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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Badger cull policy now completely discredited

As if it were not bad enough that the UK Government are pursuing a cull of badgers, despite all the evidence indicating that they do not work, the Guardian have unearthed figures that cast severe doubts on Ministers' recent decision to extend the cull to new areas.

The paper says that tuberculosis levels in cattle have risen in the original two areas of the country where the badger cull has been piloted over the past five years, raising questions about the merit of expanding the scheme:

The figures are confirmed in official data quietly released last week as the government announced plans to expand the controversial cull in England, which campaigners say could see more than 60,000 badgers killed this year.

The figures suggest that, following some early success in bringing the levels down, bovine TB is now on the rise in the zones, in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Analysis by the vet and former government scientist Dr Iain McGill, who led calls for a public inquiry into the BSE scandal, reveals that the proportion of herds with bovine TB in the Gloucestershire pilot zone increased from 6.9% at the start of culling to 9% over the five-year period.

The rate of occurrence of new confirmed bovine TB cases – known as the incidence rate – was 13.2% last year, compared with 12.7% when the cull began in 2013.

In Somerset, the incidence rate declined, but the disease has become more widespread across herds. The official data shows that the proportion of herds with bovine TB increased from 6.1% when culling started to 6.7% at the end of last year. Defra chooses not to focus on the five-year data. Instead, it points to an earlier report that found a decline in bovine TB in the first two years of the cull.

“The government had all of the data but only released it simultaneous to the announcement on Wednesday of the massacre of up to 62,000 badgers,” said McGill, who has called for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the cull.

“That they could have tried to hide this data in order to justify such a massacre of protected wildlife, whilst referring glibly to data from 2015 in support of their case, is corrupt and criminal. Defra have manipulated and hidden scientific data to such a degree that it amounts to systemic scientific fraud.”

Huge amounts of money have been spent on this pointless cull despite scientific studies predicting precisely this outcome. If the government had carried out a more humane vaccination programme instead, combined with better cattle control measures as in Wales then we might have made some progress on eradicating this disease by now.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Will the PM smash up the UK as the Incredible Hulk?

Of all the bizarre sayings and claims made by Boris Johnson, the weekend's announcement that he is the incredible Hulk of politics has to be the most bizarre.

Promising to ignore the Commons legislation ordering him to delay Brexit if negotiations break down, Mr Johnson told The Mail on Sunday: “Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country.

“We will come out on October 31 and we will get it done.”

He added in an aside that appeared to refer to himself as the hero that “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets”.

Kudos then to Mark Ruffalo, the actor who plays the Incredible Hulk in the latest Marvel films, who challenged the analogy. As the Independent reports the actor said that The Hulk was dependent on the community around him.

“Boris Johnson forgets that the Hulk only fights for the good of the whole” Ruffalo tweeted.

He added: “Mad and strong can also be dense and destructive. The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team, and is a disaster when he is alone. Plus...he’s always got Dr. Banner with science and reason”.

Others joined in the criticism:

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt saying: “Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile. Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed? Is this Boris Johnson whistling in the dark?”

Labour MP Jess Phillips added the statement was “the kind of thing my kids would say”, adding the caveat that they “would never make such glaring errors about The Hulk, I've raised them properly.”

From my perspective, Boris Johnson is much more like the earlier Hulk, whose rage leads him to smash everything up. Johnson's Brexit will wreck the UK and, in his rage, he does not seem to care.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Wake up call on homelessness

This morning's Observer contains a shocking statistic about the homeless crisis facing the UK, with the revelation that one in four households in England found to be homeless or under threat of homelessness last year were in paid work at the time. There is no reason to think that this does not also apply to Wales and Scotland.

The paper says that data published last week showed that, of more than 260,000 households facing a homelessness crisis, more than a quarter of applications for council support were made by a household member who was in paid employment at the time. In some areas, the proportion of working households facing losing their homes was much higher, reaching more than half in one council, Rutland in the East Midlands:

The findings were condemned by Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, who called on the government to build more social housing and urgently increase housing benefit to allow more people to rent. “We regularly hear from distressed people who are facing the unforgiving reality of holding down a job while having nowhere stable to live. Despite working all the hours they can, too many people have been pushed into the housing emergency by expensive private rents, punishing housing benefit cuts and a chronic lack of social homes,” she said.

“The only way politicians can fix this crisis is with a clear commitment from every party to deliver three million more social homes over the next 20 years. And in the meantime, the government must urgently increase housing benefit so that people on low incomes can access at least the bottom third of the private rental market.”

This is the reality of in-work poverty, made worse by rising house prices - in-work households made up 31% of cases in south-east England and 30% in London and the east of England, compared to just 17% in the north east, where housing is cheaper.

Above all these figures underline the need for more affordable housing, and in England less emphasis on intermediate housing at 80% of market rents, and more new homes available at social rents.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Cameron is back

It is amazing how a lucrative book deal can cause hitherto shy politicians to emerge from their garden shed to try and rewrite history.

There is no doubt that David Cameron is absolutely right in this Telegraph article, when he says that  Boris Johnson and Michael Gove left "the truth at home" over Brexit and behaved “appallingly” during the EU referendum campaign:

In an excoriating attack by an ex-prime minister on one of his successors, Mr Cameron criticised his former friends and colleagues over the claims they made about £350m a week payments to Brussels on their campaign bus.

Casting doubt on Mr Johnson’s promise of getting Britain out of the EU on Oct 31 with or without a deal, Mr Cameron also suggests a second referendum might now be necessary, saying: “I don’t think you can rule it out because we’re stuck.”

No doubt people can read all about it in the former Prime Minister memoirs. I won't be reading them. However, the least that Cameron can do is show some humility. He may feel betrayed but that is nothing to what this country should feel about him.

Cameron put his own party interests and the long-standing Tory feud over Europe, ahead of those of the country. He is as much responsible, possibly more so, for the mess we are in than any of those he is now seeking to blame.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Government spends £100m on propaganda

It seems that £100 million does not go as far as it used to if the Government's pro-Brexit campaign is any guide. As the Guardian reports, Boris Johnson has been accused of seriously misleading the public with the government’s campaign to Get Ready for Brexit on 31 October. MPs and experts have urged civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill to intervene to make clear the UK is highly unlikely to leave without a deal on that day:

The £100m advertising campaign, which claims to set out what the public needs to do to get ready for a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, is now “redundant and misleading”, according to a cross-party group of MPs led by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson.

They have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the head of the civil service, demanding he take action to stop the campaign wasting money and giving inaccurate information to the public and businesses, which may wrongly overestimate the chances of the UK leaving without a deal on 31 October. In practice, this can only happen if the EU turns down the UK’s request for an article 50 extension or Johnson breaks the law by ignoring parliament.

“A publicly funded campaign, encouraging businesses to be ready for the UK’s October no deal exit, as well as being factually incorrect (as it addresses an event which cannot now occur) is inherently party political (as it cannot be government policy, but is Conservative policy), bringing the campaign into conflict, not only with the propriety rules highlighted above, but also the ministerial code,” the MPs said.

Jill Rutter, the programme director of the Institute for Government, also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the campaign now that the Benn bill requiring Johnson to request a three-month delay to Brexit if there is no deal has passed into law.

This is not the only area in which the Tory Government's use of public money to promote its policies has been brought into question. As the paper says, eyebrows have also been raised about the government’s police recruitment advertisements that some on social media have likened to Tory election campaign adverts, with a blue font and messaging that the government is creating 20,000 extra police officers.

Surely there should be some independent arbiter to rule on these issues and stop public money being abused in this way.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Government documents reveal full horror of a no deal brexit

I think most people understood that leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for the country and the economy, but the publication of the UK Government's Yellowhammer papers in today's papers, sets out the stark reality in a way that must give everybody pause for thought.

As the Guardian outlines, the government's own analysis suggests that a no-deal Brexit could result in rising food and fuel prices, disruption to medicine supplies and public disorder on Britain’s streets:

The document, which says it outlines “reasonable worst case planning assumptions” for no deal Brexit, highlights the risk of border delays, given an estimate that up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.

“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” it warns.

This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last “significantly longer”, it adds, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.

The reliance of medical supplies on cross-Channel routes “make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”, the report says, with some medicines having such short shelf lives they cannot be stockpiled. A lack of veterinary medicines could increase the risk of disease outbreaks, it adds.

On food supplies, supplies of “certain types of fresh food” would be reduced, the document warns, as well as other items such as packaging.

It says: “In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups.”

Later, it adds: “Low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel.”

On law and order it warns: “Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.”

The documents also outline a potential impact on cross-border financial services and law enforcement information sharing.

It says Gibraltar could face significant delays on its border with Spain, with four-hour waits likely “for at least a few months”.

The document also concedes that there will be a return to some sort of hard Irish border despite a UK insistence it will not impose checks: “This model is likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks and no effective unilateral mitigations to address this will be available.”

The expectation, it adds, is that some businesses will move to avoid tariffs, and others will face higher costs.

The real kick in the teeth however lies in a redacted passage, Although paragraph 15 is redacted, comparison with the earlier leaked version that was in the Sunday Times indicates that it is a warning about uncompetitive trade following a no-deal Brexit that could force two major oil refineries to shut, resulting in 2,000 job loses. One is in #Pembrokeshire.

Isn't it time the Prime Minister accepted that holding out for no deal is against the national interest, as of course is leaving in the first place, and agreed to letting voters themselves have the final say on how we proceed from now on?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Labour Minister labels Corbyn policy as 'BS'

Labour's flirtation with Brexit continued yesterday when Jeremy Corbyn promised a further referendum on Brexit with a "credible Leave option" versus Remain if his party wins the next general election, undoing all the good work he has done over the past week in working with other party leaders to foil Boris Johnson's no-deal agenda.

Essentially Labour's position now appears to amount to a manifesto commitment to negotiate a better deal to leave the EU, if that is possible (and we know how that turned out for Theresa May), and then take that deal to the country.

However, the party will not say whether it will support Leave or Remain in that plebiscite opening the door to massive public disagreements at the top of the party during the forthcoming General Election campaign and possibly alienating both sides of the argument.

The Labour leader has rejected calls from senior figures in the party and grassroots activists to campaign explicitly to Remain during the election, despite fears votes and seats will be lost to the Lib Dems.

It is a fence-sitting exercise that will prove once more that Labour cannot be trusted on Brexit. It is little wonder that a sitting Minister in the Welsh Government, not known for his disloyalty, has hit out in frustration on Twitter:

As Vaughan Gething says, putting in the manifesto that Labour will ask people to vote to renegotiate, then asking that same electorate to vote down the outcome of those talks, will lead to the Labour Party being ridiculed. It is little wonder that he has labelled it 'utter BS'.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

No such thing as a clean break

For all the drama yesterday of Parliament being prorogued, Welsh MPs singing Calon Lan in the chamber, the government being forced to publish key documents, and losing another vote to hold a General Election, their sixth since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the real political substance was to be found in Dublin.

There, whilst Boris Johnson fidgeted besides him, the Irish Prime Minister set out the stark reality of a no-deal Brexit - as the Guardian reports, it is not the clean break that the Brexiteers are claiming:

In a tough message to his British counterpart on the steps of Ireland’s Government Buildings, Leo Varadkar said Britain would be back to square one on the very issues on which it refuses to agree now in a no-deal scenario.

“The story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on 31 October or even 31 January – there is no such thing as a clean break. No such thing as just getting it done. Rather, we just enter a new phase,” he said.

“If there is no deal, I believe that’s possible, it will cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike. We will have to get back to the negotiating table. When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border. All the issues we had resolved in the withdrawal agreement we made with your predecessor. An agreement made in good faith by 28 governments.”

Varadkar warned that even if a deal were agreed, Britain should not be deluded about the future relationship negotiations.

“We will enter talks on a future relationship agreement between the EU and UK. It’s going to be tough dealing with issues ranging from tariffs to fishing rights, product standards and state aid. It will then have to be ratified by 31 parliaments,” he said.

Varadkar told Johnson free-trade agreements were difficult to strike but Ireland would be his friend and ally.

“Negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a herculean task for you. We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so,” he said.

This is the reality that Johnson, Cummings, Farage, Mogg and their fellow travellers refuse to acknowledge. Unless we revoke Article 50 then the chaos in Parliament over the last week is just a taster, whether or not somebody gets a majority in the forthcoming General Election. To claim otherwise is to mislead voters.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The world on fire

If spontaneous combustion is a thing then the unwritten constitution of the UK and our democratic process are very close to that point. And that has nothing to do with MPs ignoring the result of the referendum, we are well past that argument. It is that the alliances and coalitions within the two main parties, which sustain our unrepresentative and disproportionate electoral system, are coming apart at the seams.

With a proportional voting system that would not matter. There would be room for the various factions and ideological bedfellows to breath and flourish by standing in their own right, on a platform of their choosing.

Instead we now have the Tory Party being pared back to an extremist pro-Brexit rump, enabling Nigel Farage to make common cause with them and avoid a mutually assured destruction at a first-past-the-post ballot box.

Moderate, pro-European Tories meanwhile are being cast out into the wilderness, where they must sink or swim as individuals in their own constituency, and without the comfort blanket of a core conservative vote to rely on. Their voters will now be torn between Johnson's no-deal Brexit and the reasoned opposition put up to it by their own MP.

Equally, the Labour Party is also retreating into a hard line, Corbynite position, struggling with anti-Semitism and seeking to purge MPs who fail the loyalty test. Those Labour MPs who do not pass are in a similar position to the Tory rebels, leave politics altogether, or fight on against a relentless party machine.

This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats have gained three new MPs in the last week. We are also punished by the first past the post voting system, though at least we have a coherent ideology, a unity of purpose and an opportunity to carve a unique position as a result of the sectarianism of Labour and the Tories.

But the recent political chaos also presents an opportunity, one that can change the way we do politics for ever, and it all depends on whether the forthcoming General Election resets the system back into a familiar two party knock-about, or whether voters become alive to the possibilities and actually vote in a more heterogeneous Parliament, that properly reflects the views of the country in its grouping of MPs.

Normally, we would need a proportional voting system to achieve that result, but if all the manoeuvring over a no-deal Brexit can produce meaningful electoral pacts, in which dissenters are given a clear run against their former parties, and where the election is focussed almost exclusively on the remain versus leave arguments, then such an outcome is possible.

It is a big ask, and I still remain sceptical as to whether a General Election can be fought on a single issue in this way, or even if all the relevant parties can put aside their hubris and bring themselves to co-operate properly, but I am coming around to the idea.

Meanwhile, just so we can put things into their proper context, the Guardian reports that the Amazon is still burning and that as it does so the threat to the earth's future grows.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Interesting times

"May you live in interesting times" is an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Despite being so common in English as to be known as the "Chinese curse", the saying is apocryphal, and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced. But what times we are living in.

Just a sample of this morning's headlines illustrate the point, involving the Lib Dems having just acquired their seventeenth MP, Angela Smith from Penistone and Stocksbridge in Yorkshire, doing a deal to stand aside for Tory rebels in the forthcoming General Election, and  former Home Secretary and current Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, quitting the cabinet and Tory whip over Boris Johnson's political vandalism and failure to negotiate seriously with the EU. She plans not to stand again as an MP.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond is threatening to sue the Tory Party over having the whip withdrawn. Meanwhile the Prime Minister still refuses to say whether he will obey the law and ask the EU for an extension, and some reports claim that he is planning to try and sabotage the EU altogether by refusing to appoint a commissioner, putting the EU in breach of its own legal duty for all 28 member states to be represented on its executive branch.

And then on top of that we have the usual Tory plot to oust the speaker, who many blame for their present predicament.

The truth is that politics in the UK is broken. What we don't know is whether a general election will reset things or just entrench the chaos even more. We truly do live in interesting times, and it is far from pleasant.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Those disappearing purple hills

As I drove around Swansea yesterday, I looked up at Kilvey Hill and noted the large patch of flowering purple heather that had appeared on part of it. Normally, much more of the hillside is covered in this way, but being in a hurry, I thought nothing more about it.

In today's Independent however, we learn that this absence of heather is more common than I thought. The paper quotes the view of the National Trust that the beloved sight of bright purple heather on English moorland is at risk due to climate change:

The violaceous vistas of late summer have failed to materialise on the Long Mynd in Shropshire and Holnicote on Exmoor, where the landscape is instead a muddy brown.

National Trust officials said it was due to a combination of last year’s drought and an increase in damage caused by the heather beetle pest, which has been encouraged by mild winters.

Up to three-quarters of the heather on the sites, which should bloom through August and early September, is in poor health this year.

Peter Carty, the National Trust’s parkland manager in Shropshire, said: “Last year’s high temperatures, and subsequent lack of rain, damaged a large area of heather and it is clear from the orangey-brown colouration this year that the plants are seriously stressed and unlikely to flower.”

He added: “The milder winter also led to an increase in the heather beetle numbers, which are a natural element of the heather ecosystem, as it wasn’t cold enough to kill off their larvae.

“In places where heather was sheltered from the extreme or where damp conditions were present, the heather has survived. However, there will be no mass flowering this year.”

Though a boon to the beetle, the warming climate could cause problems for other species like the red grouse and the emperor moth, whose caterpillars feed on the plants.

These are real and observable impacts of climate change, with Met Office experts saying that last year’s prolonged hot summer was made 30 times more likely because of it. The Independent has also reported this year on how drought in 2018 killed nearly 90,000 trees that were planted to mitigate the environmental impact of HS2. Project chiefs said it was cheaper to replace them than to water them.

It may already be too late to act, but if we don't at least redouble our efforts and more at an international level then we really will deserve all that we get.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Johnston on tour #PleaseLeaveMyTown

The man who very politely asked Boris Johnston to please leave my town, and in doing so helped to create a hashtag for our times, spoke for many of us.

The Prime Minister is trying to emulate Trump, but his bumbling is convincing nobody, even devout Brexiteers, who were amongst many of his critics when he was in Wakefield yesterday.

And who was it who agreed to allow Johnston to politicise police cadets in the way he did, using them as a backdrop for his highly politicised pro-Brexit speech? In doing so he failed to even tend to the cadet behind him for whom it became too much, as she became unwell and had to sit out the rest of his remarks. Johnson should be emulating the basic humanity shown by Obama when faced with a similar situation, not Trump.

It is little wonder that the EU remains unconvinced of Johnson authenticity, his sincerity and the level of support he has in the country for his views. And frankly, even if they were, why would they change their red lines to suit a country that has rejected all they stand for.

One of the reasons for that lies in this piece in the Independent in which they reveal that the European Union have revealed that there have been “no real negotiations” in Brussels since Johnson entered Downing Street.

The paper says that for weeks, the EU has been waiting for Mr Johnson to make a concrete suggestion on how to end the impasse over their divorce agreement. Without any fundamental change of approach, they are showing little willingness to grant another extension to Britain’s departure:

While the sides are holding technical-level talks aimed at finding a way forward, no new proposals have been made on the main sticking point – how to maintain a seamless and open border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson’s hoped-for deal appears to be purely intended for domestic consumption to most EU ears. “For the talks to make progress, we would need to receive concrete proposals that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters this week, after the first round of technical talks.

I think it is getting to the point that if Boris turned up in Brussels he would be asked please leave my town.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Young people sign up to have their say

With a General Election before the end of the year now all but inevitable, the Guardian reports that more than 100,000 people have applied to register to vote since the start of the week, with young people making up the bulk of the surge against the backdrop of a momentous 48 hours in British politics. They say that on Monday, 52,408 applications were submitted, according to government figures, followed by 64,485 on Tuesday:

The figure on both days was significantly above the typical number for weekday applications, which has averaged about 27,000 for the past month.

Parties that have traditionally drawn support from younger people will be most encouraged by the figures, which show that 58% of applications submitted on the two days were from people aged 34 and under. Many of those signing up this week are understood to be students moving into new areas for the start of term, but experts pointed out that others may have put registering on the backburner.

“It’s not surprising that there will be a lot of young people in these figures,” said Dr Toby James, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia who has authored reports on Britain’s low levels of voter registrations.

“But I think that there is probably a tidal wave of applications to come. We’re all guilty of leaving things to the last minute.” Labour, in particular, has been having conversations in recent months with groups behind voter registration drives amid concerns about the limitations in systems or names “falling off” registers.

The paper speculates that if sufficient numbers of young voters are registered and marshalled then they could make significant impact in marginal seats with large student populations.

In many ways this is a hopeful sign. It indicates that at a time of national turmoil and unprecedented division, when UK politics are a complete mess, young people are keen to engage to try and change things for the better. Let's hope that they succeed.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Home Office suspected of prioritising high profile EU citizens

Today's Guardian contains an interesting (and rather disturbing) footnote to the problems caused for EU citizens living in the UK as a result of Brexit.

The paper reports on concerns expressed by campaigners that the Home Office is taking rapid steps to resolve the problems experienced by high-profile European nationals applying for settled status who have gone public with their difficulties, whilst leaving millions of others in the lurch.

They say that on Monday night the television star and manager of a Michelin starred restaurant Fred Sirieix, who has lived in the UK for the past 27 years, expressed frustration on Twitter at being asked to provide evidence of five years’ continuous residence despite having submitted his passport details through the mobile phone application. The story continues:

Best known as the host of Channel 4’s First Dates, Sirieix messaged the Home Office and the home secretary, Priti Patel, and his 110,000 Twitter followers, asking: “Is this a joke? I have lived here for 27 years continuously.” Within 12 hours, he had received a phone call from the Home Office, who told him a mistake had been made, and emailed him confirmation that he had been awarded settled status.

“I didn’t have to call them. They called me. I’ve no idea why my case was sorted so quickly. It probably helped that I had one thousand retweets,” he said. “But there will be many other people without a voice, anxiously waiting for help.”

He had been dismayed to receive a notification from the Home Office stating that the extra information was needed because “our automated checks did not confirm your residence in the UK”. He was puzzled about why the checks had not picked up that he had been in uninterrupted employment with the same employer for more than a decade, paying taxes and national insurance.

The experience of applying to remain in the country he considers home had made him feel a “second-class citizen”, he said.

It is little wonder that Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million charity, supporting the estimated 3.2 million EU nationals who need to apply if they wish to remain in the UK after Brexit, is concerned that applicants who are unable to trigger explosions of online outrage are not getting such swift assistance from the Home Office.

“For every high-profile case that gets a happy ending there are hundreds and thousands of people who are neither getting the status they are entitled to nor help from the Home Office to put things right,” she said.

One way of avoiding these difficulties would be to tweak the scheme so that EU nationals who were resident in the UK did not have to apply for the right to remain (waiting for Home Office approval of their status) but could simply register their presence here, she added. “The only way to avoid immense heartache and a Windrush scenario further down the line is for the prime minister to honour his referendum pledge to EU citizens: to put the rights of all EU citizens into law and change the settlement scheme from application to registration.”
It is little wonder that there is no confidence in the impartiality or the efficacy of the system when it appears that the Home Office is fire fighting adverse publicity rather than getting on with the job.

The way that EU nationals have been treated is an international embarrassment and a disgrace. It reflects badly on the UK and will impact on the many thousands of UK nationals living and working within the EU. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Playing fast and loose with the figures

I was intrigued at the claim by local Conservatives this morning, that Wales is to receive £1.2 billion as a result of the Prime Minister's announcement on education spending in England. If that is the case then surely he has also changed the funding formula under which the Welsh Government receives its money.

In fact, using the Barnett formula, the schools spending announcement would mean an extra £153m in 2020-21, £283m in 2021-22 and £419m in 2022-23 (nominal terms), a total of £855m. This is because the £1.2bn figure includes allocations for increased pension costs (which will go back to the Treasury). That only applies if the announcement is new money. If some of the extra funding has come from underspends elsewhere then Wales will receive a lesser amount.

In the past, after such announcements the Welsh Government has found that cuts to other areas of devolved spending has reduced the amount of money actually passed on to their budget. Furthermore, as the Wales Governance Centre has pointed out, the delayed Spending Review, the lack of a fiscal plan and the uncertainties around the fiscal and economic implications of Brexit make assessing the implications of one spending announcement on future Welsh budgets pretty meaningless.

It is of course up to the Welsh Government how any extra cash is spent, though I tend to agree that education should be the main priority, given cuts since 2013-14 and spending comparisons with other UK countries (the gap in spending per pupil compared to England is £200 rather than the £645 per pupil suggested by the Conservatives.

I am sure that the Welsh Government will make an announcement once it is clearer how much extra they are actually receiving.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Now Tories abandon family values

For a party that once espoused traditional family values, the latest development in the Brexit saga feels rather counter-intuitive. As the Guardian reports, the Home Office is preparing to end the current system of family reunification for asylum-seeking children if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

They say that the government has privately briefed the UN refugee agency UNHCR and other NGOs that open cases may be able to progress, but a no-deal Brexit would mean no new applications after 1 November from asylum-seeking children to be reunited with relatives living in the UK. Even if there is a deal, the future of family reunion is not certain.

Lawyers and campaigners believe that the impact on migrant children stranded alone in countries such as Greece and Italy could be “fatal” as more head for the Channel to try to cross to the UK irregularly.

Efi Stathopoulou, the project coordinator at Refugee Legal Support in Athens, said the family reunification route was the only way she could persuade vulnerable young people to engage with the authorities.

“Children come here very afraid,” she said. “There have been cases where it was very obvious they were being exploited. Without the possibility of a safe way to reach the UK, these young people will simply vanish to try to cross the Channel at Calais on lorries or boats.”

Stathopoulou said Greek authorities asked her earlier this year to help speed up claims if a no-deal Brexit looked likely in order to get as many children as possible processed before the deadline.

Family reunification is vital because of widespread homelessness and exploitation faced by migrants in Greece. “We just helped a boy reach the UK who was street homeless in Athens despite already being being highly vulnerable,” said Stathopoulou. “He had lost his entire [immediate] family to a bomb in Afghanistan. Another boy was raped because he had nowhere safe to sleep.

If the Government proceed with this bar on children they will have taken the definition of uncaring Tories to new depths.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The medicines that will run out first

The Sunday Times reports that senior doctors have warned the NHS to brace itself for the “biggest threat it has ever faced” if the UK crashes out of the EU on October 31. Their warning has been made in light of a leaked internal document which reveals the risks to patients from expected drug shortages:

Confidential files from NHS England, seen by The Sunday Times, list medicines that have been impossible to stockpile, including for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy and the chronic pain condition trigeminal neuralgia.

The documents, which show the drugs categorised according to the expected impact

of shortages, also set out suggested measures for combating supply problems including flying the drugs in. Last month the leak of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer document laid bare the gaps in its planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Yellowhammer file, which was dated early August, stated that supply chains for medicines were “particularly vulnerable” to border delays. About three-quarters of medicines enter the UK via the main Channel crossings.

A senior Whitehall source, who is familiar with an earlier version of the Yellowhammer document, said the government’s fears around the supply of drugs had grown since March 31, the original date for departing from the EU.

“I was quite startled that this appears still to be a serious concern,” the source said. “Back in March ministers were reasonably satisfied that medicines were going to be OK. It’s now looking like that confidence has diminished.”

These revelations sum up exactly why Parliament should not be prorogued for five weeks. If we are to crash out without a deal on 31 October then Ministers need to be questioned in detail as to what exactly they are doing to avert this crisis.

Effective scrutiny has a purpose. It is not just about questioning Ministers but about delivering good government. Boris Johnson's actions make that less likely.

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