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Spoilt brats

Homage a Melanie Phllips (65), commentator.

melaniephillips

My father’s father – who, according to family mythology, was given the name Phillips because the immigration officer couldn’t pronounce his Polish name – would stand on the street corner every week in the often unrealised hope of being selected for work.

[From her “Guardian Angel: My story, my Britain”, 2013, revised for CreateSpace Aug 2016]

It is just over two weeks ago that we heard the bizarre story of the six-hour closure of London City Airport (LCY). It has proved a magnet for commentators. Nine people rowed across to the runway and chained themselves in a line as a protest that “Black Lives Matter”. So far, so good.

We all have our hobby horses. One of mine is the bizarre length of time it takes the police and other authorities to clear away obstructions to transport links. I am in danger of apoplexy every time I read yet another account of the police closing a motorway or other key link for hours whilst they prat about collecting evidence about the death of one of those involved. Just as bad are the endless delays whilst London Underground gets a “sick” passenger off a tube train (although to be fair that one has speeded up a little over the last few years). Any attempts to protest about this nonsense tends to bring outrage from those who think I should have more concern for the dead or sick. It has nothing to do with that; it is about devising and implementing procedures to avoid holding up thousands of people (at huge cost) unnecessarily.

But even by normal standards leaving the protesters alone for six hours seems to me completely bizarre. I would have thought a runway was a protected space under the Terrorism Acts, but even if not there is clearly good reason to clear them away in the first five minutes. The idea that a chain is a significant problem is ludicrous. Any cycle thief can give you a pair of bolt cutters that will cut through almost any chain effortlessly. For once I agree with Jeremy Clarkson who published a rant about it at the weekend. He could even be right that the basic reason for this kind of nonsense is the self-importance of the minor officials involved who see it as their moment of glory.

So my main interest when I first heard about LCY was why on earth it had taken so long to clear away nine protesters. But there soon turned out to be some other odd features. News junkies and others will know that Black Lives Matter started in 2013 with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a security guard at a gated community in Florida, for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012.

Black Lives Matter is not an organized protest movement. According to Wikipedia, the moniker first appeared as hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter. I first noticed it after the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Missouri when the local police apparently shot and killed Michael Brown (18) as he was running away. After endless investigations it seems (from blood spatter evidence) that Brown was actually moving towards the shooter (see Wikipedia for more details).

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[a CNN interview in July 2016 with a London activist supporting the US protests]

Clearly too many black Americans are getting shot by the authorities. Of course, the picture is complicated and protesters are often getting it wrong, but on the whole they seem to have a good deal to protest about. A few months ago, we started to get “solidarity” protests in Europe. Fair enough.

But early radio accounts suggested that the nine at LCY were protesting about the lack of respect for Black Lives in the UK. Specifically, global warming was killing disproportionately many blacks because the resulting smog was worse in London than elsewhere and blacks lived disproportionately in London. So bizarrely mad as to defy rational comment. Bring on the comedians.

Indeed, there was a kind of stunned silence for a few days. Then the first comment I saw in the serious press was by a comedian with a comment column. Then two days ago came a lengthy article by Melanie Phillips (MP) in the Times.

I quite enjoy listening to MP – she is a regular on Radio 4 – and reading the occasional article, although she seems to suffer from a common tendency amongst those with Jewish ancestry of being over-eager to excuse Israel’s failings. On this occasion she started by referring to Radical Chic ( pdf ), a 1970 essay by Tom Wolfe on how New York’s cultural elite ludicrously lionised the Black Panthers.

She went on to name one of the Nine as Natalie Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. The surname will be familiar to Old Wykehamists. I am fairly sure that the boy who at the end of the half offered the entire Odyssey, Iliad and Aeneid, plus several other works, all in the original Greek and Latin, as the lines he had learnt during the half, was a Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (but I have just spent five minutes failing to pin down the name, or indeed find the story online).

In any case, it emerged the day after the incident that none of the Nine was actually black. MP’s headline was

spoiltbrats

MP claims that the rationale was not the effect of global warming on London, but its disproportionate effect on sub-Saharan Africa and hence on blacks. That makes slightly more sense, although still bizarre. But MP was unsympathetic. After noting that a colleague of the Nine in the self-elected Black Lives Matter UK had jetted off to a luxurious beach resort in Brazil to address a crowd of feminists, she continued

… such people want to do good but their hypocrisy is epic. Posing as anti-racists, they stigmatise the whole of white society by smearing it as institutionally hostile to black people. Yet they themselves hardly achieve what they aim to do …

I think I can live with being smeared by the likes of Natalie TWF, but MP’s basic point is correct. She goes on to quote from Shelby Steele (70), whom I had not previously heard about. He claims white anti-racists have turned black people into permanent victims and that

no group in human history has been lifted to excellence or competitiveness by another group

So I have just ordered

contentchar

to find out more …

Unfortunately MP then starts to go slightly off the rails. After

Obviously, only the spoilt and self-indulgent can afford to posture in this way

which borders on the gratuitously insulting, she goes on to berate Robert Fisk, one of my favourite Middle East correspondents:

This pathology of self-hatred was brought into ironic relief in 2001 when … Robert Fisk was beaten up in Afghanistan by a gang of young robbers who smashed stones into his face and head. Whom did Fisk blame for this brutal assault? Why the West, of course, for inflicting humiliation and misery on the Muslim world.

That is not quite the way I read him. I thought he was attacking Western policy in Afghanistan. There is then a bizarre finale in which she claims that

… white guilt creates disorder … The weaker society is, the more protest is likely even when there is no injustice.

That seems to me fairly confused. Maybe it is influenced by her “Israel can do no wrong” credo.

Quick wins

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[George Joffe lecturing in Saudi Arabia in April 2016]

Q63 [Crispin Blunt, Tory chairman] … Sticking with Libya, is it also a fact that there has been a lack of investment in our foreign policy apparatus, in the sense that we simply do not know what is happening on the ground? …

[George Joffe, Kings College, London] I think that if you want to understand that particular problem, you need to go further back, ironically enough, to the Thatcher Government and the way in which the relationship between Downing Street and the Foreign Office changed at that time. That marked the beginning of a decay of the role of the Foreign Office as a key element in the construction of policy in this country.

[extract from the Oral Evidence preceding this report:]

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Last week the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee came out with an surprisingly critical report on the UK’s role in toppling Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in the first half of 2011. You may recall that, despite memories of Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK’s intervention was supported by the Commons 557 to 13. Yet now a Committee on which the Tories have an absolute majority has unanimously slammed David Cameron (who declined to give evidence). This is almost half of the summary:

… the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy …

I found that sufficiently surprising that I read almost the whole of the report and the oral evidence. No doubt part of the explanation is that Theresa May is not unhappy to see her predecessor criticised. The Committee has: 6 Tory members, Crispin Blunt (chairman), John Baron, Adam Holloway, Daniel Kawczynski, Andrew Rosindell, Nadhim Zahawi; 4 Labour members, Ann Clwyd, Mike Gapes, Mark Hendrick and Yasmin Qureshi; and one SNP member, Stephen Gethins. John Baron was the only Tory MP to vote against on 21 March 2011. Yasmin Qureshi was one of 10 Labour MPs who voted against. Stephen Gethins did not vote. The other 8 members of the FAC all voted in favour. So it is unsurprising that John Baron wanted a hostile report and unsurprising that the 5 opposition members did. But that still leaves 5 Tory members (including the chairman) who voted in favour of action in Libya and now went along with a highly critical report.

Gaddafi had seized power in a coup in 1969. In the UK he was widely considered undesirable, partly because he helped the IRA over an extended period with money and weapons, and partly because of the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Then we had the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 Dec 1988. This is a confusing story which I have never had time to look into properly. Rightly or wrongly, a Libyan was blamed by the UK and German authorities and Gaddafi was regarded as beyond the pale for refusing to extradite him. There was always a vocal minority in the UK who doubted this version of events, but not in the US whose citizens constituted a majority (188) of the 270 people killed.

Tony Blair decided the time had come for a normalisation of relations with Libya and had a series of meetings with Gaddafi and his son Saif, widely tipped to be his eventual successor. The 2004 “deal in the desert” led to substantial compensation from Libya for the Lockerbie crash, and an apparent normalisation of relations, with intelligence cooperation and commercial deals.

Reading the oral evidence, it seems fairly clear that the Labour members saw an opportunity to put the deal in the desert in a positive light and to suggest that it should have been possible to resolve the crisis by negotiation, given the UK’s unusually good relations with Libya since the Blair initiative.

Read on its own, the oral evidence from William Hague is convincing. He expressed no enthusiasm at all for the UK’s intervention.

Q153 … We faced the imminent possibility, in effect on the borders of Europe, of very widespread bloodshed. There was an international request for assistance and intervention, and facing that possibility or probability in a situation where you can intervene—of course, there may be other situations where you do not have the means to intervene—I think that is the right thing to do. That is not to say, as the Committee will know, that everything subsequently turned out to our satisfaction, to put it mildly, but I think it was the right decision to take and I would take it again …

Q286 … Foreign policy and decisions of this kind are a choice between unpalatable alternatives. Of course, when you start a military intervention, you are taking a step into the unknown. Very few military actions in history have had a certain course once embarked on. But, on the other hand, as we discussed when I came to the Committee before, we had to make a decision about what to do in the face of the threat to Benghazi, and the possibility—indeed, the stated intention—that the Gaddafi Government would kill large numbers of people.

The UN had rapidly passed a resolution authorising military action. There was subsequently some dispute about its wording. The pretext for the action was to stop Gaddafi slaughtering civilians. Initially, the discussion had been about a no-fly zone. There was no enthusiasm from any Western power for “boots on the ground” – Iraq was too fresh in every politician’s mind. Obama declined to participate at all (except maybe by providing electronic intelligence), but convinced the other leaders that a no-fly zone was a waste of time. To stop bloodshed you would need more than that. So Resolution 1973 (pdf) passed by the Security Council on 17 March 2011 included:

The Security Council … Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations …

4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;

The Russians and others subsequently complained that they had not realized this wording was wide enough to allow planes to attack (for example) a desert convoy including Gaddafi, but it manifestly is (on standard “command and control” doctrines), so that did not get them anywhere.

I found interesting Hague’s evidence that the initiative had come entirely from Nicholas Sarkozy (then president of France) and that the UK had agreed to tag along extremely quickly.

Various Committee members tried quite hard to dent Hague’s line, particularly the imminence of widespread bloodshed, but with little or no success.

The Defence Secretary at the time, the appalling Liam Fox (see here, here, here, and here), backed him up and also failed to give the Committee anything to support a critical report. On the imminence of the slaughter of civilians, Fox pointed to:

Q150 … Gaddafi’s 70-minute diatribe on TV against his own people—if you remember, he was talking about how he was going to repeat some of the crimes of history, praising Tiananmen Square, Waco and the destruction of Fallujah, and saying that he was going to visit this on Benghazi. On the night of 21 February, Libyan special forces landed in Benghazi and attacked with hammers and swords the protesters who were camping outside the courthouse, who included senior lawyers and judges. It was very clear what was about to happen …

It turned out that Tony Blair (who also gave oral evidence) had rung Gaddafi on his own initiative to persuade him to back off, without success, but his evidence did not help the Committee much towards its apparent goal of criticising Cameron. Nor did the evidence of David Richards (64) who had taken over as Chief of Defence Staff six months before the Libyan adventure.

At this point, I had not read the report itself, just the oral evidence mentioned above (which I always find the most interesting part of investigations by Select Committees), so I was puzzled by the newspaper headlines about the Committee’s attack on Cameron. How had the Committee justified it?

The answer turned out to lie in the oral evidence of George Joffe and Alison Pargeter (not the actress, but a researcher who was at King’s College 1999-2007 and is currently a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute).

They both gave fairly extensive evidence that Gaddafi’s bark was much worse than his bite. He was well aware of the limits to his power and the need not to upset the (maybe 100 different) tribes in Libya. Anyway his bloodcurdling threats had to be qualified by the references to “beards”: he was only threatening Islamic extremists. If you looked carefully at his past actions he had behaved with moderation towards non-combatants.

I re-read Hague’s evidence with a sinking feeling. Was this, unbelievably, given the proximity of all the Iraq inquests, yet another case of politicians reacting to public emotion whipped up by the media, without troubling to establish the most basic facts?

It is well-documented that Blair added the job of Foreign Secretary to his prime ministerial responsibilities and hired a separate adviser so he did not have the bother of reading FCO briefs. But Hague was Foreign Secretary. Surely he did not ignore FCO briefing? Or was he just being loyal to his former boss? Maybe he had argued ferociously against the Libyan adventure, but now felt compelled to defend it? But if so why did he not resign at the time?

Another disturbing strand was the Dubwuh/Sarkozy parallel. Bush as Commander in Chief chose to be guided by Dick Cheney on the invasion of Iraq (for reasons I have never managed to fathom – Dubwuh is far from stupid). I eventually concluded that Blair followed him all the way out of embarrassment (a much under-rated motivation) – he kept getting sucked in deeper even as he was realizing it was all a mistake. Surely Cameron did not do the same with Sarkozy?

Charles Judson Harwood Jr (1942-2013)

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I first heard of Charles Harwood two and a half years ago when I was researching the downing of Iran Air flight 655. Unknown to me, he was already dead at that point. He had a blog on ntlworld.com.

NTL Inc was a cable television company. Barclay Knapp had set up CableTel in 1993 following the deregulation of the UK cable market. It acquired some local networks and then in 1996 acquired National Transcommunications Limited a transmission network which had been owned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (the bizarre history of how the regulator came to own the hardware for a network is outlined here). Two years later CableTel changed its name to NTL. It spent heavily and went into Chapter 11 after the Great Telecoms Crash in 2002. I thought I had written about that crash (which dwarfed the better-known dot-com crash around the same time), but cannot locate the article! Here is a summary from the Economist of 18 Jul 2002:

The telecoms bust is some ten times bigger than the better-known dotcom crash: the rise and fall of telecoms may indeed qualify as the largest bubble in history. Telecoms firms have run up total debts of around $1 trillion. And as if this were not enough, the industry has also disgraced itself by using fraudulent accounting tricks in an attempt to conceal the scale of the disaster. WorldCom, which “misclassified” $3.8 billion in network-maintenance costs as capital spending so as to hide huge losses, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. If it goes under, it will be the biggest failure in business history, putting even Enron’s demise in the shade.

[3 days later WorldCom, controlled by Bernard Ebbers, filed for Chapter 11. AFter much legal manoeuvring it ended up controlled by federal judge Jed Rakoff and in Feb 2005 was acquired by Verizon for $8 billion. Ebbers started a 25-year sentence for securities fraud (aged 65) in Sep 2006.]

NTL had debts of a mere $18 billion. In Chapter 11 it converted over $11 billion into shares and split itself into NTL Inc (covering UK and Ireland) and NTL Europe Inc. NTL Inc emerged from Chapter 11 and by mid 2005 had debt of £1.5 billion and 3.2 million customers. In March 2006 it organized a reverse takeover by Telewest (a UK listed cable company). More or less simultaneously talks were going on with Virgin Mobile and a further merger was agreed in June 2006. The company was rebranded as Virgin Media plc in 2007.

Harwood’s blog seems to have survived until early 2014, because the link in my article was to homepage.ntlworld.com But more recently Virgin Media must have reorganised that blog site and killed the links. The blog still survives on Wayback, although I cannot immediately locate his piece on Iran Air 655.

lastmemories1

I had not heard of last-memories.com until today, when google directed me to the pages on Harwood as I was researching a (tenuously related) story on Libya. A quick check on Alexa shows that it is a relatively small site with audience almost entirely confined to the US. It also seems to have been going downhill over the last year. But I confess that I found the account of Harwood’s life affecting:

He lived two distinctly different lives. He came from a conservative two parent Baptist Southern family raised with Country Clubs and top schools. He dutifully became an attorney like his father, married an English debutante, had two bright and shiny blond children, and settled into high society Tennessee.

But then the rebel started to emerge. He insisted on riding his motorcycle to the law firm to work. He got easily sidetracked by other things, like electrical engineering, photography, and music. And other girls. He got divorced and remarried, had two more children, lived in Saudi Arabia and then moved to London to start his own International Tax newsletter.

Eventually he shunned not only his first family, but also a second, as well as his father and sister and his many friends and admirers in Tennesse by disappearing into a different life in London with his two parrots, rarely to be heard from. He gave up his successful law practice to research politics and news like a conspiracy theory movie plot, until he was all but destitute.

But his friends and neighbors in London tell a story of a man they called “CJ”, much beloved and admired; just a very different one than the one his family knew: one who kept chickens and pigeons and lived in a big parrot cage with mounds of newspaper.

His daughter Rebecca wrote:

I remember . . .
When I was 12, a bunch of boxes showed up on the doorstep. It was a “computer”, only nobody knew what that word was, and there was nobody to help set it up. My mother told me to figure it out or get rid of it, so I figured it out. It was an Apple IIe, with the large floppy disks that you used to load the program, then swap the diskette out for a data disk. I only had a game, Wizardry, and a word processor. Eventually I got a second disk drive, and then lo and behold, a HARD DRIVE. Can you imagine, storing the programs in like a big jukebox? I think Dad was training me to type set his newsletter. I never did that, but I had such a huge jumpstart on everyone else, I became a computer tech. Thanks Dad.

I remember . . .
Dad’s magazine Taxes International generated lots of FANTASTIC stamps from all over the world. I still have an enormous collection of stamps.

I remember . . .
We would visit Dad every year until we were 14. About that time, he moved out of the house with Christy, and moved into his office with lots of parrots. There was parrot poop everywhere. I can’t believe he lived there. The last time I saw him I was 18, visiting during a year living in Germany. He called a few days before my marriage because he was in Tennesse visiting his father who had died. I didn’t get to go to the funeral or see him because of the wedding.

The Apple IIe was released in 1983 and sold for 11 years. But assuming Harwood was one of the first to buy it, Rebecca was born in 1971, so is now 45.

I understand her comments about parrots. One of the stranger people I have met lived in a vast, under-repaired house near the border between N Wales and Cheshire. It contained: a vast amount of antique furniture, which arguably belonged to a previous boyfriend, whom I also know (quite independently, because he married another friend); a vast collection of antique clothes, acquired over decades at charity shops; and a large collection of parrots, some stuffed, some alive. I can still remember sitting in the large kitchen eating breakfast as parrots periodically swooped overhead, and I wondered if, like pigeons, they were also liable to dive-bomb.

The house had been acquired for her by a later boyfriend, who believed that it would be a terrific property investment, because she was expert at refurbishing properties cheaply. Such are the follies of those who fail to realize that property is a get-poor-quick scheme unless you take it seriously. Timing is far more important than the cost of refurbishment.

But I guess the reason I found the whole Harwood saga so affecting is because it seems perilously close to my own life.

TUEs

[=Therapeutic Use Exemptions, for those not up to speed]

A decade ago I knew a professional footballer who had retired early to become a biotech entrepreneur. I remember asking him one day about fouls. There must have been a recent flurry of comment about fouling in the press. He explained that the morality of cheating did not come into it. It was simply a matter of a careful decision about the pros and cons on each occasion. If it was critical to stop the other side scoring a goal and the only way to do it was an outrageous foul that would result in a red card (so that the player was sent off), then an outrageous foul it was.

At the time I was somewhat shocked, but I later realized that one could hardly expect anything else. The idea of football as a noble sport exemplifying the highest ideals of sportsmanship and fair play has long since vanished. Professional football is now about money.

I am currently reading half-a-dozen books on what can be done about the bankers’ resolute failure to reform their behaviour post 2007/8. In banking one is looking at several thousand people earning over £1M a year, including a small number earning over £10M. In their determination to push up their earnings they are arguably a serious menace to society. They are also a deeply unloved group. Only a small handful of folk, like the execrable Philip Green or the deceased Jimmy Savile, attract more general opprobrium.

But rewards are even more extreme in the entertainment industries (broadly defined) and by-and-large the overpaid denizens there are loved, or at worst ignored, by the public. That is unsurprising – few people have much understanding of what top bankers actually do. All they know is that Vince Cable (73) called it “casino banking”, and the taxpayer had to stump up £50 billion or around £2,000 per adult of working age when it all went wrong. [Incidentally, VC lost his seat in the last election, was knighted last year, and now seems to earn money as an author – After the Storm, May 2016.]

Also, the only people to write about bankers are cynical financial and political journalists running them down, whereas few people write about celebrities except to praise them or give heavily edited versions of their private lives supplied by their publicists.

Of course, there are also muckraking stories. But fewer than you might expect, particularly in the UK because of our unbalanced libel laws. Even where they are published they seem to damage those involved less than you might expect. I think the reason must be that the muck typically relates to everyday affairs that most readers could see themselves or their friends getting involved in. Whereas bankers doing something incomprehensible and ending up with a pension of £5M a year after getting fired at 55 seem just bizarre.

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[The current front page of the new Fancy Bears website]

Anyway it will be interesting to see the effect of the latest revelations from the Fancy Bears.

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[The logo of the World Anti-Doping Agency]

The website (fancybear.net) was registered just 15 days ago (use who.is to check) by “Jean Guillalime” with an address in Pomponee, Seine-et-Marne not far from Disneyland Paris. The name is certainly odd: it looks as though it should be Guillaume, but that is not what is registered. Here is the address on google streetview (yes the number agrees with the website registration)

fancybears2

fancybears3

So make of it what you will. Maybe it is a Putin-organized stunt to distract attention from years of state-organized doping in Russia and to claim that the West may be acting legally, but is just as immoral as Russia. On the other hand, maybe it is a disaffected Frenchman irritated by the performance of the UK in the Tour de France and Olympics. Or maybe neither. Experts have apparently found that the supposedly originating server is in California and that the site has Korean characters. In other words, the authors of the site have deliberately muddied their trail. I suspect that M Guillalime does not exist and that the address is unconnected to the website.

The name Fancy Bears originated with CrowdStrike Inc, a US “cybersecurity” company based in California, which has grown rapidly over the last 5 years providing cybersecurity services to business worldwide. Judging from the videos on the website it is certainly good at sales pitches – it all sounds hugely exciting and competent, but if you reflect tells you absolutely nothing.

But it has written several pieces about Fancy Bear, eg

fancybears4

What does not seem to be in dispute – judging from the interviews and commentary in today’s press – is that the leaks from WADA are genuine.

The issues raised by the leaks are not straightforward. We now know that the US gymnastics star Simone Biles suffers from ADHD for which she was cleared to take the otherwise banned methylphenidate (Ritalin), which is also much used (especially by students) as a performance-enhancing drug. So there is the confidentiality issue: are we entitled to know this kind of medical detail about olympic athletes, or are they entitled to privacy? Many people know that Bradley Wiggins (the UK cyclist who won the 2012 Tour de France) suffers from asthma, but are they entitled to know that he was cleared to take triamcinolone acetonide, a synthetic corticosteroid normally banned, days before the start of the 2012 Tour de France?

Conversely, why should we allow sick athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs at all? Shouldn’t they just be told: “Tough”.

The overall figures are dispiriting. WADA approved 1330 TUEs in 2015, up by almost 50% on the previous year. Clearly some coaches are adopting the approach of exploiting the letter of the rules to the full, just like the professional footballers.

Jean-Claude Juncker

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[Official photo of Jean-Claude Juncker at the European People’s Party Dublin Congress 2014]

Let’s be clear about this. Luxembourg has a population of about half-a-million and an area of about 1,000 square miles. In other words, it is a kind of seriously underpopulated Greater London. Jean-Claude Juncker (62) was its prime minister (1995-2013). Since November 2014 he has been President of the European Commission, for which his salary is roughly double that of the UK prime minister.

He is a diehard supporter of a United States of Europe and one of those who drove many UK citizens, including me, to oppose continued UK membership of the EU.

Today he was at it again: lecturing the UK on how we cannot have access to the single market unless we allow freedom of movement. This is hard on the heels of his remarks when Theresa May attended the G20 summit in Hangzhou on 4-5 Sep 16 when he was apparently trying to stop her discussing Brexit with other member states.

Earlier in June he had issued a “presidential order” forbidding any discussions on Brexit until after the UK had formally triggered Article 50. He was challenged on this, and the Commission was forced to issue a “clarification” stating that his comments were only intended to bind commission officials, not other EU member states.

Of course, a trade treaty is a fairly unfettered negotiation. One party can try asking for anything it wants. Trying to link free movement of people to zero or reduced tariffs on traded goods seems somewhat bizarre, but there is nothing to stop the EU trying it on. But it seems fairly clear that Juncker has no significant role in the process.

As a quick recap for those whose eyes have glazed during all the talk of Article 50, The Treaty of Lisbon (which came into force on 1 December 2009) amended the Treaty on European Union (the “Maastricht Treaty”, signed in 1992). Article 50 of the ToEU now reads:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period …

The Treaty referred to in Article 50(2) above is better known as the Rome Treaty (signed in 1957). Its Article 218(1) states that

agreements between the Union [=EU] and third countries or international organisations shall be negotiated and concluded in accordance with the following procedure

and Articles 218(2)-(11) follow. Note that only Article 218(3) is referenced in Article 50. It states:

3. The Commission … shall submit recommendations to the Council, which shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union’s negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team.

Article 218(4) which states

The Council may address directives to the negotiator and designate a special committee in consultation with which the negotiations must be conducted.

is not referred to in Article 50, so presumably it does not apply to Brexit.

But either way it seems that the Commission’s only role is to start the ball rolling by making recommendations to the Council (made up of representatives of the individual member states). Thereafter the conduct of the negotiations on the EU’s side seems to be entirely up to the Council, except that Article 50(2) requires the Council to obtain the consent of the European Parliament to the final agreement.

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[Guy Verhofstadt at the European Parliament Feb 2014, courtesy of Wiki Loves Parliaments]

The European Parliament recently appointed Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP and prime minister of Belgium 1999-2008, as its “point man” on the Brexit negotiations, but how much influence he is likely to have is unclear.

Turning to more fundamental issues, there was an interesting contribution from Peter Lilley on the last Any Questions on BBC Radio 4. He had been involved in negotiating several trade agreements, presumably when he was Trade & Industry Secretary 1990-2. His first point was that trade agreements with OECD countries were not that important because the maximum tariff was likely to be low anyway.

The important agreements were with less developed countries who could be important trading partners. He had various reasons for thinking the agreements we were likely to negotiate with them would probably be better than the EU had managed and were unlikely to be worse. I was left reflecting that the level of political debate on all that in the run-up to the Referendum had been fairly simple-minded. Maybe the whole thing was seriously misrepresented by the Remainers, and the Brexiteers lacked the knowledge to rebut them effectively!