making the study of Homer and Virgil optional, Oxford’s academics would be resiling from their responsibilities to educate.

The Oxford dons considering the change cite a fall in numbers of freshers arriving with qualifications in Latin or Greek, blaming this on students’ inability to cope with the demands of rigorous A-levels. This is a patronising attitude that does not reflect students’ views. A petition launched by a second-year undergrad seeking to challenge the faculty’s proposals has garnered several hundred signatures. 

The main reason why fewer students are studying Latin and Greek is that the number of schools prepared to offer A-levels in them is shrinking. This is driven by several factors. Most schools and colleges now justify the worth of subjects in their commercial value on the job market. Arts and humanities have suffered as a result. Languages have been in decline for years and the picture is even worse for classical languages. This is against a background of decreasing numbers of teachers qualified to teach such languages in the first place.

Other trends in education don’t help, either. There is a cultural turn in favour of ‘decolonising’ what is portrayed as a dead, white, patriarchal and Eurocentric curriculum. And there is also a tendency to think that young people should not be pushed too hard at school, which no doubt casts a shadow over difficult subjects like Latin or Greek. Given all this, is it any wonder that, in the few places where students are given the option to study classical languages, few are choosing to do so?

No doubt Oxford’s classics dons believe they are serving the best interests of their students by watering down their course. But we should beware Greek scholars bearing such gifts. Within attempts like this to increase access to higher education lies a short-sighted philistinism as destructive as anything that emerged from the Trojan horse.

Oxford University would do better to observe the words of Homer: ‘Always strive for excellence and prevail over others.’