Boris champions a no deal Brexit at his peril

It feels as if the media has talked and written about nothing else apart from a no deal Brexit all summer. The coverage leaves me asking the question, is the media unwittingly making this outcome more likely and the public more receptive to a no deal Brexit? Is there a fatalism and inevitability creeping in since Boris Johnson, arch Brexiteer and Leave Campaign stalwart, took office?

Clearly there continue to be daily warnings from economists about the impact of a no deal Brexit on the pound. Sterling is tumbling in the markets and may soon be valued at the same price as the dollar. Philip Hammond quotes an OBR forecast of a recession if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal. Mr Hammond is concerned about Sterling and concerned about the impact on public services. He resigned from the government in protest when Mr Johnson became PM.

I think the best journalists should be poring over the withdrawal agreement terms and seeking to help Mr Johnson find the substance of a deal that will be acceptable to Europe. Mr Johnson says repeatedly that the Irish backstop must be abolished all together to allow Britain to support a deal. EU leaders do not want to do this because they need to protect the position of the Republic of Ireland within the EU.

Sinn Fein is calling for a united Ireland. The long-standing alliance between DUP and the Conservatives makes these negotiations very difficult. Mr Johnson says he is impartial, but is he? It seems he really wants Brexit for England and Northern Ireland and would rather throw off the thorn that is the Republic of Ireland and ignore the dissent in Scotland.

Mr Johnson needs to be build consensus across the union but does he have the will and commitment to do it and the vision to find a deal that is acceptable to everyone? Will he enlist the help of Ruth Davidson and will he negotiate with Sinn Fein?

Sinn Fein are talking about holding another referendum in Ireland in an attempt to win independence and reunite Ireland. There is provision for this in the Good Friday Agreement. As PM, Mr Johnson should look beyond the interests of Brexiteers to find a solution that satisfies all the far flung corners of the union. Brexit is threatening to break up the union. Mr Johnson’s position as Prime Minister and legacy will be secure if he can find a solution that Parliament will pass. 

Irish backstop

In order to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, the backstop would keep Northern Ireland aligned with the EU single market. This means that goods coming into Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the UK would need to be checked to see if they meet EU standards.

It would also involve a temporary single custom territory, effectively keeping the whole of the UK in the EU customs union.

These arrangements would apply unless and until both the EU and UK agree they are no longer necessary.

Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, concluded that “the legal risk remains unchanged” that if a post-Brexit trade agreement cannot be reached due to genuinely “intractable differences”, the UK would have “no internationally lawful means” of leaving the backstop without EU agreement.

This temporary “backstop” is meant to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland only kicking in if alternative customs arrangements can’t be negotiated and implemented in time for the end of the transition period in December 2020.

The EU’s version would see Northern Ireland stay in the EU customs union, meaning a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Muslims: “Whosoever kills a person, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.”

Unfortunately, people currently associate Muslims with terrorism. It’s not a new phenomenon. The Irish had the same problem in the 1980s. And Muslims are blamed for terrorism at the moment more than any other group.

‘Love for all, hatred for none’ is the Ahmadi motto and central tenet of their faith. Ahmadi Muslims swear allegiance annually to their faith, their Caliph who is their worldwide leader and to the country in which they live now, not their country of origin. They are pillars of the communities where they live and as yet, no Ahmadi Muslim has ever been tried or convicted of terrorism charges.

Ahmadi
Pledge of allegiance to the Ahmadi faith, the Caliph and the UK

Their central challenge is how they turn around perceptions about Islam, not least perceptions in the media. As several people remarked over the Jalsa Salana, if a white person massacres people, his background is immediately investigated. If a Muslim does the same, the media think terrorism first.

The media don’t always call out white perpetrators as racist and they have protection if they suffer from schizophrenia or another mental health condition. I don’t recall hearing about the background of Muslim terrorists, only their deadly intent and how they were radicalised.

I caught up with the Ahmadi Muslims at their annual convention which is known as the Jalsa Salana. It takes place at Oaklands Farm, Alton in Hampshire. 38,000 Ahmadis flock from all over the world and 5000 of them serve as volunteers to ensure the smooth running of the event. It’s an example of the Ahmadis commitment to service. But it doesn’t stop there.

They hold an annual walk for peace in every region of the UK raising money for the Poppy Appeal and British Heart Foundation as well as much smaller local charities. Non-Ahmadis are invited to participate and there is no joining fee. As a community, the Ahmadis are inclusive and outward looking.

Humanity First enables the Ahmadis to travel the globe and provide disaster relief. A lot of the doctors give up their annual leave to travel at short notice and help when disasters strike. A team went to the Tsunami and are active in many parts of the world reaching out to people of many faiths and none. Humanity First is a disaster relief charity set up by Ahmadis but operated independently and “serving all of mankind” (their motto). 

Muslims
Ahmadiyya Press team, Ismael, Atif Malik with Roz Scott

Guests at the Jalsa said they were impressed by the Ahmadis because they put their faith into action, they walk their faith. They demonstrate God’s love through charitable works and humanitarian aid and let this love speak for itself.

It’s not commonly known that the root of the word Islam means peace. Ahmadis preach and live this message of peace led by their Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Declan Henry believes the Caliph’s leadership is one reason that this community is so strong and peaceful. Mr Henry is a writer and social worker who has written a book called voices of modern Islam. Mr Henry is an Irish Catholic but he thinks it is worse to be a Muslim at the moment because they can be targeted and face discrimination.

Mr Henry believes other Muslims distrust the Ahmadis because of theological differences about whether the Messiah has arrived or is yet to come and he said many sects of Islam lack true leadership. He said: “Other Muslims envy the Ahmadis who have the Caliph, a holy and honourable man. The Ahmadis are the most integrated of Muslims in the UK.”

Set up after the Paris attacks, Ahmadis have led the campaign ‘United Against Extremism’ that counters the rhetoric and ideology of terrorism. They quote from the Qu’ran for their inspiration: “Whosoever kills a person, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.” (5:33)

Ahmadis come to Hampshire in force for their annual Jalsa Salana

At Oaklands Farm in Hampshire last weekend over 39,000 Ahmadi Muslims from 155 countries met for their annual convention , the ‘Jalsa Salana.’ 355 new mosques have been built including one in Tilford. The reported reach of the event coverage was 59.3million in TV, radio, print and online.    

David Harmer, County Councillor for Waverley Western Villages in Surrey said: “If the rest of the country was as well organised as the Jalsa is every year, we wouldn’t have any problems.” Mr Harmer said he was fascinated by the motto, ‘Love for all, hatred for none’ and even more impressed that the Ahmadis live to it. All members of the Ahmadiyya Community pledge allegiance to their faith, the Caliph and to the country where they live.

Jalsa
Councillor David Harmer, Waverley Western Villages with Roz Scott, journalist

It’s important to notice, they pledge allegiance to the country they live in, not their country of origin. In my experience, Ahmadi Muslims speak impeccable English and contribute significantly to Britain’s net worth and GDP. Their faith requires them to integrate into the very fabric of British society and to become pillars of the communities they live in.

An example of this is when the Ahmadiyya Community built their mosque in Morden they were committed to open communication. Councillor Peter Southgate of Merton said they ‘anticipated planning resistance but the mosque is a force for good. The impact on the ward and the social cohesion is very positive. There are new businesses in the Morden area. Without the Ahmadis, the retail units would be empty.”

Doing charitable work is central to the faith of the Ahmadis. Doctor Chaudhury Ljaz Rehman is the President of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Elders Association: “There’s an ethos to our charitable work. Every year we support the Poppy Appeal and British Heart Foundation.

“We have a national walk for peace in every region of the UK every year. Schools are asked to join in. We don’t charge an admin fee. Religion teaches us to serve people regardless of creed, colour or religion. The British are a charitable nation, we want to do the same. The world needs more people committed to charitable work based on their faith in God. Without God, the work is rarely sustainable.”

Sue Carter, Mayor of Rushmoor, said she had never heard of the Ahmadis until she became Mayor. She said: “As soon as a bomb goes off, it’s all news and then we dissect it.” She works with a lot of young people including ex-gang leaders to help them transform their communities and said: “Life changes, sometimes it’s a struggle but you can get through it.”

Ahmadis
Councillor Sue Carter, Mayor of Rushmoor with Colonel James Sunderland

Councillor Richard Billington, Mayor of Guilford, said: “It’s almost bewildering in its scale, the scale of the operation, the attraction of the Ahmadis is worldwide. The problem is press presentation. They tend to write about the bombs and the bullets, you don’t hear about the gentle, charitable work. It breaks the hearts of the Ahmadis. They are polite, kind, Westernised but in a slightly Islamic way.

“I worry that some immigrant communities are not as confident of themselves to integrate but the Ahmadis are confident. They integrate without feeling they are losing their identity.”

While visiting the Surrey Police stall I recognised this drive to integrate while speaking to Farhan Hayat, an Ahmadi Muslim. He explained his role as a Positive Action manager in Surrey Police and appealed to others from under-represented groups to join the force. Reflecting on his visit to the Jalsa Salana, Robin Perry who is a Councillor in Camberley was “fascinated” by his visit. “It was a real education,” he said, “In the SE of England people are reserved and share the same sense of humour as the Ahmadis.”

Colonel James Sunderland is head of Army Engagement. He travels the country talking about the work of the army and promoting collaboration. He said: “The Ahmadis are warm, hospitable, they care about the communities where they live. What’s nice about the Ahmadi community, they are always reaching out. I am always made to feel very welcome. They are apolitical just like the army. They are interested in family and shared values. I wear my uniform for a reason, it’s important to extend the hand of friendship.”

Wang Jen Zhen likes the Ahmadiyya Community because of the learning the community affords. She said: “The Jalsa is brilliantly organised. Brilliant exhibition. I like the fact you just learn a lot. I am there to learn about people’s beliefs.”

Dignitaries have come to the Jalsa from across the world, King Yahaya Abubakar Etsu Nupe is the King of Niger State in Nigeria. He said: “Love, peace, unity, this is the best thing.” He likes the Ahmadis because they build schools and hospitals and try to help people.