Richard Benyon: Climate change is bigger than Brexit

The school strikers have a point, and we ought to listen – not least because we have a great story to tell about what Conservative governments have done.

Richard Benyon is a former Environment Minister and is MP for Newbury.

A month ago, around thirty young people from Newbury turned up at my constituency office as I was taking my Friday surgery.

My first thought was that they had come to talk about Brexit, but no: they were taking part in Britain’s first young people’s school strike on climate change, and had come to talk to me about what they saw as a lack of Government action on what was to them an existential issue.

Although some complained about children bunking off school, for me that missed the point. I was struck by the extraordinary passion and commitment of young people for whom climate change is a clear and present threat, and whose lives will be much more affected by the problem than will middle-aged men like me.

But I was forcefully stuck by two things; the first was their lack of knowledge about what had been achieved by successive British governments, and the second was that they had a point.

For example; none of the young people in my Newbury office knew that the UK was the first developed economy to pass a Climate Change Act. One could argue that it is unreasonable to expect them to know about a dry piece of law passed when most of them were tiny children, or even before they were born, but with the Act, Britain was and is a world leader.

Since it was passed, this country has reduced its emissions by over 40 per cent – more than any other developed G7 economy. There has also been a huge leap in renewable energy, and the UK is now a world leader in new technologies like offshore wind. Internationally, our leadership in tackling climate change, the protection of our oceans, and reducing pollution is a key component of what people mean when they refer to “global Britain”.

Many of these achievements have been under Conservative governments, although we should also applaud the cross-party, consensual way that the house as a whole has approached the climate challenge.

However, the young people were also right to say that governments are failing to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change at the rate that science tells us is necessary and desirable. The science is clear: indeed, it is staring us in the face.

Last year, for example, the UN’s climate science body warned us that there was only an even chance that the world would hit global targets to keep climate change within manageable levels.

They also spoke about the absolute imperative of all countries to aim for a ‘net zero’ emissions target of around mid-century – that it, reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases as far as possible, and using negative emissions techniques such as tree planting or the restoration of degraded habitats to absorb the rest.

Again, the Conservative Government has taken a lead on this, with my colleague Claire Perry having asked the Committee on Climate Change to conduct a feasibility study on how to reach a net zero target. Because it will be challenging, but, done right, there is an economic opportunity for Britain to continue to be a centre for green growth.

And these are not only the right things to do as well; they are also popular. The British public likes renewable energy – just two per cent strongly oppose onshore wind, supposedly the most controversial. They overwhelmingly back spending money on measures which cut energy waste, lowering bills as well as greenhouse gas emissions. They back, by significant proportions, the world-leading Climate Change Act and the international Paris Agreement.

And, coming full circle, we now know that the young people on the school strikes also have the public’s backing. Survey results due to be published shortly will show a clear majority of the public endorsing their actions and demanding more of the Government on climate change.

So with the school protests spreading, from a lone Swedish teenager protesting outside the country’s parliament building last year, to over 1,200 towns and cities across more than 90 countries today, we must listen to the young people calling for more action on climate change, not just complain about their having the nerve to bunk off school. We need to agree with them that there is a problem and that much more needs to be done, and we need to explain what we are doing.

Because we will, in a few years time, have moved on from Brexit; but once we have done, the climate crisis will still present a much more intractable challenge.

Ben Roback: Is the “Green New Deal” fantasy or 2020 reality for the Democrats?

It is hard to see a Democrat who opposes the legislation courting the Left of the party and winning the Presidential nomination.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

In January, this column entertained the idea of whether or not a true progressive could win the presidency in 2020. A core feature of almost all Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination will be their support for a ‘Green New Deal’, the economic stimulus program designed to decarbonise the US and address economic inequality. It has been principally proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, and subsequently become a feature of the early election campaign. It has also become a lightning rod for the youthful, progressive insurgency taking place within the Democratic Party around the country.

Are the economics and politics of the Green New Deal possible?

In February, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey introduced a Green New Deal resolution in Congress that lays out the principles and goals behind their policy proposals. It consists of five goals, 14 projects, and 15 requirements. One thing that is immediately clear is that it will require a Democrat in the White House in order to stand any chance of being enacted. Otherwise, it will face the same fate as the American Clean Energy and Security Act – the Democrats’ last attempt to forge a legislative path to address climate change, which passed the House of Representatives in 2009 but progressed no further.

The policy proposal is expected to heavily influence the Democratic Party, pushing its grass roots and 2020 hopefuls towards a more defined and aggressive plan to address climate change, but the impact on this administration’s legislative approach is likely to be negligible at best. President Trump continues to conflate weather with climate change, whilst appointing sceptics to review climate science. If anything, it could have the opposite effect – to push the White House even further to the right on climate change and decarbonisation, owing to the vehemence with which Republicans oppose Ocasio-Cortez’s plans for increased government spending. On that basis, the Green New Deal could become a legislative proxy for the battle that will take place in 2020. It sets up the election to be one between climate change deniers and climate change interventionists, in that climate change has now become a signifier of broader and deeper divisions in American society.

The Green New Deal builds on the principles outlined by President Franklin D Roosevelt, whose New Deal was launched to battle the effects of the Great Depression. The 2019 proposal focuses on reducing inequality, whilst aiming to eliminate US greenhouse gas pollution in a decade. In addition, it includes a job guarantee program “to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one”.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US still has a long way to go in its path to renewable energy. Currently, the US gets just 17 per cent of its power from renewable sources. If the Green New Deal ends up being little more than a motivator to push a future Democratic president in the direction of renewable domestic energy sources, it could start with markedly increasing that figure.

Voters will rightly demand to know how progressives intend to pay for these bold ideas. This could differ in the primary, where the Democratic base will seek ideological purity from their candidates, and the general, where the wider American public will be more concerned with pragmatism. For now, the architects of the Green New Deal have sought to largely avoid the question. It is good politics to float the ideas and consider how to pay for them later, but the economics of the proposal will not go away. In the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has pledged free university places, greater NHS funding and the best part of £500 billion in public spending and failed to answer how he would pay for it.

How will it shape the Republican response to climate change?

Given the Green New Deal is intrinsically linked to Ms Ocasio-Cortez, whom the Republicans and conservative media have grown to love opposing and mocking in the short period of time in which she has been a member of Congress, it is unlikely the GOP will support any version of a Green New Deal. Both in terms of the politics and the economics – it would invoke the kind of vast government spending the party rallies against, whilst also acknowledging the existence of climate change and the need for a government response to it.

On the campaign trail and now in the White House, Mr Trump has denied that emissions of greenhouses gases caused by human activity are warming the planet. Instead, he argues that climate change patterns are changing naturally, and in his more excessive moments laments a climate change “hoax” engineered by China to economically punish the United States. It is difficult to foresee a sudden reversal in those views.

The electoral trends might be the only thing capable of pushing Republicans into acting on climate change and reversing their current position. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in December 2018 found that 66 per cent of Americans now say they have seen enough evidence to justify action on climate change, up from 51% 20 years ago. Crucially, a gap appears between registered independents – 79 per cent of whom support action – and Republicans – 56 per cent of whom said that concern about climate change is unwarranted or that more research is necessary before taking action.

The path to a Green New Deal might not run through 2020

The Green New Deal as currently proposed has faced its own wave of criticism. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, even went as far as describing it as “completely crazy”. It has been dismissed by the right as a would-be act of reckless big-state spending. Government spending is often embraced by the left – such as FDR’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal and LBJ’s Great Society – but it is not alien to the right. If President Trump’s executive action on border security isn’t shot down by the courts, he will spend over $5 billion with the stroke of a pen.

The enthusiasm of first-term Democrats in the 116th Congress has made the Green New Deal a litmus test for the 2020 general election. Already, Democratic hopefuls like Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have expressed their support for the proposals. It is hard to see a Democrat who opposes the legislation courting the Left of the party and winning the 2020 nomination. For a Green New Deal to succeed, it may need a longer runway than the months between now and the November 2020 general election. It may also need more visible climate change crises in the areas that are most vulnerable, in order to pressure Republican politicians to shift their stance – like in Florida. It will certainly need a Democrat in the White House and their full endorsement.

25 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Lib Dems produce Bill to properly tackle plastics crisis Today, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Environment, will present his Plastic Pollution Bill to Parliament. The Bill will set targets to help fix our plastics crisis and require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for the reduction of plastic pollution. The […]

Lib Dems produce Bill to properly tackle plastics crisis

Today, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Environment, will present his Plastic Pollution Bill to Parliament.

The Bill will set targets to help fix our plastics crisis and require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for the reduction of plastic pollution.

The Bill has been backed by a cross-party group of MPs as well as Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Institute.

Ahead of presenting his Bill, Mr Carmichael said:

Plastic pollution is the scourge of our oceans. The Government must start taking action to reduce our plastic to change our throwaway culture. The answer will need international cooperation but the UK can give a lead for other countries to follow.

The Government’s approach has been about grabbing headlines on easy parts of the agenda – banning cotton buds and plastic straws. That approach falls far short of the proper plan we need for banning single-use plastic.

To make a true difference in our oceans, we must do more than the Government’s current piecemeal approach. My Bill will allow the UK to lead the way in challenging consumer behaviour. We need to eliminate plastic pollution from our seas by aiming to end the use all non-essential single-use plastics within six years.

Lib Dems: Nearly 600 deaths on our streets is a ‘national disgrace’

Figures released this morning show that of the 597 homelessness deaths in 2017, Manchester (21) and Birmingham (18) were the cities worst affected, with Bristol, Lambeth and Liverpool (all 17), also registering more than one death a month.

Responding to these statistics, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who has introduced legislation to scrap the archaic Vagrancy Act, said:

The fact that nearly 600 people died on our streets in 2017 is not just a tragedy, it is a national disgrace of which we should be deeply ashamed.

These figures show that all over the country, our homelessness crisis is at epidemic levels and people are indefensibly losing their lives. We must do more to protect vulnerable people and support those at their lowest ebb.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We want the Government to be building up to 100,000 social homes a year, provide accommodation and support to those in need, and finally back my Bill to scrap the Vagrancy Act.

Moran: Use of Vagrancy Act should shame the Govt

A Freedom of Information request has shown that 6,518 ‘offenders’ were found guilty under the Vagrancy Act (1824) between the years 2014 to 2017 in England and Wales.

The Metropolitan Police were the most likely force to use the Act, which criminalises rough sleepers, averaging 459 convictions a year. West Midlands police force area averaged 161, and Merseyside averaged 148 per year.

Commenting on the findings, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who has brought forward legislation to scrap the Vagrancy Act, said:

The Government, and local authorities, should be ashamed that they have continued to allow the use of a law that makes rough sleeping a criminal offence, and for it to be used so prolifically with little regard for the people afflicted.

This law was controversial 200 years ago, and it has no place in a modern, compassionate society.

I call on the Government to back my cross-party campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act, a Bill which criminalises and degrades the most vulnerable, and should bring shame to those who allow its use.

Labour must back a People’s Vote with an option to stay

Responding to Labour’s Brexit policy announcement, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

We welcome this news, this could be a defining moment in the Liberal Democrat campaign for a People’s Vote.

My party will work with Labour and others to secure a People’s Vote with an option to remain.

We have long argued it is the right and logical thing to do for the people to have the final say on Brexit.

We welcome any MPs who share this crucial aim.

Rachel Wolf: On policy, it’s not the Independent Group that’s driven to the margins. It’s the Conservative Right.

The new group’s platform is not very inspiring – if, like me, you still feel public services could do with improvement. But its biggest problem is it they won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Will the former Conservative and Labour Members of the Independent Group find it easy to come to a consistent policy platform? And will that platform be ‘centre left’ or ‘centre centre’? My answers, in turn, are “yes”, and “there is no longer a meaningful distinction in Westminster between these two”.

To explain why, it’s important to look at the wider policy background.  There’s not been much of policy discussion within the Conservative Party recently. It’s wholly unclear what its domestic agenda would be at the next general election. Brexit dominates.

That will have to change. Anyone who campaigned in the 2017 general election discovered – to their cost – that many voters cared less about Brexit than the Conservative Party did. Doorstep conversations were often focused on the NHS and school funding – where the Conservatives were repeatedly crushed.

People in Westminster are often process, politics, and personality geeks – but the public care more about issues. Miserably, Brexit has whittled the number of domestic policy discussions to almost zero. The environment has become a major policy focus because at least, under Michael Gove, the Conservatives have something – anything – to say (even if that anything now appears to include a strong support for protectionism and tariffs).

Vote Leave, of course, recognised all this. Their arguments focused on the concrete: NHS funding, immigration control. Ideas that would have a direct impact on voters.

So if the Independent Group are to survive – and grow – they will need to make a differentiated case to the electorate on issues that they care about. One of their challenges, in my view, is that the space open for them is not as wide as many think.

While Theresa May talks like a traditional Conservative, domestically her government is increasingly indivisible from one that would be run by a Soft Left (not even necessarily Blairite) Prime Minister. She may have talked about citizens of nowhere, and Gavin Williamson may engage in occasional sabre-rattling, but all the substance points in the opposite direction.

The Conservative Government has become increasingly paternalist (with bans created or looming on public health issues such as sugar; on environmental issues like plastic and ivory; and on activities like social media). Ministers no longer focus on market-based reforms of public services in health or education (many of the interventions made by, for example, Justine Greening on education were completely indistinguishable from those that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls might have made back in their day). The Tories’ commitment to fiscal conservatism remains greater than Labour, but the dividing line is increasingly narrow.

Policies that were once derided when floated by Ed Miliband – such as the energy price cap – are now pushed by the Conservatives. The toughest area of government reductions that can be felt by voters – welfare – is being softened by Amber Rudd and the toughest area of government restriction – immigration – is being softened by Sajid Javid. It is only because Jeremy Corbyn is so extreme (and because all we ever discuss is Brexit) that there remains much distance between the Government and the Opposition. Between TIG and the government? It’s not very obvious.

Let’s take an article written by Chuka Umunna in 2011 in which he makes an appeal for “One Nation Labour” and which includes the two following passages:

“there is no disagreement on the need to address the deficit – despite coalition claims to the contrary. Where the disputed terrain lies is around the speed and depth of reduction and what that means for growth and jobs. “

“What I call “bad capitalism” – unrestrained capital, highly speculative, obsessed with the short term, dismissive of the ties that bind – acts as a barrier to this notion of the good society; whereas “good capitalism” – one that is entrepreneurial and productive with good democratic corporate governance – can smooth the path to a better tomorrow.”

Both of these reflect current government policy.

Now let’s take the Conservative defectors. They themselves sit on the soft left, One Nation wing of the Conservative Party.  All three of the Conservative leavers are critical of grammar schools, and are likely to support a liberal immigration policy. Allen has been a long standing critic of the rollout of welfare reforms. Sarah Wollaston has argued for a long time for much more NHS funding. Soubry is the one who may be most uncomfortable in a centre-left party – she is clearly a supporter of almost everything the Coalition government did, including “austerity”, and she has been an active Conservative for a very long time.

Fundamentally, I don’t think that merging with former Labour members will be a challenge. They will all agree that more money should be spent by the state (including redistribution). They will share a widescale support for state interventionism. There will be mutual antagonism towards some traditional ‘Tory’ policies.

This isn’t a terrible platform for public support (other than on immigration). It’s certainly not very inspiring if, like me, you still feel public services could do with quite a lot of improvement. But its biggest problem is that it won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

I began this article saying that policy matters. It does – to peoples’ lives and therefore what voters want to know about. The irony seems to me that, actually, the TIG won’t have much new and different to say from the current government (though they might say it in a better way with different sounding people). It is the traditional right, now criticised for driving out Conservatives over Brexit, that has no place in the current domestic policy debate.

Paul Mercer: Tackling empty homes in Charnwood

In many cases, when we spoke to the owners, they admitted that they were unsure about how they could either sell or rent out their property.

Cllr Paul Mercer is councillor in Loughborough.

Charnwood is a fairly typical English borough with a mixture of housing – dense terraced properties in the centre of town, housing estates and small villages – in its two parliamentary constituencies. The number of empty homes in the borough is relatively low in comparison with some areas in northern England, such as Burnley where whole streets are boarded-up. But there have been a residual of around 650 which had remained empty for six months or more.

If someone chooses to buy a property and keep it empty then they have an absolute right to do so even though one could question whether it makes financial sense, at least outside London. However, having looked at the problem in more detail, it was apparent, first, that a number of these properties were creating problems for the local area. Problems such as vandalism, rodents and general disrepair were all mentioned and each year the private sector housing team was receiving about 25 complaints. The second problem is that, in many cases, when we spoke to the owners, they admitted that they were unsure about how they could either sell or rent out their property and had simply left it empty because it was the easiest thing to do.

In 2015, we set up the scrutiny panel to examine the problem of empty homes and despite resistance from our officers, recommended that Charnwood introduces an empty homes premium – charging more council tax on properties that had been empty for more than six months. At the time, officers had a target of bringing just four long-term empty properties back into use each year and even then, they complained that this objective was “challenging”. We therefore decided to complement this new premium with the appointment of an empty homes officer who would be given the ambitious target of 50 homes each year.

Although the appointment of any new council employee costs money, this was a position which effectively paid for itself because these properties triggered the new homes bonus and therefore generated considerably more income although most of it is taken by the county council. At the same time, not only did it mean that more houses were entering the property market, but we were addressing the problems caused by empty properties and, in many cases, actually helping the owners deal with their problem.

The majority of these properties were relatively small two or three bedroomed houses but there was one, actually in my ward, which was very large and had remained empty for two decades. Although the owner had hoped to convert it into flats there had been a number of reasons why this proved difficult. Our new empty homes officer contacted the owner directly and persuaded him that it would be possible to bring it back into use by modernising it in four separate phases. The first stage has now been completed and there are six new flats occupied by tenants; the next three stages will see the addition of 17 flats bringing the total to 23.

Addressing the problem of empty homes has been an all-win success story with the owners, local residents and council taxpayers benefiting. It has shown that the Conservative’s policy of introducing the empty homes premium, when correctly applied, can have a beneficial effect, as well as generating some extra revenue. Charnwood’s pragmatic approach to this problem is one which other councils could benefit from.

Iain Mansfield: We have nothing to fear from No Deal

It would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash.

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

One constant on our journey to leave the EU is that the predictions of Project Fear have repeatedly failed to come true. Despite the predictions of the Treasury, there was no immediate recession, “immediate and profound economic shock”, ten per cent drop in house prices or ‘’Punishment Budget’ as a consequence of the vote to Leave. Instead we’ve seen a growing economy, the highest ever level of employment, growing wages, falling inflation and an £11.8bn increase in exports in 2018.

The new bogeyman is No Deal. The summer of 2018 saw repeated stories of planes being grounded in the event of No Deal, only for, entirely predictably, the EU to make provision in December for flights to continue for twelve months to allow alternative measures to be put in place. More recently, claims that our trade to other countries would grind to a halt are being refuted by the regular drumbeat of mutual recognition agreements signed by the Department of International Trade, including one last week with our largest non-EU trade partner, the USA. I do not say that there will be no short-term impact in the event of No Deal, but it will be vastly less than is being suggested.

In my 2014 prize-winning paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs, I explicitly considered the possibility of No Deal. No Deal was not the preferred outcome – I would have preferred a Free Trade Agreement, outside both the Single Market and Customs Union, similar to the position set out by Vote Leave in June 2016. It was, however, always a potential outcome, and it was important to consider how to put in place policies to make a success of it. In this article, I set out a high-level set of policies for making a success of No Deal, drawing on that paper and ongoing developments in the four years since.

Making a success of a Managed No Deal

Citizen’s RightsThe welfare of both UK and EU citizens is of the highest priority. As the Prime Minister has already announced, all EU citizens living in the UK should continue to be able to do so, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. Many EU countries have already put in place equivalent arrangements for UK citizens and similar commitments should be sought from those that have yet to do so.

Visas and Migration: The UK should put in place visa-free arrangements for short-term tourist and business travel, covering up to 90 days in any 180 day period, mirroring the scheme already announced by the EU. Immigration rules for EU nationals should be brought in to line with those for non-EU nationals, ending the current discriminatory arrangements. There should be no cap on the number of EU students, but students arriving after March 2019 should not receive government-funded loans and should pay fees at international rates.

‘Divorce bill’: In the event of No Deal, it is self-evident that no money should be paid to the EU.

Trade and tariffsThe UK should abide by WTO rules and impose the same tariffs on EU importe that are currently faced by imports from outside the EU. Notwithstanding the theoretical positive economic case for unilaterally removing tariff barriers, it is important that shutting the UK out of EU markets is not a cost-free decision for continental business, in order to build the environment for a future deal once the political climate has altered.

Due to the UK’s trade deficit with the EU, estimates suggest we stand to collect up to an extra £13 billion a year from tariffs, while the EU would gain only £5 billion. Some of these funds should be used to help industries most impacted by EU trade barriers adjust and find new markets, in a strictly time-limited and tapering way to prevent them fostering inefficiency and rent-seeking behaviour. The rest should be reinvested into infrastructure and other competitiveness-enhancing investments.

Within six months of leaving, the UK should draw up a list of goods on which the EU has imposed unnecessarily high tariffs. This should prioritise consumer goods that the UK produces little of itself – from oranges to textiles – to directly reduce the cost of living without harming jobs.

Industrial StrategyIn contrast to Project Fear’s claims, EY’s 2018 UK Attractiveness Survey – an annual examination of the performance and perceptions of the UK as an investment destination – confirmed that the UK remains the number one destination for inward investment in Europe, with the number of investment projects up six per cent from the year before. Though Brexit has had an impact, it is small: 79 per cent of businesses say that they’ve increased or not changed their plans to invest since the Brexit vote, with only eight per cent saying they are likely to relocate assets within the next three years.

The UK should capitalise on this investor confidence. With full freedom to set our own regulatory affairs, the UK should rapidly seek to reform business regulation in areas where the EU has imposed unnecessary bureaucracy, particularly in sectors where this has directly targeted UK competitiveness. Existing labour rights and environmental standards should be maintained.

Broader measures to promote business investment should also be brought forward. A step-wise lowering of corporation tax to 15 per cent by 2022, an enhancement of R&D tax credits, the creation of special export zones and increased transport infrastructure, particularly in the Midlands and North, are all ideas that should be considered for fast-track implementation.            

UK-Ireland land border: No physical barriers should be erected on the Irish border. Importers bringing goods across the border should be required to register and pay tariffs on any imports using an online portal, with compliance enforced via spot-checks on industrial and commercial facilities and an enhancement of the existing cross-border arrangements used to combat smuggling. The success of this system should be reviewed 12 months after exit, ideally in partnership with the Republic of Ireland, and limited border checks introduced only if both parties agree it is necessary.

Individuals should be allowed to move freely across the island of Ireland, with eligibility for work, residency and benefits checked only when a person applied for such. A generous allowance for transport of goods for personal consumption should be put in place.

Existing controls would remain in place at airports and ports to monitor travel between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.

If the Republic of Ireland chooses to erect physical barriers on the border, that would be its decision, not the UK’s.

Future EU Relations: The UK should not seek to immediately negotiate a trade deal with the  EU. After the acrimony of the current negotiations, this would be unlikely to lead to a positive outcome. Instead, the UK should increase business certainty by clearly pursuing an economic path that lies outside the EU.

The year immediately following exit should be used to regularise agreements in essential areas, such as air travel, which will initially be covered by emergency arrangements. These should largely be technical affairs modelled on the EU’s and UK’s arrangements with third parties. It may also be possible to negotiate entry into stand-alone, uncontroversial, programmes such as those on scientific cooperation.

It is likely that in three to five years’ time the political situation may have calmed sufficiently to seek to negotiate a stand-alone trade agreement. This should be modelled on the Canada Free Trade Agreement and would take as its status quo the No Deal arrangements, in order to avoid unreasonable expectations on either side.

We have nothing to fear from No Deal

I am not a No Deal fanatic. Last year on this site I advocated support for Chequers, and I still believe that, if the backstop is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal would be worth signing. We must not, however, accept a deal at any cost. To succeed in any negotiation, one must be prepared to walk away – and the actions of MPs who have effectively announced that they will take any deal, however bad, have undoubtedly hamstrung our negotiations.

The Conservative Manifesto set it out clearly: No Deal is better than a bad deal. I continue to hope that a compromise will be found, and that the EU will agree to remove or place a time-limit on the backstop. However, rather than accept a deal which yokes us indefinitely to the EU, we should embrace a future outside. No Deal would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash. Britain’s fundamental economic strengths, competitiveness and international relationships, supported by an appropriate set of domestic policies, mean it is abundantly clear that we can have a positive economic future in this scenario.

A cold climate for younger voters

Trashing last Friday’s event is doubtless fun for Conservative commentators, but not the right course at all for the Conservative Party.

If you believe that human activity is the main driver of climate change, this Government has policies for you.  Its framework was set by the Climate Change Act of 2008 – introduced by the last Labour Government, supported by the Conservatives and sustained by the Coalition – which set a greenhouse gas reduction target.  It was to reduce emissions to 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050.  You might reply that what matters is reducing emissions, not setting targets, let alone setting them law.  But successive Governments have done so: emissions in the UK have fallen by 42 per cent since 1990 – faster than those of any other G7 nation.

This record presumably doesn’t satisfy the pupils who took a day off school on Friday – mostly unauthorised – to demand that the Government declare a ‘climate emergency”.  It doesn’t satisfy some 50 Conservative MPs, either.  They want that emissions target for 2050 to be zero.  The Parliamentarian who organised a letter that they signed was Simon Clarke.  He will be known to readers of this site as one of our most committed pro-Brexit writers.

Elsewhere, Michael Gove has picked up the green ball and run with it.  He has upped the pace of activity at the Environment Department.  There are bans galore: on microbeads and ivory, on new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 (assuming successor governments don’t back off), on plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds (at least, if Gove has his way).  Elsewhere, he is setting up a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, has slapped up CCTV in slaughterhouses, and ensured that businesses will pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste.

It is worth setting all this out in the context of the Government’s miserabalist response to the Youth Strike 4 Climate event.  Theresa May said that “disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for”.  Andrea Leadsom added that: “it’s truancy, not a strike”.  Ministers and Downing Street are overwhelmed by Brexit and most of them don’t seem to have thought their reactions through.

Yes, yes: we know.  Pupils should indeed be at school on weekdays.  The planners of the march doubtless selected Friday as the day most likely to swell numbers: choose the day before Saturday, and so make the weekend longer.  If one wants to get an accurate measure of how much young people care about the climate, try holding a march over a weekend and see how many turn up.  As it is, only 15,000 turned out of some three million secondary school children.  You will point out that there is limited utility in engaging with people who chant “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” or “f**k Theresa May”, whatever their age may be.

You will add that those who really care about the environment don’t tear up grass, and that swigging champagne in public is a novel form of environmental protest (though also not unusual, you will concede, among young people of all political persuasions, including those who pass through the Bullingdon Club).  All true enough – and beside the point.  It is one thing for a right-of-centre website to say all this; quite another for a right-of-centre party to do so.

The Conservative Party has a problem attracting younger voters.  You may not care for the response to the march of Claire Perry – who is the Government’s lead minister on Climate Change, operating out of the Business Department rather than Gove’s – but her psychology was sound: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too,” she said.  This was at least a way of beginning to gain a hearing among the mass of young people who neither went on the march nor vote Conservative.  (Some will doubtless disagree with this take, but the most vociferous of these are likely to have right-of-centre views in any event.)

Only once one has gained a hearing can one start a dialogue.  How many younger voters know about the emissions reduction record with which we opened this piece?  If they really want zero emissions by 2050, are they conscious of the potential trade-offs?  If they wish to get there now, what would that mean to the public services who rely on present patterns of energy consumption, or for poorer peoples’ electricity bills, or for younger peoples’ jobs and opportunities?

Even were voters prepared to pay this price, what about emissions in other countries – which produce the overwhelming majority of emissions?  How can we weigh the balance of the human activity in relation to climate change against that of other factors, such as the activity of the sun?  Above all – and getting down to brass tacks – what is each person doing to reduce his or her own emissions footprint?  That draws the conversation to a very conservative theme indeed: personal responsibility.

Some will doubtless claim that there is name for approaching the subject in this way: appeasement.  If this is so, then any attempt by any politician to engage with a view other than his own is appeasement.  Another name is more accurate: politics.  Political engagement by a political party means persuading those who don’t already support it to do so.  Oh, and as for “f**k Theresa May”: don’t we now hear this message each day, in effect, from rather a large slice of Conservative MPs?

Wilf Lytton: Our dependency on natural gas will cost us if we don’t act swiftly

Ofgem should introduce a new ‘low-carbon gas obligation’ in the next price control framework from April 2021. This would enable the UK to decarbonise its heating sectorat the lowest possible cost.

Wilf Lytton is Senior Researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of Pressure in the pipeline: decarbonising the UK’s gas.

Much of the energy we use in the UK comes from a single source: natural gas. Cheap and plentiful, it is used to power all manner of things – from cookers and boilers to power stations and gas-fuelled lorries – accounting for some 39 per cent of our total energy use.

Like flicking a switch, we hardly notice its existence, but grumble when our energy bills go up. Last year saw gas and electricity prices rise on two occasions, a trend that has become a source of much ire for British consumers and politicians. The energy price cap, introduced earlier this year, is not a long-term solution: it can only guarantee affordable gas prices so long as wholesale costs remain stable. Indeed, energy prices will rise again this April, despite the cap.

Burning fossil natural gas adds significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from homes and gas power stations. In fact, in 2016, the natural gas contributed to over a third of the UK’s total emissions. The Government faces a significant challenge: to provide the investment and incentives necessary to more deeply decarbonise UK gas, so this country achieve its current and likely future emissions reduction target, whilst avoiding further consumer price rises.

There are no straightforward solutions here, but Ministers can put in place measures that clearly signal to the actors in the gas market they want it to deliver clean and affordable gas. Bright Blue’s report new report, Pressure in the pipeline, recommends new policies.

First, Government needs to enable much greater usage of low carbon alternatives to natural gas. The UK is home to a cottage industry of low-carbon alternatives. In fact, there’s a good chance that a small proportion of the gas that ends up in your home already comes from one of more of the 100 or so anaerobic digestion plants in the UK that are connected to the gas network. These small-scale operations convert the nation’s food waste into biomethane. Biomethane produced in this way has the potential to replace up to 10 per cent of the natural gas we currently use.

The UK also hosts around half a dozen trial projects that are demonstrating the potential for using hydrogen to heat our homes. When hydrogen gas burns, it produces only water, making it one of the cleanest fuels to use. There is also a readily available supply of feedstock from which to produce hydrogen. However, manufacturing it sustainably requires a significant amount of energy, and there are technical challenges around using hydrogen that are still being resolved.

However, just as renewable energy has become the lowest cost form of electricity generation as a result of long-term policy decisions by government, so too are effective policies needed to ensure that environmentally sustainable alternatives to natural gas become the norm. A priority should be for Ofgem to introduce a new ‘low-carbon gas obligation’ in the next price control framework from April 2021. This will achieve two things: it will enable the UK to decarbonise its heating sector and it will do that at the lowest possible cost, without distorting the market, removing the need to subsidise alternatives to natural gas.

Furthermore, existing Gas Safety Regulations that restrict the use of biomethane and hydrogen in the gas network – particularly those concerning safety management and calculation of thermal energy – should be reformed so as to enable a higher proportion of low carbon gases to flow in the gas network.

Second, the UK Government must deliver a programme of energy efficiency improvements in homes across the country. Many of Britain’s homes have languished in a state of poor energy efficiency, leaving householders with expensive energy bills and exacerbating the problem of fuel poverty. It is clear that many homes can benefit from low-cost energy efficiency improvements, but homeowners either lack the financial resources or awareness to implement these.

Historically, Government schemes to improve energy efficiency have been overly complex and poorly targeted. Instead, regulation should leverage the private sector’s ability to deliver improvements in homes. By increasing energy efficiency requirements for boilers and introducing Home Affordability Assessments, private sector actors could be encouraged to deliver energy efficiency improvements to UK homes.

Natural gas remains one of the cheapest forms of energy we have today, though for how much longer that will be true is unclear. However, what we don’t pay for now – its carbon dioxide emissions – we will be forced to pay for in decades to come. Complacency is not an option: we cannot afford to continue burning natural gas for much longer. And the sooner we seriously pursue alternatives, the less costly it will be.

Shaun Bailey: London just isn’t working for everyone. We need a Mayor who will help it to do so.

Our concerns aren’t in Europe, or America. They’re local. They’re at the end of our road. We are worried about the dire state of crime, housing and air quality.

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London

One of the things that strikes me as I go around meeting Londoners is just how much of our beautiful city we don’t see on our tellies or in our newspapers.

London is – without a doubt – the global city the world knows and loves, but for most of us it’s just ‘home’. Yes, it’s the place of the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Square Mile, but it’s also home to quiet neighbourhood parks, local chippies, crowded train platforms, and backed-up roundabouts that do our heads in.

Most of us living in London just don’t experience the city the world reads about. Other than a long commute to work, most of our day-to-day doesn’t reach much beyond our hood. The London experience of someone living in Harrow can be significantly different to someone living in Romford. The same goes for Sutton and Walthamstow. Or Bexley and Barnet, for that matter.

London sure felt like a small place when I was growing up. I had the estates around Ladbroke Grove and not much beyond that. We’d wander up and down the Grand Union Canal and take the Number 7 bus to Oxford Circus every once in a while, but my ends were my world. I didn’t know much about the City, or the historic redevelopment of Canary Wharf. And South London? You might as well have been talking about another country.

No, my concerns back then were closer to home. And it’s the same principle that applies to local elections now. Our concerns aren’t in Europe, or America. They’re local. They’re at the end of our road. Londoners are worried about the dire state of crime, housing and air quality. The upcoming election is about the cost and quality of our daily lives.

Since Sadiq Khan’s election, London has become more dangerous, commuting to work has become more expensive, and homes have become harder to find and even harder to afford. It’s these everyday concerns that have made Londoners anxious for their futures.

Violent crime now haunts every borough in Greater London. Knife crime is at its highest for a decade. Gangs are out of control. Londoners are worried about their personal security, and the safety of their children. Everyday it feels like we read about yet another young life lost to knife attacks.

London is also growing and that’s putting intense pressure on our transport services. Despite what was promised, tube fares have gone up for 4.5 million Londoners, while ridership has gone down. Bus routes are being cut and tube improvements are being cancelled. The Elizabeth Line is now two years behind schedule and billions over budget. All told, Transport for London is losing nearly a billion pounds per year, meaning Londoners will be paying the bill for Sadiq Khan’s poor leadership for years to come.

As a result, the city’s volume of road traffic is up and our road congestion is worse. Our air is far too dirty. The millions of trees that were promised aren’t being planted. Asthmatics like me are finding it harder to function, and the health of our youth and our elderly are being impacted.

In short, Londoners are finding it harder to get by and get around. They’re finding it harder to find a home and raise a family. The cost of living is up, and quality of life down. While those with the means are rightly enjoying all that London has to offer, most ordinary Londoners on ordinary wages are struggling.

Put simply, London just isn’t working for everyone. And Khan doesn’t have a plan to make it work. Instead of getting on with solving London’s problems, Khan is satisfied with shifting the blame. Because Khan never takes responsibility. Ever. In Khan’s world, his lack of delivery is always someone else’s fault.

That’s just not good enough for the people of Barnet. Or Harrow. Or Romford. Or Bexley. Or whatever piece of this wonderful city you call home. If London doesn’t work for all of us, then that’s on the Mayor, and no-one else.

And it’s on me, too, as I develop my plan for London. I look forward to sharing it with you over the coming months.

Why the Liberal Democrats must be at the forefront of a UK Green New Deal

Since it was first introduced in the US in 2007, the idea of a Green New Deal has received substantial support amongst a wide range of the electorate worldwide, who are increasingly rallying their governments to tackle the imminent threat of climate change. Recently gaining traction after the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to US Congress, […]

Since it was first introduced in the US in 2007, the idea of a Green New Deal has received substantial support amongst a wide range of the electorate worldwide, who are increasingly rallying their governments to tackle the imminent threat of climate change.

Recently gaining traction after the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to US Congress, the growing need to put a Green New Deal into practice is once again making its way to the forefront of global politics. Who will speak up for a deal like this in the UK?

A recent European Commission report revealed that the UK currently leads the way in fossil fuel subsidies, providing a staggering £10.5 billion to support the industry. The continuous commitment to propping up such environmentally harmful practices against the will of a large percentage of the UK populace is not only damaging to our mutual trust, but the future of our world.

The current state of British politics is at a critical point. At a time of great political upheaval across the nation, the Liberal Democrats have a chance to take centre-stage in refocusing the national agenda and rebuilding national trust in our party. 

A UK Green New Deal is a way in which we do exactly that. A progressive, positive agenda which underlines the importance of protecting our nation’s economic interests as well as our environmental prospects. By wielding much more focus towards supporting renewable and cleaner energies and protecting our natural earth, we can also thousands of new jobs and lessen inequality in a fresh, booming new industrial sector. 

Not only is a move towards such a deal a signal of intent of how the Liberal Democrats intend to develop future policy in the face of a changing world, but it signifies to our nation that, in a time of great political upheaval – we remain a party committed to equality, committed to the development of our economy and committed to a better future for the United Kingdom and the world at large. 

* Daniel Willis is a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Round Green ward (Luton South) for the 2019 local election. Candidate page - https://www.facebook.com/danlibdem/