British

British PM fights plot to oust her, cites ‘full support’ of cabinet

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday said she enjoyed the “full support” of her cabinet after a former chairman of her Conservative Party admitted he was behind a plot by around 30 MPs to urge her to resign.

“What the country needs is calm leadership and that’s what I’m providing with the full support of my cabinet,” May told reporters in her constituency in Maidenhead, west of London.

Grant Shapps, identified as the ringleader of the effort to oust May after a faltering performance at the party’s conference this week and cabinet infighting over Brexit, said there was growing momentum behind the calls for her to step down.

Shapps said five former ministers were part of the move to oust May and some current ministers also “support it”, although other senior party figures contradicted him.

“A growing number of my colleagues, we realize that the solution isn’t to bury our heads in the sand and just hope things will get better,” Shapps told BBC radio.

Asked about the plot, he said: “Are there cabinet members aware? Yes. Do some support it? Yes.”

“It will have to be her decision. I had rather hoped that we would be able to get to the point where we could go to her privately and have this conservation,” said Shapps, an MP and former minister.

He added there was increasing support among a “broad spread” of MPs for a leadership contest in the first open declaration of an organized effort to oust May since her poor performance in a June snap general election.

May’s leadership has also been strained in recent weeks by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who publicly undermined efforts to present a united front over Brexit with several newspaper columns and interviews setting out his own stance on the issue.

The latest round of political uncertainty surrounding May pushed down the value of the pound against the euro and the dollar on currency markets.

“The British pound has fallen out of bed since the end of the Conservative party conference… MPs’ confidence in Theresa May is at a low point,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group, an online trading platform.

Speculation around May’s position has intensified in recent days after a chaotic address to the Conservative Party’s annual conference on Wednesday marred by coughing fits, a falling set and a prankster’s interruption.

The Conservatives have 316 MPs in parliament. Under the party’s rules, a leadership race can be triggered if at least 48 of those MPs express their support.

But leading figures in the Conservative Party disagreed with Shapps.

“I really think this is now just going to fizzle out,” said Charles Walker, deputy head of the party’s powerful 1922 Committee, which would initiate any leadership contest.

Veteran backbencher Michael Fabricant said of Shapps: “I wouldn’t buy a used car from one embittered colleague — let alone take advice from him about who should be PM.”

And former minister Rob Halfon, sacked by May, said the plot brought the Labour opposition leader closer to taking over the prime minister’s Downing Street office.

“This knucklehead behaviour makes our party weaker and it allows Jeremy Corbyn one step closer to Number 10,” he told Channel 4 television.

A former interior minister, May came to power last year after her predecessor David Cameron stepped down in the wake of the Brexit referendum in which he had campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union. Her position was badly weakened in this year’s general election. She called the snap vote but ended up losing her parliamentary majority and her cabinet has been riven with divisions over Brexit strategy in recent weeks.

Shapps, an ex-minister and former Chairman of the Conservative Party, is a businessman-turned-politician who once served as National President of the Jewish youth organization BBYO.

Advertisements

French, British and American Soldiers Raped almost One Million German Women after World War II

A German historian estimates in her book that French, British and American soldiers raped 860,000 Germans at and after the end of the WW2, including 190,000 sexual assaults by American soldiers.

(The Local)

Professor Miriam Gebhardt’s book When the Soldiers Came includes interviews with victims, stories of the children of rape and research that she conducted over the course of a year and a half into birth records in Allied-occupied West Germany and West Berlin.

“Now, 70 years after the war, it’s long past the time when one could be suspected of dealing with German victimhood,” Gebhardt, an author and lecturer at the University of Konstanz, told The Local.

“There is no longer the question that one might want to relativize the responsibility of the Germans for the Second World War and the Holocaust.”

Gebhardt said she arrived at that number of sexual assaults by estimating that of the so-called ‘war-children’ born to unmarried German women by the 1950s, five percent were products of rape.

She also estimates that for each birth, there were 100 rapes, including of men and boys.

Gebhardt’s numbers are higher than previous estimates. A well-received 2003 book by American professor of criminology J. Robert Lilly, Taken by Force, estimated that American soldiers committed around 11,000 rapes in Germany.

While an article published by Der Spiegel on Monday raised questions about whether Gebhardt’s figures accurately reflected the incidence of sexual assault in post-war Germany, Lilly told The Local that her estimates were certainly reasonable.

“Gebhardt’s numbers are plausible, but her work is not a definitive account,” said Lilly in an interview with The Local, explaining that no exact number could ever be known because of a lack of records.

“It is confirmation of research that I have done and it adds to this ongoing discussion of what happens in the underbelly of war – What goes on that we haven’t talked about.”

Much of the discussion of sexual assaults against Germans has focused on the Soviet troops in east Germany, who are estimated to have committed between one to two million rapes during the time.

Gebhardt said she wanted to challenge the assumption that it was only the Red Army that was responsible for such acts.

“Goebbels warned that the Red Army would rampage through Germany, would rape German women and commit atrocities against civilians… People hoped that they would be occupied by Western troops and not the Soviets,” she said.

“But the course of events was the same. Both sides plundered valuables and mementoes, and soldiers often committed gang rapes against women.”

Gebhardt’s research also included records from Bavarian priests recording the Allied advance in 1945, including one description that reads “the saddest event during the advance were three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half. They were committed by heavily drunken Americans.”

The book paints a much darker picture than what is often seen in cinema and literature of the Allied troops who liberated Germans from the Nazi regime and thus could take time for people to fully absorb, Lilly said.

“It will be resisted to some extent. There are American scholars who will not like it because they may think it will make the war crimes committed by the Germans less bad,” Lilly said.

“I don’t think it will minimize what the Germans did at all. It will add another dimension to what war is like and it will not diminish that the Allies won.”

That chimes with Gebhardt’s attitude to her work, which she says aims simply to expose the horror of such actions in war.

“War actions that led to the defeat of Germany, the defeat of the Nazi regime, are a different question than the rapes, which were more personal and served no military purpose,” Gebhardt said. “Rapes can’t decide a war.

The rapes “lasted for years, not just at the moment of the conquest,” she added.

“They weren’t just part of the violence that took place in the last weeks and days of the war, but continued for years.”

British Red Cross “Too White”, Chief Exec Calls Words “British” and ‘Cross’ a “Challenge”

British Red Cross chief Mike Adamson has claimed the charity struggled to deal with the Grenfell disaster because staff and volunteers are too white.

(Breitbart)

“There is a risk that in a very diverse community like Grenfell, an organisation with the words ‘British’ and ‘Cross’ in its title is confused with a Christian establishment organisation,” he wrote, in a blog for the New Philanthropy Capital think tank.

Though stating that the charity is “completely impartial” in its work, Adamson added: “There is no escaping the fact that with shining exceptions, such as our refugee services, we are nowhere near as diverse as we need to be in our volunteer base, our staffing or our leadership.”

Announcing that he is “personally leading” the charity’s “inclusion and diversity strategy”, Adamson said the British Red Cross is “changing massively to be relevant to the world of today and tomorrow.”

He was slammed by commenters at the Times website — which reported Adamson a having “admitted the charity struggled with the Grenfell disaster because its workforce is too white” — for “apologising for [the British Red Cross’] very existence, its name and not being ‘diverse’ enough.”

“Call in the Red Crescent, if that is of the correct ethnicity,” wrote one user, adding: “What’s truly pathetic is the self-hate and desperate apologies for not being ‘relevant’ enough.”

On Tuesday, a blog post on the Third Sector website lamented that Britain needs “prompt action on diversity in fundraising”, arguing that the industry needs a significant culture change to attract more black and minority ethnic (BAME/BME) people to its workforce.

In the post, author Hayley Gullen — a senior trusts fundraising manager — reported a number of different “barriers” to ethnic minorities in pursuing fundraising careers , which include charity having “negative connotations”, the field being perceived as low prestige in migrant communities, and other cultures lacking the concept of charity.

A Guardian article similarly bemoaning the fact that Britain’s publishing industry “remains 90 per cent white” was attacked by readers who pointed out that — with the UK around 86 per cent white — the figure was broadly representative.

In comments below the piece, readers also questioned why the Guardian made ethnicity its focus when reporting on the alleged lack of diversity in the industry, when the article states that 85 per cent of people working in UK publishing are female.

“Where is the Guardian’s alarm at that statistic?”, wrote one user, calling the gender gap “a far bigger disparity than a marginal overrepresentation of white people in what is a very middle-class profession.”

The post added: “Having an industry so vital to public knowledge and education utterly dominated by one gender can’t possibly be good for society, can it?”

When a British Prime Minister Praised Adolf Hitler as “Greatest Living German”

http://whiteresister.com/index.php/18-history/1239-when-a-british-prime-minister-praised-adolf-hitler-as-greatest-living-german?utm_source=WR-News+Campaign+1st&utm_campaign=5f2f0d6120-WR-News+Campaing+1st&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_70e342152e-5f2f0d6120-48298879

 

This remarkable footage captures the day David Lloyd George cosied up to Hitler during a pre-war trip to Germany before hailing him as ‘the greatest living German’.

(Daily Mail)

The grainy black and white film shows the politician and his entourage travelling around Germany in 1936, where they dined with the NSDAP ruler and rode together on new autobahns.

The 16mm film also captures Lloyd George laughing with Adolf Hitler as he tours a Bavarian town.

In another clip, the British PM lays a wreath at a war memorial in Munich, while the flags of the NSDAP and the UK hang side by side in the background.

Following the visit, Lloyd George described Hitler as a ‘remarkable personality’ and lauded him as ‘one of the greatest I have ever met in the whole of my life’.  Hitler added that he was pleased to have met ‘the man who won the war’, prompting Lloyd George to call Hitler ‘the greatest living German’.  He said in a newspaper interview: ‘Germany does not want war. Hitler does not want war. He is a most remarkable personality, one of the greatest I have ever met in the whole of my life, and I have met some very great men.

‘Affection is a quite inadequate word to describe the attitude of the German people towards Hitler. It amounts almost to worship.’

He added that there was ‘no whisper of criticism’ of the german leader.

‘I have never seen anything like it,’ he continued. ‘Some men I met who are not Nazis told me that they did not know what the country would have done without him.

‘They are inclined to blame Hitler’s supporters for some of the things which they do not approve, but there is no whisper of criticism of Hitler.

‘It is just like our motto, “The King can do no wrong”‘.

He also praised the National Socialist leader as ‘the George Washington of Germany’.

The visit came about when Lloyd George, the Prime Minister during the First World War against Germany, visited Hitler’s home at Haus Wachenfeld near Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps.

The pair first met alone at the Berghof, before Lloyd George returned for tea the following night.

 

During the visit, Lloyd George was impressed by Germany’s public works programmes which he saw first hand.

He believed Hitler was rearming Germany for defence and that a war between Germany and Russia would not happen for at least 10 years. The film, which belongs to a British historian, has now been put up for sale for £1,200. Ben Jones, auctioneer at Shropshire-based Mullock’s Auctions which is selling the film, said: ‘It is a significant film and interesting to see how Lloyd George was laughing and joking and everything appears to be okay.

‘Hitler was able to cover up all of his emotions and what he was really thinking to fool people into thinking he was a different person to the one we witnessed by the end of the war. ‘My guess is this film was made by someone from Lloyd George’s entourage perhaps for propaganda purposes because you can see the Germans don’t look at the camera while Lloyd George’s entourage do acknowledge it. ‘The person who has the film in his possession is a British historian who is a big collector with so much material he needs to start selling some of it.’

British nationalist politician justified Holocaust in 2014 tweet about Gaza

(JTA) — A candidate for the nationalist UKIP party in the United Kingdom’s general elections wrote anti-Semitic remarks regularly on Twitter, including one that justified the Holocaust.

The Campaign Against Antiseitism, a British watchdog, on Friday published its dossier on Captain Paddy Singh, UKIP’s candidate for the Wiltshire North constituency in the June 8 general elections.

The tweets were discovered on the Twitter account he operates for his travel agency, Hindoostan Tours, between 2014 and 2015, the group said, adding Singh admitted to writing them and apologized for publishing them.

One message read: “At times I ask myself were the Nazis right in herding the Jews into concentration camps.”

Another, from the summer of 2014, when Israel was fighting Hamas in Gaza, stated: “The Israelis are basically Nazis in mentality. The survivors of the tragic Holacast [sic] learnt from their captors.” A third read: “No hope of a ceasefire with the Nazi Jews like wild dogs on the rampage.”

When Campaign Against Antisemitism called Singh, he admitted that he had sent the tweets and offered “total apologies” and said that he should not have commented “spontaneously” after reading articles, but had no explanation for why he had made the comments repeatedly over the years.

Gideon Falter, Chairman of Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “It beggars belief that someone with such repulsive views has been selected to stand for Parliament. UKIP must expel Captain Singh from the Party immediately, and explain how he became a candidate in the first place.”

UKIP has fought critics who, citing many cases of hate speech against Muslims and Jews by representatives and supporters of that nationalist party, said it was a xenophobic far-right group.

The anti-EU movement is suspicious of immigrants, especially Muslim ones. One of UKIP’s most senior spokesmen, Gerard Batten, wants Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting violence.

And a UKIP European Parliament lawmaker, Stuart Agnew, in 2015 supported banning ritual slaughter of animals both by Jews and Muslims in an apparent attempt to target the latter, though the party’s former leader, the flamboyant orator Nigel Farage, did not support the proposal, which never became policy.

However, UKIP, like Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party and others, has banned and suspended members who were caught engaging in hate speech.

British MPs call to strip UK-born Asma Assad of citizenship

A group of British legislators is urging the government to revoke the citizenship of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s British-born wife, Asma Assad.

Some Liberal Democrats in Parliament sent a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Sunday, saying Asma Assad should not be able to represent her husband and retain British nationality.

“The First Lady of Syria has acted, not as a private citizen, but as a spokesperson for the Syrian presidency,” said Liberal Democrat shadow foreign secretary Tom Brake in a statement.

“This is a barbarous regime, yet Asma al-Assad has continued to use her international profile to defend it, even after the chemical weapons atrocity,” the letter read, in reference to an alleged gas attack earlier this month by Assad’s military on civilians in rebel-held territory that killed over 80 people, many of them children.

“As the Assad regime has presided over a sickening civil war that has brought instability to the region and enabled terrorism to flourish, the justification seems clear. She enjoys dual nationality so would still remain a citizen of the country – and the regime – to which she is so publicly committed.”

Asma Assad was educated in Britain and worked as an investment banker before she married in 2000.

“The government is entitled to deprive someone of their citizenship if it is conducive to the public good because that person has prejudiced the interests of the United Kingdom,” Brake’s statement added.

Britain has called for her husband to leave the presidency and condemned his use of chemical weapons.

Earlier on Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called Assad an “arch-terrorist” and said it was time Russia realized he is “literally and metaphorically toxic.”

Johnson said Assad’s ally Moscow still had time to be on the “right side of the argument,” in a Sunday Telegraph newspaper article.

“Assad uses chemical weapons because they are not only horrible and indiscriminate. They are also terrifying,” Johnson wrote.

“In that sense he is himself an arch-terrorist, who has caused such an unquenchable thirst for revenge that he can never hope to govern his population again.

“He is literally and metaphorically toxic, and it is time Russia awoke to that fact. They still have time to be on the right side of the argument.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivers a speech during a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart on April 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

Johnson was widely criticized for failing to get the G7 to back his bid for new sanctions against senior Russian and Syrian figures following the chemical weapons attack.

But he said the chemical assault had changed the West’s stance on Syria.

“The UK, the US and all our key allies are of one mind: we believe that this was highly likely to be an attack by Assad, on his own people, using poison gas weapons that were banned almost 100 years ago,” he wrote.

“Let us face the truth: Assad has been clinging on. With the help of Russians and Iranians, and by dint of unrelenting savagery, he has not only recaptured Aleppo. He has won back most of ‘operational’ Syria.”

Before the April 4 chemical attack, the West was “on the verge of a grim consensus,” which had now changed, said Johnson.

The consensus had been that it would be more sensible to concentrate on the fight against Islamic State jihadists and to accept reluctantly that removing Assad, “though ultimately essential — should await a drawn out political solution.”

French, British and American Soldiers Raped almost One Million German Women after World War II

A German historian estimates in her book that French, British and American soldiers raped 860,000 Germans at and after the end of the WW2, including 190,000 sexual assaults by American soldiers.

(The Local)

Professor Miriam Gebhardt’s book When the Soldiers Came includes interviews with victims, stories of the children of rape and research that she conducted over the course of a year and a half into birth records in Allied-occupied West Germany and West Berlin.

“Now, 70 years after the war, it’s long past the time when one could be suspected of dealing with German victimhood,” Gebhardt, an author and lecturer at the University of Konstanz, told The Local.

 

“There is no longer the question that one might want to relativize the responsibility of the Germans for the Second World War and the Holocaust.”

Gebhardt said she arrived at that number of sexual assaults by estimating that of the so-called ‘war-children’ born to unmarried German women by the 1950s, five percent were products of rape.

She also estimates that for each birth, there were 100 rapes, including of men and boys.

Gebhardt’s numbers are higher than previous estimates. A well-received 2003 book by American professor of criminology J. Robert Lilly, Taken by Force, estimated that American soldiers committed around 11,000 rapes in Germany.

While an article published by Der Spiegel on Monday raised questions about whether Gebhardt’s figures accurately reflected the incidence of sexual assault in post-war Germany, Lilly told The Local that her estimates were certainly reasonable.

“Gebhardt’s numbers are plausible, but her work is not a definitive account,” said Lilly in an interview with The Local, explaining that no exact number could ever be known because of a lack of records.

“It is confirmation of research that I have done and it adds to this ongoing discussion of what happens in the underbelly of war – What goes on that we haven’t talked about.”

Much of the discussion of sexual assaults against Germans has focused on the Soviet troops in east Germany, who are estimated to have committed between one to two million rapes during the time.

Gebhardt said she wanted to challenge the assumption that it was only the Red Army that was responsible for such acts.

“Goebbels warned that the Red Army would rampage through Germany, would rape German women and commit atrocities against civilians… People hoped that they would be occupied by Western troops and not the Soviets,” she said.

“But the course of events was the same. Both sides plundered valuables and mementoes, and soldiers often committed gang rapes against women.”

Gebhardt’s research also included records from Bavarian priests recording the Allied advance in 1945, including one description that reads “the saddest event during the advance were three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half. They were committed by heavily drunken Americans.”

The book paints a much darker picture than what is often seen in cinema and literature of the Allied troops who liberated Germans from the Nazi regime and thus could take time for people to fully absorb, Lilly said.

“It will be resisted to some extent. There are American scholars who will not like it because they may think it will make the war crimes committed by the Germans less bad,” Lilly said.

“I don’t think it will minimize what the Germans did at all. It will add another dimension to what war is like and it will not diminish that the Allies won.”

That chimes with Gebhardt’s attitude to her work, which she says aims simply to expose the horror of such actions in war.

“War actions that led to the defeat of Germany, the defeat of the Nazi regime, are a different question than the rapes, which were more personal and served no military purpose,” Gebhardt said. “Rapes can’t decide a war.

The rapes “lasted for years, not just at the moment of the conquest,” she added.

“They weren’t just part of the violence that took place in the last weeks and days of the war, but continued for years.”

British pro-BDS activist barred from entering Israel

A British pro-Palestinian activist was barred from entering the country on Sunday evening, a week after the Knesset passed a bill allowing foreign nationals who call for boycotting Israel be turned away by border authorities.

Hugh Lanning, a former chairman of the pro-BDS Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was denied entry into Israel, according to joint statements by the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority and Ministry of Public Security headed by Gilad Erdan (Likud), owing to his alleged efforts to promote a boycott of Israel.

Lanning was expected to be placed on a flight back to the UK sometime overnight or on Monday morning.

The joint ministerial statement highlighted PSC’s involvement with other delegitimization groups operating against Israel in the UK, noting that some of its members were aboard vessels that were part of the flotilla aiming to break the blockade against Gaza in 2010. Lanning, the statement said, also met with senior Hamas figures in Gaza in 2012, including top official Ismail Haniyeh.

“Those who act against Israel must understand that the reality has changed,” said Erdan in response. “No sane country would grant entry to central, pro-BDS figures who want to harm it and isolate it.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) said Israel was following a “determined policy that would no longer look the other way on activists who want to undermine its existence.”

A statement from the Israeli Embassy in the UK cited by Jewish News emphasized the group’s support for the BDS movement, adding that Lanning “is associated with the leaders of Hamas, which is designated as a terror group across the European Union; a group whose anti-Semitic charter calls for killing all Jews.”

“Israel is seeking a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians. Those who promote extremism should not be allowed to foment their hatred in Israel,” the statement read.

The Knesset last week passed into law a bill preventing foreign nationals who have publicly called for a boycott of the Jewish state or work on behalf of an organization that advocates these measures from entering Israel.

The legislation was advanced by right-wing and centrist coalition lawmakers and passed its third and final reading with 46 lawmakers voting in favor and 28 voting against it.

The law also extends to supporters of boycotts of West Bank settlement products, resting on a legal definition of an Israel boycott in a 2011 law that includes all “areas under its control.”

It would not apply to foreign nationals who have a residency permit and gives the interior minister leeway to make exceptions. Under the existing law, the interior minister already has the right to bar individuals from entering Israel.

Critics of the bill have charged that it silences legitimate political dissent on Israeli policy.

A number of Jewish groups in the US and the UK also criticized the law.

British warship docks in Israel amid rising tensions in Mediterranean

HAIFA (AP) — A British warship on Tuesday conducted a joint exercise with the Israeli navy before docking in the port of Haifa for a visit that comes at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Both countries described the visit by the HMS Bulwark as routine and a reflection of deepening security ties between the two nations. It is the first British warship to dock in Haifa since 2009.

But its arrival comes weeks after Russia’s deployment of its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to the region, off the coast of Syria. Russia has backed the Syrian government in its civil war, and the Russian ship has been used as a base for airstrikes on rebel targets.

“The eastern Mediterranean is a pretty dangerous place right now, but that’s we are paid to do,” said Capt. James Parkin, the ship’s commander. “Of course we are in a very high level of preparedness.”

Crew members of the British Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark holds weapons as the ship is anchored in Haifa port, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. The Bulwark is on a mission in the Mediterranean sea. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

David Quarrey, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, said the ship has been deployed to the region for several months and was stopping in Haifa for a quick break before heading home.

“There are many shared challenges that the UK and Israel face, and unfortunately many of them come from the region,” he said.

An Israeli navy official, speaking anonymously under military guidelines, said Israel has seen an increase in visits by allies over the past two years.

“It gives us opportunities to cooperate and train with navies that we usually don’t have the opportunity to train with,” he said. “The area of the east Mediterranean has become very crowded in light of the vast presence of the Russians and the situation in Syria. And Israel presents a safe port for them.”

While Western countries have grown alarmed by Russia’s increased presence in the region, Israel has had a delicate relationship with Moscow. Israel is bitter enemies with both Syria and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian forces. But Israel has maintained good communications with the Russians to avoid any clashes between the countries’ air forces in the skies over Syria. Israel is believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria.

The crew of the British Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark work as the ship is anchored in Haifa port, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits “The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom” handbook, said the Bulwark’s visit was a “political signal” — reflecting close military and diplomatic ties with Israel.

But he said he did not think the message was aimed at the Russians. “The Russians have known about this deployment for a long time,” he said.

Leprosy Surprise: Medieval Scourge Is Lurking In British Squirrels

This red squirrel has the disfiguring sores of leprosy on its ear.

Dorset Wildlife Trust

People and leprosy go way back. Way, way back.

“It’s been around for at least 5,000 years and probably longer,” says Stewart Cole, who directs the Global Health Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The disease, which causes nerve damage and skin ulcers, likely originated in Africa — tens of thousands of years ago. Migrated to Asia and Europe as people did. Then moved to the Americas and back to Africa with colonists and the slave trade.

But it was during the Middle Ages that leprosy really took off in Europe. Famous people got it. Rich people got it. By 1225 A.D. there were 19,000 leprosy hospitals on the continent.

Then around the 16th century, leprosy virtually disappeared from Europe. Great Britain hasn’t had a case in centuries; people thought it was gone there. Eradicated.

But in fact, leprosy never left the island. Instead, the bacteria have been lurking in trees. Scurrying along the ground. And storing up nuts for the winter — all undetected — for hundreds of years.

Red squirrels across England, Ireland and Scotland harbor leprosy bacteria, Cole and his colleagues report today in the journal Science. Some of the critters even have signs of the disease, including damage to nerve endings and swelling in eyes, ears, feet and snouts.

But here’s the real clincher: One version of the pathogen detected in the squirrels closely matches the leprosy bacteria found in the skeletal remains buried 730 years in Winchester, England, the study reports.

In other words, leprosy has circulated in British squirrels for centuries.

“That for me was a real gobsmacker,” Cole says. “The very same strain that would cause disease in humans back in the Middle Ages was still present in the squirrels. That’s awesome.” He was inspired to begin his research after reading an obscure study that described what looked like leprosy in squirrels.

The team analyzed about 110 squirrels — some with leprosy symptoms, some without. Of the latter group, about 20 percent harbored bacteria that can cause leprosy in people. All the squirrels with symptoms carried the pathogen.

Right now, Cole says, there’s no evidence the squirrels are infecting people. But the findings upend a long-standing belief about the ancient disease: People are the only source, the only ones that carry it. And they catch it only from close contact with other sick people.

“The new study is a paradigm shift,” says microbiologist Richard Truman, who has studied leprosy for more than 30 years at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La.

For decades, doctors thought people caught leprosy only from other people. But in 2011, Truman and his team put a crack in that hypothesis. They showed that armadillos — yes, armadillos — in the southern U.S. were likely infecting Americans.

“We have only about 200 cases of leprosy in the Southern U.S. each year,” Truman says. “A fairly large percentage of those are associated with leprosy strains we find in the armadillos. And therefore, they’re thought to be the result of transmission from armadillos to people.” They think people get leprosy when they butcher and eat armadillos. There’s no evidence that squirrels infect people but they haven’t really looked.

But still, Truman says, doctors wondered if leprosy in armadillos was some kind of fluke, something peculiar to the unique animals.

The new study says that is definitely not the case.

Finding leprosy in squirrels, Truman says, suggests it could be hiding out in other rodents around the world. And these infected animals could be the reason why the disease has persisted at relatively high levels in some countries despite huge efforts to eliminate it.

Each year the world reports about 200,000 new leprosy cases. Most of them are India and Brazil.

“Being able to find leprosy in another animal, on another continent, really stimulates the idea that animal hosts are involved in spreading the disease,” Truman says.

But the leper squirrels in Britain also teach us a tough lesson about disease eradication, Cole says: “Even after a disease disappears from people, and we think it’s gone, it could still be out there in the environment,” he says. It could be sitting on a tree, right outside your window.