Tag Archives: Crass government

Brexit may save the British Army


You may have noticed that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle with the Army being sued for alleged human rights abuses in Iraq – the kerfuffle being that these turned out to be spurious. The relevant firm is now being shut down.

You may not recall that there used to be a thing called Crown Immunity, which was provided by Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act. This meant that the Crown could not be sued for from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces. When the EC incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into EC Law Section 10 was deemed incompatible, and was thus repealed by Saint Tone’s Human Rights Act 1998. Net result, chaos on the battlefield and subsequently in court. Soldiers feel that the society that sends them to war is now penalising them for prosecuting such a war. This is not good for morale, recruitment or retention.
Brexit (when Mrs May gets around to setting it in motion) provides an opportunity to resolve this matter as we will no longer be bound by the ECHR, or indeed any other law that does not originate in and be passed by Parliament. So what laws does one need to control soldiers?

Firstly, some background. Before 1998 the British Army had been in existence for over 300 years, won a substantial number of wars was generally viewed as disciplined and lawful. Repealing Section 10 therefore, like so much of St Tone’s work, solved a problem that did not exist. Warfare is bound by the Geneva (and other conventions) which generally provide for the acceptance and treatment of prisoners and the safety of non-combatants, cultural icons etc. Of course, not all states are signatories and not all wars are between states. But the basic ideas are straightforward and easily interpreted. Note also that orders are only binding if lawful, so “shoot that prisoner” is not a lawful order. This is well understood and is enforced rigorously, as Sergeant Blackman found out.

Surrendering is actually not easy. Standing up on a battlefield is inherently dangerous and white flags are not issued to soldiers. Moreover, there comes a moment when surrender is no longer practically possible and accepting a surrender is equally dangerous, as members of 2 Para found at Goose Green in the Falklands, were a platoon commander was killed as he went forward to accept the surrender of a position waving a white flag.

Outside of general war the situation is more complicated. British troops serving in Ulster had no more rights to kill than anyone else under (then) common law. They were allowed to use lethal force only if a life was in imminent danger and there was no other way of preventing this. This was encapsulated in the Yellow Card, with all soldiers learned and understood by heart. There may or may not have been a breakdown on Bloody Sunday. The Saville Enquiry proved little beyond how much lawyers can charge and how memories of adrenaline fueled people who believe that they are in mortal peril are neither complete nor consistent.

A word on non-combatants. The battlefield is a very dangerous place whether you are armed or not. Mistakes are made, and mistakes with weaponry tend to be fatal to someone. While there is currently media interest in pursuing the perpetrator, the proximate cause is going to war in the first place and that decision lies in Westminster. And a note on scale. It is reckoned that some 116,000 Iraqi non-combatants were killed (by all sides and forces) in the 10 years following the invasion. The coalition was trying to avoid civilian casualties. By comparison, in the three months fighting in France after D Day in June 1944, over 20,000 French non-combatants were killed. (By way of context, the RAF killed more Frenchmen by mistake that the Luftwaffe did Britons on purpose during the Blitz). The point is simple, warfare gets people killed and is most dangerous for non-combatants.

Quite how to evaluate which deaths are collateral damage and which are the result of genocide is a rationalist’s nightmare and a lawyer’s gravy train. Clearly the answer lies in intent. The bombing of Caen in 1944 was intended to facilitate the British forcing the Germans out. It failed in that and killed many French non-combatants. The killing of the non-combatants was not the intention, but was a reasonably predictable side effect. Does that make it criminally reckless? And would that recklessness be more criminal than sending in British troops without the fire support that commanders at the time deemed necessary?

The brutal truth is that there is really only one rule in war; don’t come second.

Leaving The EU Isn’t Rocket Science


Several of the weekend’s newspapers have criticised the Vote Leave campaign for failing to spell out how the UK will actually leave the EU in the event of a vote for Brexit.

Its an odd accusation as the process is set out in Article 50; basically we negotiate.  Talk of the Norwegian or Swiss models is claptrap – we’re the UK and will adopt our on terms.  I covered this in my recently published (and sadly not yet widely read) pamphlet on the EU debate Tilting At Windmills and so have produced the relevant chapter below.  Enjoy.

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Newsnight Induced Depression (or Fury)


I suspect that I am not the only member of Monday’s Newsnight audience to be profoundly depressed at the prospect of five more months of the irritating, cliché and sound bite riven drivel that passes for political coverage in the UK.

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A Conversation With Ed Milliband


Apparently Ed Milliband wants to have four million conversations before the general election? I’m not sure that there are that many people who want to talk to him. Nor do I think it likely that he and I will meet, but if we did here is what I would say.

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Who’s Afraid of Fat Boy Kim?


The media seem to be getting awfully excited by an alleged cyber-attack on a bad film by (allegedly) the North Koreans. This has been extrapolated to a threat to free speech and an attack on the American way of life. Some group called the Guardians of Freedom has also threatened to unleash terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the offending film and some voices are calling for the “war on terror” to target North Korea. We seem to be having another silly season. First some facts:

The film (“The Interview”) is based on a plot to kill Kim Jong Un. Those who have seen it have rated it pretty moderate or worse. It is a work of fiction, ultimately produced by Sony.

Sony has had its computers hacked. The FBI has said that the hackers were North Korean sponsored, although its evidence is (according to those that understand this stuff) less than 100% convincing and the FBI’s language is restrained

The North Koreans have denied that the hack was them (but they would say that). The US has refused to run a joint investigation (presumably not wanting to share techniques and capabilities.

Elements of the US have now got a bee in their bonnet about freedom of speech, (which they interpret as the right to publish anything without facing the consequences). Some are asking for the war on terror to be extended to include North Korea. A group calling themselves “The Defenders of Freedom” has threatened terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the film, generating more freedom of speech fury, although quite who they are is elusive.

North Korea has started making threatening noises to US.

Coincidentally, or not, the North Korean internet was taken out of action for 24 hours or so.

The media is getting terribly excited at the prospect of further conflict.

Now, some perspective. The North Koreans may or may not have a few nuclear weapons, which it might or might not be able to deliver and which might or might not work. That does not pose an existential threat to anyone. They also have a large army equipped with 1980s technology that is outclassed by US and South Korean equipment deployed in the peninsular. While it is true that the North Korean regime is eccentric in its world view I find it hard to believe that even their hardest hard liner thinks that they will survive an armed confrontation with the US, and using nuclear weapons would not change that. I am therefore not losing sleep about wither the likelihood of North Korea attacking, nor about the consequences of that if they were daft enough to do it.

I am concerned about the way in which a minor event is being hyped. For sure the US defence industry always has an interest in the US (and its allies) having plenty of adversaries, and they have US$125 Billion of arms sales at risk whenever peace breaks out. That’s an awful lot of jobs and votes, which could explain how all of this spat has occupied so much of our newspapers, none of which has actually explained how or why the hack happened.

Is it too much to hope that the Christmas break will give us relief from the onslaught of speculation? Can’t they find something more interesting to write about? Or rediscover the joy of silence?

The DVLA Is Wasting Your Money and My Time


One of the joys of my life is that I am a type 1 diabetic. For those of you not in the know that means that I get to inject insulin four times a day, which is actually not a problem.  I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years (I got late onset diabetes) and most of the time most days it has zero effect upon my life.  But once a year it becomes an absolute pain in the butt, and it’s the EU’s fault.

Continue reading The DVLA Is Wasting Your Money and My Time