Expel Keith Vaz

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 October, 2019 - 17:28
Keith Vaz, a middle-aged, clean-shaven south Asian man.Keith Vaz - UK Parliament official portraits 2017

Today the Labour MP Keith Vaz was suspended from the House of Commons for six months for offering to buy cocaine for male prostitutes in August 2016 in an encounter at his flat recorded by one of the men involved and passed to the tabloid Sunday Mirror. The Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, whose complaint triggered the investigation by the Commons standards committee, said he hoped that this would be the “end of the line for Keith Vaz”: “I don’t think he’s fit to be representing anywhere in this place, I think he’s been a malign influence on local and national politics for too long”. If Parliament rubber-stamps the committee’s decision, it could lead to a recall petition and a by-election,

Personally and as a Muslim I find it disappointing that it took a sex and drug scandal to bring Vaz down. Vaz is one of the MPs who supported the event at Wembley Stadium addressed by Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India and former chief minister of Gujarat under whose leadership hundreds of Muslims and others were killed in an organised pogrom - essentially a latter-day Kristallnacht - in 2002 and many others were raped, otherwise injured or had their houses and shops destroyed by mobs. Modi also represents a fascistic ideology that envisages India as a fundamentally (rather than just predominantly) Hindu society or rashtra; under his premiership, lynchings of Muslims by Hindu fanatics have soared in number, the state has stepped up its oppressions against the people of Kashmir with curfews that have lasted days at a time and sought to expel Muslim residents of Assam by assuming anyone without the right paperwork (which few people in India have) is an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh.

The long-running campaign to purge the party of real or alleged antisemitism has seen people at all levels expelled or suspended, the criteria for which is often an ideological or sectarian definition of antisemitism which many people do not know exists, let alone understand, and which is often strained through the needle’s eye. It has been proclaimed antisemitic for someone to merely cast doubt on any claim by a Jewish individual that something is antisemitic. If the Labour party will expel or suspend long-standing activists on such flimsy grounds then open and warm approval for a fascist politician with a record of public mob violence against a minority also threatened in the UK should be a guarantee of expulsion. There should not be acceptable forms of bigotry or racism and certainly the whiff of one prejudice should not be deemed less tolerable than the stench of another.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi obituary

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 October, 2019 - 16:47
Islamic State leader whose legacy is one of destruction, division, fear and unrelenting chaos

From the moment in July 2014 when he ascended the minbar (pulpit) in a mosque in Mosul, clad in black robes, to claim the title of caliph of the Muslim world, until his death on Sunday during a raid by US forces, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was the most wanted and feared man on the planet.

In less time than it had taken any terrorist leader before him, he and his organisation, Islamic State (Isis), had successfully provoked upheaval across the Middle East and stirred trepidation around the globe. To many, Baghdadi was the sum of all fears, a man who had been transported straight from the savage early wars of Islamic history to the modern battlefields of the region nearly 1,500 years later.

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Essex truck tragedy: why the driver is probably innocent

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 October, 2019 - 19:57
A maroon Scania V8 tractor unit with ten added headlights and bull-bars. The tractor has a long wheelbase and a rear tag (lifting) axle. It is pulling an unmarked white refrigerated trailer with a Thermo King fridge device. The truck is photographed mid-turn on a large expanse of tarmac on an industrial estate.The tractor unit belonging to the driver involved in yesterday’s tragedy (not the same trailer).

Yesterday 39 people, now known to be of Chinese origin, were found dead in a refrigerated trailer on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex (to the east of London). The driver, a self-employed man from Northern Ireland named Mo Robinson, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and police have raided properties in the province to investigate whether the gang that smuggled the people into the country are based or have operations there. Initially, the story was being reported in terms of a truck which had carried the migrants into the UK via Ireland, through the port of Holyhead, a route which would arouse immediate suspicion, but it has now been revealed that the trailer in fact came into the UK on a ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium, and was picked up by Mo Robinson about an hour and a half before the bodies were discovered. The victims either froze to death or suffocated inside the trailer, which can be used to transport either chilled or frozen foodstuffs, and were probably dead long before Robinson, who it is reported discovered the bodies when checking for paperwork inside and alerted the emergency services himself, became involved. This incident is likely to result in changes to how drivers and hauliers handle sealed trailers, as currently they are often picked up on trust and only the exterior is examined.

Yesterday, very many media reports described the vehicle as a shipping container. A shipping container is in fact a demountable box which is carried on a ship on a stack of other containers and then lowered mechanically onto a special trailer called a skeleton or ‘skellie’ (or a rail carriage) and secured with special locks called twist locks. I have carried shipping containers a few times and if you pick one up from a port, the box will be sealed with a metal bolt which can only be opened with a large bolt cutter. Drivers never look inside them so they could contain people, drugs, guns or anything else for all they know. If any of these things are found inside, the driver is almost certainly completely innocent. This vehicle was a ferry trailer, which is dropped off by one truck on one side of the Channel and then removed by another on this side (in fact, it would be dropped at and removed from a trailer park and loaded on and off the ferry itself by a shunter employed by the ship operator). It’s highly likely that the driver would have simply been told which trailer to pick up and where to deliver it, and done so, assuming, given that it is a fridge, that it contained foodstuffs. He would have done his usual checks to make sure the trailer was roadworthy (e.g. the light, wheels, door security, exterior condition and that the fridge worked) and then pulled it away. Such trailers may be sealed so as to give the recipient assurance that the goods had not been tampered with en route; they are entitled to refuse the goods if the seal is broken, so the driver does not open the cargo compartment. In this case, the driver was expected to open the trailer and retrieve paperwork himself, so it clearly was not sealed; drivers will, I suspect, be doing this at the port in the near future. (When we pick up goods at source, we look inside the trailer to make sure the goods are as described and that the load is secure before we close the door and, if necessary, apply the seal. However, even then, we cannot do more than take a look inside if the trailer is fully laden, so depending on the size and shape of the items, it might still be possible to conceal people behind goods.)

Any driver who transports these trailers will be thinking twice about his occupation in the light of yesterday’s disaster, at least until the status of Mo Robinson and his employer or client is clarified and he is either released or charged, and similarly hauliers will be rethinking their training and procedures. Going forward, there is likely to be a demand for changes to how drivers handle sealed trailers. As an air-freight driver or “cargo operative” (this status used to be known as Level D), we are given training in security and in procedures to ensure that cargo remains secure in between the screening station and the airport or outlying cargo terminal; this is mostly to ensure awareness of threats to aircraft security such as explosives rather than human cargo. We also require a criminal record check and five years of employment references. We carry plastic seals with us and when we open the doors to load or offload freight, we apply a new one and record the number on the paperwork, and we only open the doors at bonded premises such as the screening station (an approved cargo handling company) or the terminal, and if we leave the vehicle unattended for any reason, we check the seal for tampering on return. Drivers who use cross-channel ferries are told not to stop anywhere near the port to avoid their vehicles being accessed by stowaways, and there is now a secure area where their trailers can be checked before boarding.

If and when we leave the EU, and particularly if, as expected, we leave the customs union area as well as the union itself, customs checks are going to be required on goods coming in and out of the UK which they are not now; as this would otherwise lead to impossible delays at the ports, we are likely to see goods being inspected at source and hauled to the seaport in a sealed trailer, as is the case with air freight now, as well as greater use of ferry trailers as port delays make it impracticable for one driver to handle the entire journey and stay within their driving and working time limits. If ports such as Purfleet do not provide a secure area for drivers to inspect the inside of their trailers before re-sealing, they should provide one, and all new ferry trailer terminals should make sure there is one. This way, if Mo Robinson turns out to be innocent as I strongly suspect he is, anyone still alive can be saved and drivers can avoid being caught up in a terrible tragedy like yesterday’s and facing a possible prison sentence. I should add that the newspapers which printed the pictures of Mo Robinson, mostly taken from his Facebook account, before any facts were known about his degree of involvement or culpability have behaved extremely irresponsibly and disreputably; if they had spoken to anyone with any knowledge of the industry, they would have known that it is quite possible and indeed highly likely, given normal practice, that he is innocent.

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The Guardian view on Xinjiang, China: forced labour and fashion shows | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 October, 2019 - 18:25

Repression in the north-western region takes many forms. They all deserve scrutiny

When a million Uighurs and other Muslims have been locked up in Xinjiang’s detention camps, and as documentation of forced labour mounts, it might seem perverse to pay attention to fashion shows, beauty salons and a park. Yet these developments are not trivial. They form part of China’s efforts to erase Uighur culture. Recent research details official efforts to change Uighur women’s style, which began with 2011’s “Project Beauty” initiative, encouraging them to shun the niqab and jilbab, and has recently has seen the establishment of hair salons and beauty parlours. These, explained an official, would transform women’s body image, then their way of life, and finally their way of thinking.

Meanwhile, satellite photos have revealed that dozens of cemeteries in the north-western region have been destroyed in the last two years. In Aksu, at the graveyard where a prominent Uighur poet was buried, tombs were moved and the land turned into Happiness Park, with panda models and a children’s ride. Similar evidence has already shown the demolition of Islamic religious sites. Like the attempts to coerce Uighurs into celebrating Chinese new year and to discourage the use of the Uighur language, these developments represent the hollowing out of a culture. Writers, entertainers and academics have all fallen foul of authorities. The family of Tashpolat Tiyip, president of Xinjiang University until his disappearance in 2017, believe he has been convicted of separatism and sentenced to death. The crackdown on Muslim cultural practices is also spreading to Hui Muslims in Ningxia. Beijing portrays its camps as “vocational centres” and part of a necessary campaign to root out extremism following violent attacks. But far from being a targeted response to terrorism, China’s draconian detentions, surveillance and broader repression amount to treating an entire population and its way of life as a potential threat.

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Guardian Daily: nice new app, shame about the upgrade

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 October, 2019 - 20:25
Screenshot from the Guardian's new Daily app on an iPhone.

Yesterday The Guardian published the new version of its “daily” app (which delivers the digital version of the printed Guardian and Observer newspapers, as opposed to the news app which delivers most of that and other online content including breaking news), which I’ve subscribed to for several years and which is the most economical way of getting hold of their content now given the rising costs of the print edition and the waste involved. The old app had warned of the forthcoming upgrade and offered me the chance to join their beta testing programme, which I considered but backed off from. The old iOS app only ran on the iPad; the Android version was similarly limited to tablet-sized devices rather than phones. This version will run on any iOS device and you can install it on all the devices you have. (More: Design Week, Press Gazette, the Guardian itself.)

Unfortunately, when I upgraded, I was locked out of my subscription: when I opened any article and tried to scroll down, it opened up a box inviting me to subscribe, and one of the options was “restore App Store subscription”. However, when I pressed that, nothing happened for a second or so and then it popped up a message saying there was a “verification error” and inviting me to try again; when I did, the same thing happened. I tried contacting the Guardian’s subscribers’ helpline but all I got was a voice menu system which did not include an option for problems with the app. There was a way to email a message to the developers, but it opened in Apple Mail, which I don’t use (I use MyMail) and so I could not send a message because there was no account set up. In the event I copied the address and the text into a new message on MyMail and sent it, but got no reply.

In the end, I had to cancel my existing subscription and open a new one using their new digital subscription service, which costs the same and allows me access to premium content on their website as well as the app, and there is also a “free trial” and a reduction for the first three months, which perhaps was not intended for existing subscribers but hey, if they had make sure their app worked before they published it, I’d still be paying full price and as it is my old subscription was meant to be valid until the end of this month.

So what of the new app? Well, instead of having the content in sections accessible either from a front page or a menu, all the content is off one big page and you can scroll down to get to different sections, or across to get to content within one section. I’d quite like an easier way to get to other sections than having to scroll down past every section in between; there is a bar on the left (at the top on a smartphone) which could be used for this purpose, but it’s used for a short-range weather forecast instead, and on my phone it’s for Cambridge (I’m in London) and there is no apparent way of changing this (tapping on any part of the forecast does nothing). The Share button seems to have disappeared; on the old app it was a source of intractable bugs (it was supposed to appear when there was an Internet connection, but in practice it often did not, especially if you launched the app without a connection and then connected; the article you were reading would never have the Share button), but I actually liked being able to share articles. Now, there seems to be no access to the article’s web location which means I have to open the separate Guardian News app to share. I’ve emailed them, but am not holding my breath for a response.

It’s nice-looking and seems quite smooth in operation. It’s only day two but the old app frequently failed to load new editions when the tablet was switched off; both my devices have loaded both yesterday’s and today’s editions without me needing to switch on or open the app, which is a great improvement. Also much appreciated is the fact that the Guardian’s website will stop bugging me to ‘contribute’ by subscribing when I already had done; I suspect those who waited until the updated version (published within hours) to get their restored subscriptions (I didn’t, so I don’t know if that bug was fixed) will still not have access to premium web content and still be getting this request when they use the website.

Also this week, I upgraded my New Statesman subscription to a paper and digital offering after the PDF version was simply discontinued without warning last month, something I had to email them to find out. The new subscription costs £12/month (rather than £10 as before) and allows me unlimited website access, which I appreciate, but I had been using the PDF almost exclusively to read the magazine before as it was much more convenient than carting around a paper edition. To be honest, I find that their customer service leaves a lot to be desired; emails I wrote them took until the end of the day in question to be responded to which lengthened by several days the time it took to get the problem sorted. Also, the subscription helpline numbers quoted on their website (020 7936 6459 and 0800 731 8496) were never answered; I had to call them to get my access to the website and app activated, which it wasn’t when I paid because my current subscription runs until the end of the month, as I found out when I found the correct number; the person on the end of the line activated it immediately which was very nice of them. So, now I have two subscriptions I can read on both my phone and my tablet, which is very convenient, although I won’t be leaving my iPad behind as it’s much easier to read a long article on that than on a phone of any size.

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Labour candidate accuses Lib Dem rival of dirty campaign tactics

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 October, 2019 - 18:48

Dr Faiza Shaheen says open letter on Islamic charity aimed to highlight her as a Muslim

A Labour parliamentary candidate has accused her Liberal Democrat rival of using dirty campaigning tactics after he sent her an open letter demanding to know her view on an Islamic charity to which she has no links.

Dr Faiza Shaheen suggested that Dr Geoffrey Seeff wanted her to be publicly highlighted as a Muslim when he wrote to her about the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), an organisation she had not heard of.

This morning I received the below from the Lib Dem Chingford and Woodford Green parliamentary candidate.

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French government resists calls to ban headscarves on school trips

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 October, 2019 - 16:06

Outrage after far-right politician orders Muslim woman to remove headscarf on trip to parliament

The French government has insisted it will not seek to ban Muslim women who wear headscarves from volunteering to help on school trips after an incident in which mothers accompanying pupils were told to remove them sparked outrage.

One mother said pupils were distressed and traumatised when a far-right politician told her to take off her headscarf in a regional parliament in eastern France, where she was helping out on a primary school outing for her son’s class.

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Photography update

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 October, 2019 - 19:52
The Water Gardens, Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

Since I’ve not had much time to write this week, here are some pictures I took on recent trips to gardens in southern England (all National Trust properties):

Cliveden, Buckinghamshire: a vast estate with numerous different gardens including the water gardens (pictured), riverside walks and vast acres of woodland. This is at least a day trip and possibly two.

Nymans, West Sussex: a garden I first visited in April (just before Ramadan) and revisited last week to see what it would look like in the autumn.

Claremont, Surrey: A garden very near me that was partly designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. Features an amphitheatre and a big ornamental lake.

Osterley Park, west London: a big estate with a part-Tudor, part-18th century red-brick manor house where the lady volunteers dress in period costume on certain days. These pictures were taken in the house and the gardens.

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Inspired By the East: fertile fascination – or racist pastiche and plunder?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 October, 2019 - 11:42

The British Museum show is a bold attempt to look at orientalist art as a cultural exchange that influenced paintings, ceramics, travel books and fashion. Our writer gauges its success

The British Museum’s new exhibition, Inspired By the East: How the Islamic World Influenced Western Art, attempts to present orientalist art as not only one where western artists traded in cliche, but also to show how portrayals of the east in the west were more than just racist pastiches. It attempts to present orientalist art as a sort of cultural exchange, rather than plunder, more of a long-term interaction between east and west that influenced not just paintings but also ceramics, travel books and watercolour illustrations of Ottoman fashion. It also presents orientalism as an effort to understand other cultures at a time when there was not much travel, and perhaps an idealised longing for a life in an Islamic world that had not yet been untethered from the familiar by industrialisation and secularisation.

The exhibition succeeds in achieving some of this. There is little here along the lines of The Snake Charmer, the painting famously used on the cover of the first edition of Edward Said’s Orientalism, which dominates discourse on the topic. In this tasteless depiction, a naked snake-charmer draped in a python entertained turbaned, cloaked men sitting on the ground. There is a mix of the dramatic romanticism of the early orientalists and the more iconoclastic realism of daily life, albeit still restricted broadly to the settings of the bazaar or the street throng.

Related: Inspired by the East review – a glorious show Boris Johnson really ought to see

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The Sultan and the Saint review – the Crusades' real-life bromance

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 October, 2019 - 16:00

In an unlikely battleground meeting, Francis of Assisi talked war and peace with Ayyubid sultan Al-Kamil, according to this intriguing documentary

Jeremy Irons’ barrel-aged tones narrate this documentary (just shy of an hour long) about a 13th-century bromance: the meeting in 1219 between Francis of Assisi and Ayyubid sultan Al-Kamil. The pacifist friar and Saladin’s erudite nephew, during a prolonged fag break from the siege of Damietta in the Fifth Crusade, compared notes on religion and found much to like.

Director Alexander Kronemer sets the stage confidently, fleshing out the future monk’s errant youth and early papal machinations in the Holy Land in handsome reconstructions that perhaps cover for the film’s achilles heel: the lack of documentation about what exactly happened during the powwow. Only a few contemporary sources exist, none of them Arab; most details are drawn from later Franciscan biographies.

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US restricts visas for Chinese officials over internment of Muslim minorities

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 October, 2019 - 23:36
  • More than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities detained
  • Move is seen as victory for Pompeo and Pence over Mnuchin

The US has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist party officials accused of being involved in the mass internment of more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang province.

The restrictions, announced by the state department on Tuesday, come a day after the US commerce department imposed export restrictions on US companies preventing them from selling their products – particularly face recognition and other surveillance technology – to 28 Chinese entities, including the Public Security Bureau and firms involved in surveillance in Xinjiang.

Related: 'If you enter a camp, you never come out': inside China's war on Islam

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A new India is emerging, and it is a country ruled by fear | Amit Chaudhuri

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 October, 2019 - 06:00

Modi’s vision for the country is one that stifles dissent and difference, in defiance of its people’s history

Four months have passed since Narendra Modi and the BJP came back to power in India, and more seems to have happened there than in the last 40 years. The sense of severance that many experience today, of being divorced from the workings of the nation, exceeds even the helplessness felt during the suspension of civil liberties in the emergency of 1975 to 1977 and the political traumas that followed.

This is because – without the matter being explicitly articulated – citizen has been set against citizen: not just Muslim against Hindu or, say, Kashmiris against the rest of India, but those who subscribe to the BJP’s new conception of the nation against those who do not, leaving one without trust in the other.

Indian parties are only democrats when in opposition. But no government has been as punitive towards dissent as this

Related: Narendra Modi to face down critics by hailing Clean India scheme a success

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What was a ‘Bantustan’?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 October, 2019 - 18:42
A map of South Africa and Namibia showing the locations of the former Black 'homeland' statelets known as Bantustans.Map of the ‘Bantustans’ or Black ‘homelands’ in the 1980s. All these areas have been re-incorporated into South Africa and Namibia since the end of Apartheid. Source: Wikipedia.

Last week it was revealed that the Australian politician Alexander Downer, who had been foreign secretary and high commissioner to the UK, had made a speech to an audience in Europe which advocated that refugees not be allowed to settle permanently in Australia (or, presumably, any other host country) and accused those who settled in Australia of living “a kind of Bantustan-style life totally separate from the rest of the mainstream of Australia (sic)” and setting up “separate ghettoes”. The conference was hosted in Hungary and was also addressed by Victor Orban (somewhat euphemistically described as “ultra-conservative”), former Czech leader Vaclav Havel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, i.e. a who’s who of European bigots and reactionaries who have achieved power. The use of the term ‘Bantustan’ as if it were a synonym of ‘ghetto’ shows appalling ignorance.

‘Bantustans’ were the statelets set up by the Apartheid regime in South Africa where Black people were expected to live: they were deemed to be citizens of these statelets, not of South Africa itself, and many people were forcibly relocated from their homes in other parts of South Africa to these statelets, much as many other non-whites were forcibly relocated to slums from old districts of cities like Cape Town. They were nominally independent, but were recognised by no country other than South Africa. The ostensible idea was that this was “self-government” for native people, but in fact the regimes were often dictatorships and in some cases allies of the Apartheid regime. The statelets were invariably either tiny (e.g. Ciskei, QwaQwa, KwaNdebele), discontiguous (e.g. Boputhatswana, KwaZulu) or both (e.g. KaNgwane) and very often wholly surrounded by South Africa. The closest modern parallel is the Palestinian territories which, despite having self-government, are surrounded by Israel or Israeli-occupied territory and so their economies are dependent on the whims of Israel and its military.

Even ‘ghettoes’ did not originally mean areas with a large population of one ethnic minority or other: they were enclosed areas of cities in Europe where Jews had to live; they could not live in the rest of the city and usually had to be back in them after dark. These areas were protected and had a certain amount of self-government, but were also overcrowded and could not expand and the chiefs of the ghettoes were expected to serve the kings and tsars with such things as furnishing them with young conscripts for the army. While they did allow Jews to run their own affairs to a certain extent and maintain their own customs, they were also a product of a Europe which was intolerant of difference; Jews could be Jews as long as they remained out of sight and out of mind, behind walls.

Neither of these terms should be used to simply mean any area where anyone can enter or leave, and anyone can live or work, but which has a high concentration of members of a particular minority (or, as is often the case in so-called ghettoes in the UK, several) and of shops and restaurants catering to that minority. This is often accompanied by myths of “no-go areas”, circulated by liars and ignoramuses to similarly-minded followers on slanted websites. Just because people feel safe living there, and would not elsewhere because of racism, does not make it a ghetto, let alone a ‘Bantustan’. Just because people maintain their religion, don’t start drinking and will not eat meat unless it is slaughtered a certain way does not mean they expect to “change the culture” or to set up a state within a state; they just expect tolerance.

And as for his expectation that refugees will “peacefully go home” after their persecution has abated, history shows that this rarely happens. People get new lives in their new home, they get married, they have children who never knew their old home and may not even speak the language. Britain took in some Jewish refugees in the lead-up to the Second World War and many of them are still here and their ancestors never considered themselves to be the nationality their parents or grandparents had at birth, though some are now trying to claim it in response to Brexit. Much the same is true of the many Spanish people who came to the UK to escape from Franco’s repression, and the Polish who settled in the UK in the early to mid 20th century. When people move, they tend to stay moved unless whatever caused their movement is dealt with quickly.

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