A first glance at some of the main points in May’s deal

We set five tests for it. Does this draft agreement pass them? And does it really take back control of our borders, laws and money?

When Theresa May set out her strategy for the Brexit negotiations, she set out three goals: to take back control of Britain’s money, laws, and borders.

As the talks have progressed, more issues have emerged – not least Northern Ireland and the territorial integrity of the UK. So this month we suggested a further five points to consider.

They are: would the deal hive off Northern Ireland? Does it threaten to break up the Union? Would it trap the country in a customs union? Does it hand over money for nothing? And does it more closely resemble Chequers, or ‘Canada’?

Below, we take a look at how the Prime Minister’s proposals measure up against these yardsticks.

Are we taking back control of our money?

Probably. We’re paying the so-called ‘divorce bill’ as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, so won’t be able to use it as leverage during the future relationship. Lee Rotherham also points out that there’s little mention of the UK regaining our share of EU assets, despite lots of mention of our liabilities to the bloc.

Perhaps more ominously, we will continue paying in during the initial ‘transition period’, and if we choose to extend it Article 138 says that our contributions will be established at an ‘appropriate’ level by the Joint Committee. One Labour MP compared this to signing an insurance agreement without knowing what the excess was.

The question is whether, or how, we end up disentangling ourselves from the EU during that period. Some of these issues may only become clear when the future relationship is negotiated.

Are we taking back control of our laws?

When it comes to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the negotiators seem to have made some progress. Compared to the EU’s initial proposals (which a former ECJ judge denounced as ‘leonine’) its role is substantially reduced, and the idea that it would be the mediating institution in disputes between the UK and the EU is gone. One analyst has dubbed this a ‘solid win’.

On the other hand, this piece in the Financial Times suggests that the role of the ECJ, especially during the transition, could be much greater than the above analysis suggests, and that it might in effect remain the ultimate arbiter of UK-EU disputes.

Beyond that, there are other points of concern. First, Rotherham reports that the deal locks the UK into the European Convention on Human Rights, precluding any possibility of repatriating judicial supremacy to these islands – a longstanding Conservative ambition, and one shared by the Prime Minister.

Moreover, there was extensive ‘level playing field’ provisions (Annex 4) which would prevent future British governments from setting independent policy in a broad range of areas, and Rotherham suggests that the section on equivalence could end up with Britain in “in a fax democracy version of a Regulatory Union, and probably in a form of Customs Union.”

Finally, there is the salient fact that the backstop proposals, if implemented, don’t contain any procedure for the UK’s unilateral withdrawal (at least not without resiling from our entire negotiated relationship with the EU). This is a serious curb on the practical power, if not the technical sovereignty, of Parliament.

CCHQ is taking pains to combat the idea that the backstop is inescapable. In an email to the National Convention, Brandon Lewis writes:

  • “If both sides agree the future relationship is ready we would leave the backstop. This judgement would need to be taken in good faith and with view to their commitment on best endeavours.”
  • “If there is a disagreement, a special conference would try and resolve the differences.”
  • “If that failed to reach an agreement it would go to independent arbitration as to whether the NI protocol is still needed to meet its objectives.”

According to Article 170, “independent arbitration” means “the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration”, an intergovernmental organisation based at The Hague. The five-person panel will comprise two members apiece from the UK and the EU, plus one independent member, whittled down from a shortlist of 25 (Article 171).

On the face of it this could allow the UK – if it had a very strong case – to climb the chain of appeals and have EU objections to withdrawing from the backstop overridden at the PCA. That doesn’t seem a likely scenario, however, and can’t be spun – as Lewis is trying to do – as a practical, reliable means of quitting the backstop.

Are we taking back control of our borders?

Eventually, probably. The Withdrawal Agreement at least doesn’t commit the UK to maintaining freedom of movement in perpetuity, and it has been argued in some quarters that the Government has actually managed, to an extent, to divide the ‘four freedoms’ and secure some form of market access without unlimited EU immigration.

However, the UK will have to maintain our current policies – including freedom of movement – at least until the end of the ‘transition period’ in 2021. Unless a full future relationship has been negotiated by then (and experience doesn’t offer much grounds for optimism) we will then probably use our one-off extension of the ‘transition period’, further prolonging freedom of movement.

If we revert to the backstop, freedom of movement comes to an end, but at present that option looks likely to be so unpalatable that few prime ministers would choose to enter it if they can help it.

The upshot of all that is that is that we aren’t locked in to freedom of movement indefinitely, but we probably won’t be able to introduce new controls for years.

On a final note, Rotherham suggests that, despite what David Mundell and other Scottish Conservatives have been saying about the UK becoming an ‘independent coastal state’, in fact the fate of British fishing stocks is still on the table.

Will it hive off Northern Ireland?

The barriers are less than they might have been – it doesn’t look as though there will be a customs border down the Irish Sea – but Northern Ireland is still a case apart under the proposed backstop, which is why it features in a huge share of the deal’s text.

Whilst the customs union provisions will be UK-wide, Ulster will remain additionally subject to a range of single market rules and other EU laws including VAT and excise (Article 9), Agriculture and environment (Article 10), the single electricity market (Article 11), and in part state aid (Article 12).

This will put Northern Ireland in the problematic position of having its economy regulated by a foreign legislature in which it is unrepresented (although MEPs from the Republic of Ireland might try to claim that mantle), and with the explicit intention of prioritising its alignment with the EU and Irish markets rather than the British one, despite the latter accounting for vastly more of its external sales.

Since the British Government will also have no right to withdraw, this means that Northern Irish voters will have no democratic control over important areas of law via either Stormont or Westminster.

However, RTE’s Tony Connelly has tweeted to explain how the EU intends to allow GB-NI trade to run smoothly… and it sounds a lot like the combination of targeted checks, back-office enforcement, and technology that was supposedly incapable of allowing for a ‘frictionless’ north-south trade border without the backstop. A Dutch customs expert has also told MPs that a technical solution on north-south trade is perfectly practical (video available).

If Dublin and Brussels are sincere when they say that their goal is simply to ensure smooth trade and avoid giving would-be terrorists obvious targets, this holds out some hope that the customs element of the backstop could be obviated entirely by a proper north-south arrangement.

However, it may be very difficult to get this done in practice. As the Prime Minister told the Commons on Thursday, under these proposals the backstop cannot be revived once it is set aside. That will make the other side very wary about doing so.

The problem of Single Market rules, however, would remain regardless.

Does it threaten to break up the Union?

The backstop poses several potential dangers to the integrity of the United Kingdom, both in relation to Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

First, there are the long-term ramifications of the Northern Irish economy potentially re-aligning away from the mainland in the course of a decade (or longer) locked into structure that gives preferential treatment to north-south commerce, and of Irish politicians unofficially – but probably publicly – presuming to act on its behalf inside the EU.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, highlighted the extraordinary way in which the agreement handles GB-NI trade in a question to the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Not to be under-estimated either is the damage this could do within political unionism. Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom has not been strengthened by its almost complete political isolation, and if the links forged over the past couple of years were burned in the process of passing this deal it would represent a significant step backwards.

But the backstop isn’t just a problem for Northern Ireland. As Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, has pointed out, such a high-alignment and asymmetrical arrangement makes life much, much easier for separatists across these islands. Not only does it restore the high floor for ongoing relations which made ‘independence in Europe’ so saleable, but it throws in an added advantage in that Scotland could theoretically regain its status as a ‘rule maker’ whilst not missing out on any trade with rUK.

This, and not just solidarity or high unionist principle, is presumably why both David Mundell and Ruth Davidson threatened to resign in the event of a withdrawal agreement which offered differential treatment for Ulster. Since that’s exactly what we’ve got, their u-turn on this is hard to explain.

Nor is all quiet on the Welsh front: during questions in the Commons yesterday a Plaid Cymru MP once again illustrated the dangers of the backstop by asking May to assure him that there would be no border between England and Wales if the latter were to adopt the Northern Irish settlement.

Would it trap the country in a customs union?

There seems a very strong chance of this. As previously explained, the backstop would lock the UK into a customs union without the ability to withdraw unilaterally. Worse, that would be a customs union in which the Government had no input into the rules.

Of course, neither side officially wants the backstop to come into force. But there are reports that, on the EU side at least, it is viewed as something to be built out on when constructing the future relationship, rather than merely a refuge of last resort if the negotiations falter. There is therefore a risk that integration on this level becomes the basis of the future partnership.

Does it hand over money for nothing?

Our editor posed the following question: “Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against shelling out £40 billion for nothing?”

The short answer seems to be “not many”. The political declaration on the future relationship is broad-strokes, to say the least, and whilst it could potentially shape up into a good agreement there are also plenty of areas where things could go wrong from London’s perspective. Rotherham also sets out in his Brexit Central piece several ways in which he thinks the financial settlement is unfair on Britain.

What is certain is that if the UK hands over the entire divorce bill it won’t be able to use those billions, and the threat of the EU being under-funded, as leverage during the negotiations. (The IEA have suggested one way in which London might split the payments, holding back £19.8 billion earmarked for “outstanding budget commitments”.)

Chequers or Canada?

This one we can’t definitively answer. The withdrawal agreement is not the future relationship, and the document we have on the latter is too short to draw clear conclusions from. A lot will depend on how the negotiations go between next March and the ultimate end of the transition period in “20XX” (note: not even “202X”!).

Whether or not an all-UK ‘Canada’ arrangement is possible seems to depend on whether the Government can negotiate to have the EU’s minimal-friction, tech-enabled, and intelligence-led customs arrangements applied to north-south trade from Northern Ireland instead of east-west.

However, there are ominous indicators. As our editor highlighted on Friday morning, the final spur for Dominic Raab’s resignation was the insertion, without his knowledge, of a commitment to pursue ” ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That doesn’t entirely close off the path to Canada, but it heavily skews the parameters of the negotiations towards a settlement that looks more like Chequers.

Lower immigration, the unspoken upward pressure on wages

Various Leavers – and the head of the Remain campaign – predicted such an outcome. Now it seems we’re seeing it happen.

In September, the ONS reported wages were growing at the fastest rate in three years. Today, the latest edition of those figures shows a further improvement, to the fastest rate since 2008. What’s more, it’s another quarter in which wage growth has outstripped inflation. In other words, people are getting better off in real terms.

As Paul has previously noted, the continued rumbling away of positive economic news is quietly bolstering the Government’s poll figures, helping to explain why they have held up rather better than might be expected given the many other serious problems the Prime Minister faces.

There’s a Brexit aspect to the positive news on wages, too, as I pointed out a couple of months ago. The general context for rising wages is near-full employment, but there’s also the specific circumstance of falling net immigration. If the supply of workers is more constrained than it might otherwise have been, that’ll be contributing to upward pressures on pay.

ConservativeHome was far from alone in arguing in 2015 that such an effect might come about from a Leave vote. Indeed, Stuart Rose, head of the Remain campaign, memorably argued at the time of the referendum that: “If you are short of labour, the price of labour will go up.”

Peculiarly little media attention is paid to this story. For example, yesterday the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development – the HR industry body – were interviewed on the Today programme, warning of employers’ concerns about a shortage of skilled and un-skilled workers coming to this country. It’s fair enough to explore those concerns, and the costs to business of a shortfall in the workforce, but somehow the BBC managed to get through the whole discussion without even mentioning the outcome of rising wages for the UK’s existing workers. That’s an amazing thing to simply ignore.

The interesting question is whether voters, and particularly Leave voters, are noticing this happening – or assuming that it is – with or without the media’s help.

12 November 2018 – today’s press releases

This feature is now back on UK time, and so, here’s what we’ve got for you this evening… Welsh Lib Dems Investing in Teachers Brexit can be stopped but Corbyn must get out of the way Ed Davey: Hostile environment must be completely scrapped Brake: Corbyn must listen to Brown Welsh Lib Dems Investing in […]

This feature is now back on UK time, and so, here’s what we’ve got for you this evening…

  • Welsh Lib Dems Investing in Teachers
  • Brexit can be stopped but Corbyn must get out of the way
  • Ed Davey: Hostile environment must be completely scrapped
  • Brake: Corbyn must listen to Brown

Welsh Lib Dems Investing in Teachers

Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced the single biggest investment in support for Wales’ teachers since devolution through a groundbreaking £24m package to help teachers deliver Wales’ new curriculum.

The National Approach to Professional Learning (NAPL), announced today by the Education Secretary, will focus on professional learning and flexible ways of learning that don’t disrupt the school day.

One of the most striking features of the NAPL will be an entirely new approach to how teachers learn. A much more accessible blend of learning will be available through Wales’ regions and universities. This will encompass learning outside the classroom, online learning, classroom learning and coaching.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented:

This announcement is yet another example of the transformational reforms the Welsh Lib Dems are implementing in our national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a Wales where every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential and determine their own destiny. This funding will help us realise this vision.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said:

This major investment shows how highly we value teachers’ professional learning. It is an investment in excellence and we are aiming for nothing less than a wholesale reform of how teachers learn; a process that starts from the moment they begin initial teacher education and goes right the way through their career.

Brexit can be stopped but Corbyn must get out of the way

Responding to comments made by Keir Starmer that Brexit could be stopped Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

It is disappointing that the Labour leader simply cannot bring himself to join the majority of his party and voters in opposing the Conservative Government on Brexit.

Brexit can still be stopped. But at the moment, disagreement at the top of the Labour party could lead to the UK stumbling into a catastrophic Brexit.

Corbyn must listen to the growing majority that the Conservatives are making a terrible mess of Brexit and only a People’s Vote, with an option for remain, can get us out of this shambles.

Ed Davey: Hostile environment must be completely scrapped

Responding to the news that NHS Digital has withdrawn from its immigration data-sharing arrangement with the Home Office, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The Home Office should never have been forcing NHS staff to supply patients’ data in the first place. Doctors and nurses’ time should be spent providing healthcare to those who need it, not acting as border guards in Theresa May’s hostile environment.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We will completely scrap the Tories’ hostile environment and instead invest in an accountable, intelligence-led Border Force to prevent people entering the country illegally and quickly identify those who overstay their visas.

That way we can secure our borders and rebuild trust in the immigration system, while leaving NHS workers to focus on their jobs.

Brake: Corbyn must listen to Brown

Responding to Gordon Brown’s comments that the people should have the final say on the Brexit deal, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake MP said:

Yet another key Labour figure has come out in favour of a People’s Vote. When will Corbyn wake up and smell the coffee? It’s time for Labour to provide an opposition, grow a backbone and support a People’s Vote.

Brown is right, the situation is vastly different than that of 2016. May’s deal will leave us in a weakened position. The UK is better off inside the EU.

It is now essential that people are given the final say on the deal with the option to remain. Liberal Democrats urge the Labour leadership to join us in fighting for a People’s Vote.

Why a sack full of Russian cash won’t change UK Brexit debate

Leave voters have proved highly resistant to a change of heart on Brexit.

CCTV footage emerges of Vladimir Putin entering the offices of unofficial Brexit campaign Leave.EU weeks before the 2016 referendum and handing over a sack of cash to figurehead Nigel Farage and main funder Arron Banks.

Voters erupt in shock that they were duped and express indignation that a referendum on the most important British political decision in a generation was bought by a foreign power.

Except they didn’t. And they wouldn’t.

This fantasy scenario (we will come back to Leave.EU later) may be the stuff of dreams for Remainers desperate to prompt a “People’s Vote” to reverse Brexit. But it is doubtful that even such a clear and blatant picture of referendum tampering would convince many in Britain that they need a Brexit do-over — beyond those who are already convinced.

Brexit campaign donor and businessman Arron Banks (R) and Leave.EU campaigner Andy Wigmore arrive at Portcullis House to give evidence to parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee in London on June 12, 2018 | Daniel Leal Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

That might seem odd if you’re sitting in Brussels, Berlin, Bucharest or Barcelona. After all, viewed from afar, the spectacle of the British government and its well-regarded civil service almost completely taken up with the complexity of leaving the EU looks like a whole lot of hassle.

In the negotiations themselves, the Brexiteers have had to roll with punch after punch — on the Brexit bill; on the cutoff date for citizens’ rights; on the transition period and much else. And at the end of it all is the prospect of a large dose of economic pain. According to the U.K. government’s own figures, an 8 percent hit to growth in the worst-case scenario.

Then there’s the cost.

By March next year, the U.K. government will have spent an estimated £2 billion on Brexit-related preparations, according to the Institute for Government. And the hit to the economy caused by uncertainty is already far bigger — the Center for European Reform think tank estimates it at £500 million a week.

So Brexit ought to be looking a lot less attractive, right?

The truth is that most Leave voters either don’t believe this “bad news” — prominent Brexiteer politicians and Leave-supporting newspapers often dismiss it as a Project Fear rerun — or they believe that it is a price worth paying to get to the end goal of a clean break with the European Union.

Even if Leave.EU did benefit from foreign funds it would make not a jot of difference to Britain’s divided Brexit politics.

While polls have shifted by a few percentage points toward Remain, there has not been the mass outpouring of “Bregret” that many Remainers assumed would follow.

In a poll for POLITICO conducted by Hanbury Strategy, when respondents were given a choice between the economic disruption of a no-deal Brexit and remaining in the EU, 46.5 percent chose the former.

And supplementary questions demonstrate how the core messages of the Leave campaign still have a strong resonance with voters. When given a choice between controling immigration or maintaining close economic ties with Europe, immigration won by 60 to 40 percent.

On “more flexibility” for the U.K. to set its own laws versus “more investment and trade” with the EU, the former had 65 percent support. And the power to strike trade deals came out on top against a hard border in Northern Ireland — by 59 percent to 41 percent. Despite the political turmoil, leaving at almost any short-term cost still has strong appeal. For many Leavers, Brexit is about self-determination, sovereignty, freedom from foreign interference and the power to control Britain’s borders.

That brings us back to Leave.EU, the unofficial Brexit campaign that promoted a strong anti-immigration message in the run-up to the June 2016 vote. In May it was fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaches of electoral law (Remain campaigners also received fines totaling £19,250 and the official Vote Leave campaign was fined £61,000 in July for breaching spending rules).

Demonstrator with an effigy of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the March For The Many on September 23, 2018 in Liverpool, England | Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

But the news has got worse for Leave.EU. On Tuesday, it was hit — along with co-founder Banks’s insurance firm — with a further penalty of £135,000 for breaches of data laws.

Imposing the fine, the Information Commissioner said:  “We may never know whether individuals were unknowingly influenced to vote a certain way … But we do know that personal privacy rights have been compromised by a number of players.”

Even more serious for Banks is his referral by the Electoral Commission to the National Crime Agency for a criminal investigation. The Commission said it has “reasonable grounds to suspect” that Banks was not the true source of £8 million in loans made to Better for the Country, the organization that ran Leave.EU.

Banks strongly denies any wrongdoing and told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that the source of the funding was a U.K. registered company called Rock Services. He said categorically that none of the money had come from Russia.

In all likelihood, the result of the NCA investigation will not be known until after Brexit day in March next year. But even if it came earlier, and showed Leave.EU did benefit from foreign funds — along with that conclusive CCTV evidence — it would make not a jot of difference to Britain’s divided Brexit politics.

Leave voters have been castigated by Remainers since the day of the referendum for being too stupid or ill-informed to know what they were voting for.

About the most charitable interpretation their opponents can muster is that they were duped by “lies” from Brexiteer politicians. If that hasn’t encouraged a change of heart then the argument that Putin helped to pull the wool over their eyes with the aid of a loud-mouth insurance salesman is unlikely to cut much ice either.


Read this next: Road to victory for European conservatives’ chosen one

Andrew Green: Norway, for now or forever, isn’t the way to travel. It would mean no real control of migration from Europe.

There are indeed mechanisms for mitigating damaging immigration flows, but these are tightly constrained.

Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.

A chorus has developed in recent weeks in favour of a “Norway-based” alternative to the Brexit negotiations which seem to have become heavily bogged down.

Nick Boles, with the support of Nicky Morgan and the cautious backing of William Hague, favours “Norway for Now”, under which membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) would be temporary while something better was negotiated. Frank Field has made a similar suggestion. Others favour “Norway forever”, which would mean permanent membership of the EEA.

Both these groups seek to skate over a vital weakness in their proposals – namely, the absence of any effective means of controlling continued immigration from the EU. This is an issue that has certainly not gone away. EU net migration peaked at 190,000 in the year leading up to the referendum. It has since declined to about 90,000 per year – mostly, it is thought, due to uncertainty over the implementation of Brexit. Nevertheless, its scale and perhaps above all, the fact that we have absolutely no control of it make it a continuing major concern for the public.

Some are suggesting that immigration was not, in fact, a key factor in the outcome of the referendum. They point to opinion polls that show that public concern about immigration has declined. Matthew Goodwin of the University of Kent, among others, has disputed this, but, even if it is true, it may well be because the public assume that Brexit will sort it – a view reinforced by the fact that net migration from the EU has fallen since the referendum.

None the less, a NatCen poll in March 2017 found that 68 per cent of the public supported ending free movement. Furthermore, a June 2018 Deltapoll found that 73 per cent of voters support the government’s promise to dramatically reduce overall immigration levels.

Meanwhile, there are those in the Remain camp, such as George Trefgarne in his recent article for this site, who claim that there are legal avenues by which the UK could limit freedom of movement whilst still a member of the EEA. This is deeply misleading.

As we point out in a new Migration Watch paper, published today, there are indeed mechanisms for mitigating damaging migration flows, but they are tightly constrained. In exceptional circumstances they could be proposed to the EEA Joint Committee, but they would be restricted in scope and would be reviewed every three months by the committee, with the aim of limiting them as far as possible. Control would be out of our hands. Implementing any restrictions, even if the joint Committee acquiesced, would risk retaliation. This is one of the reasons given by Norwegian officials to explain why they have never called for safeguards. It follows that the much-vaunted “emergency brake” would have no useful effect.

Others have pointed to Belgium, claiming that it has succeeded in implementing EU law more effectively than ourselves by expelling EU citizens who have remained in Belgium beyond the three months allowed by treaty rights to those who are not working. However, in recent years only about 2,200 such eviction notices have been issued annually, and there is no information as to how many actually left Belgium.

As for the UK, very few EU citizens are unemployed. Only about 11,000 (out of a total population of nearly four million) have been unemployed for more than a year and many of these will have the right of residence here due to family membership. So the number who might be expelled on the basis of the Belgian model is likely to be insignificant – perhaps only be a few thousand. There would also, of course, be practical difficulties in locating and removing them, so any such system would be a very long way from serious control of our borders.

As for Lichtenstein which is sometimes quoted as an example, this is clutching at straws. They do indeed have special arrangements – but with a population of just under 40,000 their situation is hardly comparable to that of the UK.

In the end, the EEA option may not exist since both Norway and Iceland, two of three non-EU members of the EEA, have made it clear that they would be averse to UK membership. Nevertheless, if it were to be pursued, it would mean abandoning any prospect of reducing a continuing and unconstrained inflow of migrants from the EU – an outcome that would be deeply unpopular with the public.

Nicky Morgan: The Budget – and a Government that failed to listen to the country over problem gambling

We need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

Yesterday was the Sunday closest to All Saints Day. Since the Loughborough church that I attend is called All Saints (with Holy Trinity), the day and its aftermath assumes greater significance than it might for other churches. And the sermon referenced the work of saints, including Saint Theresa of Avila.

The key message was that being saintly is about doing good things, and our curate acknowledged that this could include doing good things in the world of politics. I believe that most elected politicians enter politics to do good things, though of course we can all argue about how different ways of doing so, and how successful we are in trying.

Now, earlier this year, after much cross-party lobbying, the Government made the right decision, and did a good thing – by agreeing to cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals.  But last week, it appeared to undo much of its good work, and bow to pressure for the cut in the maximum stake to be delayed. These machines have become known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling world, and we know that they can cause addiction, misery and even death.

In its impact assessment last year, the Government said that –

“following further engagement with independent bookmakers at the consultation stage, we have explored a number of options to mitigate any disproportionate impact on small and micro-businesses and will be taking forward the following…we will engage with industry further on an appropriate implementation period, which is initially expected to be 9-12 months, based on consultation responses we received from gaming machine suppliers.”

But I am told that, in reality, implementation actually involves changes to software which can be done speedily.  In any event, “9-12 months” would take us to May 2019 – not October 2019, as Philip Hammond announced in his Budget last week. So why the delay?

Close observers of the Budget announcements would have heard the Chancellor say this last Monday: “From October next year, I can confirm that we will increase Remote Gaming Duty on online games of chance, to 21 per cent…in order to fund the loss of revenue as we reduce FOBT stakes to £2.”

In the future, we may find out why this happened –  but we do know that one Minister has already resigned over it. I hope Tracey Crouch enjoyed her first weekend without a red box for ages.  I can speak from experience in saying that it is a real treat!

But a deeper conclusion is that a good thing that this Government decided to do, in orderto address a known social problem, has been at least partially undone by either the economics of the decision, or by lobbying from vested interests, or perhaps both. And that doesn’t look great. Last year, I wrote on this site, in the context of the number of ‘Dubs’ child refugees the UK that would be offering a home to –

“As a party known for strong economic management, the Conservatives must work doubly hard to avoid appearing to know the price of everything and the value of nothing…The announcement about the Dubs scheme has, so far, sounded as if the costs of the scheme and the perceived capacity of local councils are enough for us to stop giving refuge, and the opportunity of a brighter and more secure future, to some of the most vulnerable children on the planet…”

“…Empathy, tone and explaining our motivations go a long way in politics.  If a tough decision has to be made, then Ministers have to explain why they have made their decision…”

“This announcement will not, on its own, make people decide which party they will or will not support at a future election. But it, and similar decisions, will have a cumulative impact on the future decisions made by constituents like the one who e-mailed me.  It will form the basis of the judgments they make about the motivations of the Conservative Party.”

Seventeen months on, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘nothing has changed’. The Conservative Party still runs the risk of making decisions which stress head at the expense of heart, and which miss hearing the emotional heartbeat of the country.

That is a particular danger in any Budget that decisions can be set beside each other in an unfair way. Labour got into a mess last week with income tax cuts and benefits freezes, but came unstuck when they couldn’t agree between them a policy response to the income tax threshold changes.

The Chancellor set two decisions deliberately beside each other – Remote Gaming Duty vs maximum stakes in FOBTs. At a time when the Conservative Party is putting the rest of the country through its own ideological rabbit hole in the form of Brexit, we need to be alive to adding to the impression that the fixing of a social harm can wait a few months while we find a way to replace lost revenue.

Daniel Kawczynski: The Home Secretary must not back away from DNA testing for migrants

It is a vital tool for speeding up applications and ensuring more reliable judgements, and is good for both applications and the state.

Daniel Kawczynki is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.

Thirteen years ago, I was elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and Atcham. This happened 27 years after I first arrived on these shores from my native Poland, and I am incredibly proud to be the first Polish-born British Member of Parliament.

There are of course many reasons why the UK is one of the best countries in the world to come and live, including our thriving democracy, strong and resilient economy, and open and compassionate society. It is exactly because of these national strengths that the UK must have a fair but robust immigration system.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is a seminal moment at a pivotal point in our nation’s history, and leaving the EU will allow the British Government to build a fair and controlled migration system once EU free movement has come to an end.

I am clear that when people voted to leave the EU, they did so in the knowledge that free movement would end. This means bringing net migration down to sustainable levels while continuing to attract and retain those who come to the UK to work and bring significant benefits. I am glad ministers now share my view that this should not include an open door to those who do not.

It has always angered me that any view expressed calling for strong national borders and controls is met with accusations of bigotry. I accept that for many across Europe, walls and fences are signs of oppression and occupation, but for the British our natural border represents self-determination, safety, and a safeguard of the peace.

I am therefore incredibly frustrated by the apology made in the House of Commons by Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, relating to DNA testing and immigration.

I am unashamedly in favour of providing our hard-working border and immigration officials with all the tools available to deliver a fair and robust immigration system. My support for the use of DNA testing in immigration cases stems from a desire to see a reduction in the time it takes for immigration cases to be dealt with. Indeed, the use of DNA testing would only provide a more reliable way to keep our borders secure, it would also provide greater certainty to the applicant and ensure they are not left in limbo. Had I been asked to provide DNA when I came to this country in 1978, I would have happily done so.

The use of DNA for immigration cases is obvious – in some cases involving paperwork, a determination cannot be made until the paperwork has been back and forth between the Home Office and the applicant. With DNA, a straightforward analysis can be undertaken, which in turn speeds up the process. This is good for secure borders and good for the applicant.

The use of biometrics is not repressive. On the contrary, it is an efficient and effective use of technology. In Canada, for example, it is now a requirement if you are from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to provide your fingerprints and photo when applying for a visitor visa, study or work permit, or permanent residence. This information is encrypted and sent to a secure Government database, illustrating how a secure use of personal information can be effectively used to determine the outcome of an immigration-related application.

Removing the use of DNA evidence and biometrics from visa applications would be a backwards step for national security, depriving our border officials of important information. I urge the Home Secretary to give serious consideration to mandatory DNA testing in all visa applications and to ignore criticism from the Labour Party, who are simply trying to capitalise on the very legitimate immigration issues experienced by people of the Windrush Generation.

Most British voters want Brexit compromise, but Tories don’t

New poll highlights Theresa May’s domestic dilemma.

LONDON — The U.K. is ready to compromise on Brexit. Conservative voters are not.

That’s Theresa May’s dilemma as she heads into the most crucial period of her premiership, with the Brexit negotiations hanging by a thread.

Britain and the EU must find a breakthrough on the Irish border issue — the main sticking point in the talks — before the end of next week to clinch a special summit of EU leaders in mid-November to sign off on a final Brexit agreement. If that doesn’t happen, the chances of a messy no-deal divorce increase dramatically, leaving a last-gasp December summit as the last realistic chance to salvage a deal.

As the pressure on the prime minister mounts, the results of an exclusive poll for POLITICO by the consultancy Hanbury Strategy show that while the public as a whole wants decision-making powers returned to Westminster after Brexit — rather than accepting “rule taker” status — it opposes leaving without a deal and supports compromises being made to reach an agreement.

Despite apparent public willingness to compromise to reach an acceptable agreement with Brussels, the views of Conservative voters are much more hardline.

According to the poll of 3,006 voters carried out between Monday and Friday, the public is so set against “no deal” it would prefer to remain in the EU than leave without a divorce agreement. By 53 percent to 47 percent, voters say they would prefer Britain stayed in the EU than leave without a deal.

The result is likely to spark further calls from anti-Brexit campaigners for a so-called People’s Vote on the terms of Britain’s EU divorce, with the option of remaining in the bloc on the ballot paper.

By 47 percent to 35 percent, voters also want the U.K. prime minister to “compromise” with the EU to get a deal, rather than walk away without one in March.

Voters break narrowly (39 percent to 38 percent) against extending the transition period — during which the U.K. will accept EU rules and regulations without a say in making them — if it costs “billions” of pounds a year to do so.

But 59 percent of voters say they would accept a transition extension when cost is stripped out of the equation, suggesting any delay in getting out of the transition will need to be carefully sold to the electorate to avoid a backlash — because the EU has made clear the U.K. will not be able to retain the benefits of the single market and customs union for free.

Despite apparent public willingness to compromise to reach an acceptable agreement with Brussels, the views of Conservative voters are much more hardline, posing a major strategic headache for the prime minister.

Overall, 48 percent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 election who took part in the survey would prefer May walked away without a deal than compromise, compared to 41 percent who would prefer her to compromise.

Tory tribes

Following the Brexit referendum in 2016 — and the subsequent collapse in support for UKIP in favor of the Conservative Party — the bulk of Tory voters can now be defined as either “loyal Tory leavers” or “switching Tory leavers.”

The first group are those who have voted Conservative in each of the past two elections and voted to leave the EU. The switchers are those who backed May at the last election after voting Leave in 2016, even though they previously supported either UKIP or Labour or did not vote.

Of these groups — which make up over 65 percent of the Tory vote — the willingness to compromise to reach a deal with Brussels is far less obvious.

Just 25 percent of 2017 Conservative voters support Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit plan compared with 56 percent who support a so-called Canada deal and 19 percent who support the so-called Norway option.

Furthermore, six in 10 “loyal Tory Leavers” and 65 percent of “switching Tory leavers” favor May walking away without a deal than making further compromises.

The poll reveals the Conservative Party’s electoral dilemma as it faces up to a Labour opposition which has offered tentative support for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, but on much softer terms than the Tories, and is just about holding together its own fragile coalition of Leavers and Remainers.

For the Conservative Party, the problem is more acute — because they are in power and Labour are not.

Of the 50 most marginal Tory seats in parliament and its 50 top target seats, according to Hanbury, 51 are Leave-backing constituencies, which voted for Brexit by more than 55 percent. In comparison, just 22 seats voted Remain by more than 55 percent.

Of 2017 Conservative voters in these 100 key seats, 45 percent think that May should walk away without a deal, compared with 37 percent who think that she should compromise — almost the exact reverse as the country as a whole.

Overall, 60 percent of these key voters support a Canada-style deal with the EU compared to 21 percent who support Chequers-like arrangement and 19 percent who support the “Norway plus” option.

British voters would prefer to have the power to strike independent trade deals even if doing so means a hard border in Ireland.

When presented with the basic outlines of the three main Brexit propositions without their usual shorthand titles — either a Canada-style free trade deal, a Norway-plus single market and customs union option, or the prime minister’s halfway-house Chequers proposal — the country as a whole also prefers “Canada.”

Four in 10 voters would prefer such a looser trade deal to a single market-type relationship. Three in 10 support “Norway” and 29 percent back Chequers.

When asked whether they would prefer to be in control of immigration or keep close economic ties with Europe, immigration wins by 60 percent to 40 percent

Some 65 percent of voters value “more flexibility” for the U.K. to set its own laws and regulations over 35 percent who prefer “more investment and trade with the European Union.”

Even starker, British voters would prefer (by 59 percent to 41 percent) to have the power to strike independent trade deals even if doing so means a hard border in Ireland.


Read this next: Alexander Stubb’s campaign in vain

Syed Kamall: People in Brussels expect a Brexit deal will be struck, but fear time is running out

Meanwhile, my ECR colleagues and I continue to push for a sensible, nation-led approach to tackling the migration crisis.

Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.

Two things let you know when Brussels is hosting one of its frequent summits.

Overhead the security helicopters buzz continually across the city, often quite late into the evening depending on the world leader in attendance.

On the ground, the city’s traffic becomes even more gridlocked than normal as lanes are closed to ensure swift passage for the motorcades, the size of which is not always a reliable indicator of the occupant’s importance.

So anyone planning an early night, or hoping for a stress-free drive to work, was well advised to take some time off and head out of town as the European Union staged no fewer than seven summits in four days.

From Tuesday 16 October to Friday 19 October, the EU held: a Tripartite Social Summit; European Council summits discussing Brexit, the Eurozone plus a session on migration and security; the Asian-Europe Meeting; the EU-Republic of Korea Summit; and the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting. The latter, held over two days brought together the leaders of 54 European and Asian countries representing 55 per cent of global trade, 60 per cent of the world’s population and 65 per cent of global GDP.

While these summits were an impressive show of the EU’s internal and external diplomacy, many will ask what was achieved?

The flagship event was the set piece signing of free trade, investment, and partnership agreements with Singapore. When I was the rapporteur (lead MEP) guiding the EU-Singapore FTA through the European Parliament in 2013, I and MEPs across the political spectrum urged the Commission and Council to send it to us for ratification before the June 2014 European elections.  In the event, the EU insisted on re-opening the agreement to change the rules on investment protection, even though the agreement had been signed off.

The Singaporeans were naturally annoyed, but felt they had no choice, and are of course relieved that it will be sent to us before the 2019 elections.  However, this incident damaged the EU’s credibility in keeping its word on a signed off agreement. Maybe a warning to other future partners?

A trade accord was also signed with Vietnam. The great hope was to use the focus on these two agreements and the Asia-Europe Meeting to persuade China to ease restrictions on foreign investment, goods, and services. But talks failed to deliver a breakthrough, and a final communique omitted a call for an end to trade distortions after China insisted on changes.

Otherwise there was precious little to show for such intense diplomatic activity beyond warm words and general declarations. That was certainly true of two major challenges facing the EU: migration and Brexit. Despite both featuring on the EU Council agenda, no concrete action had been agreed when the red carpet was eventually rolled up on Friday evening.

On migration, at least the Council appears to be finally getting around to considering the policies put forward by Conservative MEPs and our colleagues in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group at the height of the crisis in 2015.

After the EU spent two years trying to force refugee quotas on often reluctant member states, EU leaders have now agreed that the way forward lies in improving the processing of arrivals to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants, speeding up returns, securing borders, and seeking enhanced arrangements with third countries to stem the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in the ECR group continue to push for member states to be asked how they are willing to help, rather than telling them how many people they should accept. Some countries will take in genuine asylum seekers, others will choose to help refugees closer to their homes and some will provide money to help front line countries.

If these common sense policies had been adopted sooner, and not dismissed as anti–European or populist, then the system would now be in better shape and perhaps more lives could have been saved.

The failure to make progress on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was disappointing, but came as no real surprise. Before the summit there was no real sense that we were approaching the negotiating end game, and this was confirmed when leaders of the EU27 spent just 90 minutes discussing Brexit over dinner and had little interest in listening to Jean-Claude Juncker’s briefing on preparations for no deal. Rather than negotiating into the early hours of the morning and seeking to emerge with a compromise, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and two other Prime Ministers took themselves off for a post-dinner beer on the Grand Place.

Of course intense negotiations continue behind the scenes, and my discussions with diplomats have revealed more understanding that Theresa May’s position on the Irish backstop is not simply a negotiating stance or a bluff. It is a Prime Minister defending the constitutional sovereignty and geographical borders of a nation, and protecting a hard won peace.

These talks were always going to go the distance, and the pressure of having to reach a deal before the end of the year in order to give the British and European parliaments time to consider the agreement will focus minds. In seeking a legal text that satisfies both sides, the negotiators may look to their lawyers to turn the seemingly impossible into the possible, just as they did with the Danish opt outs in 1992 and Protocol 36 with the UK in 2014.

Most people I speak to in Brussels expect a deal to be agreed by the end of the year, or at the very latest in January. There are concerns any agreement may not be approved at Westminster or in the European Parliament, but for now the biggest fear is that we are running out of time.

Iain Dale: After Sitwell’s sacking, will I be the next journalist to be fired for offending snowflakes?

Plus: When The Sun doesn’t shine and the Home Office doesn’t work. P.S: In solidarity with the former Waitrose food magazine editor, I will eat steak.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

A good example of how The Sun manipulates its readers could be found in Wednesday’s edition. Matt Dathan had a story about how the foreign aid budget will now top £14 billion. In The Sun’s eyes, this is clearly a disgrace. Dathan wrote: “Data buried in the budget said that spending would rise £230 million next year and £190 million in 2019-20. The combine sum is £20 million higher than the £400 million given to schools for “’little extras they need’.”

He failed to point out that the money for schools is an extra in-year allocation payable in this financial year. It’s hardly comparing like with like. A more legitimate piece of political criticism would have been to criticise the tin-rated Treasury politicians, advisers and civil servants who failed to spot that spending  £20 million more on potholes than schools might just rebound on the Chancellor. Say what you like about Damian McBride, but he would have spotted that one a mile off.

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This week, the editor of the Waitrose Food Magazine, William Sitwell, was forced to resign. In other words, he was sacked.

His crime? Well, Selene Nelson, a vegan writer, emailed him a suggestion for a series of articles on Vegan food. He responded with a tirade against Vegans, and suggested they should all be force-fed food and killed one by one.

This was clearly not meant seriously – but in this day and age, obviously, one has to take offence. Nelson did what any person would do in the circs and went to the press.

Result: Waitrose took fright at the Vegan onslaught on social media and let Sitwell go. This really is the age of the snowflake. And I say this as someone who for health reasons now has to eat some Vegan food. However, in solidarity I shall be having a steak for dinner tonight.

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I’m in the middle of preparing to write a very long read profile/interview with a Cabinet Minister for a national newspaper. I’m at the stage in the process where I wonder why I ever suggested doing it.

I’ve done nearly all the interviews, done most of the background research, I know roughly what themes will run in it…but I haven’t yet written a word. The only thoughts that go through my head are: “this is going to be rubbish, I can’t write as well as other people, should I just ditch it?”

I won’t of course. Because I’ve been through this so many times that I know that once I start writing, it’ll be fine. It’s just getting to the point where I write an actual sentence. I’d love to tell you who I’m writing about, but then, in the words of William Sitwell, I’d have to kill you. And that would obviously that mean Paul Goodman would fire me from this column for offending snowflakes. And you wouldn’t want that. Would you???

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It seems to me the big winner from the Budget, if we’re talking about politicians, is the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson. No one thought he could get £1.8 billion out of the Chancellor, especially after going to public on his demands. But get the money he did. Now let’s see what he does with it.

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Caroline Nokes is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most hapless and gaffe-prone minister in the government. Which is a shame, since she’s actually in the charge of the country’s borders.

Her performance in front of the Home Affairs select committee this week was buttock-clenchingly embarrassing. If you don’t believe me, watch it. For the immigration minister not to know her own Government’s immigration policy post-Brexit was simply unforgiveable.

Shona Dunn, The Home Office’s Second Permanent Secretary, then went on to say that the Prime Minister has made clear that, in the event of a no deal, that free movement would end on March 29 2019, and she imagined – yes, imagined – there would have “to be a few bits of secondary legislation” passed before then.

Sajid Javid then appeared on Peston the next day, and completely contradicted his  most senior civil servant – saying that in these circumstances there will be a “transition period” for EU citizens, explaining that “if there was a no deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans who were here before March 29 and those who came after.”

He’s right, of course, but why is that so difficult for both his Permanent Secretary and Immigration Minister to understand? In 2006, the then Home Secretary, John Reid, caused a massive political row by saying that he believed the Home Office was not “fit for purpose”. We’ve had five Home Secretaries since then, and it appears that little has changed. It’s still too unwieldly.

Here’s a suggestion. Post-Brexit, let’s take immigration out of the Home Office, and create a new Department of Border Security with a seat in the Cabinet.

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If you’re into podcasts, check out my new Book Club podcast, which this week asks how we can mend our broken politics. I’m joined by three political political experts with books out – Isabel Hardman from The Spectator, Philip Collins from The Times and Tom Baldwin, who now runs comms for the People’s Vote campaign. It’s a great listen, even I do say so myself. And as a bonus you can also listen to me interviewing Giles and Mary from Gogglebox!