Andrew Rosindell: How close we came to waking up in the backstop

8 Jan

Andrew Rosindell is the MP for Romford.

How close we came to waking up on January 1 trapped in the backstop. That misery would have been quickly overtaken by the new national lockdown announced on Monday night. But this would in no way have diminished in the longer-term the ramifications of being trapped in a customs union with no way out.

To the true Brexiteers, the sensible outcome to the Brexit process was always a Canada-style free trade agreement which took back control of our laws, money, borders and waters, while still allowing both the UK and the EU to trade together as equal partners on mutually-beneficial terms.

Unfortunately the EU spent the next few years in a desperate and arrogant attempt to punish our nation for the Brexit vote. It tried to trap our nation in a customs union, demanded tens of billions in exit fees, demanded a continuing role for its courts in UK affairs and made blood-curdling threats of economic punishment.

In a way it showed self-awareness. Because it is only with threats and traps – much in the fashion of the Chinese Communist regime (with whom the EU is now engaging in a nauseating romance) – does EU membership become preferable to the freedom of being a sovereign, independent nation.

All told, the EU generally appeared aghast at the affirmations by the British people of their democratic right to decide their future. To me this demonstrated that the only way out was a completely clean break: to walk away, for good if necessary.

It is why I and my Spartan colleagues voted on three separate occasions against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. If we hadn’t held out against the pleas of our colleagues, from both the Remain and Brexit wings of the party, then we would have woken up on New Year’s Day trapped in the backstop. What should have been a moment of restored sovereignty would simply be a new future paralysed by the EU’s protectionist trading bloc.

The Prime Minister voted for that deal, at the third attempt. I believe he feared for Brexit if the deal wasn’t passed. Fortunately for him, the Spartans gave Brexit a chance. And once Boris was at the reigns he was always ready to walk away. He realised no deal really is better than a bad deal.

With this strategy he was able to bring before the House of Commons an agreement which facilitates free trade with zero quotas and tariffs, without the UK being part of the Single Market or Customs Union and with no control over us by the European Court of Justice.

It will give us the freedom to chart our own course. It will mean the establishment of freeports and new enterprise zones to turbocharge the regions. It means we can change our VAT policy, for example on home insulation products as my friend and colleague John Redwood has noted.

It means we can revitalise nationally important industries with targeted support, such as shipbuilding. It means we can sign free trade deals with our closest friends and allies in the Commonwealth, and improve economic ties with some of the fastest growing economies.

Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has already negotiated trade deals with 61 countries, including one deal, the UK-Japan FTA which goes beyond the existing EU-Japan agreement, particularly on data and digital matters. The backstop would have precluded much of this.

The new agreement with the EU is not perfect. There are flaws in the deal. The transition period for fisheries is too long, the Northern Ireland protocol threatens to divide our country and I am nervous of the separate deal on Gibraltar, given Spain’s record.

Finally, I was disappointed that our British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies did not seem to be fully included. I also share David Davis’s comments on this website, where he highlights how far ahead of the EU we are in many areas of regulation, particularly animal welfare, but also on energy and labour law. Any arbitration panel which rules on deviations from the “level playing field” must recognise that there is no “level playing field” at present. It is the EU undercutting the UK in many ways.

There are problems, then. However, I and my colleagues have come to the conclusion that this is still a good agreement: it restores our sovereignty, avoids temporary disruption of ‘no deal’ and avoids the acrimony which would define UK-EU relations going forward if no agreement had been reached.

There is nothing in the agreement which compromises our sovereignty in the manner of the backstop. Yet where there are flaws, there are fights still to be had. I have demonstrated that I am ready for these battles, as have my fellow Spartans.

For now, let’s celebrate the restoration of sovereignty to these islands and move onto the next challenge: getting the country vaccinated, lifting these Covid-19 restrictions, and revving up the UK economy for a new, better, more prosperous and, I hope, a more united decade.

Iain Dale: The social media companies claim that they aren’t publishers. But their ban on the President proves that they are.

8 Jan

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Just when you think Donald Trump can’t sink any lower, he does just that. His speech to his unholy bunch of supporters on Wednesday afternoon in Washington can’t be interpreted in any other way than as inciting them to march on Congress.

He didn’t actually instruct them to take over the building, but the signals were there. Obviously, we’re now being told that it wasn’t really the President’s supporters who rushed the building or committed violent acts – they were people bussed in by Antifa, pretending to be the President’s supporters.

What a shame that so many people fall for this outright lie, even in this country. And then of course the insults on social media start.

I’m thus a “cuck Conservative”. I apparently cannot be a true Conservative if I don’t support Trump. Apparently, I’ve gone over to the dark side.

No: I made my feelings about the President clear from the outset. I described his inauguration speech as one which Mussolini could have made, in terms of style and bombast. And it’s all gone downhill from there.

I just pray that the next two weeks, leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, will be peaceful and that even Trump manages to reconcile himself to the fact not only that he lost, but he lost fairly and squarely.

If an election is close, candidates always imagine that fraud might have denied them victory. But this election wasn’t close – either in terms of cumulative votes or electoral college votes. Biden got 306 and Trump got 234.

The President has had two months to produce evidence of widespread electoral fraud, but has failed to. He has lost 61 out of 62 court cases he has brought. There’s a reason for that.

Yet his vocal supporters on social media continue to say that any fool can see the election was stolen. If it had been, and if there had been fraud on an industrial scale, I’d have been the first to call ‘foul’. In any election there are always crooked people who will try to cast a few votes which shouldn’t have been allowed.

It happens in this country too. Impersonation will take place in every constituency. Dead people voting happens, too – but neither of these phenomena are enough to skew an election in the way Trump alleges. We’re not talking about Biden winning by 100 votes in a state – we’re talking thousands, often times tens of thousands. Biden won fair and square.

– – – – – – – – – –

Speculation about a January reshuffle is now ebbing away, and understandably so. If you’re pressing a reset button, it’s not a good idea to do it in the middle of a lockdown.

I think the earliest a reshuffle could happen now is after the local elections in May, assuming that  they aren’t cancelled again. In the event that they don’t go ahead we may even be looking at October or November.

The longer it goes on, the more wide-ranging it is likely to be. However, it also gives those on death a row an opportunity to give themselves a bit of a reprieve.

It has nonetheless been claimed that there may have to be a reshuffle this month – though if Alok Sharma decides to leave his post to devote himself entirely to the organisation of COP26 at the end of the year, that vacancy would need to be filled with a big hitter.

I am mystified as to why Sharma would want to leave Cabinet of his own volition, unless he has worked out he’s likely to be a casualty anyway. Whoever takes over at BEIS will have one of the most important jobs in government in the post-pandemic era.

– – – – – – – – – –

There has been a lot of controversy over the power of social media companies, with Youtube deleting the account of talkRadio and then reinstating it, no doubt after an intervention by Rupert Murdoch.

Then Twitter censored Trump’s tweets and latter banned him from the platform for 12 hours. Facebook and Instagram have banned him until after inauguration. Instinctively I am wholly against this sort of behaviour.

The social media companies continually maintain they are not publishers, but platforms. If so, then they shouldn’t behave like publishers. In the UK, it is up to the broadcasting regulator to determine whether a broadcaster has transgressed the rules.

I wholly deprecate the stance taken by some of the station’s presenters on lockdown and other aspects of the Covid crisis, but do I think that they should be banned from adopting what maybe a controversial position? No, I do not. Do I think it’s the role of social media companies to censor what an American President says, however objectionable it is? No I do not.

Because if they do, they have to adopt the same rule for everyone. Have they ever once tried to censor anything President Xi has said? No they haven’t. I rest my case.

Peel increased the burden of taxation on the rich – perhaps Sunak and Johnson will too

8 Jan

The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History edited by Iain Dale

The brief life can be one of the most delightful of all literary forms. While putting off the awkward task of writing this review, I turned for purposes of comparison to Alan Watkins’ volume, Brief Lives, a book it is impossible to open without within a few paragraphs bursting out laughing.

Here is Watkins on Anthony Crosland, who died in 1977 while serving as Foreign Secretary:

“He could also be very rude indeed. Tony Benn once publicly announced that he was concerned to lose the stigma of the intellectual. Crosland replied that, in order to lose a stigma, it was first necessary to acquire one. For some reason – maybe sexual, but it is profitless to speculate – he could be very rude to young and attractive women who intended no harm but were merely trying to make serious conversation to the best of their ability.”

We feel at once that we begin to know what Crosland was like. This is something a brief life can do better than a long one.

A pencil sketch often conveys a likeness, character, personality, better than the massive official portrait in oils. What a relief for the writer, and for the reader too, not to try to say everything.

Winston Churchill wrote brilliant brief lives in Great Contemporaries, as did Roy Jenkins in The Chancellors and elsewhere. Here is Jenkins on Bonar Law, Prime Minister from 1922-23, but a crucial political figure from 1911, when he became Tory leader:

“he was the first leader to exhibit some aspect of the ‘poor white’ mentality which has been a growing and marked feature of the Conservative Party in much more recent times. He was a partisan, sometimes a bitter leader, with a stronger sense of ‘we was cheated’ than of the natural (and sometimes tolerant) authority of an assured right to govern…

“On the long march back to the Commons after listening to the King’s Speech which opened his first session as leader, Law was reported as saying: ‘I am afraid I shall have to show myself very vicious, Mr Asquith, this session, I hope you will understand.’ Whether or not Asquith ‘understood’, Law certainly succeeded in being ‘vicious’…”

Again, one begins to get an idea of Law, and indeed of Jenkins.

But to write a brief life can be even harder work than to write a long one. I know this from personal experience, having written brief lives of the 40 Kings and Queens since 1066, the 55 Prime Ministers since 1721, and the 44 American Presidents from George Washington, inaugurated in 1789, to Donald Trump (known as the 45th President, but the Americans double-count Grover Cleveland, President in 1885-89 and 1893-97, as both the 22nd and the 24th President).

Iain Dale had the bright idea, on the 300th anniverary of Sir Robert Walpole becoming Prime Minister, of getting 55 writers to take one Prime Minister each.

He has recruited an eclectic mixture of academics, historians, politicians and journalists. Looking down his list, one thinks repeatedly, “I’d like to see what he makes of him”.

Each entry begins with a drawing of the Prime Minister in question by Zoom Rockman, which should have been printed larger, for they are generally more accomplished than the words that follow.

Few of the 55 authors have given much thought to the art of writing a brief life, or appear to have devoted much time to the task of doing so. It is one thing to recruit good people, quite another to get them to do their best work.

The liberation of being able to throw away 99 per cent of what one knows, keeping only the most vivid and characteristic material, has itself been thrown away by those writers who conceived it their duty to provide a digest of every not very exciting transaction in which their Prime Minister was involved.

Many of the authors suffer from a tendency to exaggerate the importance, or lament the obscurity, of whichever Prime Minister they have agreed to cover. Nor could the entanglement of these careers – for many PMs have done more remarkable things during the ascent than when they reached Downing Street – have been sorted out except by a prodigal application of editorial time.

But there are wonderful things in the book. Robert Saunders brings the stiff figure of Sir Robert Peel to life:

“Peel grew up under the shadow of the French Revolution, and was perhaps the last British statesman to hear the whirr of the guillotine in his dreams… For Peel, the ‘Dantons, and the Marats, and the Robespierres’ of revolutionary history were not ‘monsters peculiar to France’. They were ‘the foul, but legitimate spawn of circumstances’, born of the same volcanic passions that boiled beneath British society too. At any moment, a breakdown of political authority could produce ‘the same consequences, the same men, and the same crimes, here as in France’.

This strikes home in part because it uses Peel’s own words. He is allowed to speak directly to us, without, as happens in so many of the entries, the writer substituting a banal paraphrase of the original. We are given the story of how this Prime Minister strove to avert revolution:

“Peel took office in the summer of 1841, amid some of the worst economic conditions of the century. A prolonged industrial depression was producing horrifying levels of suffering: in just one Scottish town, Paisley, 17,000 workers were at risk of starvation. Chartism was resurgent, and in 1842 an attempted general strike swept across the north. A year later, Peel’s secretary was shot dead by an assassin, who had mistaken him for the Prime Minister…

“Peel began with a daring financial stroke: the reintroduction of the income tax. This had previously been thought of as a wartime measure, and its introduction in time of peace was hugely controversial. Since it was only levied on the highest earners, it marked a significant shift in the burden of taxation towards the Government’s own supporters. Yet Peel insisted it was ‘for the interest of property that property should bear the burden’. The goal was not simply to close the deficit, but to send a signal about the willingness of the propertied elite to make sacrifices for the public good. Accepted ‘voluntarily and with a good grace’, the tax would be ‘a cheap purchase of future security’.

This is interesting both for its own sake, and for the light it throws on what Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson might decide to do about the burden of taxation on the rich. I hazard a guess that they will decide to increase it, while at the same time bringing in, as Peel did, measures to promote growth, and to relieve the burdens on the poor, so that, as Peel put it, “thoughts of the dissolution of our institutions should be forgotten in the midst of physical enjoyment”.

The one thing most Conservatives remember about Peel is that he split the party by repealing the Corn Laws. Saunders conveys the mentality which estranged the Prime Minister from his followers:

“As relations with his party deteriorated, Peel became increasingly contemptuous of his own backbenchers: ‘men with great possessions and little foresight…whose only chance of safety is that their counsels shall not be followed’. After a collision with his party in 1845, he boasted privately that ‘people like a certain degree of obstinacy and presumption in a minister. They abuse him for dictation and arrogance, but they like being governed.’ It was an approach that would soon bring the destruction of his government.”

There are many other good things in the book. Julia Langdon describes what it was like travelling as a journalist with Margaret Thatcher:

“In the course of her years in office, she attended 32 European summits, 12 Group of Seven (G7) summits of the leading economic nations, seven Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) – ‘This place Choggum,’ said one of my colleagues, arriving in the Bahamas, ‘is it the capital?'”

That is worthy of Evelyn Waugh. The parliamentary lobby “once went round the world backwards in six days” with Thatcher. Before another extraordinary expedition, with no more than one night anywhere for about ten days, Langdon asked the Prime Minister what she thought of the schedule that lay ahead. Thatcher replied: “We can’t do any laundry until Bangkok!”

Such small touches bring the stateswomen closer to us. She too thought about laundry, and about the difficulties that not being able to wash clothes would inflict on her staff, and even on the accompanying journalists.

Dale himself has dashed off a life of Johnson, whom he describes as “the most intellectually capable Prime Minister Britain has seen”. That sounds unfair to Peel, Derby, Gladstone, Salisbury and quite a few others.

Peel increased the burden of taxation on the rich – perhaps Sunak and Johnson will too

8 Jan

The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History edited by Iain Dale

The brief life can be one of the most delightful of all literary forms. While putting off the awkward task of writing this review, I turned for purposes of comparison to Alan Watkins’ volume, Brief Lives, a book it is impossible to open without within a few paragraphs bursting out laughing.

Here is Watkins on Anthony Crosland, who died in 1977 while serving as Foreign Secretary:

“He could also be very rude indeed. Tony Benn once publicly announced that he was concerned to lose the stigma of the intellectual. Crosland replied that, in order to lose a stigma, it was first necessary to acquire one. For some reason – maybe sexual, but it is profitless to speculate – he could be very rude to young and attractive women who intended no harm but were merely trying to make serious conversation to the best of their ability.”

We feel at once that we begin to know what Crosland was like. This is something a brief life can do better than a long one.

A pencil sketch often conveys a likeness, character, personality, better than the massive official portrait in oils. What a relief for the writer, and for the reader too, not to try to say everything.

Winston Churchill wrote brilliant brief lives in Great Contemporaries, as did Roy Jenkins in The Chancellors and elsewhere. Here is Jenkins on Bonar Law, Prime Minister from 1922-23, but a crucial political figure from 1911, when he became Tory leader:

“he was the first leader to exhibit some aspect of the ‘poor white’ mentality which has been a growing and marked feature of the Conservative Party in much more recent times. He was a partisan, sometimes a bitter leader, with a stronger sense of ‘we was cheated’ than of the natural (and sometimes tolerant) authority of an assured right to govern…

“On the long march back to the Commons after listening to the King’s Speech which opened his first session as leader, Law was reported as saying: ‘I am afraid I shall have to show myself very vicious, Mr Asquith, this session, I hope you will understand.’ Whether or not Asquith ‘understood’, Law certainly succeeded in being ‘vicious’…”

Again, one begins to get an idea of Law, and indeed of Jenkins.

But to write a brief life can be even harder work than to write a long one. I know this from personal experience, having written brief lives of the 40 Kings and Queens since 1066, the 55 Prime Ministers since 1721, and the 44 American Presidents from George Washington, inaugurated in 1789, to Donald Trump (known as the 45th President, but the Americans double-count Grover Cleveland, President in 1885-89 and 1893-97, as both the 22nd and the 24th President).

Iain Dale had the bright idea, on the 300th anniverary of Sir Robert Walpole becoming Prime Minister, of getting 55 writers to take one Prime Minister each.

He has recruited an eclectic mixture of academics, historians, politicians and journalists. Looking down his list, one thinks repeatedly, “I’d like to see what he makes of him”.

Each entry begins with a drawing of the Prime Minister in question by Zoom Rockman, which should have been printed larger, for they are generally more accomplished than the words that follow.

Few of the 55 authors have given much thought to the art of writing a brief life, or appear to have devoted much time to the task of doing so. It is one thing to recruit good people, quite another to get them to do their best work.

The liberation of being able to throw away 99 per cent of what one knows, keeping only the most vivid and characteristic material, has itself been thrown away by those writers who conceived it their duty to provide a digest of every not very exciting transaction in which their Prime Minister was involved.

Many of the authors suffer from a tendency to exaggerate the importance, or lament the obscurity, of whichever Prime Minister they have agreed to cover. Nor could the entanglement of these careers – for many PMs have done more remarkable things during the ascent than when they reached Downing Street – have been sorted out except by a prodigal application of editorial time.

But there are wonderful things in the book. Robert Saunders brings the stiff figure of Sir Robert Peel to life:

“Peel grew up under the shadow of the French Revolution, and was perhaps the last British statesman to hear the whirr of the guillotine in his dreams… For Peel, the ‘Dantons, and the Marats, and the Robespierres’ of revolutionary history were not ‘monsters peculiar to France’. They were ‘the foul, but legitimate spawn of circumstances’, born of the same volcanic passions that boiled beneath British society too. At any moment, a breakdown of political authority could produce ‘the same consequences, the same men, and the same crimes, here as in France’.

This strikes home in part because it uses Peel’s own words. He is allowed to speak directly to us, without, as happens in so many of the entries, the writer substituting a banal paraphrase of the original. We are given the story of how this Prime Minister strove to avert revolution:

“Peel took office in the summer of 1841, amid some of the worst economic conditions of the century. A prolonged industrial depression was producing horrifying levels of suffering: in just one Scottish town, Paisley, 17,000 workers were at risk of starvation. Chartism was resurgent, and in 1842 an attempted general strike swept across the north. A year later, Peel’s secretary was shot dead by an assassin, who had mistaken him for the Prime Minister…

“Peel began with a daring financial stroke: the reintroduction of the income tax. This had previously been thought of as a wartime measure, and its introduction in time of peace was hugely controversial. Since it was only levied on the highest earners, it marked a significant shift in the burden of taxation towards the Government’s own supporters. Yet Peel insisted it was ‘for the interest of property that property should bear the burden’. The goal was not simply to close the deficit, but to send a signal about the willingness of the propertied elite to make sacrifices for the public good. Accepted ‘voluntarily and with a good grace’, the tax would be ‘a cheap purchase of future security’.

This is interesting both for its own sake, and for the light it throws on what Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson might decide to do about the burden of taxation on the rich. I hazard a guess that they will decide to increase it, while at the same time bringing in, as Peel did, measures to promote growth, and to relieve the burdens on the poor, so that, as Peel put it, “thoughts of the dissolution of our institutions should be forgotten in the midst of physical enjoyment”.

The one thing most Conservatives remember about Peel is that he split the party by repealing the Corn Laws. Saunders conveys the mentality which estranged the Prime Minister from his followers:

“As relations with his party deteriorated, Peel became increasingly contemptuous of his own backbenchers: ‘men with great possessions and little foresight…whose only chance of safety is that their counsels shall not be followed’. After a collision with his party in 1845, he boasted privately that ‘people like a certain degree of obstinacy and presumption in a minister. They abuse him for dictation and arrogance, but they like being governed.’ It was an approach that would soon bring the destruction of his government.”

There are many other good things in the book. Julia Langdon describes what it was like travelling as a journalist with Margaret Thatcher:

“In the course of her years in office, she attended 32 European summits, 12 Group of Seven (G7) summits of the leading economic nations, seven Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) – ‘This place Choggum,’ said one of my colleagues, arriving in the Bahamas, ‘is it the capital?'”

That is worthy of Evelyn Waugh. The parliamentary lobby “once went round the world backwards in six days” with Thatcher. Before another extraordinary expedition, with no more than one night anywhere for about ten days, Langdon asked the Prime Minister what she thought of the schedule that lay ahead. Thatcher replied: “We can’t do any laundry until Bangkok!”

Such small touches bring the stateswomen closer to us. She too thought about laundry, and about the difficulties that not being able to wash clothes would inflict on her staff, and even on the accompanying journalists.

Dale himself has dashed off a life of Johnson, whom he describes as “the most intellectually capable Prime Minister Britain has seen”. That sounds unfair to Peel, Derby, Gladstone, Salisbury and quite a few others.

Sarah Elliott: Trump is acting unconstitutionally now – and is damaging our Republican Party – but has achieved much in office

8 Jan

Sarah Elliott is Chair of Republicans Overseas UK.

As Chair of Republicans Overseas UK for the last four years, I have regularly defended Donald Trump for his conservative agenda, his massive tax cuts and deregulatory efforts to stimulate the economy, being tough on China, his Supreme Court judicial picks, pro-life executive orders, growing the NATO war chest, and his international peace agreements.

Truly impressive for a first-term president, especially when under constant assault by a mainstream media, hellbent to get him out of the White House – even if it meant lying about “Russia collusion,” spying on his campaign, and pushing through a partisan impeachment. His record garnered him 12 million more votes than in 2016 – a total of 74 million in 2020.

However, I can no longer stand in support of his presidency.

The President’s incendiary rally yesterday directly resulted in a deadly attack on the US Capitol Building, but then he showed zero leadership in reining in his supporters or bringing peace to the People’s House, so I have no choice but to walk away. It was a direct attack on America’s democracy.

I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because I thought he was a left-wing New Yorker like Hillary Clinton, and I didn’t like his temperament. My initial instinct was right.

Trump clearly is no conservative and has no loyalty to his conservative legacy. He doesn’t care about the long-term damage he has done to the Republic and the Republican Party by insisting it was a “stolen” election, without proving so in any of his 60 courts cases, directly resulting in the loss of the two Georgia Senate seats. If he was a leader, a democrat and a conservative, he would have acted differently.

The Republican infighting between the President and Georgia GOP, and calling the run-off election “rigged” even before it happened, kept the Republicans home, and the Democrats came out in droves. Had the Republicans come out to vote, they would have won, keeping the Republican majority in the US Senate, creating a bulwark against tax hikes and liberal supreme court judicial nominees, while ensuring his accomplishments remained intact. Now, Trump’s legacy will be quickly unraveled over the next two years.

For Trump, he didn’t care what impact his behavior and rhetoric had on the Georgia election outcome as long as the two Georgia Senators agreed to the narrative that his election was fraudulent. Nor did he care that he incited a mob to storm the US Capitol building because he had gathered a huge crowd to rally around him in his final days in office. These are not actions of a person with the temperament to lead.

President Trump has let me down, and millions of other Republicans. And since I only support politicians who further my voting issues while keeping the peace and acting constitutionally, I don’t owe him any further loyalty.

What we shouldn’t forget is that there are still millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised by their elected officials, demonised by the media and “woke” culture, censored by social media companies, burdened by the lockdowns, taxes, and the inability to run their lives with limited government interference. They have legitimate concerns.

But I feel furious with how President Trump, and other aspirational Republicans politicians, have played on their disappointment with the election result to stir up their anger, further dividing the country, and resulting in the carnage and anarchy we witnessed on Wednesday evening.

As a card-carrying Republican, I believe in the rule of law, not insurrection or violence. Thanks to our brilliant Founding Fathers, we have institutions that allow us to make those changes to our country without force – look at the civil rights movement, for example.

On the 20th of January, Inauguration Day, I will be watching with my two young daughters, and I will begin to plant the seeds with my three year-old about democracy and the Constitution. The peaceful transfer of power after elections is an incredibly special occurrence, and one which we will no longer take for granted following the mayhem on Wednesday and President Trump’s behavior since November. I haven’t spoken out since the election, as I watched it play out, but now I can no longer remain silent.

Gareth Lyon: We need a Public Sector Neutrality Act to rein in politicisation

8 Jan

Gareth Lyon is a former councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.

The institutions which we fund through our taxes, and the people who work in them, should be politically neutral. No one should be required to provide financial support to political causes with which they disagree. No one employed in a public body should be able to use that body or their position to advance their own political agenda. Taxpayer funded bodies should use their funds to carry out the work they were commissioned to do – not to lobby for further taxpayer funding.

Four statements which should be utterly uncontroversial, and to which the vast majority of the population would be likely to agree, and yet which are roundly ignored at all tiers of Government in the UK.

From the BBC to the police, from the NHS to teachers, from local government to quangos, and throughout central government and those charities which are largely dependent on taxpayer funding, there is not just an acceptance that certain political agendas can and should be pursued both by individuals and by the institutions themselves – but also a blindness that there could possibly be anything wrong with such behaviour.

As well as wasting time and money, and putting many capable people off working in the public sector, there is also a deep and worrying injustice in our own institutions being politicised in such a way to advance causes which often do not command the democratic support of the majority in this country. This is damaging to trust and the integrity of our state as a whole and undermines the fundamental belief in institutional impartiality without which no modern democracy can function.

That is why we need a Public Sector Neutrality Act to reign in the politicisation we are seeing and to help restore trust in our Government. Some of this Act would codify the requirements for neutrality which do already exist in a piecemeal fashion around our institutions or which have remained unwritten until now; in the way that much of our constitution was before the actions of misguided reformers made this necessary. Other provisions will deal with fresh challenges which emerged in recent years and which have not yet received sufficient attention.

As a starting point I would suggest that four elements would be:

  • A ban on the use of positions within publicly funded organisations to promote political viewpoints. This is something which the new BBC regime has started to indicate an understanding of. There is a particularly nauseating form of caveating which goes on in Twitter biographies and elsewhere, where a person states their employer and their position in a respected publicly funded organisation then seeks to weasel out of professional accountability by stating “all views my own” or something similar. These transparent attempts to borrow the credibility of their employer and the position they are entrusted with is a very visible form of politicisation and is particularly dangerous because it chips at the margins of professional neutrality. It is, however, the margins which are best served by clear lines. Such behaviour needs to be banned.
  • A ban on taxpayer funded lobbying. The TaxPayers’ Alliance estimates that between 2017 and 2019 the UK Government funded lobbying organisations opposed to Government policy to the tune of nearly £40 million. This is however the tip of the iceberg. We also need to take into account the funding provided by organisations which themselves are largely government funded to lobbying organisations, think tanks or campaign groups and to funding provided by local government. We then need to look at the funding which these bodies spend on professional lobbyists – either directly employed under a variety of titles, or through public affairs agencies and the amount of senior leadership time which is spent in such lobbying. It is fundamentally wrong for the taxpayer to bankroll one body they are forced to fund, to lobby another body they are forced to fund, in favour of its own institutional agenda. This has a distorting effect on Government policy, is incredibly wasteful of taxpayer funding, and has a significant drag effect on Government energy and decision-making as it is forced to in effect, spend precious time and energy talking to itself.
  • A ban on publicly funded organisations supporting political organisations or campaigns. A tighter definition of political organisations and campaigns is needed to ensure that publicly funded organisations do not contribute funding, or signal their support for organisations which have political aims. Recent examples of where public sector organisations have clearly overstepped the line include police forces becoming supporters of Stonewall, and local authorities and numerous senior officials in central Government signalling their support for Black Lives Matter. These are both clearly organisations with political aims and positions and should be regarded as just as much of an issue as one of these organisations or figures declaring their support for a political party would be – with obvious implications for the level of trust people with different political views can have in such bodies.
  • A more extensive set of restrictions on public sector employees holding positions in political parties. This may be the most contentious of these proposals but is surely a logical extension of restrictions which are already widely accepted. There are whole arms of the British state – such as the Armed Forces, where those employed are barred from holding political office or office in political parties. There are others, such as local Government and the civil service, where employees below a certain level of seniority are permitted to do so. The logic seems to be that such people are not in senior enough positions for any political bias to be either visible or concerning. If this has ever been the case it is surely not now.

An IT technician, a media officer, a lawyer or even a policy officer will potentially find themselves in positions where they have access to politically sensitive materials. As people can hold these roles at relatively junior levels it is only right that the restrictions should apply. At a time when it is becoming easier than ever to leak politically sensitive matters, and when the political leanings of staff may be more apparent than ever through social media, such a move would certainly increase confidence amongst the elected politicians they work with and for.

This is not an exhaustive list – clearly many others will have ideas for areas where the causes of trust, transparency, and fairness in public life need urgent protection.

Vaccine strategies in Europe. France battles anti-vaxxers, while Merkel is blamed for procurement failures.

7 Jan

With the Government under enormous pressure to accelerate its vaccine programme, it’s easy to believe that the UK is unique in the difficulties it faces in upscaling quickly. 

But across Europe, and indeed the world, many others are facing similar operational challenges, from delays in manufacturing, to questions over where to issue vaccines, to whether people will have a jab in the first place.

One country that has had particular difficulties is France, which delivered just 516 vaccines in the first week of their availability, and only 7,000 by late Tuesday (since the started on December 27). Emmanuel Macron has apparently likened the pace of the vaccine roll out to a “family stroll”, “not worthy of the moment or the French”.

So what’s the hold up? The consensus seems to be that bureaucratic barriers have stopped France from progressing more quickly, starting when the government issued 45 pages of guidance for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. 

Procedures at nursing homes, in particular, have been criticised for taking too long, as they often involve managers having to obtain consent from residents’ personal doctors, who have to sign off the vaccine at least five days before it’s given. France’s health minister has promised to speed up these processes, as well as saying that 500 to 600 vaccination centres will be set up by the end of January.

Even if France is able to overcome these bureaucratic challenges, it’s worth pointing out that it could face more of a challenge with anti-vaxxers. A poll by Ipsos Global Advisor, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, shows that only 40 per cent of French people want the vaccine, compared to 77 per cent in Britain, so the Government will have its work cut out trying to get them on board.

One of the ways France plans to do this is via an online platform, which will allow people to register for their jab. No doubt ministers hope this will cut out some of the red tape, as well as countering some of the scepticism.

Another country that is fighting hard to speed up vaccine roll out is Germany, albeit it has moved much faster than France, with 239,000 people receiving a vaccine starting on December 27. Its government has been accused of not obtaining enough vaccines, and of being too slow at moving forward with the inoculation campaign.

Angela Merkel has been attacked in particular for not having the right strategy in place. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats finance minister, presented her with a four-page list of questions about her handling of vaccine management, in what was described as “more like a committee of inquiry”. According to one newspaper, Merkel blocked an initiative by German, Italian, French and Dutch ministers to order more vaccines. After her intervention, they agreed to drop their plan and hand over control to the European Commission.

There are signs that Germany will speed up its vaccine process; it expects to receive over 5.3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by mid-February according to its health minister, and BioNTech is also said to soon open a production site in Marburg. 

It is also reported to be considering the strategy now being used by the UK, which involves administering as many doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech shot as possible, with second doses planned for 11 or 12 weeks’ time, rather than the originally planned three week window.

Given Germany’s previous successful handling of Coronavirus testing, it could be the case that it moves forward very quickly vaccines – but much of its issues have been attributed to the EU’s vaccination strategy. Even Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s co-founder and Chief Medical Officer, has criticised its strategy, telling one magazine the EU had assumed there would be “a basket of different suppliers… But then at some point it became clear that many would be unable to deliver so quickly” and by “that time it was too late to make up for under-ordering.”

To add to tensions in the EU, Karl Lauterbach from the Social Democratic Party recently accused the French government from preventing it from buying more Pfizer-BioNTech jabs, so that French competitor Sanofi would have an advantage, whose vaccine is still in development.

The French Deputy Minister for European Affairs has called the accusations “unacceptable and false”, adding that Europe “played as a team”. But clearly the vaccine procurement programme has raised questions over that idea.

David Snoxell: A simple solution for resolving the Chagos dispute is to give Mauritius responsibility

7 Jan

David Snoxell is Co-Ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG.

The Chagos Archipelago of 54 islands, formerly administered as a dependency of the British Colony of Mauritius, was excised by Britain in 1965, three years before Mauritius was granted independence.

It was renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and its inhabitants (about 1,500) were deported to Mauritius and Seychelles between 1968-73 to make way for a US military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia. Depopulation enabled the British Government to avoid having to administer the islands and to report annually to the UN on its latest colony.

A settlement of the Chagos dispute made little progress in 2020 as the Government remained intransigent and Covid-19 led the Mauritian Government to postpone a proposed resolution at the UN General Assembly to the 2021 session next September.

Clearly, the people who have most to lose from this delay are the Chagossians, especially those who were deported. Many have died without seeing their homeland. Britain’s failure to recognise the right to self-determination and to decolonise Chagos is the focus of international opprobrium which shows no sign of abating.

There is hope, however, in that Joe Biden and his Democratic Administration are more likely to want to see an end to the Chagos saga, as it would provide a long-awaited victory for human rights and the rule of law and a secure future for the US base on Diego Garcia. At its 80th meeting on 2 December, the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) decided to write to the President-elect to enlist the support of the new Administration for an overall settlement of the issues. The Chairman did so on 15 December.

The APPG hopes that the United States will play its part in bringing about an end to these historic injustices. Members anticipate that the new Administration will see that an end to the Chagos tragedy would be in the US longer term interest and outweigh any short-term advantage of maintaining the status quo. It would also be in the UK’s best interest.

In its Advisory Opinion of February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decided that “the decolonisation of Mauritius is incomplete, and that the UK is under an obligation to bring to an end, as rapidly as possible, its administration of Chagos”. It also referred the resettlement of Chagossians of Mauritian origin to the UNGA to be addressed during the completion of the decolonisation of Mauritius.

There is a simple solution to the resettlement question. While the Foreign Office remains opposed to the UK being responsible for resettlement and its costs, Mauritius is willing to facilitate and help fund resettlement for those wishing to return, once there is agreement on the future of the Territory.

The UK has always maintained that the Islands will be returned to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes. The 53 Outer Islands have never been and will never be needed for defence. Only Diego Garcia, where the US base is situated, is required, and even there the US is not opposed to a trial resettlement, providing others pay.

An UNGA resolution of May 2019, endorsing the ICJ Advisory Opinion, was adopted by an overwhelming majority of member states. Only five states voted with the UK. The resolution mandated the UK to implement the findings of the Opinion by 22 November 2019 including “cooperating with Mauritius in facilitating resettlement of Mauritian nationals, including those of Chagossian origin, in the Chagos Archipelago, and to impose no impediment or obstacle to such resettlement”. Passing responsibility for resettlement to Mauritius is the obvious solution. The US has never been opposed to resettlement, especially if it were on the Outer Islands, 130 miles from the base.

The Chairman of the APPG also wrote to Dominic Raab and pointed out the need, after 55 years, for a radical review of policy concerning resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands, in the light of the ICJ Advisory Opinion and the UNGA resolution. The temporary postponement until the 75th session of the UNGA of further action by Mauritius provides a window of opportunity for discussions on resolving these issues.

In view of the lack of progress since the APPG was established in December 2008, the APPG also decided that the Foreign Affairs Committee should be asked to hold an inquiry into policy regarding the Chagos Islands and the exiled Chagossians. The FAC last did so in 2007/8 when it concluded that “there was a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to BIOT”. The APPG also supported a proposal for a public inquiry into the conduct of the FCO’s management of the international aspects of BIOT since 2000. This might follow on from an FAC inquiry. It was decided to keep the idea under active consideration and revisit it in 2021, depending upon progress.

The Government’s Integrated Review on Foreign, Defence, Security, and Development policy, which the APPG has urged should consider the future of Chagos, will conclude early next year. In his statement on the Review to Parliament on 19 November, the Prime Minister said that “next year will be a year of British leadership when we preside over the G7 and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first UN General Assembly” and we would “bolster our global influence.”

It would be a fitting way of celebrating the 75th anniversary if the UK and Mauritius were to present to UNGA a joint draft resolution enshrining an agreement of the issues which the UNGA could then endorse. If we are to bolster our global influence and British leadership, the UK will first need to bring an end to the Chagos saga.

Much depends on whether the FCDO wants to resolve these issues or prefers to let them smoulder on indefinitely. The UN has already altered its world map to show that Chagos belongs to Mauritius and a decision expected shortly by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea may endorse Mauritian ownership of the islands. At the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the UK faces a challenge to its membership on behalf of BIOT.

With the sun in danger of setting on Global Britain, Chagos is one colonial millstone we could well do without in our international relations and foreign policy. And it would, after 20 years, bring an end to the on-going national litigation and the threat of further international litigation against the UK, thus saving the taxpayer further legal bills. So far, the government has spent approximately £10 million on this.

Henry Hill: Johnson suggests 40-year wait for the next Scottish independence vote

7 Jan

Johnson calls for decades-long wait for second independence vote

Last month, I wrote that there was unease in parts of the Government about an alleged “appease-the-SNP mentality” on the part of some of those charged with setting its strategy for combatting the Scottish National Party.

But the New Year has not seen any softening of Boris Johnson’s approach to the Scottish question. In fact, on Monday he went some way towards firming it up.

Comparing the Scottish referendum in 2014 to the EU plebiscite two years later, the Prime Minister suggested that there ought to be a 40-year gap between such votes on significant constitutional issues. This goes even further than I suggested when I wrote in 2017 about imposing a 20-year moratorium on the independence question.

Although the status of Johnson’s off-the-cuff remarks is never certain, this could be a welcome step towards fleshing out the case against granting a poll if the SNP win this year’s Holyrood elections. They will insist that his position isn’t sustainable, but it is. Whilst simply repeating the ‘once in a generation’ mantra probably won’t cut it, there are plenty of further arguments for such a refusal. But ministers will need to start deploying them sooner rather than later if they are to look as if they’re being made in good faith.

The real question is whether or not the Prime Minister has the wisdom and the inclination to use the time it’s so obviously his intention to buy himself to put in long-term work to shore up the Union.

Meanwhile Scotland’s opposition parties have demanded that Nicola Sturgeon pause campaigning on independence to focus on the pandemic, a Tory MSP has been accused of “insensitive and irresponsible” comments about Covid-19, Johnson claimed the UK has been central to the vaccine rollout in Scotland, and Ruth Davidson has urged politicians to ensure that the nation repays its debt to the young when the crisis has passed.

Civil servant at centre of Salmond inquiry in line for payout as MP demands sackings

The Daily Record reports that the senior civil servant who apologised for the unlawful Government probe into Alex Salmond “is in line for a £250,000 lump sum when she retires”, as well as an annual sum of £85,000.

Leslie Evans, who currently serves as the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, has come under sustained criticism over its handling of the botched inquiry into allegations against Alex Salmond. The former First Minister had legal costs of over £500,000 paid by the Scottish taxpayer after a court ruled that the process had been, as the paper puts it, “unlawful and tainted by apparent bias”.

Although she apologised, Evans has subsequently been criticised by MSPs investigating the fiasco over the Scottish Government’s refusal to hand over key documents, as well as for having to ‘correct’ some of the evidence she gave personally.

Salmond has called on the Permanent Secretary to consider her position, and he isn’t the only one looking for scalps. This week Kenny MacAskill, a Nationalist MP, wrote in the Scotsman about the lack of consequences for those involved. And in another sign of the SNP’s fraying discipline, he didn’t confine his fire to the officials:

“After the debacle of the civil case, she could have resigned quietly and much would have been forgotten or not gone much further. Likewise the SNP CEO could have called it quits and allowed others to take over. But no, so now we face many more being drawn into the mire. Hell mend them I say.”

UDA issue threat against Foster

Arlene Foster has been warned by the police of a threat to her life by the Ulster Defence Association, one of the Province’s largest loyalist paramilitary groups, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

This is apparently not related to the Irish Sea border but stems from her support for the family of Glenn Quinn, a terminally-ill man who was murdered by men believed to be linked to the UDA in January last year.

Politicians from across the spectrum – including Sinn Fein, whose relationship to political violence is unavoidably ambiguous – have condemned the threat to the First Minister.

Bogdanor hits out at the folly of federalism

A potentially noteworthy development in the constitutional debate today as Professor Vernon Bogdanor, one of the UK’s highest-profile constitutional thinkers, comes out against both federalism and endlessly ceding more powers to the SNP.

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, he argues that there is no precedent for a successful federation where one unit comprises 85 per cent of its population, as England would, and that there is no mandate for breaking England up into regions. And as for the usual call for ‘more powers’:

“Nor does it make sense to devolve more powers to Scotland. She already controls domestic policy – education, health etc – and effectively income tax also. The more powers devolved, the less leverage for Scottish MPs at Westminster, to the benefit of the separatists. Besides, the SNP does not effectively use the powers it already has… Perhaps the best argument for the Nationalists’ policy of “independence in Europe” is that Scotland could hardly be worse governed by Brussels than she is by the SNP.”

Obviously this won’t fix much on its own. The key problem with the current constitutional debate remains that Labour is hopelessly committed to trying to validate the mistakes it made in the 1990s. But following as it does Boris Johnson’s unguarded but accurate comments about devolution having been ‘a disaster’, and coming from a former advocate of reform, it’s the latest signal of a slow but significant shift in pro-UK thinking.

Newslinks for Thursday 7th January 2021

7 Jan

America 1) Woman dies as Trump mob storms Senate

“Thousands of President Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol to bring a violent halt to the formal confirmation of his election defeat yesterday after he urged them to “take back the country”. The mob overran police who were unable to prevent an invasion of the Senate and drew their guns to defend the House of Representatives as Democrats and Republicans alike pulled on gas masks and sheltered under desks and staff hid in their offices. Shots were fired in the Capitol grounds and one woman, a Trump-supporting air force veteran, died after being struck in the neck. An explosive device was said to have been found. After several hours of mayhem Mr Trump released a short video to his followers. He said: “We love you. You’re very special. I know how you feel. But go home in peace.” Shortly after his account was suspended by Twitter because of “repeated and severe violations”.” – The Times

  • Pipe bombs, guns and Molotov cocktails are found – Daily Mail
  • Four killed – Daily Telegraph
  • Angry mobs of Trump supporters interrupt transfer of power – FT
  • Trump calls his Capitol mob ‘great patriots’ – Daily Mail

America 2) Officials ‘discuss 25th amendment to remove President’ as Republicans turn backs on him

“A wave of top officials quit the White House on Wednesday, turning their backs on Donald Trump hours after the US Capitol was stormed by his supporters. Incited by the US president, violent protesters broke into the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the result of the November election. The US media reported that Mr Trump’s Cabinet secretaries were discussing invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president. The amendment theoretically allows for the removal of a president who is incapacitated or unwilling to perform their duties. Invoking it would require Vice President Mike Pence to lead the Cabinet in a vote on removing Mr Trump. CNN said that unnamed Republican leaders revealed that the 25th amendment had been discussed, saying they had described Trump as “out of control.” Seventeen Democratic congressmen signed a letter on Wednesday night calling on Mr Pence to enact the amendment and remove Mr Trump.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Pence, not Trump, called in the National Guard – Daily Mail
  • Western democracies stunned by images of unrest in Washington – FT
  • Facebook, Instagram and Twitter lock Trump’s accounts after praise for Capitol Hill rioters – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Video: WATCH: McConnell – “The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we over-rule them, it could damage our republic forever.”

America 3) Our republic is under attack, furious Biden tells the people

“The president-elect removed his black mask, put it neatly aside next to his microphone and apologised for the circumstances of his remarks. Then Joe Biden looked into the cameras and challenged the president whom he defeated at the ballot box in November to take immediate action to preserve America’s republic from the forces of chaos that he himself had unleashed. “All of you have been watching what I’ve been watching,” Mr Biden said, his voice freighted with anger and disgust. “At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” he went on, pausing frequently to allow the gravity of his words to register. Americans, he said, were witnessing “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it”. The uprising “borders on sedition”, he declared… Mr Biden served as a United States senator for 36 years and then spent a further eight years as a regular visitor to the halls of Congress in his role as vice president between 2009 and 2017.” – The Times

  • Congress rejects first Republican objection to Democrat victory – FT
  • Patel calls on Trump supporters to ‘move on’ as she condemns ‘appalling’ violence – Daily Express

America 4) Daniel Finkelstein: Trump has disgraced tradition and that will be his lasting legacy

“Yesterday Donald Trump failed both the tests set by Washington. He has failed to relinquish office voluntarily and with grace. And he has encouraged violent resistance rather than sought to put it down. His video was too little too late. Just as Washington is remembered for his acts of leadership and left a legacy of a strong republic, Mr Trump will be remembered for his dereliction of duty and for the way he has weakened the republic he was supposed to serve… So it is not as if Donald Trump was facing provocation unique in American history or can claim as an excuse that the political temperature is higher now. Yet despite this, and through all this, presidents have seen their duty as Washington did: to hold power lightly and to surrender it gracefully when the time came, and to insist on adherence to law and the constitution. Donald Trump has disgraced that tradition and it will be his legacy.” – The Times

  • The Republicans are now the party of chaos – Tim Stanley, Daily Telegraph

Editorial:

  • Trump’s hopes of a legacy have ended after his MAGA thugs stormed the Capitol – The Sun

Lockdown restrictions pass after MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour

“MPs have overwhelmingly backed the latest lockdown measures as the UK’s Covid death rate reached levels not seen since the spring peak. With Labour supporting the lockdown, the vote in the recalled House of Commons passed comfortably by 524 votes to 16, giving the Government a majority of 508. Boris Johnson, however, did face rebellion within his ranks, with 12 Conservative MPs voting against the stay-at-home rules. They were joined by four DUP MPs opposing the regulations. Former Tory minister Sir Desmond Swayne branded lockdowns a “complete failure” while Sir Robert Syms said the measures, which are in place until March 31, were “essentially a blank cheque for three months to Public Health England to do what they wish”. The Prime Minister, addressing the Commons earlier on Wednesday, said the March deadline was “not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then but to allow a steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • New regime could stay until April, warns Johnson – The Times
  • MPs demand new laws lifted after 13m vaccinated – The Sun
  • Met police take hard line on Covid rule breakers – The Times

Comment:

  • Students are yet again becoming forgotten victims of lockdown – Sabrina Miller, Daily Telegraph

>Today: MPs Etc.: The twelve Conservative MPs who voted against the third lockdown

>Yesterday:

Sunak unveils £4.6bn relief package for UK retail and hospitality sectors

“Firms in those sectors of the economy hardest hit by stringent new lockdown measures will receive grants of up to £9,000 in a £4.6bn Treasury package designed to keep them afloat to the spring. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he expected 600,000 business properties in retail, leisure and hospitality to receive financial support from the government through a one-off grant. Acknowledging that the period ahead would be “difficult”, the chancellor said the government was bolstering its efforts to protect jobs and to prevent businesses from collapsing. In addition to grants worth £4bn, a further £594m will be made available to local councils to assist businesses impacted by the lockdown but not eligible for the new payments. As part of the package, the Scottish government will receive £375m, the Welsh government £227m and the Northern Ireland executive £127m.” – The Guardian

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Whatever happened to the Covid marshalls?

Wait for supplies forces GPs to delay vaccine clinics

“GPs have delayed vaccination clinics repeatedly because the delivery of supplies has been inconsistent. NHS England said that GP services would start using the Astrazeneca- Oxford vaccine today, but some said that access to the Pfizer jab was patchy. Millions of doses of the Oxford vaccine are awaiting final safety checks even though manufacturing was scaled up to “full pace” months ago. Public Health England (PHE) promised that it would start Sunday deliveries as soon as supplies allowed, after criticism of a six-day service. One in ten care home residents and one in seven care home workers have been vaccinated. They are the first of four priority groups of 13 million people that the NHS has said it will offer to inoculate by mid-February… Mohammed Jiva, a GP and chairman of Rochdale Health Alliance, said he had been told that “over 1,000” doses of the vaccine expected at Rochdale’s central vaccination site this weekend would not arrive.” – The Times

  • ‘Furious’ MPs and doctors urge Government to stop dithering and vaccinate around the clock – The Sun
  • GPs told to ‘stand down’ routine care and focus on Covid vaccinations – Daily Telegraph
  • Health leaders call for clarity on supplies – FT
  • We can speed up Covid vaccine push, say small chemists – The Times
  • Approval time for doses is cut from twenty days to to five – Daily Mail
  • Single-shot Janssen Covid vaccine could be approved ‘in weeks’ – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Fears for NHS as excess deaths outstrip Covid fatalities – The Times
  • Roll-out advanced in Scotland thanks to Union, says Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Merkel mulls Russian answer to EU vaccine bottleneck – The Times

Comment:

  • Think Britain has vaccine problems? You should see the EU – Alexander von Schoenberg, Daily Mail
  • Censorship is not the way to beat antivaxers – David Aaronovitch, The Times
  • Putting young people first for the vaccine can slow the spread of Covid-19 – Angus Dalgleish, Daily Mail
  • It would be so callous to make the elderly who are most at risk wait for vaccination – Dr Martin Scurr, Daily Mail

Editorial:

  • The pressure is on the NHS to show it has the capacity to deliver 13 million vaccines – The Times

>Yesterday:

Teachers prepare to set own tests after GCSEs and A‑levels are cancelled

“Head teachers plan to set their own exams so pupils can get robust grades after this summer’s GCSE and A-levels were cancelled. Several private schools said that they would set mocks once pupils returned and some might sit International GCSEs, which have not been called off. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, confirmed in the Commons yesterday that pupils in England would not sit GCSEs and A-level papers but did not say what would replace them. Schools are expected to make assessments that will have to be moderated in some way. Mr Williamson said there would be training and support for teachers to ensure consistency. Contingency plans were being “fine-tuned” with Ofqual, the exams regulator, which would consult widely next week, he said. Heads are making their own plans while waiting to find out what Ofqual will decide.” – The Times

  • School chaos deepens as Williamson fails to explain exam plan – The Guardian
  • Kids can go to school if they don’t have a laptop or can’t work at home, he says – The Sun
  • Parents are urged to report their child’s school to Ofsted if online lessons aren’t up to scratch – Daily Mail

>Today: John Bald in Local Government: We need vaccination for teachers if schools are to reopen safely

>Yesterday:

Sturgeon facing pressure to postpone Scottish election

“Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to delay the Scottish election after Boris Johnson said polls in England due to take place on the same day in May are under review. Senior opposition figures said Ms Sturgeon, the First Minister, must agree to delay the Holyrood ballot if she extends Scotland’s “stay at home” lockdown beyond the end of this month. Scottish Parliament insiders told The Telegraph that arrangements could be put in place to allow Scots to cast their votes safely on May 6, but warned that campaigning in the midst of the new, more transmissible form of the virus would be almost impossible and engaging safely with the public difficult. It is thought a decision will have to be agreed by Ms Sturgeon and Holyrood’s opposition leaders by the end of this month, with only another six or seven weeks before the campaign is scheduled to start.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Devolving more powers to Scotland will only hasten the demise of the Union – Vernon Bogdanor, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Happy centenary, Northern Ireland. Let’s plan for a second one.

Johnson calls for business support over regulatory change

“Boris Johnson called on business leaders on Wednesday to get behind plans for regulatory and legislative reform in a move that could attract the attention of Brussels’ officials over the prospect of a rapid divergence from EU rules by the UK. In a call with 250 leading business figures, Britain’s prime minister sought to rally business support for his vision for the UK after Brexit, exhorting them to grasp the opportunities that came from leaving the EU. The call was also attended by chancellor Rishi Sunak, business secretary Alok Sharma and international trade secretary Liz Truss.  Mr Johnson asked business groups and top executives to come up with ideas about how to change regulations in the UK to support future economic growth, saying that he did not want his administration to be defined by Covid-19 and Brexit. The UK would need regulatory and legislative change, he said.” – FT

  • Kawczynski calls for the BBC to apologise for Dover ‘fearmongering’ – Daily Express
  • MPs told Brexit trader support service ‘not good enough’ – FT
  • Northern Ireland facing food supply disruption over Brexit, MPs told – The Guardian

China ‘misled world’ on Hong Kong security law, says Raab

“The British foreign secretary has accused China of deliberately misleading the world when it passed its new security law in Hong Kong last year in the wake of the latest crackdown on the opposition in the territory. Dominic Raab reiterated the UK’s offer to holders of British national (overseas) passports in the city to come and live in Britain, and said: “The mass arrest of politicians and activists in Hong Kong is a grievous attack on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms as protected under the joint declaration,” which set out the terms of the return of the territory from the UK to China in 1997. “These arrests demonstrate that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deliberately misled the world about the true purpose of the national security law, which is being used to crush dissent and opposing political views. The UK will not turn our backs on the people of Hong Kong and will continue to offer British nationals (overseas) [citizens] the right to live and work in the UK.” As international criticism mounted, the last British governor of Hong Kong has told the EU not to go ahead with an economic deal with China.” – The Guardian

  • Beijing claims its ban on a WHO mission to find the origin of coronavirus is a ‘misunderstanding – Daily Mail

>Today: Luke de Pulford in Comment: The UK has failed to stand up to China – and Raab must ensure that it does

Treasury’s permanent secretary reappointment ‘signals end of mandarin purge’

“The Treasury’s permanent secretary has been reappointed for another five-year term, in a sign that Downing Street’s purge of mandarins has ended. Sir Tom Scholar, 52, has won admiration for his role in helping design the Chancellor’s emergency financial bailout packages in response to the coronavirus crisis over the past 10 months. The vote of confidence in the senior civil servant comes after he was billed as topping a Number 10 hit list of Whitehall figures at the beginning of last year. Ministers declined to comment on the reports at the time, and Rishi Sunak was said to have been dismissive of the idea Sir Tom was at risk. Other senior civil servants named as being in the firing line have since departed, including Sir Philip Rutnam who quit as permanent secretary at the Home Office and is suing for constructive dismissal. In total five permanent secretaries left the Government within six months, including Department for Education chief mandarin Jonathan Slater who was sacked over the exam results fiasco.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Cummings threatens to expose Remainer civil servants who tried to sabotage Brexit – Daily Express

Ministers plan an end to ‘feudal’ leasehold property laws

“Ministers have announced plans to prepare the housing market for a transition from leasehold to commonhold ownership in what would be a radical overhaul of the “feudal” property laws. A working group will be set up to prepare the market for the transition after the Law Commission urged MPs in July to adopt a fairer system. A fifth of flats and houses are governed by medieval leasehold law that allows landlords or freeholders to grant the buyer the right to live in a property for 99 to 999 years. The changes would make it easier and cheaper for leaseholders to buy the freehold of their property and take control of the costs by giving them the right to extend the lease to a maximum term of 990 years at zero ground rent. Leaseholders in houses have the right to extend the lease only once for 50 years and they must pay escalating ground rent… The government will establish a council made up of leaseholders, government officials and property industry professionals to prepare the market for the widespread take-up of commonhold.” – The Times

  • Go-ahead for new UK coal mine attracts ire of green campaigners – FT

Comment:

  • A building free-for-all would betray Grenfell – Sean O’Neill, The Times

Editorial:

  • Reforms to the system of leasehold are long overdue – The Times

News in Brief:

  • The weirding of America – Mary Harrington, UnHerd
  • A race against time: can the vaccine outpace the virus? – Richard Dobbs, The Spectator
  • A year of Black Wednesdays? – Steve Baker MP, The Critic
  • Johnson should bring in an Erasmus for the Home Nations – Henry Hill, CapX