Fascinating discussions at Lviv Book Forum


Several fascinating discussions at the Lviv Book Forum organised by the Hay Festival. Serious debate about the role of oligarchs in British cultural and political life

October 2022

If you missed the debates at the Lviv Book Forum you missed some of the best debates this year especially its focus on the role of Russian oligarchs and their dirty money in influencing British cultural and political life. Debates of this nature seldom make it into the open air in Britain, one reason being – as was explained – because of the effective lack of free speech in the UK arising from the punitive nature of our libel laws. Oligarchs and other wealthy individuals can launch what are termed SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) which effectively silence critics and frighten publishers and journalists. Costing millions to defend they exert a chilling effect in the UK and make Britain the libel capital of the world.

Why do Russians come to Britain and establish themselves here? This was a major part of the discussion because they are to be found in other parts of the world. There were a number of factors which made Britain particularly attractive it was explained. Firstly, English which was spoken internationally. Secondly, it was the no questions asked culture here: no one asked where the money came from and the agencies which were supposed to check on this kind of thing, looked the other way. Our private schools were another attraction as was easy access to and entry into, the political elite. Members of the Lords for example, were happy to sit on various boards of companies set up by the oligarchs. This easy access to the elite meant all sorts of powerful people were happy to attend parties where political influence took place. Fourthly, Oliver Bullough also spoke of the wide range of services offered in London for example, legal, financial and public relations. The ‘easy come, easy go’ culture combined to make London the key magnet for dirty money and illegal wealth.

One of the participants, Catherine Belton, spoke of the ease with which assets were acquired for example football clubs such as Chelsea. This provided further cultural power and how sports journalists were only too happy to criticise her work in return of favours and interviews with key players.

Misha Glenny explained the origins of the whole process which (as ever) started during Mrs Thatcher’s premiership although he said it carried on under Major, Blair and Brown and is well and truly alive today. Mrs Thatcher’s central plank was to reduce subsidies for the arts and encourage private patronage. This opened to door for wealthy individuals to put money into galleries, museums and orchestras and other cultural institutions. It also gave them influence over the sort of things which are put on.

But more importantly, it gave them a philanthropic reputation which brings us back to the libel issue because, to pursue a libel claim, you had to establish a reputation to defend here. Their philanthropy did this even though the sums involved were peanuts in terms of the wealth extracted from Russia.

The Independent (?) online newspaper, owned by an oligarch was give as an example with a piece it published regretting the non-invitation to Vladimir Putin to the Queen’s funeral.

In the following day’s session, Phillippe Sands spoke of the huge sums given to the Conservative party. He also spoke of the somewhat different opinion in the UK of Boris Johnson to that which he enjoys in Ukraine. The view in the UK was more ambiguous and even sinister. The point being that when Russia first started on its activities in that country, there were many in the UK who were able to downplay its importance and many happy to claim that ‘Ukraine was always part of Russia’.

The combination of these forces, the highly successful political and cultural influence the oligarchs had acquired, the ‘no questions asked’ financial milieu and the ease with which money could be siphoned off to network of tax havens centred on London, combined with massively expensive and oppressive libel laws, meant the UK’s political process has been compromised.

The implication for human rights is clear. Wealth and influence buys silence and complicity.

Matters changed with the invasion in February. Oligarch’s assets were frozen and the plight of Ukrainians could no longer be brushed away. Film of Russia’s activities, the massive number of human rights abuses and evidence of torture together with bombing civilian targets, became obvious to all. Suddenly, things Ukrainian were everywhere, with a concert at the Albert Hall for example and Ukrainian food being more visible. However, the speakers were not convinced this would be permanent. The scale of their financial power and the likelihood of compassion fatigue would probably mean over time, their steady return and influence.


If you missed it then you can access it via this link. Books referred to:

Moneyland, Oliver Bullough,

McMafia, Misha Glenny

Putin’s People, Catherine Belton

Refugee Report – June


Refugee Summary

July 2022

Following the frenetic events of the last week, it is probably worth taking a moment to see where we stand on the refugee front, 60 years after the first Commonwealth Immigrants Act began the process of legislating against incomers. The Nationality and Borders Act has now brought into force more of its provisions, including a Home Office explanation of  ”differentiation” between different types of refugee (the proposed two-tier system).  The effect is that it will take longer for some arrivals to be granted residency and harder for them to bring family to join them, but the changes are not huge, according to human rights lawyer, Colin Yeo, who commented:

The policy exemplifies Priti Patel’s modern Home Office.  It pretends to be tough as old boots but in reality it creates genuine but fairly minor problems for very vulnerable people with no likely policy outcomes achieved.  What it does do is make more work for officials, thereby worsening the backlogs in the asylum system.  It is not just pointless; it is actually counterproductive.

However, AI has commented in its monthly report to local groups the effect of the government’s effective withdrawal from the UN Refugee Convention (See foot of page).

The Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which had opened in January, and is meant to take 20,000 refugees, has now added guidance on those seeking to come via Pathway 3 (mostly employees of UK organisations in Afghanistan).  Three groups have been established; those who had places allocated, but missed out (who will be assisted); those who came via the UNHCR (who can now begin to be referred) and those others at risk, such as women and girls (1500 places allocated).

In May, 2,871 migrants were apprehended crossing the Channel by small boat compared with 1,627 in May 2021, a 75% increase. Similarly, during the first three months of 2022, 4,540 people were detected arriving by small boats compared with 7,432 during the last half of April, May and June after the MoD took over.  The Navy is said to be keen to be let off enforcing control f the Channel, a policy on which they were not consulted.

By mid-June 77,000 Ukrainian refugees had entered the UK and 135,000 visas issued.  It may be noted that Germany has so far taken 700,000 refugees.

Although the courts have not yet decided whether offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful, the Home Office plans further flights.  The HO said “No court has actually ruled that this partnership is unlawful and that includes the ECHR.”  Thanks are due to group members Peter and Lesley for protesting the planned flight from Boscombe Down and subsequent press appearances.

On the subject of tagging claimants, a 12-month pilot scheme is planned to test its value as a monitor and for collecting data – it is already in use for those on bail.

On the vexed issue of the actual ages of asylum seekers, the Home Office is recruiting 40 social workers to help assess claimants’ ages using “scientific” methods.

Statistics
  • Asylum claims Jan-Mar 2022 12,508 (for 2021 2,022)
  • Main countries of departure – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea
  • Number waiting more than 6 months for a decision Q1 70,000 in 2017 the number was 14,000)
  • 75% of applicants receive grants of protection (Syrians are at 98%).
  • It is worth noting that the equivalent percentage in 2010 was 25% and in 1995 4% (with fewer applicants, iof course).
  • The number of enforced returns in 2020 was 3,000 (in 2010 15,000),
  • And voluntary returns 5,000 (against 30,000).

Clearly, asylum seekers are far more likely to be granted residence now than in earlier years, but are subject to far longer waits for the process to complete. Whether the new Act will alter this is open to debate.

Also: –

The Napier Barracks, which became notorious as an inadequate location for prospective arrivals, has been deemed to have improved since the original aim.  No immigrants now will spend more than 90 days there.

A Lords Committee looking into the document “Life in the UK”, prepared for those seeking settlement or citizenship, have described it as a “random election of obscure facts and subjective assertions.”

Refugee Week was held in late June this year, but passed with disappointingly little media coverage. AI supported a number of events under the umbrella.

Amnesty’s comment on the new refugee legislation:

On 28th June, the UK’s interpretation of the definition of a refugee and the rights to which every person who is a refugee is entitled will significantly change from that required by the Refugee Convention. What does this mean? It means the government is unlawfully rewriting its shared obligations under international law. To the extent, it is dangerously undermining what our country, not only agreed to, but helped draft and negotiate in 1951. 

These changes are lawless and reckless.  Its consequences directly contradict our values of shared humanity and compassion and have been rightly rejected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, leading lawyers, and former senior judges in the UK.

Here are five things you need to know:

  1. The evidence refugees need to provide will become overly obstructive and wrongly prevent some refugees from proving their status and rights, making the lives of people that have fled war and persecution even harder.
  2. People who claim asylum based on their sexual identity or orientation being the cause of the persecution they face, will need to meet extra tests.  This will exclude thousands from the asylum they are entitled to and that they need to safeguard them from persecution.
  3. Refugees that arrive or enter the UK without prior permission will be penalised, both by criminal prosecution, imprisonment and by exclusion from their full rights to asylum in the UK, directly violating the Refugee Convention. 
  4. It will lead to the government refusing asylum to those who arrive or enter the UK without prior permission, presenting a grave risk that people are sent back to torture and other forms of persecution.
  5. It will discriminate between refugees in the UK by denying many of them their full and equal rights to asylum under the Refugee Convention. It will leave them:
  6. Insecure by periods of short-term permission to stay that must be constantly renewed by formal application
  7. Impoverished by exclusion from public funds
  8. Separated from family by denying or delaying family reunion rights.

Andrew Hemming

Death penalty report, June/July


We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling this. There is a lot this time about Ukraine and as usual, the USA and its tortuous processes especially in the southern states. Note that there is no report on China which is believed to execute more of its citizens that the rest of the world combined but where information is a state secret.

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