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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Brexit 'dark money' was 'channelled through DUP'

Another day, yet more revelations about the Leave campaigns in the 2016 referendum campaign as the Irish News reports on claims that the Electoral Commission has "more than enough" to obtain court orders to compel answers from the DUP and Vote Leave campaign about possible links and allegations 'dark money' was channelled through them to influence the Brexit poll.

They say that a BBC Spotlight programme claims to have traced the apparent source of controversial donations to a "phantom company" in the Ukraine with links to a convicted German fraudster:

'There has been controversy over a £435,000 donation from the "secretive" Constitutional Research Council (CRC) to the DUP, which was used to fund pro-Brexit advertisements in England and Scotland including a `wrap around' on London's Metro freesheet.

Spotlight claimed that, while the advert bore the legal imprint of Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson on behalf of the DUP, "the ad wasn't booked by Jeffrey Donaldson or anyone in the DUP (but) by (CRC chairman) Richard Cook".

The party also spent money in Scotland, where it provided material for street canvassers that was almost identical to that of Vote Leave - on both occasions when the official campaign had reached its spending limits.'

Electoral law expert Gavin Millar QC, told the programme that this was a "weird mix of facts the like of which I haven't come across before". The article continues:

'The DUP was a registered campaigner in the referendum and as such was allowed to electioneer across the UK and has repeatedly, along with Mr Cook, denied it was in breach of electoral law.

If the two campaigns were working together on a common plan then, by law, it should have been disclosed to the Electoral Commission.

The programme said Canadian company Aggregate IQ (AIQ) - a data analytics firm with close ties to Cambridge Analytica - was also paid £32,000 by the DUP in the last two days of the campaign, when Vote Leave had reached its spending limit.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie claimed he was told by AIQ head Jeff Silvester that the DUP was introduced by Vote Leave at a time when it was "looking for ways to put more money into the operation that they were running and the DUP was in effect a vehicle to do that".

The programme claimed the AIQ chief had said "he worked with Lee Reynolds in the DUP".

However, the Belfast councillor had officially taken a break from the party to oversee the Northern Ireland arm of Vote Leave.'

Clearly there are allegations here that the Electoral Commission need to investigate so that voters can be clear to what extent, if any. laws were broken during the referendum campaign.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tory Brexit wars spread to Wales

The resignation of the Leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly was the clearest sign yet that the fallout within that party over Brexit has arrived this side of the Severn Bridge.

As the Western Mail suggests, Andrew R.T, Davies resignation comes in the wake of increasing unrest amongst some of his colleagues over his forthright criticism of major Welsh employer, Airbus, who warned last week of the impact of Brexit on their business.

After the company warned there could be significant job losses in the wake of Brexit, Mr Davies accused them of making threats and "hyperbole". But UK defence minister Guto Bebb said those comments were "inflammatory".

Although it is looking increasingly likely that Andrew R.T. Davies will be succeeded by Preseli Pembrokeshire AM, Paul Davies in an uncontested election, that has not stopped some of the Welsh Tory Party's hard-line Brexiteers jumping with their own two-pennyworth.

As the BBC report, leading Welsh Tory Brexiteers, MPs David Jones and David Davies have said their party's next leader in the assembly must reflect grassroots members' Eurosceptic views.

With leadership elections taking place for Welsh Labour and the UKIP wales branch, and a possible leadership election in Plaid Cymru, this is turning into a tumultuous summer for Welsh politics.

However, it is the new Tory leader who faces the greatest challenge in trying to unite a bitterly divided party, in which it seems just about anybody can jump in and publicly offer their opinion on how s/he is doing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Brexit divorce bill to rise

Just when you thought that the consequences of leaving the EU could not get any worse, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) tell us that the Treasury’s previous estimates of £35bn to £39bn failed to take into account an additional £10bn of costs to the government, including £3bn towards the European Development Fund, which provides overseas aid.

Their estimate that Britain could end up paying up to £50bn for the Brexit divorce bill must surely scupper any UK Government thoughts of a Brexit dividend, even if the Ministers concerned ever really believed that anyway.

As the Independent reports, Britain’s divorce bill was one of the early stumbling blocks of the Brexit talks, as many Euro-sceptics agreed with Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, that Brussels could “go whistle” over the prospect of a financial settlement:

However, the prime minister managed to secure an uneasy consensus in December when she announced the Treasury and the EU had agreed a figure around £39bn.

In a new report, the PAC said Treasury estimates missed “potentially significant” costs such as setting up new post-Brexit customs and trade arrangements and participating in EU schemes after leaving the EU, which taxpayers could pay into for years to come.

Some payments could continue up to 2064, the committee claimed, which will infuriate Brexiteers who are keen to make a clean break with the EU.

Another fine mess the Tories have got us into.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tory failure leaves them with a substantial green deficit

It seems such a long way from David Cameron's hug-a-huskie phase, a Tory Government reverting to type and refusing to take bold and radical steps to advance the environmental agenda, whilst at the same time pouring £14 billion into expanding Heathrow and its polluting airplanes.

The old tired excuses are wheeled out. Tory Ministers argue that it is uneconomic to electrify the rail line between Swansea and Cardiff because it will only shave a few minutes off the journey. Instead we get diesel engines for the final leg of the London to Swansea train, pouring more emissions into the atmosphere at a time when the UK Government have pledged to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

Swansea has been condemned to become an add-on for the main line from London, and already businesses are making decisions based on that perception. For many we are now just a few stops too far from  Cardiff.

And then there is yesterday's decision to ditch the Swansea Bay lagoon after what seems like
endless prevarication and indecision. The Secretary of State for Wales dismisses the case for providing a revolutionary and clean source of energy by stating that it would only have created 28 permanent jobs. When was he last at the end of a dole queue?

The fact is that the price the UK Government would have paid for electricity from this lagoon was equivalent to that they are prepared to pay for nuclear power. And the lagoon has a life twice that of a nuclear power station.

But there is sleight of hand here as well. Nuclear power stations may not emit any greenhouse gasses but the process of building them generates huge amounts. And when the government carries out its calculation it never takes account of the cost of decommissioning, which would send the price of electricity through the roof if it were applied in that way.

Trawsfynydd has been in decommissioning mode since 1993. The final clearance of the site is scheduled to begin in 2071. By 2083 the area is expected to have been restored to its pre-nuclear state, 124 years after construction started and 92 years after its closure.

Taxpayers are picking up the tab for that work and you can rest assured that none of that cost was built into the strike price the government paid for the electricity. The UK Government are comparing apples with pears and getting bananas.

Once again the Tories, as with Labour Governments before them, have left Swansea and the surrounding area out of their investment plans. More seriously, their environmental credentials and those of the UK Government have disappeared without trace. This Government is more likely to cook and eat a huskie than hug it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Where's Jeremy Corbyn?

Labour supporters and others stood amongst a crowd of over 100,000 people on Saturday protesting against Brexit, calling for a vote on the final deal, and chanting 'Where's Jeremy Corbyn?'

The Labour leader had conveniently scheduled a visit to a refugee camp to coincide with the march, but the chant was not just about his absence on that day, it was questioning why Labour under his leadership has failed to show-up at all as an official opposition during the debate over the existential crisis that Brexit threatens to become for the UK.

In this context there is an interesting piece on the Guardian website today by John Harris, who is or has been a longstanding Labour supporter. He argues that what is missing is a clear, confident, consistent Labour narrative. He suggests that the Labour Party should stop framing its policies in terms of a return to the pre-Thatcher past – 1945 and all that – and start basing what it says in the future. He says that it ought to be Tory free-marketry that feels like yesterday’s thing:

'For sure, Labour has a set of entirely justified moral convictions. Thanks chiefly to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, it has the beginnings of an across-the-piece economic plan, and some very interesting ideas about making the country more equal from the roots up. But what the party doesn’t yet possess is an account of the last few turbulent years of British history, and any human, emotional story about what the country might look like if it gets to implement its programme. So when its big figures get to their punchlines, there are often only empty bromides. “We want to live in a world where there is decency, and above all, hope,” said Corbyn – which was very nice, but floated off into the air as soon as he had said it. The usual questions remained unanswered: What is the United Kingdom? Why should it hold together? Where has it been, and where is it going? And as well as all the despair, where are the spots of hope that point to a different kind of country?

Such, perhaps, are the perils of attempting to make political headway while maintaining a stubborn reticence about the biggest change the UK has faced since the second world war. Right now, politics begins and ends with Brexit: the current Labour habit of talking about the past, present and future as if leaving the EU is a tangential subplot simply doesn’t make sense. But that is what the leadership does, having concluded that, as the government tumbles into shambles after shambles, the best thing to do is sit the whole mess out and say as little as possible. It is some achievement that many leavers think Corbyn is a remainer, while remainers are split between those who think he is secretly one of them, and those who damn him as a hardcore Brexiteer. This in turn blurs into a wider sense of paralysis and confusion – not a good look for an opposition that may go into a general election much sooner than some people think.'

Whilst Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour opposition continue in their failure to show up to the big debates and issues, then the Tories will continue to have free reign to drive this country into an isolated hole in the ground. Theresa May's minority government is succeeding in delivering a disastrous hard Brexit simply because she does not face a unified and coherent opposition,

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Trump Presidency radicalising his Democrat opposition

If a former reality star, albeit a rather rich and brash one, can take the Republican establishment by storm and win the White House, then why can't others do the same?

It is fair to say that Trump has both polarised and radicalised American politics in a way not seen since Nixon won the White House in the middle of widespread protests over the Vietnam war.

But the most interesting manifestation of this phenomena is not in the Republican Party, many of whose politicians appear to have conceded their principles to Trump's dystopian agenda, but amongst Democrats, where a new wave of candidates are taking on the establishment and demanding that their party stop compromising and bowing down to the President.

The Independent carries an interesting article about these grassroot activists who have decided that it is time to throw out the old and tired establishment in the Democratic Party. Their mood is summed up by Congressional challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who believes the Democratic Party could be “setting the country up for another disaster” if it does not get more progressive candidates on the ballot for crucial November midterm elections, with the party seeking to wrestle back control of Congress.

She is taking on Joe Crowley, who has been a US House member for the 14th Congressional district running through the New York boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, for 20 years:

Pure determination and a solid background in political organising for, among others, Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run has taken Ms Ocasio-Cortez from campaigning between shifts as a waitress to growing name recognition on the national stage. Her opponent has labelled her a 'Sanders Democrat,' which Ms Ocasio-Cortez believes is "divisive and patronising" – although both Sanders and herself champion Medicare for all, debt free university education, higher minimum wages, and labour unions.

But the challenger knows the mission is bigger than just her own goals.

“I see myself as a toehold. I know change has to come from inside and outside the House chamber so it’s not about me as an individual but about a movement," she said.

That seems to be true for the entire wave of progressive Democrat candidates who are challenging establishment, who do not differ much from their opponents in terms of policy: LGBTQ rights, women’s equality, gun control reform, and improving public education, but feel more voices should be heard. 

Her determination to change the discourse in American politics is reflected in the remarks by Ayanna Pressley, who is running for US Congress in Massachusetts:

Ms Pressley worked for Congressman Joseph Kennedy II and Senator John Kerry before becoming the first woman of colour to be elected to the Boston City Council – she is ready to take things to the next level. “We need a different brand of leadership,” she said, adding that the party in Massachusetts, and the national party as a whole has “been so focused on the white working class, we’re trading our heart for our soul”.

“We don’t have to be in this crisis of faith... we have to keep pushing,” Ms Pressley said of the aftermath of the 2016 election.

“Innovating and legislating should not be abdicated because we are not the majority,” Ms Pressley said, pointing to a similar sentiment from Ms Ocasio-Cortez who thinks her opponent and other established Democrats have been facing a “Trumpist defeatism”.

If this feels like a turning point in American politics then maybe it is. Those fighting for change are not taking to the streets as their forebears did when protesting against Vietnam, they are looking to change things from within.

It is an orderly insurgency that if it succeeds in getting a Democratic majority in Congress made up of this new wave of politicians, could well turn the tide against Trump and his right-wing popularism.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Why the UK Government must take Airbus's assessment seriously

Yesterday was quite an extraordinary one in politics, and not just because of the warning issued by Airbus concerning its own future in a post-Brexit UK. Airbus have consistently argued over the last two years that the UK leaving the EU will damage their business and cause the loss of jobs. They said no different yesterday. It is just that the UK Government do not appear to be listening.

What was most remarkable about the last 24 hours though, was the reaction of Brexiteers to the announcement by Airbus and the subsequent row that blew up amongst the Welsh Tories as a result.

Suddenly, everybody in the Brexit camp was lining up to talk-down a company which directly employs 14,000 people on 25 sites in Britain and supports a further 110,000 UK jobs in its supply chain for parts and services.

Predictably, the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage hit out at Airbus for "threatening" to leave Britain, saying in a tweet that its decision was heavily influenced by the £16.6 billion in aid it received from the EU. it seems that he is prepared for the rest of us to pay a very heavy price to finally secure his personal project of isolating the UK within the world, and making us economically and culturally poorer as a nation.

But it was the reaction of the mainstream politicians that took our breath away the most. As the Independent reports, Number 10 insisted Britain will get the “good deal” that would negate the need for the aircraft maker to relocate. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, apparently oblivious to any downside, urged the prime minister to deliver a “full British Brexit”. His cabinet colleague Liam Fox added that the UK was not “bluffing” about being prepared to walk away from talks with Brussels. One begins to wonder if these people occupy the same reality as the rest of us.

At least some Tory politicians had woken up to the dangers, even if in Wales that person was not the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives (or is he?). As the BBC reports, an internal, but very public, row erupted within the Conservative party after its Welsh leader accused Airbus of exaggerating the risk of job losses if a no-deal Brexit happens.

Andrew RT Davies accused  the European plane-maker of making threats and "hyperbole" after it warned it could quit the UK. Guto Bebb, a UK defence minister, jumped in to say Davies' comments were "inflammatory". Mr. Bebb, who is the Conservative MP for Aberconwy, said Airbus have been "consistent in their concerns and the government shares their aspiration for an early and comprehensive deal."

The BBC added that Bebb disputed Mr Davies' title as leader of the Welsh Conservatives and said he does not speak in such a capacity:

He told BBC Wales: "He is the leader of the assembly group and whilst I am unaware of whether he consulted his colleagues before issuing his inflammatory statement he certainly did not consult with myself as an MP in North Wales.

"Shooting the messenger is an unworthy position for a politician to take not least when that politician aspires to lead a government in Wales. He should retract his comments."

And then the CBI jumped into the fray, they warned that Airbus could be the first of many firms to threaten to end its investment in Britain, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk, if the government cannot provide urgent clarity on Brexit. Whilst the head of BMW UK also warned that the firm, which makes Minis and Rolls-Royces in Britain, needed clarity on future trading arrangements by the end of the summer.

If you are getting the impression that the UK Government's plans are starting to unravel then you would not be wrong. The problem of course is that if Ministers do have a plan, nobody knows what it is.  However, we should not fall for claims by Brexiteers that all of these 'noises-off' are political or part of the so-called 'Project Fear'.

These are hard-headed businesses whose duty and number one priority is the health and future of their business. It is not in their interests, nor those of their customers or shareholders to generate panic or concern unnecessarily.

Nils Pratley in the Guardian (no link) puts his finger on the real issue, that uncertainty on a whole range of issues which are subject to negotiation with Brussels is forcing Airbus's hand. He points out that the aircraft manufacturer didn't merely say that a 'no deal' outcome to Brexit talks "directly threatens Airbus's future in the UK". It also said an orderly Brexit, complete with a trade agreement and a transition period, would also be risky.

Effectively, the group have decided to freeze investment in Britain until it can judge how a new set-up would work and how many extra costs its British factories and research centres would bear. He also points out that Airbus's assessment barely mentioned tariffs. Instead, the worries are about the movement of employees between Britain and the EU, log-jams in the supply chain, and aircraft regulations.

The most critical issue on that list, he says, is probably UK membership of the  European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which certifies aircraft parts and runs safety checks:

'In theory, the Civil Aviation Authority could do the job in the UK, as it once did, but Airbus doubts the body could assemble the expertise in time to provide a smooth transition. Norway is a non-EU member of EASA and so Britain, if it is prepared to accept the European court of justice as the legal authority behind EASA's rulings, could also stay within. But a deal has not yet been struck, which is one of many reasons why Airbus is shouting that time is running short.'

Pratley concludes that the fear of "chaos at the borders" in 2020 is real. Downing Street talks about aiming to 'minimise' friction but is no longer able to reassure big business, who want technical details, not good intentions. And it seems to me that there is also a problem with Theresa May's red-lines, not least over the European Court of Justice, as evidenced above.

On the second anniversary of the referendum, on a day when thousands of people are gathering in London to demand that voters have the final say on whatever deal Theresa May is able to strike, we are getting a real feeling that Brexit, as many of us predicted, is going to hell in a handcart and that businesses, who employ thousands of people, are starting to make hard-headed economic assessments of specific economic risks that in time could see those jobs relocate to the other side of the English channel. This cannot continue.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cardiff Council bids to become X factor judges

A bizarre new policy introduced in Cardiff requires buskers to send 'audition tapes' to the council before getting a license under strict new rules.

Wales online report that the rules, which are set to come into force from July 1, mean that buskers have to send a video clip of them performing to Cardiff council to be approved and apply for the license each month.

Apparently, officers will be assessing the tapes to establish each busker's "sustainability and standard". The council has refused to give any further details as to the criteria they will use to judge whether a performer is worthy to grace the City's streets.

Each license, which is free of charge, will last one month which can be renewed "subject to agreement". Noise levels by buskers have to be "reasonable" and if the council receive a complaint then they have a statutory duty to investigate it.

The council say that the new system has been brought in following complaints by City centre businesses, but it is not clear whether objections have been focussed on the quality of the music or the fact that the busker is present at all.

I fully expect questions at the next council meeting as to what qualifications the officers concerned have to evaluate other people's music. Everybody is a critic I suppose.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trying to save our endangered parks

The Guardian reports that a coalition of countryside groups and environmentalists are calling on the government to protect the UK’s parks and green spaces which are at “crisis point” following years of swingeing budget cuts.

They say that the group has today put forward a “Charter for Parks” which calls on ministers in England, Wales and Scotland to make it a legal requirement for all parks and green spaces to be maintained and managed to a “good standard.” It also calls on them “to recognise the right of every citizen to have access within walking distance to a good-quality public green space.”

Dave Morris, Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces believes that time is running out to save our parks and green spaces:

“Budget cuts to staffing and maintenance are leaving them vulnerable to neglect and deterioration, or even sell offs. Many people think local councils are legally responsible for maintaining local parks and open spaces but unfortunately, unlike waste collection, that’s not the case yet.”

He said the charter called on politicians “to take action to ensure these essential and highly-popular public resources are properly funded, managed, maintained, and protected for current and future generations.”

The group's concern is backed up by others. The paper says that in 2017 an inquiry into the future of parks by MPs found that they were at a “tipping point”, and in 2016 a separate study from the Heritage Lottery Fund found the UK’s parks risked falling into disrepair and neglect as a result of budget cuts.

While 90% of families with children aged under five had used their local park at least once in the past month, the study said, 92% of park managers had had their budgets cut and 95% were facing further reductions.

This is certainly a major problem. As a local councillor I know how difficult it is to get things done in local parks due to competing budget priorities.

In many cases it is almost as if these green lungs are being left to wither on the vine simply because the council does not have the resources to carry out major maintenance.

It is only because of the dedication and commitment of a dwindling number of hard-working officers that we are able to keep our head above water. Parks and green spaces are absolutely central to local communities. This issue does need to be taken more seriously by national governments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Barnier confirms UK will be less secure after Brexit

As predicted by some of us during the European referendum campaign two years ago and foreshadowed in various articles ever since, Europe's chief negotiator has now confirmed that Britain will be locked out of EU policing and security databases after Brexit.

As the Independent reports, in a speech in Vienna Michel Barnier said the UK would also lose access to the European arrest warrant and that UK representatives would no longer have a role in managing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust:

The chief negotiator said EU security cooperation was based on “trust”, but said: “This trust doesn’t fall from the sky, there is no magic wand. This trust is founded on an ecosystem … If you leave this ecosystem you lose the benefits of this cooperation.”

He continued: “If we want to build a new relationship, we need a basis of good will, a basis of confidence between us – but we also need more realism about what is and what is not possible.”

Turning to Britain, he added: “They try to blame us for the consequences of their choice. Once again, we will not be drawn into this blame game. It will mean wasting time, and we don’t have time.”

The European Commission says expedited extradition could still be possible between the EU and UK but that it would have to be “organised differently”. Mr Barnier also said the EU was open to exchanging security information with the UK but that this could not be based “on access to EU-only or Schengen-only databases”.

The new bilateral system could make use of liaison officers and would be a reciprocal arrangement, Mr Barnier said.

The bloc also says any cooperation with the UK on the issue would be conditional on Britain remaining subject to the European Court of Human Rights and its convention – which Theresa May has previously toyed with leaving. UK data protection rules would also have to stay aligned with those of the EU, a document spelling out the plan says. Proposals laid out by European Commission officials say the agreement would have a “guillotine clause” that would terminate the agreement if these conditions were not adhered to.

The irony is that this wasn't inevitable. However, the path chosen by the UK Government in interpreting the result of the referendum and their insistence on having the final word on the deal over Parliament and the electorate, has put them on his collision course. As a result we will be a lot less secure in the UK and our efforts to tackle international crime and terrorism less effective.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Welsh UKIP in disarray yet again

Two news items yesterday have highlighted the extent of the disarray into which the Welsh UKIP group have plunged themselves once more.

Having effectively ousted Neil Hamilton as leader, UKIP then attempted to secure a sinecure for him as the party's member of the Assembly Commission. However, Hamilton's failure to back a new dignity and respect policy counted against him and the appointment was voted down.

During that debate, Mandy Jones, who was elected on the UKIP list in North Wales but who is sitting as an Independent after a row over her staff, spoke against the appointment. She has now been suspended from UKIP for allegedly 'damaging' her party:

In an email party secretary, Adam Richardson said Ms Jones's speech last week was "damaging to Mr Hamilton and to the larger party in Wales, which is in desperate need of unity."

He said the resulting press publicity was "all... quite unnecessary and extremely harmful at a temperamental time".

Ms Jones now faces an emergency disciplinary hearing, which she will be able to attend.

Meanwhile the row over the party's Assembly leadership has escalate with the BBC reporting that UKIP party members are to be balloted on who should be leader of the party's assembly group:

Caroline Jones has only been the leader of the UKIP group in Cardiff Bay since May, after she ousted Neil Hamilton.

She told BBC Wales the party's UK deputy leader Mike Hookem informed the group of five AMs about the ballot in a meeting on Monday. However, she told the BBC that she does not know why a ballot had been called.

When UKIP were first elected to the Assembly they vowed to shake things up. All the shaking however, is taking place within their own ranks.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Time to legalise cannabis for medical use

The decision by the Home Secretary to back down over the refusal to release medicinal cannabis oil that it had confiscated from the family of a severely epileptic boy is extraordinary because for the first time it reverses decades of obstinacy by the UK Government over the issue of legalising the use of cannabis for medical conditions.

Sajid Javid said he had used an exceptional power as home secretary to issue a licence for Billy Caldwell to be treated with the oil as a matter of urgency after Billy’s cannabis oil was confiscated at Heathrow on Monday. It contains a psychoactive substance called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is illegal in the UK but available elsewhere, and had kept his epilepsy at bay.

I have argued the case for legalising cannabis for medicinal use on this blog previously. The case of Billy Caldwell however brings that debate into sharp relief and offers some hope that the Government may now be listening. Billy's mother certainly hopes that is the case.

As the Guardian reports, she has called for a meeting with the home and health secretaries to talk about making medical cannabis legal for children who have similar conditions to her son:

Charlotte Caldwell said it was “absolutely horrific” and “cruel” that 12-year-old Billy had been refused cannabis oil after Home Office officials confiscated a six-month supply. She is seeking a discussion on the issue with Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.

She added that his condition was now beginning to improve after being allowed to have some of the treatment on licence.

Caldwell said: “I want to meet the home secretary and health secretary, urgently, this week, to get assurance that not only will Billy’s meds never again be removed, but to call for an urgent review of the overall policy on medical cannabis as it affects everyone who could benefit.”

Surely now is the time for the government to bring in this much needed reform.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Is May misleading us on the Brexit dividend?

Today's headlines are all about the supposed additional £20bn a year injection of extra cash by 2023-24 being proposed by Theresa May for the National Health Service. She argues that this money will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services.

However, other news reports highlight the on-going disagreement between the Health Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer over how much extra the government can afford to put into the health service, whilst the cabinet is also reportedly split as to how it will be paid for and to what extent taxes will need to be raised to contribute to the funding.

The Prime Minister herself appears to be adamant that she will be able to find the money from the supposed 'Brexit dividend'. Indeed, Daily Mail reports on an article written for them by Mrs May in which she said: “Now, as we leave the European Union and stop paying significant annual subscriptions to Brussels, we will have more money to spend on priorities such as the NHS.” What utter codswallop.

The timing of these claims are not coincidental. The Government is facing another substantial back bench revolt next week if the House of Lords returns the Brexit bill with its amendments reinstated. The Tory rebels will not be so easily bought off this time after being misled by the Prime Minister and the whips last week. If May can link her version to Brexit to a significant cash increase into the NHS then she may be able to prevail.

Her problem though is that the Brexit dividend does not exist. As George Eaton explains in the New Statesman, the £350m figure used by the Leave campaign did not take into account the UK’s £5.6bn EU budget rebate. In 2017, Britain’s net contribution was not £350m a week but £250m. Once the £4.1bn of EU funding allocated to the UK is also included, the net contribution falls further to £173m a week:

That would still account for nearly half the NHS increase promised by May (which will reach £384m by 2023-24). But over the next five years, there will be no “Brexit dividend” of any size.

Until the conclusion of the transition period (due in December 2020), the UK will continue to make EU membership payments (totalling £16bn). From 2021-28, it will contribute £18.2bn as part of the “divorce bill”. As a non-member, Britain will pay £3bn less from 2020/2021, rising to £5.8bn in 2022/23. But the government has already agreed to maintain existing EU spending on agriculture, universities, regional development and other areas - there is no spare largesse for the NHS.

But most importantly, Brexit is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (and every other major body) to harm, rather than improve, the public finances. After the referendum, the OBR estimated a net fiscal cost of £15bn a year (or nearly £300m a week) by 2020/21. Reduced EU trade and lower immigration - which May has explicitly stated will result - will depress government revenue. As Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said: “There is no Brexit dividend. Payments to the EU will fall [after Brexit], but tax revenues will fall more as a result of Brexit.”

It follows therefore that the entirety of the £20bn NHS spending increase will need to be raised through government borrowing, tax increases or cuts elsewhere. In other words it is precisely what Tories rejoice in accusing Labour of, an unfunded spending commitment. Isn't it time that the Prime Minister came clean and admitted that uncomfortable fact. Instead she is once more misleading people by suggesting that Brexit will be good for us.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Where to draw the line that Tory MPs should not cross?

Like many other people today, including most Tories, I am outraged at the actions of two Tory MPs in effectively talking out a bill on Mental Health before forcing a private members bill that had the full the support of the Prime Minister. and which sought to outlaw up-skirting, into an uncertain purgatory through the simple use of one word - 'object'.

As the Guardian reports, the voyeurism (offences) bill on upskirting, the taking of surreptitious, sexually intrusive images, was put forward by the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse after a campaign by Gina Martin. Police have declined to prosecute a man Martin accused of taking underskirt pictures of her on his phone at a music festival in London last summer:

As a private member’s bill it would normally have little chance of becoming law. But early on Friday the justice minister Lucy Frazer said the government would back it.

However, when the deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle read out the name of the bill later that day, the Tory MP Christopher Chope shouted: “Object”. Without sufficient time in the session for a proper vote it was sent back for another try on 6 July.

The MP for Christchurch also used the Commons session to delay another government-backed bill, which would make it an offence to attack police dogs or horses, or prison officer dogs.

Both were among a series of private member’s bills being given their second reading in the Commons on Friday. If no MP disagrees they are passed without a vote and can be given a date for their third reading. Last year Chope proposed 47 private member’s’ bills of his own.

According to social media, Christopher Chope has form on winding people up with his views. In October 2010, he hosted a meeting of climate-science-sceptics at Westminster. In January 2013, he came under fire for referring to some staff at Westminster as 'servants'. He opposed the minimum wage and voted against legislation for same-sex marriage.

In June 2013, Chope was one of four MPs who camped outside Parliament in a move to facilitate debate on what they called an 'Alternative Queen's Speech', an attempt to show what a future Conservative Government would deliver. Forty two policies were listed including the reintroduction of the death penalty and conscription, privatising the BBC, banning the burka in public places and preparation to leave the European Union.

In 2014, Chope and six other Tory MPs voted against the Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill which would require all companies with more than 250 employees to declare the gap in pay between the average male and the average female salary. He delayed a bill to pardon the second world war code breaker, Alan Turing and in 2013 he tried to block a debate on the Hillsborough disaster.

He has persisted with such aberrant behaviour with hardly a peek from his fellow Tories, until yesterday when he went too far even for the most ardent right winger. Tory MP, Simon Clarke tweeted: “Chris Chope has embarrassed himself with his actions in parliament today, and does not speak for me or Conservatives on the disgusting issue of upskirting.” 

Fellow Conservative Paul Masterton said: “Do not underestimate just how furious many Tory MPs are about this. This kind of thing does far more damage to the public’s view of our party than endless debates about customs arrangements.” 

What is clear from those quotes however and the following WhatsApp conversation, is that it was not the issue that was upsetting most Tories but how it will play out in public:

For many Tories it appears that the line that should not be crossed has nothing to do with what is decent and right, but what will embarrass the party and lose them votes. Heaven-forbid that principle should get in the way.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Brexit - do what they do not what they say!

If we needed any more proof that hard-line Brexiteers inhabit a different world to anybody else then the revelation that the City firm co-founded by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has set up an investment fund in Ireland and is warning prospective clients about the financial dangers of the sort of hard Brexit favoured by the Tory MP, must surely count as a slam-dunk..

As the Guardian reports, the London-based Somerset Capital Management (SCM) described Brexit as a risk in a prospectus to a new fund it launched in March, which has been marketed to international investors who want to keep their money in the EU long-term. This is despite Rees-Mogg, who works part time at Somerset Capital in addition to his work as an MP, repeatedly dismissing the concerns of those worried about the financial risks of Brexit. He has argued the UK needs to quit the single market and customs union so the country is not a “rule taker” from Brussels:

But in reference to Brexit, the SCM prospectus warned: “During, and possibly after, this period there is likely to be considerable uncertainty as to the position of the UK and the arrangements which will apply to its relationships with the EU.”

The document continued: “As [the firm is] based in the UK and a fund’s investments may be located in the UK or the EU, a fund may as a result be affected by the events described above.”

Rees-Mogg is a non-executive chair at SCM and is paid about £14,000-a-month for working 30 hours a month there. Earlier on Wednesday, he defended the decision by the investment firm to create a new investment fund in Ireland.

“A number of existing and prospective clients requested domiciled access to Somerset’s products,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “The decision to launch the fund was nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit.”

Rees-Mogg said that SCM had funds based across the world and that “people outside the EU are used to Irish domiciled funds”. The warnings in the prospectus, he said, were “not a policy statement by SCM”, but guidance to investors that was drafted by lawyers.

I suppose we can now draw our own conclusions about Jacob Rees-Mogg's condemnation of scare stories about Brexit.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A divided Labour party giving succour to the Tories

I accept that the alternative single market option of the European Economic Area may not be the best way forward for the UK, but if we are really going to leave the EU then it represents the best we can hope for to minimise the damage caused by Brexit.

The Tory Government does not accept that of course. They seem set on a hard Brexit, possibly a no-deal Brexit that is going to cause immense harm to our economy and cut our living standards. Surely it is the duty of the official opposition to take a principled stand against that position.

Unfortunately, Labour do not see that as their role. Their supposed alternative is as idealistic and unobtainable as the negotiating stance taken by Theresa May. In fact you could not get a cigarette paper between the two positions. When are they going to do their job and start to oppose this mess?

You could be forgiven for spotting that I am unhappy about what happened yesterday. Yet another opportunity to defeat the government and force them into a single market option was squandered by the Labour opposition. They whipped their MPs to abstain on the EEA amendment and got their reward when 90 backbenchers defied the whip and five frontbench MPs quit to join them.

We are now faced with a situation where both the main parties are irrevocably divided on the main issue of the day, no realistic leadership from the official opposition whilst the third largest party in the House of Commons has slunk off in a massive sulk over the perceived snubbing of Scotland.

In the words of Private Frazer in Dad's Army, 'we're all doomed'.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Action needed now on unsafe blocks of flats in Wales

It was very concerning to read on the BBC this morning that Wales chief fire advisor, Des Tidbury believes that residents in private high-rise blocks may have to live with unsafe cladding for years because of wrangling over who should pay to replace it.

Apparently, fifteen buildings in Wales were found to have the same type of aluminium composite cladding which engulfed Grenfell, 12 of them being private sector blocks comprising of about 700 flats. The others were social housing blocks in Newport which are being adapted with £3m in Welsh Government funding.

However, the broadcaster reports that there is uncertainty over who will pay for improvements on privately-owned blocks:

There have been calls by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) for the Welsh Government to offer short-term loans to the privately owned buildings for remedial works, while the issue of liability is ironed out.

Mr Tidbury said different types of tenancy contracts, complicated management arrangements and where responsibility lies for communal areas formed part of the issue.

"It's extremely complex and can only be looked at building by building," he said.

"It could be that a landlord in good faith commissioned the work to be done, but the cladding that was used was of the sort that may have been used at Grenfell, so issues around that.

"Then who is responsible… was it the landlord for commissioning the work or indeed was it the contractor for putting up the cladding?

"And then you look at the testing regime for some of the products and materials, that's also been called into question.

"In the end you might never get to the point where you fully identify who is responsible, it could take years and years and years."

Although fire safety features, such as night-time walking patrols and extra alarms, are being introduced in affected buildings in the shorter term, the costs are falling on leaseholders in some cases.

There have been warnings some homeowners cannot sell or re-mortgage their apartments due to the cladding issues.

This is not a situation that can be allowed to fester for too long. Clearly it is not right that tenants and leaseholders should foot the bill, but neither should the public purse be held liable for the costs of making these blocks safe. However, if the Welsh Government does not act soon then lives may be put at risk.

My view is that legally the responsibility for sorting this problem should rest with the freehold owner of these flats. He or she may then wish to pursue the company responsible for fitting and/or supplying or certifying the cladding for reimbursement.

But the Residential Landlords Association is right, we cannot wait for legal actions to be exhausted before action is taken. The cladding needs to be replaced now. That is why the common sense approach they suggest of the Welsh Government lending the money so that the work can be carried out expeditiously seems to be the most practical way forward.

The ball is now in the Welsh Minister's court. Let us hope she picks it up and does something with it quickly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A toxic racism in the Tory Party?

If Corbyn has a problem with anti-Semitism then it seems that the Tories also have a problem, with Islamophobia. At least that is the view of their former party chair, Baroness Warsi.

According to the Independent she says that the "poison" of Islamophobia is "very widespread" in the Conservative Party but is being “ignored” by Tory leaders. Warsi believes that the problem is present at all levels of her party and claims some of the Tories’ own campaigns have included anti-Muslim messages:

She told Business Insider: "It's very widespread. It exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top.

"I don't think it's something that Theresa [May] is a part of, but I do believe it is something the leadership feels can be easily ignored."

She claimed Tory leaders are not taking the problem seriously because "they don't think it is going to damage them because that community doesn't vote for them in any great numbers."

She added: "I think that there is a general sense in the country that Muslims are fair game and it is not the kind of community where you can treat really badly and have many consequences. You can get any with it".

Baroness Warsi highlighted the 2016 London mayoral campaign, during which the Conservatives were criticised for portraying Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, as “extremist”:

She said: "We specifically went out for Hindu voters saying Sadiq's after your jewellery and I love [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi and by the way, Sadiq is an extremist. It was really amateur dog whistle politics.

"I just feel that somebody in the campaign took a decision that if we throw enough dirt at him tied to the fact that he's a Muslim, then people will say this man can't be trusted and he won't vote for him. [It was a] terrible, terrible campaign which I think still has an effect."

The point that the Tories do not believe that these campaigns will damage them is well-made. However, for a party that supposedly believes in an inclusive Britain, their failure to act is disgraceful. It certainly removes any moral authority they may have had to criticise Labour for the anti-Semitism that is present in that party.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Will Trump declare war on Canada next?

Just when we thought things couldn't get any more messed up on the international stage, the US President throws a hissy-fit, attacks all his allies and then jets off for a cosy tête à tête with his sworn enemy.

The world is clearly a much more dangerous place when the leader of its most powerful nation continues to act like a petulant child who insists on getting his own way. And whilst I wish Trump every success in disarming the Korean peninsula, I wonder what it is he thinks he is going to achieve by imposing trade tariffs on goods exported by America's friends whilst seeking to insist that they do not have the right to retaliate? Does he even understand that these tariffs will damage the American economy and cost him jobs?

It is not just the actions of an-out-of-control President that cause concern but the way that his senior advisors, who should know better, back him up with very undiplomatic language.

The Guardian has a good example of this when it quotes Donald’s Trump’s chief economic adviser as saying that the US pulled out of a G7 communique because the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, “stabbed us in the back”. He accused the leader of one America’s most important allies of playing a “sophomoric political stunt for domestic consumption”.

In fact, as I understand it Trudeau's press conference briefing was just repeating what he had already told Trump in private, that Canada does not accept the US demand for a sunset clause in the North American trade agreement, Nafta, that Trump has at different times pressed to abolish or renegotiate. Trudeau also said Canada would “move forward with retaliatory measures” in response to the Trump administration’s move to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel imports from the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

Why would Trump expect anything else? Is the master of the deal losing his touch, when he cannot get even his own allies to agree with him? Will we now see calls for a wall along the Canadian border as well?

This may play well in the rustbelts of America but all Trump has succeeded in doing is to isolate the USA from the rest of the free World, effectively abdicating his position as the pre-eminent leader of that grouping.

There is a West Wing episode in Season Six (Episode 17) where a crisis blows up as a result of a border incursion by some Canadians. During that episode, the Deputy National Security Advisor, Kate Harper reveals the existence of a fictional secret plan to invade Canada:

Kate: [to the Canadian ambassador] Ambassador, listen carefully. An hour ago I reviewed the United States' contingency plan to invade your country.

Will: Uh...there's a contingency plan...

Kate: 1789, amended in 1815, the calligraphy is beautiful. And if one more "deal" is floated in this room, I'm gonna ask DOD to reactivate it. [walks out]

Thank goodness Trump only watches Fox News and wouldn't dream of immersing himself in such liberal nonsense as The West Wing. If he did happen to see the episode I imagine he would be tasking his aides to find that plan and to initiate it. That is the world we now find ourselves living in.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

UK Government continues to fall apart as they row over immigration

It turns out that it is not just Brexit that has UK Government Ministers at each other's throats. As the Independent reports there are also serious disagreements over immigration as well, as the Prime Minister refuses to back down from her 'hostile environment' policy, despite it being discredited over the Windrush scandal, and her misplacing a Home Secretary who was seeking to defend the indefensible.

The paper says that whilst on her trip to the G7 summit, the prime minister rejected three times, calls for a rethink on policies to curb illegal immigration, which have trapped British citizens. Instead, she insisted she had the public’s backing for measures which have turned employers, landlords, the NHS and banks into “de facto border guards”, required to make immigration checks.

This is despite the fact that Sajid Javid, the new home secretary, has already announced a rethink after members of the Windrush generation swept up by the policy were denied jobs and healthcare, and even detained or deported. He rejected Ms May’s phrase “hostile environment” as a “non-British term” and said: “I’m going to look at how it’s been implemented. I want to review aspects of the policy.”

The question now is whether Javid will be allowed to proceed with his avowed policy to introduce a “fairer, more compassionate immigration system”, one that is becoming increasingly necessarily as the previous policy, implemented by May when she was Home Secretary, collapses around his ears:

Doctors say people are being denied urgent treatment, after hospitals were put under a legal duty to seek money upfront from patients unable to prove they are eligible for free care.

And the government is facing a legal challenge over the “right to rent” scheme obliging landlords to check the immigration status of all would-be tenants – which campaigners say provokes widespread discrimination.

Half of landlords told the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) that they were now less likely to consider renting to non-EU nationals – while 42 per cent were less likely to rent to those without a UK passport.

This Government is becoming more and more dysfunctional as each day passes.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

How we are choking our environment

The campaign to cut back on the amount of plastic waste in our environment must have received a stimulus in Wales today with this piece about the way that rivers in Cardiff are being polluted by the stuff.

As the BBC reports, volunteers are complaining that they are dealing with a seemingly never-ending clean-up of litter, with piles of plastic bottles and takeaway cartons being collected every month by community groups in the city. They add that one volunteer described seeing a swan's nest made of plastic bottles, while another said at one point the River Taff was a "sea of plastic:

Alex Finley, one of a group from South Wales Paddle Boarders who took to the River Taff last week, said they were coming across a "shocking" amount of plastic in the water.

The volunteers - the youngest aged eight - picked up about 20 bags-worth of litter from the river in an-hour-and-a-half after being inspired by the Volvo Ocean Race.

"When you paddle up the Taff it's just idyllic, but when you are picking up so much plastic you start to wonder what sort of water you are in," he said.

Plastic bottles, beer cans and broken-up takeaway boxes made up the majority of their loot - but the group also found bike tyres and a number of plastic ducks.

"It was just phenomenal - we couldn't believe it," he said.

"I came round this one corner and it was just a sea of plastic. For about 100m you could barely see the water. It was just grim."

The BBC say that Cardiff Harbour Authority collects an average of 430 tonnes of rubbish and natural debris from this area each year, a lot of it due to human activity, including sewage, industrial pollution, and incorrectly plumbed toilets and showers. Naturally, there are concerns about the impact on wildlife.

Regular clean-ups and better funded activity by local councils will of course make a difference but there needs to be a fundamental change in the way that we approach waste if this is to be solved in the long term.

In particular we need to have legislation to reduce packaging, to insist that what packaging is there is biodegradable and of course we need better enforcement and more stringent punishments for fly-tipping and other illegal waste disposal.

This is a job for government, and now that it has been seen as a problem on their own doorstep, one for Welsh Minister to take on directly.

Friday, June 08, 2018

The chaos at the heart of the Tory Government

I haven't enjoyed a Tory Government meltdown so much since John Major resigned the Tory leadership in an effort to force a confrontation with his Eurosceptic 'bastards'. The downside however, is that these idiots are meant to be running the country at a time of major crisis, when they would struggle to run a bath.

I am sure many of us sat open-mouthed as the will-he-won't-he saga unfolded around David Davis' threatened resignation over the so-called Northern Irish backstop. In the end he stayed on in return for a large helping of fudge, a deadline date to introduce a hard border which wasn't a deadline at all, and which in any case the other 27 EU countries are not likely to find acceptable.

It is almost as if UK Ministers have built a large cocoon around Whitehall inside of which they are able to play out gaming scenarios without having to deal with the real world or indeed make reference to any other players.

Those of us who want to stay in the EU bemoan the fact that it will leave the UK isolated in an inter-related, multi-national world. The fact is that this Government has already reached that point of no-return. They are not just isolated from everybody else, they are isolated from each other.

And then came the icing on the cake, Boris Johnson's leaked speech in which he once more makes a bid to be the supreme ruler of his own little universe. In the audio, which lasted for more than an hour Boris gave a rundown of just how messed up the Theresa May government is:

Johnson insisted he won’t compromise on the final terms of Britain’s future economic relationship, but said the Brexiteers were at risk of getting a deal far worse than they’d hoped for. The government is so terrified of short-term economic disruption that it’s at risk of throwing away the opportunities presented by Brexit. He ridiculed the concerns about disruption at the borders as “pure millennium bug stuff” and said it’s “beyond belief” that the Northern Ireland border has become an obstacle in the negotiations.

What this speech reveals more than anything is the extent to which the whole UK Government is in denial as to the impact of Brexit on our economy, our standing in the world and our future as a trading nation. They really do not understand the position of the people they are negotiating with, their motives or their interests. No wonder there is a stand-off.

We now have dysfunction as an art form within government and a worrying reliance on the likes of Donald Trump to bail us out. This Government makes John Major's look competent. We really are going to hell in a handcart.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The rotten fruit of Brexit

You may think this is a post about Theresa May's cabinet but no, it is actually about fruit, or more precisely the problems faced by UK farmers, many of whom voted for Brexit, in recruiting people to pick their fruit before it goes rotten in the fields.

As the BBC reports, recruitment agencies are warning that they cannot secure the number of workers needed by British farmers to pick their fruit and vegetables. Over half say that they could not find the labour even in the "quiet" first months of this year, whilst the National Farmers Union reports that last year there was a 17% drop in seasonal workers coming to the UK. This led to some valuable produce being left to rot in the fields.

The BBC say that ninety-nine percent of seasonal workers on British farms come from Eastern Europe. Two-thirds of these come from Romania and Bulgaria. One Kent-based company which works in Romania to supply labour for 80 growers across the UK needs to find 4,000 people to pick strawberries, raspberries, and eventually apples and pears over the next few months. They are apparently nowhere near that target:

According to co-director, Estera Amesz, the numbers of people wanting to work in Britain fell sharply after Brexit. A key issue was the fall in the value of the pound. She says it is also down to the uncertainty; people aren't sure what documents they now need.

"We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest. Thirty to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it's a handful. We used to take the crème de la crème. Now, we are scraping the barrel."

The firm runs criminal history checks and the candidates do dexterity tests, but Mrs Amesz says her company has had to widen the net. She says she now considers those that, "have two hands and two legs, and stand a 50% chance of making it".

Rather than people coming to the company offices, they now have to travel deep into the Romanian countryside to sell the idea of coming to work in the UK.

This is just one consequence of the vote to leave the EU. The economy of countries like Romania are actually growing at a faster rate that that of the UK and are developing an affluent middle class.

Whilst the UK government flounders in its own indecision and failures, the UK is being left behind. Oh yes, and our fruit and vegetables are rotting in the fields.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Labour fudge barely distinguishes them from the Tories

If we were to hold national Brexit awards it would be a close call as to which political party would win the 'meaningless fudge of the year' prize.

On the one hand we have the Tories, who appear to be stumbling from misunderstanding, to split to Walter Mitty schemes, and onto a hard exit without once being able to sit down with EU negotiators armed with any clear objectives or any idea how they are going to get to their declared final destination.

On the other hand, we have Labour who are determined to talk a good game of saving jobs and us continuing to enjoy the benefits of the single market, without staying in it, whilst at the same time trying not to upset the thousands of Labour voters who want to leave, irrespective of the fact that the vast majority of their supporters and MPs take the opposite view. It is a balancing act on top of a razor blade that can only end in excruciating disaster.

Every time I think about it I come back to the final paragraph of George Orwell's Animal Farm: 'Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.'

The latest wheeze by Labour falls very much into the scenario described above. They have been presented with a unique opportunity by the House of Lords to defeat the Government, whilst setting down a marker as to what type of Brexit they want. All the work has been done for them by a cross party alliance in the other place. They just have to walk through the right lobby at the right time.

As the Guardian makes it clear, Labour peers ambushed the party leadership last month when the amendment, tabled by Lord Alli, demanded that remaining a member of the EEA was a negotiating objective. But no, Corbyn and his allies prefer to indulge in gesture politics.

They are proposing an amendment to create an “internal market” that would deliver a new and close relationship with the European Union but falls short of membership of the single market while maintaining many of its advantages. This is not the full single market membership sought by a vocal group of Labour MPs and is virtually identical to Theresa May's ultimate goal, something that has been ruled out already by the other 27 countries. EU negotiators have repeatedly made it clear that there can be no cherry picking to the UK’s advantage in the negotiation:

Chris Leslie, a leading Labour Remainer, said: “If the frontbench are missing the opportunity to secure the EEA single market as a UK negotiating objective, there will be utter dismay and shock across the Labour movement.”

Another Labour rebel said the leadership had “scrapped the Lords amendment (which is the only one the Tories will support) and replaced it with fudge”.

Former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw said the party should back the Lords push for EEA membership instead. The Labour MP said Tory MPs “won’t vote for a Labour frontbench amendment” and if the party was “serious” about averting a hard Brexit “we must vote for the existing backbench cross-party Lords amendment”.

Some Tory rebels are also looking at some form of relationship as close to the EEA as possible, as a way of averting a catastrophic departure from the EU.

This amendment is also inept tactically. It will not attract the support of Tory Remainers. If Corbyn wants to achieve his objective of putting the Tories on the back foot and forcing them to negotiate seriously to remain in a free trade area where jobs are protected, then he needs to follow the lead set by the Lords rather than undermine cross-party unity with his own amendments.

The question of course is does Corbyn really care? Is he actually happy for Theresa May to take us over the Brexit cliff edge? He is certainly acting as if that is what he wants.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Getting the balance right on civil liberties

Over at the Guardian, Simon Jenkins raises some very serious doubts around the extraordinary proposal by the Home Secretary this week that personal information possessed by MI5 on some 20,000 British “suspected” citizens should be declassified and shared with local authorities, police “and others” in order to “counter terrorism”. He makes the point that in these circumstances there is no way such material can possibly stay secret:

Since no one knows if they are on this list, they have no way of countering or correcting false identification or information. No one giving information to the state, including possibly the identity of the giver, will be able to trust its secrecy. Indeed if the list is not declared or even vetted, the suspicion must be that any MI5 intelligence on individuals will no longer be secret. This is not just a police state but an insecure state. Parliament should demand instant clarification.

He acknowledges that some of the Home Secretary's proposals are sensible:

It is right to combat all conspiracies at their roots, rather than just respond to their consequences. The government’s much-derided Prevent strategy, focusing on radicalisation in schools, prisons and religious institutions, was ham-fisted. But behind almost every terrorist incident is some deed of radicalisation. Prevention at source has to be the way forward, and that relies on intelligence within the community – and trust in that intelligence. But if such prevention is perhaps weakened by a respect for human and civil rights so be it. That is the price of freedom. Home secretaries are entrusted with guarding that freedom.

He suggests that Sajid Javid is now in danger of capitulating to terrorism’s prime goal, which is to undermine the liberties and dignities of the state. He says there has to be a balance of risk:

Terrorists aim to change our way of life. They want to show our much-vaunted freedoms and tolerances to be a sham. The one thing not to do is suggest they might be right. 

That seems to me to be a reasonable rule of thumb to assess any measures coming forward from government on this issue.

Monday, June 04, 2018

UK Government all at sea over failed plans on Northern Ireland border

Government schemes to try to reconcile the impossible conundrum of the UK leaving the single market whilst at the same time maintaining a seamless, tariff-free border between Northern Ireland the Irish Republic, have been coming at us thick and fast in recent weeks.

All of them are unworkable, none of them have proved to be acceptable to the EU, whilst many of them have the air of a Heath Robinson contraption, drawn up on the back of a Portcullis House napkin without once consulting with the people charged with making the arrangement work.

And so the latest, so-called solution has bit the dust, with The Times reporting that Brexit Secretary, David Davis has conceded that surveillance technology cannot be used to police the Northern Ireland border in a major climbdown that leaves Brexiteers’ favoured customs plan in disarray.

The paper says that pressure from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and concerns over civil liberties mean that a key part of the Brexit secretary’s blueprint to deal with the border has had to go back to the drawing board, with a crucial EU summit less than four weeks away:

Mr Davis is understood to have indicated this week that he would not push for solutions that involved monitoring or surveillance to track goods. This could have included asking businesses that regularly trade across the UK border to install British government smartphone tracking apps or asking businesses on either side of the border to submit to British government tracking.

Ministers have already ruled out new infrastructure at the border, including cameras, or additional checks on vehicles. This leaves a major hole in the “max fac” plan for customs, which would mean a hard exit from the customs union in 2021 with delays at all EU-UK borders minimised by smart technology.

So it is back to the drawing board, with the only other plan being both unworkable and unacceptable to the DUP and most other sane people. This one was possibly designed by Wallace and Gromit and involved Northern Ireland operating a “double hatted” regime of being subject to EU and British regulations at the same time “so it can trade freely with both”, and have a ten-mile “special economic zone” or buffer for local traders.

I don't remember any of these difficulties being painted on the side of a bus two years ago. The sooner the UK Government wakes up and realises that the only real solution is to stay within the single market (and the EU) the better.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Typo of the week

It isn't just the Guardian which is full of typos, The Times has its moments as well. I suppose it is easy to confuse former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott for Clint Eastwood.

Doomsday Brexit revealed

I suppose it is the job of civil servants to plan for the worse-case scenarios, so I would expect there to be a document tucked away in the vaults of Whitehall Place outlining a doomsday scenario if Brexit goes tits-up in which we all go to hell in a handcart. And indeed, as this exclusive in the Sunday Times reveals, such a document does exist.

What is really frightening is not that such a scenario is being envisaged but that there are a substantial number of hardliners who actually want to go down the route of a no-deal Brexit irrespective of the consequences. More to the point, the way the current UK Government is behaving we could actually find ourselves in that sinking ship.

Well, Tim Shipman has outlined the consequences of leaving without a deal, and possibly also the consequences of the course chosen by the current government. He reports that the doomsday scenario envisaged by civil servants would see Britain hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight:

A source said: “In the second scenario, not even the worst, the port of Dover will collapse on day one. The supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within two weeks.”

Officials would have to charter aircraft, or use the RAF to ferry supplies to the furthest corners of the UK. “You would have to medevac medicine into Britain, and at the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well,” the source said.

This sounds remarkably like a Mad Max film, a dystopian future presided over by Theresa May and David Davis with Boris Johnson wielding a machine gun from the back of an adapted Fargo Warhorse Truck. Time for the people to have a say in my view.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Chair of Vote Leave campaign leaves us to our fate

In many ways it is hardly surprising that the rather wealthy Nigel Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and chair of the Vote Leave campaign, might adopt the Marie Antoinette position of 'Let them eat cake' to those people he helped persuade to vote to leave the EU, whilst he applies for an official residency card so he can continue to live in France, unaffected by the chaos he has unleashed at home.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, it was always the free movement of ‘other people’, especially the poorer ones, which was the concern of the wealthy Euro-sceptics who led the Brexit campaign. It was never their intention that their own right to spend their wealth and live where they wished, should in any way be curtailed.

This arrogance will not go down well with those Europeans living and working in the UK, or even those with British citizenship who have their home and work on the continent, whose continuing status remains uncertain and who, in the case of the former group, are being aggressively targeted by the Home Office despite their own contribution to community and country.

The Independent quotes Paul Butters, the chair for the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain who is rightly angry: “The idea that the chairman of Vote Leave has applied for his residency card in France takes the biscuit. It seemed to Lawson that no cost was not worth paying to leave. But with this news, it seems the cost will be paid by others while the former chancellor suns himself in his luxury home in France."

Indeed it is this sense of entitlement amongst the leading Brexiteers which rankles the most. Their actions tell us that they never cared for the rights and the livelihood of the millions of people they persuaded to support their cause through a mixture of lies and undeliverable promises.

Whilst our economy struggles as a result of that referendum result, the likes of Lord Lawson are sunning themselves on the continent, happily insulated against the consequences of his own campaign.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Trump is the wild card that gives the lie to the Brexiteers dreams

The announcement by US President, Donald Trump yesterday that new tariffs will be imposed on steel (25 per cent) and aluminum (10 per cent) imports from the EU (including Britain), Canada and Mexico has underlined one of the central arguments for voters being given a second-chance to vote on Brexit. There is now no doubt that we can rely on the USA to bail us out with a preferential free trade deal.

As the New Statesman argues, “America First” means Britain second (at very best). Trump’s protectionist rhetoric has now been matched by action. Our isolation is further reinforced by the very robust EU reaction to these tariffs. The EU is a major trading bloc with the power to hurt the US with it retaliatory action. On its own the UK is a small fly buzzing around the hide of a rhinoceros.

George Eaton in the New Statesman sums it up:

Theresa May’s government is left to feebly protest that it is “deeply disappointed” (in the words of a No 10 spokesman), Liam Fox, the Trade Secretary, and the cabinet’s most devout Atlanticist (who previously described the move as “absurd), has learned that his friendship counts for little.

Trump’s actions will strengthen those MPs pushing for Britain to remain part of an EU customs union. A global trade war, to put it mildly, is not the best time to sever relations with your closest partner.

The likes of Fox and Boris Johnson have long argued that exit from the customs union would herald the birth of a freewheeling, buccaneering “global Britain”. Rather than being shackled to Brussels, the UK would be liberated to strike valuable trade deals with China, India and “the Anglosphere” (the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

The ideological and sentimental appeal of this project to Conservatives is obvious. But the economic appeal is not. As Robert Chote, the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, emphasised when I interviewed him earlier this year, “most of the work that trade economists have done” suggests that "the reduction in openness likely with the EU [the destination of 44 per cent of British exports] is likely to outweigh any increase elsewhere." Indeed, the government's own analysis suggests that the UK would lose between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of GDP over 15 years from a “hard Brexit” (withdrawal from the single market and the customs union), while new deals with the US and others would add no more than 0.6 per cent.

And what would a trade deal with the US involve? Would we be in a position to resist chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef and acid-washed pork as Michael Gove believes? What about the more fundamental principles? Imagine the rows if the US demands protections for its multinationals and access to the NHS. A Eaton says, Britain's inexperience of trade negotiations (the preserve of Europe for 44 years) and its large trade surplus with the US mean it starts from a position of unambiguous weakness.

This is the mess the Brexiteers have condemned us to if Theresa May gets her way and delivers a hard Brexit. Surely it is time to say enough is enough?

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