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Monday, December 31, 2018

No deal, no commonsense

The UK Government's planning for a 'no deal' Brexit slipped from incompetent to farcical yesterday as it was revealed that have awarded a £13.8m contract to a British firm to run extra ferries in the event that we do jump over that cliff on 29th March.

However, as the BBC reveal, Seaborne Freight, who have been awarded the contract has never run a ferry service and a local councillor has said it would be impossible to launch before Brexit. The government said it had awarded the contract in "the full knowledge that Seaborne is a new shipping provider":

The Department for Transport said that "the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services".

"As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company's commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award," it added.

Conservative Kent county councillor Paul Messenger said it was impossible for the government to have carried out sufficient checks on the firm.

"It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?" he asked.

Mr Messenger said he didn't believe that it was possible to set up a new ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend by 29 March - the date when the UK is due to leave the European Union.

The narrow berths for ships at the Port of Ramsgate mean there are only a few suitable commercial vessels, most of which are currently already in service, he said.

Ferry services have not operated from Ramsgate Port since 2013 after cross-channel operator TransEuropa collapsed, owing around £3.3m to Thanet District Council.

Mr Messenger said he was "perplexed" at the choice of Seaborne Freight to run the service.

"Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14m? I don't understand the logic of that," he said.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sense of perspective needed on refugee 'crisis'

As the Guardian reports, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has declared the rising number of refugees attempting to cross the English Channel a “major incident”, as campaigners and charities warned of increasing desperation among those attempting to make the journey.

Two more inflatable boats carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran were intercepted on Friday, adding to the 82 migrants detained trying to cross the Channel since Christmas Day, prompting Javid to appoint a gold commander to deal with the growing crisis and to ask for an urgent call with his French counterpart to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, some MPs have called for more patrols along the coast.

The Guardian says that at least 250 refugees were intercepted in the Channel between January and November 2018, including 65 people, mainly Iranians, in the last three weeks of November.

They quote Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee, as saying that: “For families and children to end up in small boats in the Channel in the middle of winter is incredibly dangerous. There is a real risk of tragedy if urgent action isn’t taken. People smuggling gangs offering these precarious journeys for profit are putting lives at risk.'

She is right of course in highlighting the exploitation of these refugees and their desperation as causes of concern. In seeking a place of safety they are putting themselves at risk, whilst others ae profiting from their individual tragedies. A more humane system is desperately needed.

However, in declaring a crisis, the government do leave themselves open to the charge of exploiting the issue or their own propaganda aim, Donald Trump-style. Is it not a crisis that on an average day in the UK:
Isn't it time for the UK Government to get a sense of perspective?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Government scrimp on cash for new homes in England and poorest lose out

So, as predicted here and elsewhere, Theresa May's pledge to build a “new generation of social homes“, has turned into a damp squib. The reasons for this are many, but it largely comes down to a reluctance to commit the resources needed to the project, and a lack of understanding amongst Ministers of what is affordable and what is not.

As the Independent reports, only 12,500 of the 250,000 homes to be built with the affordable homes budget by 2022 will be social homes – equivalent to 2,500 per year. The other 237,500 are likely to be more costly “affordable homes” or intermediate market homes, which can be sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds or rented out at up to 80 per cent of full market value:

There were 1,409 social homes built in England last year. With ministers now promising a total of around 2,500 per year until 2022, it means the increased funding will deliver only an additional 1,000 each year.

In contrast, 39,402 were built in 2009-10 – the year before the Conservatives came to power.

In October, Ms May announced that her government was increasing funding for the Affordable Homes Programme by £2bn, taking the total to almost £9bn.

Heralding the move, the prime minister said she was making it her personal “mission” to tackle the housing crisis and assured those in need of a better home that “help is on the way”.

But in answer to a parliamentary question from Labour, housing secretary James Brokenshire said just one in 20 of the new homes to be built will be social homes.

He said: “The £9bn Affordable Homes Programme will deliver at least 250,000 homes by March 2022. At least 12,500 of these will be for social rent outside of London.

“The Greater London Authority has the flexibility to deliver social rent in London.”

Although there is clearly a demand for intermediate rented accommodation (why should somebody be subsidised more than they need be?) the real demand is for social rented housing where the rents are lower.

The government have opted for the more expensive housing because it needs less subsidy, and as a result, they can get more housing units for their money. This feeds directly into Tory Party spin when it comes to the next election. Those most in need of the cheapest housing are the losers in this political sleight of hand.

Instead of playing this numbers game the Government need to spend their £9 billion on meeting the demand for social rent homes. They will build less units as a result, but the outcome will be greater social cohesion and fewer families facing homelessness.

Isn't that the Christmas present we were led to expect?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Corbyn and Labour on Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s ‘antisemitism’ list

Jeremy Corbyn's problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party does not appear to be going away, despite the efforts of his party's NEC to correct their earlier misjudged response to the crisis.

As the Times reports, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a human rights organisation which researches the Holocaust, has placed Corbyn and the Labour Party fourth in their list of the top ten anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

The Labour leader was dogged by accusations of antisemitism for much of the summer after The Times’s revelation that he had hosted an event comparing Israel to the Nazis. This was followed by claims that he had been present as a wreath was laid for Palestinians involved in the Black September terrorist group:

The centre, which is based in Los Angeles, wrote: “Allegations of antisemitism on the part of key members and officials of the UK’s Labour Party officials have piled up in recent years, injecting the world’s oldest hatred into the mainstream of society. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stands directly responsible.

“In July Britain’s three leading Jewish newspapers published a joint article warning of ‘the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Corbyn government’. A poll conducted at the end of the summer concluded that 40 per cent of the Jewish community would consider leaving the UK if Labour took the election.”

First on the list was Robert Bowers, the white supremacist who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. Second was Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who described Jews as “termites” in October.

Others on the list include AirBnB, the rental company, for its decision to “delist 200 rentals in Israeli communities on the West Bank” and Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd singer, who the centre accused of having “crossed the line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism”.

In last year’s list the Labour Party was tenth after the historians Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore and the novelist Howard Jacobson “denounced Jeremy Corbyn for not doing enough to fight antisemitism in his own party”.

It seems that Labour still has work to do if it is to win back the trust of the Jewish community.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

No friends electric

The UK Government's pledge to move us away from petrol and diesel cars towards electric, was always going to be ambitious. They want almost all cars and vans to be zero emission by 2050 and have set itself a target of a quarter of its car fleet being electric within four years, and 100% by 2030.

The problem as far as the general population is concerned is battery life and charging points. I live in a terraced house, as does a large proportion of the population, how am I meant to charge a vehicle over night?

We can at least expect the government, and in particular the Department of Transport, to set us an example, or at least make some progress towards their own target, or can we? As the Guardian reports, expectations are far from being met.

Chris Grayling, the UK transport secretary said the government would “lead consumer uptake” of the cars when he laid out his plan for tackling air pollution with a switch to battery-powered vehicles.

However, the paper says that he has come under fire for subsequently scrapping grants for plug-in cars, in a move condemned by vehicle manufacturers as “astounding”. And now official figures have revealed that only 29 of the 1,830 vehicles run by Department for Transport and its agencies are electric:

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Driver Vehicle and Standards Agency, which carries out driving tests, are the worst performers. Neither has a single electric model among their hundreds of cars. 

So far this year, the DfT has bought 10 electric vehicles, including some of Jaguar’s £64,450 well-reviewed I-PACE models. Last year, it bought three. Other popular models in the UK include the Tesla Model S, which sells from £53,500, and the smaller Nissan Leaf, which starts at £21,990.

The government has set itself a target of making a quarter of its car fleet electric within four years, and 100% by 2030. About 2% of new car sales in the UK are of electric models, either fully electric or plug-in hybrids.

In addition, the government has also slashed incentives for the purchase of electric cars by members of the public. The plug-in car grant, which since 2011 has knocked £4,500 off the purchase price of a new electric vehicle, was cut in November by £1,000, while incentives of £2,500 to buy new hybrid cars have been abolished altogether.

A case of do what I say, not what I do, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Christian perspective?

As encouraging as it is to see UK Ministers introducing an ethical dimension into foreign policy, the announcement that there is to be an independent inquiry into the persecution of Christians around the world raises more questions than it answers.

The Independent reports that the foreign secretary has admitted that the UK should be doing more to help. He has appointed the Bishop of Truro, Rt Reverend Philip Mounstephen, to carry out the investigation, which will look into how Britain could improve its work overseas. The review is due to report by Easter, and will assess threats to Christians in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East:

It was launched after what officials described as a dramatic rise in the oppression of Christians in a number of countries.

The government estimates that 215 million Christians across the world face persecution because of their religious beliefs. Last year, 3,000 were killed because of their faith.

The review will look at how the government can help protect Christians in the same way it does other minorities, including the Yazidi people who faced brutal persecution by Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Announcing the inquiry, Mr Hunt said: “Britain has long championed international religious freedom, and the prime minister underlined our global leadership on this issue when she appointed my excellent colleague Lord Ahmad as her special envoy on freedom of religion or belief. So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority.

This is very important of course, but the first question that springs to mind is, why just Christians?  There are a number of minorities around the world being persecuted for their beliefs, who follow other religions. Wouldn't it be better if the review was to look at how the UK could help alleviate the persecution of all religious minorities.

The other important question of course, and one which must surely test the sincerity of Ministers on this issue, revolves around the treatment of asylum seekers. If they are really concerned with helping persecuted Christians, isn't it about time that they started being more sympathetic to those presenting themselves to our authorities after fleeing torture and possible death in their own country? And that should apply to other religions too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Monday, December 24, 2018

More government secrecy over Brexit

Having weathered a storm over their attempt to gag charities working with universal credit claimants the government is at it again, this time telling drug firms who are preparing for no-deal Brexit to sign 'gagging orders'.

According to the Observer, pharmaceutical organisations working with Whitehall to maintain medicine supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit have signed 26 “gagging orders” that bar them from revealing information to the public.

They say that figures show 16 drug companies and 10 trade associations have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which prevent them from revealing any information related to contingency plans drawn up with the Department of Health and Social Care.

It means that the government has now asked at least 60 partners working on no-deal preparations across Whitehall to sign such agreements, angering transparency campaigners and MPs:

The prime minister has previously condemned the use of NDAs by employers. She told parliament in October that it was clear they were being used “unethically”.

The figures were released on Friday after a parliamentary question from the Labour MP Rushanara Ali.

Stephen Hammond, the health minister, replied, saying: “Since July 2016, the department has signed 16 non-disclosure agreements with private companies and 10 with trade associations related to our medical supply no-deal Brexit contingency planning.”

Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said the number of agreements being used to silence firms showed a “shocking disregard” for the public’s right to know about any threats to public health.

“It is utterly unacceptable for the government to use non-disclosure agreements with pharmaceutical businesses and trade associations,” she said. “By effectively ‘gagging’ these organisations, these secretive agreements are preventing essential information from being shared, are undermining transparency and are hampering businesses’ ability to speak out.”

If it is not bad enough that the Tories, with little or no Labour opposition, are setting us on the path towards a disastrous no-deal exit from the EU, we now have the truth about the preparations are being hidden from us.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Paddy Ashdown 1941-2018 RIP

December 22nd is a sad day for Liberal Democrats. In 1986, on this day we lost David Penhaligon. Yesterday, we lost Paddy Ashdown.

I met Paddy and campaigned with him on a number of occasions. He was a man of extraordinary passion and energy, a great champion for the under-represented and the oppressed, deeply committed to social justice and a strong advocate for devolution and for Europe.

He was an internationalist as much as he was a local politician, a statesman as much as he was a party leader, a patriot and a liberal. As Olly Grender says in her tweet, he leaves a hole the size of a planet.

My anecdotes cannot compare with those of others, and in any case the one I use most is really about Lembit Opik. Paddy was on a whirlwind tour of Wales and for some reason had allowed Lembit to fly him between destinations. Myself and a number of Liberal Democrats were deputed to meet him at Swansea airport.

Conditions at the airport were far from perfect, and the control tower lacked modern equipment to guide a plane in. This did not deter Lembit, who landed the plane nevertheless, rocking and rolling as he did so. Paddy emerged ashen-faced. His experience in the military had made him all too aware of the risks involved, possibly more so than the pilot.

Although, the Welsh Liberal Democrats entered government after Paddy ceased to be leader, he took great pride in our accomplishments, making a point of coming up to me in conference shortly afterwards and greeting me as 'minister'.

He was a rock on which we rebuilt our party, an inspirational leader who took us to previously unimagined heights, and although I disagreed with him on many of his tactics, I am proud to have served in a party he led with such verve and principle.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Out-of-step Corbyn threatens to wreck Labour support

If there is one thing that still astonishes me about this calamitous, incompetent and riven Tory Government, it is that despite all their ego-driven in-fighting, and incoherence, they are still ahead in the polls.

For that Theresa May has to thank Jeremy Corbyn, whose ham-fisted and ineffective attempts at being an opposition, has left his party flailing around on the margins of British politics. There is no better illustration of that trend than over Brexit.

It is fair to say that the country has moved its position on leaving the EU. That is true also for Labour Party members and voters. The latest polling indicates that there is an 11% lead for Remain over Leave. Among Labour voters, there is now 72% support for staying in the EU. The same cannot be said for Corbyn, who has stubbornly stuck to his anti-EU beliefs.

It is no surprise therefore to see this interview in the Guardian, in which the Labour leader has defiantly restated Labour’s policy of leading Britain out of the European Union with a refashioned Brexit deal, shrugging off intense pressure from Labour MPs and activists for the party to throw its weight behind a second referendum.

Of course, there are precious few people in this country who believe that there is a better deal available, or that Corbyn is capable of getting it. He is playing a cynical form of fantasy politics in which he is promising the earth, even though it is undeliverable. His 2017 General Election manifesto tried to do the same.

One would think that after the referendum debacle, people would be more sceptical of politicians who over-promise, but there appears to still be a hard-core who hold out some hope that there is something better than what we currently have.

The real surprise is that Labour is still within striking distance of the Tories in the polls - mutual incompetence has some benefits.

Surely, we are coming to a tipping point, when Remainers finally realise that they are not going to get what they need and want from Corbyn's Labour. I am at a loss to know why we are not there yet. Perhaps hope is a more powerful force than we realise, capable of dulling even the sharpest analytical mind. A more likely explanation is that everybody has switched off for Christmas.

Come the new year, and the reckoning that is the meaningful vote in the House of Commons, all that could change. Next year will be a fairly calamitous one. I just hope that the Liberal Democrats are up to the task of helping to steer us onto a more certain course.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Putin and the three brexiteers

Whatever the role that Russia played in supporting the Leave campaign in 2016, you have to give it to Vladmir Putin, he has some chutzpah in coming out openly against a second referendum and for Brexit at his annual press conference.

How many leaders of democratic countries wish they could get away with talking to the media just once a year? I suppose, if you are going to adopt that method of working, you had better have something worth reporting, and Putin certainly ensures that he does.

As the Independent reports, the Russian President used his annual meet-the-press to unexpectedly throw his weight behind Theresa May’s Brexit plans:

“The referendum happened,” he said. “What can she do? She should fulfil the will of her nation, as expressed at the referendum. Or it isn’t a referendum.”

The Kremlin has been accused of attempting to influence the initial Brexit vote, but that did not deter the Russian president from warning against a second people’s vote.

Not to implement Brexit now would be to repudiate “direct democracy”, he said, adding: “Is it democracy not to care about this Brexit and continue voting until someone is happy with the result?”

So speaks the great defender of democracy, whose country is already implicated in seeking to undermine at least three national ballots in an attempt to destabilise the west and give Russia a geopolitical advantage.

Whether the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will be so enamoured of securing Putin's support for their cause is another matter. Of course, if some reports are to be believed, the Leave campaign, fronted by that trio, has already enjoyed that privilege. I suspect Theresa May will be even less comfortable.

The point, of course, is that Brexit, like democracy itself is an event not a process. People get to vote again and again to change governments. More to the point, having voted to set Brexit up, and having now assessed the consequences of that vote, people should have the right to decide whether they got what they asked for in the first place, or to reset the clock back before June 2016.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

With the country on the brink of disaster, MPs stage a pantomine

What will it take for MPs to take seriously the existential threat to this country posed by Brexit? Whilst the Government earmarks £4 billion towards preparations for a no-deal Brexit, including stockpiling food and medicines on a scale not seen since the second world war, the House of Commons yesterday turned into a full-throated pantomime.

Theresa May led a chorus of Tory MPs from the despatch box, whilst Corbyn allowed himself to be intimidated and walked into a row of his own over whether he demeaned women or just people-kind as a whole.

It does matter what the Leader of the Opposition said of course, but it matters too that whilst the politicians argue over which end to eat a boiled egg from, the whole Brexit process is already hitting living standards, jobs and our future economic prospects.  Maybe they should stop playing games and actually get down to work on sorting out the mess they have created.

I filled in a YouGov survey yesterday. One of the questions was how likely is another referendum on us leaving the EU. For the first time, I ticked 'fairly unlikely'. As much as I see a referendum as the only legitimate way to get us out of this mess, I just cannot see any circumstances by which we will get one.

I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that we are heading for the cliff edge of a no-deal exit. Yesterday's shenanigans have just reinforced that belief. While MPs insist on behaving like naughty children, rather than mature decision-making adults, I fear that we are destined for disaster. Please prove me wrong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Is a No-Deal Brexit inevitable?

On the theme of Brexit distracting government from dealing with other pressing reforms, today's Times reports that Theresa May is to start culling Tory manifesto commitments after her cabinet decided yesterday to accelerate planning for a no-deal Brexit.

There is no majority in the House of Commons for us to leave the EU without a deal, but of course there doesn't have to be one. The law says that we leave on 29th March 2019. The only way that can be modified, extended or stopped is through legislation, and given that there does not appear to be a majority for anything else in the House of Commons either, then a no deal exit is looking more and more likely.

And that is why David Lidington, who is in effect the prime minister’s deputy, has been tasked with identifying policies to be shelved to free resources for the no-deal:

Reforms to social care have been identified by one minister as a likely casualty of yesterday’s decision, which escalated preparations across Whitehall. A Department of Health aide confirmed that some staff had already been diverted from social care to prepare.

With 100 days to go until Brexit day on March 29, businesses were told to start their own contingency plans. Households will be given further instructions on issues such as travel, medicines and banking in the coming weeks. HM Revenue & Customs will email 80,000 businesses this week to explain the impact and provide 100 pages of updated advice online on possible changes at borders.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, announced an extra £2 billion for no-deal planning, with the Home Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and HMRC receiving the lion’s share of the cash.

So much time and money is being poured into this project at a time of rising homelessness, in-work poverty and reliance on food banks. The health service is massively under-resourced, local councils are on the verge of bankruptcy and our transport system is out-dated and congested.  Businesses are making plans to move jobs to the continent and schools are struggling to make ends meet.

If this is what 'taking back control' looks like, then they can keep it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Time for Twitter to clamp down on hate speech

The Guardian reports that shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has urged Twitter to take action over “highly offensive racist and misogynist” abuse on the platform after a study found thousands of tweets disproportionately targeting black female politicians and journalists.

The paper says that an Amnesty International study found black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets, with one in 10 posts mentioning black women containing “abusive or problematic” language.

They add that a separate Amnesty study published in September 2017 showed that Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, received almost half (45.1%) of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to that year’s general election:

For its latest study, volunteers for Amnesty’s “Troll Patrol” crowd-sourcing project analysed 228,000 tweets sent to 778 female politicians and journalists across the political spectrum in the UK and US.

The report found that 7.1% of tweets to women in the study contained abusive or problematic language.

According to the report: “Abusive content violates Twitter’s own rules and includes tweets that promote violence against or threaten people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.”

Problematic content” was defined as that which is “hurtful or hostile, especially if repeated to an individual on multiple or cumulative occasions”, but do not necessarily meet the threshold of abuse.

This is though is a much wider issue. As the Guardian reports:

The issue does not only affect politicians on the left: a University of Sheffield study of tweets between 2015 and 2017 published last year found that male Conservative MPs experienced the most abuse during the period, while female Tory MPs saw the largest increase in abuse.

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said earlier this year that colleagues had been advised by parliament’s health and wellbeing service to close down their Twitter accounts due to the angry messages they were receiving from members of the public.

Amnesty said: “Politicians and journalists faced similar levels of online abuse and we observed both liberals and conservatives alike, as well as left- and right-leaning media organisations, were affected.”

Although there needs to be a balance between free speech and acceptable behaviour, Amnesty's UK Director is absolutely right when she says Twitter is failing to be transparent about the extent of the problem. The company must take concrete steps to properly protect people on their platform, they must make it easier to report such abuse and act more quickly to sanction perpetrators.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Thames Valley Police announces brand new cat unit #PoliceCats

Sunday, December 16, 2018

How Brexit is distracting government from vital domestic reforms

There is an interesting article in the Observer this morning in which they report that a powerful cross-party group of MPs has warneds Theresa May that Brexit is “sucking the life” out of her government. They also quote cabinet sources admiting that the crisis is forcing vital domestic business off the government’s timetable.

They say that with the deadlock over May’s Brexit deal unresolved, and a key vote in parliament postponed until mid-January, the chairpersons of six all-party select committees have signed a statement saying long-drawn-out arguments over Brexit are having a “serious detrimental effect” on wider domestic policy:

The MPs, who include the Tory chairs of the treasury and education select committees, Nicky Morgan and Robert Halfon, add that: “Rather than continuing to drag out the Brexit process for months more, we must bring it to a close if we are to prevent serious damage to our country”.

Others who signed off on the statement are the chair of the work and pensions select committee, Frank Field; the Tory chair of the digital culture media and sport committee, Damian Collins; the Labour chair of the environmental audit select committee, Mary Creagh; and Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat chair of the science and technology committee.

While the six have very different views on Brexit they agree that the government is letting people down with its near-total preoccupation with the issue at a time of crisis in the NHS and social care, rising knife crime, failing public transport, chronic homelessness and environmental challenges. Labour members including Creagh say government austerity has made neglect of poorer communities by government even more shocking.

Their intervention follows news on Friday that chaos over Brexit has forced NHS leaders to postpone a new long-term plan for the NHS and put back, yet again, a long-awaited green paper on the future of social care until January. Both decisions dismayed MPs and organisations across the health and social care sectors.

Asked why the social care green paper had been delayed, a government source told the Observer the crisis over Brexit had “wiped the grid clean and meant we have had to push stuff back. So social care won’t be until January.” 

The paper adds that other areas of policy that MPs say have been subject to Brexit-related delays include the fair funding review, intended to reform and improve how local government financing is organised, and a government strategy on internet safety.

The results of government consultations on housing issues such as longer tenancies and consumer rights – which concluded months ago – have not materialised. The domestic abuse bill, championed personally by May, also has yet to be introduced. The Missing Persons Guardianship Act, which was meant to allow the families of people who have gone missing to take control of their affairs, has not yet come into force even though it became law over a year ago.

And in the area of transport, the government continues to struggle to address months of timetabling chaos and has pushed back the electrification of railways in the north.

It seems that it not just Brexit itself that this Government is screwing up.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Tory group told to repay €535,000 to European Parliament

First it was UKIP being asked to repay money to the European Parliament, now a European conservative group co-founded by the Tories and led by Brexit campaigner and MEP Daniel Hannan has been asked to repay more than half a million euros of EU funds following an investigation into their spending.

The Guardian reports that in a rare negative finding touching a British political party in government, European parliament senior leaders on Monday night ordered the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (Acre) to repay €535,609 (£484,360) of EU funds.

They add that the group will be denied a further €187,245, which had been withheld pending investigation. A formal demand for repayment will be issued to the Acre next week, following a decision taken behind closed doors by the parliament’s top leaders on Monday:

Hannan, who has championed Brexit for more than a quarter of a century and was Acre’s secretary-general until December 2017, is told that there are grounds to suspect a conflict of interest on his part, in leaked documents seen by the Guardian. Hannan called that conclusion “absurd” and accused investigators of making false insinuations that were “outrageous”.

The authorities suggest that the money has in some cases been used to promote events which are of limited relevance or benefit to the EU.

Among parliament’s objections was €250,000 spent on a three-day event at a luxury beach resort in Miami. While the keynote speaker was listed as former Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar, the conference had “an almost exclusively American audience”, the parliament found, with an agenda that hardly mentioned the EU.

It also questioned €90,000 spent on a trade “summit” at a five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala, where a largely British delegation met African delegates to discuss post-Brexit trade.

The “Great Lakes Trade summit” in Kampala brought together a mostly African audience to meet 20 British politicians and participants, with only three attendees from continental Europe.

According to footage on the website of Conservatives International, the conservative alliance founded by Hannan which hosted the conferences, speakers at the Kampala event included then-minister for international development, Rory Stewart and Douglas Carswell, the former Conservative MP who defected to UKIP and quit frontline politics before the May 2017 election.

Acre insisted that both events “contributed to EU awareness and focused on topics clearly pertinent to EU integration and EU policies”.

It's interesting how it is those most opposed to the EU, who seem to get caught up in these allegations of misspending of European money.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Desperate times, desperate measures

Possibly the most shocking outcome of the Theresa May no confidence vote was the reinstatement of the whip to two Conservative MPs accused of sexual misconduct. Although this act of arbitrary forgiveness was entirely predictable in the circumstances, that does not make it any more excusable nor does it help the Tories in their wooing of voters in the #MeToo era.

Personally, I agree entirely with Jess Phillips who, as the Guardian reports, raised the matter in Parliament yesterday. She questioned why the Conservative party told Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke they were allowed to participate in the vote of no confidence in the prime minister and accused Theresa May of putting political power ahead of “protecting victims of sexual abuse”.

The whip had been withdrawn from Griffiths, the MP for Burton, in July after he sent thousands of sexually explicit messages to two female constituents. Elphicke was suspended by the Tories 13 months ago after “serious allegations” made against him were referred to the police. He has always denied any wrongdoing:

At Commons’ business questions, Phillips read out some of the messages that Griffiths, May’s former chief of staff, had sent to his constituents. “She’s so cute, so sweet, I can’t wait to beat her. Can she take a beating?” one read. “Not my words,” Phillips said, “but the words of the MP for Burton, as he was barraging two of his female constituents with thousands of sexual text messages.

“Last night Mrs Leadsom’s party gave him and the MP for Dover [Elphicke] the whip back without any due process. What message does this send about how any process here in this place can ever be trusted?” she said.

Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, continued: “Can she answer that question, and also answer me to what matters more; political power or protecting victims of sexual harassment and abuse?”

Leadsom replied saying she was “absolutely committed to changing the culture of this place and to seeing that everybody here is treated with dignity and respect”.

“There has been a process that has been undertaken; it has been a decision by the chief whip, it’s not something that I have been privy to.” The shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, raised the issue later in the session. “I’m afraid Mrs Leadsom’s party yesterday lost any ounce of credibility in leading the investigation into sexual harassment and bullying in this place when they restored the whips to Mr Griffiths and Mr Elphicke,” she said.

“And I’m afraid it is thoroughly implausible that it just so happened that their investigations concluded yesterday.”

The Tories have demonstrated where their priorities lie and it s not with the victims, alleged or otherwise.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Have Labour missed their chance to oust May?

As Theresa May announced that she would no longer be asking the House of Commons to vote on her Brexit deal, the course of action open to the official Labour opposition seemed to be clear. The Tory party was split and in chaos, the DUP wanted shot of May and the other opposition parties were clamouring to join them in a vote of no confidence.

However, Jeremy Corbyn hesitated and his moment was lost. Instead the European Research Group gambled on using their own party procedures in an attempt to defenestrate May as Tory leader, and lost. May secured 63% of the vote in a secret ballot of all Tory MPs and survived to pursue her damaging and pointless Brexit deal in the corridors of European power.

So what has changed? Well, as far as the Brexit deal is concerned, the Prime Minister still has no majority in the House of Commons to get it approved. She will continue to try and find a formula to overcome that obstacle, but her efforts look to be in vain.

Meanwhile, the UK has become an international laughing stock and the majority of British voters are banging their heads against a wall in despair. Theresa May will plough on, but she is weakened and reliant on the Brexiteers in her cabinet for her position. If they turn against her and her deal, then her position really will be untenable.

The European Research Group, despite their bravado in the face of defeat, appear to have shot their bolt. They are now a spent force with little or no credibility. They talked a good game but when it came to acting on their words they failed to deliver. They are the modern political equivalent of the Grand Old Duke of York, marching their bedraggled troops to the top of the hill and back down again.

Labour too are diminished as an opposition party. Corbyn blustered at the top of his voice in Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. but Theresa May took him apart. His ineffectiveness in the Parliamentary chamber is becoming legion. More to the point, his opportunity to unite the opposition parties and Tory rebels behind him in support of a no confidence vote, appears to have passed. He failed to seize the day, and will pay the price.

Having confirmed May in her position as Prime Minister, it is my judgement that Tory MPs will not want to see Corbyn succeed where they failed. They may be in a position to block the Brexit deal, but surely even the most hardened rebel would not want to hand a victory to Labour by allowing him to oust May, when they couldn't. If Corbyn was doubtful about succeeding in a no confidence motion before, then he must be certain that it will not pass now.

Once more Labour have failed as an opposition. They have failed to take a coherent lead on Brexit, they have failed to effectively do their job in holding the government to account, and now they have failed to take the opportunity that presented itself to them to force the Prime Minister out of office, thus taking a step closer to the General Election they so crave.

The Tory rebels may still be asking themselves what went wrong, but the really burning question in British politics this morning is, what is the point of Jeremy Corbyn?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Forty eight

So the Conservative Party have done it again - faced with a national crisis that threatens to destroy our economic prosperity and leave the country hopelessly divided, they have reverted to looking after their own self-interests and personal ambitions.

The breaking news this morning is that the hard-line Brexiteers have finally secured the 48 letters needed to force a no confidence vote in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party. The ballot will take place between 6pm and 8pm this evening, and if the rebels (or the bastards, as John Major would call them) are successful then a leadership contest will take place, at precisely the time that the Prime Minister should be in Europe renegotiating her EU exit package.

And where is Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in all this? He has chosen to sit on the fence and allow the Tories to self-destruct, in pursuit of his own narrow party interest. In normal times that may be the correct course for a leader of the opposition, but these are extraordinary times, and we all should expect better from a man who has ambitions to lead the country.

It is clear that the Tories have failed the country. They have failed to deliver the Brexit many of them campaigned for and they have taken the UK to the brink of disaster. Along with their right-wing allies, they have turned the UK into an international laughing stock.

It is unlikely that Corbyn could negotiate a better exit deal. I doubt if anybody could. He should stop pretending that he can,  as such claims have never been credible. As leader of the opposition, Corbyn should have grasped the opportunity to take the country on a different path. he should have been promoting a referendum on the May deal, with the option to remain in the EU as the alternative.

A motion of no confidence may have been one way to do this, but the clearest way would be to commit Labour clearly and unequivocally in favour of a referendum and to use every Parliamentary means to make it happen.

If Corbyn were to commit to a people's vote, then there would be a clear majority in the House of Commons for a plebiscite. We could then present two distinct and well-defined options to voters, allowing them to decide for themselves how we should proceed, instead of leaving our future in the hands of a bunch of self-serving politicians, whose main concern appears to be their own personal ambition.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Government Facebook advertising targeting the wrong audience

The full extent of the UK Government's humiliation at having to withdraw their 'meaningful' vote on Theresa May's Brexit was evidenced this morning by the revelation that they spent almost £100,000 of taxpayers’ money in the last week buying Facebook adverts in a bid to convince the public to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The Guardian reports that the adverts were promoted with the hashtag #BackTheBrexitDeal and offered short videos promoted using civil service resources and linking to an official government website called The Brexit Deal Explained. They add that although Facebook does not give precise data on who was targeted, the publicly-funded adverts in support of the deal cost £96,684 and were shown at least 5 million times in the last week.

Different adverts were tailored to different audiences, with men more likely than women to see government adverts stating that the deal would help Britain cut levels of immigration. There were also ads to sell the deal in the constituent countries of the UK, with short videos specifically made for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

There has been a lot of controversy over Facebook advertising in recent times, not least the use of data to target them effectively. The fact that none of these adverts appeared in my browser indicates that the Government may well have got their targeting right.

But the real questions has to be why, when the electorate that mattered on this particular vote consisted of MPs, were they spending public money trying to convince people who did not have a vote and who could not influence the outcome?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Are Tory MPs putting their own ambitions above that of the country?

The stakes for the UK could not be higher. Tomorrow's vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal could define the country's future for decades to come. It could either take us out of Europe, forcing us to turn our back on decades of stability and economic prosperity, or it could plunge us into financial and political uncertainty and chaos.

Every MP needs to think through the consequences of their actions. I am not a great fan of referenda, but in my view a vote for a further plebiscite, giving voters the final say on whether we accept the deal or stay in the EU, is the best way forward. It takes account of the country's best interests, whilst helping to break the deadlock in Parliament, where there does not appear to be a majority for any option.

However, judging by this article in the Independent, the main preoccupation of a number of Tory MPs is their own personal ambition. They say that potential leadership rivals are already publicly positioning themselves to grab the Tory crown if Theresa May's Brexit plans collapse.

Ex-cabinet ministers Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey have all signalled a willingness to bid for the leadership amid speculation that Ms May faces a heavy defeat in the crunch Commons vote on her proposed Brexit deal. They really can't help themselves.

At the same time, a small pro-Brexit rally saw protesters brandishing a gallows on the streets of London, as if this is an acceptable image in modern political discourse.

My hope is that people will reject these extremists and self-serving careerists, and restore some decency and balance to politics and the governance of our country. I fear though, that we have more depths to plumb before that can happen.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Will England follow Wales in restoring maintenance grants for students?

Some encouraging news in today's Observer, who report that Theresa May’s new social mobility tsar, Martina Milburn, believes that cutting university tuition fees risks failing to help the young people most in need of help to access higher education. Instead, she has suggested restoring maintenance grants designed to help poorer students meet living costs.

Unfortunately, the article is devolution-blind. It fails to acknowledge that Wales has already trail-blazed the way on this approach, having come to similar conclusions, despite the fact that just seventeen months ago, the paper's sister paper, the Guardian actually contained an article by the Welsh Liberal Democrats Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, outlining how she implemented her party's manifesto promise and why.

Martina Milburn states: “Cutting fees will certainly help a certain sector. Whether it helps the right young people, I’m not convinced,” she said. “There’s also evidence that if you remove tuition fees altogether, there would be a certain number of young people from particular backgrounds who wouldn’t be able to go to university at all – but if you restore something like the education maintenance allowance or a version of it, I think you would widen participation. That’s a personal view. 

“This is something I think we would definitely look at in the future – on whether you restore something like the maintenance grants, which seems to me much more important than cutting fees.

That is a remarkably similar conclusion to the higher education funding review in Wales, led by Professor Ian Diamond. As Kirsty Williams wrote in July 2017:

The new support package in Wales will cover those who start their course in 2018/19, wherever in the UK they choose to study. Every student will be entitled to support equivalent to the national living wage. This means that eligible full-time students will receive maintenance support of £11,250 if they study in London and £9,000 per year elsewhere if they live away from home.

This will be delivered through a mix of loans and grants, unlike in England where zero maintenance grants are available. Very small, limited grants are available in Scotland, but they too are currently reviewing the system.

Welsh students from the lowest household income will receive the highest grant – £8,100 in their pocket, and more in London. Our estimates suggest that a third of full-time students will be eligible for that full grant.

Furthermore, our data shows that the average household income for a student in our current system is around £25,000. Under the new system such a student will receive around £7,000 a year in their pocket.

However, potentially the most radical element of our reforms is to provide equivalent support for part-time and postgraduate students. Wales will be the first in Europe to achieve this. For the first time, part-time undergraduates will receive similar support for maintenance, pro-rata to their full-time counterparts.

Martina Milburn would do well to look at what the Liberal Democrats have been able to achieve in Wales, particularly with regards to part-time students. We have made it possible for poorer students to fulfil their potential through education in a way that wasn't possible a few years ago. England should follow suit.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Whatever happened to the likely lads (and lasses)? - A UKIP tale

I am indebted to John Tilley on Facebook for this.

Of the 24 UKIP MEPs elected at the last EU elections in 2014, 16 no longer represent the party in the European Parliament.

Fifteen of those have left the party altogether.

1. Patrick O'Flynn - QUIT
2. Stuart Agnew
3. Tim Aker - QUIT
4. Roger Helmer - RESIGNED AS MEP (but replaced by Jonathan Bullock)
5. Margot Parker
6. Gerard Batten
7. Jonathan Arnott - QUIT
8. Paul Nuttall - QUIT
9. Louise Bours - QUIT
10. Steven Woolfe - QUIT
11. David Coburn - QUIT
12. Nigel Farage - QUIT
13. Janice Atkinson - EXPELLED
14. Diane James - QUIT
15. Ray Finch
16. William Dartmouth - QUIT
17. Julia Reid
18. Nathan Gill - QUIT
19. Jill Seymour
20. Jim Carver - QUIT
21. Bill Etheridge - QUIT
22. Jane Collins
23. Amjad Bashir - DEFECTED TO TORIES
24. Mike Hookem

You couldn't make it up.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Government to water down EU citizens' rights if there is no-deal Brexit

The Independent reports that the government has watered down a commitment by Theresa May to protect EU citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit, despite an earlier pledge by the prime minister.

The paper says that an explanatory note published on Thursday, by the Department for Exiting the European Union said it would continue the existing settlement scheme for EU citizens living in the UK, but make it less generous compared with what is spelled out in the withdrawal agreement:

The less generous no-deal scheme would only apply to people living in the UK before 30 March 2019, as opposed to up to the end of 2020 as the one based on the withdrawal agreement would.

In addition, the deadline for applications would be shortened, there would be no right to a full appeal, and it would become easier for the UK to deport people convicted of minor crimes.

Non-EU family members would also be discriminated against under the no-deal version of the scheme, with a new cut-off date in 2022 proposed for them to join to live with their families.

The government also appears to have downgraded its aspirations on coordinating social security contributions with the EU if there is a no-deal, a policy that is intended to ensure EU citizens get the right pensions when they retire.

Such an approach will inevitably have an impact on the UK economy, but equally could well lead to UK citizens living and working abroad being disadvantaged. It sums up the short-sightedness that has characterised the Brexit process from the beginning.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Government u-turn could liberate gagged charities

The Times reports that Theresa May has pledged to review government’s contracts with charities after an investigation found that dozens of the organisations had been banned from criticising ministers, an issue I covered a few months ago.

The paper says that the Prime Minister has written to charities to say that officials were looking at how their contracts could be rewritten so that there was no doubt that they could speak out against policies:

The Times found that 40 charities and more than 300 companies with government contracts worth a total of £25 billion had been gagged.

Charities working with people claiming universal credit signed deals saying that they should “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to the work and pensions secretary. They also had to agree to “pay the utmost regard” to the minister’s “standing and reputation”. In 2015 dozens of other charities working with former prisoners were banned from criticising Chris Grayling, who was the justice secretary.

After the Times investigation, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), wrote to Mrs May asking her to “confirm unambiguously” that charities would not be prevented from campaigning. “Any policy which mutes what the government might hear will only harm the policy process,” he wrote.

On Monday Mrs May replied, saying that the government “recognises the importance of the voice of charities and social enterprises in speaking out on behalf of beneficiaries”. She wrote that the clauses had been included in contracts to help the government to take action against providers who broke employment law or acted in an “unfair or unethical” way. She said they were not gagging clauses and “would never be used as a means of attempting to stifle debate” or “legitimate” criticism. “Please be assured that the government will consider ways of clarifying future contracts and grant agreements,” she wrote.

This clarity is very welcome. Any situation where bodies working in some of the most sensitive areas of Government are banned from raising concerns would be unacceptable, as well as working against good government.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Why the 'Norway option' is not the panacea some think

Listening to the news this morning it is clear that those MPs advocating the 'Norway option' as a solution to the current Parliamentary impasse over Brexit are gaining support. But is it the panacea some are claiming.

This particular solution would keep the UK in the EU single market, through membership of the European Economic Area, the 31-country zone that covers EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It also means joining the European Free Trade Area, which also includes Switzerland. Its advocates say that their plan would help the UK minimise the economic impact of Brexit, while also accepting EU rules on goods, services, people and capital, as well as competition and state aid.

Senior officials say the UK would have to follow the relevant parts of the EU rulebook in full and would not be allowed to delay the adoption of laws, a cause of perennial tension between Brussels and EFTA countries.

The EEA agreement consists of 6,000 EU legal acts, up from 1,875 when the treaty came into force in 1994. About 500 EU laws are yet to be adopted by the four EFTA countries, including scores of banking regulations that the EU passed after the financial crisis.

However, as this article in the Guardian outlines, Norway-plus is not the nirvana some are claiming:

EU officials have long been sceptical about the UK choosing the Norway option, which curbs sovereignty. “Norway is the worst of all outcomes for the UK because that is Brexit in name only,” said the senior EU source.

Norway also pays more per capita into the EU budget than the UK, raising questions about “substantially smaller” contributions promised. While the EEA does not cover agriculture or fisheries, existing EU red lines are unchanged, meaning if the UK wants tariff-free access for goods it will face demands that existing rights for EU fishing fleets are maintained.

Joining the EEA also means accepting the free movement of people, the reddest of May’s red lines. Norway-plus advocates have seized on the “emergency brake“ in the EEA agreement, which allows a country to take unilateral measures in the event of “serious, economic or societal difficulty”.

Many in the EU think British MPs have misunderstood the working of the brake, which is subject to consultation with other EEA countries and could lead to fines for misuse.

“I’ve been a bit worried when I read about the marketing of this idea,” said Nymann-Lindegren, who used to participate in EU-EEA weekly meetings. While in theory the UK may be able to negotiate a new system, the current arrangement had limits, she said. “It is not designed for migration management on a regular basis, it is designed for extreme situations.”

So, it would cost us more, we would have no say on the rules and regulations we would be subject to, imposes tariffs on the export of fish and agricultural products and we would continue to be part of an agreement that allows free movement of people, no bad thing but nevertheless one of the Brexiteers' red lines.

Many of those advocating 'Norway-plus' campaigned alongside myself and other Remainers to stay in the EU. They should stop trying to appease the Brexiteers. The only beneficial solution for the UK economy is to stay in the EU.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Another day, another key UKIP resignation

We should be used by now to UKIP losing senior members on an almost daily basis, but the resignation of former leadership contender, Suzanne Evans yesterday seems more significant if only because it highlights the depths that the party's latest change of direction have plumbed.

Ms Evans announced she is quitting UKIP in a fiery statement claiming the party is “becoming a successor to the British National Party”. As the Standard reports, she hit out at the party’s leader, Gerard Batten, and the decision to appoint former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson as an adviser:

She wrote: “The NEC and UKIP MEPs might be willing to turn a blind eye to the obvious attempts by Gerard and Tommy Robinson to orchestrate a ‘Momentum-style’ takeover of UKIP, but I am not.

“Having planned to simply let my membership lapse in March, when it is due for renewal, I have today cancelled it instead.

“I joined UKIP because it was a Brexit party, and because I wanted a referendum on our EU membership.

“I would never have joined UKIP as it stands today, obsessed as it is with becoming a successor to the BNP and the EDL, and putting an increasingly hostile and vicious focus on attacking the Muslim community en masse.

“I am very proud of my work with UKIP in the past, and all I have previously helped the party achieve. I have no regrets on that front whatsoever.

“However, the time has most definitely come to completely sever my connection to UKIP because, quite simply, it is no longer the party I joined, and it is not now one I want any part of.”

Ms Evans' resignation follows on from MEP Patrick O’Flynn's high-profile departure.  He had represented the party in Europe since 2014, but left because of the UKIP leader's 'growing fixation' with Tommy Robinson.

He had previously supported a ban on former BNP and EDL members joining the party including Tommy Robinson, however, Tommy Robinson has now been appointed as an adviser to Gerard Batten.

Any claim that UKIP had of becoming a mainstream party has long disappeared with this movement to the right-wing fringes of UK politics.

Update: Now Nigel Farage has jumped ship

Monday, December 03, 2018

Is a bar on low-skilled migrants an act of self-immolation?

The UK Government is very bullish about one aspect of its so-called Brexit deal, the alleged end of free movement, but is that such a good thing? The Confederation of British Industry is not so sure.

As the Guardian reports, they believe that the new immigration system, which places severe limits on low-skilled immigration, risks inflicting “massive damage” to livelihoods and communities:

Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the Confederation of British Industry, issued her sternest warning to date about the new “global system” being drawn up by the government, which is expected to place major restrictions on visas for low-skilled workers. The business community, she said, was very concerned about suggestions that migrants earning under £30,000 a year might struggle to win the right to work in the UK.

“This idea that there’s a £30,000 cap below which is described as low-skilled and not welcome in the UK is a damaging perspective for government to have for our economy,” she said. “People earning less than £30,000 make a hugely valuable contribution to our economy and society, from lab technicians to people in the food industry.

“Many of our universities have staff on less than £30,000. So our offer to government is to work with us. We understand the challenge of building public trust, but we think there are much better answers.”

Theresa May's obsession with immigration continues to threaten the health of our economy:

Fairbairn said: “Our economy is hugely reliant in absolutely critical sectors on people who are so-called low-skilled, such as our care sector, caring for the older generation. We have a nursing shortage. This is a massively important sector.

“It is reasonable to want to bring the level of immigration down. But we must not underestimate the scale of the change that this would mean to our economy and the massive damage it would do to livelihoods and communities if we move too quickly.

“At the very least, we need to recognise there needs to be a transition period that needs to be reasonably long. Businesses can adapt, but they can’t do that overnight. If we do procure a system like this quickly, and some of the talk is that we would bring it in very quickly after the end of the Brexit transition period, we would hugely damage our economy. Jobs will be lost, communities will be damaged. There is a strong alarm bell from business on this.”

This is a far more complex issue than the rhetoric recognises, something the UK Government needs to acknowledge and act on.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Brexit: Facts vs Fear with Stephen Fry

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Prometheus syndrome

For those who are not aware of the legend, was a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity. As a punishment, he is sentenced to eternal torment. The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day.

I am not sure at the moment whether to apply that analogy to Theresa May's Government, to Brexit itself, or to the British people who are having to suffer the torment of watching both sink to their inevitable and painful doom in slow motion.

The resignation of yet another Government Minister last night, is being seen as a significant act. As the Telegraph reports, Sam Gyimah is the seventh member of the Government to quit since Theresa May unveiled the draft Withdrawal Agreement. Mr Gyimah, who was the the universities and science minister, says the plan was “not in the British national interest” and that voting for it would “set ourselves up for failure” by surrendering “our voice, our vote and our veto”. He cites the EU’s continued wrangling over the Galileo satellite project as the deciding factor in his resignation.

Significantly, Mr Gyimah says it is wrong to rule out alternatives that merit “serious consideration”, such as extending the Article 50 deadline and “asking the people again what future they want”. The paper adds that this is another blow for the Prime Minister at the end of a week in which Donald Trump said her plan jeopardised the chances of a UK-US trade deal and the number of Tory MPs to publicly state they will vote against the plan in the Commons reached 100.

Downing Street is said to be now braced for further ministerial resignations over the weekend before Parliament begins formally debating the Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday.

Whether Theresa May's Government will still be in one piece at the time of the vote in Parliament has yet to be seen. Presumably, she is relying on Zeus to put it back together again prior to another day of torment and torture.

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