İbrahim Özdemir: How the UK’s new forest protection law will beat the EU at its own game

18 Sep

Professor İbrahim Özdemir is a professor of philosophy at Uskudar University, Istanbul, Turkey. His major is environmental ethics and environmental philosophy.

While the EU has repeatedly promised to do ‘something’ to stop deforestation, the result has been largely ineffective or incoherent. In contrast, the British Government’s proposed anti-deforestation law could set a global precedent for how to combine trade, agriculture, and profit in creating a better outcome for all.

The proposed law will prohibit British businesses from using commodities not grown in accordance with local laws. Businesses will be required to apply strict supply chain due diligence processes to prove compliance. Britain’s new law is one that reinforces why green business matters – an ethical imperative owed to future generations.

The UK approach, therefore, out-competes the EU on multiple fronts and sets a global precedent.  

For instance, the EU has been bizarrely obsessed with singling out palm oil, despite beef being the world’s foremost driver of deforestation-linked carbon emissions. A recent study attributes 34 per cent of deforestation-linked carbon emissions to beef, compared to 14 per cent for palm oil.

While rushing through legislation to ban palm oil for biofuels, the EU has strangely ignored sustainability certification for its own oilseed crops, such as rapeseed, which make up some 80 per cent of all vegetable oils in European biofuels. In 2012, German researchers concluded that European rapeseed does not meet the EU’s own sustainability standards for biofuels!

This June, policymakers in Brussels began acknowledging the mounting scientific evidence that boycotting palm oil would actually worsen deforestation. Because palm oil is so ubiquitous across different products, a simple ban will likely switch demand to less efficient oilseed crops which use up much more land.

Finally facing up to this science was a positive development, prompting EU policymakers to contemplate the need for broader regulations. Indeed, this need to have current scientific data inform policy has also recently been reiterated across the Atlantic by 81 American (and pro-Biden) Nobel Laureates in the Sciences, declaring “at no time in our nation’s history has there been a greater need for our leaders to appreciate the value of science in formulating public policy.” It is a message that could just as well be directed at the EU.

Unfortunately, discussions in the European Parliament show that Brussels also has no clue how to convince producer countries to come on board, with certification standards devised by EU bureaucrats with practically no understanding of developing countries.

In short, Brussel’s piecemeal approach has automatically alienated palm oil producers in Asia, while greenlighting imports of beef and soy from illegally-deforested zones and insulating the EU’s own oilseeds from environmental scrutiny.

The proposed new British law, however, offers an ingenious way out of the mess created by the EU. By fining companies selling products in the UK which are unable to prove supply chain compliance with local laws, they will be incentivised to source their products sustainably. And that in turn, for the first time, will incentivise local producers to comply with laws currently being flouted.

Take Amazon deforestation, for instance, 90 per cent of which is actually illegal according to local laws. It is the inability of consumer nations to ensure the enforcement of these laws that allows the largest single case of deforestation in the world to accelerate. It also represents the single biggest loophole enabling foreign businesses to profit from deforestation.  

Unlike the EU’s failed approach, the UK is not proposing boycott as its primary strategy, nor is it singling out one commodity. Instead, it is explicitly proposing a way of regulating all relevant commodities implicated in deforestation, including beef, cocoa, rubber and soy. This avoid the risk that focusing on only one culprit could displace problems onto other culprits.

The British approach also closes the gap between producer and consumer nations, making them partners in a process aimed squarely at generating sustainable production. This is a huge step forward in cooperative approaches to combating climate change. It also cuts straight to the chase by incentivising truly sustainable production through a win-win partnership strategy, designed to make producers want to become sustainable in order to access markets.

Malaysia, for instance, is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, but is also home to the world’s first mandatory national oil palm certification scheme, MSPO. As of last July, 96.4 per cent of Malaysia’s palm oil estates are certified under MSPO, which has recently been praised by The Ecologist for dramatically reducing rates of deforestation over the last three years.

This is the same scheme that EU policymakers falsely dismissed in June as inadequate on the grounds that “only a third” of the palm oil was certified, an inaccurate claim based on years-old data. Thankfully, the proposed anti-deforestation law can set a global precedent that makes it difficult for the EU to pursue its incoherent approach unilaterally.

The strategy of getting consumer nations to work in alignment with producer nations to ensure local deforestation laws are not breached represents an unprecedented milestone. If the UK achieves it, this will indeed be a world-leading environment law.

Bernard Jenkin: If necessary, we must pass legislation that will nullify the direct effect and direct applicability of EU laws

11 Sep

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee, and of the ERG Steering Group. He is MP for Harwich and North Essex.

The Bill to regularise the trade of goods and services within the UK is part of taking back control from what is still regulated by the EU, while we are in transition to full independence. The UK Internal Market Bill was published yesterday.  All it does is to legislate for the uncontroversial principle that all goods produced in any part of the UK should be treated equally.

However, it also sets out to protect this principle from potentially damaging interference from the EU, and makes provision for the UK to insist on the right of UK self-government and an end to the application of EU laws in the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) provides that Northern Ireland would remain subject to the EU’s customs laws and procedures and large parts of its internal market laws, under threat of enforcement by the EU Commission and the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ). The EU’s rules on state aid would also continue to apply.

This clause could be interpreted widely, allowing the EU to impose their state aid regime on any UK policy which they consider impacts, in any way, on goods which are traded between Northern Ireland and the EU.

This applies not only to Northern Ireland, but also to goods originating from GB. The economy of NI is integrated with the rest of the UK, so there is nothing to prevent this clause being interpreted by the EU and its Court to continue imposing EU policy on large areas of the economy of the whole UK – a country that has formally left the bloc.  For example, if Westminster provided state aid to a manufacturer or farmer in England, which shipped some of its goods to Northern Ireland, then the EU could declare that support to be illegal.

The Protocol requires that customs and regulatory barriers would be imposed down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – a damaging division (as well as lots of red tape) between what are two parts of the same country.  This is at odds with the Agreement, which states that the UK should constitute “a single customs territory”.

UK-mainland based businesses trading in goods with Northern Ireland would have to pay tariffs at the EU Common External Tariff rate, if the EU considers them to be “at risk” of travelling on to the EU.  The EU alone could decide what constitutes an adequate customs check between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, what might be an illegal state aid, or what goods might be “at risk” of travelling on to the EU.

Why should the EU have a monopoly of wisdom over what this Agreement means?  These are not sustainable terms for the long-term relationship between a sovereign state like the UK, and the EU.

The only legitimate pretext for the Protocol to exist at all is to sustain the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the open frontier between the North and South.  It is reasonable for the EU to insist that this open border should not be used as an open back door to the EU for non-compliant goods or the evasion of EU tariffs.  However, if the UK can protect the Peace Process, to keep the border free of checks, while protecting the EU internal market, how can the EU justify their right to enforce their laws on the UK?

The UK Internal Market Bill seeks to address this, and this has reignited old feuds about Brexit. Specifically, it provides powers for ministers to ask Parliament to override any EU ruling, if the EU unreasonably seeks to impose these unnecessary provisions on the UK against our will.

If we end the year without a new trade agreement to supersede the Withdrawal Agreement, Brexit will not be “done”, because we would remain bound to the EU by the Withdrawal Agreement.  The UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement making clear that it should be superseded by a trade deal similar to the EU-Canada FTA.  The EU’s insistence that the Court of Justice of the European Union should continue to have direct jurisdiction over parts of the law of the United Kingdom should be seen for what it is: an inability to move on.

It is part of a an unreasonable pattern of EU behaviour.  The former UK diplomat to the EU, later John Major’s Press Secretary before becoming Tony Blair’s Ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer tweeted: “Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement commits the parties to negotiate on the future relationship ‘in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders’. It’s more than arguable the EU is already in breach on state aids and fish. ‘Trust’ works in both directions.”

Who in their right mind can consider that the Withdrawal Agreement offers any prospect of stability in the long term?  Agreeing to continued ECJ jurisdiction with direct applicability and direct effect could not in any way be considered as taking back control of our laws – the promise made both by Vote Leave and by the 2019 Conservative manifesto.  This would tear open the referendum divisions all over again.

Eurosceptics like me only voted for the Withdrawal Agreement to help the nation out of a paralysing political crisis. We made clear that it remains only the best of a bad job. We were assured that it was just a starting point for negotiations; that it would be superseded by a full FTA and, if needs be, could be repudiated.

This reassurance is buttressed by Section 38 of the Withdrawal Agreement Act. This makes clear that “the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign” and so can repeal any “directly applicable or directly effective EU law”.  The House of Lords voted for that with hardly a squeak of protest.  The EU Parliament ratified the Withdrawal Agreement in full knowledge our Parliament had put this clause into the Bill.  The Prime Minister and our 2019 manifesto both made clear we will “take back control of our laws”, but it is becoming clear the EU may still not accept this and perhaps never intended it.

The UK should first try to re-negotiate the Agreement, but if the EU continues to be unreasonable, the Government is right to develop options.

The first is to enact domestic legislation that will nullify the direct effect and direct applicability of the EU laws.  The UK Internal Market Bill provides for this possibility.  If the EU still insists on applying the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement beyond what is reasonable, then the Parliament must be ready to use these powers. I hope it is not necessary, but if it is the only way to achieve UK prosperity and the kind of sovereign independence which is the democratic right of any nation recognised under the UN Charter, then so be it. And most other nations would respect us for that.

I was a bit surprised when the Northern Ireland Secretary so boldly announced that the Bill “does break international law”. This may be good tough talk, but it does not engender respect.  (Who told him to say that?)  His exact words are not even factually correct.  The key clauses themselves create no breach with EU law.  Even if the Government legislates to “disapply[ing] or modify[ing] the effect” of EU law, the Government may well be able to argue, while contrary to EU law, it is justified and therefore not a breach of international law.

What might be construed as a minor breach of some highly technical provisions of an international agreement does not mean a breach of “the law”, as it is understood under our constitution.  “The law” is the law passed by Parliament.  International law is a mixture of politics, diplomacy and the texts of agreements.  Trade agreements in particular are frequently disputed and dishonoured by illegal protectionism or punitive tariffs without justification.

The EU is a past-master at this.  Such agreements are not enforceable by our own courts in our own law unless Parliament says it should be so.  No self-respecting sovereign state would allow a foreign power the sole right to determine how to interpret and to enforce a bilateral treaty. Parliament has the inalienable right to enact laws to defend our national interests.

Bernard Jenkin: If necessary, we must pass legislation that will nullify the direct effect and direct applicability of EU laws

11 Sep

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee, and of the ERG Steering Group. He is MP for Harwich and North Essex.

The Bill to regularise the trade of goods and services within the UK is part of taking back control from what is still regulated by the EU, while we are in transition to full independence. The UK Internal Market Bill was published yesterday.  All it does is to legislate for the uncontroversial principle that all goods produced in any part of the UK should be treated equally.

However, it also sets out to protect this principle from potentially damaging interference from the EU, and makes provision for the UK to insist on the right of UK self-government and an end to the application of EU laws in the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) provides that Northern Ireland would remain subject to the EU’s customs laws and procedures and large parts of its internal market laws, under threat of enforcement by the EU Commission and the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ). The EU’s rules on state aid would also continue to apply.

This clause could be interpreted widely, allowing the EU to impose their state aid regime on any UK policy which they consider impacts, in any way, on goods which are traded between Northern Ireland and the EU.

This applies not only to Northern Ireland, but also to goods originating from GB. The economy of NI is integrated with the rest of the UK, so there is nothing to prevent this clause being interpreted by the EU and its Court to continue imposing EU policy on large areas of the economy of the whole UK – a country that has formally left the bloc.  For example, if Westminster provided state aid to a manufacturer or farmer in England, which shipped some of its goods to Northern Ireland, then the EU could declare that support to be illegal.

The Protocol requires that customs and regulatory barriers would be imposed down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – a damaging division (as well as lots of red tape) between what are two parts of the same country.  This is at odds with the Agreement, which states that the UK should constitute “a single customs territory”.

UK-mainland based businesses trading in goods with Northern Ireland would have to pay tariffs at the EU Common External Tariff rate, if the EU considers them to be “at risk” of travelling on to the EU.  The EU alone could decide what constitutes an adequate customs check between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, what might be an illegal state aid, or what goods might be “at risk” of travelling on to the EU.

Why should the EU have a monopoly of wisdom over what this Agreement means?  These are not sustainable terms for the long-term relationship between a sovereign state like the UK, and the EU.

The only legitimate pretext for the Protocol to exist at all is to sustain the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the open frontier between the North and South.  It is reasonable for the EU to insist that this open border should not be used as an open back door to the EU for non-compliant goods or the evasion of EU tariffs.  However, if the UK can protect the Peace Process, to keep the border free of checks, while protecting the EU internal market, how can the EU justify their right to enforce their laws on the UK?

The UK Internal Market Bill seeks to address this, and this has reignited old feuds about Brexit. Specifically, it provides powers for ministers to ask Parliament to override any EU ruling, if the EU unreasonably seeks to impose these unnecessary provisions on the UK against our will.

If we end the year without a new trade agreement to supersede the Withdrawal Agreement, Brexit will not be “done”, because we would remain bound to the EU by the Withdrawal Agreement.  The UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement making clear that it should be superseded by a trade deal similar to the EU-Canada FTA.  The EU’s insistence that the Court of Justice of the European Union should continue to have direct jurisdiction over parts of the law of the United Kingdom should be seen for what it is: an inability to move on.

It is part of a an unreasonable pattern of EU behaviour.  The former UK diplomat to the EU, later John Major’s Press Secretary before becoming Tony Blair’s Ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer tweeted: “Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement commits the parties to negotiate on the future relationship ‘in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders’. It’s more than arguable the EU is already in breach on state aids and fish. ‘Trust’ works in both directions.”

Who in their right mind can consider that the Withdrawal Agreement offers any prospect of stability in the long term?  Agreeing to continued ECJ jurisdiction with direct applicability and direct effect could not in any way be considered as taking back control of our laws – the promise made both by Vote Leave and by the 2019 Conservative manifesto.  This would tear open the referendum divisions all over again.

Eurosceptics like me only voted for the Withdrawal Agreement to help the nation out of a paralysing political crisis. We made clear that it remains only the best of a bad job. We were assured that it was just a starting point for negotiations; that it would be superseded by a full FTA and, if needs be, could be repudiated.

This reassurance is buttressed by Section 38 of the Withdrawal Agreement Act. This makes clear that “the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign” and so can repeal any “directly applicable or directly effective EU law”.  The House of Lords voted for that with hardly a squeak of protest.  The EU Parliament ratified the Withdrawal Agreement in full knowledge our Parliament had put this clause into the Bill.  The Prime Minister and our 2019 manifesto both made clear we will “take back control of our laws”, but it is becoming clear the EU may still not accept this and perhaps never intended it.

The UK should first try to re-negotiate the Agreement, but if the EU continues to be unreasonable, the Government is right to develop options.

The first is to enact domestic legislation that will nullify the direct effect and direct applicability of the EU laws.  The UK Internal Market Bill provides for this possibility.  If the EU still insists on applying the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement beyond what is reasonable, then the Parliament must be ready to use these powers. I hope it is not necessary, but if it is the only way to achieve UK prosperity and the kind of sovereign independence which is the democratic right of any nation recognised under the UN Charter, then so be it. And most other nations would respect us for that.

I was a bit surprised when the Northern Ireland Secretary so boldly announced that the Bill “does break international law”. This may be good tough talk, but it does not engender respect.  (Who told him to say that?)  His exact words are not even factually correct.  The key clauses themselves create no breach with EU law.  Even if the Government legislates to “disapply[ing] or modify[ing] the effect” of EU law, the Government may well be able to argue, while contrary to EU law, it is justified and therefore not a breach of international law.

What might be construed as a minor breach of some highly technical provisions of an international agreement does not mean a breach of “the law”, as it is understood under our constitution.  “The law” is the law passed by Parliament.  International law is a mixture of politics, diplomacy and the texts of agreements.  Trade agreements in particular are frequently disputed and dishonoured by illegal protectionism or punitive tariffs without justification.

The EU is a past-master at this.  Such agreements are not enforceable by our own courts in our own law unless Parliament says it should be so.  No self-respecting sovereign state would allow a foreign power the sole right to determine how to interpret and to enforce a bilateral treaty. Parliament has the inalienable right to enact laws to defend our national interests.

Johnny Leavesley: The Chancellor must find the courage to cut taxes and make it easier to hire

9 Sep

Johnny Leavesley is a businessman and Chairman of the Midlands Industrial Council.

Robert Lowe, a now obscure Nineteenth Century Chancellor of the Exchequer,said of his role that he was “intrusted with a certain amount misery which it is his duty to distribute as fairly as he can.”

There is a mighty judgement coming, most likely beginning this autumn: when the recession we know we are in is confirmed by another quarter’s figures; when the unemployment we know will rise is confirmed by the end of furloughing; and perhaps when Rishi Sunak delivers his first budget and begins the reckoning for gargantuan emergency Covid-19 spending.

Whatever proponents of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) may believe (that the amount of a country’s debt is ultimately immaterial because it has the sovereignty to print more money), debt does have to be repaid eventually, and interest on it has to be paid throughout. (How ironic that those on the Left who espouse MMT as the solution for high welfare spending have so often denigrated the nation state as a sovereign unit).

With our national debt now at over £2 trillion for the first time, and its interest costs at over 100 per cent of GDP, calls are understandably growing for tax rises and spending cuts. These are calls for the return of ‘sound money’ and, logically, for a balanced budget of government expenditure. On the face of it this is Conservative prudence, but would likely be a return to austerity and a lost opportunity.

I am a trading merchant. I manufacture widgets, buy and sell metal, farm land and livestock, develop properties, build houses, and think about cash flow and risk every day. Less frequently I hire and dismiss employees, make investment decisions, and ponder ownership structures. Owning a conglomerate of business interests gives me, I feel, a better sense for the economy than many a statistician relying on dry data. I also talk widely to businesses across the Midlands, which is and has always been the engine room of the UK economy.

This is not scientific, but my sense is that those in the City are still playing the roulette wheels of financial investment happily enough, those who make things are very busy fulfilling pent up demand released by the easing of lockdown, and those in the service sector are at best treading water but more likely are struggling to survive.

Our economy, alas, is now largely service based. Since it is the private sector which will be doing the heavy lifting of creating the taxable wealth that will pay for everything government does – and predominately small and medium-sized (SME) businesses in the service sector – tax rises at this fragile time will be very counterproductive.

If the Chancellor delivers a conventional budget of tax rises and spending cuts sizeable enough to begin to make our national debt affordable, this will constrict growth, possibly even cripple it. This is not a question of selectively raising some taxes to grasp a larger tax take of a declining GDP in the hope that our weak economy can stand it – but whether more taxes will actually reduce tax revenue by dampening activity, and further damage our international investment competitiveness.

Should he be bold enough to substantially reduce taxes, prioritising easing the costs of employing people (cut national insurance) and attracting business investment (cut Corporation Tax, abolish Capital Gains Tax, and expand hugely Enterprise Investment Schemes), this would certainly stimulate economic growth and (quicker than you might think) tangentially increase government tax receipts.

I realise that this may seem to be the call of a fat cat cooing for more cream but it is in my best interests if everyone who earns money benefits from the rising tide of an expanding economy. That is best achieved if working men and women are allowed to keep more of what they earn and have more choice in how to spend it. That is best achieved by tax cuts deep enough to make a difference.

Most urgently, business needs it to be more affordable and easier to employ people. Collectively SMEs employ more people than larger companies and will need flexibility to be able to recruit. This is not determined by regulation so much as by the costs of national insurance. In a recession investors need greater incentives to take on risk.

The unspoken truth is that economic growth in the West has been lamentable for the past 20 years and politicians do not know how to improve productivity. A dawn of new technologies is coming but will not impact widely enough, quickly enough, to meaningfully help level up an unequal society.

The answer is to be brave, cut taxes on those who create the national wealth, and watch the harvest grow.

Ben Southwood: Yes, the current planning system really is at the root of Britain’s housing crisis

6 Aug

Ben Southwood is an independent researcher.

The Government means to reform planning in order to allow more houses to be built. The Local Government Association tells us the Government is wrong.

Changes to the planning system are unnecessary, they argue, for it is developers who hold back housing delivery, not planners.

They tell us that around 90 per cent of planning applications are being approved – far from being in thrall to NIMBYs, planners seem to say yes to virtually every application they receive. The real problem, the LGA says, is that once developers have got permission to build, they frequently fail to do so: permission for hundreds of thousands of houses has been given without those houses ever having been built.

But while these arguments are superficially persuasive, they are fundamentally mistaken. Planning as it currently operates is clearly an obstacle to development, and land banking is a consequence of the existing system.

In the Planning White Paper released today, the Government announces its intention to bring in a zoning system which increases the amount of development that can be done without a planning application, similar to the system proposed by Jack Airey (then PX, now No10) in Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century.

Under such a system, households automatically have the right to develop land they own, assuming that it is within various basic rules (e.g. about height, overshadowing, safety, and aesthetics). This would be the biggest change to the system in seventy years.

As things stand, there are very significant restrictions on development. We can see this in two main ways: firstly, land with planning permission is worth dramatically more than land without planning permission. Secondly, the cost of building houses in places like London is far less than the price those houses fetch on the market – typically around a quarter – suggesting that something beyond build costs is preventing developers from building more homes.

This argument would be uncontroversial among most economists. However one popular response, most recently made by the Local Government Association, is that the shortfall in new homes is mostly not due to the planning system in general, and specifically not due to planning departments at local planning authorities, but due to the behaviour of property developers. They give two arguments on this point: the percentage of applications approved, and the problem of ‘land banking’.

With nine in ten planning applications approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade not yet built, planning is not the problem.

While planning officials do the job they are given as well as possible, and the LGA is correct that they have faced tough budgetary constraints, these facts do not exonerate the planning system as a whole in leading to the undersupply of housing we experience.

It is true that somewhere between eight and nine in every ten planning applications that get to the final stage are approved. But this statistic is misleading, because the cost and restrictiveness of the system means that applications are only made if the applicant expects them to be approved. This cannot tell us about the overall restrictiveness of the system, since it leaves out all the applications that people might want to make but do not because they expect them to be rejected.

If 95 per cent of criminal cases brought to trial got a conviction, that does not tell us much about whether a high percentage of people who actually committed crimes were being convicted – since it doesn’t include those cases that never see trial due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

Most potential planning applications never make it to that final stage, or indeed any stage. Were there no planning system at all, housing starts would be dramatically higher. A more relevant statistic is the percent of potential housing starts that are allowed by the planning system. One estimate, based on Ian Mulheirn’s estimates for the elasticity of prices to supply, would suggest that in London alone we would build 1.5 million more houses to meet pent-up demand, on top of the 600,000-700,000 we are likely to build in the next ten years under the current system.

In other words, the system is building around 30 per cent of the housing that would be demanded in a system where only supply and demand determined what was built.

The true figure demanded would be more like five million, if London was to grow to home a similar share of the national population as cities like Copenhagen and Dublin do. This suggests that planning is allowing just ten per cent of the housing that would be demanded in a freer system.

The most recent review found that around six per cent of annually granted permissions had not been started within 12 months of being granted. Over time, these six per cents build up. But why is land banking a feature of planning systems like ours?

The reason is that ‘banking’ makes sense for assets whose supply is scarce and uncertain. Property developers have a number of different factors of production that they combine to build houses: things like building equipment, workers, and land to build on. All are needed to build houses, but while the supply of things like equipment and workers is relatively guaranteed for the near future (because they own or lease the equipment, and have employment contracts with the workers or know they can hire them if they need them), the supply of land you can build on is less guaranteed – unless they “bank” it.

The alternative to “banking” developable land would be to risk being in a situation where they have paid for equipment and workers in advance but have no land on which to use them.

As the risk, cost, and time invested in getting hold of land and planning permissions rises, the amount of land that it’s rational to bank rises too.

This difficulty, complexity, and cost also leads to a situation where there is no alternative to big housebuilder development. Britain has one of the lowest self-build rates in the developed world: under ten per cent, compared to over 50 per cent in Germany, over 40 per cent in Japan, and nearly 30 per cent in France. SME builders and self builders have little incentive or need to land bank, but cannot negotiate a system where it is essential.

Thus while the statistic around permissions is misleading, the LGA’s concerns about land banking are understandable. But land banking is an entirely rational, and in itself reasonable, response to a system that makes land banking necessary. If the LGA is worried about land banking, they might be pleased with what these reforms deliver.

Daniel Pryor: Letting asylum seekers work is common-sense Conservatism

30 Jul

Daniel Pryor is Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute.

Just over a year ago, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that “it is time for reform” of the outdated ban on asylum seekers working in the UK.

The world has hugely changed since then. But there remains an urgent need to allow asylum seekers to become less dependent on taxpayers, contribute to our economy, and support integration.

That’s why we at the Adam Smith Institute are proud members of the Lift the Ban Coalition: a group of over 200 businesses, trade unions, charities, think tanks and faith groups that campaign for the right to seek work for people seeking asylum.

In a new report, the coalition is calling for the Government to lower the waiting period before asylum seekers can work from one year to six months, as well as letting them apply for jobs outside the highly restrictive Shortage Occupation List (which includes classical ballet dancers and hydrogeologists).

Giving those seeking asylum the right to seek work – unconstrained by bureaucrats who think they understand the labour market better than British businesses – is common sense. Relaxing our current year-long work ban would promote integration with local communities, protect vulnerable people from forced labour, save the taxpayer money, and give asylum seekers the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.

The Home Office announced a review of the current policy 18 months ago, but have been silent since. Unfortunately, Home Office delays are a big part of the problem with our asylum system. By March 2020, the majority of people (31,516) waiting for a decision on an asylum claim were doing so for more than six months: the highest number since public records began. Those awaiting the results are left struggling to support themselves and their families on just £5.66 a day.

Conservatives pride themselves on championing the dignity of work: the sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging that comes from gainful employment. This is something that many millions of us have come to appreciate the value of even more as vast swathes of the United Kingdom remain furloughed.

Frankly, it is cruel and counterproductive to deny that opportunity to asylum seekers who want to use their skills to help rebuild our economy. Sitting at home all day with no job and a meagre government-granted allowance – all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – is a challenge for anyone’s mental well-being.

It also makes it more difficult to successfully integrate into their local communities. Work would give asylum seekers the opportunity to meet and socialise with people, as well as a strong incentive to improve English language skills.

The economic case for reform is equally compelling. Our latest estimates show that lifting the work ban could save taxpayers £98 million through more income tax receipts and less asylum support payments. Previous research on the effects of work bans also points to a potential reduction in crime from lifting the ban: hardly a surprise for conservatives who recognise the link between labour market opportunities and crime.

Other developed countries seem to recognise the benefits, and the UK remains an international outlier on its waiting periods: Australia, Canada and many European countries have far less restrictive rules.

Critics raise concerns that allowing asylum seekers to work would encourage more to come to Britain. But worries about creating such a ‘pull factor’ are not based on real-world experience. A systematic review of research into the relationship between labour market access for asylum seekers and overall numbers failed to find a single study showing a long-term relationship. This should hardly be surprising – most asylum seekers aren’t even aware that they are banned from working upon arrival in the UK, never mind the idea that they base their decision on such information.

Most Brits are rightly unconvinced by the ‘pull factor’ argument. Reform has proven to be consistently popular with the electorate and UK businesses. Survation polling has found that a remarkable 71 per cent of the public believe lifting the ban would help integration, while more than two-thirds of business leaders are supportive of the change.

Lifting the ban is also in keeping with this Government’s wider approach to immigration policy. The Prime Minister has already scrapped the notorious ‘tens of thousands’ target, revived the post-study work visa, and mandated lower, looser salary thresholds in our post-Brexit immigration system. Following these sensible changes with asylum working reform would be a welcome instance of consistency from the Government.

If we’re serious about rebooting Britain post-Covid, we should let asylum seekers work. People from many different political backgrounds support reform, but the key arguments in favour are most familiar to Conservatives. If this Government continually denies access to paid work in favour of state handouts, maintains barriers to integration, and hobbles our vulnerable economy with unnecessary red tape – what is the point of the Conservative Party?

Daniel Pryor: Letting asylum seekers work is common-sense Conservatism

30 Jul

Daniel Pryor is Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute.

Just over a year ago, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that “it is time for reform” of the outdated ban on asylum seekers working in the UK.

The world has hugely changed since then. But there remains an urgent need to allow asylum seekers to become less dependent on taxpayers, contribute to our economy, and support integration.

That’s why we at the Adam Smith Institute are proud members of the Lift the Ban Coalition: a group of over 200 businesses, trade unions, charities, think tanks and faith groups that campaign for the right to seek work for people seeking asylum.

In a new report, the coalition is calling for the Government to lower the waiting period before asylum seekers can work from one year to six months, as well as letting them apply for jobs outside the highly restrictive Shortage Occupation List (which includes classical ballet dancers and hydrogeologists).

Giving those seeking asylum the right to seek work – unconstrained by bureaucrats who think they understand the labour market better than British businesses – is common sense. Relaxing our current year-long work ban would promote integration with local communities, protect vulnerable people from forced labour, save the taxpayer money, and give asylum seekers the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.

The Home Office announced a review of the current policy 18 months ago, but have been silent since. Unfortunately, Home Office delays are a big part of the problem with our asylum system. By March 2020, the majority of people (31,516) waiting for a decision on an asylum claim were doing so for more than six months: the highest number since public records began. Those awaiting the results are left struggling to support themselves and their families on just £5.66 a day.

Conservatives pride themselves on championing the dignity of work: the sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging that comes from gainful employment. This is something that many millions of us have come to appreciate the value of even more as vast swathes of the United Kingdom remain furloughed.

Frankly, it is cruel and counterproductive to deny that opportunity to asylum seekers who want to use their skills to help rebuild our economy. Sitting at home all day with no job and a meagre government-granted allowance – all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – is a challenge for anyone’s mental well-being.

It also makes it more difficult to successfully integrate into their local communities. Work would give asylum seekers the opportunity to meet and socialise with people, as well as a strong incentive to improve English language skills.

The economic case for reform is equally compelling. Our latest estimates show that lifting the work ban could save taxpayers £98 million through more income tax receipts and less asylum support payments. Previous research on the effects of work bans also points to a potential reduction in crime from lifting the ban: hardly a surprise for conservatives who recognise the link between labour market opportunities and crime.

Other developed countries seem to recognise the benefits, and the UK remains an international outlier on its waiting periods: Australia, Canada and many European countries have far less restrictive rules.

Critics raise concerns that allowing asylum seekers to work would encourage more to come to Britain. But worries about creating such a ‘pull factor’ are not based on real-world experience. A systematic review of research into the relationship between labour market access for asylum seekers and overall numbers failed to find a single study showing a long-term relationship. This should hardly be surprising – most asylum seekers aren’t even aware that they are banned from working upon arrival in the UK, never mind the idea that they base their decision on such information.

Most Brits are rightly unconvinced by the ‘pull factor’ argument. Reform has proven to be consistently popular with the electorate and UK businesses. Survation polling has found that a remarkable 71 per cent of the public believe lifting the ban would help integration, while more than two-thirds of business leaders are supportive of the change.

Lifting the ban is also in keeping with this Government’s wider approach to immigration policy. The Prime Minister has already scrapped the notorious ‘tens of thousands’ target, revived the post-study work visa, and mandated lower, looser salary thresholds in our post-Brexit immigration system. Following these sensible changes with asylum working reform would be a welcome instance of consistency from the Government.

If we’re serious about rebooting Britain post-Covid, we should let asylum seekers work. People from many different political backgrounds support reform, but the key arguments in favour are most familiar to Conservatives. If this Government continually denies access to paid work in favour of state handouts, maintains barriers to integration, and hobbles our vulnerable economy with unnecessary red tape – what is the point of the Conservative Party?

Andrew Selous: It’s time for the Government to step up the war on obesity

22 Jul

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity.

I warmly welcome the indications that the Prime Minister is about to take further action on obesity.

The greater risks run by people with obesity in combating COVID-19 have made this issue even more urgent but the truth is that even before the pandemic the UK had a serious obesity problem.

The national child measurement programme data shows that ten per cent of children in Reception were obese in 2018-19 and that had more than doubled to over 20 per cent by year Six. The Guys and St Thomas’ charity report ‘Bitesize’ shows that London has a higher rate of childhood obesity than New York and a rate nearly four and a half times higher than Paris.

Children’s health really matters, as does equality of opportunity. Overweight and obese children grow up to be overweight and obese adults.

There is not only leads to a significant cost to the NHS and the taxpayer, but it’s also a question of social justice, as 27 per cent of the most deprived children in Year Six are obese compared with under 12 per cent of their least deprived classmates.This is an area that politicians often fear to tread in but it’s a vital public policy issue and we lack courage if we ignore it.

I think that our guiding principle should be to make the right choice the easy and affordable choice for as many people as possible. It doesn’t help when children are bombarded with advertising for unhealthy products which they pressure their parents to buy. That’s why getting the 9pm watershed in place against the advertising of junk food to children is so important.

We also need more British supermarkets to follow the example of the Dutch supermarket Marqt, which has banned the marketing of unhealthy products to children. Their CEO says that tempting children to choose unhealthy products doesn’t fit with how they want to help their customers. Unfortunately, many people don’t have much of a choice with those unable to get to supermarkets easily often being faced with local shops, with a poor choice of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Some areas have massive concentrations of takeaways. In 2017 there were 400 in Southwark, a seven per cent increase on 2014 and this was the borough revealed in 2018 as having the first neighbourhood in the country where a majority of children leaving primary school were overweight or obese. The Food Foundation have also pointed out the across much of mainland Europe, the healthy choice is often the cheaper one, yet bizarrely and worryingly the opposite is commonly the case in the UK.

Local authorities have a role to play as well. The Amsterdam healthy weight programme launched by Eric Van der Burghas, the centre-right deputy mayor of the city, focused on schools, the health service, planning, sports, charities and the business sector.

The Health Select Committee went to see what he was doing and he told us that he went to a summer sports programme one year and saw a young girl who couldn’t do a forward roll because she was so overweight. When he realised how widespread the problem was he made it a priority. We need more leaders with his tenacity.

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to have clearer food labelling. We need the same in restaurants and the takeaway sector. Shops should promote healthy food, not junk food. The hugely successful sugar tax should be extended to more products, with the proceeds going towards child health. Energy drinks should not be sold to under-16s either.

We also must not abandon those whose lives have been ruined by obesity. Bariatric surgery can be life changing for those who have tried everything else without success. Professor John Wass of Oxford University tells me that the number of bariatric operations in England is below 5,000 whereas in France, with a significantly lower prevalence of obesity, the figure is 60,000. Similar comparisons can be made with Sweden.

Roderick Crawford: Brexit is the beginning of a journey to transform Britain

20 Jul

Roderick Crawford works on conflict resolution in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq, and on Brexit-related matters. He is a former editor of Parliamentary Brief.

Brexit means Brexit, said Theresa May.    She was right – but only in part. Under Boris Johnson, Brexit means much more than ‘getting it done’; it offers the opportunity as well as the necessity for the economic and social transformation of the UK itself, and thus of government too.

So much of what makes the UK tick was caught up in and by the EU – whether that was booming, coasting along or withering on the vine – that to simply ‘do Brexit’ is not enough. To make a success of Brexit requires the transformation of the UK: there can be no more business as normal: that was the case even before Covid-19 came along.   For that, success is needed right across economic and social policy, not just trade policy.

Post-Brexit, the UK needs to address the problem in the housing market, because it’s a key contributor to economic prosperity, social stability and individual and family wellbeing.  The house-building industry and the housing market need radical reshaping; the industry needs new entrants, new building opportunities, innovative building that delivers significant productivity gains – and all on a scale not seen for generations.

For that, we need a government that will change the current closed market into an open one – and make land available to new entrants and for new projects.  It needs to create new incentives for landlords to move from short-term tenancy agreements to three or five year leases for existing and future tenants thus changing insecure accommodation into secure homes at the stroke of a pen.

It has been suggested that York should become the seat of the Lords or Parliament while the Palace of Westminster is refurbished and long term a government hub.  For this, York needs tens of thousands of new houses and flats, along with offices and conference centres, improved infrastructure, including its own airport and better regional road and train links.

York as a permanent government hub in the North makes good sense, but it could also pull financiers and more creative and service businesses north to add value to the regional economy – including manufacturing.  That would be a serious boost to the North – and a defining moment in the remaking of the UK, not just England.

New technologies, new processes, new designs, new businesses, partnerships – and new regulatory frameworks – are key to economic transformation.  This formed the basis of the UK’s first industrial revolution and the subsequent industry-sector revolutions since then.  Whatever keeps new entrants and innovations out of business sectors ought in principle to be removed, subject to legal and moral considerations.

Government tends to consult with the same old bodies about changes to market regulation, but most of those it consults are beneficiaries of the system as it exists or are so immersed in it that they can only see the possibility of reform of the present system, they cannot see a totally new one.

Where you need new entrants, consult with those outside the sector wanting to get in or expand, not those established firms trying to keep competition out and act accordingly.  Tinkering with the regulatory frameworks isn’t enough anymore –  extensive deregulation and re-regulation are both required, and in heavy doses for some sectors.  That was a key element of Franklin D.Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The United Kingdom needs a foreign policy that both supports UK interests and which the public supports – one that brings the UK together; the current review needs to put these aims to the fore.  We should seek to play a leading global leadership role, but with limited resources that means – at the least — focus, innovation and partnership.

As a general set of principles for the UK global aims, post-Brexit, we would do well to turn for inspiration and leadership to the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in August 1941 between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on the warships Augusta and Prince of Wales, off Argentia, Newfoundland.  Its sets out eight common principles on which they sought to base their hopes for the post-war world; it remains highly relevant today, not least because due to wartime events, the war aims of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, its full hopes were not realised.

In summary, the two nations:

  • Seek no aggrandisement, territorial or other;
  • Have no desire to see territorial changes not in accord with the freely expressed will of the peoples concerned;
  • Respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live and to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those forcibly deprived of them;
  • Endeavour to further the enjoyment of all states, great or small, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;
  • To bring about the fullest co-operation between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security;
  • They hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;
  • Such a peace should enable all men and women to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;
  • They believe that all the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force.

Today we would want to add in a few more key principles — addressing climate change would of course be amongst them.

These principles could serve the UK well as a foundation for what it hopes for the world and its role in it; it could form the basis for future partnerships across the globe and guide its work through international bodies like the WTO or as it seeks to bring stability to the global order in a time marked by great change and challenges.

As we enter the next rounds of negotiations with the EU, it is as well to remember that any agreement we reach should support and not restrain the broader aims of national and state renewal for the UK and its freedom of action in foreign policy.  An equitable agreement at this stage would make a positive contribution to realising UK ambitions

Darren Grimes: Today, it’s Conservatives who are the real rebels – against woke conformity and the cancel culture

15 Jul

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

I’m often emailed by very kind folk who think I am acting bravely. I’ve always questioned this; after all, I am merely offering my opinions. But what they’re getting at is that ordinary conservatives are told their ideas and values are reactionary, prejudiced, sexist or racist, and to stand up against the trend, for the views of the common sense majority, is now considered brave to do.

Some might be wondering how on earth we conservatives can possibly be the rebels, when the Conservative Party recently won a Commons majority of 80, the party’s largest since 1987? It may also seem odd to describe conservatism as rebellious when rebels, by definition, want change, and conservatives seek to conserve.

But while self-described conservative political parties across the West win elections, they are losing the institutions that act as the scaffold of our culture. Consider the Left’s dominance of our media; social media giants playing the role of custodians of an openly left-wing environment, and the boardrooms of corporations seeking affirmation from those media and cultural gatekeepers – always a good demonstration of their enlightened values at dinner parties and Davos drinks receptions.

The reason why conservatism is rebellious today is that the dominant cultural view is one that seeks to uproot our past, and what we stand for – making it revolutionary to stand against this view. In this culture war propagated by our generously funded universities and the BBC, it’s clear that the Left’s online battalion of outrage mobs and cancellation notices are aimed squarely at those who dare argue against it.

There’s also a world of difference in small-c conservatism and the big C Conservative Party. The Left is winning, despite being formally out power; in education, the arts, among the regulators and within all of their powerful functions over everyday life, because our politicians seem more concerned with looking good to Twitter over actually being good.

It is perhaps understandable; it takes real guts to put your head above the political parapet – the most high profile curreny example is being J.K. Rowling with her defence of sex-segregated spaces and biological truth.

According to Populus, approximately two-thirds of British people thought that a male-born person, with a penis, who self-identifies as a woman, should not be allowed to use female-only changing rooms. For suggesting that this view is justifable, Rowling is dismissed by those that her work made stars of as “rather conservative”. So even what can be read as moderate conservatism is enough to warrant Rowling’s cancellation. A school has since dropped its plans to name one of its houses after her after the online furore.

For ordinary folk, to be conservative requires balls of steel. No platforming is a regular occurrence in our supposedly world-class universities: I have been contacted by students who report that it is almost impossible for some societies to secure venue bookings to host democratically elected MPs with centre-right views.

Imagine that. Those who represent our country are now not able to engage in discussion with our nation’s young. The invitation will be issued, accepted, a venue secured – and then, like clockwork, left-wing students will apply pressure to the university societies and diversity teams to work their no-platforming magic.

Is all lost for Britain’s young? Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck University, presents limited data that shows that Britain’s youngest voters, the Zoomers, seem to be diverging from voters aged between 22 and 39. He posited the idea that the chilling effect of political correctness could explain why the ‘Jordan Peterson generation’ is quite so conservative. However, the issues a warning: “The Conservatives are going to have to do a lot more to reverse the leftward drift of the culture if they hope to remain competitive in a generation’s time.”

In a brilliant interview last weekend, Ricky Gervais depressingly argued that The Office wouldn’t get the green light in today’s climate. He made the case that free speech protects everyone, and explained that the evolving definition of what constitutes hate speech is detrimental to society, when our speech is already policed via libel, slander, watershed, advertising and criminal laws.  And he delivered the wonderfully pithy line: “If you’re mildly conservative [on Twitter], you’re Hitler!” If only our Conservative politicians could defend our values in such a robust fashion.

If we look at reforms since 2010, with Tory-led or Conservative majority governments, there’s precious little in the way of public appointments or reforms that show the Conservative Party’s ideological commitment in this area. Remember what happened to the late and great Roger Scruton? But with or without the big C party, there is much we can all do.

Online cancel culture depends on social anxiety and fear, which creates this atmosphere of self-censorship for what are ordinary and widely-held views. Under-represented voices in the mainstream media, arts and academia agree with you, your politics and your value system. The more of us that come out of the closet – the political one – the more tolerant and reflective our culture will become. Producing better quality discourse and a more rigorous discussion of ideas.

Those with genuinely sexist, racist or homophobic views are, rightly, called out for being so today. But so are those unfairly accused of being so by those that disagree with them. We may have moved on from the Middle Ages: it is not the man who is executed anymore, but his character on Twitter. Free discussion is being shut down. Activists must be reminded that how you challenge uncomfortable views is, as is evidenced throughout history, through more speech, not less. We must be opening up, not shutting down, avenues to discussion and debate.

Our ancestors were much braver than we are today.  But all is not yet lost, come out and join the reasoned fightback against this madness.