TIME uk

U.K. Raises Terror Threat Level to ‘Severe’

But it doesn't mean an attack is "imminent"

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Updated at 12:39 p.m.

The United Kingdom raised its terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” Friday, at a time when Britons have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the Islamist militant group wreaking havoc there.

Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May first made the announcement, but cited no specific threat in doing so. Prime Minister David Cameron later said he agreed with the decision to raise the threat level in the wake of Briton’s fighting for the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The new designation warns that a terrorist attack is “highly likely.”

“I understand and I agree with the assessment that they’ve made,” Cameron said, referring to MI5’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center, which determines the threat level independent of the Prime Minister. “That there is a greater threat that we face from Syria and Iraq, that there is a greater problem of returning foreign fighters and also it’s worth remembering… you’re dealing not just with [ISIS], you’re also dealing with other al-Qaeda-linked franchises in Syria and indeed, potentially in Iraq.”

Cameron told Britons to “continue to go about our daily lives in our normal way.” He added that the changes will help the police put in place necessary security precautions.

“We must use all the resources we have at our disposal—aid, diplomacy, political influence and our military,” Cameron said, adding that the U.K. supports the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. “Learning the lessons from the past doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for our military,” he said.

London’s Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said earlier this week that at least 500 Britons have fought in the Iraq and Syria conflict on behalf of ISIS, and that about half have already returned to the U.K., BBC reports.

May, the Home Secretary, said the change in threat level doesn’t imply, and that there is “no intelligence to suggest,” that an attack is “imminent.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that senior Administration officials have been in touch with their British counterparts about the change in the U.K. international terrorism threat level. “I don’t anticipate at this point that there’s a plan to change that level” in the U.S., added Earnest.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson confirmed in a public statement released Friday afternoon that the DHS and Federal Bureau of Investigation are “unaware of any specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland from [ISIS].” Johnson also underscored recent efforts designed to improve U.S. national security.

“Additionally, in response to recent threats generally from overseas, the Department of Homeland Security over the past several weeks has taken a number of steps to enhance aviation security at overseas airports with direct flights to the United States, and the United Kingdom and other nations have followed with similar enhancements,” said Johnson. “This government, in close collaboration with our international partners, has also taken a series of steps to track foreign fighters who travel in and out of Syria, and we are contemplating additional security measures concerning foreign fighters. Some of the security measures will be visible to the public and some understandably will be unseen.”

 

TIME United Kingdom

Britain Raises Terror Threat Level

(LONDON) — Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May says the country has raised the terror threat level from substantial to severe, but says there is no specific threat.

The threat level means that a terrorist attack is considered “highly likely,” but May insisted Friday there is no information to suggest an attack is imminent. She says higher threat level is related to developments in Iraq and Syria.

Severe is the second-highest threat level.

May says the decision by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center is made on the basis of intelligence and is independent of government.

Britain has repeatedly expressed concern about British nationals traveling to the Middle East and returning to wage attacks in the U.K.

TIME United Kingdom

No, Britain Is Not Poorer Than Alabama

Is the United Kingdom really "poorer than much-maligned Kansas and Alabama"? Er, not quite

Britain just loves confirming the worst about itself. Our tabloids thrive on stories that portray the country as a teeming mass of greedy migrants and workshy idlers, run by a parliament of elites in alliance with a small uber-class of the 1%. The truth is rather more complex than that, of course, but no newspaper will go broke telling Brits that their country’s gone to the dogs.

Take Fraser Nelson’s bleak diagnosis in The Spectator of how Britain compares to the poorest states in the U.S., which has been picked up widely by media on both sides of the pond. If Britain were somehow to become the 51st state of America, Fraser suggests, it would rank near the bottom:

“If you take our economic output, adjust for living costs and slot it into the US league table then the United Kingdom emerges as the second-poorest state in the union. We’re poorer than much-maligned Kansas and Alabama and well below Missouri, the scene of all the unrest in recent weeks. Only Mississippi has lower economic output per head than the UK; strip out the South East and Britain would rank bottom.”

This may shock Americans who stick to an outmoded idea of the United Kingdom as a sceptred isle of pageantry and gentility (though any Yank who has ever visited an urban center outside of London on a Friday night will know that it isn’t all tea and hunting parties). But are our poorest areas really comparable to the worst of Mississippi or Alabama?

The statistics tell only part of the story, and it seems Nelson has rather skewed them to favor his conclusion. In pure GDP per capita, the UK ranks 21st in the world. That’s behind the U.S., at 6th, but ahead of countries such as Italy, Israel and Japan. When compared to U.S. states, it puts Britain in the lower half of the table, nestled between Tennessee and Missouri.

It’s only when you adjust the UK GDP per capita for living costs—that is, when you factor in that a dollar goes further in the U.S. than its equivalent in sterling does in the UK—that the Brits sink to the bottom of the state-by-state listings.

But here’s the thing: Nelson doesn’t appear to have attempted to factor in living costs within the U.S. The idea that a dollar spent in New York goes equally as far as a dollar spent in Alabama is laughable, but the comparison he uses proceeds from that assumption.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds sizable regional differences in the Consumer Price Index, with the South some 21 points below the Northeast. There’s no easy way to work that differential into Nelson’s back-of-an-envelope study, especially as the BLS doesn’t break down CPI by state. But isn’t it a little inaccurate to factor in the living costs of the UK and not the states used as a comparison?

It is also a little simplistic to equate poverty with GDP, which measures business and government spending as well as individual consumer behavior. Poverty is better reflected by rates of joblessness, education level and life expectancy. The UK’s unemployment rate is 6.6%, roughly comparable to New York (36th among the states). The UK has a 91% high school equivalent graduation rate, which would put it in the top 5 among states. And the UK’s life expectancy at birth is over 80; that would rank it among the top 10 states.

None of this is to say that Britain—an island of roughly the same square mileage as Michigan, but with a population almost twice the size of California—doesn’t have huge structural economic problems, or its own areas of persistent blight. But it shouldn’t take an oversimplified comparison to Mississippi to make residents see them.

Nelson does, however, get one thing absolutely right. If there’s one thing the Brits enjoy more than despairing at their own squalid state of affairs, it’s smugly noting that at least the Americans have it worse.

TIME United Kingdom

Julian Assange Says He Will Leave London’s Ecuadorian Embassy ‘Soon’

Assange has spent more than two years in Ecuadorian embassy in London

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In a news conference from the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Monday, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange stated that he’s preparing to “leave soon,” after more than two years of sheltering inside.

The WikiLeaks founder, who is wanted for questioning over rape allegations in Sweden and faces extradition, didn’t elaborate as to when precisely he would be leaving the embassy where he has been seeking political asylum since June 2012. He did say that he wouldn’t be leaving for the reasons being reported in the British press, suggesting that recent reports about a heart condition are not accurate. Yet Assange did also mention in the conference that his health had suffered while living in the embassy.

The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricarod Patin, who was also present at the conference, said, “The situation must come to an end. Two years is too long. It is time to free Assange. It is time for his human rights to be respected.” He also reiterated that Ecuador would, “continue to offer him our protection.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail published over the weekend, Assange said, “Maybe it’s time to think that WikiLeaks is not the main problem here for the West, maybe me and my publishing house are a lesser threat than say the Islamic State in Iraq or, closer to home, paedophiles in Westminster.”

[BBC]

TIME Scotland

Audiences Already Voting on Scottish Independence at Arts Festival

Edinburgh Festival Celebrated On The Royal Mile
Edinburgh Festival Fringe entertainers perform on the Royal Mile on August 14, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The largest performing arts festival in the world, this year's festival hosts more than 3,000 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city. Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images

It's an overwhelming YES vote at the end of one play showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The voters of Scotland must wait until the Sept. 18 referendum to decide whether they want to remain citizens of Great Britain or become citizens of a newly independent country. But audiences at a play currently on as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival have been casting their votes on a daily basis. Towards the end of Alan Bissett’s play, The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, everybody in the auditorium is asked to hold up his or her program, folded to show a YES for Scottish independence or a NO for remaining in the United Kingdom. After a stunning piece of theater, in which the devil Black Donald in Scottish lore plots to keep Scotland too scared and befuddled to choose to go it alone, audiences reliably deliver a landslide for the YES camp.

In the real world, the polls have been showing a different outcome, with the campaign for staying in the Union maintaining a lead of 46% to 36% according to the latest poll. But a record turnout is expected perhaps as high as 80%; and with 16- and 17-year-olds allowed for the first time to cast a ballot and a swathe of voters genuinely undecided, the referendum promises to be a nail-biter. Nobody can say for sure how an independent Scotland would function or what its wider impact would be, but everybody knows its separation from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would unleash a period of even greater uncertainty. Great Britain might need a new name (Lesser Britain?) and a new flag (the current, and iconic, Union flag incorporates the cross of Scotland’s St. Andrew). Scotland might need a new currency and a new relationship with the European Union. The pro-independence campaign predicts a standalone Scotland would flourish like parts of Scandinavia, an example of virtuous social democracy, a caring state contrasting with its neoliberal, austerity-ridden neighbors to the south. Voices arguing for Union suggest little Scotland would falter outside the U.K.’s protective embrace.

Defense chiefs worry that the Scottish National Party’s pledge to rid an independent Scotland of nuclear warheads would entail the loss to the remainder of the United Kingdom of its nuclear deterrent, currently carried on submarines based at Faslane on the Scottish coast, because there is no suitable alternative site in England. In some gloomy scenarios, the U.K. stands to lose its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council because of its diminished size and might. It would certainly lose at least some of its capacity, and willingness, to intervene in foreign conflicts. Separatist movements in other countries would surely take heart from Scotland’s example. And for years to come politicians in the British parliament their numbers reduced by the loss of Scottish colleagues, handing the Conservatives, who have only one Scottish member of the British parliament at present, a huge advantage over Labour, who would to lose 41 MPs at a stroke would wrangle with their empowered opposite numbers in the current Scottish parliament over the divorce settlement. The key points of contention: who owns North Sea oil and gas, and who keeps Scotland’s debt?

The choice facing voters is all about the future, but as Bissett’s play demonstrates, many of the arguments roiling the debate are rooted in a mythical past. In the first scene a sprite from folklore, Bogle (the name gave rise to the term “bogeyman”), picks up a DVD of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and says, emotionally, “that film gets me every time”. The movie’s false version of history of a Scotland subdued by England through treachery and muscle and not, in a more complex reality, entering the Union as partners and often benefiting from it has for years provided fuel to the independence movement. Bissett’s pro-independence play suggests that the Scottish will no longer depend on their tartan mythologies when they are freed, not from England but their own fears.

Elsewhere in Edinburgh, holding its famous concurrent arts festivals, alternative visions for Scotland are being laid out on stages and at podiums far more pungently than politicians dare risk. All Back to Bowie’s, a daily cabaret involving panel debates, comedy and poetry derives its name from David Bowie’s pro-Union message to Scotland: “stay with us”. The organisers pretend to have taken this invitation at face value and set the action in a tent atop Bowie’s Manhattan apartment. Again, sentiment routinely skews towards independence.

The audiences may not reflect Scotland’s voting population, but the appeal of the independence message against the sobersided caution of the pro-Union camp is clear. Come September, life may just imitate art and deliver a verdict that will resonate far beyond Great Britain or whatever the rump nation decides to call itself.

TIME United Kingdom

Cliff Richard’s Home Searched in Relation to Sex Offense

Police searched home in relation to an alleged historic sex offence

A house belonging to one of the U.K.’s most famous singers is being searched by police in relation to an alleged sex offense from the 1980s, the BBC reports.

Cliff Richard, 73, is among Britain’s most successful singers, having sold 21.5 million singles in a career spanning over five decades, with hits including The Young Ones and Summer Holiday. He was not at home when police entered the property and no arrests have been made.

The allegation involves a boy under 16 and dates from the 1980s, a police spokesperson said. Richard issued a statement calling the allegations “completely false.”

“Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen,” he said. “However, the police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press. I am not presently in the UK but it goes without saying that I will cooperate fully should the police wish to speak to me. Beyond stating that today’s allegation is completely false it would not be appropriate to say anything further until the police investigation has concluded.”

The search is not related to Operation Yewtree, a U.K. police enquiry into historic sex offences allegedly committed by British celebrities, launched in the wake of revelations that the late DJ Jimmy Savile had abused dozens of girls. However officers from Operation Yewtree, which has arrested 18 showbusiness associates, have been informed.

Richard, born Harry Webb, is the only musician to have had a U.K. top five album or higher in each decade dating back to the 1950s. Knighted in 1995, the singer released his 100th album in 2013.

[BBC]

TIME technology

Remote-Controlled Robots Let You Explore Tate Britain at Night Without Leaving Home

After Dark project robot with Jacob Epstein's The Visitation (1926) at Tate Britain Alexey Moskvin—Alexey Moskvin

Great way to beat the crowds

Fancy a trip to the Tate but can’t cross the pond anytime soon? No worries, the venerable British museum is letting anyone with a (Chrome) browser roam its galleries without the pesky crowds or security guards dampening the experience.

Just one catch: you can only do it in the dark. Starting tonight at 5 p.m. Eastern (10 p.m. London time), visitors around the globe can log on to the Tate After Dark website and explore the Tate Britain’s collection using internet-controlled robots. (Think Roomba with a webcam at eye level). The four robots — which were designed and engineered by the London-based consultants The Workers with help from space research firm RAL Space — let remote users explore five centuries worth of British art, ranging from Elizabethan portraiture to video works by Gilbert & George, currently on display.

“It’s about getting lost in the museum,” says Tommaso Lanza, who co-created the five-night interactive event, which runs through Sunday. “It’s also about fun.”

Each of the four robots has seven sonar sensors on board, an off-the-shelf webcam and a hardware encoder. The bots have no sense of direction, so it will be up to the users to navigate the dimly-lit space. “The whole point is that you control it,” using nothing but the arrow keys on your keyboard, says Lanza.

Even if you don’t get a chance to “drive,” you can still join in via a livestream on the Tate website here.

TIME uk

Fighter Jets Escort Passenger Jet With ‘Suspect Device’ to Manchester Airport

A man is escorted off a Qatar Airways aircraft by police at Manchester airport in Manchester, England on August 5, 2014. A British fighter jet escorted a passenger plane into Manchester airport on Tuesday after the pilot reported that a suspect device was possibly on board.
A man is escorted off a Qatar Airways aircraft by police at Manchester airport in Manchester, England on August 5, 2014. A British fighter jet escorted a passenger plane into Manchester airport on Tuesday after the pilot reported that a suspect device was possibly on board. Andrew Yates—Reuters

Suspect detained "on suspicion of making a hoax bomb threat," Manchester police say

Fighter jets escorted a passenger plane as it came in for a landing at Manchester Airport on Tuesday, after the pilot had radioed in concerns about a “suspect device” on board.

Air traffic at the airport was suspended for 25 minutes as a Royal Air Force jet flew wing to wing with the passenger plane, believed to be a Qatar Airways Airbus A330 from Doha in Qatar, the BBC reports.

Emergency vehicles waited on the tarmac as the plane touched down safely and armed police boarded the plane and reportedly escorted one passenger off of the plane.

A man is escorted off a Qatar Airways aircraft by police at Manchester airport in Manchester on August 5, 2014. Andrew Yates—Reuters

“We don’t know how genuine this threat is but it is absolutely vital we deal with the situation as a full emergency,” said Chief Superintendent John O’Hare of the Greater Manchester Police, according to the BBC.

Manchester police announced on Twitter that a suspect had been detained “on suspicion of making a hoax bomb threat.”

Eyewitnesses posted pictures on Twitter that appears to show a man being escorted from the plane by police and the fighter jet flying wingtip to wingtip with the plane.

TIME United Kingdom

Garbage Truck Named After Author David Sedaris

"C.O.G." Premiere - 2013 Sundance Film Festival
David Sedaris attends a premiere at Library Center Theater during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 20, 2013 Sonia Recchia—Getty Images

Author and "local hero" often spends nine hours a day picking up litter near his U.K. home

The Horsham District Council in West Sussex, England, recently named a garbage truck “Pig Pen Sedaris,” after Grammy Award–nominated author and comedian David Sedaris, who reportedly walks several miles every day to collect litter in the community.

Diana van der Klugt, a district councillor, told The West Sussex County Times that Sedaris was a “welcome sight” to residents of Horsham District “as he tirelessly and painstakingly goes about gathering up the litter so thoughtlessly discarded.”

Susan Pyper, lord lieutenant of West Sussex, added that Sedaris’ efforts to reduce community blight made him a “real local hero,” that inspired others, the County Times reported.

Sedaris told the County Times that when he first moved to the area several years ago, he was surprised by the amount of trash on the streets. “I’m angry at the people who throw these things out their car windows, but I’m just as angry at the people who walk by it every day. I say, pick it up yourself. Do it enough and you might one day get a garbage truck named after you,” Sedaris said.

Although Sedaris’ recent book Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls reached No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, the author might be better known in his U.K. home for his obsession with walking and picking up litter, Gawker reports. The County Times wrote an addendum to their article about Sedaris’ celebrated trash-collecting habit to explain his international fame.

Sedaris wrote in The New Yorker in June that his use of Fitbit, a wearable pedometer, encouraged him to walk farther every day with “ a heavy bag of garbage” in tow. “On foot, nothing escapes my attention: a potato-chip bag stuffed into the hollow of a tree, an elderly mitten caught in the embrace of a blackberry bush, a mud-coated matchbook at the bottom of a ditch,” Sedaris wrote.

The author now spends nine hours a day walking 60,000 steps, which is about 25 miles, picking up trash along the way.

TIME United Kingdom

Driverless Cars to Hit Public Roads in Britain by January 2015

A Google self-driving vehicle drives around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, California
A Google self-driving vehicle roams around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, Calif., on May 13, 2014 Stephen Lam—Reuters

On Wednesday, the British government will announce its plans to test autonomous vehicles on public roads by January 2015, but first the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow the driverless cars on the streets

Driverless cars will be hitting British streets for test runs by January 2015 — the British government plans to announce on Wednesday — although the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow for the changes, industry experts say.

The self-driving cars for civilians will be an extension of ones already used by the British army, which are provided by MIRA, a vehicle-engineering and design company.

Britain’s trial of autonomous cars will join the ranks of other countries such as Singapore, Japan and Germany, which have already started testing driverless vehicles on public roads, Sky News reports. Google also recently unveiled plans to test out prototypes of its computerized automobile, which has no steering wheel or pedals, in California this summer.

Google says the autonomous vehicles will “shoulder the entire burden of driving,” the Telegraph reports. Despite the convenience that will be offered by the driverless vehicles, safety on the road remains a prevailing concern for British politicians and civilians.

Suzie Mills, a lawyer at the British law firm Ashfords, told Sky News that the government will have the onus of “clarifying exactly where responsibility sits,” for consumers and insurance companies in the case of an accident.

While the autonomous car remains a work in progress, the British government seems to be taking the high road by allowing consumers the option of maintaining control over the car. A government statement released earlier this month said, “Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy,” the Telegraph reports.

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