UK

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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Brexit – no going back?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We just have to wait and see.

Other things you may have missed…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The plans include:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another Brexit update…

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

 

Other things you may have missed…

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

 

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

How very noble.

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

 

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

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

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

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! 😉

Theresa May in denial?

Is is it too late to say Happy New Year? Hello readers! It’s been a while since my last post and A LOT has happened. I mean 2016 was a crazy year for politics and no doubt the craziness will continue into 2017 with Brexit and President Trump. I’m sure you will have all missed my political charm and wit, covering politics in a simple manner but let’s just say i’ve taken a back seat to observe. I hadn’t planned this post and it’s quite personal of me to use ‘I’, something I rarely do on this blog but Prime Minister May has been saying quite a few things about the NHS which in the last few years has been personal to me.

This week, the NHS was once again (as it always is) the major topic of discussion as it was revealed the Red Cross have had to introduce volunteers, calling the slow demise of the NHS as a ‘humanitarian crisis’. During Wednesday’s PMQs, Theresa May denied the claim by the Red Cross, calling it ‘irresponsible and overblown’, although she does acknowledge the pressures the NHS continues to face. With that in mind, why then does the Prime Minister not think that continued failures to reach waiting time targets, to failures in diagnosing patients in time is not a humanitarian crisis when her government has failed to provide the funding the NHS needs?

As a carer for my mother, I have spent countless times in hospital, stayed overnight for weeks and seen for myself just how much pressure doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are under. Every single staff member, from porters to domestic staff to nurses and consultants have felt the result of an underfunded, understaffed NHS. Everytime my mother has needed a nurse to change her fluids or give her medication when required, there is no one around. The usual response is ‘we’re attending to more serious patients’, making my mother feel she is not worth the attention, as if her life is meaningless. You see, everyone’s life matters, it shouldn’t be a case of picking and choosing but this is what years of Tory austerity has done. I can count the number of times my mother has pressed the alert bell, waiting and waiting for a nurse or a HCA to come and attend to her. Two hours later and someone finally arrives. It’s too late, i’ve already changed my mother. I’ve already given her medication.

It’s easy for politicians and chairmen and women alike to make decisions or make comments when you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be on the receiving end. In hospitals, it’s a fight. Nurses and doctors/consultants are arguing with each other. Nurses take their frustrations out on HCAs. HCAs take their frustrations out on domestic staff and soon enough, the patients bare the brunt of it all because while these staff members are able to go home, albeit after a long, hard shift, it’s the patients who remain in hospital. Day in, day out, seeing different doctors, hearing different conversations in the middle of the night, hardly if at all getting any sleep. Not helped by the patient in the next cubicle who is using the commode or crying for help as you lie helplessly, thinking why your health has come to this. I’ve seen it all, and I can tell you now, it’ll only get worse before it gets better.

Changes need to be made if we want to truly save our beloved National Health Service. And it’s not good enough for the government to put the blame on GP surgeries.

BBC Interview with Dr Chaand Nagpaul from the British Medical Association (BMA)

The problem isn’t because GPs aren’t doing a good enough job, (from personal experience, it’s about how you push for treatment), but it’s down to the fact that as a job, it isn’t attractive to qualified doctors. Typically, GPs are old, male and of asian descent. Am I right? All my life, I have never been treated by a GP from another ethnicity or age bracket, always over 60. Now, I have no problem with that, as long as you know what you’re doing and you provide myself and my family with the right treatment, that’s ok. But there’s a problem further down the line. What happens when these old doctors retire? Where are the next generation of GPs? Most likely in hospitals or abroad, that’s where!

If you have a look on the BBC article ‘GPs being made scapegoats for A&E pressures, says BMA‘, there is a case study from Dr Matt Owen from Manchester who qualified as a GP three years ago.

“I would say demand for a seven-day week is actually not high.

“I do work extended hours on the weekend. On Sundays, it is not uncommon to be sat in my consultation room for 12 hours (08:00-20:00) with as few as five patients for the whole day.

“However, there can be a shortage of appointments and access to the GP Monday to Friday.

“The problem here is actually a shortage of GPs. No-one wants to be a GP because GPs are overworked, overused and over-regulated.”

If our government is to have a grip on the NHS and the its looming demise, it needs to

  • Provide incentives for young, up and coming qualified doctors to work in GP surgeries
  • Fund social care services
  • Stop prioritising wars over the NHS
  • Stop cuts to education

Of course, the Tories would rather privatise the whole service and be done with it.

It seems to me that our government doesn’t give our NHS staff enough credit. Lest we forget, the NHS isn’t just limited to hospitals; it’s part of a wider social care system that covers nursing homes, mental health services, home physiotherapy, dentistry, eyecare, the list goes on and on. NHS services explained… 

As I said at the beginning of this post, I hadn’t planned to write this and my absence has been due to me constantly being in and out of hospital so I like to think this will provide and insight into what i’ve witnessed. There are great doctors and nurses out there, some could do better and some are just under a lot of strain. But as a whole, from staff to patients, they all need support and it goes back to what the government will do. It’s not good enough for Theresa May to ignore the failures of her party, or her Health Secretary to continue to fail to work with doctors and unions to help improve working conditions. The NHS needs a Prime Minister who can acknowledge and act to protect the NHS from any more downfalls. The NHS isn’t a business, it’s a public service. It accounts for millions of lives every single day, it is not something to toy with it, so please, Mrs May, stop denying what’s right in front of you and start taking control.

I’d like to remain optimistic and believe our beloved NHS can be saved, but it’s going to take more than a miracle to reverse the damage done by the Tories since 2010. First of all the government needs to take the above points into account and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt really needs to hold a better relationship with doctors and doctor’s unions. Finally, NHS staff must work together, please don’t take your frustrations out on each other or your patients. Remember why you got into the health profession in the first place. The NHS was never built to make profit but to help others, and improve our quality of living. Let’s continue to keep it that way so our children and great-grandchildren can also benefit from such a service.