David Green: A referendum in Northern Ireland is the way to break the Protocol logjam

20 May

David Green is a trustee of Civitas.

A referendum could overcome the stand-off over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Instead of ending the Protocol against the will of the EU, our Government should ask the EU to accept the results of a referendum.

Under article 18 of the Protocol there is provision for democratic consent to be tested by December 2024. If the date were brought forward, the current stalemate could be resolved.

These are the current battle lines. The British Government agreed to checks at the Irish Sea, but objects to the manner of their implementation, which has been too heavy handed, leading to considerable additional costs. It has threatened unilateral abandonment of the Protocol.

The EU wants to prevent goods entering its market without full compliance with EU regulations for fear of undercutting EU producers.

In most international disputes there are usually the real objectives of the parties and the public positions they adopt to appeal to public opinion. The EU’s public positioning relies on two arguments.

First, that ending the Northern Ireland Protocol would endanger peace because it would require border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Second, that if the British Government ends the agreement it would be ‘breaking’ its treaty obligations.

These arguments have considerable force despite relying on untrue claims. First, the UK does not want a border and so does not endanger peace. Second, there is provision in the treaty to end the arrangement in the event of serious ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties’. Enforcing article 16 would not, therefore, be ‘breaking’ an international agreement.

But the real problem is the lack of democratic consent for the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the only way to test consent in a situation like this, is by referendum.

A mere vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly would not have sufficient democratic legitimacy. The main parties largely want to gain advantage at the expense of rivals and a referendum avoids the distortions of partisan rivalry. In any event there may not be a functioning assembly to hold a vote.

The Protocol provides for democratic consent to be tested within four years of the end of the transition period, namely by the end of December 2024. The method of testing is solely under the control of the Government and, in a document dated October 2019, it chose to hold a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, the Assembly has proved to be as destructive of democratic legitimacy as the Weimar republic, chiefly because stubborn minority parties can block improvements. A referendum cuts through partisan recalcitrance by giving power to the whole electorate.

In any event, the possibility that the Assembly would not be functioning was foreseen in the unilateral declaration of October 2019. Paragraph 5 provides for the Government to establish an alternative mechanism for testing consent, if the preferred option of an assembly vote is not possible. At present no such vote would be possible.

Under the unilateral declaration Parliament could define a referendum as the alternative mechanism. However, that would mean holding a vote between October and December 2024, which would be too long to wait while feelings are running so high.

Instead of allowing itself to be subject to false accusations of endangering peace and breaking international treaties, the British Government should call upon the EU to accept the result of a referendum before the end of 2022.

This would put the it on a higher moral plane than the EU. If the EU opposes an early referendum it will not only be preventing the people of Northern Ireland from expressing their view, it will also be blocking a way of overcoming the prevailing logjam.

It would have to show itself in its true colours, namely an anti-democratic conspiracy by a ruling elite to pursue its imperial objectives regardless of public opinion, as revealed by its response to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

A referendum is consistent with our tradition that the people are the ultimate sovereign, and furthermore it would be consistent with the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

The Northern Ireland Protocol stipulates that the method of ensuring democratic consent must be compatible with the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The agreement envisaged a referendum on a united Ireland and, consequently, a referendum on the Protocol would be well within its constitutional expectations.

The Government is allowing itself to be outmanoeuvred. A referendum promises a mutually beneficial solution without harming our reputation for always seeking the peaceful resolution of international disputes.

Council by-election result from yesterday and forthcoming contests

20 May

Lancaster – Ellel 

Green Party 547 (39.7 per cent, +19.5 from 2019) Labour 418 (30.4 per cent, -1.2) Conservatives 377 (27.4 per cent, -14.4) Lib Dems 35(2.5 per cent, -4.0)

Green Party gain from Conservatives

Forthcoming contests

May 25th

  • Spelthorne – Laleham and Shepperton Green.

May 26th

  • Gedling – Gedling.  (Labour held)
  • North Kesteven – Sleaford Quarrington & Mareham. (Conservative held.)
  • Redbridge – Mayfield. Three seats delayed contests.

June 9th

  • Breckland – Mattishall.   (Conservative held)
  • Crawley – Southgate  (Labour held)
  • Sevenoaks – Penshurst, Fordcombe & Chiddingstone. (Conservative held)
  • Sunderland – Copt Hill.

June 16th

  • Rother – Brede & Udimore.  (Conservative held)
  • Warwick – Leamington Clarendon. (Labour)
  • Wyre Forest – Franche & Habberley North.  (Independent Community & Health Concern held)

June 23rd

  • Harlow – Bush Fair. (Conservative held.)
  • Neath Port Talbot – Port Talbot.  (Independent held)
  • Shropshire – Highley. (Independent held.)
  • Waverley – Hindhead. (Conservative held.)

Victoria Atkins: Today, we launch our Turnaround scheme to stop young people offending and reoffending

20 May

Victoria Atkins is Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice.

This Government is determined to make our streets safer, from the recruitment of 20,000 more police officers, tougher sentences for sexual and violent criminals, our work to tackle violence against women and girls and investment in practical measures such as CCTV and street lighting. But we are not confining our efforts to catching criminals – we want to prevent harm from happening in the first place.

To do this, we must confront a difficult topic: offending by children and young people. The reality is that eight out of ten repeat offenders began their criminal careers as children. To deliver the reductions in crime we all want to see, we must tackle youth offending now.

There is no single route to youth offending. The Government’s Beating Crime Plan, however, highlights risk factors including school absence, poor mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse which increase the chances of children becoming ensnared in criminality.

If we can break this cycle and prevent young people from getting mixed up in a life of crime, we can reduce the number of victims of crime, build safer communities and save the taxpayer £17 billion a year.

Today, we are launching our new £60 million “Turnaround” early intervention programme which will support up to 20,000 more children in England and Wales. It will help youth offending teams focus on children who are teetering on the edge of criminality, to prevent them from spiralling into a career of crime. We want young people in school learning English and maths, not on our streets causing damage, behaving anti-socially or even being dragged into gangs.

This is part of a hard-headed calculation to invest more in tackling youth offending nationally, providing £300 million over three years to youth offending teams to deliver local services well. This is an increase of nearly £100 million additional funding compared to 2021/22 levels and will allow local areas to deliver more and better interventions to make communities safer.

Good examples include the ‘Sports Barn’ in Blackpool, which I visited this week, where youth workers offer families and children a range of sports providing fun, healthy alternatives to hanging around streets causing problems. Another example is found in Buckinghamshire, where the council places youth offending staff and volunteers in schools to reach at-risk children directly, which is driving down exclusion rates and increasing the support accepted by young people to turn away from crime.

I spent nearly two decades working in the criminal courts before I was elected to Parliament. In fact, it was a 12 year old boy who I will call ‘Billy’ who proved, all too sadly, the necessity of this work. I turned up at court to represent him and he was alone – there was no grown up was there to support him as required by law.

When I asked him whether his parents were coming to court, he said “I’ve never known my dad and my mum will be flat-out drunk on the floor.” It was 9.30 in the morning. With a criminal conviction at the age of 12, and the difficulties he faced at home, his downward spiral into a life of crime could be predicted with depressing certainty.

The Turnaround scheme is the first Government scheme specifically for early intervention programmes, allowing local authorities to provide such schemes more consistently across the country now. This will end the so-called ‘postcode lottery’, so ensuring funding reaches areas who need it most to ensure location does not prevent a child like Billy receiving potentially life-changing – and crime reducing – interventions.

Whilst the driving factor behind the funding announcement today is to cut crime and protect the public, it also makes economic sense. The cost of not intervening early to prevent children following the wrong path often means they end up using costly services including police, children’s social care, courts and even prisons. Safer streets also provide businesses with confidence to invest and grow, improving job opportunities and local propensity. By tackling youth offending we can save the taxpayer billions a year.

The Turnaround scheme will develop on our wider youth work across the country which includes the Supporting Families programme we have boosted by £200 million and our ten-year, Youth Endowment Fund, which I developed and launched in my previous role as Minister for Safeguarding.

We are also investing an additional £2.3 billion into NHS mental health services by 2024, which will help around 345,000 more children get the support they need. Providing long-term catch-up support of almost £5 billion in our Education Recovery Plan, so every child can fulfil their potential and providing £300 million for our Start for Life offer which focuses on the first 1,001 critical days which sets the foundations for lifelong emotional and physical wellbeing.

As Prisons and Youth Justice Minister, my number one priority is cutting crime and protecting the public. Taking the right preventative action to stop vulnerable young people from falling into a life of crime is one of best ways to achieve this. This work will help young people to steer their lives away from crime and keep our streets safer, as part of our determination to level up and improve our neighbourhoods.

Newslinks for Friday 20th May 2022

20 May

Police confirm Johnson has only been fined once. Gray ‘frustrated by police secrecy’.

“Scotland Yard is refusing to give details about who it has fined over lockdown parties in Downing Street to Sue Gray, the senior Whitehall official investigating them. The Metropolitan Police yesterday concluded its inquiry into a dozen gatherings, having issued a total of 126 fines to 83 people. The prime minister is understood to be confident about his own future after being told that he will not receive any further fines beyond the one he has already been given. He faces uncertainty, however, over a separate inquiry carried out by Gray, a senior civil servant. Her report, which will be published next week, is said to be highly critical of him.” – The Times

More:

  • Prime Minister ‘unlikely’ to be forced out by partygate report – FT
  • Johnson branded a ‘lucky general’ – The Sun
  • Cummings’ revelations fail to land killer blow – Daily Mail
  • Civil servants and No 10 advisers furious over single fine for Johnson – The Guardian
  • Met faces a backlash over its costly Partygate inquiry – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: The greased albino piglet slithers through the legs of the butchers – and runs oinking towards open country

Holden calls for Durham Police to be removed from its Beergate probe

“The police probe into ‘Beergate’ should not be handled by the Durham force if a Labour crime tsar or any of her team were at the gathering, says a Tory MP. Instead, an outside force should be brought in, such as the Met. Richard Holden has written to Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen demanding to know if she, her deputy Nigel Bryson or any of her staff were with Sir Keir Starmer when he enjoyed a drink and a takeaway with party colleagues when indoor socialising was banned. He told her that their presence during election campaigning last year would raise questions over Durham Constabulary’s investigation into whether or not the event broke lockdown laws.” – Daily Mail

EU ambassador rejects Truss’s demand to rewrite NI protocol

“The EU ambassador to the UK has rejected Liz Truss’s demand that the Northern Ireland protocol be rewritten, and issued a blunt warning of retaliation if the government passes a law disapplying aspects of the agreement. “Unilateral calls for unilateral; action calls for action,” João Vale de Almeida told journalists at Westminster. He lamented the continuing distrust between the two sides, and argued little had changed in the past 18 months since the government was threatening to pass the internal markets bill… Vale de Almeida insisted there was no prospect of a change in the negotiating mandate given by the EU to its Brexit representative, Maroš Šefčovič – a demand made repeatedly by the foreign secretary.” – The Guardian

  • Fury as bloc threatens full-blown trade war over Brexit deal row – Daily Express
  • DUP stakes its future on Brexit battle with London – FT

America:

  • No hope of US trade deal if Britain discards Northern Ireland Protocol, says Pelosi – Daily Telegraph
  • Senior American lawmaker pushes UK to find ‘solution’ to Ulster stand-off – FT
  • US delegation arrives in Europe for talks on Northern Ireland and Brexit – The Guardian
  • Washington turns screw in heated Brexit row – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Johnson and I agreed on Northern Ireland. What happened to that good faith? – Leo Varadkar, The Guardian

>Yesterday:

Trevelyan set to kick off £4billion trade deal talks with Mexico within days

“Britain is set to kick off trade talks with Mexico within days in a bid to unlock a bumper £4billion deal. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan is expected to start discussions to fire the starting gun on the latest post-Brexit agreement. Both countries will look to secure an advanced deal which will boost jobs and grow their economies. It is understood that talks will focus on slashing tariffs and boosting trade in Britain’s world-leading services and technology economies. Talks are also already underway with India and Canada for a post-Brexit trade agreement.” – The Sun

Pressure mounts on Sunak to cut taxes as living costs soar

“The UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is under mounting Conservative pressure to radically cut taxes in the coming months. The question facing him is whether he can do it without pouring fuel on the inflationary fire. Cabinet ministers including Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg have led calls for Sunak to reduce the highest tax burden seen in Britain for 70 years, to help households cope with inflation that has hit a 40-year high of 9 per cent. Conservative MPs in recent days have piled pressure on Sunak. Sir Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP, told the Financial Times he wanted to see value added tax abolished on domestic energy bills.” – FT

  • Pensioners set to lose £13,000 in retirement thanks to inflation – Daily Telegraph
  • CBI chief tells Sunak to ‘do more to help worst off’ – Daily Express
  • Johnson’s advisers on warpath over windfall tax – The Times

More:

  • Chancellor becomes first frontline politician to join The Sunday Times Rich List – The Times

Snow’s ‘obscene anti-Tory rant’ hurt Channel 4, says Dorries

“Jon Snow did not do Channel 4 “any favours” when he “shouted obscenities about the Tory Party”, Nadine Dorries said on Thursday. The Culture Secretary made the comments at a Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee hearing, where she was asked what she thought of the network’s flagship news programme. Ms Dorries said she “gets on really well” with presenter Cathy Newman and had been asked by her to appear on Channel 4 News a number of times in the past two weeks… Ms Dorries was also questioned about the Government’s decision to privatise Channel 4.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Culture Secretary open to subscription model for BBC – The Times

Prime Minister takes direct control in ‘Whitehall power-grab’

“Boris Johnson is to assume direct control of large parts of the machinery of government in a Whitehall power-grab that will effectively create a department for the prime minister. In an unprecedented upheaval, the Cabinet Office is to be split so that officials responsible for implementing domestic policy across the civil service will answer directly to Downing Street for the first time. It is also an attempt to silence internal critics of his government’s patchy record on delivery now the Metropolitan Police inquiry into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street has concluded.” – The Times

Johnson has blocked plans to make street harassment a crime, says Ali

“Boris Johnson has blocked proposals for a new crime of street harassment despite it being backed by Priti Patel, the Government’s independent adviser on tackling violence against women and girls has suggested. Nimco Ali, a close friend of the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson, said her plan for a new offence had suffered “pushback” within Government despite the Home Secretary being “very much behind” her campaign. Calls for a new offence of street harassment such as wolf-whistling, catcalling, pestering people or making lewd comments intensified in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, who was abducted and raped while walking home in south London last year.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sleaze-hit Parliament to hold conference to try to end Pestminster scandal – The Sun

Police ordered not to go soft on hungry shoplifters

“The policing minister has told officers not to turn a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food out of desperation after the police watchdog suggested discretion should be used during the cost-of-living crisis. Kit Malthouse accused Andy Cooke, the new chief inspector of constabulary, of “old-fashioned thinking” for suggesting that more people will be forced to shoplift food because they cannot afford basic groceries. As inflation hit 9 per cent on Wednesday, Cooke said the impact of poverty will lead to an increase in crime and that he “fully supports officers using their discretion” when deciding whether to charge people who steal in order to eat.” – The Times

  • Cocaine users face random testing in crackdown plan – The Times

More:

  • Raab on why boxing helps children toe the line and avoid crime – Daily Telegraph

Lib Dems ‘planting our tanks on the Tories’ lawn’ by selecting ex-Army Major for ‘blue wall’ seat

“The Liberal Democrats have chosen a former Army Major to fight an upcoming “blue wall” by-election, boasting that they are “planting our tanks firmly on the Tories’ lawn”. Richard Foord, a 44-year-old veteran who trained at Sandhurst and won medals in Iraq and the Balkans, will fight the Tiverton and Honiton by-election next month, following the resignation of Neil Parish. Mr Parish, the former Tory MP, admitted watching pornography in the House of Commons and resigned his seat last month after he was named as the “porn MP” by The Telegraph.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Upcoming by-elections are fertile ground for the Labour-Lib Dem informal pact – FT

James Forsyth: Tories may never recover if they lose in 2024

“A Tory defeat in 2024 would most likely hand power to some kind of “progressive” arrangement in parliament led by Keir Starmer with support from the Liberal Democrats and perhaps the Scottish nationalists and Greens. It would struggle to survive more than a term. This last point is particularly popular among Tories of a certain vintage. They point out that, in hindsight, it might have been better if John Major hadn’t won in 1992. Neil Kinnock would have likely been gone by 1997, and there would have been no Tony Blair.” – The Times

News in Brief:

  • Meet the Tories quietly hoping to lose the next election – James Kirkup, The Spectator
  • Why a tax break for Boomers might be just what the housing market needs – Nina Harrison, CapX
  • Michaela’s unspeakable truths – Marie K Daouda, The Critic
  • Why black British lives don’t matter – Tomiwa Owolade, UnHerd

The greased albino piglet slithers through the legs of the butchers – and runs oinking towards open country

20 May

The report by the Privileges Committee into whether Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament will come this autumn.  By-elections in Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield are expected to take place on June 23rd.  And Sue Gray’s report may well be published next week.

The first and third are directly connected to rule-breaking parties in Downing Street, and these will surely have an impact on the second.  Tiverton and Honiton had a Conservative majority of over 25,000 at the last general election.  That is unlikely to be enough to protect it from the Liberal Democrats.

So the Prime Minister is not out of the woods yet, if repercussions from the parties is the measure – especially if Gray concludes that he shaped a culture of law-breaking in Number Ten.  Some reports say she will, others that she won’t.  And there is a questionmark about the timing.

Number Ten will want the investigation complete before the summer – and don’t forget that Gray reports to Johnson himself – so that Johnson can begin to move on.  But she reportedly wants to name those civil servants she believes most responsible for breaking the rules.  The police issued 126 fixed penalty notices but named no-one.

How can Partygate be resolved if Gray points the finger at certain civil servants, and it isn’t known whether or not they have been fined?  The police may not tell her.  Trade unions are up in arms on behalf of their civil service members.  And Downing Street won’t want any more details to be published than is absolutely necessary (in its view).

Hence my query about the timing.  But even if Gray publishes next week as expected, her report can’t clarify why the police acted as they did.  I argued last week that, in this age of transparency, their investigation has been an anomaly – especially since it has broken with their usual practice and issued fixed penalty notices retrospectively.

They haven’t explained on what basis fines have been issued.  They haven’t confirmed who has been fined and who hasn’t, and why.  And the way in which Met has treated Boris Johnson is echoed in the way that Durham Police are treating Keir Starmer.

There was no stampede by the Prime Minister’s enemies last week to make the same argument.  So I can’t help but be darkly amused this morning by them making it now, as Johnson slips through their fingers yet again, and the face the agonising prospect of him “getting away with it”.

How on earth was he not fined, for example, for the rule-breaking party organised by his then Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds?  Is the reason that the garden in which it took place is that of his own home?  What about the Lee Cain leaving event?  Might that not have been a party when he attended it but somehow became one later?

Was there really a party in the Downing Street flat at all on the day Dominic Cummings left Number Ten?  The obscurity of the police’s decisions mirrors the obscurity of the rules, definitional quibbles, their shifts as dates changed – and the way in which minimal information has fed media speculation.

If Sue Gray damns the Prime Minister black and blue next week, that elusive leadership challenge may materialise at last.  But that Johnson has only been fined once – and that for walking into a birthday party he apparently knew nothing about – has lengthened the odds against one.

A majority of our Conservative members’ panel already thinks that Partygate is overblown.  Tory MPs may settle on that solitary fine, and decide to move on, whatever Gray says.  Above all, the Prime Minister’s internal opponents will be wary of triggering a ballot he may win.

Especially since the 1922 committee’s rules bar a further challenge within a year.  In the event of a failed challenge, those determined to bring him down could fight to change them.  But if they didn’t succeed, Johnson would be safe – at least until next summer, the last practicable date for change if a general election is held in the autumn of 2024.

Talking of Cummings, imagine his rage this morning as the greased albino piglet – to revive David Cameron’s moniker for the Prime Minister – slithers through the legs of the butchers, and runs oinking towards the open country.  The former special adviser will be clawing at the air.

As will Starmer, whose lawyerly disdain for his opponent and plodding lack of imagination have undone him.  Had he not let Johnson get under his skin – to the point where he claimed that the Prime Minister should quit for merely being investigated – he would not now be so exposed to the charge of double standards.

“Consider the unfairness of life,” Johnson will surely say.  “I was fined for stumbling into a party I knew nothing about.  And there’s Sir Beer – whoops, Keir; sorry, folks – wolfing down his Lamb Rogan Josh and Mushroom Bhajee at a Labour knees-up arranged days in advance.”

Not for the first time, he will seek to capitalise on his reluctance to clamber into moral pulpits.  If the Durham police criticise Starmer but don’t fine him – lo and behold, the Prime Minister will have his perfect outcome: a thwarted opponent who can’t hurl mud without it being hurled back at him. And has chosen to don a white suit.

Johnson will now seek to move quickly, setting up his Office of the Prime Minister – and reportedly carving out Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, both from it and from the Cabinet Office.  Samantha Jones is set to head up the former and Alex Chisholm does the latter.  Is Case set up to be the Partygate fall guy?  Next, perhaps, a reshuffle.

A third of our Tory members’ panel believes that the parties haven’t been overblown by the media and are important to many voters.  Some of them, and very many people who aren’t Conservative members at all, will be enraged.  There is a cost of living crisis.  The Prime Minister shows no sign of getting to grips with it.

He blurts out his negotiation with the Chancellor about it in Parliament.  There is a week of chaotic briefing and counter-briefing about the Downing Street Protocol.  Dan Rosenfield has gone and David Canzini is in place, but Johnson’s chaotic modus operandi, his artistic moods and impulses, his genius for recovery rages unchecked.

He careers on and will carry on doing so until Sue Gray reports.  Or afterwards.  Or until the next election.  Or after that.  Gasp as the trolley zig-zags through the aisles – upending shoppers, confounding staff, jamming walkways, blocking exits.

See the cans of baked beans and packets of Persil fly as it cannons into the shelves.  Watch packs of whips, like security guards, scurry in its wake.  Hear the fire alarms as they toot and feel the sprinklers as they gush.  Look back at the wake of the trolley as it dips and swerves.

There sprawl enraged voters, chortling readers of his columns, rivals crushed in elections, baffled foreign dignatories, the people of Liverpool, frustrated editors, former lovers, words on the side of a bus and Rishi Sunak tearing his hair out, plus at least seven children.

Perhaps we really do make our own luck, and he has somehow wished his conception of himself as a Shakesperian Mark Anthony, a Homeric Ulysses, into reality – until or unless Sue Gray finishes him off.  Either way, no  novel about Boris Johnson could be as strange as the story he is writing about himself

Interview: Braverman says that what may emerge from Russia “is a basis for charges of genocide”

20 May

There is “emerging evidence now of genocide” in Ukraine, Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, says in this interview. She recently visited Ukraine, only the second British minister to do so, and describes how Britain is helping the Ukrainians to bring prosecutions for war crimes.

At home, Braverman says the Conservative Party needs to “stamp out this long tail of Blairism”, including “creations like the Human Rights Act and the equalities agenda, which has built up a whole industry of people who make their living from rights-based claims”, and has led to “a feeble approach to common sense, decency, British values”.

She is a passionate defender of British values:

“My background is one that is ferociously proud of Britain, Britain’s history, Britain’s welcome. My parents were born under the British Empire. They came to this country with a huge fondness for the British Empire. 

“What Britain brought to their countries, Mauritius and Kenya and India where we have our origins, was remarkable. And I get very saddened by this apology and shame, promulgated by the Left and commenced by the collective guilt that started under Tony Blair, that is pervading our society.”

In Braverman’s view Sir Keir Starmer  is “a child of Blairism in many ways, and that’s what’s very dangerous”  about the Labour Party under his leadership.

She wants the Conservative Party to replace its tree logo with the torch of liberty which was used in Margaret Thatcher’s day, opposes a windfall profits tax and would be happy to have her friend Lord Frost as “a colleague in the Commons”.

Braverman began by defending herself against attacks from the Left, and by insisting that the Government, and she in particular as Attorney General, are staunch upholders of the rule of law.

ConHome: “This hostility from the Left towards you: Nick Cohen has attacked you in The Observer for something you wrote on ConHome in 2019: ‘I was the shy Tory in my Chambers of ‘right-on’ human rights lawyers.’

“According to Cohen, your Chambers was actually full of ‘regular barristers fighting disputes about the licensing of pubs and betting shops, not human rights law’. What’s your response to all this?”

Braverman: “I’m not going to get into an argument about my old set of Chambers. What I will say is that in the late Nineties, when I was at university, when Blair had just won his landslide, it was unpopular to be a Conservative amongst under-30s.

“And I definitely felt that at university, although I was Chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association, and I had my little close tribe of people.

“But the post-Blair years, in that immediate aftermath of 1997 to 2005 and even onwards, definitely I felt in professional circles in London among the university-educated, liberal arts community, there was definitely a Blairite bias.

“And actually that’s one of the challenges for us, as a 21st-century Conservative Party, we’re actually still dealing with the long tail of Blairism.

“And the legacy issues of that Blair era are what still motivate me to get into politics. I did stand for Parliament in 2005 [she was eventually elected for Fareham in 2015] so maybe I wasn’t that shy. I was able to put my head above the parapet.”

ConHome: “Peter Golds had schooled you, hadn’t he.”

Braverman: “Peter Golds is an old friend of my family and of mine, absolutely, yes. The force of nature that is Peter Golds. But yes, the long tail of Blairism, the creations like the Human Rights Act and the equalities agenda, which has built up a whole industry of people who make their living from rights-based claims, didn’t exist prior to Blair.”

ConHome: “This was also true of your Chambers then?”

Braverman: “I felt they were an excellent Chambers, and I was in the company of excellent lawyers. But I wasn’t out and proud as a flag-waving Tory at work, definitely.

“But I think they all knew I was a Conservative and they tolerated me. But there was no animosity or hostility and I’m not going to throw mud at them. They’re brilliant lawyers.”

ConHome: “Is Sir Keir Starmer a sort of continuation of this whole thing? He’s steeped in it, isn’t he?”

Braverman: “Yes, exactly, he is a child of Blairism in many ways, and that’s what’s very dangerous about a Labour Party under Keir Starmer.

“For the legacy of Blairism we will get quite a feeble approach to common sense, decency, British values.

“And the reasons why I’m a Conservative, my background is one that is ferociously proud of Britain, Britain’s history, Britain’s welcome. My parents were born under the British Empire. They came to this country with a huge fondness for the British Empire.

“What Britain brought to their countries, Mauritius and Kenya and India where we have our origins, was remarkable. And I get very saddened by this apology and shame, promulgated by the Left and commenced by the collective guilt that started under Tony Blair, that is pervading our society.”

ConHome: “The critique of you on the Left is that somehow you are a very political Attorney General, who’s sort of bending the law. So there’s this report in The Financial Times last week which suggested you were casting your net wider for advice on the Northern Ireland Protocol than you really should be.

“The accusation was that you’re going opinion shopping. What’s your response to that claim?”

Braverman: “Well I’m afraid I can’t talk about legal advice or how I’ve reached it, or indeed whether I’ve given it. That’s one of the frustrations of being in this role. I am gagged to a large degree.

“However what is completely normal practice is to consult specialists in their fields. We have gone to outside lawyers because they bring expertise and specialism.

“I think aspersions being cast on lawyers are actually very serious attacks on their professional reputations, when lawyers actually in private practice, they wouldn’t necessarily have a right to reply, and somehow trying to malign them is actually quite dangerous.

“Because lawyers take a case on the merits of the law, and they fight them for legal reasons, not because of political agendas. That’s what good lawyers do anyway.”

ConHome: “Pretty plainly this charge of opinion shopping you reject.”

Braverman: “Yes.”

ConHome: “And your reasoning on the Protocol, this is based on the idea that the Belfast Agreement trumps the Protocol because of something called “primordial significance”?

Braverman: “Again, I can’t get into the legal reasoning of any advice that may or may not have been given. What I can say is that the Foreign Secretary has said there is a lawful basis. We’re going to be issuing a statement in very high-level terms.

“But what we do know, in political terms, is very clear. There is a clear problem in Northern Ireland. I would say there’s an economic problem, the costs being imposed by the application of the Protocol on the trade of goods across the Irish Sea, the diversion of trade is another consequence of that.

“There are problems with the administration and the political institutions, the collapse of Stormont. And I would say there is a more profound challenge to the Good Friday Agreement that has been presented squarely by the Protocol.

“The Good Friday Agreement is premised clearly on the consent of both communities, and depends on a delicate balance and harmony between those two communities.

“The application of the Protocol has put that balance out of kilter and undermined the East-West balance in favour of the North-South balance.

“And therefore the Good Friday Agreement, the foundation of peace, is seriously affected by the operation of the Protocol.”

ConHome: “Without asking you to comment on the particular case, because you can’t, is ‘primordial significance’ a familiar concept in constitutional law?”

Braverman: “I don’t know where you’ve got that term from.”

ConHome: “Well it was quoted in the Financial Times story.”

Braverman: “Well there’s definitely a term in customary international law about the conflicts of treaties.  What’s been very interesting about the rule of law generally, and suggestions that this administration is undermining the rule of law – I take issue with what my friend David Gauke has written about extensively on ConHome – I actually think that these days there is a very high level of reverence for the rule of law.

“I would quote Sumption here. He talks about the empire of law defining our society. You see that by the prolific statutes that Parliament puts out, and regulation, and regulators. You don’t have to look very far in any sector before you come across rules, and checks and balances, and people who make their living trying to sniff out incidents where those rules are broken.

“From a governmental point of view, and on my watch, the government’s got a very good record in court. So it’s actively challenged, in judicial review, and a side issue is the expansion of judicial review that we’ve seen over recent decades, but we are challenged every day in hundreds of instances on all manner of decisions, and on the whole, and in the majority of cases, we win.

“The Good Law Project is one such example. They’ve taken it upon themselves as their raison d’être to challenge us regularly and actually in the majority of cases we’ve won, and they’ve been ordered to pay, at the last count it was £300,000 in our legal costs, and I think that was set to increase actually.

“So they are proving the point that the Government is adhering to the rule of law very very carefully on the whole in terms of our decision-making.

“And lastly I would say when it comes to the rule of law, and this expansion of judicial review, the debate, or the tension you could say between the rule of law and parliamentary supremacy.

“And I think that is an interesting debate, and jurists in the past have taken the view as to which one should prevail. Dicey is the founding father of our constitutional law and sets out how he defines the rule of law but also says that parliamentary supremacy is the foundation.

“He’s echoed by Thomas Bingham, former Lord Chief Justice, in his book, and I would say our modern-day leading mind on this is Richard Ekins.

“And they all say that parliamentary supremacy is the kernel, the founding element of our constitution. And that’s not a creation of the Common Law, that’s not made up by judges, that’s not something that statute can amend.

“I’ve got a quote from Thomas Bingham which I really love, which sums it up very well:

“The British people have not expelled the extraneous power of the papacy in spiritual matters and the pretensions of royal power in temporal in order to subject themselves to the unchallengeable rulings of unelected judges. The constitution should reflect the will of a clear majority of the people.”

“And I think that is where my heart and my legal mind lies. Of course there are many eminent jurists who disagree. Lord Steyn in particular in his decision on Jackson, Lord Hope and Brenda Hale. They are eminent lawyers who have taken another view, and would say that the rule of law acts as a curb and a limit on parliamentary supremacy.”

ConHome: “So you don’t feel the rule of law is undermined if members of the academy, as it’s known, argue that Parliament isn’t sovereign ultimately, and that the last word is with the judges?”

Braverman: “I actually think that partly because of our membership of the European Union, and Brexit, and this is the whole argument of sovereignty, actually, and taking back control – partly because of the Human Rights Act, which has acted, to some degree, as a check on parliamentary supremacy – Parliament, and our legislators, and therefore those representing the will of the people, have assumed a lesser position in our constitution.

“I think it’s now, post-Brexit, reclaiming our sovereignty and writing the next chapter in our history of democratic politics, it’s really up to Parliament and MPs to grasp the nettle of their new-found power.

“A reflection of that is the vibrant debate we have on some of these issues to do with trade deals. The fact that we can have those debates is a reflection of an empowered legislature, a renewed supremacy and sovereignty to Parliament, thanks to Brexit.

“The Rwanda deal, and immigration policy generally, we wouldn’t have been able to debate the substance of our migration policy were we still in the EU.

“The vaccine roll-out and how we were able to do that outside the auspices of the EU. That’s an argument of how our Parliament and our Government has been empowered to take decisions in its own right which have really paid off.”

ConHome: “You think it’s perfectly fine from the point of view of a consensus about the rule of law if some judges and members of the academy take the view that Parliament isn’t really sovereign, and there are certain human rights fundamentals that judges in the last resort must pronounce on?”

Braverman: “I actually think that most judges today don’t want to be dragged into the arena of making these decisions…”

ConHome: “It’s well known you were a Brexiteer. You weren’t just a Brexiteer. You were a Spartan. You voted against Theresa May’s deal three times. You were there with Steve Baker and Mark Francois and the rest of the resistance.

“So tell us a bit about your thinking on that.”

Braverman: “I’m very proud to have been a Spartan, and I think that what’s remarkable about what the Spartans did is that at the time it was incredibly hard. I’d go so far as to say the vote on MV3 was the hardest decision I made in my professional life, because I felt so torn.

“And I know that several of my fellow Spartans felt the same way. For me I had resigned already, I had resigned in November of 2018 over the terms of the deal, and it had been set in stone by that point, and it was clear the Northern Ireland Backstop was fundamentally undemocratic…

“As it got closer to MV3 many people were changing their minds and it was becoming very hard to sustain that position, particularly in the face of accusations of ruining Brexit, the Spartans are killing Brexit, we’re going to end up with a second referendum and Corbyn’s going to get in.

“Accusations of disloyalty to the party. So that was very heavy social and political pressure… It was a very difficult time.

“But I do believe it was thanks to that rebellion that the deal didn’t go through, that Boris secured an 80-seat majority, and actually was able to get Brexit done. He’s the one who started Brexit, this massive, important, transformative mission for our country of which we are reaping many benefits.

“And I think it’s right that we support him in tidying up this outstanding issue of the Protocol now.”

ConHome: “Clearly Brexit and self-government and all that was very important to you. Can you just say a bit more about how your approach to politics developed as you were growing up.”

Braverman: “Well I think there’s definitely this strand of being very grateful to and having a deep love for this country, born out of my parents’ experience of coming here with nothing from former British colonies, my father was effectively exiled from Kenya as part of the Asian diaspora, my mother was recruited as a nurse and came here [from Mauritius] to work for the NHS.

“And they as I said had a real admiration for what Britain meant to them in their childhoods. Britain brought the rule of law. Britain brought statecraft. Britain brought military traditions. Members of my mother’s family fought in World War Two with the British in Egypt.

“Britain brought the civil service. My grandfather on my father’s side worked for the civil service in Kenya. Britain brought huge amounts of good. I think it was Cambridge University that was the examining board for my mother’s O levels. And of course the English language.

“They came here with huge admiration and a sense of great luck and they instilled that in me. Growing up, I come from Wembley, I went to school in Harrow, again your ConHome piece, I really loved what you wrote about the Asian vote wot won it, and I really relate to that.

“What’s wonderful, and I know I’m harking back to the days of empire and the mother country, but there’s a real visceral connection through my parents, growing up, admiring the Queen, and coming to this country, the country offering them opportunities and security.

“And then myself being brought up in a part of London where many Asians congregated, and this is what the Asian vote in Harrow, Wembley, north-west London is defined as, and this is what you picked up on in your column, why they are in growing numbers supporting the Conservatives.

“They are plucky. They are resilient. They are aspirational, ambitious. I’m very proud of the cliché of the Asian doctor or the Asian pharmacist or the Asian lawyer, and we are all products of plucky, pushy Asian parents who wanted to get their kids into the professions, into med school or law school.

“And you see that in modern Britain today. You see that in the Cabinet. Isn’t it remarkable, a Chancellor, Home Secretary, a Health Secretary, a Business Secretary, an Education Secretary, a COP 26 Secretary, an Attorney General, we all have linkages to Britain’s past, and we are now Britain’s present and Britain’s future.

“And that’s informed my conservative philosophy. That pride in our nation, but also the resilience of the individual against the odds.

“And I think my parents were very, very keen to invest in education. The little they had, they put into my education after starting in a state school, in the 1980s beset by strikes. My mother, a huge admirer of Margaret Thatcher, put me into the independent sector.

“My father had some years unemployed in the recession in the 1990s. We really experienced the pain of unemployment. It’s morally debilitating. As the so-called breadwinner in a family it’s crushing.

“And it was reskilling, and getting back into the workplace, that restored his sense of value in our country, and in our family…

“I get very frustrated with these leftie activists who want to decolonise our curriculum and cancel our culture and pull down statues.”

ConHome: “Is this why Ukraine has been such a big thing? Because people feel instinctively these are people who want to have their own country, have their own sovereignty…”

Braverman: “Yes, this is a battle for western civilisation, western values like the rule of law and democracy and civil liberties. Having visited Ukraine very recently, I’ve been working with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova for a few months since the conflict started, and I’ve wanted to help her in her mission to keep justice going and prosecute war criminals.

“The Ukrainians are very keen to move quickly, which is quite remarkable. In all of the instances of war crimes prosecutions in the past, they’ve all pretty much started after the end of the conflict.

“Here the conflict is live and they are already beginning their legal processes, which is amazing. They’ve got 11,000 cases, 5,000 suspects. They’ve got hundreds of detained prisoners of war. And just last week she commenced her first prosecution, against a young commander accused of killing an unarmed civilian.

“This is very powerful as a message that people implicated in this illegal war will face very harsh consequences. So I think it’s brilliant. I want to help her on that mission.

“The first thing I’ve done is appoint an expert, Sir Howard Morrison QC, a former war crimes judge. He is working with her, at my behest, on an almost daily basis, advising and supporting her.

“Howard and I went to Ukraine last week to see more close-up where the gaps are and how we might help.

“We’re seeing some emerging evidence now of genocide. I would not want to say definitively, from a legal point of view, but there’s definitely genocidal talk from political leaders in Russia, like eradicating Ukrainians, and we’ve got some stories of forced deportation.”

ConHome: “We’re following very closely the conversation in Russia about genocide, because it’s possible that what may emerge from that is a basis for charges of genocide.”

Braverman: “It’s possible. It’s possible.”

ConHome: “You said this morning there might be in certain circumstances a legal basis for action from this country on cyber. Could there possibly be a legal basis for supplying the Ukrainians with tactical nuclear weapons?”

Braverman: “In the context of cyber what I’m stating in my speech today is that there’s currently a vacuum in terms of rules and frameworks that govern what’s acceptable and unacceptable.

“There’s a principle of non-intervention. And if you were on the receiving end of a hostile activity in cyber space you would have a legal right of retorsion, or counter-measures, which is to take action, proportionate and necessary to remedy the negative effects.

“Very difficult to say yes or no. It would all depend on whether it’s a proportionate response.”

ConHome: “Do you have a view on a windfall tax?”

Braverman: “I don’t think a windfall tax would be a great idea, if I’m honest. I think that we want to incentivise investment. Profits are not an enemy of Conservatives. Profits mean more investment. Profits mean more research. Profits mean more jobs.”

ConHome: “Would you welcome your former colleague, Lord Frost, in the House of Commons?”

Braverman: “Listen, I worked closely with Frosty, he’s a good friend of mine. Yes, having him as a colleague in the Commons would be brilliant.”

ConHome: “Someone said somewhere, this may be quite wrong, that you’d got a view on the party’s logo?”

Braverman: “Oh yes, absolutely, right. So the old logo, the torch of liberty, wouldn’t it be great to bring that back?

“I’m not saying I don’t like the tree, but if we really want to, as I say, stamp out this long tail of Blairism, and define ourselves as Conservatives who value liberty, who trust individuals, who know that it’s responsibilities and duties that bind us as communities, as a country, as families, which actually bring that collective contentment, that’s why I’m a Conservative, then yes, let’s try the torch of liberty.

“I think one of the challenges for us as Conservatives is to make sure we get back to this more responsibility-focussed approach to our responsibilities and our society.

“So when it comes to human rights, and the Equality Act, for example, and I think that those are Blair creations generally, and we are seeing insidious effects of some of the expansionism of the interpretation of rights, this is some of the work that Dominic Raab is doing, I’ve worked with him on this, and we’ve worked closely on the British Bill of Rights.

“But we’ve also seen on the transgender issue, we’re getting into identity politics, which is very divisive, where people’s personal characteristics as defined in rights documents have now become fragmenting of the fabric of our society, and where you’re getting clashes and a lot of uncertainty.

“And that’s why this instance of the girl being thrown out of the school is outrageous. What’s really worrying is there’s a lot of confusion, and actually the Equality Act, there is no duty on schools – legally if you’re under-18 you can’t change sex – so if you are a male child who is saying I’m a trans girl, legally they are still treated as a male child, as a boy, and schools do not need to go to this extreme position of throwing other children out of schools to accommodate this group.

“I believe in aspiration, and that’s why I helped to cofound Michaela School, with Katharine Birbalsingh and Anthony Seldon, I was Chairman of the Governors for several years until we got our first Ofsted rating which was Outstanding, and that is a great template of what high standards, restoring the authority of the teacher, a traditional curriculum, and a zero tolerance approach to discipline can achieve, because we have turned around children who came to us at 11 with a reading and numeracy age of way below where they should be.”

Georgia L Gilholy: It’s time the Tories filled the God-shaped hole in British schooling

20 May

Georgia L Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor.

If the average British citizen has any formal connection with religion, it is usually via occasional rites of passage or increasingly secularised holidays.

A 2014 YouGov survey found that a measly ten er cent of Brits confessed to religion playing a ‘very important’ part in their lives.

While many faith-based communities persist, and the religious roots of our culture are never far from the surface, for most of Britain transcendent faith is no longer understood, never mind adhered to.

At first glance, this might seem surprising. After all, teaching Religious Education (RE) is a legal requirement in English schools. Maintained schools are statutorily obliged to teach it, while academies and free schools are contractually required in their funding agreements. Faith schools must follow the national curriculum but are permitted to choose their own RE topics.

The subject also remains popular, with analysis released this week by the RE Policy Unit demonstrating a 50 per cent uptick in A-level entries for the subject since 2003, beating the more traditional humanities options of Geography and History.

This is against the backdrop of RE receiving no subject-specific funding from 2016 to 2021. During the same period, £387 million was allocated to music projects, £154 million to maths projects, £56 million to science projects, £28.5 million to English projects, and £16 million to languages projects. It is time the Government put RE on an even keeling with such disciplines.

Worryingly, 500 secondary schools are still reporting zero hours of RE provision in Year 11. Meanwhile, at a time when the Government is pushing schools to join multi-academy trusts, approximately 34 per cent of current academies report no timetabled RE classes.

The 2021 Ofsted research review also identified barriers to high-quality RE teaching, which included an insufficient supply of properly well-equipped teachers.

Syllabi for the most popular RE qualifications, GCSEs, also routinely allow students to study just two religions to pass their exams, hardly amounting to an in-depth exploration of global spirituality.

As Ofsted guidance stresses, RE “affords students the opportunity to make sense of their own place in the world”, and it is hard to disagree with their point.

In light of increasingly polarised political debates, surely the school children set to come of age in this fractious landscape deserve to benefit from the millennia of ethical reflection offered by religious perspectives?

A familiarity with faith is also crucial in light of growing issues of religious extremism. Despite the growing presence of far-right ideologies, Islamist extremism remains the dominant terror threat in the United Kingdom.

As Dr Rakib Ehsan, a social cohesion expert,  told me, a broad RE curriculum “has the potential to cultivate social trust and mutual respect between young British people of different religious backgrounds,” including those across all groups who may be at risk of falling prey to extremism.

He also emphasised the possibility of interfaith cohesion through such a curriculum, stating that:

“There is much common ground to be struck when it comes to the family-oriented and community-spirited values that can be found under various belief systems.”

Surely secular and faith schools alike would benefit from a well-rounded education in the religions that have and continue to shape Britain and the world? As Camille Paglia, the atheist art scholar, stresses, religions represent “the metaphysical system that honours the largeness of the universe…. Without it, culture would revert to fear and despair.”

As a religious person I obviously appreciate the value of some doctrines in and of themselves. But surely regardless of one’s personal beliefs, an academic acquaintance with religion is essential to a balanced perspective?

This is particularly true when it comes to confronting history. How can one accurately study slavery and its opponents in Europe, for example, without grappling with the classical doctrine of “natural slaves”? The evangelism of the abolitionist Clapham Sect? The Catholic scholasticism that underpinned the Valladolid debates of sixteenth-century Spain?

The STEM obsession of successive Conservative governments has probably not helped the fate of RE, nor has it uniquely impacted it. All three English A-level courses saw entries fall by one fifth between 2016 and 2019, while STEM entries grew by the same proportion.

This followed the spurious claim, made by then-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in Autumn 2014, that it “couldn’t be further from the truth,” that arts and humanities subjects are useful.

While this is blatantly not the case when it comes to understanding art, culture and history at the least, these claims fail to line up even with purely material considerations. Indeed, the average post-graduation salaries of arts students are similar to their STEM counterparts.

It is an act of historical and social vandalism to dismiss the role of religion in Britain and beyond. The study of religion has just as much a place in the curriculum as maths, science, or other humanities subjects.

It is time schooling began to reflect the importance of religious studies, rather than pitting valuable disciplines against each other.

Brian Berry: Does the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill deliver for local house builders?

20 May

Brian Berry is the Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders. 

In the 1980s, 40 per cent of all new homes were delivered by small and micro housebuilders. Today, that figure is just 12 per cent.

Successive governments have failed to stem the tide of poorly implemented policy that has hacked away at the number of smaller housebuilders and threatened the delivery of high quality, locally sympathetic housing.

It’s against the test of reversing this worrying decline that the Government’s latest plans should be judged.

At the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), we have a proud history of supporting local tradespeople delivering quality builds for their communities against significant odds. From the London Blitz of 1941 to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the FMB has been the recognised voice of small, local builders, and become the largest trade body in the British construction sector.

And while FMB members are resilient, the marked decline in the number of small local housebuilders is a definite concern if the Government is truly serious about delivering the number of new homes that this country needs and expects.

Did the Queen’s Speech deliver?

I had hoped to see a step change in the Queen’s Speech to boost the sector. Small, local housebuilders deliver local homes, for local people, using local trades. What industry better embodies levelling up?

If the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is to truly deliver for communities, then it needs to bring on board the small and micro builders, as they are the ones that will deliver on the spirit of the Bill – homes fit for communities!

Unfortunately, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill isn’t the fully-fledged planning Bill many predicted.

It does, however, bring much needed simplification of the planning process for micro and SME builders, which is very welcome given that 61 per cent of FMB housebuilders cite planning as a barrier to delivering homes.

Moves to digitise the planning process, which will allow clarity on development status for builders and residents alike, is also a sensible way forward. Hopefully this will bring about greater transparency to the system.

After all, if we can track parcels, we all should be able to track planning applications.

Moves to shine a light on who owns land will also help small developers, 63 per cent of whom tell us a lack of available, suitable land is holding them back. Depending on the outcome of promised further engagement, consultations on reforming the Land Compensation Act, the new Infrastructure Levy, and environmental assessments could be transformative.

But they could also twist the knife further in terms of the viability of small developments. Small builders must have a seat at the table as these details are worked out.

It may be that more local engagement, when harnessed correctly, will help housebuilders. It could allow for fast-tracked planning permission for certain projects identified by the residents of a street, through so called ‘street votes’, which will boost the density of current housing stock and potentially deliver more homes. But we await detail on what these votes will truly mean.

However, greatly increased community engagement, focussing on design, material, and layout, has the potential to slow down and disrupt the viability of new homes.

Developments are complex issues, and the Government should be wary of potential unintended consequences. We’ve all been to town hall type meetings and observed the tendency for the loudest voice to win out over more balanced perspectives.

SME housebuilders already play their part in levelling up

SME housebuilders already sit at the heart of their communities, engaging with local people (their neighbours in many cases), delivering projects reflective of their local areas and building on underutilised land that larger developers wouldn’t touch.

The Government’s insistence that new homes should be high quality, more beautiful and part of the fabric of the local area is very welcome. But for many SMEs, and all FMB members, this is already their bread and butter.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, if properly executed and with plenty of engagement with SMEs, has the potential to be a turning point, because local housebuilders and levelling up go hand in hand.

It’s a positive for the industry that house building and levelling up fall under the same departmental remit. Levelling up is the perfect opportunity to address the problems that have over the last decade forced small housebuilders out of the housing market, namely the complexity of the planning system; access to finance; and availability of land.

SMEs also train the vast majority of apprentices, taking local talent and forging them into the next generation of tradespeople.

More SMEs delivering more quality homes will help bring down the cost of housing and make the dream of home ownership a reality of more people. At a time when we cannot escape cost of living pressures, supporting local builders makes economic sense.

Revitalising our high streets is another a key role that small housebuilders can play. There is significant untapped potential to create additional homes above shops, on or near the high street, which could help the regeneration of empty, dilapidated units.

So, where does the industry go from here?

We need to stop planning being a local lottery: all local authorities should be required to advertise small-site opportunities.

We must continue to support local government to better communicate with small builders, and to this end I’m hopeful that another rise in planning fees could support the introduction of SME liaison officers in more council areas.

National government must do that too, including on upcoming building regulation changes that will seek to make our builder not just better, but greener.

We must acknowledge the strain that delays in planning applications have on the finances and resources of small companies, and remove barriers where we can, not put additional ones in their way. We must note too it’s the smallest firms who have been hit the hardest by rises in the price of materials

Without the renaissance of the small builder, then we are wholly reliant on the major, corporate developers to help deliver our homes. And we know they will not reflect or benefit the local community in the same way; we’re just in for more cookie cutter housing developments.

We will have lost a proud industry and, I feel, failed a key driver of levelling up.

Susan Hall: Labour councils are badly run and that’s why we won in Harrow

20 May

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly and a councillor for Hatch End Ward in Harrow.

On learning of our victory in Harrow my (non-political) friend called exclaiming ‘What luck!’

My response?

It’s anything but luck.

Instead, a prime example of a community actually taking local politics seriously.

Harrow, previously branded the ‘officer led’ council, has been plagued with Labour in-fighting and rampant money wasting, squandering the opportunity their party had a few years ago. It should not take an administration in shambles and an angry electorate voting to change what has failed them, for local voters to vote for local issues.

This is not to lay the blame at the door of the millions of voters up and down this nation voting for the reasons they decide to. It is to challenge the long history of media discourse around local elections and how they present the locals as primarily a mirror, reflecting and providing insight into national politics.

So much talk around local politics is in relation to whichever dominant political party finds themselves with the top job and most MPs, which does a disservice to the thousands of hard-working councillors tirelessly serving their respective communities. Branding local politics as ‘lesser’ and only in relation to the ‘major league’ of MP Politics creates a top-heavy system, where ‘moving up’ in politics can become a powerful driving ambition. Colouring decision making, rather than working to tackle the job at hand and serve the communities that put them there. Again, a Conservative chosen as the first directly elected Mayor of Croydon is a cause for celebration, but we must find a way to get here without the upheaval and anguish that came before that electoral decision.

So let’s look at Harrow and why we did win; under Labour, services have been dreadful and Harrow taxpayers pay the third highest council tax in London. The unpopular ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ and costly cycle schemes that had to be reversed at further expense are but one example of Labour’s woeful mismanagement.

These have however brought us fabulous new activists who have been crucial to our campaign and hopefully next time round will be standing for us in the Council. New high rises have wrecked the look and feel of our borough and getting any response from council officers is harder than getting Keir Starmer to realise that he is a total hypocrite, thus a change was both required and inevitable.

My friend, not understanding my Starmer gripe, other than what has already made headlines, emphasises the problem. In a saturated world, we need to cut through in new and innovative ways to get our message across to those outside of the political bubble. All too few take any interest in politics and don’t fully understand that national and local politics are very different.

MPs and councillors are responsible for completely different things. Residents in Wandsworth and Westminster pay low Council tax and have great services, they have not lived under a Labour controlled council in years and thus are unaware of the harm done by hideously run councils, I hope for their sake they aren’t about to find out, but I won’t be betting on it.

However, in areas where people see their hard-earned money being wasted by badly run Labour Councils, they understand that things must change. Harrow and Croydon are testament to that. With the scandals over Croydon’s mismanagement of finances and the latest news of two million fraud being investigated by Police in Harrow it’s not a surprise that residents want a change.

Sadiq Khan is another Labour Politician who doesn’t seem to understand that money does not come from the Labour money tree, it’s hard earnt taxpayers’ money. Wasting so much of his £19bn budget and then pleading poverty to the Government he so frequently scorns. Like a child talking back to a parent, then demanding their pocket money, Khan so often bites the hand that feeds him.

One of Khan’s ridiculous ideas of charging motorists for driving in and out of London has worried many in outer London. This would damage businesses and be a massive burden to everyone but particularly those of us in the outer Boroughs so frequently disregarded by this Mayor. The silver lining of current cause and effect electoral results potentially predicts that Khan’s mismanagement of London will be his loss in a few years’ time. Despite the loss of fantastic councillors and flagship Councils I really do not believe that we Conservatives have lost London as some, especially in the media, are happy to say. We have got so many strong activists and dedicated councillors ready to take London politics forward in the years to come.

In Harrow we must thank our wonderful diverse communities, Bob Blackman is a fantastic constituency MP and people trust him, over time this has made a real difference to us electorally. We have new Tamil Councillors who will ingratiate us into their culture and provide essential diversity of thought and perspective in Harrow and indeed further across London. We are the party for the workers and entrepreneurs who do not want their hard-earned money wasted. These days, especially in London, one must be wealthy to afford Labour’s expensive mistakes and woke virtue signalling. I have every confidence that Westminster, Wandsworth, and Barnet will be returned to Conservative control, I just hope we won’t have to spend years repairing the devastation I fear will be wrought by Labour’s poor leadership and unwise spendthrifts.

We must celebrate our wins, but we must also reflect on how we can better serve and persuade voters to make informed decisions. Perhaps through our own dedicated storytelling we can fly the flag for why local politics is not simply a stop along the way, nor a way to protest the direction of the MPs and National Governance, but instead a chance to pick the leaders of each community who make a real and tangible impact on each and every life.

Statistical Notice 2022/09

19 May
Statistical Notices update the definitions and guidance contained in the Banking Statistics Yellow Folder