Month: August 2017

May returns – but for how long?

This week, Prime Minister Theresa May returned from her holidays and was immediately thrown back into a wind of turmoil; she was criticised for her response to Trump’s comments to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing many to question May’s subservience to President Trump.  May appeared to criticise Donald Trump for his comments about last weekend’s violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville, saying there is “no equivalence” between fascists and their opponents. Her remarks came a day after Trump said left-wing counter-protesters at the white supremacist demonstrations were equally to blame for violent clashes, in which one woman died.

 

With Theresa May now back from her summer holidays, she’ll also have to confront the in-party disputes which surfaced to the public eye before the parliamentary recess.

Speaking of party disputes and possible leadership elections…

Some of you regular readers may recall in my post ‘Government in Mayhem‘, I discussed the issue of Europe and the divide its causing within the Conservative Party, leading to speculation of who will contest the leadership to replace Theresa May. One of those possible contenders was Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, but this week the backbench MP with a reputation as a traditionalist,  dismissed reports he could be the next Tory party leader. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Rees-Mogg said he ““wouldn’t put any money on it” , attributing the rumours to a lack of “pressing UK political news” during Parliament’s August recess. His comments came after two newspapers ran separately sourced stories over the weekend claiming the North East Somerset MP is considering launching a challenge to Theresa May, while a poll of Conservative members last week put him in second place behind Brexit Secretary David Davis.

However, Rees-Mogg has declined to rule out standing in a future leadership contest, which is widely expected to occur before the next General Election due to discontent among Conservatives over May’s performance in June’s vote. Could time be running out for Theresa May?

 

As the inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower gets underway, details were released about the scope of the inquiry which will begin this Monday. The probe, which is being led by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will evaluate the actions of Kensington and Chelsea council in response to the blaze, which killed at least 80 people, as well as the adequacy of fire regulations and the tower’s recent refurbishment. However, it will not consider broader issues relating to social housing policy, a decision in which many survivors and activists have rallied against.

May said she was “determined that the broader questions raised by this fire, including around social housing, are not left unanswered”.

The government says it wants all those affected by the disaster to participate in the investigation, but some survivors have previously threatened to boycott the probe if it does not broach issues such as social housing, which they believe contributed to the blaze.

 

Another Brexit update…

Brexit Secretary David Davis has said a temporary customs arrangement with the EU would be “in both sides’ interest” but that any such transition period should not exceed two years, with a deadline of the 2022 General Election as the “absolute maximum”. The customs union allows goods to travel across the EU free of tariffs and checks. Remaining part of this system would restrict Britain’s ability to sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries, as the customs union imposes a common tariff on goods outside of the bloc. However, ministers say staying in the union for a few years post-Brexit would “enable business to continue as usual” until a new agreement is introduced.

For the post-Brexit customs system, the government intends to seek an “innovative and untested approach” that could mean no customs checks at UK-EU borders. However, Guy Verhofstadt, head negotiator for the European Parliament, has described the idea of “invisible borders” as a “fantasy”.

 

The government has also set out its proposals for the Northern Irish border after Brexit, which it hopes will avoid the need for a ‘hard’ border with customs posts for fear of reigniting conflict between nationalists and unionists in the region. When Brexit talks resume in two weeks, UK officials will ask the EU to grant exemptions for all Northern Irish small traders and farmers from customs and food safety checks. In return, the UK would introduce rules to achieve “regulatory equivalence” with the EU, eliminating the need for inspections of live animals and other goods. Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the land border must be “as seamless as possible” to preserve peace in Northern Ireland.
Commentators however, have raised concerns EU economic migrants could travel through the Republic of Ireland to gain access to the UK, but the government argues it could limit the impact of such undocumented immigration through tighter work permit checks in Britain.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched plans to fit every slaughterhouse in the UK with CCTV as part of an initiative to monitor animal welfare and enforce anti-cruelty laws. Under the proposals, vets will have unrestricted access to the footage, which must be installed in all areas where live animals are present. The government also plans to raise standards for farm animals and domestic pets by updating animal welfare codes, with the first review set to cover chickens bred for meat.

 
Shadow Equalities Minister Sarah Champion has quit the Labour front bench following a backlash against an article published in The Sun on Friday, in which the Rotherham MP wrote, “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”. Champion initially tried to distance herself from the article, but resigned yesterday after expressing concern the controversy would “distract from the crucial issues around child protection”. Her article was written in response to the conviction of 17 men – some of whom were Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian – who were found guilty of raping young girls as part of a sexual grooming network in Newcastle.

 
The sound of Big Ben will be no more…well at least until 2021 to allow for essential repair works to take place. The clock’s famous chimes will sound for a final time at midday on Monday 21st August before being disconnected, but will continue to ring for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. Guess we’ll just have to play videos of the chimes until the repair work is complete eh!

 

MPs will return to their duties in the Commons on 5th September 2017.

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Brexit – no going back?

As Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump exchange words of ‘fire and fire fury’ whilst the world subsequently prepares for WWIII, Brexit continues to dominate UK politics.
It’s no secret that the Conservatives are heavily divided over Brexit and the direction in which negotiations should take, which is why the latest Brexit update may not bring remainers or leavers any comfort.

 

Former diplomat, Simon Fraser, has warned the UK’s negotiations with the EU about leaving the bloc have not begun well due to disagreement amongst ministers over the type of deal they should be seeking. (Tell us something we didn’t already know!)

Fraser, who served as the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant up until 2015, has called on the Conservative government to put set out a clearer position as the team responsible for handling Brexit negotiations haven’t “put much on the table” so far.
You only have to remember the picture of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ lack of paperwork during the start of negotiations to know not much thought is being given to the exit process. Fraser’s comments come amid reports that Downing is preparing to publish a series of ‘position papers’ in the coming week which will detail its proposals for the Northern Irish border and future customs agreements with the EU.

Ahead of that report being published, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox have released a joint statement confirming there will be a fixed transitional period after Britain leaves the EU. In their article published for The Telegraph, they did not clearly state the length of time for which this transitional period will last but did declare Britain will not stay in the union by the “backdoor” and will completely leave the single market and the customs union once Brexit is finalised and completed in 2019.

“We are both clear that during this [transitional] period the UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union and will be a ‘third-country’ not party to EU treaties”

They said the UK’s borders “must continue to operate smoothly”, that goods bought on the internet “must still cross borders”, and “businesses must still be able to supply their customers across the EU” in the weeks and months after Brexit.

Sourced from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40914604

The joint article by the two ministers is being seen as a sign of unity on the Brexit issue – you will recall several posts on the in-fighting between Fox and Hammond regarding Brexit. Of course, for Prime Minister Theresa May who called for unity at the start of the summer recess this is important not only for her leadership but for the ease of Brexit negotiations in Brussels. However, criticism from the Liberal Democrats notes that this only demonstrates Mr Hammond being brought “back in line” with the government’s “hard Brexit program”. Tom Brake, the foreign affair’s spokesman for the Lib Dems also added:

“What we don’t know from this letter is exactly how this is going to work. It’s also not clear how long the transition period is going to be.”

Despite the attempt at showing public unity, there is no hiding from the deep divisions that still lie within the party, with many ministers disagreeing over key issues such as immigration and trade. This is addressed by SNP MP Stephen Gethins who stated there is “no masking the fact there are deep divisions within cabinet over Brexit – and still no apparent plan almost 14 months on from the vote”.

Criticism also came from Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, who said leaving the single market and the customs union would be a “dreadful mistake for the future of our economy, for jobs and prosperity in Britain”.

What exactly are the implications of leaving the single market and the customs union?

  • Leaving the European Economic Area (EEA): –
    those in favour of remaining in the single market argue the UK government should try to negotiate staying inside the EEA, retaining friction-free trade not only in goods but also in services, upon which the bulk of our economy is based. However, the political price to be paid for such access is correspondingly high, and counters the objectives of pro-Brexiteers. In the EEA, Britain would be obliged to keep the four freedoms, including the free movement of people, (so no regaining control of our borders), align its regulatory regime with the EU’s (so no regaining sovereignty) & follow European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings and still pay into the EU budget.
  • Transitional customs union agreement: – 
    Other countries such as Turkey have a separate customs union agreement with the EU. If we were to have a similar agreement, the EU’s 27 members would set the common tariffs and Britain would have no say in how they were set. We would be unable to enter into any separate bilateral free trade agreement. We would be obliged to align our regulatory regime with the EU in all areas covered by the union, without any say in the rules we had to adopt. And we would be bound by the case law of the ECJ, even though we would have no power to bring a case to the court.
  • Trade: –
    If the EU were to negotiate an agreement with the US that was in the union’s best interests but against our own, our markets would be obliged to accept American produce with no guarantee of reciprocal access for our own goods into the US.

 

With so much to consider, there’s no wonder why Brussels are keen to get on with the negotiation process in such a short space of time.

According to to David Davis, the publication of the papers outlining the government’s aims for Brexit will mark “an important next step” towards delivering the referendum vote to leave the EU.

We just have to wait and see.

Other things you may have missed…

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced the UK will contribute £100m to the global fight against polio in an effort to eradicate the disease by 2020. The money will fund the immunisation of 45m children annually for the next three years.

The last case of polio in Nigeria was in July 2016, so it could potentially be declared polio-free in 2019, but there will need to be three years without a single case to prove it has been eradicated. In her announcement, Patel highlighted: “The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk. Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history.”

 

Plans to overhaul data protection laws could see Britons granted powers enabling them to ask for their personal data or information (i.e. Social media posts) to be deleted from in the internet. The proposals included in the new Data Protection Bill could see companies receive fines of £17m or 4% of their global turnover – whichever is higher – if they refuse to comply with users’ requests to delete their personal information. The proposed legislation was outlined by Digital Ministers, Matt Hancock, yesterday but will not be published in full until early September.

The Data Protection Bill is designed to bring the UK in line with the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), to ensure data will continue to flow freely between the UK and the European Union after Brexit. Under the union’s data rules, personal information can only be transferred to non-member states where an adequate level of protection is guaranteed.

Just goes to show Brexit it more than just about immigration and trade. With so much legislation that needs to be transferred from EU to UK law, can Brexit really be achieved by 2019 or is there scope for a reversal? Pleasing all sides, both remainers and leavers is not going to be an easy task; although the outlook of the UK once Brexit is achieved is still uncertain, one thing that is certain is many people will be left unsatisfied and displeased with life after Brexit.

Is the UK government doing enough to invest in themselves as well as our public services?

In the week where President Trump lost yet ANOTHER White House staff member, the UK Conservative government announced plans to invest more money in mental health.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised thousands more mental health workers are to be recruited by the NHS in England, with the aim of treating an extra 1m patients by 2020-21. Announcing the government’s £1.3bn expansion plan, Hunt said it is time to end the “historical imbalance” between mental and physical health services.

 

Under David Cameron’s leadership, billions of pounds of extra investment into mental health was promised, with a similar plan and target of recruitment and care provisions by 2021 so Hunt’s recent promise will be taken with some apprehension….

The recent plans set out by the Health Secretary mainly focus on child and adolescent mental health services, therapists delivering talking therapies for adults and nurses working in crisis care. The plans also include improving staff training, encouraging those who have left the profession to return, and addressing a high dropout rate among trainees.

The plans include:

  • 2,000 more nurses, consultants and therapist posts in child and adolescent mental health services
  • 2,900 additional therapists and health professionals supporting adult talking therapies
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings
  • More mental health support for women around the time they give birth and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis

 

In response to the above plans, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the plans fail to “add up”, stating more money will be required in order to train staff on time.

Despite the government’s optimism, recent data shows many thousands of nursing posts currently remain unfilled and Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, Barbara Keeley, has said more than just money is necessary to overcome recruitment issues, accusing the government of offering “little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale”.

Some might say it is a good thing that the government are committing to investing in mental health services, especially with the long waiting lists for therapists and the shortage of nurses in the profession, so why the criticism? You only have to look at the governments failures on mental health to understand why…

  • Under the Conservative government, budgets for mental health trusts in England fell by ‘more than 8 percent’ in real terms
  • The number of nurses working in mental health fell by 10% since 2010 from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015
  • ‘Inadequate’ mental health services have ‘made it harder for abused children to receive correct help’. Children are therefore forced to deal with the “corrosive consequences” of abuse alone
  • A report by the Kings Trust in 2015 claimed that only 14% of patients said they had received appropriate care in a moment of crisis
  • The same report by the Kings Trust added that the drive in the need to reduce costs has resulted in trusts merging mental health services, embarking on “large-scale transformation programmes aimed at shifting demand away from acute services towards recovery-based and self-management”

 

With such a poor record on mental health investment, it begs us to question whether the Conservative government are doing enough or whether they even know the type of investment that is required in order to tackle the lack of mental health provisions, and more broadly, the care crisis within our NHS.

 

As the Conservatives attempt to invest in mental health, it also appears they may be trying to re-invest in themselves as they reflect on their failures during the 2017 General Election campaign…

 

Theresa May’s former adviser, Nick Timothy told the Daily Telegraph that the Conservative Party’s election campaign should have focused on ‘change not continuity’ .

He admitted that they had underestimated Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and that Downing Street was also guilty of a breakdown in communication with both the public and Whitehall departments.

Timothy was joint Chief of Staff with Fiona Hill and co-wrote the Conservative’s 2017 election manifesto. Looks like he’s admitting his involvement in the party’s demise…good thing he resigned then. But he has since found a new job as a new columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He concluded his interview:

“Overall the lesson of the election for the party and for the government cannot be: ‘Oh well, we tried that and we didn’t win the election we were hoping for so let’s not try it any more’,” he said.

“If the party retreats to a much more orthodox Conservative proposition then I worry that won’t be sufficient to tackle the big problems that the country has and in five years’ time we do risk the election of a dangerous left-wing alternative.”

From the Tories constant failures on NHS funding and mental health investment, it doesn’t look like they know how to tackle the ‘big problems that the country has’ Mr Timothy. Given the latest polling favouring a Labour government, perhaps a left-wing alternative is exactly what’s needed.

 

Another Brexit update…

The Local Government Association (LGA) which represents 370 councils in England and Wales have requested billions of pounds in extra funding from the Treasury once the UK leaves the EU in order to replace the money lost from the bloc’s regeneration funds. The LGA have called on ministers to guarantee regeneration projects will not be forgotten as a consequence of Brexit. It is estimated around £8.4bn will have been allocated to British councils through the European structural and investment funds in the six years leading up to 2020. The government has proposed a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this arm of financial assistance provided by Brussels when the UK leaves the union. Following Brexit, any new projects of regeneration will have to pass an assessment process overseen by the Treasury to receive funding. The calls from local councils come as Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed reports cabinet has agreed to seek a transitional period of three years after leaving the EU, meaning freedom of movement and access to the single market may continue until 2022.

 

Other things you may have missed…

When in business or in any line of work, we all want to trust the people we work with or employ right? Well politicians aren’t exempt as one in five MPs continue to employ a member of their family using taxpayer’s money despite the practice being banned for new members of Parliament. The rules were introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal in 2010, although many MPs were angered by the change, claiming spouses were best able to handle the unpredictable work patterns, long hours, and need for absolute trust between an MP and their secretary or assistant. Campaigners, including Alexandra Runswick, director of voting reform campaign group Unlock Democracy, has said the ban reflects the public’s concerns of nepotism and the potential abuse of public money, but an end date is necessary to bring the rules into force for old and new MPs alike.

 

British Gas has announced it will increase electricity prices by 12.5% from 15th September, in a move set to affect 3.1m UK customers particularly the elderly and those on low incomes. Gas prices will remain unchanged, the average annual duel-fuel bill for a household on a standard tariff will rise by £76 to £1,120 – an increase of 7.3%. Centrica, which owns British Gas, has argued the rise is necessary due to higher distribution costs and the costs of government policy, but Downing Street has denied its policies have caused the price rise. To counter adverse effects on “vulnerable customers” the company has pledged to credit more than 200,000 people on lower incomes with £76.

How very noble.

Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead has criticised the government for abandoning its pre-election promise to cap energy costs and stressed the need to stabilise energy prices.

 

It seems further cuts to the NHS will be made as according to the British Medical Association (BMA), the proposals being discussed could result in longer waiting times, reduced access to services and the closure of some hospitals and facilities. Plans are being made in line with the capped expenditure process, which was introduced this year to limit NHS spending in order to meet budgets. Health service leaders have refused to publish the plans, probably because said plans would be met with great uproar. Despite submitting Freedom of Information requests to NHS Improvement in order to acquire details of the plans, the BMA has so far failed to secure any significant details, leading deputy chairman, Dr David Wrigley, to say, “it is totally unacceptable that proposals of this scale […] are shrouded in such secrecy”.

As providers and receivers of the NHS, surely WE the public have a right to know what the government has planned for our national treasure? Y’know, the same NHS paid for by taxpayers?  Historically, the Conservative Party have known to be opponents of the National Health Service and the welfare state – in 1946, the Tories voted against the formation of the NHS 21 times before the act was passed, including both the Second and Third reading. Remember, ideologically, the Conservative party are against a ‘nanny state’, preferring the free market to take control (hence their obsession with privatisation). How then do we expect this current government to protect and fully fund the NHS when they inherently oppose its existence? If the NHS was so important and adhered to their party values, why then would they be selling it off piece by piece?

One thing’s for sure, neither medical professionals nor recipients of NHS services should stay quiet. The National Health Service is at risk and it is up to us to save it.