nuclear weapons

Brexit – no going back?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We just have to wait and see.

Other things you may have missed…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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MPs support Trident; Labour Leadership strife continues

At the start of the week, MPs voted on Trident renewal and it (as anything in politics) caused much heated debate. But what exactly is Trident and why does it matter?

Well, Trident (since 1969) is a British submarine carrying nuclear weapons and has always been on patrol, gliding silently beneath the waves, somewhere in the world’s oceans. The aim of Trident is to deter any nuclear attack on the UK because, even if the nation’s conventional defence capabilities were destroyed (you know, the army, guns, grenades, that sorta thing), the silent submarine would still be able to launch a catastrophic retaliatory strike on the aggressor, a concept known as mutually assured destruction.

The submarines carry up to eight Trident missiles. Each can be fitted with a number of warheads, which can be directed at different targets. Each of the four submarines carries a sealed “letter of last resort” in the prime minister’s hand, containing instructions to follow if the UK has been devastated by a nuclear strike and the government annihilated.

But seriously, how likely is this to happen? Given the last time the world faced near nuclear oblivion.  Bear in mind, each Trident warhead is eight times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima.

During the debate in the House of Commons on Monday, MPs voted on the motion put forward by PM Theresa May:

  • The government’s assessment that the UK’s “independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent” based on continuous at-sea deployment will remain essential to the UK’s security;
  • The decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the Vanguard Class submarines;
  • The importance of the replacement programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs;
  • Government commitment to reduce its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s and press for “key steps towards multilateral disarmament”.

You can watch the full debate below:

In case you can’t be bothered to watch the 2 hour video, here’s a brief summary of the arguments for and against Trident renewal:

Arguments in favour of Trident renewal:

  • The UK faces an uncertain “future threat environment” – Andrea Berger, Royal United Services Institute.
  • In an uncertain future and the resurgence of aggressive Russian policies, the UK needs to ensure it is taking decisions now which mean that in future decades we have options available for defence and deterrence.
  • Maintenance – work on a replacement could not be delayed because the submarines alone could take up to 17 years to develop.
  • Threats from rogue states and terrorist groups could emerge at any time and a minimum nuclear deterrent is needed to help counter them.
  • The nuclear defence industry is also a major employer. Some estimates suggest that up to 15,000 jobs may be lost.

Arguments against Trident renewal:

  • The UK should never be a country that is willing to threaten or use nuclear weapons against an adversary, even in the most extreme circumstances, especially when the cost to life would be unfathomable.
  • The UK should not be spending possibly £40bn on a programme that is designed for uncertainty and indeed that an “uncertain future threat environment” may mean no threats arise and so £40bn would have been spent unnecessarily.
  • No legitimate purpose: their use would be illegal under almost every conceivable circumstance, as huge numbers of civilian casualties would be unavoidable. That is why the International Court of Justice ruled in 1996 the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law.
  • The Government’s National Security Strategy identifies international terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural hazards as greater threats than nuclear war.

At the end of the debates, MPs were given the opportunity to cast their vote. The motion was supported by 472 votes to 117, approving the manufacture of four replacement submarines at a current estimated cost of £31bn.

To see how your MP voted, click here.

This week, May chaired her first cabinet meeting in which she stated she wants her government to be ‘defined by social reform, not brexit’. Erm, that might be a tiny bit hard Mrs May, considering your Brexit minister has predicted it could take up to the end of your premiership for Britain to eventually leave the EU.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (C) holds her first Cabinet Meeting at Downing Street, in London July 19, 2016. © Dan Kitwood

Prime Minister Theresa May chairs her first Cabinet meeting on 19th July 2016

It seems there will be no escaping brexit as the team tasked with triggering Article 50 will be situated at No. 9 Downing St, right next Mrs May’s new residence.

May opened the meeting by warning her ministers the “decisions we take around this table affect people’s day-to-day lives and we must do the right thing, take the right decisions for the future of this country.”

She added: “We have the challenge of Brexit, and Brexit does mean Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it. It will be the responsibility of everyone sitting around the Cabinet table to make Brexit work for Britain.

“Brexit does mean brexit” – the slogan to define May’s premiership?

“And it will also be their duty to deliver success on behalf of everyone in the UK, not just the privileged few. That is why social justice will be at the heart of my government. So, we will not allow the country to be defined by Brexit, but instead build the education, skills and social mobility to allow everyone to prosper from the opportunities of leaving the EU.”

The Eagle has crashed

As the leadership strife in the Labour Party continues, things were made tiny bit simpler when Angela Eagle decided to step down, leaving Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn to go head to head.

As you’ll recall, last week Owen Smith launched his leadership campaign; this week it was the turn of current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. At least there were plenty of journo’s to ask him questions. Sorry Eagle.

As party members, supporters and MPs continue to debacle over who is best suited to leading the party, many will be focused on the policies of the two candidates as well as their appeal-potential, particularly within those heartlands who voted brexit just last month.

Let’s take a look at the two candidates and what they have to offer:

Owen Smith

  • Proposal for a British New Deal, which would be a £200bn investment plan to renew our country. Investing in tackling our housing crisis, modernising our transport networks, as well as investing in people through areas like Sure Start and social care.
  • Commitment to an ethical foreign policy with a War Powers Act. This would allow Parliament to properly scrutinise the Government of the day.
  • Smith was elected as an MP in 2010 and most recently served as Shadow Work and Pensions secretary

Jeremy Corbyn

  • Elected as Labour leader last summer with the largest mandate of any Labour leader with over 60% share of the vote.
  • Turned back the Tories cruel tax credit cuts that would have meant millions of families this year being over £1,000 worse off. And turned back £4 billion of cuts to disabled people – at a time when the government billions in cuts to big business and the super-rich.
  • Jeremy’s vision is built around an economy that delivers for everyone, in every part of the country. That takes a Labour government making decisions in that leaves no one behind, and no community behind.

For more information on the Labour leadership and the two candidates, visit the Labour website.

So what’d you think? Should the Labour Party continue its leadership under Corbyn or does the party need (another) new direction?

 

Useful Sources:

Trident Renewal – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13442735

CNDUK, No To Trident – http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-trident

MPs support Trident renewal –  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36830923