In less than three months, Britons will choose whether to stay or leave the European Union in a referendum known as Brexit.
A Yes vote could very well prove to be the beginning of the end of the EU with other member nations following the UK’s lead. If nothing else, it would represent a return to British sovereignty.
But what does it mean for British liberty?
I have no doubt that one Matthew P. Doyle probably would like an answer.
On the morning of March 23, the day after ISIS attacked Brussels killing 31 people, Mr. Doyle, who resides in the London borough of Croydon, tweeted the following:
I confronted a Muslim woman in Croydon yesterday. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.
By 9 p.m., Mr. Doyle was in the custody of London Metropolitan Police “on suspicion of inciting racial hatred on social media.”
Simply put, Matthew P. Doyle was arrested for composing a tweet.
By Friday, Mr. Doyle had been charged with “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred.”
However, by that evening, Scotland Yard announced that the charges against Mr. Doyle had been dropped.
Matthew Doyle might be in the clear, but he should never have been arrested nor charged with anything in the first place. That the London Metropolitan Police have nothing better to do than monitor Twitter activity is utterly appalling when you consider the high likelihood that ISIS cells are plotting Brussels and Paris-like attacks in London at this very moment. Short of Mr. Doyle actually calling upon people to physically harm this Muslim woman and her family or do damage to her property, his social media activity should be of no concern to the authorities.
Then again, had London Metropolitan Police been monitoring Twitter with more diligence they would have found that Mr. Doyle’s tweet stirred up derision and mockery, not incitement of racial hatred. Consider these tweets below:
What has a Muslim woman in Croydon, got to do with the horrific events in Belgium, you simpleton?
did anyone accost you on the streets of Croydon after the Brevik shooting in Norway?
Confronted a white man in Croydon yday. Asked him to explain Hitler & the Holocaust. He said “nothing to do with me.” A mealy-mouthed reply.
Needless to say, London Metropolitan Police did not arrest any of these people. Nor I suspect would they have arrested anyone who would have tweeted, say, “Confronted a Jew in Croydon yesterday. Asked him to explain the occupation of Gaza & The West Bank. He said ‘nothing to do with me.’ A mealy-mouthed reply.”
That the London Metropolitan Police have the authority to decide which tweets are insulting enough to warrant arrest is an affront to liberty.
Now one could argue that this is but an isolated incident. However, I would argue that this is but the latest episode in the erosion of liberty over the past two decades under both Labour and Conservative governments. This began in earnest with the introduction of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) by the Blair government shortly after coming to power in 1997. By 2013, it was estimated there were nearly 6 million of these CCTVs in use. Or put another way, there is one CCTV for every 11 people in Britain, with the number of cameras per person likely to increase.
If that wasn’t bad enough, some of these CCTVs talk like one in the London borough of Camden, which says, ”Stop, this is a restricted area and your photograph is being taken. It will be sent for processing if you don’t leave the area now.” Big Brother isn’t just watching you. He’s giving orders. George Orwell’s 1984 can now be deemed a work of nonfiction.
In addition to millions of CCTVs, the UK also has a national DNA database, national ID cards and, as of 2014, restrictions on protest marches. In order to organize a protest march, one must give six days notice to the police and provide the date and time of the march, its route as well as the names and addresses of the organizers. Police in the U.K. not only have the authority to amend the route but “set any other condition of your march.”
Police can also arrest you if quote Winston Churchill. In April 2014, Paul Weston, a candidate for the European Parliament on the fringe Liberty GB ticket, was arrested for reading a passage from Churchill’s 1899 book The River War, an account of his time as a British Army officer in Sudan that is critical of Islam. Because he was not “authorized” to read Churchill’s words, Weston was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial/religious hatred.
As it happened, Weston was running against Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP who was garnered an audience with conservatives and libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic for his passionate defense of liberty. Hannan felt compelled to defend his opponent:
When such a thing happens in Burma or Belarus or Bahrain, we report it in suitably shocked tones. Yet here it is happening in Britain, without any discussions on the Today Programme, any Amnesty vigils, any complaints from Liberty. To repeat, a candidate was arrested for making a hustings speech.
Britain’s laws with regard to surveillance, maintenance of a DNA registry, issuing national ID cards, regulation of protest march and speech, be it on the steps of the town hall or on social media, are far more comprehensive than those of any other EU member. Voters in the UK might very well vote to leave the EU in three months time, but the CCTVs aren’t going anywhere. Nor is the risk of arrest for making an unauthorized speech or writing an improper tweet (especially if one wishes to speak or write about Muslims). The UK could very well regain its sovereignty from the EU. But what good is sovereignty without liberty?
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