Andrew Mitchell: The Government’s Rwanda plan will be impractical, ineffective – and expensive

19 Apr

Andrew Mitchell MP is a former International Development Secretary.

The Government’s determination to tackle cross channel illegal immigration. No one can have anything but abhorrence and disgust for the people smugglers deathly business model is creditable. The Home Secretary deserves credit for her single-minded determination to stop this filthy trade.

But the Rwanda solution is impractical, likely to be ineffective and, above all, extremely expensive.

It is a myth that those crossing the Channel, and taking appalling risks in leaky boats, are African economic migrants looking for a cushy new life. If only that were true. The new plan to cart them off to central Africa makes no distinction between those fleeing persecution and economic migrants seeking to come here when they are not welcome.

Overwhelmingly, 87 per cent, are coming from four countries alone: Iran, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And historically, 75 per cent of them will receive permission to remain in the UK as legitimate refugees who qualify for asylum status.

Rwanda is a poor country; one of the most densely populated in the world. They receive refugees from Burundi, the Congo, and across central Africa because they are a beacon of stability in their locality – around 130,000 refugees in a country of 12 million people.

If I may answer the question my friend the minister was unable to answer at the weekend, yes, I’d certainly be happy to live in Rwanda. The history of the last 28 years is one of progress, recovery and reconstruction. When the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting takes place this June, Commonwealth leaders will see for themselves one of the greenest, cleanest most beautiful of capital cities, Kigali.

That, alas, is not the point.

Those who we seek to deport will not go to Rwanda willingly. I remember when similarly, we sought to expel so-called ‘Vietnamese boat people’ from Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Conservative ministers like Chris Patten and William Waldegrave were horrified at the pictures the media would procure of desperate people fighting the authorities putting them forcibly on to planes.

Those being deported will physically resist. They will super glue themselves to structures; the international media will show pictures of British officials forcing desperate people genuinely seeking asylum onto aeroplanes. Civilian planes may well not be willing to take off with detainees on board. Pilots won’t be willing to fly and their insurers won’t give them insurance.

So military aircraft, much needed for other activities, will have to undertake the task. Reluctant detainees on board will need to be handcuffed and manacled to avoid in-flight dangers.

Perversely, sending only single men may actually add to the “pull factor” we all want to discourage, by encouraging more people to come with either spontaneous or longstanding relationships.

Nor will people sent to Rwanda necessarily stay there; having already shown determination to start a new life in UK, they will start their long weary journey all over again. This is one of the reasons the Israeli government abandoned their attempt at a similar scheme with Rwanda.

For those arriving in the UK illicitly, once the scheme is up and running, there is a far greater likelihood of them disappearing within the UK unaccounted for and unaccountable.

And then there is the cost. We are already paying the Rwandan government a fee of £120 million and credible estimates, drawn up for the approach now abandoned by Australia, suggest it would be cheaper to put these poor people up in the splendour of the Ritz hotel.

Surely the Government won’t insult Parliament next week by asking for a vote in support of this policy without any idea of the costs involved? How would we explain this extraordinary lack of detail to our constituents?

So, what is the answer? There are four policy changes which Britain should pursue with vigour and which will largely have the desired effect.

First, we need to process initial claims in the UK and do so speedily. Rwanda deals with asylum claims in three months. We need to recruit more people to process claims in the UK. And we need to stop the ridiculous legal time-wasting circus which surrounds this process, leading to absurd legal delays.

Second, in the short term, the frankly appalling relations which currently exist with our nearest neighbour must be addressed. There are a wealth of excellent relationships at senior level with France and we need to re-energise these urgently. No serious progress will be made without France’s active cooperation or, at the least, passive acquiescence in what we need to do.

Thirdly, we need to introduce – as Lord Kirkhope, the minister for immigration under Michael Howard set out recently in the Lords – safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum. (He, as minister for immigration, holds the record for deporting the largest number of undesirables from the UK.)

David Cameron introduced safe and legal routes for Syrian refugees and more recently we have done it for Afghans and latterly Ukrainians. But such routes do not exist for others. If there are no safe and legal routes by which people can enter the UK, entry by definition will be illegal. This is not a tenable position.

Fourthly, we need to understand that this is part of a much bigger international problem. We need a new International Convention for refugees and migrants. The 1951 agreements are out of date; international travel has been revolutionised since then and climate change migration is likely to become an increasing push factor.

Without this new international agreement little progress will ultimately be made. Britain was central to negotiating the 1951 agreements and could be so again, using our pivotal role at the United Nations and the experience and skill of the world’s most effective diplomatic service.

I put this point to Boris Johnson on the 25th of July last year; a proposal he described as “excellent”. But nothing has happened since.

There is a better and more humane way of tackling the smugglers sordid and vile business model. Trying to bundle people indiscriminately onto planes for central Africa is a breach of our international undertakings, bad for our country’s and the Conservative Party’s reputation, eye wateringly expensive, and most unlikely to achieve its aim.

Michelle Lowe: Johnson has secured the Conservatives’ right flank – now we need to secure our left one

11 Feb

Michelle Lowe contested Coventry South at the General Election last year and is the former Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing & Health at Sevenoaks District Council.

The Southend West by-election result does not tell us very much except that UKIP is no longer much of a threat to the Conservatives. They not only lost their deposit but came after “spoilt ballot papers” and the Psychedelic Movement. Locally they have very few if any local councillors left after being spectacularly driven out in 2017. On top of that Reform UK only just about managed to keep their deposit in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election.

It seems that no matter how unhappy voters are with the Conservative Party, apart from in the opinion polls, there does not seem to be much evidence of them actually switching to Labour in elections. The Lib Dems and Greens are, however, a different story. Not only did the Lib Dems win both the Chesham and Amersham by-election as well as North Shropshire, both parties are capturing more and more council seats in the South East. They will no doubt use their growing local government base to start attempting to capture Westminster seats at the next General Election.

Knowing that they are unlikely to form a Government any time soon, both the Lib Dems and Greens are shamelessly disingenuous in their promises. They claim there is no need for any more house building or large infrastructure projects such as HS2, but somehow they will also manage to find homes for young people and provide greener travel. For a party of government this is the impossible circle that Michael Gove is trying to square. How can he close the generation divide and make sure there are enough homes for young people to buy, while protecting the countryside?

To win in the affluent South East the party not only has to find a solution to the development problem, but it will have to be strong on social justice issues all round. Andrew Mitchell told the House of Commons last July that Chesham and Amersham has the biggest Christian Aid group in the country. The cut in foreign aid spending that is popular in some places probably helped to elect Sarah Green as the MP in Chesham and Amersham.

The Government’s new Levelling Up White Paper is attempting to address some of the social injustices that exist and were no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic. Focusing on infrastructure, schools, the NHS and low income households while empowering local government to deliver for its communities – the white paper is moving in the right direction.

In 2019 we suffered a terrible set of local government election results losing control of 44 councils and 1,330 councillors. In the South East the Lib Dems and Greens built on these results during the county council elections last year, and the Lib Dems and Greens now have a firmer foundation on which to try and win Westminster seats. They are very good at targeting specific seats where they are strong and not competing against each other. Once elected they blame the Government for not being able to deliver on its election pledges. They are leaving a patchwork quilt of rainbow coalitions that often include independents as well – and the glue that holds them together is their hatred of us!

In Sevenoaks, where I was Deputy Leader until I stood down in 2019, we held back the anti-Tory tide that year with a strong local brand that combined fiscal responsibility and efficiency, with compassion. Voters were not going to risk their weekly bin collection and low council tax by voting Green or Lib Dem – especially when their local Conservatives were also building Dementia friendly towns and villages and rolling out social prescribing to help with their wellbeing. So their consciences were clear. Unfortunately, the Town Council and County council brands were not so strong – losing the town council in 2019 and the County seat in 2021. Sevenoaks was by no means the only place where success was achieved – nationally we can learn a lot from these places.

So with local elections this year and next, and a General Election taking place sometime before December 2024 we can relax a bit from UKIP and Reform UK – but we need to prepare to defend our traditional heartlands from the Lib Dems and Greens by making clear they are not up for grabs. We have to find a way to protect our countryside while still building homes for young people, and we have to actively promote social justice and equality of opportunity. We must be seen as fiscally responsible and efficient but we must also make sure people know we care.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson and his supporters begin to hope the parties are yesterday’s news

2 Feb

How ebullient Boris Johnson looked and sounded today. He spoke as a man full of hope for himself and his country, two entities whose fortunes he wishes never to see sundered.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, had just explained that if honourable members were allowed to call each other liars, this would lead to “fruitless cycles of accusation and counter-accusation”.

Sir Lindsay is right about this: one cannot hold a debate with someone whom one accuses of lying.

Sir Keir Starmer instead accused Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists”, a reference to the Jimmy Savile jibe on Monday. Johnson retorted that in 2013 Sir Keir “apologised and took full responsibility for what had happened on his watch, and Mr Speaker I think that was the right thing to do”.

To general relief, Sir Keir then changed the subject and attacked the Government for raising taxes.

Here is an argument well worth having, and it is good to see the Opposition making the argument for lower taxes.

Johnson hymned with trenchancy and emotion the living wage.

Sir Keir: “Lots of words, lots of bluster, no answers. A word of warning, Mr Speaker, That’s not going to work with the police.”

There is a smile Johnson sometimes gives, and quite often gave today, when he sees how he is going to respond. He worked in a reference to the note left by the last Labour Chief Secretary about there being no money left.

Soon he was accusing “the party of Nye Bevan” of having voted against various wonderful improvements to the NHS made by the present Government.

So we have an almost complete reversal of roles, or theft of each other’s policies.

Ian Blackford, for the SNP, stuck with parties, but went on too long, and got nowhere.

Would we now get a David Davis or an Andrew Mitchell, or perhaps some obscure but emerging Tory MP, who would condemn the PM from the back benches?

No. Johnson’s own troops, or those of them who were called, were amiable towards him. Priti Patel, sitting beside him on the front bench, looked happy, whereas on Monday she was grave and tense.

The Prime Minister and his supporters begin to hope that the parties are yesterday’s news, people have become bored by the constantly repeated allegations, and new and more fruitful subjects will command the nation’s attention.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Hard to remember a grimmer two hours for Johnson

31 Jan

Hard to remember a more sombre afternoon in the House of Commons. Before Boris Johnson rose to speak, Dominic Raab looked so pale and anxious one wondered if he had slept at all.

Priti Patel was grave and tense, and even Jacob Rees-Mogg had lost his natural ebullience.

Were they here for Johnson’s funeral? No, but at the start of many of the Prime Minister’s replies there was an unaccustomed croak in his voice.

“Firstly I want to say sorry,” he began. He was “sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right…we must look ourselves in the mirror and we must learn.”

No levity, no ridiculing of his critics, could be allowed to cast doubt on the sincerity of this repentance. Here was the Prime Minister in self-sacrificial mode, seeking to show he felt the agony of all those who, because they obeyed the rules, had to leave some family member to die alone.

“I get it and I will fix it,” Johnson declared to Opposition jeers.

Sir Keir Starmer made, as usual, a lucid case, but as usual could bring no extra weight of emotion to bear, and sounded faintly pious.

Theresa May said in her most Anglican tone that the task of the Prime Minister is to “set an example”, and indicated that one way or another, Johnson had failed to do so.

Either he had not read the rules, or he had not understood them, or he thought they did not apply to Number Ten: “Which was it?”

Johnson replied, in as unindignant tone as he could manage, that this was not what Sue Gray’s report had said.

Ian Blackford, for the SNP, accused Johnson of misleading the House, was given every opportunity by the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to withdraw the charge, declined to do so, and had therefore to leave.

It was so evident that Blackford was acting for party advantage that he slightly eased the pressure on Johnson.

Andrew Mitchell (Con, Sutton Coldfield), who was wearing a black tie, increased the pressure again. He remarked that for 30 years he had given “full-throated support” to Johnson, and went on: “I have to tell him he no longer enjoys my support”.

This was perhaps the unkindest cut of all. When Johnson set out in the 1990s to run for the European Parliament, it was Mitchell who in the face of intense pressure kept him on the candidates’ list.

There was a sort of haplessness about Johnson. He could not play his natural game, but had to stand, as it were, in the stocks, and allow himself to be pelted.

Aaron Bell (Con, Newcastle-under-Lyme) described how he had himself obeyed the Covid rules as they pertained to his grandmother’s funeral: “Does the Prime Minister think that I’m a fool?”

What a slap in the face. A considerable number of Conservatives sought to praise Johnson, but none could change the atmosphere of a very grim two hours.

Profile: Steve Baker, Christian Conservative, ERG organiser, small stater – and thorn in Johnson’s side

22 Dec

“The more Steve Baker is in the papers, the worse the Conservative Party is doing,” a senior Tory remarked this week.

Baker is in the papers quite a bit. Sam Coates of Sky News reported a few days ago that Baker had sacked Nadine Dorries from the “Clean Global Brexit” WhatsApp group of Tory MPs, after she had the temerity to defend Boris Johnson as “the hero who delivered Brexit”.

“Enough is enough,” Baker declared on removing her, and posted a thumbs-up emoji of himself, before suggesting that the Conservatives’ victory at the last general election was by no means entirely thanks to Johnson:

“Someone (ahem) but not him persuaded Farage not to run against incumbents.”

George Parker of The Financial Times cites another striking comment by Baker, made during last week’s rebellion by 99 Conservative backbenchers:

“There is now a party within a party,” winced one Tory official after the Commons vote. Steve Baker, a former minister, quoted Romans to fellow rebels in a WhatsApp message, urging them to show magnanimity as they inflicted humiliation on the prime minister: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Baker’s Christian faith is more important to him than his politics, though for most purposes the two are indistinguishable. He was baptised in the sea off his native Cornwall as a teenager, and told Sebastian Whale, who wrote a long piece about him for PoliticsHome at the start of 2020:

“‘It is absolutely fundamental to who I am that I am a Christian. I don’t think of myself as a religious person, I just am a Christian.’… When asked if there is space for religion and politics to co-exist, Baker replies: ‘What happens I’m afraid with my Christian brothers and sisters, as so often in politics, is they allow themselves to be shown the landmine and then they jump on the landmine with both feet.’ His political mantra is: ‘Do not give into evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it.'”

His determination to combine confrontation of evil with practical politics is seen in his role as the principal organiser of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Conservatives.

“He is one of the most organised and effective people you could work with,” a senior ERG person told ConHome. “He understands technology – he knows how to make systems work.”

But Baker is no dry-as-dust technocrat, Two days before the third Meaningful Vote, held on 29th March 2019, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, told Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee that if they voted for the Withdrawal Agreement, she would in due course stand down as Prime Minister and as their leader.

The pressure on members of the ERG to support the deal was intense, with other Conservatives shouting at them to do so. But immediately afterwards, the ERG held a meeting of its own, which was addressed by Baker, who said:

“I am consumed by a ferocious rage…after that pantomime of sycophancy and bullying next door.

“It is a rage I have not felt since the time of the Lisbon Treaty, when I realised that those who govern us care not how we vote.

“For what did our forebears fight and die? It was for our liberty. And what is our liberty, if not our right to govern ourselves, peacefully at the ballot box?

“Like all of you, I have wrestled with my conscience, with the evidence before me, with the text of the Treaty, and I resolved that I would vote against this deal however often it was presented, come what may, if it meant the fall of the Government and the destruction of the Conservative Party.

“By God, right now, if I think of the worthless, ignorant cowards and knaves in the House today, voting for things they do not understand, which would surrender our right to govern ourselves, I would tear this building down and bulldoze the rubble into the river. God help me, I would.”

The speech is printed in Spartan Victory, by Mark Francois, which will be reviewed on ConHome in January. And one can perhaps see from it why someone like Andrew Mitchell, in whose recent book, reviewed here in October, Baker is not mentioned once, nevertheless told ConHome:

“Steve Baker is as straight as a die. He is unusual in politics in that he says what he thinks and means what he says. His instincts on liberty and the rights of the citizen are thoroughly admirable.”

But some Tories do find Baker, with his willingness to contemplate the fall of the Government, destruction of the Conservative Party and demolition of Parliament, a bit much to take.

In his Diaries, reviewed here in May, Sir Alan Duncan, admittedly a man ready to be annoyed, variously describes Baker as “the most useless minister”, “the little wanker”, “the vacuous little upstart”, “the turd” and “the nutjob” who “should be taken away by the men in white coats and certified as clinically insane”.

One cannot help feeling astonished that Conservative Party has remained, roughly speaking, intact.

Baker was born in Cornwall in 1971. His father was a carpenter and his mother an accounting clerk. He was educated at Poltair School in St Austell, studied Aerospace Engineering at Southampton University, and served in the RAF until 1999, after which he took an MSc in Computation at St Cross College, Oxford and held a variety of senior positions as a software engineer and consultant. His wife, Beth, served as a senior officer in the RAF medical branch until 2010.

His enthusiasms include skydiving, motorcycling, and Austrian economics, about which he discoursed with evangelical fervour when interviewed by ConHome in 2014.

The economics, and his conviction that a small state is better for the poor, came before the politics. Daniel Hannan has said of him:

“He is one of the few people who I have seen physically flinch at the thought of the Government spending more money. Really, his issue was not initially the EU except insofar as he was generally sceptical of big government and saw the EU as part of that. The Euroscepticism developed out of that.”

Wycombe was the first seat Baker put in for, and with his innocent boyish sincerity, and a twinkle in his eye, he carried all before him, and defeated Kwasi Kwarteng in the final of the selection process.

He was elected in 2010 with a majority of 9,560, which shrank in 2019 to 4,214. In Parliament, he has distinguished himself as an organiser of rebellions.

After the 2017 general election, Theresa May made him a junior minister in the Brexit department, but after she had tried to sell her version of Brexit to the Cabinet at Chequers in the summer of 2018, and his departmental minister, David Davis, had resigned, Baker too resigned, and resumed the life of a rebel organiser, for which, perhaps, he is better suited.

And yet most insurgents dream of taking over one day. That, along with the moral unacceptability of the present regime, is why they rebelled in the first place.

One may surmise that Baker is not spared such visions. He sees with brilliant clarity how he would reform the banking system, so at last it accords with the principles set down by Cobden and von Mises.

Baker is only 50. He is said to want, like most of his colleagues, to succeed Boris Johnson as leader. In August of this year, he got 4.69 per cent in the first ConHome Next Tory Leader survey for two years. He can build on that.

Andrew Mitchell’s entertaining memoir shows the British Establishment riven by dissent

23 Oct

Beyond a Fringe: Tales from a Reformed Establishment Lackey by Andrew Mitchell

A distinguishing feature of present-day members of the Establishment is their insistence, usually quite sincere, that they do not belong to it.

Andrew Mitchell says in his Preface that he “resigned” from the Establishment in 2013. He makes it sound like the Garrick Club, from which it is indeed possible to resign.

Leaving the Establishment is more complicated. Mitchell was born into it: his father, Sir David Mitchell, was a Conservative MP for 33 years.

And Mitchell himself has passed, as he writes, “through most British Establishment institutions”, including prep and public school, the Army, Cambridge, the City of London, the House of Commons and the Cabinet.

His account of his experiences is often highly entertaining, though there are moments, oddly enough, when one could have wished for more detail, as in this scene from 2007 after David Cameron had addressed the Rwandan Parliament:

“Inevitably tempers frayed and later in the day David had to intervene physically to stop a fight breaking out between me and Steve Hilton, who has a ferocious temper. In spite of being nearly a foot shorter than me, he was poised to spring into a violent attack.”

In this vignette, we begin to see that the Establishment, which may seem from the outside, or in lazy journalistic usage, to be a monolithic organisation with a single Establishment view, is actually riven by dissent.

Hilton wants to beat up Mitchell. No doubt from Hilton’s point of view, Mitchell had been unbelievably annoying, probably by insisting on some point with which Hilton disagreed.

All three men were under severe strain, for there were floods in Witney, Cameron’s constituency, and the press was attacking him for instead being in Africa, advertising the Conservative Party’s new approach to international aid.

The Establishment engages in continual argument. Its greatest institution, the House of Commons, is set up for argument, so too are the law courts and so is the press.

The Conservative Party has survived, indeed flourished, by having the necessary arguments, including the argument about Europe.

This is something which people who see disagreement as a sign of failure – who presume, in their innocence, that politics can be reduced to an ideology, a set of immutable principles – will never understand. To them, Boris Johnson will remain incomprehensible, and so will the Conservative Party.

Mitchell has an amusing chapter entitled “Boris: My Part in his Ascent”. In 1992, John Major had made Mitchell the Vice-Chairman in charge of the Candidates’ Department at Conservative Central Office.

In June 1993, Johnson applied to become a Conservative candidate. He wanted at that point to be an MEP, not an MP.

Richard Simmonds, the senior MEP on the selection board, said Johnson would be admitted to the candidates’ list “over my dead body”. At the crucial meeting of the assessors, the merits of the 47 other applicants were quite quickly decided, but a tremendous argument developed over Johnson:

“Ned Dawnay was firm: Boris was a most impressive applicant; he was clearly a proper Conservative; his intellect, knowledge and energy marked him out; he must be admitted. Richard Simmonds, supported by the other five MEPs, was adamant: Boris was a cynical journalist, a chancer, a brand not a politician, a less than honest political thorn in Prime Minister Major’s side; taking him into the party’s candidates list would be embarrassing for the Conservative group in the European Parliament. Were he to be elected as an MEP it would be a nightmare.”

Mitchell gets Johnson on the list by one vote; tells the Party Chairman, Norman Fowler, that he, Mitchell, will resign if the decision is overturned; but is summoned to see John Major in the Prime Minister’s office behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons:

“The meeting did not start well. As I entered his office, he was standing by the fireplace. ‘Ah, Andrew, thanks for coming: what the fuck do you mean by putting Boris Johnson on the candidates’ list?'”

As part of his explanation to Major, Mitchell says he has extracted an agreement from Johnson not to stand in a winnable European seat. Johnson scrapes through onto the list, soon afterwards tries to stand in a winnable European seat, is dissuaded by Mitchell from doing so, but in 1997 stands instead for the then unwinnable Commons seat of Clwyd South.

We see the Conservative Party having the necessary argument about whether or not Johnson is a fit and proper person to become one of its candidates, and perhaps, in due course, a senior member of the Establishment.

Anyone thinking of embarking on a political career could with profit read Mitchell’s memoir, and so could anyone who wants to know how Conservative policy on international aid was revolutionised after 2005, with the author serving first as Shadow International Development Secretary and then from 2010 in the actual job.

A paradox of elective systems is that one needs, generally speaking, to possess more than normal push in order to put oneself forward. A reluctant sense of public duty is not generally speaking enough.

Mitchell is a gung-ho character: he goes for things; at an early stage runs for and gets the Presidency of the Cambridge Union, a school of argument.

The question in politics, perhaps in life generally, is when, having gone for something, to settle, as the lawyers put it. And this is what goes wrong in Plebgate, the wretched altercation in 2012 between Mitchell and the police officers guarding the Downing Street gates.

Some of the officers behaved abominably: that was established by, among others, the journalist Michael Crick. There was a public interest in having the necessary argument about this: almost a decade later and after much worse failings have come to light, the condition of the Metropolitan Police continues to be a cause of grave concern.

But Mitchell overplayed his hand: as he himself says, instead of walking away with his reputation “largely restored”, he made the “fatal mistake” of suing The Sun for libel, and lost. The ordeal is set out here.

Part of the delight and terror of politics is the sheer unexpectedness with which one can rise and fall, the snakes and ladders aspect to it. Perhaps that unpredictability is one of the things people like about Johnson.

In 2019 Mitchell obtains various assurances from Johnson – the preservation of the 0.7 per cent aid target, DfID to remain an independent department, Mitchell himself to play some key though not quite specified role – and backs him for the leadership:

“I was genuinely surprised and dismayed at the incredibly strong and angry reaction of many of my closest friends who regarded my support for Boris as simply unconscionable. The reaction of my children was unprintable. At a Robert Harris book launch attended by many of my old friends from Cambridge days I was literally put up against a wall, interrogated and denounced.”

The Establishment was divided against itself. In the 1990s Mitchell served as a Whip, and one evening was told to go and give Sir Peter Tapsell “a bollocking” for voting against the Government. This Mitchell could not do: Tapsell was far too senior and dignified a figure to be bollocked.

So Mitchell instead walked silently at Tapsell’s side, in the early hours of the morning, down the stairs through the Members’ Lobby and out through the cloakroom at the Members’ Entrance, hoping “he would feel the reproach of a younger colleague through my silence”.

As they left the Members’ Entrance, Tapsell turned to him and said:

“You see, Andrew, there is nothing I want from your office. I am rich – very rich – I advise central bankers around the world; I am already a knight and I certainly have no wish whatsoever to be a member of this benighted government. The only thing I want is to have my dead son back, and there is nothing you can do about that.”

Andrew Mitchell: It is past time the Government renegotiated our extradition treaty with the United States

30 Jul

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.

Often the political events that really matter involve neither Parliament nor politicians. As the House of Commons packed up for the summer last week, a decision made in a courtroom on the other side of the City of Westminster raised serious questions about the UK’s sovereignty.

There, a judge ruled that the British entrepreneur Mike Lynch should be extradited to the United States because – in short – the US Department of Justice had said that such an extradition should happen.

It didn’t matter that the High Court in London had spent ten months considering allegations against Dr Lynch but not yet handed down its judgement. It didn’t matter that Dr Lynch’s business was based in London. It certainly didn’t matter that he was one of the most successful British businessmen of the last twenty years, with the creation of two massive listed companies to his name – Autonomy and Darktrace.

The only thing that carried any weight, in the end, was the UK’s extradition treaty with the US. This makes it far easier for the US to extradite Britons, than it is for the UK to extradite Americans.

It is unfair. But that is not the sole problem.

The treaty’s original purpose was to be a tool in the fight against terrorism. Today, the majority of extraditions concern non-violent alleged offences as US prosecutors appear to target not simply white-collar criminals in general terms, but businesspeople who have fallen out with corporate America. It has become, in other words, a tool to exert economic pressure on the UK, and some of us are deeply troubled by this.

Summer recess always meant carrying on with politics in a different place. The pandemic has seen my colleagues grow even better at making their views known from their constituencies. All of us are adept at communicating and campaigning remotely and this summer, in the light of that court decision, extradition is a real focus.

It is once again a subject in MPs’ virtual mailbags. The treaty destroys lives, one correspondent wrote to me, and there is an opportunity now to stand up to US whims. I do not see the US as whimsical; it is a vital ally. But I, like many Conservatives, think the extradition system cannot be allowed to stand in its current form.

The UK’s readiness to comply is not an international norm. France, for example, does not extradite its own citizens. Courts there have legal authority to prosecute crimes committed by Frenchmen and women overseas. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are among other “non-extradition” states.

Our arrangements with EU nations, meanwhile, are similarly unbalanced. Twenty European countries are refusing to guarantee that suspected criminals among their own citizens can be extradited to the UK.

For Britain, a moment of truth is upon us. The Home Secretary must now decide whether to agree to the extradition of Dr Lynch. If she grants the extradition he will appeal, but she should, at the very least, delay until a pending judgement in the High Court case that considered the allegations against him is published. She would be wise to go further and suspend all extraditions for those not facing allegations of sexual or violent offences until a review of our entire extradition system is complete.

The American Treaty is a hotch-potch of Tony Blair’s creation that is condemned anew with each fresh, monstrous decision, whether it is the pursuit of computer hacker by Gary McKinnon – who was saved only by Theresa May’s personal intervention – or the blank refusal of the US to yield up Anne Sacoolas, accused of causing the death by dangerous driving of Harry Dunn in Northamptonshire.

It beggars belief that for all the outrage the Treaty remains in place. Many Conservatives are determined that this state of affairs must not remain unchallenged.

The foreign secretary Dominic Raab once argued that while some would sigh at the hassle of renegotiating this extradition agreement, the liberty of our citizens must be put ahead of diplomatic inconvenience. I agree.

Until that renegotiation comes, a risk hangs over citizens working in this country: fall out with a US company and you could be seized by US officials. The situation is bad for business, bad for relations with our closest ally, and overdue for change.

Profile of an ex-Prime Minister: Theresa May becomes the voice of Conservative conscience

24 Jun

“I think she has enhanced her reputation since leaving Downing Street, where she never looked comfortable.”

So said Andrew Mitchell, former International Development Secretary, of Theresa May, former Prime Minister.

Mitchell observed that as the only former PM in either the Commons or the Lords, she is “an important parliamentarian”:

“The first point is that she’s stayed in the House. Her interventions are incredibly telling. She speaks with enormous authority, she speaks up for her constituents, and she basically tries to keep the Government straight.”

Another former minister, an old friend of May, remarked on her “morality”, and added “there is a difference”.

He meant there is a difference between her and the present Prime Minister. Her contributions in the Commons, presented in easily accessible form by Hansard, display several qualities not always evinced by Boris Johnson.

She offers almost nothing in the way of entertainment, but concentrates on the matter in hand, to which she applies her prosaic but furiously logical mind, her mastery of detail and an icy Anglican conscientiousness.

These qualities did not suffice to make her a successful Prime Minister, but help fit her to hold the present incumbent to account.

When in her view he is behaving badly, she is on hand to tell him so. And because she is generally the first backbencher on the Conservative side to be called, he can quite often enjoy the pleasure of listening to her, and had to send her a note of apology after a recent occasion when he fled the Chamber just as she rose to speak.

The causes which command her attention include the Government’s handling of the pandemic; the proposed relaxation of planning laws; the abandonment of the 0.7 per cent manifesto commitment on international aid (no doubt one reason for Mitchell’s approval); sentences for causing death by dangerous driving (she wants life); modern slavery; mental health; domestic abuse; and various other tough, complicated, unfashionable matters on which she got a grip as Home Secretary.

As MP since 1997 for Maidenhead, she has always, as one long-term observer says, “been allergic to more houses in Maidenhead”, and can be relied on to demand: “Why can’t they put them somewhere else?”

Her majority at the general election of 2019 was 18,846, but in 2001 fell as low as 3,284. Nobody had to tell her the Lib Dems posed a danger in Chesham and Amersham.

May as PM found it impossible to assemble a sufficient coalition of parliamentary or popular support, but loss of office has liberated her to become the voice of a certain kind of Tory conscience.

She expresses a dutiful, deeply felt, traditional conservatism, and strives to expose the various ways in which, to some Conservatives, the present government is scandalously disreputable and unprofessional.

Here she is last September on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill:

“I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am that a Conservative Government are willing to go back on their word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.”

And here she is in the debate on 10th June on the aviation, travel and tourism industries, when Robert Courts, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport, was on the receiving end of this reproof:

“This is a disappointing debate, because one year and one week ago this very issue was raised in this House… One year on, we are no further forward. Indeed, we have a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business.

More than not being any further forward, we have gone backwards. We now have more than 50 per cent of the adult population vaccinated—it is a wonderful programme—yet we are more restricted on travel than we were last year. In 2020, I went to Switzerland in August and South Korea in September. There was no vaccine but travel was possible. This year, there is a vaccine but travel is not possible. I really do not understand the Government’s stance.

Of course, it is permissible for a person to travel to countries on the amber list, provided that it is practicable for them to quarantine when they come back, but Government Ministers tell people that they must not travel and cannot go on holiday to places on the amber list. The messaging is mixed and the system is chaotic. Portugal was put on the green list, people went to the football, then Portugal was put on the amber list, leaving holidaymakers scrabbling for flights and devastated families having to cancel their plans… 

Business travel is practically impossible: global Britain has shut its doors to business and investors. In a normal pre-pandemic year, passengers travelling through Heathrow spent £16 billion throughout the country, including at places such as Legoland Windsor, which is partly in my constituency. That has been lost…

If the Government’s position is that we cannot open up travel until there are no new variants elsewhere in the world, we will never be able to travel abroad ever again…The Government may say all they have, as the Minister has, about the importance of the aviation industry, but they need to decide whether they want an airline industry and aviation sector in the UK or not, because at the rate they are going, they will not have one.”

“What’s her game?” people ask, but her style of debating is effective because there is no sign of any game being played. She is in deadly earnest.

“Most of the time I think she’s right and therefore effective,” the old friend and former minister quoted above said. “She shifts the dial.

“But one warning: don’t do too much of it.”

The obvious danger, he added, was that she would “turn into Ted Heath”.

It would be impossible for May to reach the stratospheric level of grumpiness maintained for a quarter of a century by Heath after he was overthrown by Margaret Thatcher, but one guesses she finds little to admire in her successor.

Heath – in the words of Douglas Hurd, who worked for him – struck, when attacking Harold Wilson’s style of government in the introduction to the 1970 Conservative manifesto,

“a note of genuine puritan protest, which is familiar in British history, sometimes in one party, sometimes in the other… It is the outraged assertion of a strict view of what public life is about, after a period in which its rules have been perverted and its atmosphere corrupted.”

Sir Keir Starmer hesitates to sound unrelentingly high-minded. May has no such qualms. At the time of the 1970 general election she was 13, and had already started working for the local Conservatives as a volunteer.

Another of May’s old friends says of her and Johnson: “She must despise him, and she must look at him and think how can he be there and I was dumped so humiliatingly.

“But honestly, I have no idea what goes on in her brain – nobody does.”

Yet in this week’s Spectator, James Forsyth offers a hint of what is going on there:

“I’m told that when May was canvassing at the Chesham and Amersham by-election, she took a certain pleasure in telling the campaign team about voters who said they weren’t voting Conservative because of Johnson.”

Lord Lexden, official historian to the Conservative Party, places the change in May’s demeanour in perspective:

“One might almost feel that it was worth the agony of the premiership to get this serene and rather impressive elder stateswoman. She is a powerful rebuke to Blair, Brown and Cameron who scuttled off indecorously after leaving Number 10. She is demonstrating again that ex-premiers can find a useful role in the Commons, which Heath’s unseemly behaviour had rather suggested might be impossible in modern politics.

“She remains at the political service of the nation, as no ex-premier since Douglas-Home has realistically been. Arthur Balfour left No 10 in 1905 after a disastrous three-year premiership with the party divided and in deep disarray. Rehabilitation followed quite quickly, and he held major offices in later governments, finally retiring at the age of eighty.  Here is an example for Mrs May to keep in mind.”