The British Election

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The outcome of the British elections, hung parliament though it may be, is in many respects encouraging. Though the Brexit issue may not have been in the forefront of all voters’ minds, this is a vote against hard Brexit, and thus a vote for less disharmony between Britain and the other nations of Europe. Furthermore the unique vote in Scotland, one place in which the Conservative Party did better, was a vote, in part, against the concept of Scottish independence. And we see too much micro-nationalism in the world today. A world in which we all need to work together, rather than working against one another for our own selfish interest.
The true winner of the elections was democracy. The United Kingdom, in the face of terror and fear, provided the world with a prime example of how to respond. People went to the polls to participate in a peaceful democratic process. There is an example here for many nations across the globe, when faced with tyranny, a genuine respect for democracy is of the utmost importance. For if we resort to the ballot box rather than the bullet, to resolve our differences we build a safer tomorrow – and a better world for our children.

And the hidden plus was that this vote was a vote led by the young. The youth of Britain had felt dissempowered by the Brexit vote. This was payback time. it has implications for democracy in the future.

May´s snap election: the facts

Although Theresa May was hoping to strengthen her leadership with a snap election and thought to increase her mandate in Britain´s negotiations with the EU regarding Brexit, the actual election results did not meet her expectations. The Tories lost 13 seats in the House of Commons and thus their parliamentary majority, while the Labour party on the other side gained 30 seats, leading to a hung parliament. This rather unexpected election outcome has forced the Conservative Party to enter into discussions with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland in order to form a DUP-Tory alliance.

Brexit talks in the aftermath of the elections

Undoubtedly however, a hung parliament signifies uncertainty for Britain´s future relationship with the European Union. A soft Brexit, meaning that Britain would after all remain a member of the European Economic Area, is more likely than before due to the loss of MPs on the conservative benches, and negotiations with Brussels are thus likely to become messier and longer. European politicians and diplomats are starting to worry about the disastrous effect that a hung parliament could have on the UK-EU future relationship and perceive a weak prime minister as a threat to Brexit talks. Article 50 is triggered, the clock is ticking and Brexit talks need to be concluded in 2019.

Diversity within the new parliament

Yet, no matter how uncertain the future between continental Europe and the UK may be, there is something positive to focus on: diversity within the newly elected House of Commons. Never before has a British parliament been so diverse. The statistics speak for themselves. While the 2015 election brought 191 women into parliament, in 2017 women represent almost 32 %, an increase of 9 %. The number of ethnic minority MPs has also increased by 41 since 2015. Moreover 45 members of parliament consider themselves part of the LGBT community, while the number of disabled MPs and of those who went to state schools rose as well.

 

European Civilians are Being Punished for Providing Aid to Refugees

In September 2016 the Danish high court upheld a verdict, which criminalised humanitarian assistance to refugees. A children’s rights activist was among the three hundred other Danes who were found guilty of breaching Danish law, and subsequently prosecuted for human trafficking.

Shockingly, there is no evidence of human smuggling in any of the cases presented in court. There was no exchange of money, nor were they clandestine in nature.  Benevolent Danes merely picked up refugees after a train from Germany was stopped in the Danish border town of Rødby. At the time, the government was quiet with no proper policy position in place for refugee migration.  This lack of clarity led to extreme confusion, particularly amongst the Police Force about the legality of helping migrants along their journeys. People simply did not know that helping another human in distress was illegal.

These prosecutions have resulted in large fines and prison sentences of up to two years being given. They have successfully deterred many European civilians from providing help to migrants crossing the continent. European civilians are now faced with a dilemma; either abandon their moral compass and remain on the right side of the law or risk breaching the law but maintain universal humanitarian values that connect us all. This is a unique situation in which the law is at odds with decency, empathy and liberty, virtues upon which the European project is predicated.

Unfortunately, there is also large confusion on the definition of migrant smuggling. The United Nations define the act as exclusively motivated by “financial or other material benefit”. This is in sharp contrast to the Council of the European Union definition which broadly stipulates that anyone who assists migrants to “enter or transit across” a country is in breach of national law and can be prosecuted. Discussing and debating the legality of civilian refugee aid becomes much more difficult when many contradictions are present. Uncertainty will continue to rise amongst the public and further indecision will continue from all parties responsible for tackling the migration crisis.

Whilst we must be wary when comparing recent events with the biggest genocide of the 20th century, punishing European civilians for aiding the persecuted is reminiscent of the punitive policies of Nazi Germany. The intent of this comparison is not to trivialise the Holocaust, indeed drastic measures such as death penalty have not been implemented, and over one million asylum seekers have been welcomed in 2015 alone. But it serves as a continual reminder that punishing civilian goodwill and outlawing instinctive humanitarian qualities will only compound mass humanitarian crises.
refugees-walking

Photo credits to TT

People often talk about the dangers of progressive dehumanisation of refugees, but perhaps we ourselves are subtly undergoing a form of dehumanisation led by these faulty laws? Perhaps we are becoming increasingly desensitised to the refugee crisis? It is at moments like these, when we must remember that history is never repeated unintentionally.

Majed Tw 31/01/2017