A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

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“The backstop is anti-democratic.” Johnson’s letter about it to Tusk. Full Text.

Dear Donald,

United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union

The date of the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU), 31 October, is fast approaching. I very much hope that we will be leaving with a deal. You have my personal commitment that this Government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority.

With that in mind, I wanted to set out our position on some key aspects of our approach, and in particular on the so-called “backstop” in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement. Before I do so, let me make three wider points.

First, Ireland is the UK’s closest neighbour, with whom we will continue to share uniquely deep ties, a land border, the Common Travel Area, and much else besides. We remain, as we have always been, committed to working with Ireland on the peace process, and to furthering Northern Ireland’s security and prosperity. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland, and want to find solutions to the border which work for all.

Second, and flowing from the first, I want to re-emphasis the commitment of this Government to peace in Northern Ireland. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as well as being an agreement between the UK and Ireland, is a historic agreement between two traditions in Northern Ireland, and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances – whether there is a deal with the EU or not.

Third, and for the avoidance of any doubt, the UK remains committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area, to upholding the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, to ongoing North-South cooperation, and to retaining the benefits of the Single Electricity Market.

The changes we seek relate primarily to the backstop. The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons. The truth is that it is simply unviable, for these three reasons.

First, it is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state.

The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them.

That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.

Second, it is inconsistent with the UK’s desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU.

When the UK leaves the EU and after any transition period, we will leave the single market and the customs union. Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.

The backstop is inconsistent with this ambition. By requiring continued membership of the customs union and applying many single market rules in Northern Ireland, it presents the whole of the UK with the choice of remaining in a customs union and aligned with those rules, or of seeing Northern Ireland gradually detached from the UK economy across a very broad ranges of areas. Both of those outcomes are unacceptable to the British Government.

Accordingly, as I said in Parliament on 25 July, we cannot continue to endorse the specific commitment, in paragraph 49 of the December 2017 Joint Report, to ‘full alignment’ with wide areas of the single market and the customs union. That cannot be the basis for the future relationship and it is not a basis for the sound governance of Northern Ireland.

Third, it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The historic compromise in Northern Ireland is based upon a carefully negotiated balance between both traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent, and respect for minority rights. While I appreciate the laudable intentions with which the backstop was designed, by removing control of such large areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control, this balance risks being undermined.

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement neither depends upon nor requires a particular customs or regulatory regime.

The broader commitments in the Agreement, including to parity of esteem, partnership, democracy and to peaceful means of resolving differences, can be be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop.

Next Steps

For these three reasons the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact we must both acknowledge. I believe the task before us is to strive to find other solutions, and I believe an agreement is possible.

We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border. One of the many dividends of peace in Northern Ireland and the vast reduction of the security threat is the disappearance of a visible border. This is something to be celebrated and preserved. This Government will not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise.

We must also respect the aim to find “flexible and creative” solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. That means that alternative ways of managing the customs and regulatory differences contingent on Brexit must be explored. The reality is that there are already two separate legal, political, economic and monetary jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. This system is already administered without contention and with an open border.

The UK and the EU have already agreed that “alternative arrangements” can be part of the solution. Accordingly:

– I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship.

– I also recognise that there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period. We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at whatcommitment might help, consistent of course with the principles set out in this letter.

Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise. I am equally confident that our Parliament would be able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the “backstop”: indeed it has already demonstrated that there is a majority for an agreement on these lines.

I believe that a solution on the lines we are proposing will be more stable, more long lasting, and more consistent with the overarching framework of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which has been decisive for peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the EU can work energetically in this direction and for my part I am determined to do so.

I am copying this letter to the President of the European Commission and members of the European Council.

Yours ever,

Boris

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A No Deal Brexit. “It’s not going to be the end of the world. But it’s not going to be a walk in the park either.”

ConservativeHome took an early interest in a No Deal Brexit – we have long believed it is a strong possibility – running a five-part series on it over two years ago, and then another almost exactly a year later.

But we have been hesitant in pronouncing on it ourselves.  The range and depth of the issues; the obscurity of whether law would win out over politics in the event of No Deal taking place; what that politics would be, especially on the EU side; the division of responsibility there between local authorities, national governments and the EU institutions themselves; the contestability of information that appears in the media from the UK side; the shortage of its counterpart from the EU one; and, above all, the tendency of all concerned to believe what they want to believe – all this and much more makes reading what would happen in the event of a No Deal Brexit riddlingly hard.

None the less, we believe that it is possible to trace the outline of what might take place, and that it is worth trying to do so, especially in the light of recent leaks about the state of play in UK.

  • One must begin with the fact that No Deal really would mean what it says: in other words, leaving the EU without any agreement at all.  To describe this as trading with its members on WTO terms is accurate but incomplete.  Doing business with another country or group of countries on such terms takes many forms – usually, including side-agreements.  This type would have none.  It would be, so to speak, a minimum WTO arrangement, at least at the start.
  • It is therefore a misnomer to speak of a “managed No Deal” – unless the EU signs up to a Malthouse Compromise or Clean Managed Brexit-type plan.  What the EU has announced to date is a unilateral preparedness programme.  It would be inaccurate to describe this as a series of mini-deals.
  • It also follows that the arrangements on the UK side can only be half the story.  How the EU handles its own half, including the tariff and non-tariff checks on goods from the UK that would follow from us becoming a third country, will be crucial.  In this respect, attention has been focused on the channel ports, especially Dover and Calais.
  • The optimistic view is that the national governments in question, and certainly the ports themselves, have no interest in running any more than minimal checks – and are likely to run down even these in the event of bottlenecks and queues.  This view is pushed energetically and consistently by the Calais authorities.
  • The pessimistic take is that the EU itself – with France, Germany and the Commission in the driving seat – will see No Deal through the lens of politics, not economics.  In this event, it will not be receiving £39 billion from the UK.  And it will require a hard border in Ireland in order to police its internal market.
  • The EU and the national governments will therefore attempt, according to this reading, to maximise tariff and non-tariff checks at the ports (and elsewhere).  Hence the long run of stories, including yesterday’s Sunday Times Operation Yellowhammer details, about queues in Kent – and shortages of fresh food, medicines, fuel, etc.
  • An under-written aspect of the No Deal story is the readiness, or lack of it, on the EU side of the channel.  An organisation no less critical of the Government than the CBI has said that “contrary to some claims, the EU is behind the UK in its plans to prevent the worst effects”.
  • None the less, the possibility of maximum rather than minimal checks on the EU side raises questions about the preparedness or otherwise on the UK side.  Perhaps the best way of estimating this is to follow what Ministers themselves have been saying – or try to, given the element of repetition and confusion in reporting.
  • In April, Chris Heaton-Harris, who had just resigned as a DexEU Minister, suggested that Britain was ready for No Deal: plans for it, he insisted, were “very well advanced”. He went on to criticise what he called “end of the world is nigh” stories – which were concentrated upon claims of maximum checks on the EU side, as above.
  • In June, however, Michael Gove, setting out his stall for the Conservative leadership, implied that we were not ready – calling the October 31 deadline for leaving “arbitrary” and saying that he was “not wedded to it”.  He added that a No Deal Brexit could lead to a general election and a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, there have been a mass of No Deal preparation announcements, including the following: 500 new border force officials; buying livestock; ramping up HMRC; increasing local authority preparedness; redeploying civil servants; improving lorry paperwork.
  • Put all this together, and questions arise.  Whose assessment of the UK’s preparedness was better – Heaton-Harris’s, or Gove’s?  If the latter was on the money in June, how much has really changed in scarcely more than two months?  If readiness was so well advanced under May, why the welter of new announcements under Johnson?
  • Part of the answer, according to Downing Street and other sources, is that Philip Hammond did the minimum he was obliged to do, by way of No Deal preparation, because he never believed in it as an option – even though he was formally signed up to it, as he was to all other Government policy.
  • Another element seems to be that, whatever may be the case with the Government’s preparations, it is the private sector’s that perhaps should be of most concern.  Some businesses appear to have convinced themselves that a No Deal Brexit will not be allowed to happen; others, particularly smaller ones, may not be across the possibility at all.
  • Gove insists that the Yellowhammer document, with its gloomy assessment of public and private sector readiness for No Deal, is out of date – along with other similar leaks.  The Sunday Times insists that it is very recent.  The Government should clear the matter up by publishing its own up-to-date assessment forthwith.
  • This should also cover the mass of No Deal-related issues other than possible delays at the channel ports and their consequences – such as law enforcement data and information-sharing; financial services; fishing; data; energy supplies; UK citizens in the EU: i.e – the subjects referred to in the Yellowhammer report, and more.
  • There would evidently be no immediate economic upside to No Deal – though Open Europe thinks that the eventual downside “could be reduced to an average reduction in growth of -0.04% a year if the government deploys maximum mitigation measures in the form of unilateral trade liberalisation”.  We make three points in closing.
  • First, the balance of the argument suggests that the EU, noting that the Johnson Government has a small majority and believing, not necessarily correctly, that No Deal will damage the UK more than the EU itself, would seek to apply checks as rigorously as possible – in the expectation that the UK would return to the negotiating table.
  • Second, we are tending to see one side of the picture.  It is not in the interest of the Government to disclose all the mitigation measures it has put in place to prepare for No Deal.  The picture we are being painted of a lack of preparedness may therefore be exaggerated.
  • Third, potential damage from No Deal could be offset by a dramatic programme of tax cuts and structual reform.  But it must be asked whether the present Parliament would agree to this – and what the likelihood is of a government with such a programme winning a sustainable majority at a general election.
  • All in all, the verdict of Roberto Azevedo, the Director-General of the WTO, is surely worth heeding.  His view? “It’s not going to be the end of the world but it’s not going to be a walk in the park either. It is going to be a bumpy road.” He said this in the context of our original point above – that there are different sorts of WTO terms.

To those who claim that there is no mandate for a No Deal Brexit, our response is simple.  A referendum was held on whether or not to leave the EU.  The British people voted for Brexit.  Not for a Deal Brexit or a No Deal Brexit: but, very simply, for leaving itself.

Brexit should therefore take place as soon as possible, no general election having obviated the referendum verdict – and immense damage having been done to the Conservative Party, and to the country itself, by delay.

Lord Ashcroft’s massive post-referendum poll found that the main reason why the British people voted to Leave was because of “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.  That rationale is political, rather than economic.

In the event of the very worst No Deal forecasts coming true, we will find out how attached voters are to that take.  Or even if smaller-scale disruption takes place.

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I’m a GNU. How do you do?

Let’s start by returning to the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Under its terms, a general election will not automatically follow if Boris Johnson’s Government is defeated in a vote of no confidence,   Instead, there will be a 14 days window in which to form a new administration.  If during these a putative one emerges, it will be subject to a vote of confidence.  Only if that fails will an election take place.

Now let’s look at the current Commons in that light.

It is by no means certain that the Prime Minister would lose a no confidence vote as matters stand.  This is because his opponents cannot be sure that enough Conservative backbenchers and opposition MPs would combine to force him out.  ConservativeHome will look more closely at the numbers later this week.

But if he did, the odds of him then losing a second Commons vote are longer.  To understand why, imagine the following.  Johnson loses a no confidence vote.  The Queen permits him to have a go at forming another government within the 14 day window.  Johnson’s defeat in the vote of confidence that follows would bring about an election, under the terms of the Fixed Terms Act, as described above.  Some MPs willing to oppose Johnson in the original vote of no confidence might therefore be willing to support him in the vote of confidence.  Why?  Because they don’t want to face the voters in a general election.

Of course, the Queen might not allow Johnson to have another go.  But that possibility makes our point in a different way.  The only other plausible Prime Ministerial candidate is Jeremy Corbyn.  And some MPs willing to oppose Johnson in that original vote of no confidence would be unlikely to support Corbyn in a vote of confidence.

In short, they might be willing to turn Johnson out, but not to put Corbyn in.  Again, this site will probe the numbers in detail later this week.

And Corbyn is the only other feasible Prime Ministerial candidate.  Take the talk of Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman as Prime Minister with not so much a pinch as a spoonful of salt.  The J.Alfred Prufrock MPs of the Tory benches aren’t going to back Harman.  And their Labour equivalents won’t support Clarke.  And since Conservative and Labour MPs together form a large majority in the Commons, either outcome lies at the very edge of possibility.

The so-called Government of National Unity or GNU – actually, a Government of National Disunity, since it would exclude all those who want Brexit now – looks like a wildebeest, in the manner of its namesake in the old Flanders and Swann song.  I’m a GNU.  How do you do?

For all these reasons, a no confidence vote will surely be a weapon of the last rather than the first resort for the Prime Minister’s opponents.  They would get a better return by seeking to pass a Bill compelling him to seek a further extension, aided and abetted by the Speaker.  Could anti-No Deal MPs draw up a legally watertight text?  Would Johnson seek an election if such a Bill looked likely to pass?  Would the Commons grant him one?  We may be about to find out.

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Richard Short: Don’t fall for the scare stories. Chlorinated chicken would be good for you. It’s time to tuck in.

Richard Short is the Deputy Director of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists, and was Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington North in 2015.

So you think chlorinated food is going to ruin your health? If you have been to a restaurant and eaten the salad, then it’s too late, I’m afraid.

For EU Food safety rules demand that salads must be disinfected: this almost always means using chlorine and, trust me, even the highest-end restaurants do it. Quite right, too: it’s safe, very effective and it’s cheap. So if the EU is so demanding of our salads, why such a flap about giving the same treatment to chicken?

Chlorinated chicken has become the symbol of everything bad about trade with the United States – or indeed, any other country that treats chicken in this way, the reasons for which are many and varied. The anti-chlorine narrative is centred around food safety, with some commentators claiming the chlorine itself is harmful, which is simply untrue.

A more intelligent argument is that US welfare and abattoir standards for poultry are less strict, allowing higher density flocks which in turn, it is argued, leads to spread of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella. The EU banned the use of chlorine in 1997, preferring a ‘farm to fork” approach to improve food safety. This approach places regulations on husbandry, feedstuffs, abattoir hygiene and food production – with more and more regulation creeping in over the years.

The US places its reliance on voluntary industry standards for husbandry, but has equally strict regulations for abattoirs. And it has food business standards which eclipse those of the EU – as anyone who has been in cross hairs of a United States Public Health Inspector will testify.

So who is doing better by the consumer? The clear winner is the United States – and we only need to look at the infection rate from one food poisoning bug to understand why. The most common worldwide pathogen present in chicken is the campylobacter bacteria. It exists in, on and around chicken and, while it causes the chicken no harm, it is the single highest cause of bacterial gastro-enteritis in the EU.

In the UK alone there has been a steady 50-60,000 cases annually reported. In the entire United States, by comparison, there were just over 6000 cases reported. In both countries, there are many unreported cases but, as both jurisdictions have well established and highly advanced public surveillance, the officially reported cases are an equivalent benchmark.

The EU’s intransigence on not allowing the chlorination of chicken is economically significant. Not only does it create an impasse in any trade negotiations with the US but, closer to home, it has a direct cost to the British economy in working days lost due to illness, with the associated costs to the NHS and social care.

The narrative of the Brexit debate has led to the chlorination of chicken becoming the antithesis of food safety. The irony is that, as well as the positive impact on food safety, the EU itself has publicly declared there are no food safety grounds to ban the process.

Yet it has been barred since the late twentieth century and, in doing so, the EU has banned the production of a safe, cheap source of meat for EU consumers. The sooner we start using chlorine, the faster we will see infection rates fall – and the sooner we’ll see hard pressed consumers more able to buy high quality, good value protein.

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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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John Strafford: The Grieve case raises a question. Do local Associations have the power not to reselect their Conservative MP?

John Strafford is Chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.

Before the present Conservative Party constitution was adopted in 1998 Constituency Associations were virtually autonomous.  Is this still the case?

In July last year, Dominic Grieve, our local MP, made a long speech about Brexit. Despite him previously having declared that he would abide by the result of the EU referendum, and having voted in favour of the moving of Article 50, it had become obvious that he was determined to do everything possible to stop us leaving.

In the light of this development, I lost all confidence in him as my MP and started to collect the names of other members of Beaconsfield Conservatice Association who felt the same, and no longer wished him to be our candidate at the next general election.

On February 27th, I gave a written motion of no confidence in Dominic Grieve to the Chairman of the Association. On March 4th, I was told that the motion was invalid since I was no longer a member of the Conservative Party – after 56 years of membership.

By the time I had sorted the matter out, and obtained a membership card from CCHQ, the agenda for the Association’s Annual General Meeting had been published and my motion of “no confidence” had been replaced by a motion of “confidence”. (Incidentally my membership card was dated before the date when I submitted the motion – thus starting the many attempts to prevent me and others from speaking out.)

When the AGM duly took place on March 29th, Grieve lost that vote of confidence by 182 votes to 131. He then made it clear that he would ignore the vote.

In view of his reaction, 60 members of the Association presented a petition requesting a Special General Meeting of the Association to the Secretary of the Executive Council in accordance with Schedule 7, clause 10.1.2 of the Party’s Constitution which states:

“10: Special General Meetings

10.1.2 upon a petition signed by not less than fifty members of the Association or 10% of the total membership of the Association for the previous year (whichever is less) sent to the Secretary of the Executive Council of the Association requesting him to convene such a meeting;

10.1.3 Notice of the Special General Meeting shall be given to every member of the Association. The business of the meeting shall be stated in the notice convening it and no other business shall be discussed.

There is no restriction on what business may be brought forward to Special General Meetings. The petition was duly presented to the Secretary of the Executive Council on May 9th, and read as follows:

“Under Schedule 7, clause 10.1.2 of the Constitution of the Conservative Party we, the undersigned, being members of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association petition you to convene a Special General Meeting of members of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association in order that the following business shall be conducted:

“The Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association at its Annual General Meeting on 29th March 2019 did not express full confidence in the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP.

We therefore resolve that: he should not be the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Beaconsfield at the next general election and the Association should immediately start the process of selecting a new candidate”.

The petition was rejected by the Chairman of the Association on the grounds that it was ultra vires, and that any such motion should follow the procedures of the Executive Council.

I understand that this was the view expressed to the Chairman of the Association by CCCHQ. Who decided it was Ultra Vires and on what grounds? Was the decision made by the Party Board and if not, under what authority was the decision made?

I would point out that Schedule 7 Clause 6.5 of the Party’s Constitution states as follows:

6.5 The Executive Council shall have the following powers and responsibilities:
6.5.1 The Executive Council shall have the power (subject to any resolutions of the Association made at an Annual General Meeting or a Special General Meeting) to deal with all matters affecting the Association and its membership, and to exercise control over all ward and polling district Branches and specialist committees or groups.

A motion at a Special General Meeting overrides the actions of the Executive Council. Subsequent to the amendment to the Representation of the Peoples Act passed in 2006, there is no requirement to hold an adoption meeting for the parliamentary candidate. This had previouly provided the opportunity for every member of an Association to vote for or against the adoption in questions. A number of constituencies, including Beaconsfield, did not hold an adoption meeting at the last general election.

If our petition is to be rejected, it follows that it is possible for a sitting Conservative MP to be re-adopted without the agreement of the majority of the members of their Association.

The Party Board has been asked to instruct the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association to proceed with a Special General Meeting as was petitioned for, or give detailed reasons as to why it is not allowed. The Chairman of the Party Board was written to on May 24th, but no reply has been received.

After the motion which had been put forward was rejected, it was decided to go ahead with the Special General Meeting, and the Chairman of the Association tabled the following motion:

“That this Association instructs the Executive Council to now request our sitting Member of Parliament to make a written application to seek his re-adoption as our Parliamentary Candidate for the next General Election”.

An amendment was proposed to the motion to insert after application “within 14 days”. This amendment was rejected by the Chairman as once again being Ultra Vires, apparently also at the behest of CCHQ. Yet as we have seen earlier. a Special General Meeting overrides the Executive Council. The same question arises: who issued this instruction, and how was the amendment Ultra Vires?

The unamended motion was carried by 140 votes to 120. Grieve has again decided to ignore it.

If the right of Party members to determine who their candidate should be at general election has now been taken away, what rights are left?

A general election could well be imminent, which is why this issue should be resolved now. It would be a travesty of fairness, democracy and justice if sitting Conservative MPs went forward as Parliamentary Candidates without the support of a majority of their Association members.

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Brexit and No Deal. The Prime Minister has a policy, and a plan to deliver it. His opponents agree on neither.

As an exercise in political strategy, in which thought is taken for the medium-term, Jeremy’s Corbyn’s latest Brexit gambit makes no sense.  He would be unlikely even to clear the first hurdle: namely, his installation as Prime Minister in the event of Boris Johnson were the latter to lose a confidence vote.

If he did succeed in vaulting it, he would then either face a general election while his party lags in the polls, or a vote of no confidence in the Commons if he tried to delay it.

If he leaped this third bar, and regained office as Prime Minister in the wake of that election, his Brexit policy would be, in so far as it is comprehensible, first to negotiate a “Labour Brexit” that would in all essentials be almost identical to Theresa May’s “Tory Brexit”, which he opposed.

If he overcame that fourth obstacle, he would then seek a referendum offering voters a choice between his “Labour Brexit” and Remain.  Parliament might not approve it – since although Corbyn, in this circumstance, would be Prime Minister, there is no guarantee he would be governing with a majority.

If he mastered fence number five, he would then have a win a referendum majority for the “Labour Brexit”.  Harold Wilson pulled off a similar stunt in 1975.  But he was supporting the status quo – Common Market membership.  Corbyn would be offering a more partisan proposition.  If he lost, it would surely be curtains for him.

But rather than continue to list further hazards for Corbyn’s plan, let this Conservative site concede that although it makes no sense if pondered strategically, it makes quite a bit if viewed tactically.  For a start, it gets him on the front foot again, for the first time since the European elections.  The Labour leader is making the news again.

“Look,” he is saying to opposition MPs in other parties, “you all say you’re opposed to No Deal.  Well, put me in Number Ten and I’ll stop it.  Furthermore, I’ll call an election once that’s done – so you won’t be putting me in for five years.  And if I win it, then you can have your Second Referendum. What’s not to like?”

Now it will be said that a second referendum would go down very badly with voters in Leave-voting Labour seats.  True indeed.  But what else is Corbyn expected to do?  Sure, his wheeze doesn’t work strategically, as we say.  But the key point here is that there is no Brexit policy that works strategically for Labour at all.

Its London, Scottish and University seats generally went for Remain in the referendum.  So did most cities.  But the Party’s small town provincial constituencies were mainly for Leave – though Labour voters in them tended to be for Remain, a view which Labour members usually hold more strongly. Complexity is piled on complexity.

In a nutshell, London, a winner from globalisation, is going one way while its provincial heartlands – usually losers from the process – are going another.  This loss of the industrial working class is a problem for socialist countries across the western world.  It is one to which Corbyn has no answer.

But in the meantime he can at least turn the screw on the Liberal Democrats.  If his main concern is to staunch the flow of votes from Labour to them over Brexit, then this latest initative might just be helpful, and then a bit.  It is already working with the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Corbyn will make less headway with others – such as the Independent Group for Change, of course. (Remember them?)  The likes of Mike Gape and Chris Leslie left Labour precisely because they don’t want Corbyn as Prime Minister.  They are scarcely likely to put him in Downing Street now that they have left it.

Some other independents, such as Frank Field and Ian Austin, are in the same space.  However, others may not be.  Meanwhile, Jo Swinson has backtracked on her dismissive response to Corbyn’s ploy, and is now offering to meet him for talks.  As are some Tories, including Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin.  Guto Bebb is supportive.

But if Corbyn is gaining some ground, Boris Johnson occupies more.  To understand why, stand back from the plots and schemes, and look at the landscape as a whole.  It is true that a majority of MPs in this Parliament have voted against No Deal, the Prime Minister’s option of final resort, and as far as can be seen continue to oppose it.

However, they can’t agree on an alternative policy.  Some still want the Withdrawal Agreement.  Others back Corbyn’s “Labour Brexit”.  Others still hanker after a Norway-type option.  Others want a Second Referendum.  None of these options have succeeded in Parliament, either.

Even more to the point, the anti-No Deal crowd can’t settle on alternative people – that’s to say, on who would form this so-called “government of national unity”.  Some want Hillary Benn.  Others, Harriet Harman.  Or Ken Clarke.  Swinson’s public position is that she herself can be Prime Minister.  Corbyn wants Corbyn.

The Commons may not be sitting, but text messages are fizzing from one sunny clime to another, for all the quiet in the Palace of Westminster. Where’s Yvette Cooper?  Find Rory Stewart. Could David Miliband come back?   Do you have John Major’s number?  Egos are being stroked; options floated; schemes hatched.

But on the one hand we have a cross-party with no leader and no policy, and on the other a Government with both.  Johnson may not have a majority, but he has a case to put to the British people and to wavering MPs, roughly as follows.

“You have a choice, my friends.  It’s either my Government with a clear policy that will honour the instruction you gave us to leave the EU.  Or this divided and disorganised rabble who agree on one point only: namely that, rather than listen to you, they will stick two fingers up instead

“Government of national unity, my foot.  What they’re trying to cook up is a Commons coup – a government that would shut out all those who believe, however reluctantly, that we must stop shilly-shallying around, and deliver Brexit.  Theirs would be a government of national disunity. Don’t let them get away with it.”

Now you may think such an appeal would work, and you may not.  But either way, the Prime Minister has an advantage over his opponents.  He is prepared to embrace No Deal – do or die, it seems.

Corbyn says he opposes it, but won’t make way for someone else in order to stop it.  Swinson certainy does – but not, apparently, to the extent that she would try to halt it by keeping Corbyn in place.  Both put their own parties and positions first. They are saying one thing but doing another.

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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

– – – – – – – – – –

Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

– – – – – – – – – –

The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

– – – – – – – – – –

Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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How not to destroy Trump and Johnson

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both have a capacity to provoke torrents of abuse from otherwise moderate, well-behaved people. An article this week for The New York Times raises the question of whether, given the failure of the most vicious insults to have any visible effect on the President’s poll ratings, “the search for a killer line on Mr Trump is a fool’s errand”.

He has been called “a pathological liar”, “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”, “ISIL man of the year”, “utterly amoral”, a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen”, and a “terrible human being” who has made “disgusting and indefensible” comments about women, to quote but a few of the things said about him by senior Republicans.

I have not gone to the trouble of collecting a comparable series of insults about Johnson. But in the latest London Review of Books, Ferdinand Mount calls him “a seedy, treacherous chancer”, and there is plenty more where that came from.

Trump and Johnson speak well of each other, but are in important respects quite different. Johnson is better educated, more charitable, more favourably disposed towards immigrants, more loyal to the institutions to which he belongs or has belonged, and more anxious to unite people, and to restore friendly relations when he has annoyed them.

But both men have benefited, at various points, from being underestimated by their critics, who perhaps supposed that no one could survive such fierce attacks.

And supporters of Trump and Johnson sometimes get the impression they too are being written off as evil and repulsive people. Hillary Clinton was explicit about this. She said at one of her fundraisers that you could put half Trump’s supporters in “the basket of deplorables”, for they are, in her view, “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”.

This is not very good politics. The easy hit of self-righteousness, the casting into outer darkness of one’s opponents and their followers, enables one to avoid the more difficult task of scrutinising what those opponents are saying, and working out which bits of it constitute a legitimate response to the understandable concerns of, say, car workers who worry their jobs are going to Mexico.

Johnson benefits from the same lack of proper scrutiny. In recent weeks he has made announcements on such matters as health spending, police numbers and prisons which might equally well have come from a moderate Labour leader.

The Opposition has been reduced to silence, or to fringe subjects like grouse shooting. It informs us from time to time that Johnson is a liar, but this means it cannot respond to what he actually says. By indulging in character assassination, it has deprived itself of an opponent with whom it could have an argument.

On Brexit, it insists Johnson is leading the country to perdition, but its warnings are often put in such apocalyptic terms that voters wonder whether things are going to be quite as bad as all that; wonder indeed whether it is the Remainers who have lost touch with reality.

The case against exaggerating your opponent’s faults was well put by Tony Blair in his memoir, A Journey. Here is his defence of the gentle art of disparaging understatement:

I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. (The Tories did my work for me in undermining Iain Duncan Smith.) Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring – but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick.

Trump will probably defeat himself in the end. So perhaps will Johnson. Their opponents seem unable to find the right words.

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Neil Hudson: Animal welfare and farming can thrive after Brexit – and under this new Government

Neil Hudson is a Veterinary Surgeon and University Teacher, and was the Conservative candidate in Edinburgh South in 2010 and Newcastle North in 2005.

Animal welfare, farming and Brexit need not be mutually exclusive. That is the message coming out loud and clear from the new Johnson administration. This was confirmed when the Prime Minister in his first speech on the steps of Number 10 referred to “our amazing food and farming sector” and said, “let’s promote the welfare of animals that has always been so close to the hearts of the British people.”

Oliver Heald articulated this month on this site that the Prime Minister needs to maintain our record on animal welfare.  I very much agree, but would argue that already he has made his intentions clear that farming and animal welfare are a big priority for his administration. As a veterinary surgeon, I firmly believe we have the best farmers and the highest standards of animal welfare anywhere in the world.

It is frustrating that the media and opposition politicians keep plugging the myth that this will somehow be compromised by Brexit. There is no reason why these high standards should not continue after we leave the EU. Indeed, there is much scope for our standards to be upheld and ultimately for the UK to drive up standards in our trading partners as we go on to secure trade agreements.

Theresa Villiers has a full in-tray and indeed faces big challenges, but they are surmountable. Pressing issues include the live transport of animals for export, veterinary manpower needs, disease surveillance, tariffs on agricultural products and possible surpluses of produce.

The new DEFRA Secretary inherits a department in good order from Michael Gove. He put the department at the centre of government and achieved some great things (for example, introducing a new Agriculture Bill and the Animal Welfare [Sentencing] Bill). As a former Northern Ireland Secretary, she understands the importance of trade across that particular border. And as a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, she has long been an advocate of transporting ‘on the hook not the hoof.’

The live transport issue is solvable; it needs to end, but this needs to be done pragmatically, when the farming sector has adapted to allow the farming of animals involved to be used for food in this country. For example, we need to encourage the rearing of dairy bull calves locally and encourage more usage of less popular cuts and types of meat in this country so that UK animals can be born, reared and slaughtered locally. That way the drive for live export will be extinguished.

The issue of veterinary manpower shortages (pre- and post- Brexit) is being addressed, both short and long term. On his last day as Home Secretary, Sajid Javid approved the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation that vets be restored to the Shortage Occupation List.

This means it will be easier to address recruitment needs. To put this in perspective, each year currently 50 per cent of new registrants to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons are from EU countries, and over 90 per cent of vets working in the UK meat hygiene sector are from other EU countries. Long-term, we need more vets, but in recent years we have seen a new Vet School (University of Surrey) and next year Keele/Harper Adams is taking in its first cohort of students to their new Veterinary School.

There has been much scaremongering in recent days that in the absence of a deal, thousands or indeed millions of farm animals will be slaughtered. This is just not going to happen. Do we really expect that the EU and UK will sit back and allow this to take place? Having witnessed those sorts of scenes when I was a Temporary Veterinary Inspector in the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis I am sure that common sense will prevail to avoid this; deals will be made, food and milk sold, animals looked after.

There has also been talk about chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being the price to pay for a trade deal with the USA. Michael Gove, when DEFRA Secretary, stated that welfare standards won’t be reduced, and chlorinated chicken won’t be allowed in the UK. I am sure this will still be the case now, considering his role in Brexit planning. The Prime Minister may well have his ‘Love Actually’ moment with the US President, but I don’t think it will be over chicken or beef.

He has also shown that he genuinely believes in these priorities of food, farming and animal welfare by some eye-catching ministerial appointments. I have already mentioned Villiers. Also in her department is the re-appointed George Eustice, who knows more about agriculture than everyone on the Opposition benches put together. Also in DEFRA and DfID is Zac Goldsmith, another champion of animal welfare, and a patron of Conservative Animal Foundation (as incidentally is Carrie Symonds).

I am confident that the Government is on the case with these important issues and, contrary to much of the coverage, I believe that our gold standard animal health and welfare can and will continue. With strategic thinking across Government in departments like DEFRA, International Trade and the Home Office this can be achieved. All the signs so far point to this being a very joined-up government. Indeed, if we grasp the agenda, Brexit can be a real opportunity for us to drive up these important standards across the world.

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Hammond complains about a No Deal Brexit – a policy to which he was signed up if necessary. And undermined.

Philip Hammond’s Times article today is striking not for its content, which reflects what he is already known to believe, but its timing.  Mid-August usually sees the dog days of the Westminster calendar; its quietest period other than the Christmas holidays.  Yet the former Chancellor has chosen to break cover now.

The reason is easy to grasp.  Boris Johnson’s new government is dominating the political news, racking up new policy announcements almost daily: more NHS money, stop and seach, police, skilled migration.  Whatever one thinks of the practicability of some of these plans, they show a verve that departed Theresa May’s g=Government at the same time as Nick Timothy.

There is a sense that the Prime Minister will go for a No Deal Brexit if necessary by October 31, and that his aim is simple while that of his opponents is confused.  Will they go for a No Confidence vote when Parliament returns?  Will they seek to force a futher extension on the Government instead?  Is either gambit practicable?  Do they agree?  Meanwhile, Johnson really seems set on that end of October deadline, “do or die”.  That’s why Dominic Cummings is in place.  He is the man for either – by, as he has found a way of reminding us, “any means necessary”.

Hence Hammond’s rush to print today.  It would be easy to respond by pointing out that if No Deal happens, and its start turns out to be turbulent, the blame will partly, perhaps even largely, lie with him.  After all, the Treasury is the department responsible for oiling the wheels of the Government’s planned response to such an event.  That Sajid Javid is now busy applying the oil is a reminder that his precedessor did not – as fully as he might have done, anyway.  But there was a deeper significance to Hammond’s lack of urgency.

Like the other former Cabinet Ministers who have come out in his support today, the former Chancellor fought the last election on a manifesto that said that No Deal would be better than a bad deal.  Hammond will say that Theresa May’s was not a bad deal, and that the question of No Deal being better should not arise in that context.  But whatever one thinks of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Agreement, this defence is beside the point.

Which is that the former Chancellor never supported No Deal as a last resort at all.  He believes that it will be deeply damaging – that’s clear from his Times piece today, were his view on the matter in any doubt (which is wasn’t).  His article suggests that Johnson is acting dishonestly in claiming that he wants a deal.  But with all due respect to Hammond, the dishonesty is his: for not preparing fully for an outcome to which he was formally committed – and deliberately at that – at a time when he was the second-most senior figure in the Government.

If he now wants to campaign against a policy which he undermined, so be it.  That is his right.  But if he or any other Conservative MP does not support the Prime Minister in a vote of confidence, they should lose the whip, and thus be ineligible to stand as Tory candidates in any ensuing election.  That is the norm.

Above all, Hammond’s interpretation of the referendum result is at odds with the most natural reading of it.  The ballot paper didn’t ask the British people whether they wanted to leave with a deal or without one: it simply asked them whether they wanted to Leave or Remain.  They voted to Leave.  May’s deal has failed.

And while No Deal might well be economically turbulent, No Brexit would be politically calamitous.  It would be viewed as the present extension is already seen by a mass of voters: as the flicking of two fingers by the Commons at the biggest electoral verdict in our country’s history.  Not to mention the breaking of a pledge given over a hundred times by Johnson’s predecessor: namely, to leave the EU by March 29th this year.

The damage done in consequence to trust in politics – not to mention the smaller matter of the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes – threatens to be very serious indeed.  It happened on Hammond’s watch.  He may be in the news this morning, but he has none the less had his day.

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James Arnell: The conventional wisdom about a trade deal with America is wrong. Trump will want a fair one. Here’s why.

James Arnell is a partner at Charterhouse. He writes in a personal capacity.

I disagree with most commentators who believe that the UK will get a raw deal in any US-UK trade negotiations after Brexit.

I do not underestimate the fickleness of Trump, nor the Irish-American lobby in Congress. I recognise the overwhelming weight of the US relative to the UK.  I know that the US looks after its interests and does no one any favours.

But I don’t think any of that will stop us agreeing a decent trade deal. I believe that the US has major strategic interests in a trade deal with the UK, and that it will decide not to use all the undeniable leverage it has to strike the toughest possible terms.  It will want to strike a fair deal.

The US is in “America First” mode.  Contrary to what most people seem to believe, I believe that means Trump, and the American people, wish to see a global trading system which it sees as fair from its perspective.  There are many senior American business people who believe that the renegotiation of NAFTA was long overdue, and who are throughly fed up with the uneven playing field between the US and China.

Yes, they worry about the effects of the US-China trade war on the US economy, but many of them believe that some fights just have to be had.  There is more patriotism in American business and much more business support for Trump’s China line than the media presents.

The opportunity to strike a trade deal with a long-term ally like the UK is timely.  Agreeing an even-handed trade deal sends a strong message: this is about fairness, not American economic bullying.  I am optimistic that the US, across the political spectrum, will support a fair deal with the UK, because I think that it has a very strong interest in sending that message.

And that is not all.

 

A thriving UK, in a comprehensive free trade relationship with the US, right on the periphery of the EU, will put massive pressure on it.  Other EU countries, fed up with the federal agenda of the EU, will look at the UK and wonder whether they too might be better free and able to strike their own trade relationships.  This threat to the EU will be eyed by the US as great leverage to force the EU into what the US would see as a fair trade deal.  They will want the UK to succeed in its deal with the US.  They won’t want to screw us – because that would make it far too easy for the EU to keep its trade barriers up.

The US’ leverage is greater if any UK-US trade deal is designed to be as close as possible to something the EU could, should and, ultimately, would accept.  There is no leverage in agreeing a deal which does not work for the UK and which certainly would not work for the EU, and the smart money in the US will know it.

Aside from its desire to show an openness to trade with partners who do not play the US for fools, and its desire to pressurise the EU, the US will also welcome a committed ally in the global struggle for a new trade order, binding the three big blocs (US, China, Europe) into a more open, more level world trade regime or, at least, binding the rest of the world into a trading system around an unreformed China.  That is the best chance of America remaining “First”.

At present, we are in the phase of pulling down the old system, which the US sees as rotten and against its own interests.  We should not confuse that with isolationism.  My firm belief is that the US will relish the opportunity to show the world what its new order should look like, by agreeing a sensible deal with the UK.

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A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

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Suella Braverman: The momentum for free schools has stalled. Johnson’s new Government should revive it.

Suella Braverman is a former DexEU Minister, and is MP for Fareham. She was Chairman of Governors, Michaela Community School, 2013-2017.

Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I was part of a team that founded Michaela Community School in my home town of Wembley. Our goal was to provide something that the existing state schools in the area couldn’t: a rigorous knowledge-based curriculum, high standards of behaviour and accountability, and a strong focus on British values. We accepted 120 pupils in our first intake, and will have more than 800 in a couple of years time. Our first cohort awaits its GCSE results later this month.

Today, Michaela is transforming lives. Many of our children start with below average reading and numeracy levels, speak English as a second language, or have special educational needs. Yet despite these challenges, the school is oversubscribed among parents, rated outstanding by Ofsted, and is producing exceptional outcomes for its pupils.

And it’s down to Conservative Party policy that we – a group of teachers, parents, and community-minded locals – were able to get such a project off the ground in the first place. Michael Gove’s free schools programme, which was designed to increase the supply of good school places by letting groups like ours set up new state-funded schools outside local authority control, set the stage for Michaela and many other schools like it.

It’s now almost eight years since the first wave of free schools opened their doors, and the evidence suggests that they are a huge success. Parents like them: free schools are more likely to be oversubscribed than any other type of state school and have the highest ratio of top-three preferences to places available. The inspectors rate them: free schools are 50 percent more likely to be scored outstanding by Ofsted than other types of school.

And the academic results speak for themselves: despite being only two percent of total schools, free schools are responsible for four of England’s top 10 Progress 8 scores – which measure educational improvement between 11 and 18. Primary free schools have the best Key Stage 1 outcomes, and sixth-form free schools the best A-level results, of any type of state school. Disadvantaged pupils also do better in free schools.

In short, free schools are a Conservative policy that we should be proud to talk about and prepared to build upon. Yet in recent years we have lost enthusiasm for the free schools project, and as a result have allowed one of our most important reforms to run aground. Unless things change, and soon, the whole free schools agenda is at risk of withering on the vine.

The simple fact is that at the current rate of openings, there will be fewer than 500 free schools in England (out of a total of 24,000 schools) by May 2020 – a decade after the reforms began. Assuming the same number of free schools open in the second decade of the programme as the first, only four percent of schools will be free schools by 2030.

Even these projections are beginning to look rather optimistic. The last Government significantly tightened the assessment criteria for the latest wave of applications to open free schools, effectively ruling that they could only open in areas where there was a shortage of school places and results in existing schools were extremely poor.

This isn’t just contrary to the original ethos of the free schools programme – that we need a surplus of school places if choice and competition are going to be meaningful concepts within state education. Given current demographic trends, it also means that the free schools programme is likely to grind to a halt in most parts of England in the years ahead – even as parents across the country struggle to get their children into their first choice schools.

That’s why my new report for the Centre for Policy Studies – published today – calls on the government to turbocharge its commitment to free schools. We must abandon the timid approach of the previous administration and double-down on success.

First of all, let’s allow free schools to open anywhere where attainment in existing schools is below average. But more than that, let’s also accept applications that show an innovative and potentially useful approach to learning, and which have significant levels of community and parental support.

We need to get back to the founding principles of the free schools movement: that education should be demand-led, and responsive to the particular needs of an area. From the community, for the community; that is the real beauty of free schools.

Secondly, I realise that opening new schools can be an expensive business. That’s why my report for the CPS examines ways to reduce costs to the taxpayer, and bring more private funding into the free schools sector. Third, I make the case for a new system of peer review for free schools. And lastly, we need a renewed effort to reach out to potential school founders – especially in those parts of the country that suffer from chronic educational under-performance.

Ultimately, having founded a free school myself, I know the difference they can make to children’s lives. The free schools programme is a wonderful achievement, but we are not doing enough to build on our own success. With a new government now in place, we need to fight for free schools so that they remain at the heart of our educational agenda – and do all we can to support those who want to establish them.

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So we’ve had NHS, policing and immigration plans from Johnson. Stand ready for a schools spending pledge.

So Boris Johnson has pledged 10,000 new police officers, as well as a raft of tougher-sounding anti-crime policies, an Australian-style points-based immigration system (not to mention the relaxion of migration rules for scientists), and £1.8 billion for the NHS.  It isn’t hard to see where he will go next, and soon.

The remaining element of Dominic Cummings’s favourite set of policies – tax cuts for lower-paid workers – may have to wait for a publicity push, because these would need legislation, and the Government has no working majority.  Though the Prime Minister could try them on the Commons anyway, daring Labour to vote them down, as part of an Emergency Budget in October (if there is one).

What is likely to come sooner is a Government commitment to spend at least £5,000 on every secondary school pupil.  ConservativeHome understands that this announcement is written into this summer’s campaigning grid.  But we need no special briefing to work this out for ourselves in any event – and nor does anyone else.  For why peer into the crystal of Downing Street announcements when one can read the book: i.e: Johnson’s Daily Telegraph columns?

For it was in one of these, back during the Conservative leadership election, that he pledged “significantly to improve the level of per pupil funding so that thousands of schools get much more per pupil – and to protect that funding in real terms”.  The £5000 figure was briefed out separarely.  This promise was one of the two main big ticket spending items of his campaign, the other being that undertaking to raise police spending.

“It is simply not sustainable that funding per pupil should be £6800 in parts of London and £4200 in some other parts of the country,” the former Mayor of the capital wrote.  Just as the NHS spending announcement was framed by a visit to hospitals in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, expect any school spending news to be projected by a trip to schools in Leave-voting provincial England: all part of the push to squeeze the Brexit Party.

If that column is any guide, don’t be surprised to see a maths, science and IT element too – which would also be very Cummings – as well as a stress on “giving real parity of esteem to vocational training and apprenticeships”.  There is evidence that these are popular all-round, but especially among older voters.  Gavin Williamson is bound to have a supporting role, just as Priti Patel has had with the weekend’s law and order initiatives, but Johnson will lead.

Like his other spending promises, Johnson’s school pledge may not be deliverable in the event of a No Deal Brexit, and there are inevitably questions anyway about timescale anyway.  But if you want to know what more will be in his campaigning package, look no further.

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Patrick Spencer: What the new Government should do to ensure migrants are better skilled – and supported

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The debate around immigration has become fraught to the point of complete intransigence in recent years. Events as close to home as the Grenfell Tower tragedy and as far afield as the Syrian civil war have brought the subject to the fore again. Inflammatory rhetoric here as well as in other countries hasn’t helped. As we leave the European Union, cooler heads must prevail.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is today releasing a report that brings a level-headedness to the debate that is sorely needed. Importantly, it places the interests of immigrants squarely at the centre of its proposals. Immigration policy should not just be about who is allowed to come and work in Britain, but also how we support those people who do, so that they can avoid the trappings of low pay, unsafe working conditions, crime, social marginalisation and poverty.

The reality is that uncontrolled immigration growth over the last 15 to 20 years has worked – to a point. Our services, manufacturing and agricultural industries have benefited from skilled and inexpensive labour from EU new member States.

However, the economic costs of low-skilled immigration have been both wage stagnation at the bottom end of the income spectrum – analysis at the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration found that “an inflow of immigrants of the size of 1 per cent of the native population would lead to a 0∙6 per cent decrease at the 5th wage percentile and a 0∙5 per cent decrease at the 10th wage percentile” – and low levels of productivity boosting capital investment. High-skilled immigration has had the opposite effect though, increasing wages, productivity, innovation and capital investment.

In the long term, it is also likely that the British economy will demand less low-skilled labour. Automation, technology and changing firm dynamics are likely to mean a greater focus on hiring higher-skilled workers, and more fluid jobs in which individuals are expected to take on multiple roles and work across multiple teams. The CSJ argues therefore that is irresponsible to continue to operate an immigration system that is deaf to the demands of our changing economy, and risks leaving migrant labourers unemployed and at risk of falling in to poverty.

It is for this reason that the CSJ’s first policy recommendation for this Conservative Government post-Brexit is folding all EU immigration in to the existing Tier 2 skilled immigration system, and tightening up the eligibility for Tier 2 applicants so that they are genuinely skilled and can command a wage well above the UK median. Key to this recommendation is carving out occupations that are deemed of strategic interest to the UK economy, for instance nurses and doctors who come to work in our NHS, but do not earn above average salaries.

The Government’s responsibility to immigrants should not stop there. For those that do come to Britain legally, whether under refugee status or another route, we must make sure support is there to reduce the risk that they and their children become socially marginalised, end up in low-paid work or unemployed, and get stuck in the criminal justice system. It is naïve to think the immigration policy debate ends on day two.

In that vein, the CSJ also recommend more integrated support for refugees when they come to Britain, including better financial support, longer term housing options and help with English speaking skills. The report also calls for a beefing up of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement financial powers and reach. There are potentially thousands of foreign individuals kept in forced servitude in Britain today, and many more working in unsafe conditions for illegally low pay.

Finally, it is high time the Government addresses the huge disparities in economic outcomes among minority and indigenous ethnic groups. Generations of immigrants from some groups still perform poorly in the education system, labour market and criminal justice system.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that poverty rates among Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Groups are twice as high as for White British groups. Dame Louise Casey discovered that individuals of South East Asian and Caribbean descent were three times and twice as likely to live in deprived parts of the UK, when compared to White British groups. Just one third of Bangladeshi women living in Britain are in employment compared to three quarters of White British women. One in five Black African and Black Caribbean men and almost one in four Mixed Race men are economically inactive. Unless the Government addresses the problem with real gusto, it will persist.

This report calls for calmer and more long-term thinking on immigration policy that prioritises high-skilled immigration and increases support for parts of the country that have struggled due to uncontrolled low-skilled immigration. Public opinion reflects this – polling by Hanbury Strategy earlier this year found that 51 per cent of the UK public recognise that not all parts of the UK have benefited from immigration, while YouGov polling in 2018 found that ‘treating EU citizens who want to come and live in the UK the same as people from elsewhere in the world’ was supported by 65 per cent of respondents and scrapping the limit of high skilled immigrants was supported by 46 per cent of respondents.

This is a great opportunity for the new Government to fix this long-standing issue of contention in British politics for the long term.

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“To literally feel terror”

Boris Johnson wants, specifically, to frighten Labour off a no confidence vote and, more broadly, to intimidate the anti-No Deal Brexit Commons coalition MPs return in September.  That means demonstrating that voters are backing him.  That requires improving opinion poll ratings.  And that, in turn, means an August blizzard – yes, such a thing is possible – of policy announcements to prove that his new government “is on your side”.

So to Dominic Cummings’s trinity of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, more NHS spending and tax cuts for lower paid workers we must now add action on law and order.  The new Prime Minister promised 20,000 more police during his Conservative leadership election campaign.  To that we must now add 10,000 new prison places and greater use of stop and search powers, both of which are announced today.

Or rather we would do, if Johnson had a durable majority, and were the future more clear.  The money to fund those new prison places may not be available in the event of No Deal: it could be needed for other measures.  And sweeping changes to sentencing would require legislation, which the Government is in no position to present to Parliament.

None the less, the Downing Street bully pulpit has its uses, and if the Prime Minister wants wider stop and search powers to be available, he is in a position to get his way – for as long as he’s in place, anyway.  Today’s push should help.  As Matt Singh writes, there has already been “a substantial Boris bounce”.  It has largely come off the back of Brexit Party supporters, and this latest initiative is aimed at them (as well as Labour working class voters).

So too was the appointment of Priti Patel as Home Secretary.  ConservativeHome is told that there was a collective intake of breath in Downing Street when she said recently that she wants criminals “to literally feel terror”.  Number Ten need not have worried about how that view would go down.  There is “overwhelming support” for it among the public, according to YouGov.

If Johnson somehow survives the autumn without a general election, or wins one with a majority, a further question will arises about all these spending plans – namely, whether or not they’re consistent with the traditional centre-right commitment to fiscal stability.  The Prime Minister could be forgiven for thinking, given the probability of an autumn poll and the uncertainty of any result, that this would be a nice problem to have.

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Jack Richardson: Why Johnson needs to revive the Foreign Office

Jack Richardson works for a Conservative MP.

It has been a dynamic start for the new administration. The new Prime Minister has been zipping up and down the country, making phone calls and beginning to meet European leaders. He used his first statement to the Commons, where he will face his first major challenge and potentially a collapse of the Government, to proclaim a new ‘golden age’ for the United Kingdom.

The Cabinet is now stuffed full of supporters who have signed up to his vision and demonstrated they are willing to be part of the team to deliver it. However, there is a danger that one of the means by which that vision can be delivered will be forgotten – namely, our diplomatic network.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development were not spared radical change. Dominic Raab, the only leadership candidate that won enough votes to be on the ballot paper who took a harder line on Brexit than Johnson, is the new Foreign Secretary.

His new team of ministers are all leavers, including his new de facto deputy Chris Pincher, who came from the Whips office rather than having a foreign policy background. The appointment may partly be a ‘thank you’ to a Johnson supporter, but will also be employed to steady the ship as Raab flies around the world – a role similar to his one as a whip under Julian Smith, who spent more time in Downing Street.

Aparty from its new Secretary of State, Alok Sharma, DfID has no ministers of its own, sharing both Ministers of State with the Foreign Office  and an Under-Secretary (Zac Goldsmith) with Defra (perhaps a merger is afoot, since the government appears to be aiming to slim down the Whitehall machine).

Whatever the new administration’s plans for foreign policy may be, it must recognise that it is crucial to invest properly into our diplomatic umbrella as we leave the EU. I am hoping for the ‘Global Britain’ that was promised: the Britain that will remain a partner and ally to our European neighbours while engaging properly with the Commonwealth and the rest of the world as an independent nation. But that is only deliverable with adequate resources.

The Foreing Office has been running on fumes for decades now. The civil servants within are incredibly talented and know their brief well, which is why it’s one of the toughest departments to get into, but the institution has been short-changed since the 1970s. Since 1973, the FCO has seen its funding fall from 0.5 per cent of GDP to 0.1 per cent today – and it will soon go under that. It spends in a year what the NHS spends every single day, and yet is responsible solely for Britain’s role in the world.

This is perhaps because Britain’s place changed, but not so drastically as other countries. Unlike France and Germany, it was not necessarily immediately clear that we had been relegated from great power status. After all, even though we were bankrupted by two world wars and a global recession, we had never surrendered; we were victorious over fascism, and at the top table at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam – apparently equal to the two remaining superpowers as a new world order was written.

Ours was a slow decline, and some even argue that the British Empire only really came to an end in 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong. However, the 1957 Suez Crisis was really the point at which Britain’s status was downgraded, causing our strategy to be based permanently around the Special Relationship.

Meanwhile, under American auspices, the European Project truly took off fully in the early 1970s, further outsourcing British foreign policy gradually in the succeeding decades. It is no coincidence that, since the growth of a centralised Europe, and with the United States emerging as a unilateral power, as well as the decentralisation of foreign policy within Whitehall, the Foreign Office has seen its investment in decline decline for nearly 50 years.

Investment and reform are required as the UK enters this unprecedented period. We won’t be part of the EU and American support has recently shown itself to not always to be forthcoming. The UK will have to rely on itself as it strikes its own trade deals and seeks new partnerships, while also maintaining existing friendships such as NATO or Five Eyes.

The funding of our entire diplomatic umbrella (the Ministry of Defence, DfID, the Department for International Trade, our security services, and the Foreign Office) takes up roughly 2.75 per cent of GDP. A report from the British Foreign Policy Group in June made the excellent suggestion of raising this to three per cent.

This “would raise an additional £4.9 billion, £1.5 billion of which could be spent on the Foreign Office.” It would remain one of cheapest departments, but would be able to make uncalculatable returns for the UK post-Brexit. This money could be spent, for example, on maintaining embassies, which ought not to be sold off without the permission of the Commons.

In terms of reform, much of the Foreign Office’s budget floats around waiting to be bid for. If it is continued to be left wanting by the new administration, this money should be at least freed up for investment into running embassies, which are vital for the bilateral relationships we will soon be more reliant upon.

And finally, though it is good that the Foreign Office employs locals for its embassies abroad, it should not depend upon them as it increasingly doing. This prevents the development of home-grown civil servants, reducing their expertise in the long-run.

Investment abroad is just as important as investment at home for a country like the UK, which has a prominent place in the liberal international order that is becoming increasingly under threat. But our diplomatic reach, particularly in the Foreign Office, has had its potential cut short for decades as our governments have leaned on others. This will no longer be an option in a few months.

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How Johnson could play the politics of an economic contraction

Yesterday, another of the Brexit Wars’ endless fronts opened up as both sides tried to put their spin on the news that the British economy shrank in the last quarter.

On the one side, Remainers keen to jump on anything which bolsters their view that our departure from the European Union will bring about severe economic disruption. Arrayed against them are Brexiteers who argue that this is either unrelated to Brexit or at least in part due to the previous administration’s botched efforts to get Britain out.

Who is right? On one level, it scarcely matters. Both sides are sufficiently entrenched by this point that it is difficult to imagine the voter who is politically-engaged enough to register a 0.2 per cent contraction and yet sufficiently agnostic on Brexit for it to swing them one way or the other.

For what it’s worth, experts such as Ed Conway of Sky News and Rupert Harrison, until recently chair of the UK Council of Economic Advisers, seem sceptical that yesterday’s figures were the lip of a precipice. Instead, they both seem to expect the economy to grow again in the third quarter (Q3), with the Q2 dip a result of the unwinding of companies’ No Deal planning, which inflated the Q1 figures.

Moreover, the publishing schedule for this economic data means we won’t even find out if the UK has entered a so-called “technical recession”, i.e. two consecutive quarters of contraction, until after October 31.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Government is out of the woods – Conway says that the numbers will be a “challenge” for Sajid Javid to explain, and the Prime Minister won’t want press speculation about economic bad news undercutting his attempt to rejuvenate the Government, and indeed the country, with his new, optimistic style. The UK is also exposed if trading partners on the Continent run into difficulty.

However, there may nonetheless be a few political opportunities in the story.

First, Britain continues to outperform its principle EU rivals, such as France and Germany, on a range of measures, and raising this story with ministers will offer them more opportunities to hammer home this message.

Second, speculation about a recession might lend Boris Johnson more political cover for his clearly-signalled intention to turn on the spending taps. What might once have looked like vulgar pre-election bribes can now be recast, or at least spun, as prudent investments to bolster the economy at a crucial moment. Handy, if you anticipate an imminent election.

Finally, it can bolster the Prime Minister’s push for a decisive resolution on Brexit. Some commentators have noted that certainty around the exit date, even including the possibility of a no-deal exit, is preferable to many businesses than running their stockpiles up and down whilst the Government prevaricates. There is now something to point to which illustrates the economic risks of kicking the can.

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Guy Opperman: Only Capitalism can tackle the Climate Emergency – and our pension funds can lead the way. 

Guy Opperman is the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, and is MP for Hexham.

I’m delighted to have been reappointed as Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion by Boris Johnson. In the past two years, we’ve achieved so much, from supporting the introduction of the Mid-Life MOT, to pioneering the Pensions Dashboard. But there is so much more to do, and now is the time to keep moving forward.

One of the most exciting changes I am proud to have been part of is the work we are undertaking to tackle climate change. This October, a change is coming that will have a bigger effect on tackling climate change than almost any other decision by government.

Why?

We are taking a massive step forward by introducing new Environmental, Social and Governance regulations, or ESG for short. ESG requires occupational pension funds to invest with environmentally sensitive principles and take account of climate change. With our UK pension funds managing well over £1 trillion in assets, their investment power is immense.

When saving for a pension, I am convinced that most people want two key things in return. Firstly, and indeed crucially – a balanced portfolio that produced a secure, long-term return to live on in retirement. But also that our investments have a higher purpose. That when our pension is invested, it should be invested in an ethical way.

We know that the world is facing a Climate Emergency. We can all see that we are losing the ice pack, endangered species and our tropical forests at an alarming rate. The term ‘emergency’ may sound alarmist, but if we don’t address these long-term problems now, there won’t be a long term. 

As a country, we have already made great strides to reduce our carbon footprint; carbon emissions have fallen by 25 per cent – the largest reduction in the G20. We’ve just had the longest coal-free run since the 1880s, and green energy is on track to produce most of the Britain’s electricity this year for the first time.

And in June, Britain became the first major economy to legislate for net carbon zero by 2050 – meaning that our contribution to climate change will end in a little over three decades. Our net zero target is undoubtedly ambitious, but if we all – from government down to individuals – make small but significant changes, we can make a real difference. 

There are some MPs on the opposition benches in Parliament who believe that the only way to halt climate change is to overthrow capitalism – to introduce a new economic system. I am afraid they are utterly wrong. I believe that it is capitalism itself that can save our planet. 

For too long, there has been a perception by too many pension trustees that the environmental practices of the firms they invest in are purely ethical concerns that they do not need to worry about. This is utterly wrong and cannot continue. Under the new ESG regulations, trustees now must consider the environmental practices of the firms they invest in before taking investment decisions to create a balanced portfolio. This will make a real difference and give pensions trustees the nudge they need to do their part to tackle climate change. But going forward, we can do so much more. 

Our pension funds have exactly what we need to tackle this problem. A lot of capital, an ability to think very long term, and no political agenda. Clearly, if we do not harness the financial muscle of these massive pension portfolios, we are missing a trick. 

Britain has Greentech firms innovating to help tackle consumers tackle climate change and drive down the cost of providing energy, but they need investment to continue innovating. So going forward, as part of a balanced portfolio, pensions trustees should be supporting our climate friendly companies.

Thanks to the government’s automatic enrolment programme, more than ten million employees have been enrolled into an occupational pension – now saving eight per cent of their annual income. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest success stories of the Conservative and coalition governments.

Ethical investment can no longer be a niche. It needs to be mainstream. What bigger challenge is there than addressing the climate emergency? As I said, if we don’t address these long-term issues now, there won’t be a long-term. 

My colleagues in Parliament tell me that pensions are not sexy, but this time it could be pension power that is the force for good to address our twenty-first century problems.

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Johnson bypasses the broadcasters to talk directly to voters

Yesterday’s announcement of a relaxation of the immigration rules for scientists from around the world was noteworthy for two reasons.

First, because it’s a good idea, long overdue and likely to be popular.

Second, because of how the message was delivered.

There was a press release, and an accompanying evening news package by the BBC, filmed on a Prime Ministerial visit to a fusion power research centre in Oxfordshire. But before either of those went out, the actual announcement took place online, in a Facebook Live broadcast by Boris Johnson.

The video itself was short, hitting key messages on police and NHS spending before trailing the headline news, leaving the detail for the official release shortly afterwards. The fairly simple set contained a few nods to his fans (and detractors) The flag, the ministerial red box (rapped pointedly when he spoke of getting to work) and, nestled away at the back, a red bus.

No, not that red bus. Nor the now-famous red buses built out of painted wine boxes. Rather a red, double-decker, London bus featuring the Back Boris 2008 logo – a memento of the mayoralty which influenced him so much, placed carefully where a TV had stood earlier in the day.

It’s the use of this video as the first point of announcement for an important policy that is particularly significant. It’s no secret that some political broadcasters have at times been a bit antagonistic, and that there are some tensions in the relationship already. More generally, what every politician really desires is an opportunity to communicate their message directly to voters without edit, limit or interpretation.

Breaking news through a social media broadcast, unfiltered, therefore makes sense. Between Facebook and Twitter this clip was seen by at least 450,000 people throughout the course of the evening, which isn’t bad given there was no pre-publicity to warn the audience in advance. My understanding is that this is a first experiment, and there will be more such broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the audience of which will be closely studied in Downing Street.

In an age which values authenticity, this is an approach with potential, particularly for this Prime Minister. Johnson opens with an invitation, the emphasis on the personal nature of the conversation and the privileged access being offered to viewers: “I’m speaking to you live from my desk in Downing Street”. He has built his career on being distinctive, engaging and entertaining; he’s the Government’s most notable media asset. It would be madness to lock that away behind bland scripts and anonymised official statements.

Previous examples of leaders seeking such direct communication with voters spring to mind, some more successful than others. Stanley Baldwin, the UK’s earliest adopter of broadcasting as a political tool; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’; Harold Wilson’s sometimes ill-advised penchant for television (complete with the affectation of a pipe); Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary run of over 1,000 daily radio commentaries on current affairs prior to becoming President. David Cameron, of course, had WebCameron – sometimes a bit stagey, but always more at ease than Gordon Brown’s rictus efforts at YouTube. There are lessons from each, and all underscore that no politician can afford to stand still while the media changes around him.

It’s encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s team exploring and trying out new ways to cut through to the electorate. Making sure they maintain message discipline while allowing his personality to show will be the key. Relax it too much and it loses its bite; structure it too closely and it risks looking like a hostage video, turning off fans who want to feel they are seeing their Prime Minister as he really is. Get it right, and these broadcasts could have a really big impact.

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Iain Dale: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Cummings?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said that “every Prime Minister needs a Willie”. She was right – but every Prime Minister also needs a lighting rod, someone who is able to soak up much of the criticism that would ordinarily be directed at the Prime Minister himself.

Margaret Thatcher had Norman Tebbit, Major had Chris Patten, Tony Blair had Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, Gordon Brown had Damian McBride (until it all went wrong) and David Cameron had Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton.

Theresa May didn’t really have anyone. I suppose Damian Green fulfilled that role for a time but, after he left, there was no one. Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb were often targets of criticism, but not in the same way as the others I have mentioned. Their roles were very different.

Dominic Cummings is clearly taking on the former mantle for Boris Johnson. He’s the bete noire of lefties everywhere and the media is really building him up into a voodoo doll figure for people to stick their pins in. I don’t know Cummings, although I’ve been aware of him ever since David Davis intervened to try to prevent Iain Duncan Smith sacking him from his Conservative Central Office role back in 2003.

I don’t think we’ve ever met, although I did make a vain attempt to try to persuade him to write a book after the referendum. Instead, he wrote several massively long and entertaining blog articles about the experience.

There’s no doubt that he engenders huge loyalty from people who work for him. He’s one of those unpredictable, quixotic characters who the media love to write lengthy profiles about without ever really getting to the core of who he is and what he’s about. He’s a bit like the royal family used to be, in that he is brilliant at cultivating an aura of mystique, though in this case with a slight whiff of menace.

He has a great strength which few have commented on so far. Mandelson and Campbell always wanted to be feared and respected in equal measure. Neither could understand why some people, especially on their own side, intensely disliked them. Cummings couldn’t give a toss. He couldn’t care less whether he’s liked, feared or respected. He’s got a job to do and will get on with it – and sod the consequences if anyone’s nose is put out of joint.

Cummings is a brilliant strategist, but he’ll need to be at the top of his game over the next three months. Labour will move heaven and earth to oust him. There are plenty of Tories who loathe and despise him, and who will happily feed any destructive morsels to an eagerly receptive press.

He is worldly-wise enough to know they’re coming for him. I hope Johnson is able to resist any pressures to get rid, of him, because his track record of standing by advisers in a bit of media trouble is not, shall we say, exemplary.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve spent this week hosting shows at the Edinburgh Festival. One or two of my interlocutors have been busy ‘committing news’, as Ruth Davidson puts it.

My interview with Nicola Sturgeon got a lot of headlines because she was out of her normal zone and came across as a warm, entertaining human being, capable of laughing at herself. People hadn’t seen that side to her before, I think think.

With John McDonnell it was somewhat different. For someone with very hard left views, he is very skilled at coming across as the voice of sweet reason in interviews. This time, the mask slipped somewhat in his threats to imprison Conservative MPs for supporting austerity. “Under what law would you do that?” I asked. “I’ll have to invent one,” he said. I assumed he was joking, but the look on his face gave some people a different impression.

– – – – – – – – – –

It’s been ten days since I saw anything on television. The student accommodation I’m staying I doesn’t have one. OK, I’ve got my laptop but, generally, I’m completely out of touch with what’s going on in the world.

In other words, I’m probably in line with the majority of the country which generally gets on with their lives without worrying too much about what’s going on in the world of politics and current affairs.

I didn’t even know about the Whaley Bridge reservoir issue until two days after it had happened. Same with the El Paso and Dayton shootings. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve weaned myself off watching Sky News, or at least having it on in the background. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Sorry, Kay.

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A Government of national unity is a non-starter – even if its seven prospective leaders take one day of the week each

The cry goes up for a Government of national unity. Boris Johnson will attempt, after 31st October, to provide one.

But that is not what the advocates of such a Government have in mind. What they actually want is a united Opposition, which can stop Brexit.

Far from uniting the country, they intend to go on dividing it. If they get their way, Johnson will be thwarted, the Brexit Party will flourish and cries of betrayal will be heard across the land.

What chance is there of a united Opposition? The logic set out here last week has not changed. Alastair Campbell’s declaration that he no longer wishes to be readmitted to the Labour Party is but one of many signs that members of the Opposition loathe each other.

The Leader of the Opposition insists, quite understandably, that any uniting should be done under his leadership. Yet most Labour MPs consider Jeremy Corbyn unfit even to lead their own party, let alone to become Prime Minister.

And how many MPs from other parties, distressed by the prospect of Brexit and wishing to do everything they can to avert it, will want to unite under Corbyn’s banner?

The answer to that question is not very many. He is not even a genuine Remainer.

Advocates of a united Opposition therefore suggest that some other leader should be found. Names bandied about include Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Margaret Beckett, Kenneth Clarke, Jo Swinson and Caroline Lucas.

If one adds Corbyn’s name to this list, one finds, conveniently, that there would be one leader for each day of the week.

This would surely be a fair way to settle the matter, if only they could decide who was to have which day.

The most popular day might be Wednesday, when the Leader of the Opposition has the right, if Parliament is sitting, to put six questions to the Prime Minister.

Corbyn has not made a great success of this, and might be glad not to have to do it, but he would be bound to consider any other day of the week a demotion, and if he were to end up being leader on Saturday or Sunday, it would eat into the time he can spend on his allotment.

The more one thinks about how to unite the Opposition, the clearer it becomes that Corbyn is the problem. If Labour had a leader who was good at getting on with members of other parties, the project might just be feasible.

As it is, Corbyn sits there like a dog in the manger, preventing anyone else from having a go, while himself being unable to use the opportunities open to the Leader of the Opposition.

If he puts down a motion of no confidence in the Government, it has to be debated. Perhaps when Parliament returns at the start of September he will do so, but he is being cautious about saying that he actually will.

Nor can his hesitations be attributed solely to the perverse effects of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, discussed here earlier this week by Paul Goodman.

Even with that wretched Act in force, a no confidence motion might start a process which led to a general election, at which Johnson, a formidable campaigner with a clear Brexit policy, could squeeze the Brexit Party and make hay at the expense of a divided Opposition, with Labour in danger of losing its Remain voters to the Liberal Democrats and its Leave voters to the Conservatives.

No wonder Corbyn hesitates. An early election might well be a disaster for him and his party.

In the resulting vacuum, anguished Tory Remainers such as Dominic Grieve hold anxious discussions with their friends on the Opposition benches, and hope they can come up with something.

Perhaps they can. But that something would not be a Government of national unity. It would be a last-ditch attempt to overturn the referendum result, wreck Brexit and destroy the Government we actually have.

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Geoffrey van Orden: Why Tory MEPs voted for von der Leyen, an advocate of an EU army, for Commission President

Geoffrey van Orden is an MEP for the East of England and Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament. He is a former senior British Army officer.

Twice again in recent weeks the call for a “true European Army” has rung out – first from President Macron on Bastille Day and then from Ursula Von der Leyen, the EU Commission’s new President, in her pitch to MEPs in Strasbourg.

These were reminders, should we need them, that this ambition is one we must beware of both within the EU and long after we leave.

The UK has world-renowned security and intelligence agencies. It is also the pre-eminent military power in Europe with full-spectrum armed forces and global reach, Europe’s largest defence budget, and its biggest defence research capability.

The first of two new aircraft-carriers for the Royal Navy will soon enter operational service.The UK is a key member of the NATO alliance that provides credible deterrence and the ultimate defence guarantee for Europe. This is all well and good, but demonstrably not good enough in today’s increasingly dangerous world.

Given the paltry state of most armed forces across Europe, we should take little comfort from our marginal superiority to European allies. The true comparison is with our potential enemies, both high and low intensity, and our ability to generate and wield military power effectively to protect our interests and achieve our policy objectives.

Military capabilities take time to develop but are quickly lost. Aware how drastically our armed forces have been cut over the past 30 years, many of us have persistently called for a significant increase in real defence spending and for upgrading NATO. At the same time we have opposed EU defence policy, not through any shallow motive, but because we see it for what it is.

The objections to EU defence policy, the fabled ‘EU Army’, rest on many levels. It is primarily a political project to accelerate the political integration of Europe into a federal state.

Rather than seeking to create a more capable military partner to the United States, it is based on the opposite principle of “strategic autonomy”. The EU wants to create a separate power base, with decision-making and command structures deliberately outside that vital NATO alliance that binds the US to the security of the European nations.

Recent statements by the President of the European Council as well the French President bizarrely see the US as as big a threat to European security as Russia or China.

The desire to remove US influence and develop an essentially French vision of European defence and foreign policy runs long and deep in the corridors of the Élysée Palace and Quai d’Orsay. The European strategic priority should instead have been the opposite, to ensure the continued commitment of the US to the security of Europe, as the ultimate guarantor of peace.

European allies should be spending more on their national defence capabilities and revitalising NATO, instead they went along with the idea of alternative EU structures. This approach is sapping both material and political resources.

Far from strengthening the alliance of the democracies at this time of unprecedented challenge, the EU army idea leads to division and a widening of transatlantic difference. Moscow and Teheran can only be delighted.

I have always believed that in time of crisis, the democracies are best served by sitting around the same table to decide on a response. NATO is designed for precisely that. In spite of the fact that 22 EU countries are also NATO members, the EU wants to meet separately, keeping the Americans out.

This is a dangerous approach, it will bifurcate the transatlantic alliance and be exploited by our rivals and enemies. And besides seeking to give itself more global profile, the EU is unsure why it is developing a defence arm.

On the one hand, it insists it just wants to offer helpful civil assistance and deal with low-intensity threats while paying lip-service to NATO; on the other, it wants to assume responsibility for the defence of Europe and has even inserted a mutual-defence clause in the EU Treaty.

With Britain out of the way, the ayatollahs of European integration see the defence realm as key to their political objectives and want to go full steam ahead, harmonising defence planning, introducing a European Defence Fund for defence research and development, and removing the national vetoes in the realms of foreign and security policy, although its ill-defined Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) has already run into problems given the differing defence vision of the French and the Germans.

Hand in hand with the EU Army idea is the creation of an EU defence industrial development programme with common procurement rules that would effectively keep the Americans, and in due course the British, out of the EU internal defence market.

I have led the charge against EU defence policy for the last two decades. While we want our European allies to contribute more to defence, through NATO or coalitions of the willing, the EU Army is not the way. It will further dilute what limited capabilities exist, blur responsibility, and send the wrong signals to our adversaries.

Given all this, you might well ask why Conservatives voted in favour of such a strong advocate of an EU army as von der Leyen for President of the European Commission? Simple really. Any of the alternatives would have been worse. And we should respect the nominee of national governments in Council rather than of the federalist Parliament.

We did not want to unleash political chaos in Brussels and Berlin just when we need stable interlocutors to finalise Brexit. And given her focus on placating the Left and her performance in looking after the Bundeswehr, the EU army project would surely be doomed on her watch.

Our new Prime Minister will face many immediate and enormous challenges.  High among these will be our national defence and security. Enhanced defence capabilities are not only essential for our national security, they are also central to whatever ambitions we might have to play a leading role in future hi-tech industries and to project ourselves globally.

We must once more become the indispensable ally that others need, rather than us being the needy ones.

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Osborne – Brexit’s saviour?

“The reform – enacted by statute in 2011 – was generally interpreted as a typical example of Lib Dem constitutional tinkering and a concession by Cameron to Clegg. In fact, it was a Tory initiative, based on the Conservatives’ assumption that the Conservatives, rather than the LibDems, would be the party that slumped in popularity mid-term. “We have to find a way of stopping Clegg from dumping us,” Osborne told his fellow planners.  The stability of a five-year government was what the markets wanted and the Tories needed.  For that, it was worth trading the traditional right of the Prime Minister to decide the election date.”

(From Matthew D’Ancona’s “In it Together”.)

If the Commons passed a no confidence vote in a government, before the Fixed Terms Parliament Act came into effect, the latter would resign and an election would be called.

That’s what took place in 1979 – on the only occasion since the war in which such a vote has been carried – during the days of James Callaghan’s Labour Government.  He lost by a single vote.  Margaret Thatcher went on to win the election than followed, and then two more.

A key point about the Fixed Terms Act is that it replaces clarity with mystery.  If a no confidence vote in a government is carried, there is no automatic general election under its terms.  Instead, the Commons has 14 days in which to pass a motion of confidence in a new government.  If no such motion is passed in that time, an election then follows.

The Act has no answer to the question: who might try to form such a new government?  The Prime Minister, insistent that he or she can win a vote of confidence within the 14 days?  The Leader of the Opposition, making the same claim?  Someone else?

Its silence was deliberate.  “We left all that to politics,” one source who was involved in drawing up the Act told ConservativeHome.  Another reading of the same words is: “we dumped the Queen in it”.  For she must ask someone to form a government, or at least to try to.

Let us now try to imagine how theory might now work in practice..

Were Boris Johnson to lose a vote of confidence in early September, he might calculate that, if 14 days pass afterwards, no election can take place until after October 31 – whether or not the present Commons can produce an alternative government.  In which case – hey presto! – Brexit will happen.

So he would presumably ask the Queen to give him 14 days to form a new government.  Such a request would not be absurd.  For it might be that some Conservative MPs who voted for a no confidence motion to turn him out might also vote for a confidence motion to put him back in.  Other MPs could do the same, too.

This is because there is a difference between bringing down a government, with no election necessarily following, and not putting in a government, if an election must follow the Commons’ refusal to do so.  To put it more plainly, Tory MPs and others might vote for Johnson second time round, rather than face an election that could return Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

“Look, Liz – give me a chance to have another go,” Johnson might say – or words to that effect.  “I can win that vote of confidence: I really can.”

And given the silence of the Act on the matter, the Queen might say…well, she would be entitled to say more or less anything she likes.  She might say: “Good on you, Bozza – more power to your arm”.  Or she might say: “That’s not what I’m told, so I’m firing you – and sending for that nice Mr Corbyn”.  Or she might say: “Do you know what?  I’ve been thinking.  I’m told that the Commons will go for government of national unity.  I rather like the look of that Dominic Grieve.  So I’m going to send for him.”

For Grieve, read Hillary Benn.  Or Ken Clarke.  Or Yvette Cooper.  Or Oliver Letwin.  Or Chris Bryant.  OK, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last, but we wanted to check that you are still with us.  Anyone for Nick Boles?

The still point in this turning world is that a Prime Minister. must always be in place  The Queen’s Government must always be carried on.  Either Johnson must be allowed to try to form a new government, in the event of this one losing a confidence vote, or someone else must be allowed to have a go.  If the last happens, Johnson will become the first Prime Minister to be sacked by the monarch since William IV dismissed Lord Melbourne in 1834.

So what’s your best guess at what might happen if Johnson loses a no confidence vote, given all the above?

We have no idea.  But the landscape would be less bleak for Johnson in such a circumstance than it might appear.  It is by no means certain that all Labour MPs would back Corbyn in a confidence vote – let alone a majority of the Commons.  Are Grieve and company really bent on installing a Marxist government?

Nor is it obvious that the Commons would vote in favour of a government of national unity headed by some grand panjamdrum.  Most Conservative MPs wouldn’t.  And nor would most Labour MPs, surely: fear of deselection, at the very least, would keep them clinging to Corbyn.

And why would Corbyn stand aside, even for a brief period, so that Sir Hillary Letwin can step forward?  Just imagine Seumas Milne’s reaction to the proposal, plus that of the other three Ms: Karie Murphy, Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey.  Oh, and add a fifth M: Momentum.

So the Fixed Terms Act could turn out, in effect, to allow Johnson a second bite at the cherry – one that would otherwise be denied to him.  The Commons might none the less find a way of extending or revoking Brexit.  But the Prime Minister should be grateful for small mercies.  And for this one he can apparently thank…George Osborne.

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The tartan Quebec?

The first words of our proprietor’s article on this site yesterday, which reported his new polling on Scottish independence, were “in the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week”.  We suspect that there is a link between that fact and the survey’s finding – namely, “the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years”.

For on ConservativeHome earlier this year, news appeared of another poll – one that showed dire polling for the man who has since become Prime Minister.  It found Johnson’s ratings north of the border to be so poor “that they incited jaw-dropping astonishment and effectively put the Scottish party on a crisis management footing”.  So reported Andy McIver, a former Head of Communications for the Party in Scotland, and the author of the article in which this claim was contained.

Scotland voted to Remain in the EU referendum, and the Conservatives are weak there.  Of its 59 MPs, only 13 are Tory.  In the Scottish Parliament, the Party has half the number of the SNP’s seats.  Ruth Davidson has worked wonders there – putting a modern face on a Unionist message and taking the fight to Nicola Sturgeon.  Were it not for the revival that she has driven, Jeremy Corbyn might well be Prime Minister today.  Those 13 Westminster seats contained 12 gains: enough to make the Tory-DUP pact sustainable for the past two years.  But the Conservatives have none the less travelled a long, winding and downward road since winning a majority of Scotland’s vote in 1955.

The new Prime Minister is well aware of his standing north of the border: that’s largely why he has styled himself “Minister for the Union”.  It’s also why Scotland was the venue of one of his first visits.  It was not entirely successful – at least, if your measure is the presence of friendly and filmeable crowds.  Johnson will be identified by many Scottish voters not only as a Tory politician, or even as a pro-Brexit one too, but additionally as a pro-No Deal Brexit one.  And according to our proprietor’s poll, 46 per cent of Scots think such an outcome would be disastrous.

Furthermore, these tensions boil over into poor relations between Johnson and Davidson.  As McIver said, “Operation Arse”, an internal push to prevent Johnson from becoming Conservative leader, “was based on a combination of internal polling and Davidson’s own disdain for Johnson”.  We calculate that only one Tory MP voted for him as their first choice.

Now that arse is squashing his opponents (to adapt the image that they themselves conjured up).  The new Prime Minister fired David Mundell as Scottish Secretary – who though not exactly an opponent can scarcely be described as a supporter – and replaced him with Alister Jack.  Mundell knows more about politics in Scotland than most of us are likely to forget, but the rationale for Johnson’s decision was solid.  In the last event, he is committed to No Deal, and Mundell could not have rowed enthusiastically behind such a policy, if at all.

There may be a paradox at heart of the problem – that’s to say, the tensions between Johnson and Davidson, the essence of which is political rather than personal.  Were it not for Brexit, it might be actually easier for the Scottish Party, and that in the rest of the UK, to diverge.  After all, that election success in the 1950s, and earlier ones, were won by a party that styled itself Unionist rather than Conservative, and was in effect a separate organisation.

Some, like Murdo Fraser, want to revive a model of that kind – citing the centre-right’s approach in Canada to Quebec.  Others, like Davidson herself, declare themselves firmly opposed.  There may be other ways of cutting the cake.  On this site, Henry Hill has written that “recent speculation about a part-breakaway by the Scottish Conservatives could furnish a model through which Unionists could part-integrate their Northern Irish fellows, such as creating a Canada-style integrated party or Australia-style permanent coalition for Westminster elections whilst retaining a separate organisation for devolved matters”.

The question is whether or not a different-but-linked Scottish Party, presumably opposed to a No Deal Brexit, could say take one on the matter while Johnson takes another, and thrive none the less.  After all, “most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal”, according to the Ashcroft polling.  Which returns us to where we started.

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Tania Mathias: The new government is already making positive changes on the NHS and social care

Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.

The new government under Boris Johnson heralds positive news for the NHS and for social care.

In the Prime Minister’s first statement to the House of Commons, and in his weekend article, it is clear that the NHS is a priority and that social care will also benefit from this reinvigorated government.

Already the new government has given a boost for the NHS – £1.8 billion over and above the pledge of an extra £20.5 billion by 2023/24 promised last year.  There is every indication that this forward-thinking government will continue to invest in and improve the health service: already we have had pledges to address the pension problem for NHS staff and GP waiting times.

Furthermore, beyond these immediate policy statements is a commitment to address the changes needed in social care. The changes in social care need Conservative values: giving the individual power and choice wherever possible, while maintaining state services with a strong economy.

Wherever possible people want control and one of the greatest fears is not having control when you are at your most vulnerable. Individual concerns about social care for older people are often about fear: fear of losing independence, fear of losing the ability to live in your own home. The government’s social care policy must give certainty and transparency.

Certainty is needed both for staff and for the people receiving care. The government has already given certainty for EU staff who are working here: EU staff have a major role in our health and social care services and the clear and unequivocal pronouncements of the Prime Minister ensuring rights for EU citizens living here are a welcome and significant priority in his first week as Prime Minister. The statements about immigration with a possible Australian-style points system will also benefit social care staffing.

Certainty for individuals receiving care can come from social care where the non-residential costs i.e. nursing and a minimum level of personal care is free at the point of need without means testing and without the person’s home being part of the equation. The 2018 IPPR report of Lord Darzi and Lord Prior has given these bold ideas a costed analysis for free nursing and defined limited personal care. Their plan removes the current anomaly whereby a person needing care for cancer related needs gets more financial help than a person needing care with dementia related needs.

The Scotland experience indicates that while large investment is needed initially, there are savings in the longer term. Importantly, family carers who are trying to balance jobs and caring for their loved ones are able to have more quality time with their relative if the state provides a certain level of personal and nursing care. There are different payment models: increasing national insurance or government insurance schemes. This government can give clarity and reassurance that NHS and social care really can be cradle to grave.

This government has the benefit of continuity in the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, and the Long Term Plan. The latter illustrates examples where there are integrated care systems already in place that coordinate the NHS and social care and minimise the problems – such as delayed transfer for someone moving from hospital into care back in their own home or in a residential care home. Putting the patient at the centre of all decision making in this integrated system will decrease the fear that comes from uncertainty, and will also enable end of life care where the person’s wishes are at the centre of all decision making.

This government is showing clear commitments which will make this one of the most impactful governments not only for Brexit but also for the NHS and social care.

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Dominic Walsh: What would No Deal mean for trade beyond the EU?

Dominic Walsh is a policy analyst for Open Europe.

At present, the UK and the EU are on course for a No Deal Brexit. Yesterday morning, EU negotiators said there was no basis for any “meaningful discussions” about a potential deal. Meanwhile, in Westminster, it is far from clear that Parliament will be able to stop No Deal, which remains the legal default on October 31.

There has rightly been a lot of focus on what No Deal would mean for the UK’s trade with the EU. However, No Deal also has significant implications for the UK’s trade with the rest of the world – bringing both threats (some trade deals the UK enjoys through the EU will be lost and haven’t been replaced), and potential opportunities (the UK will be able to exercise an independent trade policy from day one).

The UK will set its own tariffs on all imports

In the immediate event of a No Deal exit, the UK’s ability to unilaterally set its own tariff regime on imports is likely to be a more significant plank of UK trade policy than trade deals. The Government’s current approach, which removes tariffs on 87 per cent of goods imports to the UK, has advantages and disadvantages, but correctly errs towards the interests of the UK consumer, while protecting some sensitive producers such as in the farming sector. At present, this regime is only due to last for a year – with uncertainty over what comes next.

The Government has several options for the long-term and, as ever with Brexit, there are trade-offs to confront. Continuing with a liberal approach to tariffs could have benefits for consumers and would increase competition in the UK economy.

However, there is an argument that unilateral liberalisation undermines the UK’s leverage with potential trade partners (who may think there is little point in doing a deal if they are already getting zero-tariff access for free). Raising tariffs, on the other hand, could restore some of this leverage, but at the cost of increasing trade barriers and imposing a regressive tax on consumers. The Government will need to decide swiftly after No Deal which approach is the best way forward.

Preserving EU trade deals 

As an EU member, the UK benefits from around 40 trade deals the EU has negotiated with around 70 third countries. The importance of these deals to the UK economy varies considerably. While trade with these 70 countries makes up approximately 15 per cent of the UK’s total trade, two thirds of this is with just six countries – Canada, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Switzerland, and Norway. Many of the other countries covered by EU agreements make up less than 0.05 per cent of UK trade. When it comes to rolling over trade deals, quality beats quantity.

Under Liam Fox, the Department of International Trade made better progress in “rolling over” existing EU agreements than some have given it credit, though significant gaps remain. Of the six major partners above, it has secured continuity agreements with Switzerland, Norway, and South Korea.

However, Japan has refused to roll over its existing deal with the EU, as it thinks it can get better terms through a bespoke bilateral deal. The UK’s current trading arrangements with Turkey rely on the latter’s customs union with the EU, and therefore cannot be preserved in a No Deal context. And negotiations with Canada have stalled because the UK’s low No Deal tariffs give competitor countries without a trade deal the same levels of access as Canada (known as “preference erosion”).

In addition, the “rollovers” that the UK has secured do not all provide full trade continuity. For example, the deals with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland provide for tariff-free trade in goods, but do not cover services or regulatory alignment in product standards.

The consequences of failing to preserve EU trade deals in a No Deal will affect exporters more than importers, thanks to the UK’s relatively liberal No Deal tariff regime. For example, businesses exporting cheese to Canada face eye-watering tariffs of 245 per cent, whereas Canadian pearls and precious stones (73 per cent of UK imports from Canada) would continue to enter the UK tariff-free.

New avenues for global trade

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it makes sense for the UK to diversify its trade beyond the EU. Brexiteers are right to point out that the EU’s portion of the UK’s trade has already been gradually declining for the last 20 years; the question is how best to harness this. A No Deal outcome would be likely to accelerate this trend, and open up the UK to non-EU trade much more quickly.

However, a sharp change will not be an easy or painless transition for sectors highly integrated into EU supply chains. Geography still matters to many traders – particularly those involved in perishable or time-sensitive goods, such as fresh food.

Both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are committed to pursuing new trade deals after Brexit. However, expectations of dozens of ‘quick wins’ in a No Deal scenario should be tempered. Some countries may adopt the “wait and see” strategy adopted by Canada and Japan – partly due to the ongoing lack of certainty over the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, and partly because it is unclear that any deal negotiated by the UK would be ratified by this Parliament.

Just like the EU, potential trading partners have their own interests which will not always be aligned with those of the UK. The primary example is the US, which Truss has said she wants to deliver “as soon as possible.”

Yet there are a number of obstacles to a UK-US trade deal, which will take time to overcome – such as food standards (think chlorinated chicken), drug procurement, and digital services. There are also political obstacles to ratification on both sides. In the Commons, a deal with Trump’s US would be just as controversial as a deal with the EU, while the Democrat-controlled Congress cannot be relied upon either.

While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit, their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise. As Fox found on the job, there are many ways to promote UK trade interests other than trade deals, such as exploiting soft power assets and prioritising services trade (where the UK is a world leader).

The trade debate in the UK is still beset by simplistic soundbites. While this might be expected after 40 years of outsourcing trade policy to Brussels, the UK needs to grapple with the realities of global trade quickly in order to make a success of Brexit.

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