INDEPENDENT 2024-02-12 06:04:28


Rwanda plan ‘fundamentally incompatible” with UK’s human rights

Rishi Sunak’s proposed Rwanda asylum law is “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations and would flout international law, MPs and peers have warned.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said the government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill “risks untold damage” to the UK’s hard-won reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.

The controversial draft legislation and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled deportation scheme after a Supreme Court ruling against the plan.

By compelling judges to regard Rwanda as safe, ministers want to be able to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to the east African country.

But the crossbench committee of MPs and Lords said they had heard evidence that the problems identified by the Supreme Court could not be resolved so quickly.

The panel said in a report: “We are not persuaded that parliament can be confident that Rwanda is now safe. In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.”

The bill, which is going through parliament, seeks to severely limit asylum seekers’ ability to appeal against being put on a flight to Kigali.

While they can try to claim Rwanda is not safe for them as individuals, they cannot argue that it is generally unsafe or that they are at risk of being transferred to a third country where they could be in danger.

The committee said this makes the bill incompatible with the UK’s international obligations, most obviously Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to an effective remedy.

The legislation also says it is up to ministers to decide whether to comply with interim rulings issued by judges at the European Court of Human Rights, and therefore “openly invites the possibility of the UK breaching international law”, according to the report.

A so-called Rule 39 interim measure – branded a “pyjama injunction” because it can be issued outside normal court hours – contributed to the grounding in 2022 of the first flight that was set to carry asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Joint committee chair Joanna Cherry said: “This bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.

“This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself. By taking this approach, the bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.

“Human rights aren’t inconvenient barriers that must be overcome to reach policy goals, they are fundamental protections that ensure individuals are not harmed by government action. If a policy is sound it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”

The prime minister’s Safety of Rwanda Bill passed the Commons after Mr Sunak saw off a Tory rebellion that had sought to toughen the legislation.

It cleared its first major hurdle in the House of Lords last month but faces numerous amendments in the upper chamber and an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords.

Mr Sunak has urged peers not to block “the will of the people” by opposing the bill as he faces an election year having made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership.

The Lords begin a detailed examination of the bill in the committee stage on Monday.

The asylum scheme comes with a £290m bill but a series of legal challenges has meant no flights have taken off since it was proposed in 2022.

Under the plan, people who cross the Channel in small boats could be removed to Rwanda rather than being allowed to seek asylum in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is doing just that.

“The bill we have introduced, and the treaty alongside it, are the best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible.

“Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”

‘Kidnapped’ boy Alex Batty says he doesn’t want fugitive mother caught

The British teenager found in France six years after he went missing has said he does not want his fugitive mother to be caught.

Alex Batty was found in December, more than half a decade after his mother Melanie Batty and grandfather David took the then 11 year-old, on what was supposed to be a week-long vacation but never returned home.

The now 17-year-old returned to the UK last year and reunited with his grandmother Susan Caruana, the legal guardian who had made emotional appeals over the years for his safe return. Greater Manchester Police has since launched a criminal investigation into the alleged abduction.

However, on Sunday Alex revealed his hopes his mother and grandfather do not get caught, insisting: “Mum did it out of love.”

“I hope the police don’t find them,” he told the Mirror: “Mum did what she did out of love. It’s what she thought was best and that’s all you can really do, isn’t it? She and my grandad did it with the best intentions.”

The teenager said he is certain the on-the-run pair will not get in touch with him for fear of capture, even though his birthday is coming up on Tuesday.

“I know they’re not going to get in contact,” he told the newspaper. “They’re definitely not going to risk it. If they get in contact, it’ll be when they’re 100 per cent sure they’re all right. They won’t rush it for my birthday… I love them both, but if I don’t see them again it’s not a big deal. You can love someone and not talk to them.”

“Mum probably wants to see me but she can’t, can she? She will probably be angry that I left. I think she’ll be angry that I didn’t listen to her. If I could speak to them both now, I would just say, ‘I hope you’re all right’, and tell them I’m all right.”

A delivery driver found Alex walking along a road in southern France in the middle of the night on 13 December. The boy told police he had been living a nomadic lifestyle in Spain, Morocco and France with his mother and grandfather as part of a “spiritual community” and decided to leave when his mother talked about going to Finland.

Alex previously told The Sun he feared the pair could be arrested on suspicion of child abduction, so he had lied about his escape.

He had left the place they had been staying two days earlier – not four days as he initially reported – and provided other details he thought would throw investigators off their trail, he said.

“I’ve been lying to try and protect my mum and grandad, but I realise that they’re probably gonna get caught anyway,” he told the newspaper. “I pretended I had been on such a long journey for that reason.”

Alex is now settling back into his life in the UK. He has started a computer programming course and is currently occupied with celebrations for his 18th birthday, including a meal with family – including his grandmother, her new husband, uncle and cousin – and a pub crawl.

Marathon world record holder Kiptum dies in road accident

Kelvin Kiptum, the men’s marathon world record holder, has died aged 24 in a road accident in Kenya.

Kiptum and his Rwandese coach Garvais Hakizimana died in the collision, confirmed Abbott World Marathon Majors and Elgeyo Marakwet police.

The incident occured in the Kaptagat area on Sunday evening along Elgeyo Marakwet road. Kiptum won the London Marathon last year and would go on to break compatriot Eliud Kipchoge’s world record at the Chicago Marathon in October in 2:00:35.

Kenyan athlete, Milcah Chemos, confirmed the deaths to the Associated Press after attending the hospital mortuary. While Joan Chelimo, the wife of Hakiziman, also confirmed the death of her husband to Olympics.com.

Kiptum was due to run this year’s Rotterdam Marathon in April, in what was promoted as an attempt to break the two-hour barrier in an official race for the first time following Kipchoge’s unofficial run in 1:59:40.2 in Vienna in 2019.

World Athletics president Seb Coe paid tribute to Kiptum: “We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana.

“On behalf of all World Athletics we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation.

“It was only earlier this week in Chicago, the place where Kelvin set his extraordinary marathon World Record, that I was able to officially ratify his historic time. An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly.”

Police added that Kiptum was the driver and the vehicle “lost control and rolled, killing the two on the spot”. A third passenger, who was female, was injured, AFP reported.

Kiptum, a father-of-two, made his marathon debut in 2022, four years after competing in his first major competition, where he was forced to borrow shoes due to economic reasons, commenting later to the BBC: “I had no money to travel to track sessions.”

Kiptum sparked a trend among Kenyan athletes to begin their careers on the road, moving away from athletes such as Kipchoge, who initially shot to fame on the track.

Elgeyo Marakwet police commander Peter Mulinge confirmed the tragic news in a statement: “This was a self-involved accident where one Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder, was driving his vehicle with two passengers.

“Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot and the third person was rushed to Racecourse Hospital in Eldoret.”

Former Kenyan Prime Minister said: “Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, Kelvin Kiptum, World Record holder and Kenyan athletics icon. Together with his coach, they tragically passed on in an accident tonight.

“My deepest condolences to his loved ones, friends, and the entire athletics fraternity. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”

Hakizimana, 36, began coaching Kiptumin 2018, having met many years earlier: “I knew him when he was a little boy, herding livestock barefooted.

“It was in 2009, I was training near his father’s farm, he’d come kicking at my heels and I would chase him away. Now, I am grateful to him for his achievement.”

Two bodies found in search for Ezedi as officers return to Thames

Police are searching the River Thames for the man suspected of carrying out the Clapham chemical attack after two bodies were found in the water.

A police boat circled between Vauxhall and Chelsea bridges on Saturday morning, one day after the Metropolitan Police revealed their belief that Abdul Ezedi, 35, may have jumped or fallen from Chelsea Bridge.

A body was recovered near HMS Belfast just after 10am and another was found around 30 minutes later along the river in Limehouse.

The force said neither of the discoveries are linked to Ezedi and the search efforts resumed at around 10am on Sunday.

Ezedi was last seen on CCTV pacing up and down Chelsea Bridge and leaning over the railings four hours after the attack on January 31.

Detectives say his death is the “most probable outcome”, but officers warned it may take months for a body to be recovered – or it may never be found.

Right wing opposition to UAE takeover of Telegraph is below contempt

Britain used to pride itself on its openness to foreign investment. For decades it has allowed foreigners to build its infrastructure, provide its services and buy its leading companies. While the French declared yoghurt a strategic sector, Britain boasted of the Wimbledonisation of the City of London in which all the top players were from overseas.

Yet Britain’s taste for open markets may have finally found its limits in, of all places, the newspaper industry. A bid by an Abu Dhabi-backed entity for The Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator magazine has turned some of Britain’s most fervent free marketeers into frothing protectionists. A ferocious campaign is underway in parliament and the media to convince the government to block the deal.

Of course, those calling for the deal to be blocked insist there is no contradiction. They argue that what they object to is not the nationality of the bidder, but the fact that the bulk of the money is coming from International Media Investments (IMI), a fund controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. That, they say, is tantamount to a takeover by a foreign government – and an undemocratic one at that. It is one thing Mansour owning Manchester City football club – quite another taking a 75 per cent stake in a newspaper, where he might try to influence its editorial coverage, as he has done at other media brands that he owns.

If this is what lay in store for The Telegraph and The Spectator, the critics might have half a point. Of course, a true free marketeer might argue that the British media is competitive enough to withstand such a takeover given that a wide range of global news providers, broadcasters and new digital entrants are fighting for audience share. They might argue that the rest of the media would quickly call out evidence of censorship while providing alternative sources of reliable information. Others might question how much editorial freedom in any case currently exists at The Telegraph or indeed many other British newspapers, where coverage of important issues is often skewed by the political and commercial interests of their owners.

Nonetheless, all this is beside the point, since there is no prospect of Abu Dhabi getting editorial control of The Telegraph and The Spectator. That is because what is being proposed is a private equity deal in which Mansour’s IMI would be a purely passive investors. There is nothing unusual about that. In a private equity deal, there are two classes of investor: the private equity firms, which are known as general partners (GPs), whose job is to identify targets, negotiate deals and oversee operations and for which they receive a management fee plus carried interest, typically the first 20 per cent of any profits on the deal; and limited partners (LPs), typically pension funds, insurance companies and high net worth individuals, with no rights other than to decide whether to participate in future capital calls or agree to a sale.

In this transaction, the original plan was for the GP to be RedBird IMI, a joint venture between RedBird and Mansour’s fund. That gave spurious credibility to the idea that Abu Dhabi might have influence over operations. In reality, this made no sense. The whole point about private equity is that these are not long-term investments. Given that RedBird will not get paid until it has sold The Telegraph and The Spectator at a profit, it is hardly likely to allow the value of the brands – and its own reputation as a deal-maker – to be destroyed by allowing IMI to meddle with operational decisions from which it is legally excluded. Nonetheless, the deal was restructured so that Redbird, not the joint venture, is now the GP, according to someone familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, RedBird has committed to establish an independent trust consisting of senior industry figures who will have legally binding powers to guarantee editorial independence and approve the appointment of an editor. Yet this has been dismissed by critics as not worth the paper it is written on. In a punchy interview on Newsnight last week, Andrew Neil, the current publisher of The Spectator, claimed that a similar arrangement at The Times and The Sunday Times, where he was once editor, had failed to constrain Rupert Murdoch. He neglected to mention that a powerful editorial trust has played a valuable role over the years in preserving the editorial independence of another publication where he once worked, The Economist.

But Neil was wrong about the Times board, too. In 2012, the independent directors delayed John Witherow’s appointment as editor for months, amid concerns about his independence. In fact, those fears proved unfounded. Not only was Witherow a brilliant editor of The Times but he was the only Murdoch editor with the courage to resist intense corporate pressure to back Brexit. What’s more, when I was at The Times, senior executives used to continually complain that the directors were thwarting efforts to adapt to a changing media landscape. That obstacle was finally removed in 2022 after the directors advised the government to release News Corp from the undertakings given by Murdoch in 1981. As someone close to the process said to me, “If TheTimes thinks the answer is to turn itself into the Daily Mail, why should the board stop them?” Many Times readers may take a different view.

But if there is no threat to editorial independence, why is there so much opposition to the deal? Part of the answer is a lack of understanding of how private equity works. So too is commercial rivalry, which has played a role in how the deal has been reported. Sir Paul Marshall, the billionaire owner of GB News which provides lucrative employment for a stable of influential Telegraph commentators and Tory MPs, was considered the frontrunner to buy the titles until Redbird circumvented the auction by agreeing to pay off the £1bn debt owed by Barclay family, the current owners, to Lloyds Bank in return for an option to buy the publications. The Daily Mail was also a bidder for The Telegraph, while Rupert Murdoch has long coveted The Spectator. RedBird was never going to get a fair hearing from much of the British press.

But the real opposition to RedBird is clearly ideological. Neil gave the game away on Newsnight when he embarked on a bizarre ad hominem attack on Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of American TV network CNN who is leading the bid for Redbird. The American, he said, had no knowledge of Britain, or newspapers, or magazines. What’s more, Neil insisted, Zucker is a left-wing Democrat (though Zucker has never revealed how he votes), who dragged CNN to the left and was bound to do the same to The Telegraph and The Spectator. As such, Neil declared, Zucker was not a fit owner of “these two vital centres of mainstream centre-right thought”.

Leave aside the effrontery of Neil – who reacts with fury whenever anyone on social media dares to suggest on the basis of his journalistic record that he is a right-wing Brexiteer – claiming to know how another journalist votes. What Neil and his allies in the right-wing media who have devoted their careers to arguing for the bracing effect of free market capitalism for everybody else appear to be saying is that an exception should be made for The Telegraph and The Spectator because without it the delicate flower of right-wing thought in Britain would wither. Perhaps he fears that without government protection, right-wing thought in Britain would disappear like Marxism to the margins, left with only the Daily Mail and The Times to sustain it.

A government with a genuine commitment to open markets would treat this special pleading with the contempt it deserves. Instead, ministers seem determined to kick the bid into the long grass, binding it in regulatory weeds, too terrified to stand up to right wingers who are already plotting to bring down the prime minister. The irony is that RedBird may be the first owner of The Telegraph in decades that genuinely cares about editorial standards, rather than pursuing a political agenda. Amid a global media bloodbath, with even the billionaire owners of the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post cutting their losses, here is a deep-pocketed investor willing to bet the other way. Anyone who really cares about journalism would bite its arm off.

Simon Nixon is a former chief leader writer and financial columnist for The Times. He currently runs a substack newsletter called ‘Wealth of Nations’ on international economics

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It’s time to face facts – we are all the poorer for Brexit

Things have come to a pretty pass when the most authoritative government response to new figures testifying to the negative economic impact of Brexit is to insist that everything could have been so very much worse. Thus Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, cited doom-laden forecasts of “inevitable decline”, which, she said, “have been proved false”.

And, yes, thank goodness, the economic meltdown predicted by some did not happen – quite, with a very near miss, and a political crisis, in relation to Northern Ireland. But the lack of a complete meltdown, either in the weeks immediately after the UK’s departure from the EU took effect, or in the four years since, can be only limited consolation in the light of the latest assessment.

The report, compiled by John Springford, an associate of the Centre for European Reform, concludes that Brexit has opened a hole of almost £100bn in annual UK exports, which is making the country worse off than if it had remained in the European Union. The estimates show that missed growth in goods and services exports means that trade is running at 30 per cent below what it could have been without Brexit.

Will the lsrael-Hamas war be a factor in the Rochdale by-election?

Over the past weeks, Rishi Sunak has faced mounting pressure from his party. Warnings have been sounded from within and outside of his party about the Conservatives’ electoral prospects. Rival factions have launched a concerted effort to push the prime minister towards a rightward shift, while the Labour Party holds a strong 20-point lead.

But while opinion polls and Conservative naval-gazing provide insights, they remain speculative until tested. Over the next few weeks, a handful of by-elections will provide a more substantial understanding of how each of the parties are faring in the electorate’s estimations.

By-elections are complex, and their outcomes are often influenced by a myriad of local factors. But the results are still likely to pile pressure on the two main parties as they become testing grounds for the popularity of their policies and leaders.