Henry Hill: Bradley faces fresh calls to resign as Williamson seeks to protect troops

Also: Ministers brace for fight with SNP over ‘Stronger Towns Fund’; Scottish Government backpedalling hard on welfare devolution; and more.

Bradley faces calls to resign over Troubles comments as Williamson seeks to protect troops

Karen Bradley has come under renewed pressure to resign after she appeared to claim that no deaths caused by the security services during the Troubles should be considered crimes, according to the Times.

Although she later clarified that there should always be investigations where there are allegations of wrongdoing, the latest faux pas has sparked fresh questions about whether or not she is fit to serve as Northern Irish Secretary. Her remarks were:

“Over 90 per cent of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime. The fewer than 10 per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes. They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.”

Whilst it seems clear that Bradley meant to say that the most of the killings committed by the Armed Forces and Royal Ulster Constabulary were done in the lawful course of their duties, it is an unfortunate way to set the scene for Gavin Williamson’s bid to introduce new legal protections for soldiers and ex-servicemen.

Under proposals outlined in the Sunday Times, the Defence Secretary would introduce a ten-year limit for prosecutions over alleged historical offences. This comes after reports that four former soldiers are expected to face murder charges for their involvement in Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The plans will apparently entail a statutory presumption against prosecution for historical cases, the need for sign-off from the Attorney General, and new guidance from the same about both the evidence threshold needed to pursue a prosecution and a public-interest test.

In related news the News Letter reports that Jim Allister, the leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, has accused the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland of “playing politics” by talking up the threat of terrorist activity related to Brexit.

Ministers clash with SNP over ‘towns fund’ as Scottish Government bails on welfare devolution

The Government is gearing up for a furious row with the Scottish Government over the fate of almost £100 million in public funding from Theresa May’s ‘Stronger Towns Fund’, according to the Sun.

According to sources James Brokenshire, the Communities Secretary, is insisting that his department must have a say on how the money is disbursed, rather than simply handing it over to the SNP to treat as a devolved matter. The paper reports one insider claiming that the Nationalists have already failed to properly pass on £40 million earmarked for the police to help with no-deal preparations.

Such a move would undercut the SNP’s efforts to centralise as much control of public spending as possible in Edinburgh, as well as to make the Scottish Parliament a gate-keeper between Westminster and Scotland. Expect much wailing about the ‘spirit of devolution’.

But that spirit has not had a good week, it appears, after it emerged that the Scottish Government is furiously backpedalling on a push to devolve welfare powers to Holyrood.

Last week the Scotsman reported that the Nationalists were being accused of ‘betraying’ Scots over a decision to delay the full devolution of welfare powers until 2024. This was compounded yesterday when they further reported that plans for the Scottish Government to assume control of one particular benefit – the Severe Disablement Allowance – have been postponed “indefinitely”.

That all of this chaos and delay should result from proposals to devolve just 15 per cent of social security spending – totalling some £3 million – may be what finally prompted one “senior Scottish Tory MP” to voice, albeit anonymously, the ultimate heresy: that there may need to be a “review into certain aspects of devolution”. As the Times reports:

“It cannot continue to be a one-way street,” the MP said. “This latest debacle, coming on top of the British Transport Police fiasco, demonstrates that there are areas where devolution may not be in the best interests of the Scottish people and that returning powers to Westminster could be contemplated.”

Wise words.

And if that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week the SNP’s new proposals for a post-Brexit Scottish currency were dismissed as a “desperate act”. The party is trying to disentangle itself from the political problems posed by keeping the pound without admitting that an independent Scotland would need to sign up to the Euro.

Dugdale accuses Scottish Labour of trying to hide support for second Brexit vote

Kezia Dugdale, the former leader of Scottish Labour, has accused her successor of censoring the party’s conference programme in order to stifle expressions of support for a second EU referendum, according to the Daily Telegraph.

In a letter to Richard Leonard she alleges that a statement penned by two of the party’s MEPs had been ‘doctored’ to tone down criticism of Brexit and remove a section stating support for a re-run of the 2016 vote – despite such a re-run being official party policy.

The attack exposes the depths of the divisions within Scottish Labour, where Leonard’s left-wing leadership is being criticised for failing to turn around the remarkable slump in the party’s fortunes north of the border.

Meanwhile, in other Brexit news, the FT reports that Bombardier, a major employer in Northern Ireland, are pressuring the Democratic Unionists to abandon their opposition to the backstop.

Henry Hill: New report says Scottish independence negotiations will be ‘tougher than Brexit’

Also: Welsh Labour slump in latest poll; SNP push Mundell over post-Brexit funding; DUP resist calls for 50/50 police recruitment – and more.

New report says Scottish independence will be ‘tougher than Brexit’

Last week, we reported that the SNP were divided over a call by Andrew Wilson, the man charged with producing their so-called ‘Growth Commission’ report, for the party to pursue a ‘sofy indy’ strategy

Now a new report has suggested that any divorce negotiations following a Scottish vote for independence could be much more difficult than Brexit, according to the Scotsman.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, says that whilst some parts of any separation negotiations would be similar to Brexit, others – most obviously the division of assets and liabilities – would be different and considerably more complicated due to the added difficulty of unpicking a centuries-old, sovereign state.

However, she did say that the shambolic Brexit negotiations could provide both sides of any future independence negotiation a clear example of what to avoid.

In other news, David Mundell this week alleged that the Scottish Nationalists were trying to engineer a no-deal Brexit in order to further their campaign to break up the United Kingdom.

He accused the SNP of effectively backing ‘no deal’ by voting against the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement – and also apparently hinted that he might support efforts by Europhile MPs to usurp the Government’s control of the negotiations.

Meanwhile the Nationalists, fresh from bouncing the Scottish Tories into endorsing deeply damaging u-turns on ‘post-Brexit devolved powers’, are now trying to push Mundell into abandoning the Conservatives’ plan for UK Government funds – intended to replace EU investment – to be distributed directly by Westminster.

The Nationalists want as much patronage as possible controlled by Holyrood, and are likely to be especially wary of anything which undermines their efforts to bring Scottish local government under central control. The Scottish Government has been pushing to curb councils’ autonomy by holding down council tax and making up the shortfall with central funding which they control.

Poll shows significant decline in Labour support in Wales

Labour are on course to lose five Welsh seats at the next general election, according to a new poll commissioned by ITV, after a slump which would see them lose as many Assembly Members too.

Roger Awan-Scully, the Welsh psephological expert, explains that despite the Conservatives also seeing their lowest Westminster voting intention since January 2017, the sheer scale of Labour’s fall would see them pick up four seats: Cardiff North, Gower, Vale of Clwyd, and Wrexham. Plaid Cymru would also win Ynys Mon on the back of a relatively strong showing.

If translated into a devolved election, meanwhile, the Tories would pick up the same four seats whilst Plaid would take Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff West and Llanelli. This would leave Labour with just 20 constituency seats, its worst showing since the advent of devolution.

Compared to December’s poll for Sky, ITV find a lower level of support for Abolish the Assembly, instead suggesting that both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats might have recovered slightly – the latter are projected to retain two seats, whereas in December it looked as if even their one projected hold was likely a statistical fluke.

However, ATA have announced that they will contest the upcoming Newport West by-election, which has been precipitated by the death of Labour’s Paul Flynn. Richard Suchorzewski announced his candidacy after a Facebook poll of the party’s supporters strongly backed the idea of suspending ATA’s usual policy of not contesting Westminster seats.

The presence of a hard-line unionist candidate might unsettle the Conservatives, who have run a fairly close second in the constituency during the last few elections and might have been hoping to capitalise on Labour’s poor polling and the unwinding of Flynn’s personal vote. Others are worried about the impact that ATA candidates might have in close-run Assembly races in the next devolved elections in 2021.

Democratic Unionists resist reintroduction of 50/50 police recruitment

The DUP have spoken out strongly against calls from Sinn Fein and the SDLP to reintroduce the controversial 50/50 recruitment requirement for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the News Letter reports.

Introduced for a ten-year period, this mandated the PSNI to ensure that it took in as many recruits from the Catholic community as the Protestant one. Both nationalist parties are calling for its reintroduction to address a lack of confidence in the police on the part of their voters, but the DUP have branded the policy ‘institutionalised sectarianism’.

In other news Jim Allister, leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, has stepped up pressure on the DUP over the backstop. This was ahead of reports in this morning’s papers that the party might be softening their stance on the Withdrawal Agreement, provided that Geoffrey Cox can bring a sufficiently tough codicil or other mechanism.

Leonard under pressure on Brexit and antisemitism

Both the major issues dividing Labour have cast a shadow over their Scottish leader this week. First, Richard Leonard has come under mounting pressure from the SNP to set out his position on a second referendum, specifically over whether Remain should be on the ballot paper.

Then the leader of Scotland’s Jewish community branded Labour ‘institutionally racist’, and revealed that Leonard had not been in touch with him despite several high-profile incidents of antisemitism within the party. Ephraim Borowski said the party’s failure to tackle the issue fit the definition of institutional racism set out in the Macpherson Report.

Henry Hill: Salmond inquiry warns Scottish Government not to destroy any evidence

Also: Labour hint at laws compelling private businesses to deal in Welsh; SNP divided over ‘soft indy’ call; and DUP hold their line on the backstop.

Salmond inquiry warns ministers not to shred evidence

The Holyrood probe into the Scottish Government’s mishandling of allegations against Alex Salmond has warned ministers and civil servants not to damage or destroy any evidence, the Daily Telegraph reports.

A cross-party group of nine MSPs decided at their very first meeting that they expected Nicola Sturgeon’s administration to retain all “relevant documentation”. They have also decided to defer formal hearings until after legal proceedings against the former First Minister have concluded.

Linda Fabiani, a Nationalist legislator, has been confirmed as convener of the inquiry after the SNP rejected another round of pleas from opposition parties to relinquish control of the post.

In other news, Sturgeon has also been criticised this week for undertaking another overseas ‘jaunt’, according to the Scotsman. The First Minister was in France – where she took the time to tell the Assembly that Westminster ‘ignores Scotland’ – but opposition parties have criticised her for spending so much time and taxpayers’ money on trips when foreign policy remains reserved to London.

Last week, Stephen Daisley set out in the Spectator how the British Government could curb such behaviour – ministers would be well advised to consider such proposals.

Welsh Government hints at laws forcing companies to deal in Welsh… if they can justify it

Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Government’s minister for the Welsh language, has hinted that it may in future introduce laws compelling private businesses to conduct business in Welsh.

However she said that it was up to Welsh speakers to make better use of existing services in the language before such steps could be taken.Wales Online reports:

“But she pointed to the low use of Welsh-language services in the public sector. She cited figures from Bridgend council where almost 10% of people in the county speak Welsh, but only 0.2% of phone calls from the public – 301 out of 160,528 – were in Welsh last year. “It’s difficult for us to sell the need to do that to the private sector,” she said.

Baroness Morgan, who placed third in Welsh Labour’s recent leadership election, also warned that if requirements became too burdensome they might deter investment in the principality. She was also defending the decision to ditch a major planned shake-up of Welsh language provision, including the scrapping of the post of Welsh Language Commissioner.

SNP divided over ‘soft indy’ call

Andrew Wilson, a key adviser to Sturgeon, this week called on the SNP to push for the “softest of all” forms of independence in order to try and woo the swing voters needed to win another referendum, the Scotsman reports.

Wilson was recently in charge of the so-called ‘Growth Commission’, the SNP’s effort to create a new economic case for separation after their White Paper was discredited. Kevin Hague made short work of his findings, which has perhaps helped spur Wilson towards a safety-first ‘project reassurance’ approach.

One feature of his proposals is caps in public spending during the first years of independence, and a broader recognition of “the level of integration and all the ties that have bound us for centuries”.

But his contribution has provoked a backlash – one which maps onto the broader divisions opening up within the Party. Joanna Cherry QC, a high-profile Nationalist MP, led those arguing that Brexit required the SNP to go full-tilt for independence. Cherry is an ally of the embattled Salmond, who has latterly positioned himself as the leader of the more ‘fundamentalist’ wing of the separatist movement.

The ongoing decay of the Nationalists’ once phalanx-like internal discipline has prompted some commentators to suggest that Sturgeon, who only a few years ago appeared mistress of all she surveyed north of the border, may be on the way out.

Dodds tells DUP conference that no deal remains better than a bad one

There’s no sign yet of the Democratic Unionists softening their Brexit stance after Nigel Dodds, their leader at Westminster, told a party conference that no deal remained preferable to the Party than a bad one.

The News Letter reports Dodds as saying that the Government can only count on the DUP’s support on the Meaningful Vote if “necessary changes” are made to the backstop.

In related news, Angela Merkel apparently expressed concern about Ireland’s hard-line position on the border question during a phone call to Leo Varadkar in January, according to the Belfast Telegraph. The outgoing German Chancellor was reportedly worried that Dublin’s stance was undermining the EU’s negotiating position.

James Brokenshire: We need a new unionism to bring our country together

It should be about the relationships between towns, cities and regions, as well as between the four nations that make up our United Kingdom.

James Brokenshire is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup.

One of Conservatism’s great strengths is its wariness of dogma. We are uncomfortable with its constraints, its blindness and its totalitarianism.

Instead, we are comfortable with history and its nuance. The lessons it teaches us about ourselves and society. About where we come from, the choices that have brought us to where we are and what this tells us about the present and future.

Indeed, at our core is a breed of pragmatism, allowing us to recast our political message to reflect the needs of the world we see around us. We are comfortable with the practical and objective. We see that the duty of each generation is to pass onto the next an inheritance worth preserving.

These are noble ideals. Essential values which define who we are. But on their own they aren’t enough to win hearts and minds. We need more to win an intellectual and emotional battle that will rage long into the next decade and beyond.

If there was doubt before, there can be none now. We are fighting some forces on the left of politics which aren’t only wrong-headed, but actually dangerous. Their starting point is an ideological dogma that begins with the view that the sum history of our progress as a society isn’t one of community and togetherness, of sacrifice and gain, of failure and success and all the twists and turns that this has wrought, but simply of war within it.

There is no common purpose to be forged voluntarily on that basis. Only imposed. You watch it with the Corbynite left on social media, you read about it at their constituency party meetings. And you see it in the flesh when Labour MPs need police protection to attend their own party conference and finally, sadly, come to the painful conclusion that the Party they’ve spent a lifetime supporting no longer reflects who they are or the values they believe in.

In response, we Conservatives we need to convey our idealism and be confident in it. We need ideas at a scale commensurate with the challenges we face. In particular, we need to recognise the importance of place and belonging in our policies and messages.

The pride drawn from saying “I’m from here and this is my home” isn’t something parochial or small, but utterly essential to understanding how the modern world is making a sense of place more important, not less. Because the modern world can atomise us, it can leave us feeling ever more connected and yet never more alone.

And this is a deeply political sentiment because ‘place’ is a universal idea. We can make many choices in our lives, to do or not to do certain things, but one of the things we can’t choose, is that we are all from somewhere.

Since 2010 we have done more than any other party to give power back to people and places through initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and metro mayors. Giving people a sense of ownership of and confidence in their places.

But these changes in governance should be the first phase in a more radical agenda for place: a new unionism. And this new unionism shouldn’t just be about the relationship of the four nations of our United Kingdom, but about the relationships between the towns, cities and regions within and between them, too.

Because we are country of dual identities. Our units of solidarity are multiple, from the family, to the street, through to the city and beyond. I am both Essex boy and Londoner, English and British.

We all feel that sense of belonging in different ways and on many different levels. But without doubt the most all-encompassing bond is our Union. It is a precious inheritance we must preserve for future generations.

Recent history, whether through the Scottish independence referendum, calls by devolved administrations for more power and autonomy or through the challenges posed by Brexit, and specifically the important place Northern Ireland has within our country, have posed questions about the future of the union. These must be answered with confidence.

It seems clear to me we must make the case for a new unionism, and explain more readily the value and meaning of being a citizen of our United Kingdom. The rights we have, the values we share, the benefits we enjoy and the duties we owe. These should be things that not only we cherish, but that people from around the world aspire to have, too.

Only the Conservatives are able to offer this sort of national renewal. A new unionism.

Henry Hill: SDLP link-up with Fianna Fail has a rocky start as senior MLA quits

Also: Backlash grows against SNP’s new tax; Labour AM apologises for antisemitic comment; and Scottish Tories say they’ve stopped Johnson.

SDLP ‘on back foot’ after senior resignation over merger

The alliance between the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Northern Ireland’s smaller and more moderate nationalist party, and Fianna Fail suffered a blow this week when the former’s most high-profile MLA resigned.

Clare Hanna, the SDLP’s Brexit spokeswoman, resigned from its Assembly group (although not her actual party membership) after a special conference on Saturday approved the new ‘policy partnership’ with the Republic party, the News Letter reports.

She said that: “I remain unconvinced that an exclusive partnership with Fianna Fáil is the right vehicle to deliver the non-sectarian, transparent and social democratic new Ireland I believe in”.

SDLP members backed the proposal at the conference, although 30 per cent voted against it. There apparently remains a lot of uncertainty around what exactly the new relationship entails, with senior figures being coy as to whether it would mean a joint manifesto or similar.

Hanna may not be the last to leave: Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, was reportedly warned that a group of members were “considering their options” after the link-up was approved.

In other Irish nationalist news, Sinn Fein have reiterated their belief that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a border poll in Northern Ireland.

According to the Guardian, Mary Lou McDonald described such a vote as a “democratic necessity” in the event that Britain left the EU without the backstop in place – but declined to say when a referendum should be held.

Writing on this site today, David Shiels has warned ministers that by talking up the prospect of a border poll – in a bid to shepherd unionist MPs behind Theresa May’s withdrawal deal – they are playing into the hands of the republicans.

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, continues to insist that such a Brexit can be avoided – even has he refused to negotiate with the Prime Minister during her visit to Dublin earlier this week. However Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, did meet with his Irish counterpart on that Friday, as well as meeting separately with senior figures from the Democratic Unionist Party.

Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim and DUP Brexit spokesman, has had to insist this week that his party remains united in its opposition to the backstop. The News Letter reports that Arlene Foster had earlier refused to be drawn on whether or not she was still demanding its complete abandonment.

Backlash grows against SNP’s new tax

Teachers have announced that they will demand compensation out of public funds if they are subject to the Scottish Government’s new car park tax – in a move the Tories estimate could cost £1.7 million in Edinburgh alone.

According to the Daily Telegraph, this move by the unions comes as part of a growing public backlash against the proposals, which would see charges levied on private car parks such as those operated by businesses and other places of work.

There was also outrage when it was revealed that such a tax is liable for VAT if the cost is passed on to employees, pushing the cost to workers up to around £500 per year.

Derek Mackay, the SNP’s Finance Secretary, accepted an amendment tabled by the Scottish Greens introducing the levy in order to win their support for his budget, which could not have passed without them.

Opposition parties have also this week criticised Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, for talking up the prospect of independence whilst on an official trade trip to the United States.

This prompted Stephen Daisley, writing in the Spectator, to urge the Government to re-assert its prerogatives over foreign affairs and start attaching conditions to the Scottish Government’s use of public funds outwith its remit. Probably too much to hope after ministers’ foolish retreat over post-Brexit devolved powers, but definitely a good idea for a bolder, more imaginative leadership to consider.

In other news, the Scottish Conservatives have reportedly declared victory in their campaign to stop Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader. I wrote about the significance of ‘Operation Arse’ earlier this week.

Labour AM apologises for ‘unacceptable’ comments about Jews

Jenny Rathbone, a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, has apologised and been issued a formal warning over “unacceptable” comments she made about Jewish communities.

Wales Online reports that the Cardiff Central AM said it was “really uncomfortable” how certain security-conscious synagogues now resemble ‘fortresses’, and that “siege mentalities” might be driving this change. She will now undergo antisemitism training by the Community Security Trust.

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the new First Minister, is apparently trying to ease out Wales’ most senior civil servant in order to get a “fresh start”.

Kirsty Williams – the only Liberal Democrat delivering in government

In Wales we have the only Liberal Democrat Minister in the United Kingdom, delivering Welsh Liberal Democrat policies on education for our children and young people. Kirsty is now in her third year as the Education Minister. Since May 2016, she has forged ahead with innovative programmes to enhance education and learning for children and […]

In Wales we have the only Liberal Democrat Minister in the United Kingdom, delivering Welsh Liberal Democrat policies on education for our children and young people. Kirsty is now in her third year as the Education Minister. Since May 2016, she has forged ahead with innovative programmes to enhance education and learning for children and young people in Wales, embedded in the Liberal value of opportunity for all. As Kirsty says, it is no coincidence that the Welsh word for a ladder is the same as it is for school – “Ysgol”.

  • So a quick gallop of just some of the things the Party has done over the last two and a half years:
    Expanded and enhanced the Welsh Pupil Premium, or Pupil Development Grant. This policy has been supporting pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds for most of this decade and has been taken further in government;
  • Delivered the most progressive student finance policy in the UK, that is unique in Europe. Students are supported with living costs and receive the equivalent of the national living wage. Support for part-time and postgraduate learners has been increased and figures released last month showed these applications have increased;
  • Made progress on reducing infant class sizes through a £36million fund. Schools are benefitting from more classrooms, teachers and teaching assistants. This was a key campaign priority at the last election, and now it is being implemented in government;
  • Published Wales’ first-ever plan to support rural schools. This includes a presumption against the closure of schools, and £2.5million per year grant scheme, and steps to make better use of technology;
  • Announced record investment in Wales’ teaching workforce, and developed financial incentives to attract graduates into teaching;
  • Taken steps to increase the focus on the mental health of children and young people. A pilot project is linking schools with specialist mental health support, and work is ongoing to develop a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health. As Kirsty has said, this is the foundation of successful education experience.

Recently she became the first Minister in our National Assembly to use British Sign Language in the Chamber – a language that will be encouraged to be taught in the new transformational curriculum that Kirsty is in the process of introducing! A curriculum, by the way, that is the first ever made-in-Wales approach. It’s also a curriculum that will reform sex and relationships education, making it inclusive, LGBT+ friendly and fit for the future.

We’ve also been able to avoid the worst of the Conservatives’ education policy in England. From very early in her term Kirsty was clear that grammar schools would not be introduced on her watch. Wales is not going down the divisive path that the Conservatives are pushing in England.

These are liberal values and liberal policies being implemented in government. Kirsty continues to make Liberal Democrats proud of her work in improving the educational outcomes for our children and young people in Wales.

 

* Donna Lalek is a bank worker and Liberal Democrat Community Councillor from Flintshire. She is a qualified Barrister and RE Teacher. Donna last year stood in the Alyn and Deeside Welsh Assembly Bi-Election. She is the Vice Chair of Flintshire Liberal Democrats and has recently become the Training Officer for the Welsh Liberal Democrats CCC.

8 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Jenny Rathbone Warning Unacceptable – Welsh Lib Dems The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision to only give Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone a formal warning following an investigation into anti-Semitic comments she made. Jenny Rathbone had already been readmitted into the Welsh Labour Assembly Group in January whilst the investigation was ongoing. Her […]

Jenny Rathbone Warning Unacceptable – Welsh Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision to only give Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone a formal warning following an investigation into anti-Semitic comments she made.

Jenny Rathbone had already been readmitted into the Welsh Labour Assembly Group in January whilst the investigation was ongoing.

Her remarks about a synagogue in Cyncoed were branded “extremely offensive” by the synagogue’s rabbi Michoel Rose.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented:

It’s extremely disappointing Jenny Rathbone has been admitted to the party with only a formal warning for her comments, which were clearly anti-Semitic.

I can only imagine the message this decision sends to the constituents of hers who attend the synagogue she made these offensive remarks about.

The way this entire process has been handled has been a farce, especially the fact Jenny was readmitted into the Welsh Labour group despite still being under investigation.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour across the UK have consistently shown themselves unwilling, or unable, to tackle the anti-Semitism in their party, now Welsh Labour appear to be doing the same.

There can be no place for anti-Semitism in Welsh politics or Welsh society. That is why Jenny Rathbone should stand down, such views cannot be tolerated from anyone – let alone a sitting assembly member.

Lib Dems: Labour cannot keep playing both sides on Brexit

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake has warned that the Labour leadership “cannot keep playing both sides and get away with it” after John McDonnell suggested Labour would support a People’s Vote, if the Prime Minister does not support Jeremy Corbyn’s demands.

The Shadow Chancellor’s comments come despite Labour sources confirming the party would not in fact automatically back a People’s Vote if May rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit terms.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The Labour leadership cannot keep playing both sides and get away with it. One minute they are offering terms upon which they would vote for a Tory Brexit, and the next the Labour party is offering a lukewarm endorsement of plans to give the people the chance to decide.

Jeremy Corbyn and his cronies cannot keep stringing along millions of Labour members and voters who demand the party campaign for a people’s vote now that Labour have failed to secure a general election. The stakes are too high.

There is no deal better than the deal the UK has as a member of the EU. The public deserve the chance to reject this mess with a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU.

7 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Ghost Trains Add to GWR Chaos – Welsh Lib Dems Davey: Govt needs to stop hitting people with higher energy bills Vince Cable announces changes to top team Lib Dem International Trade spokesperson slams Liam Fox for misleading House Ghost Trains Add to GWR Chaos – Welsh Lib Dems The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised […]

  • Ghost Trains Add to GWR Chaos – Welsh Lib Dems
  • Davey: Govt needs to stop hitting people with higher energy bills
  • Vince Cable announces changes to top team
  • Lib Dem International Trade spokesperson slams Liam Fox for misleading House

Ghost Trains Add to GWR Chaos – Welsh Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised Great Western Railway (GWR) for ‘ghost trains’ after trains after 21:00 between London Paddington and Swansea for Monday to Thursday next week (11th-14th) disappeared from the timetable.

The tickets have been removed from the timetable so passengers are unable to buy them but the trains don’t appear as cancellations on GWR’s disruption information online.

This means the trains aren’t technically recorded as cancellations in GWR’s reporting to the Department for Transport (DfT) and so GWR aren’t penalised for it. However, not giving out passenger information is a breach of Rail Delivery Group (RDG) guidelines on passenger information during disruption.

Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Baroness Randerson said:

The lack of publicity about this stealthy change to the late evening timetable could mean many regular travellers who don’t book specific trains could turn up at the station to find there is no train home that night.

These ghost trains are the latest in a long list of failures in recent years by GWR. Just days ago GWR was criticised in Parliament for ‘delays, overcrowding and ticket costs.’ Now we find out trains have been removed from timetables without telling anyone. This simply isn’t good enough.

Given GWR’s passenger satisfaction levels are the worst they’ve been in more than a decade, we’d expect GWR to be pulling out all the stops to improve services and keep passengers happy. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case. I call on GWR to urgently act to improve their passengers’ experience.

Earlier this week Assembly Members voted to call for the devolution of more powers and funding for rail to ‘deliver the railway the people of Wales deserve.’ We welcome the Assembly’s calls and urge the UK Government to devolve these powers at the earliest opportunity.

Davey: Govt needs to stop hitting people with higher energy bills

Responding to reports that more than half of households are set to see an increase in energy costs with Ofgem raising price caps, former Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said:

The Conservatives introduced the price cap claiming it would save people money. But it was never going to do so, and it was inevitable that they would instead have to put the cap up at some point.

Now the truth on the price cap is clearer to people, the Government needs to stop hitting people with higher energy bills thanks to their policies.

Competition in the energy market is under threat due to this cap. Yet it is precisely that competition which has helped many more consumers reduce their energy bills than the cap.

Liberal Democrats believe people deserve better. We would take meaningful steps to promote more competition as the most effective way to slash energy bills, and we would roll out an energy efficiency programme to reduce energy bills for those in fuel poverty.

Vince Cable announces changes to top team

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable has announced several changes to his top team of spokespeople.

Former leader Tim Farron will be taking over the Communities and Local Government spokesperson role, with Bath MP Wera Hobhouse moving to cover Energy and Climate Change.

Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine will now cover issues relating to Work and Pensions, with Jamie Stone taking on the Scotland brief. Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael will speak on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Commenting on the changes to the Liberal Democrat spokespeople, Vince Cable said:

I am pleased to announce today our new spokespeople who will speak out on the most important issues we face in Britain today.

While Parliament is consumed by Brexit, we need to remember that people are also affected by a whole host of other challenges.

We will continue to speak up for them as we continue our fight for the public to have a say on the Brexit deal with a People’s Vote.

Lib Dem International Trade spokesperson slams Liam Fox for misleading House

Following an exchange at International Trade questions today, during which Tom Brake sought assurances from the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, that he would provide Parliamentarians with a progress report on the trade deals the UK wants to roll over – a report Fox has already provided to key businesses – Tom has accused Fox of misleading MPs.

Tom explained in a later Point of Order to the Deputy Speaker, that contrary to Liam Fox’s assertion that he had dealt with this issue ‘extensively’ in the International Trade Select Committee hearing the day before, Tom, having viewed the hour long session, could confirm that the Secretary of State had provided no guarantees about making this progress report available. Indeed no reference was made to this progress report at all.

Tom Brake said:

It is clear that to save his embarrassment for the shocking lack of progress in rolling over these trade deals, Liam Fox has concocted a sham story about having dealt with the matter yesterday.

He is clearly one of the people Donald Tusk had in mind when he referred to Brexiters who promoted Brexit, with no plan for delivering it!

Tom added,

This could be another case of a Government in contempt, by providing information to third parties, but refusing to provide it to MPs.

In his Point of Order, Tom asked the Speaker how he could get the Secretary of State to correct the record and, more importantly, provide the information he was happy to share with business with Parliamentarians.

Tom has raised this issue with Ministers on a number of occasions, most recently in a letter dated 28th January 2019 (below).

4 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Welsh Liberal Democrats recommit to supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing To mark the beginning of Children’s Mental Health Week (4th February – 10th February), the Welsh Liberal Democrats are recommitting to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Wales’ children and young people. The Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister has taken a number of […]

Welsh Liberal Democrats recommit to supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing

To mark the beginning of Children’s Mental Health Week (4th February – 10th February), the Welsh Liberal Democrats are recommitting to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Wales’ children and young people.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister has taken a number of steps intended to promote mental health and wellbeing in schools. This includes developing a whole-school approach to mental health, connecting schools with mental health expertise, and taking forward curriculum reform with a strong emphasis on mental health and wellbeing.

Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, commented:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have worked tirelessly to raise the importance of mental health on the political agenda. Improving people’s mental health has been a long-term priority that we took into the Welsh Government. Children’s Mental Health Week is an important opportunity to recommit to continue this work.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister, added:

Our education system has a vital role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people. As Education Minister this has been – and will continue to be – an absolute priority of mine.

Cable: Govt fails to back up no deal threat

The Liberal Democrats have uncovered that the Northern Ireland Office have not allocated funds to spend in the event of No Deal Brexit.

The Northern Ireland Office responded to a written question from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, confirming that no funds had been set aside in the event of No Deal Brexit.

It is expected that Northern Ireland would be the most affected area in the country if the Conservative Government push the UK into a No Deal Brexit.

Commenting on the revelations Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable said:

It is astonishing that the Prime Minister is trying to persuade people that No Deal is a real prospect, while making no particular preparations for it in the place it would matter most – Northern Ireland.

For people living there, this is not just a matter of trade and economics. The prospect of the hard border which ‘No Deal’ represents is a threat to peaceful everyday life. I asked this question because of growing concerns that the Government is not prepared and this shows it is not.

If the Government is serious about letting Britain crash out of the EU, there should be a dedicated unit in the Northern Ireland office, preparing for this eventuality.

We can only conclude that the No Deal threat is a false one. When the current staring competition with Brussels concludes, the only real answer will still be a People’s Vote, with an option to remain in the EU.

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James Bundy: A Department for the Union would strengthen our United Kingdom

It would be responsible for promoting the British brand right across the country – and there is a lot to promote.

James Bundy is a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the national chairman of Conservative Future Scotland, and the former chairman of the St. Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association.

Our proud Union has been the envy of the world for over 300 years. Our monarchy, our courts, our universities and our parliamentary democracy are known as some of the finest institutions the world has ever produced. Our Union, however, is under grave threat. Scottish nationalists are doing their utmost to tear away the fabrics that bring our union together. Northern Ireland feels like it is slowly moving into the hands of reunification with the 26 counties of the Republic. Poor Wales is never mentioned in the national media unless its sports teams are doing well. The debate surrounding our departure of the European Union has brought an emergence of English nationalism which would shamefully break up our United Kingdom if it ensured a clean break from Brussels.

As Conservatives and Unionists, we must do all we can to protect, defend and strengthen our United Kingdom. We must recognise the greatest threat to our Union and do all that we can to respond to it. A patriotic campaign which promotes British culture is required, but we must also come up with practical solutions to ensure that our Union is suitable for the future. The creation of the Department for the Union in Whitehall – first advocated by the MP for Stirling, Stephen Kerr – is an approach which fulfils both these requirements.

Leaving the European Union is the greatest threat to our Union today, but our departure will also save our United Kingdom in the long-term. This sounds like a contradictory statement, but it is not. Membership of the European Union has saw our Union slowly drift apart and this would have continued if we decided to remain. British culture has been evaporating bit by bit and has been replaced by a European culture which embraces secularism and republicanism. The drastic drop in those who believe in Christianity, the decline of Christian moral values and the growing calls for a future republic all demonstrate this culturally change.

Without our wonderful and unique British culture, the United Kingdom would stand for very little, if not nothing. Our Union, which used to be the envy of the world, would be known as simply another European country. Pride in being British would diminish much further and people would desperately seek identity of any sorts – be it Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Mancunian, Scouse and so on. An environment like this would have played right into the hands of the nationalist movements. Our decision to leave the European Union brings an opportunity to halt the dilution of our culture, creating a level playing field in the long-term battle of identity. This battle is one we must win to preserve our United Kingdom.

After we leave the European Union, we may end up in a scenario whereby European standards are not the minimum standards. The SNP have already cried ‘power grab’ when the UK Government announced plans to maintain common standards in fishing and farming across our United Kingdom. The terminology ‘power grab’ is absurd, as these powers lay in Brussels – not Holyrood – but it does highlight that there is potential for a constitutional crisis. Some Unionists have argued that this is why we must remain members of the European Union, but no country should rely on an international organisation to maintain its internal market. Rather than hide and wish the problems go away, we must confront the challenges that are before us and do so convincingly.

A Department for the Union would allow the Government to address both the cultural and constitutional aspects of our United Kingdom. The department would be responsible for promoting the British brand across the country – and there is a lot to promote. A permanent member of the UN Security Council, being of the sixth largest economy in the world, the second biggest military budget in NATO, membership of the Commonwealth, a country that meets the UN’s aid spending target, and an arts and sporting sector which pushes above its weight, to name a few. The new department would be responsible for cross-Governmental cooperation between Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and our Overseas Territories. Protecting our internal market and ensuring that all parts of our United Kingdom work together post-Brexit rather than against each other.

As Unionists, we must do all that we can do to make people feel proud to be British. As Conservatives, we must do all that we can do to ensure that our United Kingdom functions properly. Our departure of the European Union was a cry from the British people for national renewal. As Conservatives and Unionists, let’s deliver this national renewal by creating the Department for the Union.