.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Could Welsh local elections be conducted using fair voting systems?

The most interesting feature of the Welsh white paper on local government published today is the proposal to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote and the suggestion that councils can opt to hold their elections using the single transferable vote system if they wish.

This is especially intriguing because the author of this white paper is a Labour Minister. I suspect that many of his colleagues are not very happy.

The planned reforms would allow Councils to decide which voting system best reflects the needs of their local people and communities. Local Authorities will be able to use the ‘First Past the Post’ or the ‘Single Transferable Vote’ systems.

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for voting reform to deliver a better politics which is more representative, more co-operative and more diverse.

For us, delivering a fairer voting system and handing more power to voters is an integral part of delivering better public services and a fairer Wales.

Giving people a greater say over how services are run by making every vote count we can create the resilient public services our communities need for the future.

By recognising that people are experts in their own lives, by respecting the views of services users, and by empowering local people, we can create a fairer Wales where everyone has the opportunity to get on in life.

While not going as far as I would like, this is major progress.

Monday, January 30, 2017

One million people call on Trump's state visit to be cancelled

A petition on the Parliamentary website that calls on the UK Government to prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom has reached one million signatures within a day of it going up and the numbers are growing.

However, as the Independent reports so far the UK Government is not buckling under this pressure. They say that Downing Street has already stressed its position had not changed on the US President’s trip. “An invitation has been extended and accepted,” a Number 10 spokesman added:

The petition cites Trump’s “well documented misogyny and vulgarity”, and calls for him to be allowed into the country, but not invited to meet the Queen. 

“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government,” the petition reads, “but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

It continues: “Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”

The petition comes in response to global outrage over Mr Trump’s temporary ban on those travelling to the US from a group of predominately Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

When Trump does land in this country it is guaranteed that there will be protests on a scale never before seen for a US President. It is little wonder that some of his aides are having second thoughts about the visit though I doubt that will stop him.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump crosses the line again, but where is Theresa May?

It was almost as if he was waiting for Theresa May to leave US airspace. Donald Trump's executive order to effectively ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, was signed not long after his meeting with the British Prime Minister.

But he need not have worried (not that he cared) for when questioned in detail about the ban, Theresa May refused to condemn and it took concerted pressure for a late night statement to emerge from 10 Downing Street grudgingly stating that the Prime Minister does "not agree" with Donald Trump's refugee ban and will appeal to the US if it affects British citizens.

No statement of principle, no acknowledgement of the injustice being visited on innocent people who are being separated from their families, not even a hint of compassion for the plight of refugees fleeing from oppression, poverty, injustice and murder. Instead we had a neutral, self-interested inward-looking comment focusing on the impact on British citizens.

Compare her response to that of the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who responded on Twitter: "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada," That is real leadership. Theresa May should take note.

Trump's executive order was the act of a paranoid President lashing out at every conceivable target with little regard or understanding for its consequences. Or was it? For as the New York Daily News reports, some Muslim countries were spared from the order's blacklist, even though they have deep-seated ties to terrorism.

They say that the records show Trump does not hold business interests in any of the countries on the list, but he does holds major stakes in several of those excluded from it even though those countries he has spared a ban have deep-seated ties to terrorism.

They further note that despite Friday’s executive order suspending the issuing of U.S. visas or travel permits to people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the conservative-leaning Cato Institute says that not a single American was killed on U.S. soil by citizens from any of those countries between 1975 and 2015:

However, the same set of statistics show that nearly 3,000 Americans were killed by citizens from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in the same time period — with the bulk of those killed being victims of the 9/11 attacks. Yet, people from those three countries are still welcome to apply for U.S. visas and travel permits.

In a striking parallel, Trump’s sprawling business empire — which he has refused to rescind ownership of — holds multi-million dollar licensing and development deals in all of those countries, raising potential conflict of interest concerns and alarming questions over what actually went into the decision process behind Friday’s executive order.

Not much is known about Trump’s connection to the Saudis. Yet, the little bit of information that is available raises a number of questions.

Trump registered eight companies tied to hotel interests in the country shortly after launching his campaign in August 2015, according to The Washington Post. The companies were registered under such names as THC Jeddah Hotel and DT Jeddah Technical Services; company names The Post reported bore striking resemblance to ones Trump has registered in other foreign countries.

And it goes on, click on the link for further details. Perhaps Theresa May needs to study the track record of her new best friend more closely. Maybe she also needs to wake up and understand that a trade deal with the US will be costly to the UK both in our having to lower food standards but also in its impact on national institutions like the NHS.

If she can persuade Trump to sign on the dotted line it is likely to lead to 2% increase in trade with the US. Compare that to the 30% loss of trade when we sever links with the single market. Is May putting British interests first? it does not look like it from where I am sitting.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dysfunctional Labour starts to fall apart over Brexit

The Telegraph reports that Jeremy Corbyn is facing fresh chaos after a second senior member of his team quit over his decision that Labour should back Theresa May and trigger Article 50.

They say that Jo Stevens, the shadow Welsh secretary, is the first member of the shadow cabinet to resign as two whips also indicated they would not back the Labour leader. She must have been Corbyn's fourth Welsh Secretary in 16 months. I have really lost count.

Three of the party’s frontbenchers said they will vote against Britain leaving the European Union including Jeff Smith and Thangam Debbonaire, both whips responsible for party discipline. Tulip Sadiq has already quit the frontbench over Corbyn's decision to impose a three line whip on the issue. Other Labour MPs such as Thangam Debbonaire are said to be considering their positions:

The rebels have challenged Jeremy Corbyn to sack them because of their opposition to Brexit as the party hinted it could reverse its support for Article 50.

Rupa Huq, the shadow home office minister, said the consequences of her decision are "yet to come".

While shadow transport minister Daniel Zeichner laid down a challenge to the leadership last night as he told his local paper: "They know my position and they understand exactly why I'm doing what I'm doing and it's for them to decide what to do next."

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, the only UK wide party with a clear view opposing Brexit, continue to pick up members from the Labour Party.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Does HMRC apply different rules for the mega rich?

While the vast majority of us are struggling to make ends meet the Commons Public Accounts Committee alleges that Britain’s wealthiest people appear to be getting preferential treatment from HM Revenue & Customs and are not being properly pursued for outstanding tax bills.

The Guardian say that the spending watchdog has concluded that HMRC’s failure to clamp down on rich tax dodgers is undermining confidence in the whole system:

The highly critical report released on Friday examined HMRC’s specialist unit, which collects tax from high net-worth individuals with more than £20m. It found that “the amount of tax paid by this very wealthy group of individuals has actually fallen by £1bn since the unit was set up” in 2009 – even as tax receipts rose to £23bn.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said HMRC’s claims about the success of its strategy to deal with the very wealthy did not add up.

“Cosy terms such as ‘customer relationship manager’ and HMRC’s reluctance to be open add to the picture of arrangements that, while beyond the reach of ordinary taxpayers, are also ill-suited to the increasingly sophisticated methods the super rich can use to reduce the tax they pay,” she said.

“If the public are to have faith in the tax system then it must be seen to have fairness at its heart. It also needs to work properly. In our view, HMRC is failing on both counts.”

Tax officials have calculated that there were about 6,500 high net-worth people in 2015-16, about one in every 5,000 taxpayers. The report found HMRC had a “dismal record” when it came to prosecuting the very wealthy for tax fraud in the criminal courts.

The report says that in the five years to 31 March 2016, it completed just 72 fraud investigations into high net-worth individuals, with all but two having been dealt with using its civil powers. Only one case resulted in a successful criminal prosecution.

Of the 850 penalties issued to the very wealthy since 2012, the average charge was £10,500 – a figure the committee said was likely to be too small to act as a deterrent.

Surely it is time to redress the balance and make sure that people pay what is due.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Should we be worried at Trump's increasing disengagement with reality?

It has only been a few days but US President Trump appears to have become increasingly disengaged with reality, and distracted from focusing on key issues by his own insecurities and obsessions, wildly thrashing around at anything that moves which is not a Republican.

The question has to be asked at what point does it become unsafe to allow him near the nuclear codes and who is there who could take them off him if that point is reached?

The BBC reports on the latest madness. They say that he has issued an executive order for a 2000 mile long "impassable physical barrier" to be built along the US border with Mexico. He is also insisting that Mexico will "absolutely, 100%" reimburse the US for this wall even though that country's President has made it clear that is not going to happen.

The sheer logistics of such a wall are daunting. How long will it take to physically build? What permissions are needed and how long will they take to get? What is the role of State Governors in this exercise? And where will the materials be sourced from? My guess is that we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.

We won't have to wait long to find out where that money is coming from. That is because Trump has also signed an action to strip funds from US cities that are sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Surely there will be a major outcry from those cities, who are being scapegoated for Federal incompetence, not least from the citizens who rely on those funds for employment and other services.

The Independent reports that Trump is preparing executive orders that would dramatically reduce US funding of the United Nations, as well as other international organisations that do not meet certain criteria.

Funding will be taken away from any organisation that is "controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism" or is behind the persecution of marginalised groups or systematic violation of human rights. The order has singled out peacekeeping, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Population Fund.

The paper says that the order demands decreasing US funding towards international organisations by at least 40 per cent. Trump has included the International Criminal Court, yet the US currently pays nothing to the ICC. They add that if this order is signed, it would essentially decimate a global peacekeeping operation which is present in 16 countries.

He has also announced immigration restrictions from seven African and Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Yemen, and Iraq and plans to reinstate dubious interrogation techniques for foreign nationals off American soil.

And then there is his obsession with the crowds who attended his inauguration and with the fact that he did not win the popular vote. The BBC say that he is going to have a "major investigation into voter fraud", to back up his claims about millions of illegal ballots.

Trump said the inquiry would include "those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal" and that the probe would focus on "those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time)". He has alleged that up to five million illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton, but has offered no proof.

Fact-checkers have rejected it as untrue and Republican election officials in key states have said they found no proof of fraudulent voting.

That the most powerful politician in the World cannot move on from this obsession but instead uses his office to chase wild gooses is deeply disturbing. With such a giant fragile ego in the White House, nobody is safe.

Update: The Independent says that according to veteran Washington journalist Carl Bernstein, Donald Trump’s “emotional maturity [and] stability” are being discussed in private by senior members of his own political party.

Bernstein said discussions going on in Washington this week were “unlike anything I have seen in 50 years as a reporter”.

“I am hearing from Republicans, and other reporters are as well, that there is open discussion by members of the President of the United States’ own party about his emotional maturity, stability,” he said.

“People are saying that his psyche is driving the news cycle.

“We are in uncharted territory here and we ought to talk to some of our colleagues about what they are hearing. I’ve never heard [people] talking about a president… the way this subtext is now a talking point.”

Update 2: The White House Press Secretary has revealed that Trump has decided how to pay for the border wall by imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports from Mexico. So a $20,000 car will now cost $24,000. This is going to end well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Liberal Democrats Party Political broadcast

Brexit moves to Parliamentary stage, as Labour continue to squabble amongst themselves

Yesterdays' Supreme Court judgement confirmed what every right-thinking person had known for some time, the referendum was advisory and it is up to Parliament, not Ministers to decide how best to interpret it.

As a result we are now expecting a White Paper and a Bill to be presented to MPs, followed by a proper scrutiny process and votes on amendments. But how will the main UK parties approach that task?

Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats are very clear. As the Guardian reports he will seek to move amendments that force a referendum on the final terms of any deal and will use his party's relative strength in the Lords to try to achieve this. The Liberal Democrats will vote against any bill that does not contain this provision:

“We take the view that the vote in June was a vote for departure from the European Union. It was not a vote for destination,” he said. “There should not be a stitch-up between Whitehall and Brussels over the content of our new relationship with Europe. The British people should have this final say.”

He continued: “We accept that the government has got a mandate to go and negotiate Brexit,” Farron argued. “We’re not trying to derail last June’s referendum. What we are saying is that the government does not have a mandate, on a very narrow majority, to go and negotiate any result, any outcome that it wants.”

“That is a recipe for dissent, for a complete breakdown in trust in our politics. For the next couple of generations, let’s say, Britain’s relationship with the outside world will be cast because of stitch-ups in the 21st-century equivalent of smoke-filled rooms.”

“If 80% of the British people, say, had voted leave, you could just about justify the government heading for a hard Brexit. But it was such a narrow vote, and to take the most extreme view possible on our new relationship with our European neighbours seems anti-democratic, non-consensual … and not about trying to unite the country.”

By way of contrast, Labour continue to run around like headless chickens. It appears that they will allow the Bill to pass unamended if attempts to change it fail. But a significant number of their MPs are opposed to this position.

The Guardian says that about 60 Labour MPs are preparing to defy any party order to vote in favour of triggering article 50, with frontbenchers expected to resign if a three-line whip is enforced.

It is becoming much clearer as to who the real opposition is on this issue.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Unaccountable Ministers should learn from the US

Jusrt six months after the House of Commons voted by a 355 majority to spend nearly £25 billion renewing Trident it transpires that it may not work, or at least not work as expected. That is one very expensive trading standards case.

Ministers were adamant yesterday that they could not discuss the details for national security reasons. MPs were livid that they had been asked to pass the motion without all the facts. This is not how a parliamentary democracy should work.

Given that the facts were out in the open Ministers should have been open to proper scrutiny. More importantly, no government can treat MPs like mushrooms on such an important decision as national defence, especially when such large sums of money are involved.

Theresa May's government should be further embarrassed by the open way that the matter was treated in the USA. As the Independent reports things are done much differently over there:

Asked if the Prime Minister was told the missile had veered off course, her official spokeswoman replied: “I don't accept the premise of the question.”

That stance was then echoed by Mr Fallon, who insisted details of tests were never revealed – despite videos of previous successes being posted on YouTube.

But, even as he was speaking, CNN was reporting an explanation given by a “US defence official with direct knowledge of the incident”.

According to the Sunday Times, the missile was meant to be fired 5,600 miles from the coast of Florida to a sea target off the west coast of Africa - but veered towards the US.

However, the US official said the missile was diverted into the sea to self-destruct - an “automatic procedure when missile electronics detect an anomaly”.

Carol Jordan, a senior CNN news editor, tweeted: “A #Trident test did go wrong off the coast of #Florida but the missile self-destructed, a #US defense official has told #CNN”.

In the Commons, Sir Michael continued to state that the test had been “successful” and that decisions on publicity were made "on a case by case basis".

Consistency and trasparency should be hallmarks of good government. It is a shame that Theresa May and her Ministers do not agree,

Monday, January 23, 2017

Welsh Lib Dems continue to deliver in Government

The Welsh Liberal Democrats may have been reduced to just one Assembly Member but that has not stopped us delivering a number of items from our 2016 manifesto.

As the Western Mail reports, Welsh Education Secretary Kirsty Williams today delivered on one of our key pledges when she announced a new £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards.

The money, consisting of revenue and capital funding, will be invested over the next four years up until 2021 and will target classes, starting with the largest ones, where teaching and learning need to improve and where there are high levels of deprivation.

As the paper says figures compiled by the Welsh Government showed there were 8,196 pupils in large classes in 2016 (7.6% of all infant pupils), compared to 7,835 pupils (7.3%) in similar-sized classes in 2015. The number of pupils aged between four and seven in large classes was as low as 6,969 (6.6%) in 2013.

As Kirsty says:  “There is a positive connection between smaller classes and attainment, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This is most significant for younger children, which is why we are targeting this investment at infant class sizes.

“This announcement, linked to our other reforms, will create the space for teachers to teach and for pupils to learn.”

The whole point of being in politics is to get things done and to deliver reforms that improve people's lives. Kirsty Williams is exemplifying that maxim.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

First Trump White House press briefing ends in controversy

At some point in his Presidency Donald Trump and his staff will have to stop treating the office of POTUS as an ego-stoking excercise and start governing. We are used to Donald Trump inflating the facts so as to big-himself-up, but surely his new Press Secretary has put himself in a difficult situation from the start by lying to the media from the White House rostrum at his first attempt.

The Mirror says the first White House briefing for Trump's press secretary descended into farce as he angrily claimed the president's inauguration had 'the largest audience ever', despite photographic evidence to the contrary:

Sean Spicer claimed the media had lied about attendance at Friday's inauguration as he said around 770,000 people had showed up – just hours after Trump claims there were double that number in the crowd.

The new President was widely ridiculed after pictures emerged showing a comparatively thin audience at his swearing-in ceremony alongside a picture of Barack Obama's packed inauguration.

But Spicer claimed that aerial photographs of the event had been "intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimise the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall".

His furious statement led to accusations on Twitter it was actually he that was lying, with some describing the briefing as 'Soviet'.

Spicer then launched into a bizarre defence arguing that the crowds seemed smaller because floor coverings had been used on the Mall that "highlighted" places where people were not standing.

The serious point behind this is if the Press Secretary cannot be trusted to get things right on such a trivial issue, how can the Trump White House be relied upon to tell the world the truth on more important issues?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Trump's honeymoon over already?

Some of the first acts of the Trump presidency were to remove all references to US Government policy on climate change and LGBT rights from the White House website. He also announced that he plans to stop funding the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA budget is $148 million, Trump's inauguration cost $200 million.

Over at the Guardian, Richard Wolffe makes a strong case as to why it could be all downhill from now on for the Trump Presidency. Now he has to take responsibility for his ramblings on Twitter, for his relationship with Vladimir Putin and his corporate dealings, in a way that not only leaves him open to impeachment but also could affect his polls and his consequential influence as President.

If he is unpopular as President then it becomes harder, even with a Republican Congress and Senate to get things done. It also makes it more likely that mid-term elections in two years time could go against his party.

And we should not forget that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes whilst his poll ratings on the eve of inauguration are at an historic low for a man in his position. The latest poll shows that 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump ahead of his inauguration, while 54 percent do not.

As Richard Wolffe says: This is the high-water mark of every president’s approval ratings – before they do the tough stuff of governing and encounter one of the many fast-moving crises that pass through the West Wing. At the height of his popularity, Donald Trump is polling as badly as George W Bush at the end of his doomed presidency, after the catastrophic collapse of the economy and the bloody disaster of the Iraq war.

A bumper crop of pre-inauguration polls tell the story of how deeply unpopular the 45th president is already. His personal popularity is as low as 32% compared to 61% favorability for President Obama.

Approval of his transition shows him trailing Obama by an even greater margin: just 40% like the way Trump has performed since November, compared to 84% for Obama’s transition eight years ago. Even George W Bush, elected after the extraordinary recount and legal coup in 2000, earned a 61% rating for his transition.

However, the nub of the article is that the greatest threat, both to his presidency and the republic, comes from Trump himself:

Somewhere near the top of the list is potential profiteering from the presidency through his continued ownership of the Trump Organization. It seems Trump will be in breach of the government lease on his new Washington hotel as soon as he is sworn into office today. His efforts to hold onto the lease – which specifically prohibits government officials from holding it – will reveal his true priorities in office.

According to his personal attorney, Trump has drawn an ethical line by appointing his own ethics officer inside his own company. This is a quaint arrangement favored by foxes guarding henhouses. The ethics of the Trump Organization are irrelevant; the ethics of the presidency, however, are governed by article one of the constitution, which prohibits gifts of any kind from foreign powers.

Even under his own sham scheme, the new president has already breached his so-called ethical standards. “President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated,” Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillon told the press last week. “The trust agreement as directed by President Trump imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency.”

This will come as news to the good people of Aberdeen who are about to witness the dramatic expansion of the Trump golf course in Scotland. That expansion, confirmed just this week, involves another 18 holes, a new 450-room hotel, a timeshare complex and a private housing estate.

Trump’s staff brush aside these niceties by saying the Scottish deal is just a wafer-thin mint of an expansion of an existing deal.

Sadly the constitution doesn’t distinguish between new and existing deals when it strictly prohibits the president from drawing any benefits from foreign powers. It just says they are all unconstitutional.

What kind of deals might breach the now famous emoluments clause? As ProPublica has detailed, there’s the Indian deal in Mumbai that involves the vice-president of the ruling BJP party, who is also an elected official. There’s a deal in Bali, Indonesia, with an Indonesian politician, who has partnered with state-owned companies from China and South Korea. And there’s a deal in Manila with a man recently named as an economic envoy to the US by the murderous President Duterte of the Philippines.

You don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to appreciate the legal and political jeopardy for Trump. President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about sex, a supposedly high crime and misdemeanor that is not actually cited by the constitution. Unlike making money from foreign officials, which is.

Finally there’s the noose that’s tightening around Trump’s alleged Russian relationships. You know, the ones the new president said IN ALL CAPS absolutely don’t exist and never have, not ever, oh no.

The FBI and five other agencies are now investigating whether Russia covertly transferred cash to pay email hackers in the United States as part of a broader Kremlin plot to influence the presidential campaign in Trump’s favor.

We also know that counter-intelligence officials are investigating possible contacts and ties between Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Russian officials.

Almost every scandal gets compared to Watergate, but very few genuinely deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Of course, Watergate wasn’t potentially financed by our mortal enemies in Moscow, even if it did involve undermining a presidential election.

These are not matters that can be overcome in a late-night Twitter spat. They are serious matters that could overshadow Watergate and Iran-Contra in terms of their impact. And the really depressing news is that if Trump does go, he will be succeeded by Mike Pence, a former member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.

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!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Corbyn's repositioning leaves the Lib Dems as only GB-wide pro-EU party

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn will use his first speech of 2017 to claim that Britain can be better off outside the EU and insist that the Labour party has no principled objection to ending the free movement of European workers in the UK:

Setting out his party’s pitch on Brexit in the year that Theresa May will trigger article 50, the Labour leader will also reach for the language of leave campaigners by promising to deliver on a pledge to spend millions of pounds extra on the NHS every week. 

He will say Labour’s priority in EU negotiations will remain full access to the European single market, but that his party wants “managed migration” and to repatriate powers from Brussels that would allow governments to intervene in struggling industries such as steel. Sources suggested that the economic demands were about tariff-free access to the single market, rather than membership that they argued did not exist.

This conversion to the rhetoric of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson will alienate many Labour supporters and place Corbyn's party on the wrong side of the argument over Briatin's economic future, not least because, like many Leave supporters, he is grasping for concessions that will not materialise.

The fact is that we cannot remain members of or have access to the single market without the free movement of labour and capital. How can a country trade freely in goods, or have a level playing field with other members of a single market if it also imposes restrictions on who produces those goods or who finances the production of those goods?

Our European partners grasp this and they have stated it loudly and repeatedly. Why are the likes of Boris Johnson, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn not listening?

The Liberal Democrats are now the only home for those who want the UK to remain in the EU and/or retain access to the single market after Brexit. Labour have had their chance to join us in that campaign. Corbyn's latest re-positioning appears to have blown it for them.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Has Theresa May decided on a 'hard Brexit'?

Theresa May's television interview yesterday has really put the cat amongst the pigeons regarding the future of the UK's economy.  According to the Independent, she was fairly clear that leaving the EU meant also leaving the single market.

Such a course could plunge us into a decade of trade negotiations with dozens of countries, the imposition of tariffs that might cost industry and consumers £9 billion or more, and the departure of thousands of jobs from these shores.

That is not scare-mongering, these scenarios are based on authorative studies and on indications already given by the financial sector and others such as Sir Andrew Cook.

Tim Farron was particularly scathing. He told the media: “Theresa May has confirmed she is taking us towards a disastrous hard Brexit that will leave our country poorer and more divided.

“Reckless plans to leave the single market would deal a huge blow to jobs, investment and the public finances, meaning less funding for services like the overstretched NHS.”

Meanwhile, we are still waiting to hear the detail of the Government's proposals. Do they actually know what they want? Do they understand the consequences of what they are doing? Are they capable of protecting UK interests in the forthcoming negotiations?

The case for a referendum on the final deal is becoming stronger every day.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Complaining about the food at Westminster

The Sunday Mirror reports that MPs and their staff have been complaining about the quality of their highly subsidised food in Parliament.

Complaints revealed by a freedom of information request include “icy” hash browns, over-cooked eggs, soggy fish, too many curries and porridge with lumps “the size of ping-pong balls”.

There have also been moans and grumbles about waiting times, hot serving spoons, small portions and noisy washing-up at commons restaurants.

Taxpayers spent £3.7million subsidising catering in Parliament in 2015-16, that is about 10 or 11 times more than the subsidy for catering in the Welsh Assembly, where the food is of a very high quality.

One would think that they should be more grateful.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Major Tory donor jumps ship on Brexit

The country would be in a much better place if David Cameron had listened to the likes of Sir Andrew Cook before plunging the UK into a process that could effectively destroy our economy for the next decade.

Sir Andrew Cook is the chair of an engineering firm who has donated more than £1.2m to the Conservative Party. He told The Times the country could "sleepwalk to disaster" if it came out of the single market. According to the BBC he added that at least one of his factories was almost "entirely dependent" on access to it:

He told the newspaper that the "economic arguments of staying in the single market are overwhelming" and it would be a "catastrophe" if the country left.

"It is very difficult to make a political donation to a party when, although I support it ideologically, I do not believe that my interests and my ideology are ad idem with the principal Brexiteers," he said.

Theresa May has insisted that she wants firms to have the "maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market".

But the prime minister is due to confirm in a speech later this month that the UK will have two fundamental red lines in its Brexit negotiations - control of its borders and freedom from the European Court of Justice.

It is difficult to see how the UK can stay within the single market if it insists on standing apart from it as far as freedom of movement is concerned. As Sir Andrew Cook said on Radio Four this morning, he employs skilled Polish citizens because they are hard workers but also because the same skill set is not available in sufficient quantity in the UK workforce.

As for the European Court of Justice, that was not even the subject of the referendum. May has no mandate to offer succour to despots by bringing us out of that institition.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Copeland Labour get the jitters about their party leader

It is difficult to know to what extent the future of the nuclear industry will feature in the forthcoming by-election in Copeland but it is a fair bet that the many people whose livelihoods depend on the Sellafield nuclear plant and the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard which builds the Navy's new Trident nuclear submarines, will be keen to get the candidate's views on this issue.

Labour are defending a razor-slim  2,564 majority in the constituency and already they are getting antsy at the prospect at the anti-nuclear, anti-Trident Jeremy Corbyn coming to the constituency for the campaign.

The Daily Mirror says that senior Labour figures fear the Conservatives will make a big issue of this, believing that it could win the constituency for Theresa May's candidate. They are playing down the inevitable Corbyn visit in language that suggests they are embarrassed by him:

Copeland council's Labour group leader Lena Hogg, who voted for Mr Corbyn in his successful leadership campaigns, hoped he would accept nuclear was popular locally.

Pro-nukes Mrs Hogg told the Mirror: “We have got it and it's staying and people are quite happy about the fact we have had it since 1952.

“It doesn't matter what people feel about it, it's not going anywhere.”

Asked about suggestions he could be “sidelined” in the campaign, she added: “I really can't see anybody concentrating on anything that Jeremy Corbyn does or says.”

Mrs Hogg was “very positive and confident” Labour would win.

But she admitted “every election battle is a tough battle, especially today when things are in disarray”.

“As far as I'm concerned it's a local election and it will be fought on local issues,” she said.

Suggesting that nobody will listen to what her own leader has to say whilst he is on a campaign visit is a new low for Corbyn. It certainly sets the wrong tone for when he eventually lands in the Lake District.

Irrespective of what he wants to talk about all that the journalists will now want to know is how he is going to square his views on nuclear issues with those of the local Labour Party and that could damage his candidate.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Could senior civil servants quit over Brexit tensions?

As if the loss of Sir Ivan Rogers as the UK's ambassador to the EU was not bad enough, the Guardian reports that the dysfunctional nature of Theresa May's government and the hostility being shown towards 'experts' by some elements in the Tory Party is having a wider impact.

They say that some senior civil servants who are disillusioned over preparations for Brexit are considering stepping down from their positions amid growing tensions with Downing Street.

They quote sources as saying that some of Whitehall’s top officials are “gravely concerned” by the treatment of Sir Ivan Rogers as well as mounting problems over preparations to leave the EU:

It comes after former Conservative ministers questioned the impartiality of Rogers and the wider civil service, as Number 10 and the foreign office declined to comment.

The appointment of Sir Tim Barrow as Rogers’s replacement on Wednesday night is unlikely to mask the wider strains between some mandarins and some ministers over Britain’s plans to trigger article 50 by the end of March.

Complaints from mandarins include that May’s office has centralised control, lacks communication skills, and has been too quick to adopt a confrontational style with those offering independent advice.

Whitehall sources said senior civil servants from several departments are considering stepping down from their positions. However, it is “too soon” to say whether this is part of a one-off exodus of talent or part of a cyclical loss of staff, one source added.

It is hard to believe that the government could mess this up any more but they are clearly trying hard to do so.

The Welsh UKIP leader who cant spell the name of the town which houses his office

The Western Mail reports that UKIP Assembly group leader Neil Hamilton has issued a press release with multiple misspellings saying he is opening an office in “Whitlands, Camarthenshire” (sic). The correct spelling is Whitland, Carmarthenshire.

According to the paper the media release says: “History will be made next week when Neil Hamilton Ukip group leader at the Welsh Assembly and AM for Mid and West Wales opens his first office in the area.

“People wanting to know more about the party and speak to either Neil Hamilton or his advisors will be able to do so at Whitlands (sic) Town Hall, in Whitlands (sic), Camarthenshire (sic) from Monday January 16.

“The office will be manned by staff (he means 'staffed' surely) Monday to Friday from 10am – 2pm who will be on hand to help with queries and make appointments with Neil Hamilton.

The release says that since his election in May Mr Hamilton “has been busy planning where to site an office in his constituency and is delighted that he is now being able to open one in the town of Whitlands (sic)”.

The release quotes Mr Hamilton saying: “I am pleased to announce the opening of the new office and look forward to meeting local people at the official opening on Thursday January 12 at 7pm. It will be great to have a base in Mid-West Wales.”

Later, after the spelling mistakes were ridiculed on social media, the member of Mr Hamilton’s staff who sent out the release sent out a corrected version, with a message saying: “I don’t know what is wrong with my computer today, but [it is] not functioning as it should!!”

As it has taken nine months to 'plan' what was clearly a complex and difficult 'historical' operation you would have thought that Hamilton and his staff could have checked the spelling. Still, these words must be difficult when you live in Wiltshire.

Let us hope that UKIP don't blame the computers when Brexit starts to go wrong.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The day that Brexit went to hell in a handcart

If we weren't screwed before, then we really are now. With just three months to go before the UK Government presses the button on Article 50 and engages in complex and crucial negotiations on which the future prosperity of this country depends, two of our key negotiators have left the stage.

As the Guardian reports, the sudden resignation on Tuesday of Britain’s ambassador to the European Union has prompted angry accusations from Remain supporters that officials who express cautions over the Brexit process risk being pressured out of their job. His second in command has also left, to go and work for the Welsh Government.

Lord MacPherson, who was permanent secretary from 2005 at the Treasury until last year, has said that Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation, so close to the start of Brexit negotiations at the end of March, amounted to a “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise”

He said that Rogers’ decision was a huge loss and that he was the latest in a string of EU experts to be frozen out, describing the decision as “amateurish”:

MacPherson also cited Rogers’ predecessor, Jon Cunliffe, and Tom Scholar, previously the prime minister’s adviser on European issues who is now permanent secretary at the Treasury. His warning appears to reflect a Treasury concern that Theresa May is under pressure by sceptics to abandon hopes of trying to negotiate access to the profitable EU single market, even on a temporary basis.

Nick Clegg, who worked with Rogers in Brussels, agreed. He said it appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks against public officials who had expressed caution about Brexit:

“First it was the judges, condemned as enemies of the people for just doing their jobs,” the former deputy prime minister told the Guardian.

“It’s been the CBI and any business that didn’t sign up to the Brexit zeal, and now it’s senior officials being kneecapped in the Brexit press, after Sir Ivan Rogers just gave candid advice about the length of time negotiations might take.

“They are in the firing line if they do not endorse a zealous world view. This is a very worrying trend, and very new in British politics.”

Insisting civil service neutrality is a precious British asset, Clegg said the government should value candid advice:. “It will come back to haunt the Brexit headbangers, because you can insist as much and hysterically as you like that the world is flat, but there are only so many people you can condemn for just pointing out the truth, that the world is round and that Brexit is complicated, might take time and might not be fully to Britain’s advantage.”

The question is how is Theresa May going to deliver on her promise to take Remainers with her when hard liners are doing all they can to sabotage the process and when she cannot call on the experts she needs to get the best possible outcome for the UK?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Welsh Labour Ministers wasted £2.2m on failed traffic experiment

Wales on line reports that the experimental closure of junction 41 in Port Talbot and associated road works cost taxpayers £2.2 million.

The closure of this junction was designed to reduce congestion on the raised section of the M4 going through the town, but Welsh Government studies showed that at best it only knocked about 30 seconds off the journey.

In fact, as is obvious to those who use this stretch of the motorway regularly, the main cause of the congestion is the narrowing of the carriageway from three lanes to two with the result that traffic problems often stretch from Pyle at junction 37 to past the Llandarcy turn-off at junction 43.

The trial closure caused huge traffic problems in Port Talbot and surrounding communities and cost local traders a lot of money. It is only in the last few months that the Minister confirmed that it would not be repeated.

This is a huge waste of public money particularly as we are back at square one with no improvement to traffic flow on this section of the M4. In fact I would argue that the problems between junctions 37 and 43 are worse than those around Newport. 

The only reason why the Welsh Government is spending £1 billion on fixing the stretch of motorway in Gwent is because of the impact on Cardiff. As ever the stretch of motorway further west is a lower priority.

Did Ministers feel that they were able to experiment with the livelihood of local traders and residents only because of the fact that it had no consequences for the capital? I believe that it is not an experiment they would have tried anywhere else on the M4, least of all around Newport or Cardiff.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2017: the year of the snoopers' charter

We are in the second day of 2017, but the fourth day of the UK Government's controversial Investigatory Powers Act being in force.

As the Independent reports,the measure places Britain under some of the widest-ranging spying powers ever seen. It includes the ability to collect the browsing records of everyone in the country and have them read by authorities as diverse as the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions as well as new powers to gather and retain data on citizens, and new ways to force technology companies and others to hand over the data that they have about people to intelligence agencies.

The paper says that many of the most invasive powers in the bill haven't yet gone into force. That includes, for instance, the collection of those Internet Connection Records, which has been postponed until the government and internet companies have worked out how they can collect such information safely:

The government has argued that the powers introduced in the bill are necessary to allow intelligence agencies and police to stop modern crime and prosecute the people involved in it.

But Bella Sankey, Amnesty’s policy director, said that it was a "sad day" when the bill passed into law last month.

“The Home Secretary is right that the Government has a duty to protect us, but these measures won’t do the job," she said then. "Instead they open every detail of every citizen’s online life up to state eyes, drowning the authorities in data and putting innocent people’s personal information at massive risk.

"This new law is world-leading – but only as a beacon for despots everywhere. The campaign for a surveillance law fit for the digital age continues, and must now move to the courts."

Legal challenges are underway to try and strike out some of the most draconian measures as being contrary to natural justice. We can only hope that they are successful.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

May tries to be all-things to all-men again

You would think I should take some comfort from the fact that the Prime Minister used her new year message to reassure those who voted for Britain to stay in the European Union that she will fight for their interests “around the negotiating table in Europe this year”.

The Guardian quotes her as saying: “We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. These ambitions unite us, so that we are no longer the 52% who voted leave and the 48% who voted remain, but one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. So when I sit around the negotiating table in Europe this year, it will be with that in mind – the knowledge that I am there to get the right deal not just for those who voted to leave, but for every single person in this country.”

My problem is that this pledge is just as inane as her previous 'Brexit means Brexit' assertion. It seeks to reconcile two completely contradictory positions without giving away any clue as to her and her government's vision for a post-Brexit UK.

Theresa May got the top job by sitting on the fence, playing both sides off against each other and deliberately avoiding saying anything that would upset either wing of the Tory Party. She is now trying to pull off the same trick as Prime Minister.

She cannot take all of the remain side with her, even with a 'soft-Brexit' that keeps us in the single market, assuming that were really a possible outcome. There is no possible outcome that would unite the whole country and she needs to stop pretending that there is.

Theresa May needs to be seeking a deal that is in the best interests of the country and that can only be achieved by staying in the EU.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?