Northern Ireland in crisis: What’s really at risk in a DUP/Tory deal

With wall-to-wall media coverage of leaving the EU and then a general election, if you live in England, Wales or Scotland you’d be forgiven for having no idea what’s been going on in Northern Ireland. In the days since the general election, people in the rest of the country who had no idea who the Democratic Unionist Party were until now have been outraged to discover the party’s views on homosexuality, abortion and climate change. While this outrage is justified it’s important not to let it overshadow how incredibly irresponsible it is of Theresa May to use the DUP to keep her party in power because of the effect this could have on the stability of Northern Ireland.

Let’s talk about the collapse of powersharing in Northern Ireland.
Here’s a list of the current members in the Northern Irish Executive in Stormont:

It’s been like this for three months. This crisis dates back to the Cash for Ash scandal involving current head of the DUP Arlene Foster. It’s a story of sleaze at the top of NI politics that would be difficult for any government to deal with. Add in the inherent sectarian tension in Northern Irish politics, plus heightened fears over a hard border post-Brexit, and it’s paralysing.

Sinn Fein pulled out of the executive in protest at Arlene Foster, triggering elections which eventually gave SF an increased vote share. They had six weeks after that point to form a government. SF demanded Foster step down as First Minister so an investigation could be carried out, but she refused.

The situation continued to get more tense.

The deadline for forming a government passed. At that point either another election had to be called, or the region would revert to Direct Rule. At this point Westminster woke up. Northern Ireland slipping back to Direct Rule months before Brexit negotiations was a situation they really wanted to avoid. So at the end of March James Brokenshire went over to NI to generally just ask people to try and get the two sides communicating. It didn’t work. He said there was no appetite for another election (true) and no appetite for Direct Rule (also true). So they just extended the deadline. This was at the end of March when the UK government had just triggered Article 50 and mainland news coverage was dominated by international posturing over Gibraltar. Should the media and UK government have been talking about the of the peace process in Northern Ireland instead? Probably.

The deadline for forming a government was put back yet further. Talks between SF & DUP were going nowhere. Things were tense and complicated. At that point probably the last thing they needed was a snap UK election, but that’s what they got. Suddenly Northern Ireland was facing yet another election while dealing with it’s own constitutional crisis. So the deadline was pushed back until after the UK election. The parties were now trying to negotiate while campaigning at the same time.

And so to the election results. Sinn Fein got 7 seats and the DUP got 10. The more moderate SDLP, UUP and Alliance didn’t win any seats, making Northern Ireland more polarised than ever.

During the election campaign there has been no discussion of Northern Ireland from the main parties or the mainland media. The only thing related to NI was in accusations from the rightwing papers about Corbyn’s “links” with the IRA. There was no discussion of the Stormont impasse, or even the border post-Brexit. Being part of the UK and having the only land border with an EU nation you’d think these issues would have been more prominent in the public debate.

So now with the start of Brexit negotiations looming there’s no Stormont government and mass confusion over the future status of the NI/Republic border.

Following three months of inaction, the DUP and Sinn Fein are at stalemate and the deadline after which direct rule could be imposed (29th June) looms again.

These problems will only be solved by careful, strategic leadership from Westminster, working with both parties to deescalate the situation. Theresa May trying to get the DUP to prop up a Conservative government may have destroyed any hope of that.

It’s been possible for the UK government to make progress on peace in Northern Ireland up until now because they remained neutral on NI politics. With the Conservatives relying on the DUP to remain in power, any pretence of neutrality is gone.

If the DUP enter into a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the Conservatives, the option of direct rule may no longer be viable as the DUP will have sway over Westminster that Sinn Fein will certainly object to. It throws the balance of power totally off.

Arlene Foster, who didn’t resign despite allegations of corruption will hold more power over the UK government than, well probably anyone.

With the DUP now hitching itself to the UK government, it’s hard to see how James Brokenshire will have any legitimacy in attempting to keep the peace.

It’s hard to imagine what will happen in Northern Ireland if neither power-sharing or direct rule are viable options. Power-sharing relies on the UK government remaining neutral, and if one side is in bed with the UK government the whole thing is undermined.

It seems incredibly irresponsible of Theresa May to throw Northern Ireland into chaos, putting the fragile peace that so many have worked so hard over decades to achieve at risk just so she can stay in power for a few more years. Or possibly even only a few more months.

What do the UK government think is going to happen when the 29th June deadline passes without the two sides reaching an agreement? Do they have a plan? Or is the extent of the plan “keep the DUP onside, stay in power”. These are questions that urgently need to be answered. I can only hope that MPs will be asking exactly these questions when Parliament resumes on Tuesday.

This article was loosley based on a series of tweets by Jack Bernhardt
If there are any errors please get in touch.

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2 million more registered to vote since election announcement

From BBC News:

JS61769769More than two million people have applied to register to vote in the month since Theresa May announced plans for a snap general election on 8 June.

The highest number of applications so far was on 18 April, the day the prime minister made her announcement, when just over 150,000 people applied.

The number of young people registering is the highest of any age group.

The deadline to register online through the official website is 23.59 GMT on Monday 22 May.

The latest official figures published in March, before the election was called, showed that 45.7 million people were registered to vote in a general election as of 1 December 2016.

The Electoral Commission have warned that approximately seven million people across Britain who are eligible to vote are not registered, including 30% of under 34s while only 28% of home movers in the past year have registered.

Anyone wanting to vote on 8 June who is not already on the electoral register needs to sign up. It takes five minutes to register online if you live in England, Wales or Scotland. Alternatively, people can fill out and return a written form by post.

Spike expected

People are advised they may need their National Insurance number or their passport if they are a British citizen living abroad.

If you live in Northern Ireland you must fill in a form and take it to your local electoral office.

Since 18 April, 2.014 million people have signed up to vote although it has yet to be confirmed how many have been added to the electoral register.

Although the number of people applying has dropped off a little after an initial flurry in mid-April, there are still significant numbers of voters making sure they can have their say at the ballot box.

In six out of the past seven days, applications have exceeded 100,000. Of those applying to vote each day, nearly 40% have been under-25s, although people of all ages have been signing up.

The 150,364 people who applied to register on 18 April was the biggest total recorded for a single day since the EU referendum campaign in 2016.

There is expected to be a spike of applications in the run-up to Monday’s deadline.

In 2015, 500,000 people applied to vote on deadline day while registration for the EU referendum in 2016 had to be extended by 48 hours after the website crashed in the final few hours.

Both Instagram and Snapchat will be carrying prominent reminders of the deadline on Monday in order to encourage their users to sign up.

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Government axes climate change department

From BBC News:
The government has axed the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) in a major departmental shake-up.

The brief will be folded into an expanded Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy under Greg Clark.

Ed Miliband, the former energy and climate secretary under Labour, called the move “plain stupid”.

It comes at a time when campaigners are urging the government to ratify the Paris climate change deal.

In his statement, Mr Clark appeared keen to calm concerns about the priority given to tackling global warming.

He said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading Government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”

Meanwhile, Andrea Leadsom, who ran against Theresa May for the Conservative leadership, is the new Environment Secretary.

Ms Leadsom succeeds Liz Truss, who is taking over as Secretary of State for Justice after a two-year tenure at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
One of the most pressing items on the environment agenda is the ratification of the Paris climate deal, which was inked last year.

Labour’s former leader and one-time climate secretary Ed Miliband has been among those urging the government the agreement as soon as possible.

Although the UK has signed up, it needs to formally join the agreement with a communication to the UN.

Mr Miliband had been concerned that “climate sceptics” might try to derail the deal if they gain positions of power in the new administration.

On the changes at DECC, he tweeted: “Abolition just plain stupid. Climate not even mentioned in new dept. title. Matters because depts shape priorities shape outcomes.”

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett described the news as “shocking”.
“Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face,” he said.

“If Theresa May supports strong action on climate change, as she’s previously said, it’s essential that this is made a top priority for the new business and energy department and across government.”

Insiders fear that uncertainty over leaving the EU could undermine EDF’s commitment to Hinkley Point
However, David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, commented: “The new Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy can be a real powerhouse for change, joining up Whitehall teams to progress the resilient, sustainable, and low carbon infrastructure that we urgently need.”

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), said: “Moving energy policy to the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should give ministers a fresh impetus to ensure that the costs for consumers and businesses are driven down, not pushed further up.”

One pressing item in Mr Clark’s in-tray is the possible effect leaving the EU could have on the £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear power station project.

French energy giant EDF is a key investor in the project and there are concerns that the uncertainty over Brexit could undermine its commitment.

Speaking earlier, Angus Brendan MacNeil, chair of the Commons energy and climate select committee, has pointed out that pre-referendum, “EDF was investing in another EU member state”. Now, he added, “that is no longer the case”. However, EDF officials have said they remain committed to the project.

There will also be big changes to the way farming operates – something for Ms Leadsom’s in-tray at Defra. The impact on food prices and the effects of losing direct subsidies are among the questions the department will need to address.

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Nottinghamshire police adopt new crime category to tackle street harassment

From The Guardian:

Uninvited sexual advances and unwanted verbal contact with a woman, including catcalling or wolf-whistling in the street, are to be recorded as a hate crimes in a new effort to tackle sexist abuse.

Nottinghamshire police has expanded its categories of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents, characterised as behaviour targeted towards a victim simply because they are a woman.

This means incidents ranging from street harassment to unwanted physical approaches can be reported to and investigated by the police, and support put in place for victims.

The force is the first in the country to adopt the separate misogyny hate crime category, and has provided specific training to selected officers in the past three months.

Commenting on the new procedures, introduced in partnership with Nottingham Women’s Centre, Ch Con Sue Fish said: “I’m delighted that we are leading the way towards tackling misogyny in all its forms.

“It’s a very important aspect of the overall hate crime work being conducted and one that will make Nottinghamshire a safer place for all women. What women face, often on a daily basis, is absolutely unacceptable and can be extremely distressing.”

Work on the change began in June 2014 after a research project, which led on to a conference at which women gave examples of harassment they had faced.

Fish encouraged anyone affected by misogynistic hate crime to contact police without hesitation. “The work we are doing with Nottingham Women’s Centre is so valuable and I am looking forward to continuing that work,” she added.

Melanie Jeffs, the manager at the centre, said: “We’re pleased to see Nottinghamshire police recognise the breadth of violence and intimidation that women experience on a daily basis in our communities.

“Understanding this as a hate crime will help people to see the seriousness of these incidents and hopefully encourage more women to come forward and report offences.”

The Nottinghamshire force defines a hate crime as “any incident which may or may not be deemed as a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hatred”.

Domestic abuse is not included within the scope of misogyny hate crime as it is dealt with under its own procedures.

Misogyny hate crime is classed under the new policy as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.

Examples of such incidents may include unwanted or uninvited sexual advances, physical or verbal assault, unwanted or uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement, and use of mobile phones to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent.

Last year, a building firm was investigated by police after a 23-year-old woman, Poppy Smart, reported men wolf-whistling at her in the street.

While the matter was dropped when dropped Smart was satisfied it had been handled internally by the firm, it was believed to be the first time police had investigated wolf-whistling as a potential crime.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “It is great that police in Nottingham will be capturing the way a lot of harassment in public spaces is targeted at women and girls. In a recent poll we found that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching, which can amount to sexual assault.

“This level of harassment is having an enormous impact on women’s freedom to move about in the public space as it makes women feel a lot less safe. The women we spoke to do a lot of work to feel safer, including avoiding parts of the city they live in, taking taxis and leaving events in groups.”

Krys said recording such incidents would give police and policymakers a much clearer grasp on the levels of harassment women and girls are subjected to, and better understand measures which could reduce it.

“It should also challenge the idea that women and girls in public or online spaces are ‘fair game’,” she added. “We know that ignoring harassment and sexist bullying creates the impression that other types of violence against women will be tolerated so we welcome any action which counters this.”

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US refused to prosecute HSBC money laundering citing “market risk”

From BBC News:

US officials refused to prosecute HSBC for money laundering in 2012 because of concerns within the Department of Justice that it would cause a “global financial disaster”, a report says.
A US Congressional report revealed UK officials, including Chancellor George Osborne, added to pressure by warning the US it could lead to market turmoil.

The report alleges the UK “hampered” the probe and “influenced” the outcome.

HSBC was accused of letting drug cartels use US banks to launder funds.

The bank, which has its headquarters in London, paid a $1.92bn (£1.48bn) settlement but did not face criminal charges . No top officials at HSBC faced any charges.

‘Serious implications’
The report says: “George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UK’s chief financial minister, intervened in the HSBC matter by sending a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke… to express the UK’s concerns regarding US enforcement actions against British banks.”

The letter said that prosecuting HSBC could have “very serious implications for financial and economic stability, particularly in Europe and Asia”.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said a series of factors were considered when deciding how to resolve a case, including whether there may be “adverse consequences for innocent third parties, such as employees, customers, investors, pension holders and the public”.

The report also accuses former US Attorney General Eric Holder of misleading Congress about the decision.

The report says Mr Holder ignored the recommendations of more junior staff to prosecute HSBC because of the bank’s “systemic importance” to the financial markets.

‘Misleading comments’
“Rather than lacking adequate evidence to prove HSBC’s criminal conduct, internal Treasury documents show that DOJ [Department of Justice] leadership declined to pursue [the] recommendation to prosecute HSBC because senior DOJ leaders were concerned that prosecuting the bank ‘could result in a global financial disaster’,” the report said.

Instead, the Department of Justice and HSBC reached the settlement, which some politicians criticised for being too lenient.

Testifying before Congress in 2013 Mr Holder said the size of some financial institutions can make it difficult to bring criminal charges.

He later tried to clarify those remarks telling Congress: “If we find a bank or a financial institution that has done something wrong, if we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, those cases will be brought.”

Congress’s report deemed these comments to be misleading in light of emails from Treasury Department staff that recommended criminal charges.

Mexican cartel
The 2012 settlement with HSBC detailed how the bank violated US sanctions by conducting business for customers in Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba.

HSBC accounts were also used by the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico and Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia to launder $881m.

The settlement allowed the bank to avoid pleading guilty to any wrongdoing.
If HSBC had been proven guilty of criminal action, it could have lost its banking charter in the US.

HSBC and US regulators declined to comment on the report.
The UK Treasury has not commented either.

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G4S workers suspended amid allegations of bogus 999 calls

From The Independent:
Five police control room staff working for the private security company G4S have been suspended following allegations they called 999 at quiet times to massage performance figures.

The workers, who are employed by G4S Public Services and work for Lincolnshire Police, are alleged to have made the bogus calls to ensure faster call answering times were recorded.

Lincolnshire Police, who confirmed the five workers had been suspended in a statement released on Monday, added that they will be “seeking further information by interviewing these members of staff jointly with G4S”.

The statement added: “These matters will now be dealt with through staff disciplinary procedures and the investigation must take its course.”

“We have established that at no stage has there been any risk to the safety of members of the public… arrangements have been made for the smooth operation of the force control room to continue and the service to the public will not be adversely affected.”

Managing director for G4S Public Services, John Shaw, added: “We have suspended five employees today and have taken swift action to begin our investigation process.

“While I can reassure the public that at no stage did the actions of these people put the public or police colleagues at risk, I am nevertheless dismayed that this group of staff sought to influence important performance measurements. We continue to work closely with the force and share any data and other information required.

“There is no place for anyone in our organisation who behaves in this way and their actions undermine the commitment and the good work of their colleagues.”

The Crown Prosecution Service has said that there is no evidence of criminal activity at this stage, instead the inquiry is an internal disciplinary matter. The alleged illegitimate test calls were made in October, November and December 2015. In November and December the handlers failed to meet targets, dipping to 90.19% in November and 89.24% in December.

Watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission supervised the probe. The Lincolnshire Police 999 call centre is the only one managed by G4S.

“These are incredibly serious allegations,” said Labour’s Shadow police minister Jack Dromey. “Emergency response times can mean the difference between life and death, and yet call data appears to have been purposely manipulated.”

“Time and time again G4S have let down the public. This case raises serious questions about the ability of G4S to play a role in vital and sensitive public contracts.”

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17 Edinburgh schools built under private finance close over structural safety

From BBC News:

City of Edinburgh Council leader Andrew Burns has said his authority had ‘no option’ but to close schools over safety concerns.
Seventeen schools in the city are to be closed indefinitely from Monday.
The schools were all built as part of the city’s private finance programme.
Galliford Try, which in 2014 acquired the company which built the four schools closed last month, has now said it supports the closures while investigations take place.
Councillor Burns told BBC Radio Scotland the Edinburgh Schools Partnership, which operates the buildings, had told the council last week that the schools were safe.
Mr Burns said that advice changed late on Friday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Galliford Try, which acquired Miller Construction in 2014, said: “We support the council’s precautionary closures of those buildings that were also part of the PPP programme while further investigations take place.
“We will continue to work with our design team and all the stakeholders involved to remedy any issue that may arise during this further investigation as soon as possible.”

Mr Burns said: “I’m extremely disappointed that the Edinburgh Schools Partnership have not been able to give us confirmation that the schools are structurally safe to open on Monday.
“We’ve been left with no option other than to close the schools on a precautionary basis.”

He added: “On Tuesday we were written to by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership and told that the buildings were safe for occupancy.
“Than on Friday late afternoon into early evening we received a subsequent letter saying that they were withdrawing that confirmation.”
Mr Burns said although the council would to find space in the rest of the schools to accommodate the 9000 pupils affected, it was likely that some would have to stay at home.
He said it appeared the fault uncovered at Oxgangs primary yesterday is not related to outside walls, which was the previous cause for concern.

The Scottish government is to hold a meeting of its resilience committee to look at what it can do to assist.
Education Secretary Angela Constance said: “The safety of children, young people and staff in our schools is paramount, and I recognise the concern of parents.
“I am reassured by the prompt action taken by Edinburgh City Council.”
She added: “It is too early to assess any wider implications for schools in other parts of Scotland.
“However, Scottish government officials have written to all local authorities this weekend to ask them to carry out any necessary checks on their own estate as soon as possible.
“We understand that all of the affected buildings in Edinburgh were completed over ten years ago. We will ensure that, as more information about the nature of the issue in Edinburgh is established, this is passed on to other local authorities to assist them in this process.”

The problems were first uncovered in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary collapsed during high winds.
Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.
The schools were all expected to re-open after the Easter break.
But City of Edinburgh Council said a fresh concerns had been raised during remedial work at Oxgangs Primary on Friday.
It said Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which constructed the buildings and manages them on behalf of the council, was unable to give assurances that buildings built under the Public Private Partnership 1 (PPP1) were safe.
These include 17 schools – 10 primaries, five secondaries and two additional support needs schools – and the Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

School closures – timeline
29 January – high winds during Storm Gertrude lead to a wall collapsing at Oxgangs Primary
School re-opens a few days later
16 March – Oxgangs Primary closes again after safety inspection reveals problems with the way the wall was built
18 March – three more schools built under Public Private Partnership 1 closed following safety inspections
8 April – All 17 schools and a community centre built under same private finance initiative closed indefinitely

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Clearly the safety of children and young people in our schools is paramount.
“We are working closely with Edinburgh city council to understand the issue and to provide any support necessary to minimise the impact on pupils.”
The council said the latest problems identified were not “directly related” to the original issues that forced the closure of Oxgangs Primary.
The schools affected are Braidburn School, Broomhouse Primary, Castleview Primary, Craigour Park Primary, Craigmount High, Craigroyston Primary, Drummond Community High, Firrhill High, Forthview Primary, Gracemount High, Oxgangs Primary School, Pirniehill Primary, Rowanfield, Royal High, St David’s Primary, St Joseph’s Primary and St Peters RC Primary.
The council said it was too early to say when the schools would re-open but it would update parents next week.
In the meantime it recommended that they make childcare arrangements.
The authority said it would try to put in place alternative schooling provision with priority given to special needs pupils and those due to sit exams next month.
Updates will be posted on the council website.
Schools in Glasgow and Fife were inspected last week, and both local authorities said schools would be open as normal on Monday.
However Glasgow council has decided to undertake more surveys next week in light of the recent news.
Signed in 2001, Edinburgh’s Public Private Partnership deal for schools was worth £360m.
In return for 30 years of fixed payments from the council, a private consortium designed, built and managed the schools.
The four Edinburgh schools closed last month were all built by Miller Construction, which was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014.
Inspections have been taking place in Glasgow, Fife and Inverclyde of other schools built by Miller Construction.

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Protesters calling for Cameron resignation march on Downing Street and Conservative spring conference

From Huffington Post:

Before marching to the Tory Spring Conference in Holborn, protesters gather outside London’s Downing Street calling for Prime Minister, David Cameron to resign over his involvement in the ‘Panama Papers’ affair. Protest groups such as the People’s Assembly and Class War are demanding the government close tax loopholes that allow British companies to avoid UK taxes using offshore tax havens. Featuring: View Where: London, United Kingdom When: 09 Apr 2016 Credit:

Hundreds of demonstrators besieged the hotel where David Cameron gave a speech to the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference on Saturday.

In a bid to pressure the Prime Minister to either resign or close tax loopholes, protestors marched from Downing Street to the entrance of The Grand Connaught Rooms in London.

Many of those attending the rally told The Huffington Post UK they believed the “tide had turned” on Cameron since the Panama Papers revealed his late father’s tax arrangements.

Jack, a second-year junior doctor wearing his bright blue scrubs to the demo, told HuffPost UK: “I’ve not found the [Panama] revelations at all that surprising.

“We’ve known for six years we have a Cabinet full of millionaires, and that’s what millionaires do: avoid tax.

“This is very damaging for Cameron and we should put the pressure on and show him it’s completely wrong to vilify people on benefits when he’s deny taxes that are due.”

Beata, a Polish citizen whose lived in the UK for 11 years, said: “We know it’s all fucked up but the hypocrisy that was highlighted by the Panama Papers which shows Cameron benefiting until he became Prime Minister… he’s daring to say we should pay the taxes?

“I think at the moment, he is at his weakest.”

Despite having been organised on Friday morning, around 1,000 demonstrators attended Saturday’s march.

Abi Wilkinson, one of the event’s organisers, said on Friday: “We’re hoping to have a fun, tropical party vibe and to get ordinary people out rather than committed activist types.”

The atmosphere was jovial, with tropical music blaring from portable speakers at both Downing Street and the Connaught conference venue.

The spectre of a pig piñata, waving high above the march, guided protestors towards the Tory Spring forum, being held a mile away from Number 10.

The piñata was ceremoniously whacked by demonstrators in front of the conference venue.

It’s creator told HuffPost UK he decided to get involved in Saturday’s action, and thought the image of a pig was the natural choice.

Artist Gavin Turk said: “The idea of hanging him up and everyone hitting him with the stick appealed to me.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so far it all seems very jolly and everyone is really together in saying we think it’s rubbish what the government are up to.

“It seems strange that if [David Cameron] knows and has knowledge of tax avoidance situations then he should get right on to it to benefit everybody and to benefit society.

“He’s turning the country into a ‘moneytocracy’ – if you have the money you can do what you like.

“Greed is guiding this, it’s limiting people’s choice and it’s making society unwell.”

Kathleen, who has been involved in protests against cuts in the past, told HuffPost UK: “I’d been quite clued into tax avoidance since the Private Eye investigation into Vodafone.

“But I’m so happy the Panama Papers have come out as it gives us a lot of evidence, very specific evidence.

“We can literally point at specific people – it couldn’t be better. It’s easier for people to unite around this when they have specific detail.

“I think this is going mainstream. There’s so much we don’t know about yet.”

Esme, wearing a bright red Momentum badge, said: “It’s important to do this today to keep the issue going.

“I don’t think Cameron will go today but the idea is to put as much pressure on and to let him know the mood has changed and he’s not welcome.

“Even if it’s within the Tory party itself, they’re weak enough as it is.”

The protest came as David Cameron used his speech at the Spring Conference to say there is only one person to “blame” for the furore over his taxes.

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Theresa May ‘wrongly deported 48,000 students’ after BBC Panorama exposes TOEIC scam

From Independent:

Home Secretary Theresa May allegedly wrongly deported up to 50,000 international students after an English test cheating scam at one school was used to incriminate all who had sat the test.

According to The Hindu news site, the Home Office was responsible for wrongly deporting 48,000 people after a BBC Panorama documentary in February 2014 claimed to have uncovered fraudulent activity at an East London school involving overseas students sitting the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

Shortly after, in June 2014, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire made a statement to Parliament in which he said an investigation post-Panorama found evidence of 46,000 “invalid and questionable” tests.

Following on from that investigation, Mrs May took the decision to revoke the sponsorship licences of around 60 educational institutions, and detain and remove tens of thousands of international students who had obtained the TOEIC certificate in the past.

Now, though, the news of the figure has come shortly after the Upper Tribunal (Asylum and Immigration) made a damning ruling on 23 March that the Home Secretary’s evidence suffered from “multiple frailties and shortcomings.”

At the tribunal’s judgement, President Honourable Mr Justice McCloskey, said: “The evidence adduced on behalf of the Secretary of State emerged paled and heavily weakened by the examination to which it was subjected.”

“In the sporting world, a verdict of ‘no contest’ would have been appropriate at this juncture.”

The tribunal also found there was no evidence from any English Testing Service (ETS) witness – the US firm behind the test which was contracted by the Home Office. The president said: “Almost remarkably, ETS provided no evidence, directly or indirectly, to this tribunal,” further labelling the firm’s actions as “mildly astonishing.”

He concluded: “The legal burden of proof falling on the Secretary of State has not been discharged. The Appellants are clear winners.”

The landmark verdict could now see thousands of deported students return to the UK and claim compensation after Mrs May’s actions.

A member of the Indian Workers’ Association told the Hindustan Times that 70 per cent of the 48,000 affected students were Indian, adding: “Due to their personal and national humiliation, many left of their own accord, the majority were deported.”

In an email to the Independent, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government continues to tackle abuse of our immigration system and protect the reputation of our world class education institutions.

“The investigation into the abuse of English language testing in 2014 revealed extremely serious, large scale, organised fraud.

“We are very disappointed by the decision and are awaiting a copy of the full determination to consider next steps including an appeal. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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MPs could face ban on hiring family and spouses under expenses review

From Independent:

MPs who employ relatives and claim money to rent accomodation could soon be blocked under a new review of politicians’ expenses.

Thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money could be taken from MPs who have claimed it in order to pay for second homes for their children and put family members on payrolls.

Officials at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority said they were “taken aback” by the number of MPs – 18 in total – who employed a spouse or family member last year.

A source in Ipsa told the Sunday Times: “Quite a few people have done this.

“Everybody has been […] taken aback and is aware of what the committee [on standards] said, so we are having another look at this.”

Proposals to ban family members from working for MPs following Parliament’s expenses scandal were dropped by Ipsa after a backlash from politicians – with the caveat that they were restricted to putting just one family member on the pay roll.

MPs who currently do so include Labour MP Jess Phillips, whose husband Tom works as her constituency support officer, and Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who employs his wife Felicity in the same role.

Problems with the MP expenses’ system have been highlighted again through the recent scandal surrounding Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who claimed money for his children to live in a second flat in London.

MPs are allowed to claim up to £2,425 a year towards renting a second home if they have children or other dependants “routinely residing” there.

But Mr Danczuk claimed expenses when his children were not staying at his flat in London routinely enough over three years to warrant the help, Ipsa found in March 2016. The Rochdale MP admitted the fault and was told to pay back £11,583.20 over an unspecified period.

Ninety-three MPs claimed £145,422 of taxpayer’s money for the same “uplift” allowance during 2015, The Sunday Times revealed.

Ipsa’s board minutes say the specific areas to be reviewed are MP’s accomodation, their staffing regulations, and family issues “including the employment of connected parties.”

A spokesperson told The Independent: “We will be running a comprehensive review of the scheme of expenses and costs, a review of all areas in terms of accomodation, staffing expenditure, travel and so on.

“It’s because we feel it’s the right time because we haven’t looked at it for the last few years.”

Ipsa has also reportedly increased funds to its compliance unit from £10,000 to £90,000 to deal with such issues.

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