Tony Bunyan retires as Director of Statewatch after 30 years

Statewatch is a unique resource for migration researchers across Europe. It has an unprecedented collection of official documents, analysis and reports by investigative journalists, which serves to monitor state and civil liberties. Over the past 30 years, many academics, students, government officials, journalists and civil liberties groups have come to rely on it.

The organisation has strong connections with Bristol. Many academics at the University of Bristol (UoB) and at the University of the West of England (UWE) use Statewatch reports and official materials that would otherwise be unavailable, particularly those on the development of the European Union’s migration policies and their impacts on society. The Statewatch website and online news service enables us all to stay up to date with the very latest developments in UK and EU migration policy and law. The Board of Trustees of Statewatch includes MMB colleagues Ann Singleton and Vicky Canning, and thanks to Statewatch funding (in addition to ESRC and UoB grants) Yasha Maccanico completed his PhD in the School for Policy Studies in 2019. The organisation is led by Chris Jones, Executive Director, an alumnus of UWE.

In September 2020, after 30 years, Tony Bunyan retired as Statewatch Director to become Director Emeritus – a lifetime position. This blog summarises his thoughts on Statewatch past and future. One of his passions is the preservation of historical books, pamphlets and ephemera so that the past can inform the present and the future. You can learn more from the Statewatch Library & Archive, collected over 40 years of political activity, and Tony’s personal collection, collected over 60 years, ‘The Shape of Things To Come’.

A personal message from Tony Bunyan.

I am immensely proud of Statewatch. Rarely has so much been produced by so few for so little pay. Its origins lie in State Research, which I worked for from 1977 to 1981. After that I was head of local government police monitoring units until, in the autumn of 1990, I was invited by Claudia Roth MEP, then leader of the Green Group, to a meeting in the European Parliament office in Strasbourg. Ann Singleton (now Co-Chair of Statewatch and MMB’s policy strategic lead) and I drove the 500 miles from London to discuss EU developments, including the Maastricht Treaty, with MEPs on the then new LIBE (Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament). When we came back, we called a meeting of old friends from State Research. Now we had a project: our aim was to monitor civil liberties and the emerging European state. We had an office in Stoke Newington Public Library, shared with the Libertarian Research and Education Trust and I went on the dole and registered as a ‘volunteer’ with Statewatch.

Little were we to know what lay ahead. In March 1991 we launched a hard copy Bulletin published six times a year and at that time we pretty much had the field to ourselves. I travelled all over the EU to speak at meetings and found many new comrades. Between 1992 and 2004 I made a point of attending every meeting of the new Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels and Luxembourg including the Tampere Council in Finland in 1999. In those days this was the only way of getting access to documents. In the early 1990s I went to see an old friend, the late Lord Geoff Tordoff, then Chair of the main House of Lords Committee on the EU, and it emerged that the Home Office were not sending him JHA documents – not even the meeting agendas! A battle ensued for the Lords Committee to automatically be informed.

Key activities

Central to our work has been the creation of ‘Observatories’, online collections of original sources, commentary and campaign materials. Topics include:

This work was supported by a regular news service launched in 1999 and long-term investigations. ‘Neoconopticon: the EU security-industrial complex’ by Ben Hayes has been downloaded more than a million times. This was followed by Chris Jones in ‘Market Forces’, published in 2017. We also sought to identify wider issues such as the growth of authoritarianism and institutionalised racism, including the role of AI and digitalisation, which you can read more about in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’.

We should be proud of what we have achieved, and it has been recognised by others. For example, in 2011 Liberty awarded Statewatch the human rights ‘Long Walk’ award, jointly with Private Eye. The European Voice newspaper selected me as one of the 50 most influential people in the EU twice – in 2001 for Statewatch’s work on access to documents, and in 2004 for Statewatch’s work on civil liberties and the ‘war on terror’. But this could not have been done without the volunteers and the contributors’ group and the Trustees who have given their time for free over the years. Thanks too to all the NGOs who continue to help us so much.

The struggle continues to defend and extend civil liberties and freedoms, democratic rights and accountability and to oppose authoritarianism, racism and anti-democratic forces. Though I’m stepping down as Director I’m looking forward to working with the Statewatch team as Director Emeritus in the years to come.

The full text of Tony’s personal message was published here on the Statewatch website on 24th September 2020.

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