civil service

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.

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“Give our public sector workers a pay rise!”

The big news this week in the world of British Politics has been over the 1% pay cap on public sector workers. If you’re wondering what the heck is a 1% pay cap, take a seat while this blog post gives you the lowdown…

What is the 1% pay cap on public sector workers?

The cap, first introduced by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in 2013 replaced a two-year pay freeze as part of a wide-ranging austerity package introduced by the coalition government. What this means is many public sector workers since the introduction of the pay cap have not seen a rise in their wages as the cap permits a 1% per cent annual increase in public sector pay. However the wages of those in the private sector has increased ever so slightly in comparison. Take a look at the diagram below…

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

Graph depicts percentage changes between the private and public sector. Source: Source: ONS – Annual % changes in three month average regular pay

 

So why all the fuss now? 

In line with recent tragedies in Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and the fire at Grenfell Tower, our emergency services have been praised by politicians and civilians alike. Everyday and especially in dire times, our public servants go above and beyond which is why many politicians have called for their hard efforts to be recognised by lifting the 1% pay cap to ensure all public servants receive a pay rise.

Senior MPs such as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove are amongst many Conservative cabinet ministers and backbench MPs  who are calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to consider lifting the 1% pay cap for public sector workers. Although Johnson and Gove did not out-rightly suggest the cap should be lifted for all 5.1m public sector workers, they have encouraged Theresa May to listen to an upcoming report by pay review bodies, which most likely will recommend the government lift the cap when it is published later this month. In the  Conservative Party manifesto, they had committed to keeping the cap until 2020.

The Labour Party  have also called for the cap to be lifted as they proposed an amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for an end to the pay cap, however it was rejected by 323 MPs in a vote in the House of Commons as the DUP voted in line with the Conservative Party as part of their informal coalition. In response to Labour’s defeated amendment, the leader of the Party, Jeremy Corbyn, commented:

“Tonight, the Conservatives had an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, by ending cuts to our police and fire service and lifting the public sector pay cap.

“Although government ministers said they had learned the lessons of the general election and were listening to voters, it is clear that nothing has changed.

They had the perfect opportunity to walk the walk, but instead they marched through the lobby to show Tory austerity is business as usual.

While the money is there when the Conservatives need it to keep themselves in office, the rest of the country now face more devastating cuts to our emergency and other vital services.

The Conservatives clearly plan to keep working for a privileged few. Only Labour is ready to form a government that will work for the many.”

 

Despite pressures from the two major political parties, No. 10 Downing Street (where Prime Minister Theresa May resides) have confirmed there will be no changes to the pay cap. The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said they are “working through recommendations” from the public sector pay review bodies and would respond to those recommendations “in due course”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that increasing public sector pay in line with the private sector would cost an extra £6.3bn a year. Some might say if Theresa May can find an extra £1.5bn to keep her position as Prime Minister, she could surely offer the same courtesy and allow public sector workers to have some stability through their pay. But hey, it’s not like we don’t have nurses and teachers leaving the profession, seeking employment across the pond and risking the future of our younger generation…

In addition to the 1% annual rise, some NHS staff also get gradual increases in their pay as they progress in their roles.

The public sector employs millions of people both within central government and local government. This includes:

  • NHS workers (domestic staff, porters, administrators, nurses, doctors etc)
  • Teachers and those who work in education
  • Law enforcement and security
  • Social Services
  • Armed Forces
  • Police
  • Fire Service
  • Justice

And many more…

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the pay review bodies should consider a pay rise for public sector workers in line with the rise in average earnings across the economy.

Other things you may have missed…

Along with Brexit negotiations, the UK government has decided to pull out of the London Fisheries Convention which allows foreign countries to fish in British waters. The Convention was signed in 1964, before the UK joined the EU; withdrawal will take two years. Under the convention, vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are permitted to fish within six and 12 nautical miles off the UK coastline. British vessels will also lose the right to fish in the waters of other nations. Environment Secretary Michael Gove says the withdrawal will let the UK “take back control of our fishing policies”. But Greenpeace UK warned the move alone would not deliver a better future for the UK fishing industry. Looks like the UK really is ‘taking back control’…

 

On the subject of ‘taking back control’…

The government has reportedly dropped its ‘have cake and eat it‘ approach to Brexit, as ongoing negotiations have caused the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) to now accept that Britain must choose between privileged market access and political control in Brexit talks with the European Union. This change of thinking within the government represents a clear departure from the early negotiating position set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech in January. May suggested that Britain would be able to negotiate a Brexit deal based on full access to the European single market without concessions over immigration and payments to the EU. Civil servants have reportedly since told government officials they face a choice between a deal based on preferential access to the single market but surrendering demands for independent immigration and leaving the ECJ, or a “taking back control” agreement cutting all ties with the EU but with a less favourable trade deal.

 

Pensions minister, Guy Opperman, has been criticised for his suggestion that millions of women under the age of 60 who face cuts to their state pension should take up apprenticeships in order to re-enter employment. His comments were made at a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the changes to the law which will mean the state pension age will rise from 60 to 66 by 2020, delaying access to pensions for women born in the 1950s. SNP minister, Mhairi Black has campaigned frequently against the change in law and had told MPs if the Conservatives could find £1bn to strike a deal with the DUP, they could afford to give women the pensions they are due. Despite many ministers across the political parties arguing the changes are unfair, Mr Opperman says the government is committed to “life-long learning” and will make no concessions.

 

The German Green party, which had pushed for LGBT rights for decades, finally got their victory after the German parliament voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage by 393 votes to 226 with four abstentions. As it was a free vote, lawmakers were permitted to vote according to their conscience rather than obeying party lines. The vote which permits LGBT people to marry and adopt was called by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition allies the Social Democrats (SDP). However, Merkel voted against the move. Congrats Germany! 🇧🇪🌈

Who says this blog only comments on British Politics eh! 😉