All posts by Andrew Smith

Thatcher’s ghost will continue to haunt Britain’s EU relations

150346380-1Europe may have been the issue that led to Baroness Thatcher’s political downfall in 1990, but 23 years later, in the wake of her recent death, it appears that she might just yet win in her fight against an United States of Europe.

When news broke of her death, David Cameron was on a European tour to assure leaders that the UK would stay within a reformed EU when it comes referendum time.  

The audacity of Britain negotiating its membership and, worse, subjecting it to a popular referendum, irks EU leaders. They realize British independence and European integration are simply not compatible.  Either power ultimately resides in the peoples of Europe through their national parliaments or in the ministers and bankers.

A more centralised Europe might be more efficient in governance than the current mess but it certainly will not advance the cause of democracy. Even if the commissioners are popularly elected, the EU is too large and diverse to have a common public sphere where ideas can be debated and decisions made between the European peoples.

Unlike the pro-EU reading of history, which blames European wars on nationalism, Thatcher laid the blame on attempts to unite the continent and correctly saw the EU as another artificial empire.

In its pursuit for more control, the modern nation-state is naturally inclined to curb human freedom at every chance it gets, but national governments are still accountable to the public to an extent that the EU could never be.

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed on a European level,” Thatcher said in her 1988 Bruges speech.

Two years later, in her final speech as Prime Minister, she recognised that “a single currency is … a Federal Europe by the back door.”

While the European Central Bank would be “accountable to no one, least of all to national parliaments.  Because the point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us.”

Thatcher defined the UK’s relationship first with the European Economic Community, then secured the British rebate and when the EEC was superseded by the EU, she drew the battle lines in the public opinion that has defined the debate of EU membership ever since.

It’s little wonder that when the time comes for the UK to decide on the EU, the British people’s response might very well echo Thatcher’s last speech as Prime Minister of “No. No. No.”

Escorts speak out on Lord Morrow’s bill

Sex sells but if NI peer Lord Morrow has his way, it will be illegal to buy in Northern Ireland.

As part of his bill to stop human trafficking and forced labour, the DUP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone seeks to criminalise the purchasing of sex – voluntary or not – by making the client the offender. Similar legislation is being considered in the Republic and Scotland as well.

Equating prostitution with slavery and lobbying for its abolition has been the latest cause to be taken up by the politicians and the media alike.

Currently in the UK and the Republic, the selling and purchasing of sex between individuals is legal while kerb-walking, public solicitation, pimping and brothel keeping remain illegal. Many anti-trafficking activists and politicians insist there is no such thing as voluntary prostitution and claim to speak on behalf of those “sexually exploited victims” in calling for the end of their profession.o

These women (and men) who would be most affected by the passing of Morrows’s bill have yet to have their voices heard in the Northern Irish media – until now. As the following shows, they clearly can speak for themselves and also have ideas of their own on how to combat real forced labour.

“I am not trafficked. This is my life choice,” said Davina, an English escort who works in Belfast and Derry and has put her daughter through university as a result. “I’m doing it for the income and because it was something I thought I could do well and the hours would fit in with my life.”

She finds the vilifying and victimising of escorts amusing as those who attack her in the press are often her clients.

“I see a lot of different people. I see the police, barristers and politicians”, she said. “Some of the people who are involved in the legislation and the activist groups come to see girls like us. They’re our clients. It’s widespread.

“It seems to me in a way that women have seized upon it (opposing prostitution) and that the men have to sort of agree with them and be seen doing something about it, because lots of men are coming to see me anyway, who are involved in the movement to criminalise the purchasing of sex.”

As for Morrow’s bill, she believes even the threat of a criminal record will not deter those who already pay a lot less to be with a possibly trafficked victim and will instead just reduce the trade for escorts.  She can still see a bright side to the criminalisation of the purchasing of sex as it could force the work environment to become safer for escorts.

“We wouldn’t be seeing strangers. I think men would refer us through a referral system so that we only see clients that we know or would have been recommended by other girls,” Davina said.

Laura Lee, as she is known, is an online blogger and active sex workers advocate. Originally from the Republic and currently living in Scotland, her work as an independent escort routinely brings her to Belfast.  At the moment, clients can discretely seek out escorts online or through magazine advertisements found in newspaper shops. However if Lord Morrow’s bill becomes law, Laura believes the already secretive industry would be forced underground and worse, would make it harder to reach trafficked and forced victims.

“In the vast majority of cases where there are trafficked victims, the only people who actually see those women are the clients.  So surely to push those clients further away will create further distrust between police and clients; [and] will completely go against the grain of what they are trying to achieve.”

Laura instead recommends police should open and maintain friendly communications with both escorts and clients so that suspected cases of trafficking and forced prostitution can be reported.

As for proposed anti-trafficking legislation in Ireland and Scotland, she said, “It’s got nothing to do with trafficking. This is a moral issue and what it really comes down to is the abolition of prostitution – pure and simple. They don’t want us to work. They don’t want adults to enjoy paid, consensual sex. That’s what is at the heart of it.

“I have met a lot of ladies that work on the ‘touring circuit,’ as we call it. It is a very far cry from the picture they try to paint. Look, nobody denies trafficking does take place, but it is to a low extent.  The vast majority of the sex workers are perfectly normal women who are just paying their bills.

“I really don’t think the media’s portrayal of the stereotypical pimped out, beaten up, drug-addicted, coerced woman is doing anybody any favours.” Laura said.

“The reality is that we know from studies, actually only between five and 20 percent of all sex work takes place on the street.”

“I have worked in everything from five star apartments to what would be reasonably described as a chicken coop,” Laura said. “In 17 years of sex work, I only felt in fear of my life once and that was when I worked for a bank and got caught up in an armed raid.”

Another vocal escort is Rachel, a Romanian who mainly works in the South.

As she lives with another woman for safety, the police could charge her with brothel keeping. The only way to avoid the charge and fine along with having her laptop, money and phone confiscated would be to declare herself “trafficked,” she said.

She said it would be absurd to enforce the criminalisation of prostitution as police wouldn’t have enough resources. If they did, not only would it take complete invasion of an escort’s privacy to determine she sells sex, but it would not stop the real criminals – the traffickers. She also said escorts and clients should be able to report to police suspected cases of trafficking without fear of ill treatment or arrest.

As for escorting, she said, “It should not be the state’s concern to tell me who I can sleep with and if I can charge or not. It is no one’s business what I do with my body, with my life and my choice of work.”

“The escorts will still be here. We will not disappear,” Rachel said. “If our work has to be quiet, we will be quiet, but I still have my regulars and I will make money from them. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to still be here.”

N Ireland debates EU exit but unites to lobby Irish Presidency on CAP reform

EUUN0001As the UK eyes the EU exit door, Northern Ireland is looking to the Irish Presidency of the European Council as an opportunity to lobby on behalf of farmers in upcoming Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) negotiations.

At a Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Committee report meeting Monday, Members of the Assembly (MLAs) debated EU membership while voicing support of having a strong, unified front in CAP reform.

Stephen Moutray, DUP – Upper Bann, expressed his party’s support for an UK exit but was more concerned about the “single biggest issue facing us from Europe.”

“Europe cannot be discussed without immediately thinking of the rural dwellers and particularly rural families who very much depend on their Single Farm Payments especially at this very difficult time when banks are not lending as they once did.”

Moutray said the Dept of Regional Development, having consulted with farmers and become familiarised with CAP, “are at a strong position to fight the corner of our farming community.”

CAP accounts for half of the EU annual budget. Its average annual subsidy per farm is roughly €12,200 (£10,374) – providing almost half of farmers’ income in the EU. Based on hectares of land, small traditional farmers feel discriminated as 80 per cent of subsidies go to a quarter of farmers – those with the largest holdings.

Proposed reforms would subsidise acreage farmed instead of production totals and limit the amount a farm can receive at €300,000. A third of these “direct payments” would be dependent on meeting environmentally-friendly criteria such as permanently leaving pastures unploughed.

Many small farmers believe these regulations will put their families out of business, stressed Joe Byrne, SDLP – West Tyrone.

“The current negotiations on CAP reform are crucial for Northern Ireland agriculture in particular and indeed, the Northern Ireland regional economy,” said Byrne whose party has been pro-Europe for decades.

“We are lucky at this stage that Ireland has started the six months hosting of the Presidency and hopefully the negotiations can go in favour of our interests.”

Byrne said the Single Farm Payment subsidy is crucial for farmers and many are dependent on it – especially those in higher elevations and less productive land. 

“This CAP support needs to be tailored and tweaked in the interests of the Northern Ireland farming community as a whole across the region.”

“Agriculture contributes £378 million directly into our local economy – worth double the UK GDP average for the region. Nearly 47,000 people are employed directly in agriculture,” said Byrne.

“The agri-food sector is central to this economy. It is the biggest contributor to our local economy. The agri-food industry overall totals £4 billion.”