Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unpublished The Times Letter #16

. . .in my long running series of unpublished letters sent to the Times of London:

Sir, No doubt Brexit campaigners will use yesterday’s discovery of 50 migrants packed into two lorries as evidence Britain can have more secure borders outside the EU (reports, Mar 24). This would overlooks a more likely factor: cost cutting. The government’s ideological commitment to austerity risks undermining our border security. Lorries can travel unchecked to Kent because of a lack of funding for properly functioning security. This would also be a welcome deterrent. Perhaps Osborne could find further savings for this too?

Professor Thom Brooks

Those who choose to use to Brussels attacks to promote Brexit are trying to pull us apart

. . . is my latest column for The Journal [READ MORE HERE]

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Durham Law School ranked 41st in World

. . . in latest QS Rankings here.

Unpublished The Times Letter #15


The Public Affairs Committee report on e-Borders found passports left unchecked despite the government's pledge. It found no checks are made from the Republic of Ireland by land or sea. The Committee appears to overlook the fact there are often no checks from Ireland at airports either. This is caused neither by EU membership or the Common Travel Area, but the Ireland Act 1949 - and the Committee seems to have overlooked that too.

Friday, March 18, 2016

STATEMENT: On EU deal with Turkey on migrants

A brief statement on key developments on the European Union's proposed deal with Turkey on migrants:

The EU is offering a new deal with Turkey on migrants. The goal seems clear: to stem the numbers of migrants travelling from Turkey to Greece.

Migrants make this journey by sea, often exploited by illegal human traffickers. The journey is expensive and highly dangerous with several thousands drowning.

The new deal was to include a "one in, one out" policy. This was to work by taking all those persons migrating by sea to Greece and returning them to Turkey -- and in return the same number of persons still inside Turkey would be relocated to Greece in a one-for-one swap. The goal was to provide a deterrent to migrants considering making this dangerous journey - that surviving the journey would only see them returned to Turkey. It was also to provide an incentive for migrants to stay in camps, offering a possibility - but no guarantee - of future relocation. The deal would only apply to Syrians in Turkey.

But this has been changed. A key reason why is because the scheme was unlawful under international law. Any migrant seeking to make a claim for asylum must have that claim considered on its merits. People cannot be forcefully returned while denying a right to claim asylum. So the policy could not run as originally proposed.

The "one in, one out" policy is now more consistent with existing obligations under international law. Any migrant arriving in Greece who wants to claim asylum can. Those who do not and anyone denied asylum would be returned to Turkey. And for every person returned to Turkey, another person would be chosen from within Turkey - again only Syrian nationals - for relocation to the EU. Another one-for-one swap.

This change makes the policy lawful at the expense of undermining its original purpose. Everyone expects last year's record migration numbers to be surpassed in 2016. The statistics thus far bear this out. But this policy aiming at deterrence will do little to address the problem of numbers.

The reason is the policy is likely to see EU migration increase. If even larger record numbers of migrants come to the EU, that number will be allowed to come. Anyone with a legitimate claim for asylum can stay - as is their right. But now everyone who does not have a legitimate claim and is deported will be replaced. The migrants who come to the EU may change, but the overall numbers will be the same - at a time where they are expected to grow.

EU leaders are probably banking on the threat of returning migrants having some deterrent effect. If fewer travel over - realising their efforts are in vain if no legitimate claim for asylum - then there will be fewer to be replaced...and so the overall numbers may drop. But that's the theory. Whether or not it holds in practice is anyone's guess.

Legal issues remain. Turkey is not fully signed up to the Geneva Convention, it has not been deemed by the EU to be a "safe country" for refugees and Turkey has not yet granted asylum to Syrians. These issues all create headaches for the return policy.

But Turkey gets much out of this. The €3 billion of EU funding promised them is to be sped up and directed towards helping defray the high costs of running migrant camps. Turkish citizens look set to receive visa free travel (but not work visas) to the EU. There is also talk about speeding up discussions on Turkey's accession to the EU.

All of this could not come at a worse time for David Cameron. It is unlikely to help the "Remain" camp that EU migration is again in the headlines - with another complicated, difficult to understand deal on the table. It will also not help allay fears that visas may be waived for millions of people, large amounts of EU funding spent outside the EU and that EU membership for another new state is being talked about while the UK is weighing the pro's and con's of Britain's current deal. Adding such future uncertainties to "Remain" may undermine the force of their concerns about future uncertainties with the "Leave" camp supporting Brexit.

Finally, the biggest surprise of all to me is no talk about a EU-styled Coast Guard that would help secure Europe's coastal waters and prevent illegal human trafficking into Europe. If EU leaders are looking to find a deterrent, this would go some way to addressing this problem. But still there is too little coordination, too little effort and seemingly too little collective political will to make this happen despite its promising early steps late last year. Without a more coordinated and effected naval deterrent, the pathway into Europe will remain every bit as dangerous - and maybe every bit as used - as before.

This is in no one's interest, least of all of migrants.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thanks to Bowling Green State University

Huge thanks to the Philosophy Department at Bowling Green State University for inviting me to give a keynote address alongside Doug Husak for their 6th annual workshop in applied ethics & public policy - on the topic of the ethics of policing and prisons. Some fabulous papers, wonderful people and great discussion.

Friday, March 04, 2016

On why the government getting it wrong on asylum

Live interview about government's poor record managing asylum seekers on @BBCWales from 01:38:00 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b071y1cf#play

Cameron's leading Britain on a slow march to Brexit (unabridged)

Cameron’s leading Britain on a slow march to Brexit

The EU referendum on whether Britain will remain or leave is one of the most important many of us will make in our lifetimes. If only it was that simple. What should be a decision about our shared political future is being twisted into a verdict on the personal legacy of one person: David Cameron.

Cameron’s real aim for the EU referendum is clear from the start. In 2013, he promised a vote on the EU if the Conservatives won the next general election. He said the country would debate the arguments ‘in favour and against the arrangement we negotiate’ – and not the current arrangement already in place.

The choice is between Cameron’s reformed Europe versus old Europe and this hasn’t changed more than two years later. Cameron made clear when announcing his proposals that: ‘It will be your decision whether to remain in the EU on the basis of the reforms we secure, or whether we leave’. For Cameron, this isn’t a referendum about Europe; this is about his political leadership.

It would be unfair to say he fails to grasp the how difficult this will be and he admitted having ‘no illusions about the scale of the task ahead’. Finding meaningful changes that all other 27 EU leaders and the EU Parliament can accept is more difficult than finding a needle in a large haystack hidden under a sea of straw. Cameron has done well to have any proposal on the table at all. Sometimes in politics having something – anything – as a plan is a kind of triumph.

But if Cameron succeeds – and there is every possibility that he won’t – his EU reforms increase the risks that the UK will Brexit. Despite his impressive negotiations these past weeks and months, it may be time to abandon ship with the reforms and focus the debate on Britain’s current relationship if Cameron is to help keep the UK in Europe.

We only need to look at the deal on offer to see why that is. Neither friend nor foe can deny that Cameron’s new deal is a complex mix of complex nuances intelligible to only a few beyond seasoned Eurocrats and civil servants. If you confuse voters, you lose elections. As Boris Johnson rightly said yesterday, Cameron’s reforms raise more questions than answers – and strangely become more obscure the closer you peek through this jargon riddled looking-glass.

Consider three flagship proposals: the emergency brake on benefits, the end of child benefits sent overseas and the red card on unwanted EU laws. Cameron’s ‘emergency brake’ is a key part of his new EU deal. The Prime Minister said recently that ‘people coming to Britain from the EU must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in work benefits or social housing’.

It sounds simple until you look at how it would work. The truth is it’s about as clear as North Korean rocket science. Cameron’s brake can only be used if the EU gives a green light. The UK must convince other members that a stop on benefits is ‘necessary’ because of the pressures from specifically EU migration with data Britain does not have. An emergency brake will be a temporary measure – this is no permanent policy Cameron had promised.

Cameron’s brake must be ‘proportionate’. The EU can agree an emergency brake is used in the UK or some other member state limiting it to just a year or two. What was to be a permanent four year brake is now a temporarily imposed measure from Brussels capped at four years maximum, but might always be for less than this. During this period, EU migrants will receive a growing share of in-work benefits. Not quite the ban for four years Cameron called for.

The emergency brake is meant to put a stop to child benefits for EU migrants, too. Cameron said: ‘we should end the practice of sending child benefit overseas’. But now we learn that any cap would not apply to any of the 150,000 or more EU migrants already in Britain - not one. Cameron has even been forced to admit migration his deal won’t cut migration either. It makes you wonder what’s the point of it all – a plan for its own sake?

A final key part of the EU reforms is a ‘red card’ for unwanted laws. But his proposal is more like a red card that does not always get players off the pitch – and the most convoluted of the lot.

Let’s start with the maths: all 28 EU countries have twelve weeks to get 55% or more ‘of the votes allocated to national Parliaments’ to stop it. This is as difficult to achieve as it is to understand – is that 55% of Parliaments or 55% of all members in national Parliaments? But before you do the sums, it gets worse.

Each Parliament that votes against a law must state its ‘reasoned opinions’ for it. Rejecting a proposed EU law is not enough – and a point missed thus far. (How could Westminster do that?) The European Council can then either let the bill die or it can ‘accommodate the concerns expressed’ through amending the bill so it can then become law.

Cameron’s flagship reforms can be summarised as an ‘emergency brake’ only operated by other drivers that doesn’t bring cars to a stop and a ‘red card’ that doesn’t throw all players off the pitch. Reforms they are; meaningful or readily intelligible they are not. Unsurprisingly, the initial polls are not looking good and ringing alarm bells in 10 Downing Street.

Speaking in Chippenham – coincidentally the birthplace of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – Cameron said his new deal is so good he would want Britain to join the EU on these terms if we were not already in.

But after two years his eagerly awaited deal looks dropped in less than a week. Gone is the pitch that Britain should stay in because of his new deal. Now a new tactic that Britain should remain out of the fear of what things would be like if there was a Brexit. Hope is replaced by fear.

What is surprising about Cameron’s claims that the Calais Jungle could move to Britain if there is a Brexit is not the absence of reality - the Treaty of Le Tourquet concerning the Eurotunnel is a bilateral agreement between the UK and France separate from the EU. No, the surprise is it took Cameron so little time to realise his much hyped reforms overegged the case for Remain – and more likely to push voters against them. 

When first announcing a referendum, Cameron said: ‘it is hard to argue that the EU would not be greatly diminished by Britain’s departure’. The big problem he faces is that we might say the same about him if the UK opts for a Brexit.

Cameron wanted a referendum about his legacy as well as the UK’s place in Europe. In tying them together, he risks losing both. Cameron’s best hope of seeing the UK in EU is to recognise its future does not depend on his new deal. Perhaps he can better achieve his future legacy by dropping the reforms that were to be its foundation. But would this be an act of statesmanship too much?

Thom Brooks is Professor of Law and Government at Durham University and regular LabourList contributor. His book Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined is published by Biteback next month. @thom_brooks


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Is the ‘persona’ veiling issues? - my new column in The Northern Echo

. . . about the latest twists and turns in the EU referendum debate in the UK. Link to piece here.

On George W. Bush winning a second term

I have recently come across a 2004 piece in The Northern Echo I was interviewed about re: George W. Bush winning a second term - link can be found here.

In the interview, I said:

"[. . .] A saving grace could be that Bush may now turn his attention to domestic issues, says Dr Thom Brooks, lecturer in political thought at Newcastle University. Extending his tax cuts may become a priority, along with opposition to abortion and gay marriage, which would be banned under a Constitutional amendment put forward by the born-again President.

"A lot of the states had referendums on gay marriage, and that hurt Kerry, because it reminded voters that Bush was against it," says Dr Brooks.

Along with the White House, the Republicans have not only retained both houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, but have tightened their grips, with their scalps including the Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who lost his South Dakota seat.

But while this could give the neo-conservatives in the White House a confidence boost, it could also act as a rein on their excesses, with their influence now diluted by a larger pool. Indeed, Bush may come under pressure to concentrate on what is happening at home, where his record has been less than impressive.

A massive and widening budget deficit, and the worst record on jobs of any president since Herbert Hoover 70 years ago, will not convince many newly-elected Republicans that they stand a good chance of retaining their seats next time.

In this regard, Bush's strength may turn into a weakness. He may have just won the election, but the US Constitution prohibits him from standing again, a factor that will weigh heavily in the minds of other Republican politicians.

"He has got four more years but this is the last term of this president," says Dr Hughes. "If the excesses become too much, it will work against those very people who have been elected on the coat-tails of the global war on terror."

But it is a characteristic of second term presidents that they look towards their place in history, according to Dr Brooks. When Bill Clinton worried about how he would be perceived, he embarked on a massive expansion of federal protected land, largely in the last 48 hours of his presidency.
For George W Bush, whose presidency has been dominated by the war on terror, he may see a decisive victory in this sphere as a suitable epitaph.
"He will begin to get worried about what the rest of the world thinks about him. That is what presidents do," says Dr Brooks. "The question is, will he try to solve the war on terror? Is that going to be his big thing?" [...]"

Well, we know how things turned out next.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Ethics of Policing and Prisons: The Sixth Bowling Green State University Workshop in Applied Ethics and Public Policy

Looking forward to speaking next week at this important event --

The Sixth Bowling Green State University Workshop in Applied Ethics and Public Policy

Friday and Saturday March 11-12, 2016

Keynote speakers:
Douglas Husak (Rutgers University) and Thom Brooks (Durham University)

Getting to Bowling Green
Registration and Meals

Please direct all inquiries to: Molly Gardner, mollyg@bgsu.edu

Workshop Schedule*

*Some alterations possible
Day 1: Friday, March 11th  
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Coffee & Breakfast  (Breakfast, lunch, and all talks will take place in the McFall Center Assembly Room)
9:30 – 10:20 a.m. Julinna Oxley (Coastal Carolina University)
“The Ethics of Feminist Policing”
Chair: TBD
10:20 – 11:10 a.m. Richard Lippke (Indiana University Bloomington)
“The Case against Jails”
Chair: Philip Stinson (Bowling Green State University)
11:10 – 11:40 a.m. Break & Refreshments
11:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Benjamin S. Yost (Providence College)
“What’s Wrong with Differential Punishment?”
Chair: TBD
12:30-2:15 p.m. Lunch
2:15-3:45 p.m. Keynote Speaker: Douglas Husak (Rutgers University)
“Proxy Offenses in Crime Prevention: The Special Case of Drug Proscriptions”
3:45-4:00 p.m. Break
4:00-4:50 p.m. Steven Swartzer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
“The Slurring Function of American Punishment”
Chair: Karin Coble (Law Office of Karin L. Coble)
6:00-7:00 p.m. Open Bar at SamB’s Restaurant
7:00-9:00 p.m. Dinner at Sam B’s Restaurant

Day 2: Saturday, March 12th  
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Coffee & Breakfast
9:30 – 10:20 a.m. David Birks (University of Kiel)
“Benefitting Offenders”
Chair: Geoff Pynn (Northern Illinois University)
10:20 – 11:10 a.m. Matt Whitt (Duke University)
Felon Disenfranchisement and Democratic Legitimacy”
Chair: TBD
11:10 – 11:40 a.m. Break & Refreshments
11:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Lori Gruen (Wesleyan University)
“Dignity Denied: Violence, Imprisonment, and Deadened Democratic Aspirations”
Chair: Jorge Mario Chaves (Bowling Green State University)
12:30-2:15 p.m. Lunch
2:15-3:45 p.m. Keynote Speaker: Thom Brooks (Durham University)
“Restorative Justice and Punitive Restoration”
3:45-4:00 p.m. Break
4:00-4:50 p.m. Mariam Kennedy (Indiana University Bloomington)
“A Liberal Theory of Punishment and Higher Education in Prisons”
Chair: Emma Young (Indiana University)

The NEW new politics - explaining Donald Trump

There have been many political surprises over the last few years. Each is characterised by a rejection of politics as usual and the status quo. From the SNP and UKIP to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election, voters from all sides of the political spectrum are giving their support for something different – if not something new – voicing a shred frustration with perceived Westminster elites.
I write from the United States where I’m a visiting fellow at Yale University during my research leave from my institutional home of Durham University. American politics has for a long time seen successive campaigns targeting career politicians and the so-called Washington, DC establishment. To be successful is to be seen as an alternative.
Witness the surprising lasting power of Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Trump is many things to different people, but standard politician he is not and so there is a part of the electorate that continues to provide strong support for this most unlikely of candidates.
This anti-‘the Consensus’ politics has now landed in Britain. Like most movements, it is built on myths taken by its adherents as obvious truths.
The first myth is that elected politicians are all the same no matter their different political parties. This can sometimes involve some near unbelievable comparisons. Drafting and defending cuts to public provision supporting a social safety net is rather different from agnosticism or opposition. What the majority in Parliament wants, they get. Saying no always and everywhere to anything the government does could make some feel better about their virtuous pedigree, but coming second – and losing – most votes for five years at a stretch is a winding path of despair pleasing only the career protestor – and even they can lose interest fast.
The myth that all Westminster politicians are alike is a nonsense. There is a gulf the size of a solar system that divides most Tory MPs from Labour and Lib Dem MPs on education, health, and the economy – and that’s before we account for differences in policies among party leadership. To reduce all MPs to a single issue or vote – like a welfare bill or the Iraq War – makes a simple narrative that may fit preconceived ideological views. But so often what is simple is simply a distortion of the greater complexity that is life and no less political life in Westminster.
The second myth is that politics in the capital need a redeemer that can play the role of political saviour. Someone who can cast out the vices and reassert the virtues.
But this gets wildly wrong what any one person can usually achieve as leader. Individuals can make for powerful figureheads, but organisations are composed of more than just that person. Such aspirations – if only there was the one right person, then everything else can or should fall into place – not only puts unrealistic pressure of expectations on the anointed one but they can also so easily lead to disappointment. Politics affords little time for hearts and minds to be won over.
These myths are especially powerful for the opposition as they campaign for change – or at least a change in which party has political power. It is no less existent in the US among the Republicans than in the UK among my fellow Labour Party members and supporters.
But I think there are also so cautionary tales worth telling. The first is that leadership campaigns are about choosing a party’s direction of travel – and this is now over. The new politics has arrived. Jeremy Corbyn has chosen his shadow cabinet and having his opportunities to set out his position – as is his right. To be clear, I support whoever is the leader of the Labour Party. The leadership contest is now done and dusted. Corbyn is our leader and I’m ready to assist his team however possible.
There are some among us who are a bit too oversensitive to any criticism the leadership receives. First it must be recognised that the ability to question and debate issues is at the very heart of Corbyn’s new politics. To ask for clarity is not to be disloyal – this is the democratic opening up of policy making that Corbyn’s supporters campaigned for. The politics of consensus is not a politics of unanimity, but of majority where we do not walk in lock step. Think coalitions of the willing issue by issue and not articles of faith.
Secondly it the campaign to win over the party cannot be the only aim. Labour must perform better in future contests. It was widely reported that many members supported Corbyn’s rise because they wanted a ‘real opposition’ and didn’t care much for electability. This certainly wasn’t true for many of his supporters I spoke with who are all about winning the next general election.
But the new poll out by YouGov reported by LabourList provides serious cause for reflection. I am not suggesting that party members are wrong to think Corbyn is doing well as leader – from the dire predictions that greeted his selection, he has done remarkably well in that regard.
And yet it is deeply concerning that the perception of our leader – and perhaps about politics – by Labour members is drifting away from where the public is. Note that if the public doesn’t support us, Labour will not win back power.
The easier road to victory is to move the party to the political centre – which every strategist will remind you is a moving target – where a majority of voters are found. The more difficult path to power is to move the public to where the party is – because this means not only winning over hearts and minds, but changing them.
What next? We can begin by burying the myths. Westminster is not Corbynistas versus The Others. It is much more complex than that – and the larger the coalitions within Parliament we can build then the more effective our opposition can become. Witness the success of Labour Peers for an instructive guide to how this can work and work well. Let’s also not hoist unrealistic expectations on our leaders and party for what can be achieved in the short-term. Voters are to be won over – no party is entitled to their votes. Even if the most progressive voice fighting for a Britain the public needs desperately. This is where the veterans on the doorstep are needed every bit as much as our welcome new members to get word out and win the public back.
Finally, I would be very wary about straying too far from where the voters. If the party wants to move left, it must get the public to move left with it. The voter is never wrong – he or she also chooses whoever is preferred. I’d caution against going too far too quickly because it only makes the task of winning over voters more difficult. Either way, alienating voters is a losing strategy. There is more work for all of us to do whatever our individual takes are on the big issues to get Labour into office again. I’m up for the challenge, but a challenge it is – so let’s act now because the next election is much closer than it appears.
Thom Brooks is Professor of Law and Government at Durham University, Visiting Fellow at Yale University’s Law School, columnist for Newcastle’s The Journal and Communications Lead for Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson @thom_brooks

STATEMENT: Calais Jungle closure

Calais Jungle closure continues: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35693882

-          French authorities have been slow to act in closing the Jungle because they expected the scenes we see today.

-          Calais migrants don’t want to stay in the Jungle – nor do they want to remain in France.

-          Many seem to fear that choosing to have their asylum claims heard in France will mean that they won’t be able to get to Britain.

-          But there is no right for migrants to claim asylum in any country of their choosing – if in France, the claims should be heard in France.

-          Gaining asylum and settlement in France would allow migrants to head to Britain in future – and lawfully.

-          But migrants wanting asylum claims heard in Britain seem unaware about 60% rejected – so coming to the UK might not have the result many expect.

STATEMENT: Boston Bomber Passed US Citizenship Test

-          One of the Boston bombers passed the US citizenship test about 3 months before the attack in 2013. The Chechen national was planning to become a US citizen.
-          Citizenship tests used in the US – and in the UK – as evidence that someone has accepted the values of new country and integrating.
-          This raises serious questions about whether any citizenship test can prove someone is integrating, instead of saying what authorities want to hear.
-          Lessons to be learned for UK government in this. One key finding in research for my book Becoming British (Biteback, 2016) out next month is forcing migrants to sit tests about British life few British citizens can pass does not appear to improve integration, but instead makes people feel more alienated.
-          Citizenship tests can be useful, but should not be expected to show too much.