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Friday, January 20, 2017

Farron accuses Corbyn but are all the Lib Dem MPs with him?

It is some time since a Liberal Democrat leader featured so prominently on the front page of the Guardian so it is worth reflecting on where the party currently stands.

The Liberal Democrats have just passed 80,000 members after surges in new recruits following the 2015 General Election, the European referendum and Theresa May's 'Brexit means Brexit' fiasco/saga. We are the only party fighting elections in all the nations of Great Britain with a clear pro-European message and we are very very slowly starting to see the benefits of that stance in the polls.

It is right therefore that Tim Farron should step up the pressure on the Labour Leader who, as he says in the Guardian article, has lamely given up while Britain “drives off a cliff” towards Brexit. He adds that in his view future generations will not forgive Labour for failing to stand up to Theresa May’s plans:

In an overt attempt to steal votes from Labour in pro-remain constituencies, Farron said he believed Corbyn had put his party on the wrong side of the biggest political issue in a generation and was struggling because his MPs were increasingly split on how to respond.

“I think what Labour has done is to believe this is too difficult for them politically, let’s just wait for it to go away, and the meeker we are, the quicker it will go away. I think that’s the calculation they’ve made, and this and future generations are not going to forgive them for that,” he said. “We are saying that Jeremy Corbyn and now Keir Starmer [the shadow Brexit secretary] as well – you have a Labour party from top to bottom that is failing.”

On Thursday, Corbyn sparked disquiet among his colleagues by signalling that he would expect Labour MPs to back legislation triggering article 50. Up to 30 Labour MPs, including several shadow cabinet members, are considering rebelling rather than back a bill that they believe will endorse the 12-point Brexit plan laid out by May in a speech on Tuesday.

Farron hopes that his party’s clear pro-EU position will propel it to an electoral revival, after it snatched a seat from the Conservatives in the Richmond Park byelection and relegated Labour into fourth position in Sleaford.

Setting out his version of the differences between the Lib Dems and Labour, Farron said it was necessary to oppose the Conservatives over Brexit: “It’s not divisive to hold the government to account, and not just to lamely give up as we go over a cliff, and that is what Labour are doing – they are being the most ineffective opposition in living memory.”

This is not opportunism as some have claimed, it is the reassertion of a core raison d'etre of the party. The Liberals and the Liberal Democrats have always been a passionately pro-European party. The SDP had as one of its core principles a commitment to Europe. The fact that Labour and the Tories have effectively ceded that position to us is helping us to get that message across.

But there are dangers in this approach, not least in the apparent lack of unity within the Parliamentary Party. Just because there are only 9 MPs, does not mean that we can act in an undisciplined way.

On such a key issue as this, splits in the way MPs vote will come back and bite us and undermine much of the good will that has been built up over the European issue. It is not good enough having Tim Farron lead from the front, all nine MPs need to be squarely behind him.

When it comes to the vote on Section 50, the nine MPs need to vote as a single block and have a reasoned justification for the way that they vote. Failure to do so will undermine all the good things that have been achieved in the last six months and set back the pro-European cause for some time.

I hope that they are listening.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why post-Brexit trade deals will be harder than May pretends

The Prime Minister may argue that one of the benefits of leaving the single market is that we will be able to have better control of our borders but she will soon discover that the UK cannot have its cake and eat it.

Brexiteers are seeking to reassure us that once we leave the EU, there will be many countries seeking to do a trade deal with the UK. I have already argued that in the case of the USA there are substantial downsides to such a deal both in terms of the quality of goods and food we may be forced to accept but also in the threat to national institutions such as the NHS.

The biggest lie though is that we can strike these deals on our terms whilst insisting only on the free-flow of goods but not people. That is amply illustrated by this article in the Independent, which reports that one of Britain's most important post-Brexit trade partnerships could be at risk due to Theresa May's refusal to reform visa restrictions for Indian citizens.

The paper says that a senior Indian official argues that: "mobility issues are of importance to us; we cannot separate free movement of people from the free flow of goods, services and investments”. And S Irudaya Rajan, an advisor to the Indian government on migration issues added: “India is an important country for the UK and curbing the flow of good minds, whether they are students or skilled workers, cannot be good for the UK.” 

The Brexiteers may think they have stemmed the flow of Europeans into the UK, but if they want to deal elsewhere then the free movement of people will remain a deal-breaker. Out of the frying pan into the fire for Theresa May and her merry band.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Donald Trump's first broken promise

He is only due to be inaugurated on Friday but already Donald Trump looks set to ditch his main campaign pitch, the many things he promised to do on day one.

As the Independent says, Trump made many promises for his first day in office, from saying he would deport two million undocumented migrants in his “first hour” to claiming he would start building a wall along the border between Mexico and the US immediately, his first day was set to be action-packed.

However, now the President-elect has announced that he will not start attending to presidential duties until two days after his inauguration:

The billionaire property magnate explained that he would take the weekend off and instead consider Monday as the first day of his administration.

Mr Trump said he did not want administration duties to get “mixed up” with the celebration of his inauguration, which is on 20 January.

“Day one - which I will consider to be Monday as opposed to Friday or Saturday. Right?” Mr Trump told Michael Gove in his interview with The Times. The billionaire property magnate explained that he would take the weekend off and instead consider Monday as the first day of his administration.

Mr Trump said he did not want administration duties to get “mixed up” with the celebration of his inauguration, which is on 20 January.

“I mean my day one is gonna be Monday because I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration.”

It is little wonder that people are saying that someone needs to explain to him that its not that type of gig.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Nick Clegg and chlorine-soaked chickens

Brexiteers who are clinging to Trump's promise of a quick trade deal with the UK as justification for the mess they have got us into, may live to regret their early enthusiasm. These things are not as straightforward as they seem. We have the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as evidence that these deals come at a cost

As Nick Clegg points out in this article, the free-for-all nature of the US economy could lead to a different standard applying to the goods we import into this country from Trump's America:

Mr Clegg accused Brexit supporters of believing in a “fantasy world” of trade deals with far-flung countries, which could never replace the EU’s single market.

And he recounted a conversation with Joe Biden, the outgoing US Vice-President, to underline what the US will demand as the price of an agreement with Britain.

The former Liberal Democrat leader said: “He said to me very unsentimentally – in that folksy way he does – ‘We are not going to sign anything that the chicken farmers of Delaware don’t like!’.

“Now, the chicken farmers of Delaware wash their chicken flesh with some sort of chlorine.

“It’s bleached – bloody horrible stuff – which is not allowed in the EU, the EU has decided, through various laws.

“You tell me, but I suspect the good shoppers of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and others might be a little bit shocked if, suddenly, they are having to eat this slightly white, chlorine-washed American chicken flesh.”

Mr Clegg added, sarcastically: “And that’s the great triumph of the new US-UK trade agreement.”

At present the EU uses a so-called “farm-to-fork” approach, requiring steps all along the production chain to ensure the food ultimately sold is safe. The Independent speculates that any deal to allow US meat to be sold in Britain after inferior safety measures would be likely to provoke uproar from farmers and consumers.

Any deal with the USA could be as controversial as TTIP with equal threats to the integrity of the NHS, food and environmental safety, banking regulations, privacy and the undermining of democracy by enabling big corporations to dictate policy to government. 

As ever the devil is in the detail. Those who are embracing Trump's offer should think again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Labour in chaos again

As the Daily Telegraph reports Labour's freedom of movement position is in chaos once again as the shadow foreign secretary said the party will not "die in a ditch" over the policy.

They say that Emily Thornberry made the comments just minutes after Jeremy Corbyn refused to accept that levels of EU migration to Britain were too high. Nor is this the first time that senior Labour politicians have openly contradicted each other in public:

The party's position was in disarray last week after Mr Corbyn indicated on Monday that he was prepared to address the concerns of voters by announcing that his party favoured "reasonably managed migration".

However, when he delivered his speech he changed a key paragraph to say that the party did not "rule out" keeping free movement in exchange for access to the Single Market.

Mr Corbyn's speech had been intended to end the confusion surrounding his stance on migration after bitter clashes with his shadow cabinet.

But in a series of interviews he said that he was not willing to put limits on migration, and suggested he was prepared to accept free movement in return for access to the Single Market.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Ms Thornberry said: “We’re not going to die in a ditch about it, it’s up for negotiation, but Labour’s principle has always been that the economy is the most important thing.

“It’s up to negotiations. Labour’s principle has always been that the economy is the most important thing.”

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Mr Corbyn acknowledged free movement was up for “negotiation”, but added: “Let’s not blame migrants for the problems that we have.”

He added that any Brexit deal “will involve people from Europe working here just as much as there are 2million British people living and working in the European Union.

“Are we going to cut ourselves from Europe completely? I don’t think so.”

Asked whether Labour wanted more control over who comes into Britain, Ms Thornberry said: “We’ve always been in favour of fair rules, and properly managed migration. That’s always been Labour’s policy. So of course we’re likely to have a new policy on migration if we leave the European Union.”

Although these sound like small differences of emphasis they are in fact quite important. Labour's approach to Brexit appears to differ from week to week, spokesperson to spokesperson, even between leader's pronouncments. It is little wonder that they are incapable of providing coherent opposition.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lemming Theresa May to take UK over the cliff edge with her

After months of waiting we might finally get an inkling of Theresa May's negotiating strategy on Tuesday when she makes her first public pronouncement on Brexit.

The Telegraph says that the Prime Minister will gamble by siding with Eurosceptics, signalling she is prepared to take Britain out of the single market and customs union.

They add that the speech risks exposing deep splits in the Tory Party over Europe as she finally details her vision for Britain’s future outside the EU:

In her speech, Mrs May is expected to say that Britain must:
How she plans to secure unity on that agenda is difficult to understand. Leaving the customs union and ending single market membership is contrary to the ambition of the 48% who voted to remain and would be disastrous for this country.

The proposal to opt out of the European Court of Justice would undermine everything that has been put in place since the second world war to establish a common legal framework in Europe based on basic human rights principles and to secure the future of peaceful co-operation between nations.

Theresa May is threatening to take this country over a cliff and in doing so satisfying nobody. If this is the reality of 'Brexit means Brexit' then she can keep it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Is Farage misleading Trump on the stability of the EU?

The Independent reports that Nigel Farage has been accused of misleading Donald Trump over the state of the Brussels bloc by the US ambassador to the European Union:

Anthony Gardner said the former UKIP leader had given the President-elect a false impression that more countries might follow Britain out of the bloc by inflating the level of euro-scepticism in Europe.

He added that it would be "lunacy" to follow UKIP's lead in supporting the "fragmentation of Europe" and urged Mr Trump not to treat the EU as "dysfunctional".

That approach would be "fundamentally flawed", he said.

Mr Gardner who has served as Barack Obama’s EU envoy for three years, also used his final news conference to attack Theresa May’s Brexit stance, calling it “disorderly” and “unmanaged”.

He said: "For us to be the cheerleaders of Brexit and to be encouraging Brexit Mark 2, Mark 3, is the height of folly.”

Describing calls to EU institutions from Mr Trump's aides in recent weeks, Gardner said: "That was the one question that was asked - basically, 'What's the next country to leave?'. Which is kind of suggesting that the place is about to fall apart.

"It's just reflective of the general perception, a misperception, a perception that Nigel Farage is presumably disseminating in Washington and it's a caricature."

The ambassador said Mr Farage, who had written to him recently requesting a meeting, had misled Trump's transition team on the state of the EU.

"We should not depart from 50 years of foreign policy with regard to the EU," he said. "We should not become the cheerleaders for Brexit, particularly if Brexit appears more likely to be a hard, disorderly unmanaged Brexit."

He added: "A hard Brexit or a fragmentation of the European market would be very bad news for American business."

Farage is playing Gríma Wormtongue to Donald Trump's King Théoden. He is an agent provocateur, undermining the unity of Europe, a unity that has kept the peace for over 70 years and in doing so he is working against the interests of the UK.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Liberal Democrats start 2017 with massive council by-election wins

There were just two Principal Council by-elections last night and the Liberal Democrats won both of them, taking Sandhill in Sunderland off Labour from fourth place with a 41.5% increase in our vote and winning Gade Valley in Three Rivers off the Tories and taking overall control of the council with a 24% increase in our vote.

The Sunderland result was all the more remarkable because at the Brexit referendum Sunderland split LEAVE 61% REMAIN 39%. That puts the Liberal Democrats gain in context. The last time the seat was fought Labour secured 54.9% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats 4.5%.

It is a sensational start to the calendar year, carrying forward the momentum from 2016 the Lib Dems have now made a net gain of 26 Principal Council seats. Tim Farron sums it up:

We finished 2016 winning by-elections and tonight we have shown that the Lib Dem Fightback is going from strength to strength. Since May 2015 we have now gained over 20 council seats and won a parliamentary by-election in Richmond Park.

Thanks to the hard work of local campaigners and great candidates we have gained two new council seats and control of a council.

Tonight we gained seats from both the Conservatives and from Labour. People up and down the country want to see an open, tolerant and united UK. It is the Liberal Democrats who are standing up and representing them, we are the real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Labour in disarray on defence again

Labour's problems with defence policy have continued with yet another row between the Leader's office and the MP designated to speak on the issue.

The Daily Mirror reports that Labour Defence Spokesperson, Nia Griffith was said to be "furious" at an intervention by the Labour leader's top aide, who failed to back RAF Top Guns' mission in Estonia:

Asked if RAF Top Guns should be pulled out of Estonia to ease tensions with Moscow, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman said: "There clearly needs to be a ratcheting down of tensions between the West and Russia.

“There’s dangers involved in that military escalation, particularly on the NATO-Russian border.”

Sources close to Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said she was “absolutely furious” and “absolutely livid” at the spokesman’s intervention.

Four Typhoon fighters are stationed in the former Communist bloc country as part of a NATO mission to protect its airspace from Kremlin warplanes.

But the Labour leader's spokesman refused to say if he supported the British jets's deployment or whether they should be withdrawn.

He also refused to confirm a UK government with Mr Corbyn as Prime Minister would defend Estonia if Russia invaded.

Yet just hours earlier, Ms Griffith had given an interview hailing Labour’s commitment to NATO, and backing British troops’ deployment to eastern Europe.

She told Forces TV: “I think it’s very, very important that we now play a very strong role in NATO, particularly as we are leaving the European Union.

“I think it’s very important for NATO to be absolutely clear, following what has happened in Ukraine, that we are standing together as NATO nations and there is no way that we would tolerate any attack on any one of our member states.

“I think that’s why it’s so important that we have this partnership work now with the three Baltic States and Poland.

“We are going to be particularly involved in both Poland and Estonia and it was clear from my talks with people out in Estonia that they very much welcome this partnership."

It is little wonder that Labour are struggling in the polls and losing many long term supporters when they cannot agree amongst themselves on key defence policies.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Brexiteers and the price of cake

Those Leave campaigners who argue that we have got off scot-free from the referendum result need to go shopping a bit more often.

The impact of that vote on the pound has already led to an increase in imported goods and this is starting to filter through to supermarket shelves. And that is before we have even left, if indeed we do.

The Independent reports that the maker of Mr Kipling cakes and Bisto gravy is in talks with some of its biggest retail customers about cranking up prices as a result of the twin pressures of the tumbling pound and rising commodity prices:

Premier Foods, which has in the past already said that it would take action to limit the impact of the Brexit-hit pound on shop prices, said that it was considering rises on a case-by-case basis as a last resort.

“On average we are considering rises around the mid-single digit mark,” a spokesperson said, adding that the company was talking to individual retail customers about particular categories and brands of products.

It seems that Brexit is going to hit us in the pocket earlier than the Brexiteers told us. Quel surprise!

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