Angry protests bring Britain’s Brexit divide to parliament’s doors

This increasingly raucous brand of street activism has raised questions about what has happened to British politics in recent years, and where the boundaries of free speech now lie. (Reuters)
Updated 09 January 2019

Angry protests bring Britain’s Brexit divide to parliament’s doors

  • Britain’s lawmakers are split on how to handle Brexit but they agree that the atmosphere in the public spaces outside parliament has become ugly
  • More than 2 and a half years since Britain voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the European Union, the country remains divided

LONDON: Some protesters wrap themselves in the flag of the European Union and noisily interrupt politicians’ television appearances. Others yell “Nazi” and “traitor.”
Britain’s lawmakers are split on how to handle Brexit but they agree that the atmosphere in the public spaces outside parliament — often populated with angry demonstrators — has become ugly and intimidatory.
This increasingly raucous brand of street activism has raised questions about what has happened to British politics in recent years, and where the boundaries of free speech now lie.
On Tuesday, members of parliament called on police to do more to tackle intimidation of politicians and journalists outside parliament after protesters yelled abuse at a prominent Conservative lawmaker.
More than 2-1/2 years since Britain voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the European Union, the country remains divided. Demonstrators who back Brexit and others who want to stay in the European Union have become a fixture in the gardens opposite parliament.
The area is also used by media for interviews and while protests have generally been peaceful, politicians and journalists say the atmosphere has turned increasingly nasty in recent weeks.
On Monday, Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry, a pro-European who has called for a second referendum on Brexit, faced chants of “Soubry is a Nazi” and “liar” as she was interviewed live on television.
“I do object to being called a Nazi,” Soubry said. “This is what has happened to our country.”
The abuse continued as she walked back to parliament after the interview, with mobile phone footage on Twitter showing her surrounded by men, some in yellow vests similar to those worn by protesters in Paris, shouting “liar,” “fascist” and “scum.”
Security protection
Sky News journalist Kay Burley, one of the broadcasters whose interview with Soubry was overshadowed by the protests, has also faced abuse and says she now has security protection.
She said demonstrators who disliked Soubry monitored TV channels so they could turn up and hurl abuse at her.
In a letter to the London police chief Cressida Dick, a group of more than 60 lawmakers said they were concerned about the “deteriorating public order and security situation” around parliament.
“An ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections ... have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts,” the lawmakers, both pro-EU and pro-Brexit and from all political parties, wrote.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he too had written to police asking for a review of their policy.
Monday’s fracas was a symptom of a growing malaise in British politics, according to Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester.
It followed street scuffles during Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014 and activists draping a banner from a bridge in Manchester during the Conservative Party’s annual conference in 2017 saying “Hang the Tories.”
“I think Brexit certainly deepened it ... this trend toward intensifying distrust of politics and politicians, representative institutions, the media,” Ford said. “That distrust has now become much more visible because it is now becoming a serious obstacle to addressing complex issues.”
Politicians on all sides of the Brexit debate had encouraged this kind of thinking, Ford said, adding: “I fear that the beast that they have unleashed has now turned on all of them.”
Ian Lavery, the Labour Party chairman, said Monday’s events outside parliament were an attempt to silence political debate.
“They were incarnations of a campaign of hatred that has been brought from the darkest reaches of the Internet to the doors of our democracy.”
“Unleashing ugliness“
The Metropolitan Police’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner for operations Laurence Taylor said police were assessing whether crimes had been committed and promised to “deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse.”
Labour lawmaker Stephen Doughty, who organized the letter, told BBC TV that there could be a repeat of the murder of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox, killed in a frenzied street attack a week before the 2016 Brexit vote by a man obsessed with Nazis and extreme right-wing ideology.
Last year, a man accused of being a member of a far-right group pleaded guilty to plotting to kill another female Labour lawmaker who, like Cox, was targeted because she was perceived as supporting immigration.
Brexit minister Stephen Barclay told BBC Radio the “appalling scenes” outside parliament on Monday showed how divisive the Brexit process had become.
Tim Montgomerie, a prominent pro-Brexit Conservative activist and political commentator, said on Twitter that while the abuse of Soubry was unacceptable, “a parliamentarian who advocates overturning a referendum result she promised to respect should not be surprised at unleashing such ugliness.”
Abuse has taken place across the political divide, with left-wing author and Labour supporter Owen Jones posting a video on Twitter of protesters shouting “traitor” at him as he walked outside parliament.
While many of those facing abuse are supporters of remaining in the EU, pro-Brexit lawmakers have also been targeted.
In September, Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent campaigner for Brexit, was confronted outside his home by activists who told his children “your daddy is a horrible person” and “lots of people hate him.”

Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

Updated 15 June 2019

Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

  • Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz have alarmed Japan, China and South Korea
  • Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran when the attack happened

SEOUL: The blasts detonated far from the bustling megacities of Asia, but the attack this week on two tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz hits at the heart of the region’s oil import-dependent economies.

While the violence only directly jolted two countries in the region — one of the targeted ships was operated by a Tokyo-based company, a nearby South Korean-operated vessel helped rescue sailors — it will unnerve major economies throughout Asia.

Officials, analysts and media commentators on Friday hammered home the importance of the Strait of Hormuz for Asia, calling it a crucial lifeline, and there was deep interest in more details about the still-sketchy attack and what the US and Iran would do in the aftermath.

In the end, whether Asia shrugs it off, as some analysts predict, or its economies shudder as a result, the attack highlights the widespread worries over an extreme reliance on a single strip of water for the oil that fuels much of the region’s shared progress.

Here is a look at how Asia is handling rising tensions in a faraway but economically crucial area, compiled by AP reporters from around the world:


The oil, of course.

Japan, South Korea and China don’t have enough of it; the Middle East does, and much of it flows through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is the passage between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

This could make Asia vulnerable to supply disruptions from US-Iran tensions or violence in the strait.

The attack comes months after Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to retaliate against US economic sanctions, which tightened in April when  the Trump administration decided to end sanctions exemptions for the five biggest importers of Iranian oil, which included China and US allies South Korea and Japan.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of oil — after the US, China and India — and relies on the Middle East for 80 per cent of its crude oil supply. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a dramatic reduction in Japanese nuclear power generation and increased imports of natural gas, crude oil, fuel oil and coal.

In an effort to comply with Washington, Japan says it no longer imports oil from Iran. Officials also say Japanese oil companies are abiding by the embargo because they don’t want to be sanctioned. But Japan still gets oil from other Middle East nations using the Strait of Hormuz for transport.

South Korea, the world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil, also depends on the Middle East for the vast majority of its supplies.

Last month, South Korea halted its Iranian oil imports as its waivers from US sanctions on Teheran expired, and it has reportedly tried to increase oil imports from other countries.

China, the world’s largest importer of Iranian oil, “understands its growth model is vulnerable to a lack of energy sovereignty,” according to market analyst Kyle Rodda of IG, an online trading provider, and has been working over the last several years to diversify its suppliers. That includes looking to Southeast Asia and, increasingly, some oil-producing nations in Africa.


Asia and the Middle East are linked by a flow of oil, much of it coming by sea and dependent on the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran threatened to close the strait in April. It also appears poised to break a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that US President Donald Trump withdrew from last year. Under the deal saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

For both Japan and South Korea, there is extreme political unease to go along with the economic worries stirred by the violence in the strait.

Both nations want to nurture their relationship with Washington, a major trading partner and military protector. But they also need to keep their economies humming, which requires an easing of tension between Washington and Tehran.

Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran, looking to do just that when the attack happened.

His limitations in settling the simmering animosity, however, were highlighted by both the timing of the attack and a comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Abe that he had nothing to say to Trump.

In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, the tanker attack was front-page news.

The Nikkei newspaper, Japan’s major business daily, said that if mines are planted in the Strait of Hormuz, “oil trade will be paralyzed.” The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper called the Strait of Hormuz Japan’s “lifeline.”

Although the Japanese economy and industry minister has said there will be no immediate effect on stable energy supplies, the Tokyo Shimbun noted “a possibility that Japanese people’s lives will be affected.”

South Korea, worried about Middle East instability, has worked to diversify its crude sources since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s.


Analysts said it’s highly unlikely that Iran would follow through on its threat to close the strait. That’s because a closure could also disrupt Iran’s exports to China, which has been working with Russia to build pipelines and other infrastructure that would transport oil and gas into China.

For Japan, the attack in the Strait of Hormuz does not represent an imminent threat to Tokyo’s oil supply, said Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

“Our sense is that it’s not a crisis yet,” he said of the tensions.

Seoul, meanwhile, will likely be able to withstand a modest jump in oil prices unless there’s a full-blown military confrontation, Seo Sang-young, an analyst from Seoul-based Kiwoom Securities, said.

“The rise in crude prices could hurt areas like the airlines, chemicals and shipping, but it could also actually benefit some businesses, such as energy companies (including refineries) that produce and export fuel products like gasoline,” said Seo, pointing to the diversity of South Korea’s industrial lineup. South Korea’s shipbuilding industry could also benefit as the rise in oil prices could further boost the growing demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which means more orders for giant tankers that transport such gas.