TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Lawmakers Debate Air Strikes on Militants

(LONDON) — British lawmakers have opened debate on whether to join the United States and a coalition of Western and Arab nations in airstrikes meant to thwart Islamic State group militants in Iraq.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the motion, which is supported by all three main parties and comes only days after Iraq’s prime minister requested help. The motion does not address any action in Syria. Critics say that would be illegal because Syrian President Bashar Assad has not invited outsiders to help.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond refused to speculate Friday on how long the military campaign could last, but lawmakers envision a long-term action.

“We are going into this with our eyes open,” Hammond told Sky News, that adding the Islamic State group is a threat to national security.

TIME United Kingdom

David Cameron Should Be Royally Embarrassed By Independence Flub

David Cameron Attends CEO Roundtable At Bloomberg LP Headquarters
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks with Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP at Bloomberg LP headquarters on Sept. 23, 2014 in New York City. Christopher Goodney—Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II will not be amused by British Prime Minister's overheard remarks on her reaction to Scotland vote

It is safe to say that Elizabeth II’s 12th and current Prime Minister is not her favorite Prime Minister — this week at any rate.

On Tuesday, as news crews filmed David Cameron chatting with Michael Bloomberg ahead of a meeting with business leaders in New York, microphones captured the British Prime Minister in boastful mode. He described calling the Queen to tell her that Scottish voters had rejected independence in the Sept. 18 referendum. “The definition of relief is being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ringing the Queen and saying, ‘It’s all right, it’s OK’,” Cameron said. “That was something. She purred down the line.”

This was, at the very least, an exceptionally serious breach of constitutional protocol. The Queen has always held regular audiences and conversations with each of her Prime Ministers, starting in 1952 with Winston Churchill, acting as a politically neutral sounding board or “a sort of a sponge,” as she memorably put it herself in the documentary Elizabeth R.

Anything that is said during these audiences and conversations, by the same convention, is deemed private. “Everyone can come and tell one things and some things stay there and some things go out the other ear,” the sovereign explained in the 1992 TV film. “And some things never come out at all.”

Of all the things she would have wished never to come out at all, the Queen’s personal views on Scotland’s decision will have been high on the list. “There was a very determined effort to maintain her impartiality” during the run-up to the Scottish referendum, says one Buckingham Palace source. The Queen is something of a veteran of independence referenda in the 16 Commonwealth Realms over which she reigns, having seen Quebec twice weigh splitting from Canada, and Australia vote against becoming a republic in 1999. In every case, the Queen has carefully protected her neutrality, often keeping her feelings to herself even behind closed doors.

The source says the palace went to “great lengths to communicate the Queen’s own unimpeachable position.” A statement by the Queen released after the result, far from taking sides, emphasized the need for reconciliation: “As we move forward, we should remember that despite the range of views that have been expressed, we have in common an enduring love of Scotland, which is one of the things that helps to unite us all.”

But Cameron’s indiscretion was exacerbated by his use of the word “purred” to describe’s the Queen’s reaction. It’s hard to imagine a less appropriate verb, one that simultaneously reduces the Queen to the status of a pet and suggests that the Prime Minister has been able to reduce her still further, to a fluffy ball of pleasure response. Anyone who has spent time around the Queen knows that she is not strokeable, literally or figuratively. Touching her is an act of lèse majesté, as Michelle Obama discovered. Nor is she susceptible to flattery. She is dry, wry, humorous and guarded.

Her studied lack of bias extends to her Prime Ministers. She is reputed to have harbored a soft spot for Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and there’s an obvious warmth between her and John Major, her ninth Prime Minister, a Conservative who after the death of Princess Diana in 1997 was appointed a special guardian to Princes William and Harry. Queenologists — students of the sovereign’s micro expressions, able to spot and interpret a slightly more downturned mouth, a hint of scorn in the royal eyes — suggest Her Majesty didn’t much like Margaret Thatcher and remained immune to Tony Blair’s charms. She has seldom looked more uncomfortable than at a party on New Year’s Eve 1999, forced to hold hands with Blair on one side and her husband Prince Philip on the other as everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne” to welcome the new millennium.

Cameron once expressed the ambition to be the “heir to Blair.” He meant he hoped to emulate Blair’s success in transforming his party and delivering three thumping election victories, but this week Cameron echoed — and surpassed — Blair’s ability to discomfit the Queen. According to the BBC, Cameron said he was “embarrassed” and “extremely sorry” about his remarks to Bloomberg; the BBC also reported that he had been in touch with Buckingham Palace and planned to apologize to the Queen in person at their next meeting.

The Buckingham Palace source says such an opportunity is unlikely to present itself before October, when the Queen returns to London. Until then, she remains at her Scottish home Balmoral, enjoying views across a country that now has an insight into her views of its independence debate. Her views of the Prime Minister who provided that insight can only be surmised.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Counter-Terrorism Police Arrest 9 Men in London

File photograph shows Muslim preacher Choudary addressing members of the media during a protest supporting Shari'ah Law in north London
Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary addressing media during a protest supporting Shari'ah Law in north London in 2009. Tal Cohen—Reuters

British police arrested nine men in London on Thursday morning on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and being members of and supporting banned organizations.

The men arrested range in age from 22 to 51 and are all in police custody in London. One of the men identified is Anjem Choudary, one of the most high-profile radical Muslim preachers in Britain. Choudary, 47, was previously the head of Islamist group al-Muhajiroun or Islam4UK, which was banned in 2010. Choudary is well-known for organizing demonstrations against Western military action in the Middle East and for publicly expressing support for the Sept.11 attacks on the U.S. and the July 7 bombings in London.

London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that 18 residential, business and community premises are being searched in London, along with one residential property over 150 miles away in Stoke-on-Trent. Police added that the arrests and searches were not a response to any immediate risk to public safety, but were part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism.

[BBC]

TIME United Kingdom

Cameron to Apologize to Queen for Indiscretion

(LONDON) — Prime Minister David Cameron will apologize to Queen Elizabeth II for disclosing details of a private conversation with her about the Scottish referendum.

Britain’s leader was overheard telling former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the monarch appeared relieved that the Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom.

Microphones picked up an unguarded Cameron describing how the queen “purred down the line” after hearing the results.

Conversations with the monarch are considered private and her views are rarely aired. Cameron said Wednesday he was sorry.

“It was a private conversation, but clearly a private conversation that I shouldn’t have had and won’t have again,” he said. “My office has already been in touch with the palace to make that clear and I will do so as well.”

TIME United Kingdom

The British PM Is Recalling Parliament to Get Approval for Strikes Against ISIS

“It is now right that Britain should move to a new phase of action," says David Cameron

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday that he is recalling parliament to get approval for British air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq.

Lawmakers will convene in Westminster on Friday to vote on whether to back attacks on the Sunni extremists.

Cameron’s decision follows the Iraqi government’s “clear request” for international support to defeating ISIS.

“It is now right that Britain should move to a new phase of action,” he said.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Cameron said, “The U.N. Security Council has now received a clear request from the Iraqi government to support it in its military action against [ISIS]. So we have a clear basis in international law for action and we have a need to act in our own national interest to protect our people and our society.”

Friday’s vote is expected to pass with backing from all three major parties, Reuters reports.

Cameron gave his speech as a U.S.-led coalition launched air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria for a second day.

The U.K. government has not proposed any military action in Syria. Cameron assured the U.N. General Assembly that Britain would not work with Syrian President Bashar Assad to defeat ISIS.

“Our enemy’s enemy is not our friend — it is another enemy. Doing a deal with Assad will not defeat [ISIS] because the bias and the brutality of the Assad regime was and is one of the most powerful recruiting tools for the extremists,” he said.

If Friday’s vote passes, Britain’s Royal Air Force jets will join those from France, Australia, the U.S. and five Arab nations in launching air strikes against ISIS.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Labour Party Convenes After Scotland Vote

The Labour Party Annual Party Conference
Labour's Leader, Ed Miliband listens to a speech during the opposition Labour Party Annual Conference in Manchester, England on Sept. 22, 2014. Facundo Arrizabalaga—EPA

The party is ahead in the polls before next year's election. So why does everyone look so gloomy?

This should be a time of excitement and anticipation for Britain’s opposition Labour Party. Delegates and politicians have gathered in Manchester for the party’s annual convention, its last big get-together ahead of the U.K. general election scheduled for May 2015. Since Ed Miliband became Labour leader four years ago — to the surprise of large swaths of Britain and his brother David, the former Foreign Secretary and bookmakers’ favorite for the role — his party has mostly maintained a lead over the David Cameron’s Conservatives. Britain’s Conserverative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office in 2010 and has introduced unpopular budget cuts, presiding over an affluent nation that has seen increasing numbers of cash-strapped citizens forced to use food banks. Labour should be looking forward to an easy victory next spring, and you’d expect the mood at its party convention in a city in northwest England that boomed during the industrial revolution and cradled Britain’s labor movement, to reflect that outlook.

Instead delegates to the Labour Party Conference, which opened on Sept. 21 and concludes with a guest speech from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tomorrow, seem muted and apprehensive. The conference is sparsely attended. In days gone by, business tycoons and celebrities scenting a party about to gain power reliably swelled the numbers at such gatherings. This, by contrast, is a low key event. So why the long faces?

There are several reasons: Ed Miliband, a boyish 44-year-old, handsome enough but easily caught by photographers in cartoon-like expressions of befuddlement, has yet to convince Labour supporters or the wider public that he’s Prime Ministerial material. Pollster Ipsos-MORI recently revealed that only 30% of Britons consider him a capable leader compared to 46% who find him out of touch with ordinary people. His keynote address to the conference today marks a chance to change — or confirm — such views.

It doesn’t help that Labour’s poll lead over the Conservatives is modest: only 5 points according to the latest YouGov survey. Ahead of his stunning first election win in 1997, Tony Blair consistently polled leads in the double digits. Delegates glumly staring into their pints of beer in the bars of the Manchester Central Convention Complex see a murky prospect at the bottom of the glass: a possible coalition with the Liberal Democrats, tarnished in Labour minds by their current service in coalition with the hated Conservatives.

Yet the Lib Dems’ own electoral runes look so gloomy — they polled only 7% in the same YouGov survey — that this scenario too must be in question. All the mainstream parties have lost ground among English voters to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), red in tooth and claw on issues such as the European Union (UKIP advocates Britain’s E.U. withdrawal) and immigration (UKIP doesn’t like it one bit). YouGov shows UKIP doing far better than the Lib Dems, with the right-leaning party polling at 16%.

And another populist party has left Labour with a yet bigger headache. The Scottish National Party (SNP) may not have steered Scotland to independence in the Sept. 18 referendum, but it succeeded in convincing 45% of Scottish voters to disregard the Better Together campaign and opt for a split. Better Together was, in theory, a cross-party initiative combining Conservatives and Lib Dems as well as Labour in collegiate efforts to keep Scotland in the U.K. In practice, the campaign was run by the Labour Party, the only one of the three mainstream parties to have a large support base in Scotland — and 41 members of Parliament with Scottish seats.

The lackluster Better Together campaign has raised questions about whether Labour has lost its connection to the Scottish electorate and whether it will, as a result, lose those seats. Speaking at a conference fringe meeting in Manchester last night, Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary and head of Labour’s general election strategy, gave his perspective as a key member of the Better Together team and as a Scot. He said the SNP and UKIP were both benefiting from the same tailwinds — the British electorate’s lack of faith in mainstream parties to deliver. He also saw parallels with the rise of the Tea Party. “Westminster is assuming the same level of toxicity in the minds of British voters as Washington has in the minds of U.S. voters,” he said.

Britons’ trust in the mainstream parties has not been boosted by an unseemly scramble in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum vote to reinterpret promises made to Scotland to retain its support for the union. Labour had joined the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to promise further devolution of powers to the Scottish parliament and also the preservation of a controversial formula for allocating U.K. public spending that sees Scots do better per capita than their English counterparts. The morning after the referendum, Prime Minister Cameron raised the idea that these concessions to Scotland should be matched by greater local powers for the English, including “English Votes for English Laws” (the unfortunate acronym is EVEL), potentially barring MPs representing constituencies outside England from voting on matters affecting only English voters. It sounds fair enough but is constitutionally complex — and would probably deprive Labour, with its 41 Scotland-based MPs, of a working majority on key issues such as health and education.

In rejecting Cameron’s proposed breakneck schedule for EVEL, Miliband may well have put national interests ahead of party considerations. Rushed constitutional change is seldom a good idea. To voters, already disinclined to trust politicians, his response may well look like naked self-interest. He may be the most likely winner of the U.K.’s 2015 elections but Miliband, it seems, just can’t win and that’s why the Labour Party conference is such an odd, damp, dreary affair.

TIME Scotland

Scotland’s First Minister Says Voters Who Backed Union Were ‘Misled’

Scotland Decides - The Result Of the Scottish Referendum On Independence Is Announced
First Minister Alex Salmond delivers a speech to supporters at Our Dynamic Earth on Sept. 19, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Matt Cardy—Getty Images

Alex Salmond says "no" voters were wooed by empty promises from British Prime Minister David Cameron

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond says that those who voted “no” to an independent Scotland during last week’s referendum were “gulled,” “misled” and “tricked effectively” by last-minute promises from the United Kingdom.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders of other political parties had agreed before the referendum to grant Scotland greater ability to act on its own to set tax, welfare and budget policies, London’s The Telegraph reports.

But Cameron said after the referendum that those changes would only happen “in tandem” with the exclusion of Scottish politicians from votes on matters that concern only England.

He also expressed hesitance about granting Scotland new powers without doing the same for Wales, Northern Ireland and England. “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must be heard,” Cameron said on Friday.

Salmond accused Westminster leaders of “cavilling and reneging on commitments,” speaking to the BBC on Sunday. “They seem to be totally shameless in these matters,” he said.

“The Yes campaign aren’t surprised by this development. It’s the people who were persuaded to vote No who were misled, who were gulled, who were tricked effectively. They are the ones who are really angry.”

[Telegraph]

TIME Scotland

Russia Says Scottish Referendum Could Have Been Rigged

Scottish Independence Referendum 2014
Dejected Yes supporters in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept. 19, 2014. Robert Perry—EPA

They should know

Scotland’s historic election on independence did not meet international standards for constitutional referendums, the head of a Russian voting rights organization has said, with procedures that left the result subject to rigging and vote-tampering.

Igor Borisov, chairman of the Public Institute of Suffrage in Moscow (also translated as the Russian Public Institute of Electoral Law), said the voting took place according to United Kingdom voting rules, which differ from the international community’s accepted procedures for such votes, Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports.

The unusual criticism comes just months after the international community rejected the results of a referendum in Crimea. The White House said the March ballot had been “administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

Borisov said the chief concern in Scotland was the counting of the votes, which he alleges was not secure and was open to potential voter fraud and rigging. Borisov noted that the vote-counting room was the size of an “aircraft hangar,” which opened up the democratic process to tampering.

“Even if you want to, it’s impossible to tell what’s happening,” he said. “It’s also unclear where the boxes with ballot papers come from.”

[Ria Novosti]

TIME Scotland

Why Scotland Wanted to Break Up With England

The two countries fought for centuries before being united as part of the U.K.

It turns out that Scotland will be staying in the United Kingdom, but why did Scotland want to break away in the first place? Partially, it had to do with Scotland’s long-standing rivalry with England.

Before the neighboring countries were joined together by the Acts of Union in 1707, their history was marked by a slew of battles. Although the wars ended, their rivalry continued into to the modern era. Even with a “No” vote against independence winning, Scotland’s general distaste for the English is unlikely to fade.

TIME United Kingdom

The World Reacts to Scotland’s Decision Not to Leave the UK

The world had a mixed reaction to Scotland's "No" vote

When Scotland voted against independence in Thursday’s referendum, people across the world reacted with a mixture of relief, disappointment and trepidation at what the result might mean for other separatist movements. Yet while Scotland’s silent majority for unity won out in the final ballot, the Yes campaigners succeeded in making their voices heard, not only by the Westminster political establishment but in global headlines. One debate may have ended for now, but in many parts of the world, others are just beginning.

British political leaders praised the outcome Friday morning, but also looked forward to the new reforms promised by the Westminster parties, such as greater tax and welfare powers to be given to the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones tweeted that he was “pleased the people of Scotland have voted to remain in the Union – together we will shape a new constitutional future for the UK.” Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson agreed: “Delighted Scotland has voted to remain in the Union. We are better together.”

Some, however, were more cautious. A number of Northern Ireland politicians, including Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin (the Irish Republican political party) expressed the need for London to “deliver its promises.” The leader of Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party), Leanne Wood, said that her party remained “skeptical about Westminster’s promises of new powers” and insisted that “any offers to Scotland must be offered to Wales too.” She said it was clear that: “Britain has changed forever” and that “a new process must now begin involving all the nations of the U.K. to ensure meaningful and significant decentralization.”

Further afield, support for Scotland’s results came from many world leaders, some of whom may be hoping the No vote will discourage their own secessionist movements. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a video statement the Scots “chose the best option for everyone – for themselves and for Europe,” avoiding “the serious economic, social, institutional and political consequences that separation would have brought.” His comments come at a critical time in the Catalonian independence movement, as on Friday afternoon, Catalan politicians are set to vote on an independence referendum penciled in for November 9. The semi-autonomous Catalonia region is one of the most wealthy and industrialized regions in Spain, and support for secession has surged since Spain’s financial crisis. Spain’s foreign minister said Tuesday the Spanish government would use “the full force of the law” to supersede any kind of vote in Catalonia.

But Catalan campaigners aren’t deterred by Friday’s outcome. Richard Gené of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly movement told The Guardian: “Whether they voted yes or no, that would have been all right . . . What we really feel is envy about the possibility of voting. This is what we are fighting for.” While a Yes vote “would have acted as a kind of icebreaker for difficult issues such as EU membership and NATO membership,” remarked Albert Royo of Diplocat, the Catalonian body for public diplomacy, the No vote “does not mean that everyone here will decide to give up and conclude that the issue is over.”

In fact, Royo saw a lesson in the outcome that could reassure governments unsure of whether or not to hold referendums. “Letting people vote does not mean that they will automatically vote for independence,” he said.

The Scotland vote has also struck a particular chord with nationalists from the Canadian province of Quebec, where the No vote prevailed in the two independence referendums of 1980 and 1995. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird tweeted: “Canada welcomes this decision,” but the sizable contingent of Quebecois nationalists who flocked to Scotland in hope of a Yes vote may well feel differently. Meanwhile in India, leading news sites have analyzed the impact of Scotland’s referendum in fueling calls for a similar referendum in the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir. Violent opposition to Indian rule peaked in this northeastern region in the 1990s, but tensions still run high. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardline separatist leader, argued that ”India should learn lessons from UK and honor its commitment of granting the right to self-determination to people of Kashmir.” Moderate Kashmiri separatist leader Mirawiz Umar Farooq said Scotland’s referendum was an encouraging example of how “in a peaceful manner people will be deciding their future.”

Indeed, it is the peaceful democratic nature of Scotland’s referendum that has drawn the most praise from politicians, not to mention its high turnout of 84.6%.

“We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence and congratulate the people of Scotland for their full and energetic exercise of democracy,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a Friday morning statement. “Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland’s enormous contributions to the UK and the world, and have spoken in favor of keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

German Foreign Minister agreed with many leaders that the No result is “a good decision for Scotland,” but added that he held “great respect for Great Britain’s exemplary democratic culture as it was displayed in this referendum.” Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, praised the vote as being part of a “democratically agreed process,” while Irish political leader Dr. Alasdair McDonnell said the Scottish National Party had shown how independence campaigns “should be fought.”

“This was a campaign of ideas, policies and debates not violence, death and intimidation. The futility of our own recent history has been drawn into stark contrast,” McDonnell said. And though many are disappointed with the vote’s outcome, it’s worth noting the success of the referendum in energizing Scottish voters. Pro-independence leader Alex Salmond heralded the historically high turnout as a “triumph for the democratic process.”

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