Thursday, June 08, 2006

Radical Moves

You might not know it but yesterday saw the Prime Minister announce the most fundamental shift in British foreign policy since, well, ever. Strangely, the media hasn't bothered to report it.

Bear with me as it's probably a good idea to look at the context before discussing the radical policy shift itself. The announcement was made during PMQs when Sir Menzies asked about rendition.
Sir Menzies: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the United Kingdom has given no logistical support for rendition to the CIA nor provided any information to be used in torture?

Tony Blair: We have said absolutely all that we have to say on this. There is nothing more to add to it. The Council of Europe report adds nothing new whatever to the information that we have.
Blair, as usual on "this", is very careful not to actually answer the question or issue a denial. If he really wants people to stop asking him about this, why doesn't he just answer the questions he's asked? It's no wonder that people are suspicious when the PM can't provide a straight answer to a straight question. That, of course, isn't new. He's been making these non-denials from the first moment people started asking him about rendition and UK involvement in it.

Sir Menzies follows up:
Sir Menzies: I think that the Prime Minister might find careful reading of the Council of Europe report particularly rewarding. It says that rendition involves disappearances, secret detention and unlawful transfers to countries that practise torture. On 7 December the Prime Minister told the House that he fully endorsed rendition. Does he still do so now?

Tony Blair: I think that what I actually said was that rendition had been the policy of the American Government for a long period, under the last Administration as well as this Administration. We have kept Parliament informed of all the requests that we are aware of: four in 1998, two of which were granted and two declined.
Note the standard insertion of the "that we are aware of" caveat and remember that the Blair has not actually asked the US government whether they've been using the UK as part of the illegal transportation set-up. It would be the simplest of things for Blair to find out the truth from his closest ally and answer without these qualifications. He continues to refuse to do so. Again, this is nothing new.

But it's the final sentence of Blair's "answer" which reveals the dramatic new approach to foreign policy. It is possibly the biggest change undertaken by any country in the history of international relations. Are you ready?
Tony Blair: As for the rest of what is in the Council of Europe's report, that concerns other countries, and obviously I am not in a position to speak about them.
It is an extraordinary reversal for the once proudly inverventionist Blair. He no longer believes he is in a position to speak about, never mind interfere in, the behaviour of other countries. There are to be no more Iraq's. No more condemnations of the Iranian government's nuclear programme. No comment on the behaviour of foreign government's whatsoever, in fact. The UK is to become a neutral country; like Switzerland but with less holes in our cheese.


Or will Blair just say anything, no matter how utterly ridiculous, in order to avoid answering questions on the behaviour of the US government?

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Charlie Whitaker said...

Maybe consistency just isn't Tony's thing. Goes a bit like this: too many things to keep in the head at one time. Can't resolve the contradictions. Never mind; shoot mouth off anyway.

I've found out - to my cost - that letting it be known that you have contempt for other people's dimness is a great way of really pissing off other people. Of course, with respect to Tony, that's what the media (and blogosphere) have been putting about for years. And Tony's not happy. Maybe he wants to stay put and piss us off in return.

Anyway, just broke my own new rule.

CuriousHamster said...

I've seen a few signs of that in Blair. The more he's criticised, the more determined he seems to be to go on. When he insists on speaking utter bilge, I just can't help extracting the urine.

I generally blog with the idea that almost no-one pays attention to what I write and certainly not anyone in the halls of power. In my most optimistic moments, I wonder whether a journalist might stumble by and be motivated to take up these issue more forcefully.

Strangely, after reading Tim's post today, a quick check revealed I'd had two (brief) visits from the PMs office this very day courtesy of Tim's links. Slightly surprising, it was.