Terry Barnes: The significance of this new U.S-UK-Australia security pact – and Johnson’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific

17 Sep

Terry Barnes advised Tony Abbott when he was a Cabinet minister in John Howard’s government.

It may have been missed in Britain midst the excitement of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle and the attention-greedy Sussexes making the cover of Time, but this week’s announcement by Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Scott Morrison of a ‘trilateral security partnership’, to be known as AUKUS, is hugely significant.

It is to be a relationship of defence, technological and security cooperation. While it essentially formalises existing exchanges between three traditional allies, that in itself has historic strategic and geopolitical implications.

Here in Australia, this announcement is huge news. Not only is Australia formalising a security pact with her two greatest and closest traditional allies, but she is also being admitted by the US and UK into a very select club: countries operating nuclear-powered submarines. Morrison’s government is thereby walking away from a costly but irretrievably dysfunctional contract with the French to co-build a dozen conventional next-generation submarines, exposing itself to billions of dollars in termination costs.  But this hasn’t been a deal-breaker.

That AUKUS was announced, within eight months of the next Australian general election, is even more significant. It’s one thing for a conservative government to sign such a security agreement and pursue nuclear submarines. It’s quite another for a traditionally anti-nuclear and US-skeptical Labor party opposition to endorse such a radical reshaping of Australia’s national security framework. Yet it has – today publicly committed itself to the agreement should Labor win next year’s election, a possibility if opinion polls are right.

Furthermore, just weeks after marking its 70th anniversary, the joint announcement confirms that the ANZUS alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States is officially dead.

New Zealand suspended ANZUS almost 40 years ago, because it refused to allow US nuclear-powered ships into her ports: this week, Jacinda Ardern insisted that this bar would apply to nuclear-powered Australian submarines as well. Since New Zealand’s inflexible opposition to nuclear-powered ships sits with Ardern’s refusal to join any Five Eyes strategic arrangements that might antagonise China, AUKUS effectively kills off whatever vestiges of ANZUS are left.

Australia, on the other hand, has been increasingly vocal about the Chinese regime’s geostrategic muscle-flexing, as well as its internal behaviour. Morrison was the first world leader to demand that China account for the origin and escape of Covid-19 from Wuhan, and has given his MPs free rein to criticise China’s strategic ambitions and human rights record – despite the regime’s wolf warrior bullying diplomacy and trade retaliations. AUKUS reminds Xi Jinping that ‘little’ Australia has great and powerful friends, and that she does not stand alone in calling out his bullying.

Jinping certainly should sit up and take note of this critical new development. The two great Anglosphere powers are joining a third, Australia, in making it emphatically clear to China and the world that the Pacific and Indian oceans are not Chinese lakes. The UK and US giving Australia nuclear-powered submarine capability – with the speed, endurance and stealth that this capability ensures – means that there will be a local nuclear-powered, if not nuclear-armed deterrent straddling the approaches to busiest blue water sea-lanes in the world running through the South China Sea.

But from Britain’s perspective, this is a truly remarkable strategic development, the significance of which may not be immediately realised outside Whitehall.

AUKUS is not just sending HMS Queen Elizabeth through the Indian and Pacific Oceans to make an important but nevertheless symbolic freedom of navigation gesture to demonstrate Britain’s resistance to China’s increasingly bellicose aggression. For the first time in the half a century since she withdrew a standing presence from east of Suez, the United Kingdom is joining a formal geostrategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific.

That sends not only a starkly clear message to China: it reassures the entire Indo-Pacific region, and especially India, Japan, and South Korea – and Hong Kong and Taiwan – that their security interests are also British interests. Johnson, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss – fresh from negotiating, with Australia, Britain’s first post-Brexit free trade deal – have grasped the importance and necessity of the UK re-engaging in the Indo-Pacific strategically as well as economically.

And the United States benefits, too, in that strengthening the offensive as well as the defensive capability of a key regional ally in Australia will, in time, ease the burden of what Paul Kennedy years ago called ‘imperial overstretch’. Biden may have forgotten Morrison’s name in the leaders’ announcement hook-up, but surely realises how strategically important a politically stable, but strategically-strengthened, Australia will be to the overall peace and stability of the entire Indo-Pacific region.

To be sure, in Britain this announcement was overshadowed by other events. But in the longer term, AUKUS may well be part of any tangible and lasting legacy of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

John Baron: We need a new defence alliance with other allies as well as the United States

6 Sep

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

The precipitous collapse of the post 9/11 Afghan state has taken the world’s chanceries by surprise, and reminded them that no-one can accurately predict the future, just as the Iranian Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union reminded previous generations of this simple fact.

This mistaken intervention sits alongside Iraq, Libya and Syria. The lessons of this defeat though need to be particularly heeded – fine intentions and phrases in the Integrated Review are worthless if the required realpolitik and strategies are sidelined. If not, such an approach will not just prove illusory, but also dangerous.

The fundamental error in Afghanistan was to allow the initial, limited and well-resourced mission to expel al-Qaeda in 2001 to morph into the much wider intervention of nation-building. The Armed Forces deserve our fullest praise. However, as we showed in Northern Ireland, soldiers can only buy time. The politicians may now have accepted their error of trying to reshape the world in our image, but the mistakes regarding the intelligence that accompanied those interventions have yet to be heeded.

The first chapter of the Butler Review into the Iraq War contains an insightful section on the nature and limitations of intelligence and, by extension, of basing a strategy entirely on it. In particular, it highlights the differences between ‘secrets’ – which can be detected – and ‘mysteries’ – which can not. Although we knew the ‘secret’ of how much training, men and equipment the Afghan security forces had, we did not know the ‘mystery’ of how the Afghan troops would react to the advancing Taliban.

Part of the problem is the lack of intelligence on the ground. Technology and satellites, useful though they are, can only tell you so much. In recent decades the dull slog of human reporting has taken a back seat to the technological revolution, in which the US and its allies have created a formidable apparatus to intercept and analyse electronic communications. Though highly effective, it falls down when your adversary eschews modern communications – as indications suggest the Taliban may have done at key moments.

First-in-class technology has to be complemented with better political reporting and intelligence on the ground. In the Foreign Office’s internal review into why it was caught unawares by the Iranian revolution, Nicholas Browne noted that the reporting from those officials who had travelled around Iran in the months and years before the revolution had generally caught the public mood much better than the reporting from Tehran. For these reasons, much of our picture of what is going on in large parts of the world is a heady mixture of incomplete information and informed judgement, both of which can lead us down the wrong alley.

Yet since 9/11, we have placed enormous store on this mixture and have, as a result, often made substantial errors. The worst was the central premise of the Iraq War – weapons of mass destruction were never found. The Libyan intervention was in part informed by confident yet mistaken assessments that Libyans would subsequently embrace multi-party democracy. Optimistic judgements that Afghan society could be reformed wholesale in a matter of years proved well wide of the mark. Ignorance about the composition of the Syrian rebels and then naivety about our ability to arm only the ‘good’ ones contributed eventually to a complete change in approach which involved bombing the rebels.

However, Afghanistan starkly highlights other shortcomings with Britain’s overall strategy. Some of us in Parliament have long argued that the trend of reducing defence spending is severely limiting our ability to protect our interests. Judging from the mood in Parliament, it seemed a shock to many MPs that operating without the Americans was deemed impossible – even securing and running Kabul airport was beyond British capabilities.

Regardless of expensive kit and technology, there remains value in ‘boots on the ground’. No one can predict the exact nature of the next major threat, so sufficient margin is required in both the breadth and composition of our defence forces. Furthermore, a country of little use is little worth listening to. British objections to the American withdrawal timetable might have landed with more weight if we had had more to offer or at stake.

This point is not limited to Britain – all of NATO needs to reappraise its defence capabilities, and increase spending accordingly. Washington will be devoting more time and effort into countering China. Europeans should wise up to this before the Russians truly capitalise on this and start causing more problems. We must not forget the value of deterrence, which costs a tiny amount in money and resources when compared to actually having to fight a war – qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.

Britain also needs to better defend its key defence industries. We should be extremely wary of allowing companies of great strategic value to be snapped up and hollowed out by foreign buyers. Recent legislation has given Ministers much greater scope to intervene in such scenarios but this will add up to nothing if they are not actually employed. This applies to takeovers from American companies as much as those from other countries.

On a broader level, the liberal democracies must rediscover a sense of seriousness when undertaking grand strategy. What message does our ignoble withdrawal from Afghanistan convey to our allies? The Chinese certainly strategise in terms of many decades, yet our policy can sometimes be influenced by electoral cycles. Worthwhile strategies usually require long-term commitment, as NATO has shown in Germany and the US in South Korea – if we’re not prepared to put this effort in, then we shouldn’t get in at all.

Britain also needs to reassess its relationship with key allies. Kissinger’s remark that the US doesn’t have allies, just interests, is a reminder that it is folly to rely heavily on one ally. While continuing to recognise the many merits of a strong relationship with the US, we need to reassess other allegiances. For example, in tandem with countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, we should consider a stronger defence and humanitarian-orientated alliance which has teeth – and which is perhaps centred on one of our two aircraft carriers. This would better guarantee the defence of our common interests.

However, perhaps the most important lessons from Afghanistan relate to leadership and mission. While accepting that war should be legitimate and the measure of last resort, sufficient force should always be deployed when finally despatching troops to theatre. Otherwise, lives will be needlessly lost and the mission compromised. Initially sending a Brigade-minus instead of a Division to Helmand was a derogation of duty.

Furthermore, the soundness of the cause should never be underestimated – did we truly believe we had a right to impose our version of democracy on Afghanistan, especially when the limited 2001 intervention achieved its goal? Joe Biden’s decision regarding this shambolic withdrawal perhaps at least acknowledges the question.

Lettice Bromovsky: Now that the UK has a firm place within the ASEAN bloc, it must stand up to China’s aggressive antics

27 Aug

Lettice Bromovsky is a political commentator and contributor to Young Voices UK.

The UK has become the first country to join the ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) as a dialogue partner in 25 years, bolstering its post-Brexit vision of “Global Britain” and further integrating itself into one of the fastest growing trade areas in the world.

Nevertheless, entering into this region comes with significant difficulties, and to put it bluntly, the UK will have its work cut out for it. The disparity of the countries within the ASEAN means that consensus agreements are difficult if not impossible to reach, and the encroaching red fog of China into the ASEAN region wields with it the growing concern of Chinese expansionism.

Deepening economic ties with the 10 member state organisation will be hugely beneficial for Britain. Boasting an annual GDP of £2.3 trillion, the ASEAN is now four and a half times larger than it was in 2000. Total trade between the UK and the 10 member nations of the ASEAN amounted to $45.5 billion at the end of Q3 in 2020.

Although there are substantial economic benefits for the UK joining, the region is plagued with an array of differing political systems and vast economic disparities. For example, Brunei and Cambodia are considered authoritarian regimes, whereas the Philippines and Thailand are deemed democracies. And while Singapore maintains a high median annual income of $59,590 in 2021, Laos’ median income remains low at $2570.

Unsurprisingly this often makes it difficult for the organisation to reach unanimous agreements. Indeed, a regular criticism of the ASEAN is its poor consensus-driven decision making approach. One particularly out-dated piece of legislation is the principle of non-interference, which prevents member-states from intervening in each other’s domestic affairs.

During the Myanmar Coup in February 2021 the shortcomings of this principle became obvious. When the UN tried to vote on an arms embargo to condone Myanmar for their clear violation of human rights, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei abstained. This principle is warping the moral fabric of countries, over fears that it could lead to greater economic instability.

As a dialogue member the UK now has access to the high-level ASEAN summits and other top-level discussions. During these discussions, Britain can encourage deeper reform and further political stability.

Another hurdle for Britain in the region is the ever growing dominance of Chinese influence. In 2010 at the ASEAN Regional Forum, China’s then foreign minister remarked “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact”. This brasen comment perfectly portrays China’s ingrained belief that small countries must adhere to the will of larger ones.

China has used the looming threat of sanctions or reduced Chinese investment as a way to control the ASEAN members and to further its own expansionist policy into the South China Sea, an essential trade route for all Asian economies.

Chinese abuse of power is not uncommon to hear or read about in the media. In fact, its growing regularity should be of great concern to western democracies. In 2012, the Philippines challenged China on its entitlements in the South China Sea. The dispute was brought before the international tribunal in the Hague. The Philippines won the case, but China refused to accept the ruling. Five years on, China still stands vehemently opposed to this ruling and has only asserted itself more aggressively in the region.

China has sunk Vietnamese fishing boats that were in contested waters between the two countries. It has occupied an exclusive economic zone owned mutually by the Philippines and Vietnam, with around 220 Chinese militia vessels. In 2020, a Chinese ship harassed Malaysian and Vietnamese gas exploits in their own economic zones. This is all on top of increasing military and naval exercises in the South China Sea as a flashy display of strength.

China’s inability to engage on a geopolitical level almost reached breaking point in recent foreign affairs. Last month a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson met with the Taliban, not only recognising the violent and oppressive organisation, but going one step further to reiterate that they were ‘ready for friendly relations’.

Even today the Chinese embassy is one of the very few that remains operational after the fall of Kabul this week. At first glance this could be interpreted as China losing allies and therefore reaching for those equally desperate, but the reality is China is only interested in its own economic stability. If the disruption in Afghanistan manages to overflow into Pakistan or Central Asia, then China’s economic interests and supply chains will be most affected.

Britain cannot allow this blatant abuse of economic power and bullying to continue. China’s strength and confidence to punish countries is growing, it was only last year after Australia called for an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak, that China both verbally threatened, stating that Australia was treading a “dangerous path” and then economically punished the country by imposing tariffs of 80 per cent of Australian barley and completely banning beef from Australia’s four biggest abattoirs.

The only way we will be able to combat this kind of playground politics is from a unified front. Britain needs to encourage less economic reliance on China in the region. This can be done by solidifying free trade agreements with the countries in the ASEAN. The UK has already successfully achieved this with Singapore and Vietnam, but it is imperative that we begin to forge new ones with the remaining eight members.

A diversification of supply chains will also weaken China’s hold on the region as with greater economic diversification it will be increasingly hard for China to economically coerce the ASEAN.

If, or more likely when, China next attempts to use its size and might to further its own foreign policy, an unified process of imposing offsetting measures, such as tariffs will be essential in combating this type of bullying.

Chinese aggression cannot and should not be tolerated. A unified approach against this authoritarian power is the only way to combat Chinese influence and expansion. Now that the UK has asserted its place in the region, it must begin work encouraging the tenets of a free and democratic society.

David Lidington: There’s no alternative to our American alliance. But we also need a new strategic relationship with our European allies.

27 Aug

David Lidington is a former Cabinet Minister and Europe Minister. He is Chair of the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI), and of the Conservative Group for Europe (CGE).

This week at Kabul airport we have seen human nature both at its most heroic, in the risks taken by our servicemen and women to help thousands of Afghans fleeing persecution, and at its most depraved, in the merciless slaughter of innocents by suicide bombers.

Those appalling scenes ram home the cruel truth that we, the West, have suffered a major defeat. The return of the Taliban is a humiliation for the United States and its NATO allies, including our own country. Jihadist networks, not only Isis-K but their counterparts in Africa, South-East Asia, the Middle East and in our own cities will take fresh heart. Russia, China and Iran will interpret the debacle in Kabul as further evidence of Western decadence and decline and see opportunities to expand their influence in the world.

Unsurprisingly, defeat in Afghanistan has sent a wave of shock and anger through the British political and media worlds. In particular, recriminations over Joe Biden’s decision to act unilaterally and his scant consultation with coalition allies have gone way beyond the normal language of diplomatic relations. One or two Ministers, who under the cloak of anonymity have bandied around not just vituperative language about the United States but personal insults at Biden, need to be reminded that the burdens of high office include sometimes having to bite your tongue when matters involving the national interest are at stake.

While it is right that this strategic reverse should prompt a hard look at its lessons for our foreign and security policy, it would be a mistake to think that every assumption about the UK’s place in the world has been overthrown.

The fundamental conclusions of the Government’s Integrated Review seem to me still to hold good. Russia is a potent threat to the security of this country and the continent of which we are part. China is both a strategic rival to the West and in some respects an unavoidable partner. Our military strength and our resilience to security threats depends on us being able to renew our capacity for technological innovation. The United Kingdom is a European power with a global outlook and global interests. The alliance with the United States is essential to our own national security.

Policy should include a measured tilt to the Indo-Pacific, doing more with countries like Japan, Australia and South Korea, while continuing to direct the great majority of our security resources and attention to the Euro-Atlantic, working with our allies in Europe and North America. Soft and hard power complement one another and both are important in defending and advancing our interests.

The missing element is a clear strategic plan to act on those conclusions. In this short space, I want to make just two points.

First, that plan should start with a clear-eyed view of our relationship with the United States.

Walk down Bond Street in the West End and you come across a remarkable pair of statues: Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt sitting on a wooden bench. The two men are presented as if in the middle of a relaxed, jovial conversation, the sculptor’s art conveying an impression of mutual trust, friendship and goodwill. The work is entitled “Allies”.

Far too often, British politicians and journalists have fallen for the beguiling romance that this work of art represents, and overlooked the reality that there have been freqtuent clashes of interest and opinion. FDR drove a hard bargain over lend-lease. Truman refused to do Attlee any favours over Britain’s war debts. Eisenhower humiliated Britain and France over Suez. Harold Wilson refused to send troops to Vietnam. Ronald Reagan sent US forces into Grenada without even telling Margaret Thatcher.

What President Biden’s recent decisions have shown is that “America First” has outlived Donald Trump. It’s not isolationism, but rather a rigorous and ruthless focus on what the White House considers to be the key national interests of the United States and a readiness to dispense with other commitments. We’ve seen it in the shift of American priorities towards the Indo-Pacific under both Democrat and Republican presidents, when Barack Obama insisted that France and the UK take political responsibility for the action in Libya in 2011 and now in Kandahar and Kabul.

The lesson for policymakers in London is not that we should look for an alternative to the US alliance. There isn’t one. No other country or grouping in the democratic world has the concentration of economic and military power of Washington. But Britain, like the rest of Europe, is going to have to work harder to prove to US politicians and the voters they represent that they should see the security of our region as part of the essential national interest of the American people.

Britain’s military and security relationships with the US functioned even during the worst turbulence of the Trump years. The Americans recognise that the UK brings things to the table that they value: our intelligence agencies, special forces, nuclear submarines and not just armed forces but a willingness to deploy them. We need to keep those relationships in the best possible state of repair and at the same time redouble diplomatic efforts to show how important American interests depend on the security of Europe.

Second, we need to establish a new strategic partnership with our European neighbours. We can and should work with like-minded nations around the world, but that should be additional to and not a substitute for an effective alliance with the democracies next door. This is important for two reasons.

The first is that it is greater capability and a greater willingness to act on the part of the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance that could give us the choice of taking an initiative when the United States does not want to be involved. And second, Washington not only wants its European allies to spend more on defence and security, but for them to show greater leadership in parts of the world: Africa, the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, which America now treats as at most secondary to its strategic rivalry with China.

A lot can be done through NATO structures like the Northern Group that brings together the NATO members and partner countries that border the Baltic and the North Sea, and through bilateral partnerships like the E3 grouping of France, Germany and the UK. Britain is party too to the European Intervention Initiative that brings together EU and non-EU countries.

But as governments in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere keep saying, there also needs to be a new, constructive strategic relationship between the UK and the European Union. In part, that’s because even the big member states think and work in the EU context, seeking to influence and being influenced by EU discussions on foreign and security policy, and also because many of the key levers of soft power: development aid, state capacity building, military and police training, peacekeeping missions lie at EU level.

To make a reality of the slogan “Global Britain” requires us to accept that we need to work with allies, and that we need strong, strategic relationships on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rob Mutimer: Ministers must back British farmers over trade with China

12 Aug

Rob Mutimer is Chair of the National Pig Association. This is a sponsored post by the National Pig Association.

Britain’s pig industry is the backbone of many small towns and rural communities across the country. Pig farming is worth £1.6 billion annually, and adding food retail and export values brings the total over £14 billion a year.

This essential sector is now in dire straits, however. More than 100,000 pigs were backed up on farms in the early months of this year due to a perfect storm of events, including Brexit restrictions on exports, labour shortages and pork plant closures due to Covid-19.

Against a tide of falling trade with the EU, our growing pork export market to China is a vital lifeline for many farming communities. China pays a premium for our pork, and exports have grown six-fold in value since 2015, creating new jobs and growth across the UK.

This trade is, however, being hamstrung by the loss of China export licences at three major pork processing sites: Ashton Under Lyne in Greater Manchester, Watton in Norfolk and Brechin in Scotland.

The export licences were voluntarily surrendered 10 months ago at the advice of DEFRA, after Coronavirus affected some of the sites’ workers. This is normal practice internationally, and the issues were swiftly resolved, but China has refused to reinstate the licences once the issues were resolved.

This is despite all reapproval documentation and site audits being in order and other sites with the same issues in other countries, like Denmark, having had their licenses reinstated. Our liaison with Beijing officials indicates that assurances from industry of the safety of our sites are not enough. The authorities are seeking representations from the UK Government itself.

The suspension of exports to China has had a dramatic effect on prices and many pig farmers, already operating at a loss due to the pandemic, want to exit the sector.

This is why we urgently need the Foreign Secretary to help unblock this. Last month, we wrote to him as part of a united industry call for assistance, including the National Farmers Union, Food and Drink Federation, National Pig Association and a host of others. We have had no response.

The direct losses at these three sites alone are amounting to around £50 million a year, but as these are major regional hubs, the impact is much wider. The Brechin site, for example, supports the entire Scottish pork industry. If the ban continues, it will put many tens of thousands of British jobs in farming, processing and retail at risk. This makes us more dependent on the EU, as British farmers currently only produce 40 per cent of the pork we consume.

So where do we go from here?

Ultimately, ministers must step up work with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to encourage China to re-list the processing plants as soon as possible. British farms and meat processing sites are among the safest in the world, and there is no reason for not relisting the affected sites.

In the meantime, ministers should also look at a compensation package for those in the industry that are most heavily impacted, similar to help that has been offered in other home nations, including Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If nothing is done, we fear the pig industry is heading towards collapse, which would affect tens of thousands of jobs in rural communities and small towns across the country. By acting now, we could prevent more pig farmers going out of business and leaving empty shelves in the supermarket.

There is a bigger prize here, too. The value of the pig industry’s trade with China runs to tens of millions a year, dwarfing the value of new trade won elsewhere, including the recent deal with Australia, for example. By reopening our market with China we would have the beginnings of a real success story for the UK’s post-Brexit trade, and for the livelihoods of many thousands of farmers and workers in our industry.

Kristy Adams: Without Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services getting more funding, we are storing up trouble

23 Jul

Kristy Adams is a company director. She is leading the Health & Happiness lessons for six to 16 year olds for the online catchup school @InvictaAcademy.

The Government invested an extra £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services from 2015-2020 after the recommendations of the Future in Mind report of 2015. CAMHS currently accounts for 0.7 per cent of NHS spending and around 6.4 per cent of mental health spending.

CAMHS is the child and adolescent mental health services. If your child is having serious mental health problems and is self-harming or suicidal, their school or GP will contact the CAMHS team for an assessment and help for your child.

In the UK we have 14 million children of a total population of just over 68 million, so children make up around 20 per cent of the population – yet CAMHS only receives 6.4 per cent of mental health spending. The numbers don’t add up. The UK is not alone in this fact.

Katie Gibbons wrote in The Times this week about research published in the Evidence-Based Mental Health journal. “The researchers accused high-income nations of failing vulnerable children and said that they could ‘afford to do better’.

“The authors analysed data from 14 studies in 11 countries – the US, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Britain, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan – published between 2003 and 2020.”

The studies involved 61,545 children. The authors from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, “Only 44.2 per cent of children with mental disorders received any services.” The findings showed “robust services are in place for child physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases in most of these countries.” The research showed “an invisible crisis in children’s mental health.”

Two families I know well have teenagers who have sought help from the UK CAMHS teams in their area. The service in both cases was superb; highly-skilled experts treated both students, who have gone on not only to survive but thrive. For those that qualify for help the service is first class, but what of the children who don’t meet the threshold for treatment?

Christmas tree twinkling, December 2020, mulled wine on the hob and after such a long time in face masks, lockdowns and fear of losing jobs – the peace seemed a chink of light in my friend Josie’s house. Only for it to be shattered hours later when her 15-year-old daughter found her sister trying to kill herself.

No warning, no run up, ambulance called. The elder daughter is 18. Maisy (not her real name) was admitted to hospital. Neither of her parents was allowed to accompany her and she was released next morning at 7am. One phone call to follow up and that was the end of the mental health support. Gareth Southgate did a better job of supporting his footballers than the mental health team did with a suicidal teenager. The suicidal teenager had undiagnosed autism.

Another friend, Katie, has a 14-year-old daughter Bella, who went into a meltdown over the Government’s communication of how she would gain her GCSEs. Was she taking them? If her teachers were assessing, would she gain the grades needed to gain a college place?

Poor communication from the Government meant teachers and schools hadn’t got a clue what was happening. Bella’s anxiety and fear became more serious as she considered the move from school to a new sixth form. Bella was self harming, wasn’t sleeping and she refused to leave her room. Katie listened to her daughter and contacted school to ask for help. Bella was refused help by CAMHS; she didn’t qualify as she wasn’t trying to take her own life.

Katie took her daughter’s concerns seriously and found a private counsellor and clinician. Bella was diagnosed with autism and, through the help of professionals and her family, she is now doing well. Katie says she was able to get Bella help because they used the money that would have been spent on a holiday, but what about the families in identical circumstances who can’t afford to pay?

Prior to the pandemic I visited a primary school where I led an assembly on democracy. I met the super-efficient head teacher before my talk. Having completed hundreds of school visits over the years – as a director of a learning board trust – I can spot a well-run school at 20 paces.

This one was all singing, all dancing with a buzz of learning and a joy to be in. I asked the Head my killer question. ‘What would you like the Government to do differently to most improve the lives of your students?’ Her reply was instant: fund CAMHS properly.

The previous week one of her students had been self harming with a compass. Because the girl hadn’t broken the skin, she didn’t qualify for CAMHS help. The issue stemmed from the girl’s struggle with undiagnosed dyslexia. Her parents had to pay privately for a professional counsellor.

This began a research project for me. I found three charities that could help schools with trained children’s counsellors and funding. The charities have partnered with churches and faith groups to provide money and resources. I communicated this information to schools and political leaders at a local council.

I believe in personal responsibility, I’m a Conservative and I believe in resourcing all organisations/charities to solve problems. But here’s the crux of the matter – currently CAMHS doesn’t have enough resources to help children in crisis who are not suicidal (and it doesn’t have the money for preventative work) and that’s just not good enough.

It makes sense to invest in mental health for young people because they are valuable, our country’s future and the problems won’t go away. Indeed, the things they are struggling with will be carried into their adult life. One in three adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences and the NHS will continue to need to give individuals care in adulthood, which involves cost.

If we want to save money, let’s treat the patients while they are children. It makes so much sense to invest in CAMHS so it can offer a broader service including preventative care. Part of the children’s mental health service should include identifying autism in under 18s (and as girls are often failed to be helped, targeting identifying girls.). 50 per cent of the clinical commissioning groups couldn’t give an account of the additional money the Government gave them from 2015-2020 and how it was spent. Greater accountability is required.

The Simon Fraser University in Vancouver researchers concluded governments would “need to substantially increase the spending on children’s mental health budgets.” This is particularly urgent given documented increases in children’s mental health needs since Covid-19.”

Here’s my call to action: identify dyslexia and autism more accurately and earlier to produce better outcomes, and increase the budget for CAHMS – so that services are proportional to the percentage of children in the total population. Both of these will provide a better service to our children and cost the country less money in the long term.

(Names have been changed to protect identities).

Darren Caplan: If you want a Global Britain, don’t turn off the TAP to the UK’s SME rail exporters

21 Jul

Darren Caplan is Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). This is a sponsored post by the RIA.

Rail: an industrial sector important to UK plc

When it comes to the UK’s railways, most people think of commuter journeys to work or intercity trains to visit friends or family around the country.

Few think of it as a burgeoning industry in its own rights, supporting more than £36 billion in economic growth and 600,000 jobs, operating, maintaining, renewing, refurbishing and enhancing trains and railway infrastructure. For every £1 spent on UK rail, £2.20 is generated in the wider economy, meaning rail not just a nationally significant sector in its own right, but is also important to UK plc more widely.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, rail was essential in getting key workers and goods around the country; and at one point last year, railway work accounted for 25 per cent of all UK construction, at a time when many sectors had to virtually shut down through no fault of their own.

As the country opens up in the coming weeks and months, UK rail will be an essential part of the Government’s plans to “build back better”.

The role rail exports can play with the right support

One way rail can support economic recovery is in its role boosting international trade. It is rarely mentioned compared to other transport modes, but rail is actually an important major export, comparable to the automotive or aerospace industries, with some £800 million in goods and services sold across the world each year.

With one of the oldest, safest, and yet most intensively used railways in the Europe, UK rail professionals are highly regarded across the globe, with a varied range of products and services sold across several continents.

When it comes to the Government’s priorities for Free Trade Agreements, there is an opportunity for rail to play a much greater role. An exports survey last year, commissioned by the cross industry-government body Rail Supply Group, and conducted by the Railway Industry Association (RIA), found that priority markets for UK rail suppliers align clearly with those of the Government.

For example, Australia, the US, India and Canada, were all in the Top 10 priority exports markets where companies believe their railway sector goods or services have potential to be exported with assistance from the rail industry and Government.

The recent Australia FTA was great news for the rail sector. From steel production in the Humber to innovative manufacturing in Shoreham, from train production in Goole to project design experts in London, there are myriad rail companies already working in Australia. Many more are excited to develop greater trade with our partners “Down Under”, particularly with the opportunities provided by the reduction in tariffs.

Turning off the TAP will have a major impact on UK SME’s looking to export

Yet, as the Government negotiates FTAs with various countries, there does need to be continued support too for the rail industry. A few weeks ago, RIA, the national trade body for UK rail businesses, was told that the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) “Tradeshow Access Programme” (TAP) – which provides small grants to SMEs looking to exhibit at overseas trade fairs – was closing down, with very little notice to the rail (or any other) sector.

While small in amount, these grants are pivotal for introducing smaller businesses to the world of exports – in rail, around 194 grants were given to businesses since 2016. Each grant is valued at just £1,500 to £2,500, and they are also used to support not just rail but many other industries, like fashion and manufacturing.

Analysis shows that these small grants add real value to UK plc’s exporting efforts. According to Export Partners UK – a group of some 50 trade bodies who work to support exporters overseas – for every £1 invested by HM Treasury in the TAP scheme, at least £40 comes back to UK plc.

A cost-benefit analysis of TAP by London Economics estimated that the total benefit of the programme in 2007/2008 amounted to £57.1 million. Given the programme costs of £11.2 million, the estimated benefit-cost ratio is 5:1. What is more, TAP was rated the best DIT service in the Government’s own Client Quality Survey 2018/2019, published recently in July 2020.

For the rail sector, TAP has been invaluable. One rail exporter reported a 1,200 per cent growth in its business following an exhibition it visited after receiving a TAP grant in March 2020. Another said they had seen £50 million in revenue generated in the Middle East, with the TAP grants contributing directly. Several companies have told RIA they would not have attended certain exhibitions without the support TAP provided.

Message to the Government: please reinstate the TAP (or something like it) as soon as possible

We and our members at RIA are not sure why the TAP scheme – so small in cost but significant in terms of impact – has been curtailed. We do know, however, that this move will have a detrimental impact on the ability of UK business to deliver the Government’s vision of a “Global Britain” and to achieve the Government’s aim of boosting exports to 35 per cent of GDP. In rail, it will make the target set out in the Government’s own Rail Sector Deal – of doubling exports to £1.6 billon by 2025 – even harder to achieve.

We welcome the support the DIT has up until now given rail exports, and the Government’s pursuit of trade deals abroad. But to unleash the full potential of exporters, in rail and other industries, in the future we continue to need this small package of support from Government. The TAP scheme should be reinstated or replaced by something similar. By doing so, it will enable UK rail to truly help the Government achieve its vision of a “Global Britain”, and ultimately support even more jobs and investment as we seek to “build back better” post Coronavirus.

Daniel Hannan: Is it worth decarbonising if the rest of the world won’t follow?

21 Jul

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Is it worth it? The question kept nagging at me as I stood in a drizzly Derbyshire quarry, watching a miracle of British engineering. Is it worth pushing ahead with deep cuts in CO2 emissions if the rest of the world won’t follow?

The miracle in front of me was a digger powered by an internal combustion engine that ran on hydrogen – something that was, until a few months ago, thought to be impossible. Pundits and politicians like to hymn the praises of electric vehicles. But batteries have their limits. They are expensive, slow to charge and heavy. They can’t realistically power planes or trains or ships or heavy lorries – or, indeed, big diggers.

JCB (whose digger and whose quarry this was) had already produced a diesel engine that reduced air pollution by more than 99 per cent. It had come up with a small electric excavator, too. But a 20-ton machine, usually the first onto a building site, cannot run on batteries – even if it were somehow able to keep taking time off to recharge. Another solution was needed.

Full disclosure: over the years, I have occasionally worked as an adviser to JCB. For precisely that reason, I don’t normally write about the company. But, on this occasion, I reckon I’d be failing as a columnist if I didn’t tell you about the vastness of what it has just achieved.

Lord Bamford, who chairs the business, could simply have consolidated during the epidemic. He had already turned his family firm into a global leader. Another man, in his situation, might be easing his foot off the accelerator in his eighth decade.

But Bamford is, at heart, an engineer. He refines, he tinkers, he improves; he looks for what others have missed. Perhaps it is in the soil. JCB is headquartered pretty much at the epicentre of where the industrial revolution began – a revolution that was made by refiners and tinkerers and improvers, typically men who left school in their early teens, keen to get straight into the workshop.

JCB’s nearby engineering school occupies one of Arkwright’s first mills. The Bamfords themselves, if you go back far enough, were ironmongers and blacksmiths.

So when he told his engineers to find a way of creating a hydrogen engine, they swallowed their scepticism and set to work, grouping the supposedly insuperable objections under eleven headings. While the rest of the country grumbled its way through the second lockdown, they solved them one by one.

The implications are colossal. The country that invented the engine (Thomas Newcomen, who built the first practical fuel-burning engine in 1712, was another iron-monger and tinkerer) has found a way of saving the sector. Britain produces around 2.5 million internal combustion engines every year, nearly two thirds of them for export. Until a few weeks ago, the entire industry faced oblivion. Now, with a few adjustments, it can stay in business.

I tell you all this, not just to remind you that we remain a nation of innovators, but because my opening question is a serious one. If there is a global shift away from fossil fuels, then Britain is better placed than most countries to supply the new technology. It will still be more expensive than leaving things as they are, obviously. But there are ways to harness market forces, making the transition cheaper and smoother.

So let’s ask the question again. Britain, following drastic reductions, is now responsible for only one per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If we acted in isolation, we could return to the Stone Age and it would barely make any difference.

Obviously, we won’t be acting wholly in isolation. The EU has committed itself to a measure of decarbonisation, as has Joe Biden’s America. Then again, as Donald Trump once put it, with characteristic bluntness: “Look at China, how filthy it is! Look at Russia, look at India: it’s filthy, the air is filthy!”

China is the world’s biggest polluter, responsible for 28 per cent of carbon emissions. India is third, at seven per cent. Both countries are reluctant to commit to binding targets. Is there much point in pushing ahead without them?

I suppose I ought to add, at this point, that I believe the world is heating, at least partly in response to human activity. If you disagree, fine. But there is then no point in arguing about targets and international deals. If you fundamentally don’t think there is any problem, we will just go round and round in circles.

If, on the other hand, you see a problem, the question becomes how to tackle it affordably and proportionately. Our aim should be to harness the genius of the private sector – to use inventions like that hydrogen motor – so as to minimise extra spending and extra bureaucracy.

It is fair enough to argue that someone needs to make the first move. It is fair enough, too, to point out that the whole world should not hang back simply because two or three states won’t join in. The question is one of proportionality.

It is here that my doubts arise. The commitments we have made go beyond most of our competitors’. The EU and the United States lag behind us, though not by much. Canada, Australia and Japan lag a bit further. China talks vaguely of peaking around 2030. A clutch of states – Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – are barely bothering to go through the motions.

Leading by example is all well and good. Impoverishing yourself in order to make a point, not so much. The danger, as with all government initiatives, is that we reach a critical mass where, even if it becomes clear that the rest of the world isn’t following, a powerful lobby of rent-seekers and eco-corporatists continue to drive the policy for its own sake.

Don’t underestimate how painful the adjustment will be. “Energy is not just another sector of the economy,” the great Matt Ridley points out. “It is the thermodynamic lifeblood of prosperity.” Modern civilisation became possible when falling energy prices released human beings from back-breaking labour. In 1880 a minute’s work would buy four minutes of artificial light. In 1950 it was seven hours of light. By 2000 it was five days.

None of this is to say that we should give up. There will be more breakthroughs like the JCB engine. Batteries should, over time, become cheaper and lighter. New ways might be found to heat houses. We might even happen across a completely new, clean energy source – fission, say. The cost of climate mitigation, like the cost of adaptation, will fall as technology improves.

All I am asking for is perspective. We need constantly to weigh costs and benefits; to tackle the freeloader dilemma; to consider that innovation might lower prices, and so make calculated postponements rational; to ask whether there are other priorities (in 2020, for example, there was).

We should, in short, approach climate change in a transactional rather than a millenarian spirit, looking for maximum effectiveness rather than seeking to flaunt our piety. Conservatives, of all people, ought to understand that.

Ryan Bourne: The tax hikes that could fall in the south. And tear the Tory coalition apart

22 Jun

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Who’s going to pay for all this? Andrew Neil’s GB News interview of Rishi Sunak has changed the fiscal conversation. The Chancellor deflected the question by saying he couldn’t discuss tax policy outside of Parliamentary “fiscal events.” Convenient. But many commentators are “rolling the pitch” for higher taxes to fund all this higher government spending already – often devoid of context of today’s true burden.

Much debate starts with the ahistorical view that the UK is a “low tax” economy. Yet revenues from taxes are already forecast to exceed 34 percent of GDP every year from 2023/24 onwards—a threshold not breached in consecutive years since Hugh Gaitskell and Rab Butler were Chancellors in the early 1950s. The world wars don’t bode well for the longer-term legacy of an acute borrowing shock either. Ten years’ after World War One, the tax burden was 12.5 per cent of GDP higher than pre-war; ten years’ after WW2, it was 11.4 percent higher again.

The pandemic is shorter and less destructive than mass mobilisation wars. We also don’t need a second welfare state. But we do have an aging population and slower growth. With those pressures, any government unwilling to reform age-related entitlements and committed to major new state investments will need revenues eventually.

Internationally, many Western European countries tax their populations more heavily than us. The UK was just below the OECD average as a share of GDP in 2019. But UK taxes are already higher than in English-speaking developed economies: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United States. The rises that Sunak has pre-announced would take us close to the levels of pre-pandemic Spain and Poland. Go a bit further, and we will have gone Germanic.

That, sadly, appears where we are headed. ConHome’s Editor explained yesterday that  “levelling up” need not mean just more tax-and-spend, but might be centred on the supply-side. He should tell CCHQ. The “levelling up” member survey recently used that banner to ask for views on more NHS spending, the “lifetime skills guarantee,” catch-up schools funding, infrastructure investment, the Towns Fund, and money for high-street regeneration. The direction of travel is clear: levelling up means more redistribution—hence why a strange coalition of fiscal conservatives and certain level-uppers want to whack up taxes on the old Tory base to shower the new.

This is where the politics of tax becomes interesting though. For the “progressives of all the parties” have talked so far as if “someone else will pay” for any largesse. Polly Toynbee says that UK voters want a Scandivanian welfare state with US-style tax rates. But it’s the redistributionists that are selling the Red Wall something for nothing. How about “asking for more” from the top one per cent, big tech companies, wealthy homeowners, tax-avoiding multinationals or other bogeymen, they say? Ordinary hard-working families will be spared for all the goodies.

As a new Institute for Fiscal Studies tax tool shows, however, the difference between the UK and the big governments of Western Europe is not lower taxes on the rich. No, broad-based social security contributions are higher in Europe. The evidence there suggests a more generous welfare state or higher permanent spatial redistribution requires tax rises “larger for the median worker than for one near the top of the distribution”. Good luck selling to your new blue-collar voters.

And so, thus far, an unwillingness for broader hikes, coupled with an uncertainty about the wisdom of burning the old base, has meant that the “tax debate” has been all smoke and mirrors. Efforts to raise revenues have been stealthy. The headline Corporation Tax rate is being raised again, with Sunak stating that it was “fair and necessary to ask businesses to contribute.” Of course, research shows the ultimate burden of profit taxes falls on workers, as well as shareholders – not the message the Chancellor would be keen to promote.

Income tax thresholds have similarly been frozen until 2026, and the 45p rate threshold has been kept at £150,000 since 2010. This will slowly lure more and more upper middle income families into higher tax nets. The problem is that spiralling spending demands quickly use up the options which voters don’t notice. Eventually you need other big sources of revenue, and that’s when the discussion usually re-centres on taxing savings income or pensions more heavily, or indeed hiking property taxes—despite the fact that the UK has the highest overall property tax burden in the OECD already.

Let’s leave aside the economics here. What do these policies all have in common? Well, the highest earners, the more expensive properties, and those with the highest savings are more likely to reside in the South East. The only Conservatives making the running on the “who is going to pay for it?” question so far, then, are those level-uppers who want to whack the South East to keep the goodies for the north flowing.

Yet not all are convinced. This is a growing Conservative faultline among MPs and the party’s voters. The Brexit coalition incorporated relatively affluent home counties’ areas and a working class elderly base nationwide. For some Westminster types, it simply makes sense to deliver for the new voters by squeezing the south.

Others, though, think the older working class Northerners don’t want Labour-lite, and that the best way to deliver for both would be targeted hawkishness on spending. For what it’s worth, Dominic Cummings told me: “the gvt wastes so much I’d rather save and not put up taxes.” He usually understands what these voters truly want, but would Johnson’s government slay any meaningful spending projects without him?

Tax policy, I suspect, will really test this Tory coalition. Hot housing markets in the South East have widened regional wealth inequality in the past 15 years, but after-housing-cost incomes have risen slower in London as people rent or service large mortgages. So many people feel squeezed, even before new tax bills come in. And massive geographic redistribution occurs already: London and the South East generate large public sector surpluses—averaging net public surpluses of £4,350 and £2,380 per person.

Now I’m not going to go all Mary Riddell and suggest last week’s by-election result already reflected a middle-class tax revolt. But if the mood music is for higher and higher spending in the North, and the conversation about paying for it focuses on raising property taxes, raiding pension pots, taxing savings, alongside stealthy income tax squeezes for the middle-classes, would it be surprising if voters in traditional Tory heartlands reassessed their allegiances? In a world of ever-rising spending and an unwillingness for broadening tax bases, there’s only so long the Chancellor can obfuscate on who will really pay.

Josh Cameron: British farmers should bet on themselves and welcome a free-trade revolution

5 Jun

Josh Cameron is a public affairs consultant in London and a former senior adviser to New Zealand Prime Minister Sir John Key.

For free trade advocates who have chaffed as the UK stood mired in the bog of EU protectionism, witnessing the ‘sprint to the finish’ for trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand is a thrilling experience.

While both antipodean nations have used the decades since they lost meaningful access to the British market to carve out remarkable export opportunities elsewhere, it will still be welcome to see the UK reopen door.

It is that history that makes the feverish opposition from the UK’s most recent proponents of ‘Project Fear’ – the National Farmers Union and their political outriders – so aggravating. With a flair for melodramatic self-pity that could rival Prince Harry in an Oprah interview, the NFU and chums have spent the post-referendum years churning out predictions of doom as they attempt to stop the UK’s agricultural sector facing any new domestic competition.

The British public has been told that trade deals with Australia and New Zealand will lead to agricultural Armageddon. Emotive claims predict food security catastrophes, a countryside of factory farms, increased farmer suicides, the end of ‘Wales being Wales’ and, most recently, the UK’s landscape being turned into a new Australian outback.

No reasonable observer could believe that increasing imports of antipodean protein from ‘tiny’ to ‘incredibly small’ could turn the Lake District into a desert or cause Wales to disappear. The main impact of these claims is to fuel the belief that the British agricultural sector is headed into a period of terminal, if managed, decline. This needn’t be the case.

The worst part of the NFU’s ‘Project Fear’ isn’t the denigration of antipodean agriculture or the entitled disregard for the interests of the British consumer. It is their complete lack of faith in their own member’s ability to adapt and thrive in a globally competitive market.

It is true that decades of EU protectionist policies created to mollycoddle French farmers have done the UK no favours. Production controls and taxpayer hand-outs based on land clearance have led to subsidy dependence and farming of inappropriate land. But the terrible policies of the recent past should not define the farming sector in the years to come. Countries in a similar position have shown that a focus on quality production, removal of subsidies, and the elimination of tariff barriers, provides good farmers with every chance and motivation to thrive at home and abroad.

My native New Zealand is the most salient example of what can be achieved. The UK joining the EEC was believed to represent a devastating moment for the New Zealand agricultural sector. Cut off almost completely from its largest export market, the country stumbled on with absurd subsidies and protectionist policies for the best part of a decade before a determined government abolished all tariffs and subsidies virtually overnight.

What followed was not the cultural and economic devastation foretold by New Zealand’s own agents of fear – it was the birth of one of the most efficient and competitive farming industries in the world.

Less than one percent of farms closed and existing agricultural sectors became exponentially more efficient even as new agricultural strengths took-off. New Zealand’s sheep numbers fell from 70 million in the 80s to 26 million today. This reduced flock produces the same tonnage of meat and is raised, slaughtered and exported with an incredibly small carbon footprint.

With the loss of the incentive to maximise subsidies, innovation and experimentation thrived. Some bright spark had the idea that the low-value, stony sheep farms of the Gimblett Gravels might be a decent spot to plant vines. Four decades on and the vineyards of the Gravels sit on some of the highest-value land in the country and produce some of the world’s best wines.

The NFU’s answer to this comparison is that the UK and New Zealand are very different and the success of rapid transition away from protectionist welfare farming to open efficient farming cannot be replicated in the UK. This simply isn’t true.

The UK and New Zealand have a similar climate, are of a similar size, and have similarly high standards of animal welfare. Citizens of both countries have high expectations of environmental stewardship and low tolerance for factory farming. The UK dedicates significantly more of its landmass to farming than New Zealand does and its farmers still have access to the wealthy consumers of the EU. If the UK joins the CPTPP, British producers will also gain more access to the dinner plates of the Asia Pacific’s growing middle-class.

When all of these strengths and similarities are considered the protectionist’s claim that British farmers cannot possibly compete with foreign producers and will be forced to adopt the most unappealing aspects of intensive American factory farming simply do not stand up to the scrutiny. The UK can embrace market forces and consumer preferences while it pursues an environmentally, socially, and economically superior model of agricultural reform pioneered by New Zealand.

Far from being a harbinger of environmental and agricultural Armageddon, the UK’s new independent trade policy presents a once in a generation opportunity for domestic reform. This is not a threat to farmers; it is their opportunity to make the most of their considerable talents and play a role in the establishment of a sustainable, efficient agriculture sector that is fit for the Twenty First Century. I, for one, will be cheering them on.