David Cameron Blew It In Brussels - A German View On Britain's Break With Europe

Op-Ed: Britain’s Tories are elated over David Cameron’s recent E.U. Summit veto. On closer examination, however, the prime minister’s move may not be as “heroic” as they and the country’s conservative newspapers insist – especially if it causes a rupture

British Prime Minister David Cameron (DFID)
British Prime Minister David Cameron (DFID)
Christian Zaschke

LONDON David Cameron's veto at the E.U. summit has unleashed a storm here that could have nefarious consequences both for the United Kingdom's economy and his coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Euroskeptic Tories may be celebrating the prime minister as a hero, but his appearance in Brussels may not have been all that heroic. There are indications that Cameron quite simply gambled it all away.

The storm unleashed by Cameron's "no" to changing E.U. treaties is the most severe since the British coalition government took office in the spring of 2010. No one knows what the outcome will be, but one prognosis is shared by all: It could be very bad indeed.

The conflict between the Europe-friendly Liberal Democrats and the Europe-skeptics among the Tories touches the very substance of the coalition. And yet conciliation of the camps appears unlikely. Cameron's challenge now is to somehow get right-leaning members of his own party and the Liberal Democrats back to the table. Either that or face new elections.

Up until now, the conservatives knew Nick Clegg, the head of the Liberal Democrats, as a compliant junior partner. Whatever they wanted, he went along with. Most notably, he agreed with the Tories to raise college tuitions, even though his party promised during the election campaign to do away with them.

But now Clegg – who waited two days before launching his attacks – has found a means of recovering his reputation. He has not only criticized the prime minister openly about the E.U. veto but is demanding that Cameron do everything he can to move Great Britain back towards Europe again.

Closeness to Europe is one of the core Liberal Democrat policies. Clegg would have lost his last supporters in his own party if he had gone along with the veto the Tories are celebrating. Instead he's found an issue that not only can help him shed the "opportunist" label but that also poses a threat to David Cameron.

An immediate danger

The Euroskeptics in his party don't seem particularly worried at the moment. Actually they're in a state of euphoria, as are the country's conservative newspapers, which are drawing parallels between this and King Henry VIII's decision (five centuries ago) to separate the Church of England from the Catholic Church. Expect the celebrating to continue as the Tories have the British public on their side. According to a Times poll, 57% of Brits believe that Cameron did the right thing in Brussels.

Nevertheless, the question does pose itself as to whether Cameron's veto was really as heroic as the ultra-conservatives are portraying it. Increasing numbers of reports are saying that Cameron's appearance in Brussels was, from a diplomatic point of view, miserably prepared. The other leaders at the summit were at a complete loss to understand his tactics. It may very well be, in other words, that the most consequential decision of Cameron's political career was quite simply the result of an astonishing amount of foreign policy naïveté.

Nobody can seriously believe that Great Britain's waning influence in Europe won't have consequences for its economy. The conservative government is steering a severe austerity course and is looking at a recession. More than ever, Cameron needs to achieve greater independence from the financial markets and strengthen British industry – which depends to a high degree on the European single market that Cameron just gave the cold shoulder to.

What Cameron is doing is repeating an historic mistake. Great Britain kept its distance during the early years of the European Economic Community (Common Market), which was founded in 1957. The economy suffered as a result. U.K. leaders then changed their tune, applying for membership in 1961. From there, however, the country would have to wait 12 years for application process to finally conclude.

Whatever Cameron's veto may mean for Great Britain's relations with the European Union, the prime minister has backed himself into a precarious situation at home. The coalition may break apart. That the Europe-skeptics are uncompromising was shown in October when, in a spectacular vote against the moderate Cameron, 81 Tory MPs supported a call for referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. And now that the Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves so openly against the prime minister, they can't give in either if they don't want to lose all their credibility.

Nick Clegg himself is unlikely to take the conflict to extremes – he has shown himself to be flexible to the point of spinelessness. But his party could be tired of betraying its ideals. The worst case scenario would be if Liberal Democrat members of parliament broke away from the coalition. That would mean, from every point of view, that when David Cameron said ‘no" in Brussels he made the worst decision of any prime minister in recent British history.

Read the original article in German

Photo - DFID - UK Department for International Development

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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