Vince Cable

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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A renewed (post-Brexit) ‘special relationship’?

Last week Parliamentarians commenced their summer break, and with a ‘zombie government’ in procession, not much is going in the world of British politics. But even so there are still several issues which continue to be scrutinised and debated, the major one being (you guessed it) BREXIT!

Brexit negotiations commenced in Brussels a few weeks ago now and as expected not much has been agreed but there is indeed much that needs to be compromised on. As Britain looks to seek trade deals outside of the European Union, it seems Britain will rely heavily on it’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, now more than ever.

UK/US Special Relationship: derived from Winston Churchill’s 1946 ‘Iron Curtain Speech’, the term describes the political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

As talks continue, politicians and commentators alike have been trying to hazard a guess as to what trade deals may be made with other countries and how quickly those deals would be able to come to pass. Undoubtedly because of the UK/US special relationship, trade with America would be top of the list. But what exactly would we be trading with them? One thing that has dominated the headlines this week is chlorinated chicken. *cringe*
Earlier this week, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said any trade deal with the US would ‘have to include agriculture’ which sparked fears for the arrival of imported US chicken washed in chlorinated water and hormone-fed beef. Contradicting Fox’s statement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated we should not allow chlorinated chicken to be imported or the UK.

“No. I made it perfectly clear, and this is something on which all members of the Government are agreed. We are not going to dilute our high food-safety standards or our high environmental standards in pursuit of any trade deal. Our position when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and our position now, is to be a leader in environmental standards”

During his appearance on BBC Newsnight, Fox seemed to stand by his position in re-aligning Britain’s relationship with the US, saying there is “no health issue” with chlorine washed chicken and that concerns “lies around some of the secondary issues of animal welfare and it’s perfectly reasonable for people to raise that but it will come much further down the road.”

 

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals left UK farmers competing against less-regulated foreign rivals. They warned that imports from lower-welfare countries could “undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards – contrary to the wishes of the UK industry”.

What this demonstrates is that Brexit is more than just about the economy and immigration; it will have a life-changing impact on every single Briton and will be reflected even in the food we buy and the meals we eat. In a world where many are becoming health conscious (you only have to watch Netflix’s ‘What the Health‘ and rethink your whole diet!), how can we look after ourselves and how can we ensure the food we eat doesn’t have a long-term impact on our health? As we all know, chlorine is more widely used in swimming pools to keep them free of bacteria that can be used to harm us, but there is a BIG difference between swimming in it and ingesting it.

And it’s not only chicken we should be worried about – there are now fears from politicians in Scotland that sub-standard whisky could be imported if the UK strikes a trade deal with the US after Brexit.

The Scotch whisky industry is worth £4bn to Scotland and it is protected from sub-standard products by an EU definition of whisky – but this will change after our European divorce. Politicians in Scotland have thus written to the UK Government, asking for a legal definition of the spirit to be enshrined into law.

Scottish economy secretary Keith Brown said: “Aside from being a key part of Scottish culture and identity, our whisky industry supports around 20,000 jobs. The US made clear in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions that they would support a relaxation of the definition of whisky, which would open the market up to a number of products which do not currently meet that standard”.

It seems where Brexit is concerned, NOTHING is safe…

 

Conservative Party divisions continue…

…and at the heart of those divisions is, you guessed it, BREXIT.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced freedom of movement between Britain and the European Union will end as soon as the UK withdraws from the bloc in March 2019. In response, Home Secretary Amber Rudd commented:

“We are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK.”

Liam Fox, a hard-line brexiteer has said keeping free movement after Brexit would not keep in line with the EU Referendum result of last June. However, Phillip Hammond has said free movement wouldn’t necessarily be curtailed straight after Brexit, reiterating the need for a transitional period and recommending that new trade deals and regulated movement of peoples isn’t done immediately after leaving the union.

It was only last week there were a few leaks made by cabinet ministers in regards to remarks made by the Chancellor, again sparked from divisions over Brexit so this week to see again another fisticuffs only demonstrates the deep emotions over the issue and proves just how difficult this divorce process will be, not just with our European counterparts but on home soil.

Ministers have been particularly vocal over the post-Brexit transitional period and how that should look like. Pro-Brexiteers in visage the free movement of people will and should be different on the day after we leave the EU in comparison to the day before. These comments come from Mr Fox (he seems at odds with everybody this week eh!) who dismissed the idea that there is a broad consensus n Cabinet that free movement would end in name only for three years after Brexit, as part of a transition deal with the European Union.

Critics such as newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, has expressed to the media that the latest schism “reveals a deep, unbridgeable chasm between the Brexit fundamentalist and the pragmatists. Businesses which might have hoped that Philip Hammond had pulled the Government back from a commitment to a catastrophic cliff edge, crashing out of the EU, have been misled. There is no Cabinet consensus for moderation. And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty”.

The Chancellor has said there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel has warned that Britain could have to pay a Brexit divorce bill of up to £54bn.

“It is now time for the European Union to make an analogy with the famous quote of Mrs Thatcher, ‘We want our money back'”

Downing Street expects to reveal plans for a new immigration system later this year, to be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU. Amber Rudd has also commissioned a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of EU migrants, as well as the possible impact of reduced EU migration. Whilst the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has hailed the report as a “sensible first step”, whilst critics have said the study, which is to be published just six months before Brexit, will come a year too late.

 

So much for enjoying the start of summer and listening to May’s call for “strength and unity” eh!

 

Other things you may have missed…

History was made this week as Brenda Hale became the first female president of the Supreme Court. Also another female judge, Lady Justice Black, became the second woman appointed to Britain’s highest court. Hale, a champion of diversity in the judiciary who joined the Supreme Court in 2009, has previously said, “Excellence is important but so is diversity of expertise”, and in 2015 warned the Supreme Court should be ashamed if it does not become more representative of the population. Her appointment is historically important as the Supreme Court has over the years been criticised for it’s lack of female representation in being primarily dominated by men. Hale’s new role shines a light on women being able to sit as judges in the UK’s highest court but we mustn’t sit idly – there is still long way to go in terms of wider representation, for instance appointment of judges from widespread ethnic minorities. Commenting on the announcement, the Bar Council said Hale’s appointment will “serve as an encouragement to all”.

 

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans to ban developers from selling newly built houses as leaseholds to protect homeowners from extortionate fees. Properties in the UK are either sold as freeholds or leaseholds, and those who buy leaseholds must pay fees to a freeholder, who owns the ground the house is built on. These fees – including service charges and ground rents – can increase by vast amounts every year, leaving homeowners paying thousands of pounds on top of their own mortgage payments. Under the proposals, ground rent would be significantly reduced and leaseholds on new builds banned. The planned proposal could prove to help the growing housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London, also giving first time buyers an opportunity to buy a property without the added hassle and cost.

With the way Brexit negotiations are going, we all could do with some good news!

 

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…

 

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.