2014 05 – Parliament Notes

Parliament Notes by Dick Barry

First World War (Irish Soldiers).

It seems that there are to be no exceptions in the coming “commemorations” of the First World War. No one person, group or regiment will be allowed special leave from this August. And absence without leave will not be tolerated for any one person, group or regiment. Especially those Irish soldiers who, for whatever reason, volunteered to fight on the side of their historical oppressors.

It appears that the Government are using the “commemorations” as a means of drawing Ireland ever closer to Britain. On 2 April, Northern Ireland Minister of State Andrew Robathan told MPs that, “The Northern Ireland Office is committed to delivering the Government’s programme for the first world war centenary in Northern Ireland in a manner which promotes reconciliation and contributes to a peaceful, shared future. The Department is also co-ordinating closely with the Irish Government on the centenary and the wider decade of commemorations in Ireland.”

This is an interesting comment. Will the “wider decade of commemorations in Ireland” include the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916? And if so, how will the British Government explain its part in its suppression and the execution of its leaders? Furthermore, will the “wider decade of commemorations” include the elections to the First Dail in 1918 and the overwhelming victory of Sinn Fein, who won 73 of the 105 seats. Elections held during British military occupation with armed personnel on the streets.

Robathan praised the “200,000 Irish personnel who volunteered to fight in the first world war.” And made the following observation: “It is difficult to tell who was a regular, who was Irish and from the north, or whatever. They were just termed British in those days. Some 49,000 were killed in the first world war and we do commemorate them. As a Government we get on extremely well with the Irish Government. For myself, I laid four wreaths on Armistice day at Islandbridge, Glasnevin and elsewhere—the first time, I think, that a British Minister has done that since partition.”

For those interested, Robathan announced that “there is to be a programme of events, including a ceremony on 4 August in Dublin—probably in St Patrick’s Cathedral. This will be followed that evening by a ceremony in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.” No doubt, the newly anointed statesman Martin McGuiness will be present at the latter.


Asylum Seekers

Sarah Teather, Lib Dem MP for Brent Central, who will step down at the next election disillusioned with dishonest politics, raised the question of help for asylum seekers in the UK. She wanted to know what support was provided to meet essential living needs under sections 95 and 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Teather is no doubt aware of the widely held view that asylum seekers get whatever they ask for: free food and transport and mobile phones are just some of the benefits it is believed they receive. James Brokenshire, Minister for Security and Immigration, set the record straight.

James Brokenshire: “Asylum seekers are supported by the Home Office if they are destitute. The support package usually consists of accommodation, with gas, electricity, water and other utilities provided free, plus a weekly cash allowance to cover essential living needs. The cash allowance is currently £36.62 a week for a single adult, but it is higher in cases where there are children in the household. A family of two adults and two children would receive approximately £180 a week.”

“The Government completed a full review of payment levels in June 2013. The review concluded that the levels were sufficient to meet essential living needs. That decision was challenged in the courts by Refugee Action, a group that campaigns for asylum seekers, and the court issued its judgement yesterday. It decided that there were some errors in the way in which the 2013 review had been conducted. It found, for example, that items such as household cleaning products and non-prescription medicines should have been considered as essential and therefore factored into the overall assessment of the adequacy of the payment levels. The court did not decide that the current payment levels were too low. That question will be considered by the Government in a fresh review of the payment levels. We are, of course, considering the full implications of the judgement and whether or not to appeal.”


Ukraine: Where Is The Left?

On 28 April, following a recess of more than two weeks, Foreign Secretary William Hague updated MPs on the events in Ukraine. His position was supported by Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and every backbencher from all sides of the Chamber, with the notable exception of Sir Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House. In order to speak a Member must be called upon by the Speaker, but it is significant that no one on the Labour left participated in the debate. Were any present but unable to catch the eye of the Speaker? Hague’s and Alexander’s contributions were littered with vaguely disguised venom towards Russia and Vladimir Putin who has assumed the mantle of an aggressive cold war dictator. Whereas the unelected Ukraine Government have been accorded legitimate democratic status. Hague fed MPs the usual line of the UK’s sole interest being a “democratic Ukraine that is able to make its own decisions.” A principle the UK refuses to apply to the numerous dictatorships it supports around the world. Hague’s final comments about Russia invading and annexing by force part of a country and fomenting instability and disorder, take the biscuit for downright hypocrisy. They should be written in stone and presented to the puppet leaders of every country invaded and/or destabilised by the UK.

William Hague: “From 6 April, illegal armed groups began to occupy Government buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk. From 12 April, in an apparently co-ordinated fashion, police and security service buildings were seized in smaller towns across the east of Ukraine. Like the armed men without insignia who took control of Crimea in February, many were well equipped, operate like professional soldiers who have trained together, and wear matching uniforms. Russia’s claim that these groups are purely local militias has no credibility. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, has stated that ‘what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organised and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.’ We share that assessment.”

“On 14 April, I attended the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg where we decided upon additional sanctions. Those sanctions were then suspended in the light of talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU on 17 April, which succeeded in agreeing steps to reduce tensions. The agreement committed all sides to refrain from violence or provocative actions in the south and east of Ukraine. It required all illegal armed groups to be disarmed and to vacate all illegally seized buildings and occupied public places in return for an amnesty for protesters, in a process assisted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission. The Ukrainian Government promised to take forward an inclusive, transparent and accountable constitutional process. I spoke to the Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Deschytsia immediately after the Geneva agreement, and strongly welcomed the agreement.”

“The Ukrainian Government have made determined efforts to implement the agreement in good faith. They have put a draft amnesty law to the Ukrainian Parliament, begun a constitutional reform process, including decentralisation and the expansion of local authority power, and continued to collect illegal weapons. They are removing roadblocks around the Maidan, and protesters are vacating government buildings in Kiev. In addition, they have condemned anti-semitism or intolerance. The Prime Minister announced on Good Friday that the United Kingdom is providing £1 million to support the deployment of up to 400 additional observers to strengthen the OCSE mission in Ukraine. I pay tribute to the Ukrainian Government for the steps they have taken and for behaving with immense restraint in extremely difficult circumstances.”

“In contrast, Russia has so far failed to implement any part of the Geneva agreement. I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov last Wednesday and although I welcomed his participation in the Geneva meeting, I said to him that I could not identify a single positive step that Russia had taken to implement the agreement. It has not condemned the act of separatists or called on armed militants to vacate buildings and put down their arms. It has done nothing to rein in pro-Russian separatist groups, which continue to attack Ukrainian arms depots and military personnel, take over Government buildings and detain journalists and OSCE military observers, which we utterly condemn. The detention and parading of those observers, who should be released immediately, is utterly reprehensible and does further damage to the standing of Russia and the reputation of such groups operating in eastern Ukraine. The deplorable shooting today of the mayor of Kharkiv is another sign of the violence being instigated against those who opted to support a united Ukraine.”

“Furthermore, last week Russia announced further military exercises on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s UN ambassador claimed that it had the right to deploy so-called ‘peacekeepers’ on Ukrainian territory and Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia reserves the right to attack Ukraine to defend ethnic Russians. There is of course no evidence of threats to, or attacks on, Russians in eastern Ukraine. I proposed to Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia could demonstrate its good faith by making an immediate public call for the full implementation of the Geneva agreement. I also proposed that Russia’s acting head of mission in Kiev could join in assisting the OSCE special monitoring mission on the ground, including by negotiating with the groups illegally occupying buildings. I warned the Foreign Minister that in the absence of such steps, the European Union and others would impose increasing sanctions.”

“As I have often said in this House, we do not view the developments in Ukraine as presenting a zero-sum strategic choice. Ukraine can be a bridge between east and west and be able to maintain good relations with Russia. Our national interest lies in a democratic Ukraine that is able to make its own decisions and in a rules-based international system. Both considerations now require the adoption of further measures to increase the cost to Russia of its actions. G7 Heads of Government issued a statement on Friday pledging to move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia. We also undertook to prepare to move to broader co-ordinated sanctions, including sectoral measures, if necessary. Russia’s accession to the International Energy Agency and the OECD has been suspended, the EU has suspended visa liberalisation talks and there will be no G8 meeting in Sochi this year but a G7 meeting without Russia in Brussels instead.”

“The US has previously sanctioned 38 individuals and two entities. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have adopted similar measures and 33 individuals are subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans. At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a resolution was adopted suspending the voting rights of Russian members. I pay tribute to Members of this House for the role they played in that vote. Permanent representatives in Brussels have been meeting today to finalise adding substantially to the list of individuals sanctioned by the European Union. Subject to final procedures, that will be officially agreed within the next half hour and the names of those concerned will be published tomorrow. We are in further discussions in the EU about future steps, including preparations for a third tier of sanctions involving far-reaching economic and trade measures. Those preparations are now well advanced and the European Commission has sent proposals to each member state.”

“Increasing the scope of the sanctions placed on Russia is the right response to the failure to implement the Geneva agreement and the continued destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. In the past two hours, the United States has announced that it is imposing sanctions on seven further Russian Government officials, including two members of President Putin’s inner circle, and on 17 companies also linked to Putin’s inner circle, as well as additional restrictions on 13 of those companies. The United States has also announced that it has tightened policy to deny export licence applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.”

“As these developments show, Russia is already paying a serious price for its actions, and the longer it breaches the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, the heavier the price it will pay, undermining its own influence in its neighbourhood, steadily disconnecting Russia from the international community and damaging Russia’s own prosperity and security over the long-term. We have already seen the flight of more than $63 billion in capital out of Russia and the fall of the Russian stock market, and Russia’s economy is now forecast to shrink this year. The European Commission is preparing a comprehensive plan to reduce European countries’ reliance on Russian energy, and the G7 Energy Ministers will meet next week to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.”

“The Ukrainian people deserve their own opportunity to make free democratic choices, free from corruption and from external interference. We are sending experts to help to improve public financial management, working with the World Bank to strengthen governance in Ukraine, co-hosting a forum on asset recovery starting tomorrow here in London to locate the proceeds of corruption, and helping to support free, fair and inclusive presidential elections on 25 May. We have helped to secure an increase in European Union assistance to help to ensure economic stability in Ukraine, bringing the total support available from existing EU budgets to more than £1.4 billion and we are calling for expert EU assistance to strengthen law enforcement and the rule of law. We support IMF plans to put in place a two-year programme worth potentially more than $17 billion that will help Ukraine to make the reforms it urgently needs and to build a stronger and more prosperous economy for the future.”

“Russia’s actions have caused deep alarm not only in Ukraine, but among its neighbours with Russian-speaking minorities, in particular the Baltic states. On 16 April, NATO agreed a set of measures to provide reassurance and confidence to NATO allies. These include more air policing and naval missions, and deployment of additional military staff from allied nations to strengthen NATO’s preparedness, training and exercises. The UK has contributed four Typhoon aircraft to boost NATO’s regular Baltic air policing missions, which have left today, we are contributing to AWACS reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania, and we stand ready to provide more support as NATO’s response develops. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is discussing these measures with colleagues in Estonia today, and I intend to travel to the region next week, including to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.”

“It cannot be acceptable in the 21st century not only to invade and annex by force on the back of a sham referendum part of a neighbouring country, but to use military exercises and proxies to foment instability and disorder in that country, in an effort to disrupt its democratic elections. These are policies we have to be clear we oppose, and we must be ready to take measures that make very clear that approach. Russia’s actions betray its fear of democracy and the rule of law taking root in their neighbourhood. These actions are not consistent with being a strong and confident country, and are also in breach of international agreements and the UN charter to which Russia is a party. It is in Russia’s power to help find ways for tensions to be reduced in Ukraine, and the doors of diplomacy remain fully open. We will continue to talk to Russia and to urge it to seek de-escalation. But repeated intensification of the crisis and violation of international law and refusal to implement agreements require a strong response from the international community, and the United Kingdom will be part of that, in keeping with our international responsibilities and in defence of our national interest.”

Sir Peter Tapsell: “I put it to my right hon. Friend that the rescue of the failed state of Ukraine from civil war needs to be kept entirely separate from any attempt to overthrow the historic treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca of 1774—(Interruption.)—Well, we base our defence of Gibraltar and the Falklands on ancient treaties, so they should not be disregarded. The treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea from the Ottoman empire to the Russian empire. Hundreds of thousands of Russians sacrificed their lives in the 1940s in defence of that, and even Mr Gorbachev has publicly announced that he regards the Crimea as an integral part of Mother Russia—and the whole of the Russian people take the same view.”

Mr Speaker: “We do not have time for an exhaustive recital of the contents of the treaty, but we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the essential flavour of it.”

William Hague: “Treaties of the 18th century are important, and we do indeed rest our case in some international disputes on those treaties, including the treaty of Utrecht. My right hon. Friend should nevertheless bear in mind the fact that Mr Krushchev transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea to Ukraine—(Interruption). I think I am receiving some support from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Russia took that decision—also a validly taken international decision—so my right hon. Friend should reflect on the fact that we now try not to settle disputes in the same manner as in the 18th century. The fact that Russia annexed the Crimea by force in the 1770s does not allow the Russians to do so in the 21st century.” Of course, the UK, being what it is, a belligerent, military nation, is exempt from this high-minded moral principle.


Was Yanukovich Illegally Removed?

Two days later, on 30 April, Tory backbencher (Sir) Edward Leigh posed the following to the Solicitor General: “whether he has given advice to the Government on whether the removal of President Yanukovich was in accord with the provisions of Article 111 of the Constitution of Ukraine.” The Solicitor General offered this evasive reply: “By long-standing convention, observed by successive Administrations and embodied in the Ministerial Code, the fact that the Law Officers may or may not have advised or have been requested to advise on a particular issue, and the content of any advice, is not disclosed outside of Government.”

As David Morrison has argued in a series of articles on Ukraine, and as the editorial in the April Labour Affairs confirmed, the Ukrainian Parliament failed to implement the conditions for the removal of a President as laid down in Article 111 of the Constitution of Ukraine. This may have been the Solicitor General’s advice to the Government, but protocol prevents him from disclosing it. How convenient for William Hague and the Government who can claim that all is legitimate in Ukrainian Government circles.


Article 111 Of Ukraine Constitution

The President of Ukraine may be removed from office by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by the procedure of impeachment, in the event that he or she commits state treason or other crime.

The issue of the removal of the President of Ukraine from office by the procedure of impeachment is initiated by the majority of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

To conduct the investigation, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine establishes a special temporary investigatory commission whose composition includes a special Prosecutor and special investigators.

The conclusions and proposals of the temporary investigatory commission are considered at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

For cause, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, by no less than two-thirds of its constitutional composition, adopts a decision on the accusation of the President of Ukraine.

The decision on the removal of the President of Ukraine from office by the procedure of impeachment is adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by no less than three-quarters of its constitutional composition, after the review of the case by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and the receipt of its opinion on the observance of the constitutional procedure of investigation and consideration of the case of impeachment, and the receipt of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Ukraine to the effect that the acts, of which the President of Ukraine is accused, contain elements of state treason or other crime.

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