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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Government failing to stem the tide of Russian money

The UK has a reputation as the world centre of money-laundering due to our lax regulations and the influence bought by 'dirty money', and that does not appear to be changing anytime soon, despite Ministers' so-called crackdown on Russian oligarchs.

The Independent says that MPs believe Boris Johnson‘s pledge to crack down on Russian dirty money in London will fail because of a lack of funding and expert staff.

They say that a Foreign Affairs Committee report has found that the prime minister’s “rhetoric” in quickly pushing through the Economic Crime Act – following the Ukraine invasion – is not matched by the “reality” of resources available, and they have demanded to know if action will be taken against wealthy foreign investors handed fast-track residency “without due diligence” before the scheme was hurriedly scrapped.:

The highly critical report, published on Thursday, called it “shameful” that it took the war for ministers to act and echoed previous warnings that the legislation does “not go far or fast enough”.

“The government’s rhetoric is not matched by reality,” said Tom Tugendhat, the committee’s Conservative chair.

“Sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses can only achieve so much. We need much more fundamental – and long-lasting – legislative changes to weed out the scourge of dirty money.”

The rising Tory star added: “New laws are only half the battle. Enforcement agencies need funding, resources and highly specialised staff in order to do their job effectively.”

The report warned against sanctions becoming a form of “criminal justice light” in which “assets are held indefinitely without subsequent prosecution”.

It recommended that authorities “now take advantage of the time these asset freezes provide to consider if there is a criminal case for asset seizure”.

The Queen’s Speech promised a further Economic Crime Bill to ensure “Putin’s cronies do not benefit from the UK’s open society”, following an initial crackdown after the invasion.

But fears have been raised that it will still be possible to “cloak the real property owners in anonymity”, using nominee directors and companies.

Crown dependencies and overseas territories are still enabling corruption and money laundering by resisting open registers of beneficial ownership of companies, critics say.

And Companies House allows 300,000 firms a year to be registered with no proper checks – in “moments, at minimal cost”, a former minister who quit over fraud warned.

The foreign affairs committee demands powers for the company registrar to verify information and to “remove corporate entities from the register for wrongdoing”.

On past failings, it states: “The government’s unwillingness to bring forward legislation to stem the flow of dirty money is likely to have contributed to the belief in Russia that the UK is a safe haven for corrupt wealth.”

So, once more the rhetoric is not being matched with action. In typical Boris Johnson style, the government is pursing polices that are all frills, and no knickers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Action on the Metropolitan Police, at last

The Times reports that the Metropolitan Police has been put in special measures by the policing watchdog after it highlighted systemic problems including scandals and a failure to log 69,000 crimes.

The paper says that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services cited “substantial and persistent concerns” about performance including failures to stamp out corruption and properly investigate crime:

Matt Parr, the watchdog’s inspector for London, said the abduction, rape and murder last year of Sarah Everard by a serving officer and repeated misconduct scandals had a “chilling effect on public trust and confidence”. However, it was a recent force-wide inspection that prompted the move to special measures, which will place extra scrutiny on the Met and require its leadership to produce a remedial plan.

Parr cited 14 new failures including a “barely adequate standard of crime-recording accuracy”. In a letter to Sir Steve House, the acting commissioner, he said that an estimated 69,000 crimes were going unrecorded each year, less than half of crime was recorded within 24 hours and almost no antisocial behaviour crimes were being recorded.

Among other concerns were a lack of victim engagement, a persistently large backlog of online child abuse referrals and a “lack of detailed understanding” of capability across all policing.

House must now come up with a plan and report regularly to inspectors, the Home Office and other organisations.


Parr cited prominent incidents that raised concerns, including officers at Charing Cross who exchanged racist and sexist messages, the strip search of the black schoolgirl Child Q and the “seemingly incomprehensible failures” to stop the serial killer Stephen Port. He was also concerned by the force’s stop-and-search policy and highlighted the handcuffing of the innocent black Team GB athlete Bianca Williams in 2020. In a report this year the watchdog said that Scotland Yard had hired more than 100 criminals in only two years and its ability to tackle corruption was “fundamentally flawed”. Parr also said the Met should be willing to learn lessons but “hasn’t always shown a great willingness to do so”.

The failures of the Met have been evident for a some time, so this move is very welcome, but why did it take so long to put into effect?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Welsh Government seeks to crash the tea party

The best indication yet that the Labour/Plaid Cymru Welsh Government have let being in government go to their heads, is this latest consultation on banning the sale of tea and coffee to under-16s in Wales as part of plans to make young people healthier and stop rising obesity rates.

Wales on line says that the Welsh Government has confirmed that the consultation on the proposal to end sales of energy drinks to children also asks whether the plan "should be widened to consider other drinks typically high in caffeine such as tea and coffee". Under current rules all drinks except tea and coffee which contain more than 150mg of caffeine must carry a warning.

They add that some energy drinks have 21 teaspoons of sugar and the same caffeine level as three cups of coffee. Research shows that children who drink at least one energy drink per week are more likely to report symptoms such as headaches, sleep problems, and stomach problems as well as low mood and irritability. There is also evidence to link regular energy drink consumption with low educational engagement.

There is no rationale in that data for a ban on the sales of tea and coffee. In fact the Welsh government seems obsessed with banning things and limiting people's choices, whether it is vaping or this latest idea.

Is the next step a legally enforceable lifestyle plan for each individual? Welsh Ministers need to be careful they don't become a parody of themselves.

Monday, June 27, 2022

More embarrassment for the royal family

As if the dubious friendships and alleged shenanigans with under-age girls by Prince Andrew was not bad enough, the latest headlines, in which the heir to the throne is accused of accepting €3m in cash from a billionaire Qatari sheikh, must surely add grist to the mill for those questioning the judgement of the Queen's sons, and consequently, the need for an unaccountable, hereditary monarchy.

The Guardian reports on claims that Charles accepted three donations between 2011 and 2015 from former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani – known as “HBJ”. One donation, totalling €1m, was reportedly handed over in a small suitcase and another was stuffed in a carrier bag from upmarket department store Fortnum and Mason.

They say that the cash, allegedly then counted by Charles’s aides and subsequently collected by Coutts bank, was paid to the Prince of Wales’s charitable fund which aims to “transform lives and build sustainable communities” through awarding grants. The fund told the Sunday Times that its trustees had concluded that the donor was legitimate and its auditors had signed off on the donation:

Although there is no suggestion of any illegality, or that Charles offered anything in return for the generous donations, critics said it raised serious concerns about the future king’s personal judgment, especially given Qatar’s record on human rights.

One described it as more like the actions of a “South American drug baron” than a future king, while another said the image of Charles’s aides counting out the cash was like a scene from TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

As former Liberal Democrat MP and government minister, Norman Baker, said: "This is what one might expect from a South American drug baron, not the heir to the British throne. It seems there are no lengths Charles will not go to get money for his good causes.”


“He doesn’t behave in any way which is appropriate to his position. If an MP behaved in that way they would be out of parliament.”

You really couldn't make it up.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Brexit - what have we done?

Two weeks away in sunny Cornwall and hardle anything has changed. Boris Johnson's premiership is still in crisis, a situation exacerbated by a cracking Liberal Democrat victory in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election, petrol and energy prices continue to soar and the cost of living crisis remains a factor in all our lives.

There are so many issues that have brought us to this position - the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Brexit - to name but three, and we are where we are, but in terms of self-harm, Brexit must sit near the top of our problems.

Now, realistically I accept that we are not going to reverse a poor decision overnight, but there are things we can do to mitigate the effects, such as rejoining the single market in one form or another. But before we do that we need to accept the consequences of our decision to leave the EU, and stop pretending that promises have not been broken, that we were not lied to and misled about the intentions of those advocating schism, and that it will all be alright in the end.

In the meantime, here is an outstanding Guardian article on where we stand now, six years on from the referenndum:

Only now, with the worst of the pandemic (probably) behind us, and ministers unable to blame Covid, is Brexit reality being laid bare.

Next year the OECD calculates that the UK will record the lowest growth in the G20 with the exception of Russia whose economy is being drained by its war on Ukraine.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says Brexit will have a long-term effect of cutting UK GDP by a hefty 4%, an estimate unchanged since early 2020. The Financial Times says such a decline amounts to £100bn in lost output, and £40bn less revenue to the Treasury a year. The UK is now behind all the other G7 nations in the pace of its recovery from the pandemic, with exports by UK small businesses to the EU down significantly.

Jonathan Haskel, a member of the Bank of England’s nine-member monetary policy committee, said on Friday that Brexit was “disconnecting the UK from its main trading partners” in a clear example of de-globalisation. An expert at Imperial College on ways to improve productivity, Haskel warned in 2019 that British business investment would likely be weak for several years because of uncertainty linked to Brexit.

Figures from the Centre for European Reform show that the Brexit vote has already depressed economic growth. The independent thinktank said that by the end of last year the economy was 5% – or £31bn – smaller than if the UK had stayed in the EU. Faced with all this, arch-Brexiters are increasingly turning on Johnson. They don’t admit Brexit was a mistake but say it has not yet been made to work.

And there is much more. Read the article, it may open your eyes.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Northern Ireland protocol will have stiff defence in House of Lords

It seems that the House of Lords is where the sensible politians tend to practise their trade nowadays, though that does not legitimise the appointed oligarchy that they form part od, nor does it take away the need for reform.

Nevertheless, when the UK government decides it wants to break international law, all the lawyers in the upper house can be relied on to get rather riled up about the whole thing. 

The problem is of course, that these lawyers are all profoundly aware of their democratic illegitimacy, and will eventually yield to the elected government. Still, if it makes ministers think twice, then it will be worth it.

Thus, Conservative party grandee Ken Clarke steps forward to grab the baton. As the Independent reports, he believes that the “vast majority” of peers will back attempts to block a bill by Boris Johnson’s government aimed at overriding parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol:

The controversial legislation – designed to take unilateral action to stop checks on goods agreed with the EU as part of the Brexit deal – will be published in the Commons on Monday.

But the former Tory chancellor said the radical plan will be “seriously challenged” in the upper chamber. “I expect to find a very large majority of the House of Lords will hold it up for a considerable time,” Lord Clarke told the Daily Mail.

“I personally, I am afraid, usually vote against the government when they are trying to break the rule of law,” he said – adding that Britain should abide by a “rules-based international order in which countries reach agreements and then stick to them”.

The Tory peer added: “I do not think the government should be allowed to negotiate a treaty, tell the public that it is a fine treaty, get it ratified by parliament, and then almost immediately start trying to break it.”

Fellow Tory grandee Lord Michael Howard – the former party leader who has previously voted against the government on Brexit legislation – also said the bill would “undoubtedly encounter a rocky road” in the Lords.

Senior Labour and Liberal Democrats peers have also vowed to oppose the move, arguing that it violates an international treaty. Some observers predict that the Lords could help dilute the bill and delay it for up to a year.

In November 2020, peers handed the government a significant defeat over Internal Market Bill – its previous bid to override parts of the withdrawal agreement – voted 433 to 165 to remove key clauses.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin warned the government it could face a rebellion of Brexiteer backbenchers in the Commons if the legislation if not offer the “serious prospect” of the DUP going back into government at Stormont.

And it is the position of the DUP, and the that of the European Research Group MPs, who want to make the bill as tough as possible in taking control of the movement of goods between GB and NI, that could be the deciding factor here. 

If the government digs its heels in, then the House of Lords will need to eventually concede. It may then be up to the courts and external pressures such as that of the US Government, that decides whether the protocol is broken and the Good Friday agreement nullified or not. 

What a mess.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Chancellor loses another £11 billion of public money

Just when we thought that the huge amount of public money wasted by this Tory Government could not be matched, it transpires that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has outdone himself.

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak has been accused of wasting £11bn of taxpayers’ money by paying too much in interest servicing the government’s debt.

The paper says that according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) the losses were the result of the chancellor’s failure to insure against interest rate rises on £900bn of reserves created through the quantitative easing (QE) programme:

The losses were said to exceed the amount that the Conservatives have accused former chancellor Gordon Brown of losing when he sold some of the UK’s gold reserves at rock bottom prices.

The institute’s director, Prof Jagjit Chadha, told the Financial Times that Sunak’s actions had left the country with “an enormous bill and heavy continuing exposure to interest rate risk”.

Labour said the losses were “astronomical” and accused the government of “playing fast and loose” with the public finances.

In response, the Treasury said that it had a “clear financing strategy” in place to meet the government’s funding needs.

According to the FT report, the Bank of England (BoE) created £895bn of money through the QE programme, most of which was used to buy government bonds from pension funds and other investors.

When those investors put the proceeds in commercial bank deposits at the BoE, the Bank had to pay interest at its official interest rate.

Last year, when the official rate was still 0.1%, the NIESR urged the government to insure the cost of servicing this debt against the risk of rising interest rates by converting it into government bonds with longer maturity.

Chadha said they had now calculated that Sunak’s failure to heed their advice – despite having regularly warned about the risks of higher inflation and interest rates on the costs of servicing the government’s debt – had cost taxpayers £11bn.

Who says there's no magic money tree?

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Government in court over net zero strategy

In my experience, all governments, of whatever hue, devolved and non-devolved, are experts in producing strategies that omit vital details and “completely fail” to show how targets would be met. Often the targets concerned are so far in the future that even if there was a workable action plan, nobody could be held to account for failing to deliver it.

I have seen this in the Welsh Assembly and in the UK Government. So-called ambitious plans, are really no more than unaccountable wishlists with no chance of ever being achieved, and the more difficult the objective, the more obstuse the ambition.

Now, at last, somebody is trying to hold a government to account for one of these 'strategies'. The Independent reports that climate campaigners are to begin a high court battle with the government over the UK’s net zero strategy, which they say is both “irresponsible” and “unlawful”.

The paper says that xases brought by Friends of the Earth, environmental law charity ClientEarth and legal campaign group the Good Law Project will be heard together at the High Court of Justice in London on Wednesday:

It is the first time the government has faced a legal challenge to its net zero strategy, which was formally published in October.

~ The strategy outlines how the country is supposed to slash its emissions by at least 100 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, a target known as net zero.

It proposes measures including the construction of more nuclear power stations, restoring peat, encouraging walking and cycling, and committing millions of pounds to new hydrogen and industrial carbon capture schemes.

The government has insisted the strategy complies with its legal obligations and has been endorsed by the independent Climate Change Committee.

But the three campaign groups behind the challenge say the strategy does not detail emissions reductions each proposed policy is meant to achieve. They argue this means it is unclear if the initiatives can deliver on the targets the government is legally required to meet under the Climate Change Act.

This, they claim, means parliament and the public cannot hold the government to account over its strategy, and defeats the purpose of the Climate Change Act, which legally requires ministers to present a report that sets out how it will meet emission reduction targets, known as “carbon budgets”.

It's good that somebody is seeking to hold the government to account.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

How Met Police Officers overreacted at the Sarah Everard vigil

The level of paranoia within the Metropolitian Police has been laid bare by this article in the Guardian, which reveals that attenders at Sarah Everard’s vigil were arrested by police officers who feared the event had become an “anti-police protest”, according to reports.

The paper says that officers claimed in witness statements first reported by the Evening Standard that they were branded “murderers” by those in attendance. Clearly, this provocation was too much for them, though there appears to be no thought to the fears of those attending this vigil, who were concerned that a serving Metropolitan Police Officer had just murdered a woman.

Given the behaviour of the police at this vigil, it is little wonder that the high court ruled the force had breached the rights of organisers, Reclaim These Streets, nor that the Met was refused permission to appeal. However, senior officers appear to have authorised criminal charges against people who attended the vigil despite losing this high court case:

Met officers “trampled all over” protesters’ human rights, according to Reclaim These Streets (RTS) co-founder Jamie Klingler. She told the Guardian: “It’s a huge amount of taxpayers’ money that they wasted on our case and even when the permission to appeal was denied, once it was called ‘hopeless’, they still kept spending.

“Now they are continuing to spend taxpayers’ money when we have proven in the high court … that they never did the proportionate review. They never acted like we had a reasonable excuse and their policing decisions show that.

“They never had any intention of letting it go ahead, hence everything they did.”

Arrests were made during the vigil following Everard’s abduction, rape and murder by the serving Met officer Wayne Couzens. Six people are now facing prosecution.

Klingler added: “We were demonstrating our human right to assemble under the Human Rights Act 10 and 11. They trampled all over those rights and dug their heels in.”

Isn't it time the Met stopped digging the hole they have placed themselves in.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Tory UK Cabinet Member asserts the UK is at war with Ukraine

Here is a clip of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport arguing that Boris Johnson should remain in office because we are at war with Ukraine.

Honestly, Nadine, the Wales-Ukraine game was not that acrimonious and everybody left on good terms.

When did you and Boris Johnson declare war, exactly?

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Will civil service cuts make Brexit worse?

To be frank, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which the impact of Brexit on businesses, holidays abroad, our economy and our day-t-day lives could get any worse, however, the current Tory government are determined to prove us wrong.

The Guardian reports that independent experts and unions have warned the government that Boris Johnson’s plans to slash the number of civil servants by 91,000 – around 20% – within three years, will leave Whitehall unable to handle the huge extra workload caused by Brexit.

These experts believe that such a reduction would leave the state too small to cope with the added responsibilities taken on by officials in Whitehall since the UK left the EU, including in areas of trade, agriculture, immigration and business regulation:

This weekend the TUC releases figures showing that the planned cuts would mean the ratio of civil servants to members of the UK population would fall beneath the low recorded after former chancellor George Osborne’s ruthless austerity drive, when government departments were told to pare back numbers to achieve savings of up to 40% after the 2010 general election.

The TUC figures show that for every 10,000 UK citizens, the number of civil servants fell from 76 in 2010 to 59 in 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum. By last year, in order to deal with the extra workload from planning and implementing Brexit, the numbers had risen again to 70 for every 10,000 UK citizens.

However, if the three-year target to cut numbers by 91,000 were achieved, the TUC says the number of civil servants would drop to a new low of just 56 per 10,000 by 2025 – despite the extra demands placed on government from Brexit, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Cabinet ministers and the permanent secretaries of all government departments have been given until the end of June to model scenarios involving cuts of 20%, 30% and 40% in the numbers of civil servants working for them. The overall reduction of 91,000 is highly unlikely to be shared equally, meaning some parts of government will be asked to cut by more than 20% and some by less.

The difficulties of managing, let alone making a success of Brexit while slashing the size of the state are highlighted by separate figures from the Institute for Government (IfG) thinktank, which says that, since 2016, the Home Office has added 8,400 staff, many of whom are managing the new immigration policies and processing visas from the EU for the first time.

Both Defra (the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) have seen their staffing levels increase by 5,000 since 2016, taking on the regulatory and policy roles previously performed by EU officials.

Rhys Clyne, a senior researcher at the IfG, told the Observer: “Ministers should explain why they believe the pre-Brexit size of the civil service in 2016 is the most efficient size for the civil service nearly a decade later in 2025.

“The UK government now has new post-Brexit responsibilities that will need to be resourced and cannot be dropped or easily unwound.”

Steven Littlewood, assistant general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, said Whitehall was being cut to the bone.

“Given the new responsibilities the government has post-Brexit for areas like borders, customs and agriculture, it is impossible to see how it can provide the services it currently is with the proposed job losses. The government needs to be honest about what services it would cut if it reduces numbers.”

And if you think the wait for a passport and driving licence is bad now, just wait until these cuts bite.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Are Ministers legislating to put themselves above the law?

The Guardian reports that a new national security law to be debated by MPs next week would give Ministers and spies immunity from accusations of assisting crimes overseas, diminishing the UK’s moral authority to condemn atrocities such as the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi:

The concerns centre on a change to the Serious Crime Act, which was passed in 2007 and made it an offence to do anything in the UK to encourage or assist a crime overseas – such as aiding an unlawful assassination or sending information to be used in a torture interrogation.

Under a clause in the national security bill, which is having its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, this would be disapplied where “necessary for the proper exercise of any function” of MI5, MI6, GCHQ or the armed forces.

Reprieve, an international human rights charity, said it would effectively grant immunity to ministers or officials who provide information to foreign partners that leads to someone being tortured or unlawfully killed in a drone strike.

Concerns were also raised that the move would restrict victims’ ability to seek civil damages in the courts.

Maya Foa, joint executive director of Reprieve, said it was an unthinkable power to grant ministers and officials that would “risk putting them above the ordinary criminal law” and could even embolden leaders to “commit serious crimes thinking they can do so with effective impunity”.

Foa said that enacting clause 23 of the national security bill would “destroy the UK’s moral legitimacy to condemn similar atrocities by autocratic states” after the murder of Khashoggi, a journalist whom US intelligence agencies believe was killed on the orders of the Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

The campaign against the move was also supported by the former cabinet minister and civil liberties campaigner David Davis.

Davis said clause 23 was “far too slack in the powers it gives ministers” and was not about granting less contentious national security powers to spy agencies, such as allowing them to place bugs in foreign embassies.

He added: “This bill is drafted so loosely that it could let ministers off the hook if they authorised crimes like murder and torture from the safety of their desks in Whitehall.

“I urge colleagues to constrain it to actions appropriate to our aims and civilised standards.”

So much for an ethical foreign policy.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Fortress Britain shares blame for holiday chaos

I had an inkling that 2022 would not be a good year for a foreign holiday, so I booked a fortnight in Cornwall instead. Nevertheless, those who have paid for a bit of sun are quite rightly agrieved at the way they are being treated by travel companies, who, it seems, can cancel at will, with only the offer of vouchers for a future excursion as recompense.

In many cases passengers are being taken off the plane, minutes before they are due to depart. I don't blame them for being angry, but they should remember that they don't need to accept the voucher. They can insist on a full cash refund, which they could then spend with a more understanding and competent operator.

Of course, travel companies are struggling, along with many other businesses, to recruit the staff they need to enable them to fulfill their obligations. That does not excuse the lack of proper planning, which has turned a crisis into misery for thousands of holidaymakers. It does though beg the question as to why Government ministers are not doing more to help, instead of headline seeking in an effort to place themselves on the side of vacationers.

As the Guardian reports, industry bosses and unions have criticised the transport secretary for being disingenuous in rejecting calls for an emergency visa for aviation workers to tackle the chaos at airports, while at the same time criticising tour operators for not getting their act together:

Sources in the sector speaking to the BBC accused Grant Shapps of ruling out filling shortages of ground and air staff by amending the government’s shortage occupation list.

The UK’s understaffed airports have struggled to cope with a rise in demand during half-term, with tourists hit by lengthy queues and flight cancellations.

More than 30,000 employees have been laid off by British airlines over the past two years. Half-term is the industry’s first significant test since UK Covid travel restrictions were lifted in March, with the head of one airport saying it takes time to rebuild staff numbers.

Although queues appeared to have died down by Thursday, there are fears the industry will not be able to cope with the resurgence in demand in July and August.

The Department for Transport and the aviation industry have set up a group to discuss mitigating travel issues in time for the summer holidays.

Privately, bosses have questioned why some people – including chefs and ballet dancers – are entitled to a skilled worker visa while aviation employees are not.

Shapps is absolutely right when he says that resourcing strains on the sector do “not excuse poor planning and overbooking flights that they [airlines] cannot service”, but at the same tine, his insistence on maintaining the government's 'fortress Britain' approach to recruitment, is adding to the crisis.

If he genuinely wants to help, then he will relax the bar on recruiting aviation workers from overseas, and he will do so now, before the chaos spills over into the summer.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Time to rejoin the single market

The main consequence of Tory MP. Tobias Ellwood's call for Boris Johnson’s government to take the UK back into the EU single market to help ease the cost of living crisis, is that he has effectively scuppered his chances of leading the Conservative Party for some considerable time. Nevertheless, he is right.

The defence select committee chair, said Brexit had left British business “strangled” by red tape – insisting that it was time to “think outside the box”. He has urged the government to look again at forging a Norway-style relationship with the EU, allowing access to the single market through the European Economic Area (EEA):

Writing in The House magazine, Mr Ellwood said the move would see post-Brexit paperwork costing firms £7bn removed and help ease inflationary pressures on hard-pressed families.

“Sector after sector is being strangled by the red tape we were supposed to escape from,” said the Tory MP – arguing that Brexit has not turned to be what “most people imagined”.

Speaking about his proposal on Times Radio on Thursday, Mr Ellwood said: “I’m daring to think outside the box … that’s what we need to do at the moment, given the economic situation we face.”

He added: “It would strengthen our economy because it would remove so much red tape, it would ease the cost of living crisis, and it would actually settle the difficult Irish question on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

This is, of course, the solution we were led to believe was favoured by the Brexiteers, before they broke all their referendum promises, and took us into a self-harming deal that had previously only been favoured by hard-liners.

What I want to know, is why it has been left to a Tory MP to propose this solution? Where are the Liberal Democrats? Why do they appear to have lost their voice on Europe?

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Time for straight answers to straight questions

Sometimes those in positions of authority manage to get straight to the heart of a matter with a simple question. Yesterday though, was not such an occasion, when Christopher Geidt, the Prime Minister's independent adviser on ministers’ interests, used his annual report, to say that there is a “legitimate question” about whether receiving a fixed-penalty notice for breaking coronavirus rules constituted a breach of the ministerial code.

As the Guardian reports, Geidt, who is meant to advise Johnson over whether ministers have breached the code, dodged the question of whether the prime minister himself had done so – apparently for fear of having to resign if Johnson ignored him:

“I have attempted to avoid the independent adviser offering advice to a prime minister about a prime minister’s obligations under his own ministerial code,” he said. “If a prime minister’s judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the independent adviser. Such a circular process could only risk placing the ministerial code in a place of ridicule.”

Geidt said instead he had repeatedly urged Johnson’s advisers that the prime minister “should be ready to offer public comment on his obligations under the ministerial code, even if he has judged himself not to be in breach”. He complained that that advice “has not been heeded”.

Johnson’s previous ethics adviser, Sir Alex Allan, did resign, after the prime minister overruled his judgment that the home secretary, Priti Patel, had bullied staff, albeit inadvertently.

The Prime Minister, of course, is admitting nothing. He has written to Christopher Geidt to say that, “taking account of all the circumstances, I did not breach the code”. He also declined to give Geidt the power to launch his own investigations.

It is little wonder that people think the ministerial code is not worth the paper it is written on.

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