European Union

The Brexit Plan

Hello readers! After a week away, it’s time to refresh ourselves of events this last fortnight…

 

Of course Brexit dominates the headlines once more as the government announced a possibility of the UK retaining links with EU. The government has said it will end the “direct jurisdiction” of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in UK cases after Brexit, although the influence of the court will not be curbed altogether. In a paper published last Wednesday  a set of alternative models were proposed for settling legal disputes with the EU that would replace the current role of the ECJ, offering Theresa May greater room for manoeuvre in Brexit negotiations than her previous commitment to leaving the ECJ outright. In January, May pledged in her Lancaster House speech:

“We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the [ECJ] in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster… and those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country.”

 

Justice Minister Dominic Raab has stated the resulting divergence of case law between the EU and the UK would require the UK to keep “half an eye” on ECJ rulings, and for the EU to do the same in return. 

The plans came after the Home Office had mistakenly sent around 100 letters to EU citizens living in the UK, telling them they are liable for “detention” if they do not leave the country. There have been calls for Home Secretary Amber Rudd to apologise to those affected and reimburse any legal costs incurred.

With such mistakes, it is no wonder why those against Brexit hold doubts over the lack of influence from EU courts, particularly in cases affecting human rights where UK laws.

 

As the third round of Brexit negotiations continued in Brussels this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker  said none of the papers published by the British government setting out its Brexit plans are “satisfactory” and that a vast number of issues remain unsettled. Speaking to a conference of EU ambassadors, Juncker accused the UK of being “hesitant in showing all its cards” and of failing to offer solutions to the issues of the Northern Irish border and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. He also reiterated that no trade negotiations will take place until these questions are resolved.

One of the said issues which is yet to be resolved is the lack of agreement between UK and EU officials on the amount to be paid by the UK as a so-called “divorce bill”, which could total as much as 1bn (£92bn). The constant lack of progress makes us wonder whether Brexit will be achieved by the target of March 2019!

As the latest round of negotiations stalled, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said Britain must not allow itself to be blackmailed over its Brexit settlement bill in order to start trade talks. Without an agreed figure, the EU will not allow talks about Britain’s future trade relationship with the bloc to begin. Fox’s warning came after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there has been no “decisive progress” on the terms of Britain’s exit and accused the UK of demanding the “impossible”.

 

Meanwhile, The Labour Party announced its own plans for Brexit with some senior Tories fearing it may gain support from their own MPs. The announcement, made by the party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, details the party’s continued support for membership of the single market as it bids to present itself as the party in favour of ‘soft Brexit’ (Scroll down for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit).

Labour’s policy shift aims to establish a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time.  So what are these new plans?

  • Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure
  • Under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit
  • Permanent long-term membership of the single market and customs union would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules.

Pro-EU Tory MPs, who also support remaining in the single market, will be put under intense pressure by Labour to fall in behind its position and rebel against their own party. If significant numbers were to do so, Theresa May’s already shaky grip on power would be seriously threatened. For these Tory MPs, they would have to decide between adhering to party lines or committing to their own positions as instructed by their constituents.

Now for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit….


Soft Brexit
: –

This approach would leave the UK’s relationship with the EU as close as possible to the existing arrangements, and is preferred by many Remainers.

The UK would no longer be a member of the EU and would not have a seat on the European Council. It would lose its MEPs and its European Commissioner. But, it would keep unfettered access to the European single market.

Goods and services would be traded with the remaining EU states on a tariff-free basis and financial firms would keep their “passporting” rights to sell services and operate branches in the EU. Britain would remain within the EU’s customs union, meaning that exports would not be subject to border checks.

National models for this sort of deal include Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are not members of the EU but have access to the single market by being part of the European Economic Area.

 

Hard Brexit: –

Favoured by pro-Brexiteers, a hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU.

It would prioritise giving Britain full control over its borders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory.

Initially, this would mean the UK would likely fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for trade with its former EU partners.

 

Also This week, Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour resigned from her role with immediate effect. Writing to the chair of the party, Dugdale said she believed her party needed a new leader with ‘fresh drive’. Her full resignation letter can be viewed here.

 

Whilst one leader quits, Theresa May has insisted that she will lead the Conservative Party into the 2022 General Election contradicting reports she planned to stand down in 2019 when Britain leaves the EU. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, May said she wants to look beyond Brexit negotiations and hopes to tackle “long-term” issues within the UK, such as “social justice”. he Prime Minister made the comments as she arrived in Japan for a visit intended to boost diplomatic ties and lay the ground for a potential post-Brexit trade deal between the nations. Taking into account the continued riffs amongst Conservative ranks, May’s announcement risks reigniting anger among Tory MPs, many of whom have been dissatisfied with May since the party unexpectedly lost its majority in June’s vote. However, it also comes as many within the party and beyond feel there isn’t anyone at the moment who could be a real contender against May.

Can May’s leadership withstand all the trouble and strife that comes with Brexit and the internal backlash from her own party? It wasn’t long ago even her own ex-colleague, George Osborne, had called her a “dead woman walking” so how confident is the Prime Minister in her leadership? Only time will tell.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Councils have been ordered to reduce the number of people remaining in hospital beds when fit for discharge by as much as 70%, or face a withdrawal of social care funding. Councils responsible for delivering social care have received a letter from the Department of Health warning funding could be slashed in the 2018 Spring Budget for areas with continued high rates of so-called “bed-blocking”, which saw patients in England experience 177,000 days worth of delays in April this year. Council leaders have described the targets as “virtually undeliverable” and warn that withholding funding will only increase pressures on care services, whilst Labour’s Shadow Minister for Social Care, Barbara Keeley, has accused the government of an “overly simplistic and ill-judged” response to the situation.

 

Net migration to the UK in the last 12 months to end of March 2017 is down 81,000 to 246,000, with the net migration of EU citizens having fallen by 51,000 to its lowest level for three years, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A spokesperson for the ONS has said the data – which shows a spike in departures of citizens from the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 – may indicate Brexit is now a factor in people’s decision to move into or out of the UK. 

The figures follow years of heated debate over immigration – a key issue in last year’s referendum – and the Conservative Party’s 2010 promise to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ .

 

On the topic of immigration, this week Prime Minister Theresa May faced calls to apologise for the five-year-long Home Office crackdown on non-EU students overstaying their visa, as official figures revealed that just 4,600 a year remain in the UK after their visa expires. Previous estimates cited by the Home Office had put the number at 100,000.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who described the Home Office figures as “distorted and wrong”, has joined a chorus of politicians and think tanks calling for students to be exempt from migration statistics, a move the Prime Minister has repeatedly rejected. It is argued the focus on overstaying students has been a waste of government resources and has led the Home Office to downplay the economic importance of higher education. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced an expert review into international students’ contribution to the economy.

 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched its plans to force all publicly listed UK companies to reveal the pay ratio between their chief executive and their average British worker from next June. Under further proposals aimed at improving workers’ representation in the boardroom, firms must assign a director to represent employees or create an employee council to help advise the business.

However, the new corporate governance code will operate on a “comply or explain” basis, allowing companies to opt out of the measures if they can offer a justification – contrary to a pledge made by the Prime Minister during last year’s Conservative leadership contest. This perceived watering-down has triggered condemnation from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and trade union leaders, who have branded the plan a “feeble proposal”.

 

Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith has voiced opposition to government proposals to cut support for marriage and relationship counselling. Writing in an article for the Conservative Home website, Duncan Smith revealed officials have been instructed to draw up plans to scrap £10m of public funding for relationship counselling – a move he has condemned as a “retrograde step” that would worsen the “damaging effects of family breakdown”. He also argues the cuts would have an adverse effect on the economy, as the cost of family breakdown has been estimated to be £48bn a year.

 

The Conservative Party announced its new campaign ‘Activate‘, the right wing equivalent to ‘Momentum’. The grassroots campaign launched by affiliated Conservatives aims to “engage young people with conservatism”. It has close links with senior party activists, and is chaired by former Tory campaign manager Gary Markwell, a councillor in West Sussex. A Conservative spokesman said Activate was “not officially linked to the Conservatives and it receives no party funding”. The group’s constitution says it will be independent from the party, though all members are expected to be members of the main party. Although it has not officially launced, it has already received backlash on social media and mocked by those on the left.

What do you think, will you be joining Activate? Or are you more of a ‘stick to the party, not affiliated groups’ kind of person?

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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.

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.

Government in May-hem

This week has been plagued by trouble and strife for Prime Minister Theresa May as she has had to put her ministers in their place as Parliament goes in to recess for the summer.

It all started with a leak from last week’s cabinet meeting in which Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond allegedly said public sector workers are overpaid. Umm….

Hammond had argued public sector workers are on average better compensated than their private counterparts due to receiving better pensions, and refused to deny reports that he told cabinet colleagues public sector staff are “overpaid”. Hammond’s comment on pay was the subject of one of two leaks from this week’s cabinet meeting, with the other alleging the Chancellor said driving modern trains is so easy “even a woman can do it” – a claim he has strongly denied.

When asked if he believes public sector workers are overpaid, the Chancellor said it was a “relative question” but “very generous” public sector pensions put these workers “about 10% ahead” of private sector employees. The comments come amid growing calls to lift the 1% pay cap on public sector pay, with concerns it is preventing the NHS from recruiting and retaining staff. Of course his comments were met with much controversy as in-work poverty has affected many public sector workers (including teachers and NHS staff) have felt the burn of the Tories austerity programme.

In an article in the Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams writes:

The chancellor might be a Brexit pragmatist (a Bragmatist?) but his sound economic sense only extends so far. He understands that maintaining links with our largest trading partner is preferable to suicide, and that’s good; but he doesn’t seem to have given any serious thought to what it’s like trying to live through seven years of “pay restraint”, what ramifications it might have for one’s ability to eat, pay rent and enjoy fripperies such as holidays, and raising children.

Hammond suggested the leaks over his supposed comments in cabinet were more motivated by differences over Brexit, saying “some of the noise is generated” by ministers who disagree with his aim of prioritising the economy in leaving the EU.

It’s no secret that the issue of Europe (Brexit) is divide the Conservative Party but these leaks could just be the tip of the iceberg. Some Conservative MPs are indecisive about May’s future as their leader and PM, with some looking towards other alternative leaders including Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, with the loss of the majority in the recent General Election, surely the Conservatives would want to stand united, now more than ever?

All cabinets leak but they mostly do it officially in the form of “guidance” to the media. But cabinet ministers leaking against one another is relatively rare. When it happens, it is almost invariably a sign of deep prime ministerial and cabinet weakness. It demonstrates May’s inability to keep her cabinet in check to respect and adhere to cabinet responsibility* as well as the elephant in the room – ministerial divisions over Brexit. A fragile majority, divisive issues, a weak prime minister and mischief-making ministers always make an unstable mix.

Cabinet Collective Responsibility: a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System, that members of the cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.

Some cabinet ministers believe the Chancellor is deliberately trying to ‘frustrate’ Brexit as pro-leave cabinet ministers seek to undermine, if not oust, the man they see as the biggest obstacle in the path of a hard Brexit.

“What’s really going on is the establishment, the Treasury, is trying to fuck it up,”
Unnamed minister tells the Telegraph

Pro-Brexit campaigners such as Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson regard Hammond as an irritant. On the one hand Hammond wants a sane Brexit but on the other hand they want the freedom to drive off the cliff at top speed and to do as such, they need him out of the way. With the chancellor removed, there would be no ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ to moan about the need to prioritise jobs and the economy; they could put slashing immigration first and indulge the ideological fetish that demands the eradication of the European court of justice from every last corner of British national life.

Following all the cabinet leaks and public back-biting, Prime Minister Theresa May has warned ministers that their continued bickering and divisiveness could result in Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn winning power. The speech was made at a summer reception for Tory MPs in which she instructed her party to have a break over the parliamentary summer recess and return to Westminster ready for “serious business” with “no backbiting” or “carping”, telling Cabinet ministers to show “strength and unity”.

Reports have also circulated a group of Tory MPs are planning to launch a leadership challenge against May in the autumn, with a letter of no confidence already in circulation but with only a small number of signatures so far. I guess George Osborne was right in calling Theresa May a ‘dead woman walking‘…

Former deputy Prime Minister, Michael Hestletine summed up the situation facing the Conservative Party in an interview with the World at One:

“This is a government without authority. This is a deeply divided government and what they know, what the Europeans know, and what our national press knows is every day there’s a more depressing headline.”

Let’s just hope the public isn’t surprised with yet another impromptu General Election after the summer break!

 

Another Brexit update

Brexit negotiations continued in Brussels this week and one thing everyone noticed was Brexit Secretary David Davis’ lack of paper work compared to his European counterparts.

 

 

david-davis.jpg

PA Images

Well at least he’s demonstrating why we’re leaving, it’s all that bureaucracy!

Davis has called on both sides of negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU to “get down to business” as the second round of formal talks began. The Brexit Secretary has said his priority is to “lift the uncertainty” for EU citizens living in the UK and Britons living in Europe, and the EU has also demanded there must be substantial progress on this issue – as well as on a financial settlement the UK must pay to the bloc and the question of the Irish border – before trade talks can begin. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier gave an update on the progress of talks in his closing speech, welcoming Britain’s detailed position. He indicated that both sides are now moving in a common direction, although there remains disagreement on points such as how to guarantee these rights, what rights future family members should receive and whether social benefits can be exported.

As one would expect, more volatility and areas of compromise are yet to come; Barrier highlighted the first round of talks was about organisation; the second about presentation; the third will be about clarification.

 

Also in Parliament…

The government has announced the increase in the state pension age from 67 to 68 will be brought forward by seven years to 2037, with the changes set to affect everyone born between 6th April 1970 and 5th April 1978. So much for early retirement then. Well at least it doesn’t affect the young(er) generation!

Announcing the plans yesterday, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke told MPs the rising UK life expectancy means those affected can still expect to receive more over their lifetimes than previous generations, and insisted the government has a “responsibility” to balance pensions funding and being fair on future generations of taxpayers.

However, Shadow Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams has condemned the change, which would save £74bn by 2045/46, as “anything but fair”, while the charity Age UK has accused the government of “picking the pockets” of millions of people in their 40s.

The state pension age for men and women will be equalised at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and 67 in 2028.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Education Secretary Justine Greening has promised an extra £1.3bn in funding for schools in England over the next two years, after complaints from Conservative MPs who believe Theresa May’s failure to deal with concerns about struggling schools cost the government its majority in the General Election. However, the money is being diverted from other parts of the education budget, particularly from free schools and new buildings, rather than coming from extra cash from the Treasury.
Robbing from one hand to give to the other, no?

The Education Secretary was forced to argue in favour of the extra funding in cabinet meetings after reports of some head teachers begging for extra money, cutting lunch breaks and dropping less popular subjects.

In a partial compromise, Greening has also announced a delay in the full implementation of the controversial new national funding formula, which will see some schools receive more money and some lose funding per pupil.

 

Experts from the Commonwealth Fund health think tank have judged the NHS to be the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system of 11 countries ranked, just ahead of Australia and the Netherlands. It is the second time in a row the study, which takes place every three years, has found the UK to have the top health system. Of the 11 nations, the UK put the fourth smallest amount of GDP into healthcare, with just 9.9% invested compared to the 16.6% spent by the US. The news comes despite the NHS suffering the longest budget squeeze in its 69-year history, with the service suffering serious under-staffing problems. Nothing quite beats the NHS eh!

 

Former coalition Business Secretary, Vince Cable has become the oldest leader of a political party since Winston Churchill after being elected unopposed to lead the Liberal Democrats. Cable was the only candidate on the ballot paper when nominations closed at 4pm on Thursday.
Other possible contenders, including Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb, ruled themselves out prior to nominations closing, paving the way for the recently elected Twickenham MP to succeed Tim Farron, who resigned after the General Election.

At the age of 74, Cable is the oldest politician to lead the LibDems in its 30 year history but his election only opens up long-held debates over why we fail to see more young people, women and ethnic minorities being elected to such positions. And it goes even further – why aren’t these groups putting THEMSELVES forward in nominations? We always argue politics is always dominated by the pale, male and stale elite but is there any wonder when young people, when women and ethnic minorities aren’t putting their name on the ballot paper? Of course, there’s the issue of gaining support but surely in nominating yourself, we may then begin to see support for a number of candidates, especially those who have potential to be great political figures? It seems we still have a long way to go before we see true diversity across the political spectrum…

 

Leaders of the world unite!

Last week, world leaders from across the globe attended the G20 Summit in Hamburg. But what exactly is ‘G20’ and why was the summit held? G20 stands for ‘Group of Twenty’ and is an international forum that bring together the world’s leading and emerging economies. The G20 accounts for 85% of the world’s GDP* (Gross Domestic Product) and 2/3 of its population.

GDP: the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.

The G20 meets to seek co-operation on  economic issues facing major and emerging economies. The Group of Twenty is comprised of 19 countries, including the European Union. The countries are:

  •  Australia
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • UK
  • USA
Image result for g20 2017

G20 Leaders at the 2017 summit in Hamburg, Germany

The Summit tends to meet once a year with this year’s event taking place in Hamburg, Germany. President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time last Friday, after which Putin claimed the US President accepts his denials of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. Now with all the accusations and mounting evidence of Trump’s link to Russia, do we really believe the Russian and US leaders met for THE first time during the G20 summit? Either way, they did seem to get on pretty well…

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also held a meeting with Trump, who has subsequently said he expects a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK to be completed “very, very quickly”. Contrary to what Trump may believe, trade deals take a considerable amount of time to negotiate, regardless of any special relationships with foreign nations. May clarified that discussions were not about details of an actual trade arrangement but were rather more an opportunity to signal that she is looking beyond the EU for future economic relationships.

By the end of the summit, it was more G19 than G20 after the world leaders recognised Trump’s decision, in a joint statement, for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.  The Paris climate change agreement, known at the ‘communique’ commits nearly 200 countries to taking measures to reduce global warming. Breaking with tradition, a separate paragraph on the US’s stance on the Paris climate agreement and fossil fuels was added. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said she “deplored” the decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, but said that all other nations agree Paris climate accord is “irreversible”.

 

Conservative re-launch?

Back in Britain, it’s been a year since Theresa May took on the premiership from David Cameron after the Brexit result last June and to commemorate the occasion, the Prime Minister has sought the opinions of other UK political parties on how to tackle issues such as Brexit, terrorism and social care.

 

In her speech above, she calls for her political opponents to “contribute, not just criticise”. Is Theresa May showing she cannot cope? Well the Labour Party seem to think so, saying it shows the Theresa May and her party have run out of ideas. The speech came amid rumours some Conservatives are plotting to oust May as party leader, although ministers loyal to the Prime Minister have dismissed the claims as “gossip”.
During Wednesday’s PMQs, Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary also picked up on May’s weakening power, showing Damian Green some sass and savagery as they both stood at the dispatch box whilst Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May welcomed the King and Queen of Spain during their state visit.

 

Brexit update

The UK government has published its central piece of Brexit legislation, the ‘Great’ Repeal Bill which will end supremacy of EU law in Britain. It will annul the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which currently gives EU law instant effect in the UK and prevent a legal “black hole” existing after Brexit. The aim for this legislation to is to convert all EU requirements into British law as soon as the UK exits the union.

However, Theresa May could face a constitutional crisis as the Scottish and Welsh governments have said they will not give their consent to the legislation. The bill is intended to “maximise continuity” on the day of the UK’s departure. It would see all existing EU laws converted into domestic law, allowing the government to decide which rules and regulations it wants to keep after Brexit. It is hoped this would give confidence to businesses, workers and consumers as any unexpected changes on the day of Brexit would be minimised. The bill contains a series of delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII clauses*‘ which means ministers will be able to make new laws without putting it to a vote in Parliament. Shock. Horror. Not only does this give ministers the potential to abolish some pretty important rights protected under EU law such as right to equal treatment and maximum working hours for workers, it arguably undermines democracy. There are limits as to when the Henry VIII clause can be applied – if a minister deems there is an urgent matter then no vote need take place – but as the two year Brexit window whizzes by, what wouldn’t count as urgent? Surely all political parties should be given a say, not least because they happen to represent a considerable number of people who partook in the EU referendum? And besides, who wants a one-party state?

Henry VIII clauses: enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation with or without further parliamentary scrutiny. Such provisions are known as Henry VIII clauses, so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by proclamation.

Hours after the bill was published, the Scottish and Welsh leaders, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, issued a joint statement dismissing the legislation as a “power grab” by Westminster that attacks “the founding principles of devolution” and said they would not consent to it without substantial redrafting. Should Holyrood and the Welsh assembly withhold their legislative consent, the government could press on with the bill in its current form but the move may threaten a constitutional crisis by undermining the authority of the devolved governments.

In a further challenge to the government, Labour has said its MPs will not vote in favour of the bill, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer setting out five concessions the government must make to win Labour support, including protection of workers’ rights and environmental standards.

 

Also in Parliament…

Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an investigation into intimidation and abuse suffered by parliamentary candidates during the General Election campaign. The announcement came as an unprecedented debate was held in the House of Commons on the issue, during which MPs provided first hand accounts of anti-Semitic attacks, racist abuse, slashed tyres and death threats. Ahead of the debate, Conservative and Labour  MPs traded blows over who is to blame for the increase in abuse, with Tory MP Simon Hart accusing pro-Corbyn group Momentum of giving “implicit consent” to attacks on Conservative candidates, while Labour said the Tories put “vitriolic personal attacks” at the heart of their campaign.

Of course, these attacks on members of Parliament date further back to just recent elections as pointed out by Diane Abbot MP.

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism called for new laws and tougher discipline by parties, with a report by the group finding women and ethnic minority candidates are particularly at risk.
The growth of new media has not helped and in a world where we are taught to be more tolerant, how much of this rings true? It’s no secret Britain is a diverse and multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country so why then do our representatives get so much hate and stick? Some have blamed Brexit for the surge in hate crimes but what about incidents prior to the referendum? The general idea of Britain is that it is (c)onservative in its beliefs and traditions, so is very patriotic, believes in a small state with minimal intervention, protection of private property and upholds law and order. But what does this have to do with the hate and abuse MPs receive? Well it may have to do with right wing extremists who are hostile to immigration, particularly with the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place across the globe. Add into the mix the lingering misogyny amongst these groups and you will see women, particularly ethnic minority women are more likely to face the full force of these abuse and racist attacks. The rise in social media over the years exemplifies the situation and only makes it easier for these anonymous trolls to spout such spite. The difficulty in tracking down these perpetrators is that very often they are anonymous and so cannot be easily reported but perhaps this is up to social mediums to use their resources to shut down accounts?

Labour MP Paula Sheriff highlights “It is not about a particular party or particular faction. It is about the degradation of political discourse online.”

Another thing to consider would be how the mainstream media (news channels, newspapers etc) reports such incidents rather than amplifying it as the Sun Newspaper has done very often.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will look at the nature of the problem of intimidation, considering the current protections and measures in place for parliamentary candidates, reporting back to the Prime Minister.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Labour MPs have begun their inquiry into diversity in the cultural sector in an aim to boost working class representation in the arts. The panel was chaired by Labour MP Gloria de Peiro who said there was a “definite glass ceiling when it comes to the acting profession” and cited research by the London School of Economics that showed only 10% of actors said they came from a working class background and from the Sutton Trust that showed 42% of Bafta winners went to fee-paying schools.

The panel was also made up of Deborah Williams, executive director, Creative Diversity Network; Lee Mason, a drama commissioner at Channel 4; John Cannon, a casting director at BBC Studios; Cassie Chadderton, head of UK Theatre; David Mercatali, the chair of Stage Directors UK Diversity Working party; and Labour MP Tracy Brabin. Williams, who created the diversity standard for the BFI and is now overseeing Project Diamond, the biggest project monitoring diversity across all areas of British broadcasting, said perceptions about the TV and theatre roles black actors “can and should play” needed changing.

 

Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris has been suspended from the party after she was recorded using racist language at a meeting of pro-Brexit MPs at central London’s East India Club. Morris, who has represented Newton Abbot in Devon since 2010, is under investigation over the comment, which she has described as “totally unintentional” and has “apologise[d] unreservedly”. Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “totally unacceptable” language. The suspension of Morris could put more pressure on May’s minority government, which is relying on the support of Democratic Unionist (DUP) MPs after losing a majority in the General Election. ?Such language should never be used, especially by a public figure elected to represent a wide range of people, regardless of their colour or creed, which begs the question as to whether suspension goes far enough. When Ken Livingstone made his comments about Hitler and Zionism, many called for his expulsion so surely Anne Marie Morris should also be given the same treatment and persecution…?

 

Plans for a statue of former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have been blocked by the government over fears it would be vandalised by left-wing activists. A planning application has been submitted to Westminster city council requesting permission for the erection of a 10ft statue depicting Thatcher in a “resolute posture looking towards parliament with a stern gaze”. However, formal objections have been lodged by the Royal Parks Agency and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport. They say that they have not received assurances that the project has the permission of Baroness Thatcher’s family. There are also concerns in Whitehall that it will be repeatedly targeted by protesters. The £300,000 work was commissioned by the Public Memorials Appeal shortly after the former Prime Minister’s death in 2013.

Should there be a statue of Britain’s first female Prime Minister in Parliament Square? Or is it right plans for the statue were blocked given the controversy during her premiership over policy such as poll tax and privatisation of core industries?

“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! 😉

May’s Coalition of Chaos

Hello readers! Before you say anything, I know, I am terrible at maintaining what is meant to be a weekly blog – don’t judge me! 🐵🙃 In all fairness I have been dealing with some heavy personal stuff these last 6 months but I have still been following the world of politics. All my commentary can be found on my Twitter – @JasziieeM

On the subject of politics….

This week Theresa May finally sold her soul, nope sorry, signed an informal coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party, or as commonly known DUP. This follows after May’s abysmal election result and failure to win the 365 seats needed in Parliament to form a government. If you’re puzzled, or have no clue what is going on, bear with as this post will try to explain EVERYTHING you need to know in bites-sized portions. Hold onto your seats folks!

Brexit negotiations 

It’s been exactly a year since the majority of the British electorate (well, only with a narrow majority) voted to leave the European Union. Article 50 – the official process which kick-starts the divorce proceedings – was triggered earlier in the year and official talks have begun in Brussels. As Article 50 has already been triggered, it means the UK has two years to negotiate and leave the European Union so we won’t be leaving just yet.

Last week Theresa May and her government set out their legislative proposals in the Queens Speech (see details below). One of the central pieces of legislation which was included in the speech is the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, which would convert EU regulations into UK law and grant parliament temporary powers to amend or appeal this legislation when Britain has left the EU and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Other measures the government have committed to do for the next two years include customs and trade bills, which put in place the legal framework to ensure the UK has an independent customs system in place and can make trade deals with other nations after Brexit. The proposed immigration bill would end European freedom of movement and make the status of EU nationals and their families subject to UK law. These bills serve as guidelines for the government’s intentions for Brexit and are due to be expanded once negotiations in Brussels have progressed.

Many EU nationals residing in the UK have pondered their position post-Brexit and Prime Minister May aimed to provide reassurances this week as she revealed plans to allow around 3m EU citizens living in the UK to stay after Brexit under a new “UK settled status” that would grant EU migrants who have lived in Britain for five years the right to stay permanently, with access to healthcare, education and other benefits. Those who have lived in the UK for less than five years will be allowed to stay until they are eligible for settled status, while those arriving after the cut-off date – expected to fall somewhere between April 2017 and March 2019 – will have two years to either obtain a work permit or return home. May described the proposal as a “fair and serious” offer, as it was announced at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also described it as a “good start” in the Brexit negotiations. However, the plans are dependent on EU nations guaranteeing the same rights to the estimated 1m Britons living in Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party however, has accused the Prime Minister of using people as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations.

General Election 2017 

After appearing on many interviews stating she would not call a snap election, Theresa May did a u-turn (one of many) and called a snap election, at the advice of her advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who have since resigned after many Tory insiders blamed them for the tragic election results.

#GE2017 took place on 8th June 2017 with Theresa May and her advisors wanting to take an opportunity for the Prime Minister to increase her majority, and in her words ‘strengthen her hand’ ahead of Brexit negotiations. This comes as before the announcement of the snap election, Labour’s popularity ratings in the polls were low.

Screenshot 2017-06-30 at 02.05.16

Voting intention, Source: BBC GE2017 Poll Tracker

It was anticipated that Theresa May and the Conservatives would win the snap election with a landslide majority (that is 74 seats), possibly bigger than that of Thatcher’s premiership but the polls got it oh so wrong yet again. You’d think these journos and pollsters would learn their lesson from 2015 General Election!

During the campaigning in the run up to polling day Labour aimed to turn their position around in the short period of time they had and by George did they do just that! The Party adopted the slogan ‘For the many, not the few’, secured endorsements from Grime artists such as Skepta, and Stormzy and even from friends across the pond like Bernie Sanders and Danny DeVito. Their use of social media worked a treat too, with many of their campaign videos and work from the group Momentum gaining millions of views. Some of their manifesto pledges included:

  • Scrap student tuition fees
  • Nationalisation of England’s nine water companies.
  • Re-introduce the 50p rate of tax on the highest earners (above £123,000)
  • Income tax rate 45p on £80,000 and above
  • More free childcare, expanding free provisions for two, three and four year olds
  • Guarantee triple lock for pensioner incomes
  • End to zero hours contracts
  • Hire 10,000 new police officers, 3,000 new firefighters
  • Moves to charge companies a levy on salaries above £330,000
  • Deliver rail electrification “including in Wales and the South West”.

Full details of the Labour Party Manifesto can be found here.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party’s election campaigning took a toll for the worst when Theresa May announced she would scrap free school meals and introduce a dementia tax* in a bid to tackle the demands of social care across the UK.

Dementia Tax: a proposal to make elderly people pay for care in their own home unless they have less than £100,000 in assets, as it would force them to use up the value of their residential property for the first time. At the moment, if you have more than £23,250 in assets you have to pay for your own care. This means pensioners’ life savings can be drained while they languish in a home. The Tory policy will replace this with a much higher ‘floor’ of £100,000 instead.

Theresa May had failed to mention the higher floor of £100,000 when the social care policy was first introduced. When questioned by members of the press as to whether this was another u-turn, she denied it was such.

Some of the other manifesto proposals by the Conservative Party include:

  • Deliver a smooth and orderly departure from the EU
  • Increase NHS budget in England by £8bn a year by 2022/23
  • An extra £4bn on schools in England by 2022
  • Restating commitment to bring net migration down to tens of thousands
  • Balance budget by 2025
  • Replacement of triple-lock pension pledge after 2020 with double lock

Full details of the Conservative Party manifesto can be found here.

She had also gone as far as to accuse European leaders of interfering with the General Election (possibly a way of saving her own back?).  She had accused leaders in Brussels of trying to sabotage Brexit and that the European press had misrepresented Britain’s stance on the issue.


Throughout the campaign, commentators had noted the personality politics that was emerging; the constant comparison between Theresa May and her team vs. Jeremy Corbyn and the coalition of chaos. It was also an election filled with soundbites: strong and stable; no deal is better than a bad deal; me and my team; coalition of chaos; strengthen my hand; Brexit means Brexit. It was so bad that many on social media where even playing Theresa May/Conservative Bingo during live debates:

Image result for theresa may bingo

Source: The New European

It seems beyond Brexit, Theresa May wanted to secure her own mandate – remember, she wasn’t really elected by the public, nor her own party in all honesty as she was made Prime Minister by default after Andrea Leadsom had pulled out of the leadership race after David Cameron resigned over the Brexit result. And of course, with the Labour Party still under strains with questions over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership prior to the election, it would have been a wasted opportunity if May didn’t call the election. But it was a decision that would cost her dear…


Post Election Results

Election results began to come in throughout the early hours of 9th June 2017 and exit polls suggested a hung parliament. Exit polls are an opinion poll of people leaving a polling station, asking how they voted. In British politics, they are usually accurate and this time around there were because lo’ and behold, we have a hung parliament!

Hung Parliaments occur when no political party has secured enough seats form a majority government – in the UK 326 seats are required for a party to outright form a government and in this case, the Tories had only managed 318 seats whilst Labour secured 262 seats, 30 more than they had previously had, increasing their percentage of the vote to 40%.

Although Labour had lost this election, it was still a victory for them in many ways as Jeremy Corbyn as well as many other Labour MPs increased their majority in their constituencies, more young people than ever before turned up to the polls swaying the vote with traditional Conservative areas like Canterbury going to Labour for the first time in history. The election also proved Corbyn’s agility to remain as leader of the Labour Party, suppressing any doubts in his opponents and many of the media’s minds.

With hung parliaments, a number of scenarios could happen…

  1. The previous government (in this case the Conservatives) may decide to remain in position whilst they try to form a coalition with another party in order to make up the numbers and thus command a majority government.
  2. The previous government (or the party with the most votes) may decide to govern with the minority of Members of Parliament (MPs) – this is known as a Minority Government and what Theresa May has currently decided to do. Well partly. More on this in a bit…
  3. If the incumbent government (the Conservatives) is unable to command a majority and the PM decides to resign, the leader of the largest opposition party may be invited to form a government and may do so either as a minority or in coalition with another party or parties.
  4. If no party is able to command a majority to govern, another vote may be put forward to the electorate. Yes, another General Election.

As Theresa May was short of 14 seats to gain the majority she so desired, she decided to enter an informal coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP are a unionist (pro-UK) political party based in Northern Ireland and is now the fifth largest party in Parliament; its 36% share of the vote in Northern Ireland resulted in 10 MPs being returned to Westminster. The party is led by Arlene Foster and are traditionally (c)onservative on many social issues in which they oppose same-sex marriage, and are anti-abortion.

The alliance between the two parties has caused much controversy with the opposition party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, arguing a deal with the DUP goes against the Good Friday agreement and would “jeopardise the neutrality, the non-partisan stance, that a prime minister and a secretary of state must have in relation to Northern Ireland’s politics”.

More on the history of the DUP can be found here.

Queen’s Speech

Ahead of the Queen’s speech last Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May promised to run her minority government propped up by the DUP with “humility and resolve”.

“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent”

Her legislative plans which were outlined in the Queen’s Speech is as follows:

  • A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses.
  • New bills on trade and customs will help to implement an independent trade policy, and support will be given to help British businesses export to markets around the world.
  • Legislation will be introduced to ensure the United Kingdom remains a world leader in new industries, including electric cars and commercial satellites. A new bill will also be brought forward to deliver the next phase of high-speed rail.
  • Reform of technical education to ensure people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future.
  • Increase of the National Living Wage
  • Legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • Reform of Mental Health legislation.
  • Proposals will be brought forward to ban unfair tenant fees, promote fairness and transparency in the housing market, and help ensure more homes are built.
  • A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data, and a proposal for a new digital charter.
  • Legislation will also be introduced to modernise the courts system and to help reduce motor insurance premiums.
  • A full public inquiry into the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower to ascertain the causes, and ensure that the appropriate lessons are learnt.
  • Ministers will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces, meeting the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
  • Proposals to ensure that critical national infrastructure is protected to safeguard national security.
  • Review of counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Continued support for international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The package outlined above, is primarily dominated by Brexit with many of the Tory manifesto’s most contentious proposals abandoned, including the plan to to cut winter fuel allowances and the proposal to get rid of free school lunches. Many critics and commentators noted the thin nature of this years Queen’s Speech. Jeremy Corbyn told MPs  it was a “threadbare legislative programme for a government that has lost its majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether”.

 

An article in the Economist also describes the Queen’s Speech as ‘scaled down’, highlighting the strains Theresa May will have to face in the next two years, particularly with Brexit negotiations. However, more attention was given to the Queens choice of attire which resembled the EU flag…

Image result for queens speech 2017 attire and eu flag

It seems the Queen paid more attention to her choice of outfit than to the speech she was reading! Considering she was in a hurry to get to the Ascot races in time, perhaps Dennis Skinner’s annual quip was welcomed…

Theresa May has also taken the unusual step of having a two-year parliamentary session on the grounds that it covers the timetable for leaving the European Union. Still clinging onto the notion of strong and stable eh? The Prime Minister insisted in her statement that it would be a “busy legislative session with a number of Bills geared towards making a success of Brexit”.

This week, MPs have voted with a majority of 14 to support the Conservatives in their agenda for the next two years with the DUP giving the Conservatives their backing following the ‘confidence’ and ‘supply’ or informal coalition (whatever you want to call it) deal that was struck earlier this week (more on this below…)

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has shown his no-nonsense approach with his new found confidence after the election result a few weeks ago by sacking shadow ministers Andy Slaughter, Catherine West and Ruth Cadbury followed by the resignation of shadow transport minister Daniel Zeichner after they defied the leadership to back an amendment put forward by Chuka Ummuna on Brexit. The amendment had called for Britain to remain in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, in defiance of official Labour Party policy.

DUP Deal – signed, sealed, delivered

Earlier this week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to support Theresa May’s minority government on a vote-by-vote basis – a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – on the condition that £1bn in extra funding goes to Northern Ireland over two years.

Of course the arrangement faced backlash from politicians in Scotland and Wales as well as within May’s own party. Seems like Theresa May found that magic money tree after all…

The informal coalition means the DUP’s 10 MPs will vote in favour of the Conservatives’ Queen’s speech later this week, giving the Prime Minister an effective majority of 13 and ensuring her government’s legislative agenda passes in the House of Commons. Remember, this is not a coalition like that of 2010 with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. This agreement with the DUP means they are only tied to supporting the government in key votes, such as the Budget and Queen’s Speech, but not necessarily in other measures.

So where will the DUP’s new found income go?

 

  • Health: A minimum of £250m, with £200m directed to health service transformation and £50m towards mental health provision. It will also receive £50m to “address immediate pressures”
  • Education: £50m to “address immediate pressures”
  • Infrastructure: £400m for projects including delivery the York Street Interchange, plus £150m to provide ultra-fast broadband across Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s capital budget is currently about £1bn per year.
  • Deprivation: £100m over five years targeted to deprived communities
  • VAT and Air Passenger Duty tax: Agreed to further consultation
  • Corporation tax: Agreed to work towards devolving the tax to Stormont
  • City deals and Enterprise Zones: Agreed to “comprehensive and ambitious set” of city deals and “limited number” of Enterprise Zones

 

 

Other things you may have missed…

Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats following what he called his conflict between his politics and his faith.

His resignation comes as he was repeatedly pressed by the media during the general election campaign over his position on varying issues including homosexuality.

“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader,” he said in a televised statement.

“To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

Favourites to take over the leadership include Lib Dem veteran, Vince Cable and Ed Davey.

 
A cyber attack on Parliament has compromised up to 90 email accounts, prompting the Westminster digital security team to shut down access to MPs and peers’ accounts. While the attack was contained, early investigations suggest “significantly fewer than 1% of the 9,000 accounts on the parliamentary network” have been targeted. The 9,000 email accounts belong to government ministers and other MPs and peers, as well as other staff and civil servants, but it is not yet known whose accounts have been compromised. A parliamentary spokesperson has revealed the affected accounts “did not conform to guidance” regarding password strength.

 
After all the efforts from public sector workers, especially in recent tragic events, the Labour Party bid to end the 1% cap on public sector pay but were defeated by the government by 323 MPs to 309 – giving the Prime Minister a majority of 14 as all 10 DUP MPs voted against the amendment, in line with the ‘confidence and supply’ deal agreed with the Conservatives. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had tabled the amendment to the Queen’s Speech in the hope some potential Conservative rebels who opposed the pay cap would vote against the Prime Minister.

The vote followed confusion over the future of public sector pay after Downing Street earlier signalled it could lift the 1% cap. A senior Number 10 source said the Prime Minister had “heard the message” of the General Election and the Government understood “people are weary” of austerity measures. But, within hours of that statement, Downing Street insisted there had been no change to the Government’s policy.

 

Phew, that was a lot to get through! Be sure to hit the ‘Get involved’ button and let me know what areas of British politics you’d like covered in next week’s blog post.

May-Day! May-Day!

Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative Leadership race this week, leaving Theresa May as sole contender and the new owner of the keys to No. 10 Downing Street.

It may or may not have come as a shock to some of you, but Leadsom did come under a lot of pressure for her remarks on her suitably as PM last week. But, there are now some disputes (as there always is in politics) over the way in which May has become PM, questioning democracy in Britain. Bear in mind even Conservative members have not had a say in May’s sudden leadership, never mind the electorate. This causes some to question whether we should have an emergency general election to legitimise May’s premiership?

Let’s take a look at Theresa May’s policy record:

 

At least Cameron seems happy.

On Tuesday, Cameron chaired his last Cabinet meeting, with May taking over the reigns after Wednesday’s PMQs.

Labour’s leadership battles continue – with Angela Eagle launching her leadership bid. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depends on your stance) was overshadowed by the Leadsom’s decision to stand down from the Conservative leadership race. Poor Eagle was left in an almost-empty room with journalists fleeing her leadership launch to attend to Leadsom’s front steps as she announced her resignation, thus making Theresa May the Prime Minister-in-waiting.

Oh dear oh dear. What an awkward sight. If things weren’t already awkward for the leadership hopeful, on Tuesday evening, it was announced that Jeremy Corbyn WILL in fact be on the ballot in the Labour leadership contest. Has the #chickencoup failed? Well with thousands of Corbynistas and Labour’s increasing membership (again, Corbynistas perhaps?) it is likely that Mr Corbyn may be elected with an even bigger mandate, a way to show the Blairites within the party that ‘New Labour’ is well and truly dead.

If divisions within the party weren’t prominent before, they sure are now. With Eagle’s constituency office vandalised and Owen Smith also launching his own leadership campaign, it is an understatement to say the party is going through one bumpy ride. The question is, what happens if Corbyn is elected with a much bigger mandate? One alternative scenario is ‘Momentum’ becomes a new party in itself, with Corbyn as its leader and thus rival to Labour centrists. But let’s not speculate eh.

Needless to say, May’s cabinet reshuffle did gain a lot of attention, with Boris Johnson being brought back into the limelight with his appointment as Foreign Secretary. Yes, BoJo is now the man who will represent the UK to the rest of the world. Hm. May’s other cabinet appointments include:

It is important to note the new role of ‘Brexit Secretary’ held by David Davis – the creation of a new department suggests May’s intention to act swiftly in Britain’s negotiations to exit the EU. Mr Davis, a firm brexiteer commented that Article 50 could be triggered as early as next year, allowing the UK “to negotiate free trade deals with the world’s biggest economies could allow the public to see some of the economic benefits of Brexit before the likely date for withdrawal from the EU around the end of 2018”.  If you were hoping for a second referendum, then you’re out of luck i’m afraid.

 What will May’s leadership bring over the next four years (that’s if she lasts that long the way British politics is going!)? Is this the beginning of the end for the Labour Party as its internal woes continue?

After yet another week of speedy politics, sit back, relax and reminisce over Cameron’s legacy as leader of the Conservative Party for 11 years and PM for 6 years. How will you remember him?

To leave or not to leave, that is the question

Hello readers and fellow bloggers! It’s been a while (six months to be exact) since i last posted – apologies for the absence. I know a lot of you have been wondering where i’ve been but as i’m sure you’ll understand, i’ve been very busy with uni life and personal responsibilities. But with all that aside, Britain has also been busy in the world of politics, and yes, i am talking about the upcoming EU referendum. Now a lot of people have asked for my input on the matter or to explain to them what the referendum is actually about. This blog post will (hopefully) answer all your questions about the referendum, and as ever if there is something i have not addressed, feel free to comment.

So, what is this whole referendum about you ask? Well, arguably, it boils down to debates around immigration and the anti-immigration stance proposed by the ever growing popular UKIP party. The argument is that Britain should stay true to its power and sovereignty and should (in the words of the Vote Leave campaign) take back control not only of its borders but also of its economic management.

voteleave

The official ‘Vote Leave’ campaign logo

During the 2015 General Election, David Cameron had promised to offer the electorate a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union if he won the election. But why now? Last time the electorate had a say on our membership in the EU was in 1975 under the premiership of Labour leader Harold Wilson. Of course since then, a lot has changed and many on the Leave side, including Nigel Farage have argued the EU has gained too much power in controlling people’s lives. Hence Cameron calling for a referendum as a means for the British public to make a decision and settle the ‘European question’ – should we stay or should we go.

As you can imagine, there are several debates on both sides as to why we should remain and why we should leave, but first of all, let’s establish what exactly is the European Union and why this debate is so important…

The European Union (EU) was established after the second World War in order to create an economic and political union to prevent further international conflict. At the time of its creation, it was believed that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries (Britain uses the pound), its own parliament (we elect MEPs who sit in the European Parliament) and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges. The video below explains a bit more about the workings of the EU:

Why are we being asked to remain or leave the European Union? Well, it is partly democratic – as mentioned before, Britain has not had a say on our membership of the EU since 1975. It is thus very important, particularly for the young generation to participate in the debate and ultimately vote. The referendum question being asked this Thursday, 23rd June is as follows: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”.

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Make sure you have your say this Thursday, 23rd June!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last few months, it’s been very difficult to establish the key arguments – with too much focus on immigration and not enough on the actual democratic make up of the European Union, it’s been hard to distinguish the advantages and disadvantages which would occur if Britain were to leave. Here are a few pointers to help you make an informed decision on referendum day:

The argument to remain

  • The official campaign –  ‘Britain Stronger in Europe‘. There are other campaign groups supporting remain, including ‘Labour In‘ and ‘Another Europe is Possible
  • Led and supported by senior politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.
  • US president Barack Obama also wants Britain to remain in the EU, as do other EU nations such as France and Germany.
  • Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU we get a big boost from membership, making it easier to import and export goods to other EU countries.
  • The flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services.
  • Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that we are more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone.

The argument to leave

  • The official campaign – ‘Vote Leave‘. Of course, there are other campaign groups supporting leave, including ‘Leave.EU‘ and ‘Grassroots Out (GO!)‘.
  • Led and supported by some senior politicians across the political spectrum including Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith.
  • Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU argue we are being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules on business and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return.
  • They want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of migrants coming here to live and/or work. One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The argument made by leave campaigners is that the influx of migrants puts a strain on our public services, notably the NHS.
  • Leave campaigners object to the idea of an ‘ever closer union’, arguing if we remain in the EU, it would lead to a United States of Europe.

As the EU debate has mainly centred around the issue of immigration, it has led some to argue whether this is referendum is really about conflicts arising out of the right-wing political parties such as the Conservatives and UKIP rather than what would be in the best interest of the British people and the future generation. The EU debate not only affects the ‘everyday’ electorate, but also those who own big and small businesses. Here’s what some entrepreneurs have said…

[there are] “no credible alternatives” to staying in the EU” – BT chairman Sir Mike Rake

“an EU exit would allow the UK to negotiate trade deals as our country “rather than being one of 28 nations” – Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB

Although it is uncertain what Britain would look like if it left the EU, it is important to note the negotiations Cameron made way back at the start of the year. This was done to silence the growing number of MPs from his party who he feared would defect from his party to UKIP (as was the case with Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell). But, the reforms made were also proof that Cameron was serious about addressing the immigration rhetoric which had been floating in the air for so long. The deal made will take effect from when (or should i say if) Britain votes to remain in the EU, but in summary they are:

  • Child Benefit – Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate.
  • Migrant welfare payments  – New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.
  • Pound v. Euro – Cameron has said Britain will never join the euro. He secured assurances that the eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.
  • Sovereignty – For the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards “ever closer union” with other EU member states – one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a “red card” system for national parliaments making it easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought.
  • Economic Security – Safeguards for Britain’s large financial services industry to prevent eurozone regulations being imposed on it.

 

Ultimately the decision as to whether Britain should remain or leave the EU comes down to YOU, the electorate. What do you think would be better for Britain? Should we remain in our role as key influential players, or leave, uncertain of Britain’s future outside a union we’ve been a member of since 1975? It’s a tough choice but it is one that has to be made.

The last few days has been tough, with the passing of Jo Cox MP and the recent divisive, racist propaganda published by UKIP. Let’s try to educate ourselves rather than scaremongering people into voting a specific way. Britain’s public services are not put under strain by 15% of migrants who seek residence here for a better life, it’s the 1% who fail to pay their fair share of taxes but think it’s right to scrounge off the system because they hold a red passport. It’s our elected politicians who fail to invest in the services that truly matter and instead invest in unnecessary wars. It is a shame that this referendum has not covered the democratic functions and practices of the EU as a body but hopefully this blog post has done its part by showcasing what the EU is and the different debates that have emerged.

On a final note, in the words of the late Jo Cox MP:

                “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”

RIP. X

Useful Links:

For a more detailed overview of how the EU works – http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgjwtyc

To leave or not to leave? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32793642

EU FAQs – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32810887