Starmer sends several messages by dismissing Long-Bailey

25 Jun

One doesn’t imagine that Sir Keir Starmer will be terribly sorry to have dismissed Rebecca Long-Bailey from her post as Shadow Education Secretary.

He sacked her after the Salford MP, who was the hard-left candidate in the most recent Labour leadership contest, retweeted an article by Maxine Peake which contained, predictably enough, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

By taking prompt action, Starmer has taken another opportunity to draw a sharp distinction between himself and his predecessor on the antisemitism issue, which remains a stain on Labour’s reputation.

It also illustrates the waning strength of the Corbynites. Including Long-Bailey in the Shadow Cabinet might have seemed a deft nod to party unity in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but since then the hard left’s rout through the institutions has continued apace.

Yet the implications aren’t all internal. The Labour Leader probably hopes that observers will contrast his willingness to dismiss senior colleagues with Boris Johnson’s reluctance to do the same, especially with Robert Jenrick still in the headlines.

Benjamin Obese-Jecty: It’s time the Government did right by Commonwealth veterans

25 Jun

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

As we approach Armed Forces Day on the last Saturday of June, the nation will have the opportunity to celebrate our service personnel and show gratitude for the role they play within our society.

Though our operational footprint has reduced significantly over the past half-decade, the Army’s role in the Government’s coronavirus response has seen an uncharacteristically high domestic profile not seen since their mobilisation for the 2012 London Olympics.

The British public holds an affinity for the Armed Forces that is an integral part of our national identity. But over the past two decades as the Armed Forces have struggled to meet recruitment targets it has increasingly relied upon service personnel from the Commonwealth to reduce this manpower deficit. The Royal British Legion puts the number at in excess of 6000 personnel, with circa five per cent of the Army’s strength alone comprised of soldiers from the Commonwealth.

Whilst these personnel face the same hardships and hazards on operations as their British colleagues, those who leave the Armed Forces do so without the automatic guarantee of residency or citizenship of the nation for which they have served. Following several high-profile instances highlighting the pitfalls of the process for Commonwealth veterans, it is vital that we seek to redress the disadvantage that the current system places upon them.

In the United States, non-US citizens become eligible for naturalisation following an honourable discharge from military service. The cost to those who have served is a mere $85 administration charge in return for full US citizenship.

Upon joining our Armed Forces, personnel from Commonwealth countries are granted ‘exempt immigration control’ status. However, it ceases to apply immediately upon discharge. The recent court case brought by eight Fijian veterans against both the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence has revealed the administrative complexity for those former service personnel who wish to remain in the UK following the completion of their service.

Given the current focus upon racial inequality, and the similarities with the Windrush scandal that it evokes, the Government has an urgent need to address this longstanding issue less it becomes a topic that expends yet more political goodwill. But how can this be achieved?

Current rules state that Commonwealth veterans qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after four years’ service, but in order to action this they must immediately apply to the Home Office upon discharge. Many Commonwealth veterans have found this opaque and not made sufficiently clear during the discharge process.

It would be both more efficient and inclusive to automate the application, making it a standard step of the discharge process, one that can be made opt-out rather than opt-in and ensure that no veterans are left without having exercised their option whilst still in uniform.

The issue is further complicated by a five-year residency requirement that excludes military service prior to 2014, owing to exemption from immigration control and potentially leaving some former service personnel outside the criteria. Addressing the gaps in this structure will ensure that all veterans have been given due consideration.

During the aforementioned court case a spokesman for the MoD stated that the department “makes clear to foreign and Commonwealth recruits into the forces the process by which they and their families can attain settlement in the UK, and the costs involved”. Whilst that may be the case, the £2389 per person cost for ILR is significant and confers no advantages or prioritisation for military service, in stark contrast to the costs of attaining full US citizenship.

Given that this disproportionately affects Commonwealth personnel from the lower ranks who may struggle to meet the costs involved, we should seek to waive these fees in return for their commitment to having served the country.

There will be those who have not pursued the legal right to remain in the UK following service due to the prohibitive costs they stood to incur. From my own experience, leaving the Army and embarking on a new career without the familiarity and structure of the military is a daunting enough prospect without the unnecessary additional hurdle of regularising your immigration status. To do so at a cost of thousands of pounds, via either a loan or use of their resettlement package, sets our Commonwealth veterans at an immediate disadvantage that could easily be mitigated.

Lastly, we should seek to broaden the scope of the changes to those who have already left the service; those who through choice, owing to the prohibitive expense, or administrative oversight, have been left without the status of ILR either here or in the country of their birth. Whilst we can do little to atone for the inconvenience and disruption caused to those who have been forced to return home, we can offer those eligible the opportunity to reapply retrospectively under the criteria outlined above, and allow them the opportunity to fulfil the potential plans they had prior to leaving.

Additionally, we should also consider how we can facilitate reimbursing those who have already had to outlay the fees required to stay. Given the comparatively low numbers of those affected, the gesture of goodwill would go some way to allowing our Commonwealth ex-service personnel to start their post-service careers on an equal footing with their fellow former servicemen and women without the burden of incurring a financial penalty for the privilege.

The status of Commonwealth veterans has been addressed by MPs on a number of occasions. Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has been forthright in bringing veterans’ issues to the fore and ensuring that they are given the correct focus. However, there are still significant inequalities in how we treat some of those who pledged to defend this country.

As Conservatives, our admiration and respect for the Armed Forces goes hand-in-hand with the values we wish to uphold. As a Veteran I would like to see those I have served alongside given the same opportunities that I have enjoyed in forging a new life for themselves following their military careers.

There is arguably no greater service to the nation than defending it as a member of our Armed Forces. We owe those who have served, at the very least, the same basic privileges that they have risked their lives to defend.

Henry Hill: Sturgeon sets out plan to ‘unlock’ Scotland… one day before England

25 Jun

Sturgeon unveils timetable for ‘mass unlocking’ of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon is planning a major easing of lockdown restrictions, the Daily Telegraph reports, including lifting a five-mile travel limit and opening up access to holiday homes.

In proper devocrat fashion, this new regime will kick in one Friday, July 3rd – the day before Boris Johnson’s own changes take effect south of the border.

This comes as the Scottish Government faces continuing criticism over its handling of schools, with its plans for so-called ‘blended learning’ coming under attack from both the press and SNP politicians. Scientists have also attacked the evidence base (or lack thereof) underpinning Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to lockdown.

(The Welsh Government is not doing any better, with their Education Secretary unable to say when schools will reopen and likewise committed to ‘blended learning’.)

Local government in the spotlight

The Scotsman reports that several Scottish councils are facing severe financial black holes as a result of the pandemic. Three council have deficits adding up to hundreds of pounds per resident – the highest is £411 – which adds up to hundreds of millions of pounds in total.

This is the latest twist in a long-running battle between the Nationalist administration at Holyrood and Scottish local government. Arch-centralisers, the SNP have been using Scottish Government financial support to reduce the independence of councils.

In Wales, meanwhile, the Centre for Welsh Studies has published a new report which suggests that the Shared Prosperity Fund – the UK-administered scheme which will replace EU funding post-Brexit – should be administered by Westminster and local councils, rather than being handed to the Senedd.

This proposal will doubtless outrage the devocrats, who are consistently opposed to letting Westminster control UK-level policy in the way that Brussels controls EU-level policy. But if the SPF is to become an instrument for strengthening the Union, keeping it out of devocrat hands is essential.

DUP again press Johnson on post-Brexit border arrangements

Their moment in the Commons sun may have passed, but the Democratic Unionists are still trying to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire over his promises to Northern Ireland.

Speaking at yesterday’s PMQs, Sammy Wilson challenged Boris Johnson over the fact that the Port of Larne is reportedly making preparations for extensive customs infrastructure, ready to receive shipping from the British mainland.

In response, the Prime Minister said that “I can tell him absolutely, categorically that there will be no new customs infrastructure”, citing the Withdrawal Agreement’s recognition that Ulster remains inside the British customs territory.

Abolish the Assembly get their first MS

After a few months of growing media attention, following some good poll showings and the defection of their first councillor, the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party (‘Abolish’) have secured their first representative in that institution.

Gareth Bennett, an independent MS who previously served as leader of UKIP’s Assembly group, has now signed up to the group. (And if you want an idea of why devosceptics might be rare in Welsh political life, check out the extraordinarily aggressive interview he got from Wales Online).

Apparently Abolish, which recently launched a membership programme, will consider it a good result if they win three seats at the next Senedd poll.

(In other devosceptic news, I spoke to David Leask at the Herald on Sunday about why opposition to devolution appears to be waxing during Covid-19. Most of my section seems to be missing from the online version, but it may return.)

Victory for Conservative Home! Al fresco dining restrictions lifted.

25 Jun

The Daily Mail reports:

“England is set to go al fresco to combat coronavirus as ministers unveil plans to turn streets into outdoor markets and allow pubs to use car parks as beer gardens today.

New laws being published today will loosen restrictions on drinking, dining and shopping outdoors – where the risk of transmission is regarded as much lower.

The Business and Planning Bill, which should be fast-tracked through Parliament in time for lockdown easing on July 4, will make it easier for local authorities to pedestrianise streets to help struggling businesses.”

It adds:

“The focus of the legislation, which will allow outdoor trading without the need for planning permission, is on creating a much more permissive business environment outdoors, where scientists believe the virus spreads much less easily.

Temporary changes to licensing laws will allow many more licensed premises, such as pubs and restaurants, to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to convert outside space such as car parks and terraces into seated areas as well.”

What is not mentioned is the inspiration behind these reforms. Step forward, Nicholas Boys Smith, the Director of Create Streets. Last month he wrote for this site proposing to “allow eating out to mean eating out.”

“Let’s make it far, far easier for shops, restaurants and cafés to trade on the pavements outside their premises. This is possible now – but it’s a bit of schlep. At present, shops or restaurants wishing to make use of the pavement need to apply to their local authority under Section 115E of the 1980 Highways Act. Each applicant must ensure that pedestrians’ rights are not affected, and councils need to consider the width of the pavement, if it is a street where street trading is specifically prohibited, sight lines and whether the pavement is on a public highway or not.”

He concluded:

“The twentieth century killed that richness of street life, and sacrificed our daily freedom of movement. If, climbing collectively out of this crisis, if helping tempt those too nervous to squeeze into cramped restaurants we helped town centres rediscover their true purpose as a place for people profitably to congregate for business and pleasure then that would be a modest silver lining to these strange times.”

So while Boys Smith is to be commended for his proposal being adopted, with all due modesty we also note our own role in ensuring that this came to the attention of the relevant decision makers. It would not have been much use as an idea if it had not been noticed. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? But as it is, the words passed from Boys Smith’s laptop, to this site, and thence on to the statute book all within a few weeks. It means we have every chance that the streets and squares of our villages, towns, and cities will not feel dead this summer but more alive than ever before.

As you embrace cafe society, remember that it is this website that won you your new found freedom. You will have a greater chance to sit at a table outside a favourite local restaurant and enjoy the sun and fresh air, basking in the low risk of transmission and nodding at passing aquaintances. So raise a glass of Chianti or San Miguel to Boys Smith – and to us.

 

Newslinks for Thursday 25th June 2020

25 Jun

‘Blue Wall’ MPs put on standby for major speech on ‘rebuilding Britain’

Tory MPs have been put on standby for a major launch of Boris Johnson’s ambitious plan for rebuilding Britain in the coming weeks. Party whips have told backbenchers to prepare for a big push highlighting the Prime Minister’s blueprint for modernising the country’s infrastructure and helping previously neglected communities catch up with the rest of the country. Mr Johnson will make a major policy speech promising to “build, build, build” within the next fortnight, setting out proposals for boosting growth and help the economy recover from the coronavirus lockdown within the next fortnight. And his party troops have been instructed to go on the offensive in the so-called “Blue Wall” swathe of constituencies in the Midlands and North of England captured from Labour at the last general election to trumpet the Government’s ambitions for transforming their areas.” – Daily Express

  • Tata Steel closes in on funding deal for UK business – FT

Comment:

  • Poor lives matter whatever their colour – David Aaronovitch, The Times

Keeping gyms shut could ‘set back public health for a generation’, Prime Minister is warned

“Baroness Grey-Thompson has written to Boris Johnson expressing her “disappointment and frustration”, after the Prime Minister confirmed pubs will be allowed to reopen while sports facilities remain shut. The paralympian warned that 2,800 gym and leisure facilities are at risk of closure, with more than 100,000 jobs at risk. To lose such facilities in the midst of the coronavirus crisis could “set back public health for a generation”, she said. Baroness Grey-Thompson wrote: “Prime Minister, this is a personal plea to you. I fear further delays could see us lose these facilities forever.” Writing in her role as chair of the health body ukactive, the peer urged Mr Johnson to publish the guidance that led to his decision making.”  – Daily Telegraph

  • Hope for gyms and pools as owners insist they are safe – The Times

Labour warns against reopening until track-and-trace more effective

“Boris Johnson has been cautioned against reopening England’s economy on July 4 without a successful test and trace system in place, as UK health leaders warned of the risk of a “second wave” of coronavirus infections. A day after the prime minister announced measures to ease the lockdown next month, Labour leader Keir Starmer on Wednesday warned it was a “big problem” that two-thirds of those estimated to have the virus were not being reached. “If we don’t get track, trace and isolate properly running we can’t open the economy, we can’t prevent infection spreading,” he told Mr Johnson during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons.” – FT

  • Johnson accused of ‘dodgy’ answer at PMQs over contact tracing apps – The Times
  • Opposition hits out at Rishi Sunak’s approach to ending wage subsidies – The Guardian

More:

  • Government ‘to make boozing in streets and carparks the norm’ – Daily Express
  • Pub owners could face two years in jail if customers unsafe – The Sun
  • Bars and restaurants blast ‘unworkable’ rules – Daily Mail
  • Vacant shops to be used as walk-in coronavirus test centres – The Times

Madeline Grant: It really is our patriotic duty to save the pubs

“I miss the pub so much, I don’t even care. When they are finally liberated, I’m half-tempted to pack a deckchair and thermos, and queue up overnight, swathed in a Union Jack, like those starry-eyed monarchists at the Lindo Wing whenever a new royal baby arrives. The PM insists supporting pubs is a “patriotic duty”, and so it is – not because this timid Government says so, but because, through no fault of its own, a great British institution is in mortal peril. Pandemic, lockdown and excessive caution have conspired to create a situation so dire that we should assume many of our favourite watering holes will never resurface from this economic maelstrom, and spend as if their – and our – lives depended on it.” – Daily Telegraph

Hard Rain Cummings: the Times picks up ConHome’s story of yesterday

““Anybody who has read what I’ve said about management over the years will know that it’s ludicrous to suggest the solution to Whitehall’s problems is a bigger centre and more centralisation,” he said, according to an account on the Conservative Home website. “It’s already far too big, incoherent and adds to the problems with departments.” He added that the intention was to create a “smaller, more focused and more elite centre”. The account of the call was not disputed by friends of Mr Cummings, who confirmed that an overhaul of the Cabinet Office and No 10 was planned. Michael Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, recently moved to strengthen his grip over the sprawling department at the centre of Whitehall.” – The Times

  • Chief of Staff could face inquiry over special advisers – The Guardian

Jenrick ‘under pressure’ over £1bn Isle of Dogs housing scheme

“The housing secretary was under mounting pressure last night after text messages and emails revealed his close relationship with a Tory donor whose £1 billion housing scheme he approved against the advice of his own officials. Robert Jenrick backed Richard Desmond’s plans to build 1,500 flats on the site of Westferry printworks on the Isle of Dogs, east London, in mid-January, over-ruling the objections of planning officers and the local council. The decision was made early, to ensure that Mr Desmond did not have to pay a £40 million community charge, which came into effect a few days later. Newly disclosed documents reveal that Mr Jenrick gave the former owner of the Daily Express his private mobile number after he was seated next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner in November last year.” – The Times

  • Housing Secretary ‘rushed approval’ of Tory donor’s development after texts – Daily Telegraph
  • Government releases documents on Jenrick approval of Desmond project – FT

Editorial:

  • Jenrick has failed to dispel concerns – The Times

Shapps set to centralise control of Britain’s railways

“The Government will use emergency coronavirus controls of the UK’s railways to centralise control of Britain’s railways, in a move comparable to nationalisation. The Transport Secretary said the crisis had provided opportunities to establish a “different type of railway”, in a move that would mean the end of the franchise system established by John Major. Train operators would receive a fixed fee from the Government which would essentially own all routes and collect fares. Under the current system franchise holders collect fares and pay a percentage to the Exchequer, which encourages them to maximise income. The entire system would be overseen by a board, which would likely be chaired by the Transport Secretary, giving the Government more control over pricing and timetabling.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Plans will be revealed in a report of an independent review into UK railways – Daily Mail

Javid calls for tax cuts to boost economy recovery after lockdown

“Former chancellor Sajid Javid has called for radical tax cuts to boost post-lockdown economic recovery. He urged slashing VAT and National Insurance to encourage households to spend and firms to hang on to their staff. Mr Javid and the Centre for Policy Studies suggested more than 50 recommendations in their After The Virus report. The ex-chancellor, who quit the Government earlier this year after a clash with Boris Johnson, praised his successor Rishi Sunak, for acting decisively with measures such as the furlough scheme. But he said: “Soon, the focus must shift from safeguarding the economy to rebuilding it.” … A rapid bounce back was “optimistic”, Mr Javid wrote in a newspaper yesterday, predicting up to 2.5 million jobless due to the virus.” – Daily Express

  • Quarter of furloughed workers ‘likely to lose their jobs when Government cuts payouts’ – The Sun
  • Liverpool asks for government help to avoid 1980s recession rerun – FT

Comment:

  • This generation of Tories is complacent about the blight of unemployment – Rafael Behr, The Guardian

Mitchell and over 70 MPs attack decision to scrap DfID

“Anger is growing over the government’s decision to merge the overseas aid department with the Foreign Office, with senior Tories and ex-ministers demanding Boris Johnson install a development minister in the cabinet. The Conservative former secretary of state for the Department for International Development (DfID) Andrew Mitchell is among the signatories to a cross-party letter sent to the prime minister that also calls for the retention of the Commons international development committee (IDC) and the scrutiny body, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). More than 70 parliamentarians have signed the letter led by a former IDC chair, Lord Malcolm Bruce, to say scrutiny on aid following the sudden merger is vital and the UK must show it is “not turning its back on the world’s poorest”.” – The Guardian

Trade 1) Truss attacks ‘unfair’ US trade practices as markets slide

“Liz Truss hit out at America for “unfair” trade practices as almost £50bn was wiped from the FTSE 100 amid fears of new transatlantic tariffs. In her most critical comments of Washington’s approach to negotiations over a new deal, the Trade Secretary said that the US is failing to live up to its high-minded ideals and must open up its markets for British exports. It came as the White House threatened to impose new duties on $3.1bn of European goods including biscuits and gin as part of a long-running dispute over subsidies for aircraft maker Airbus. Markets dropped around the world as jitters over a new trade war combined with fears of a second wave of Covid-19 after infections jumped in the US. The FTSE 100 dropped 3.1pc while the Dow Jones was down 2.9pc in early trade.” – Daily Telegraph

  • She insists a ban on controversial US farm produce is ‘already in law’ – Daily Mail

More:

  • Trade deal with US could lower standards, manufacturers warn – FT
  • Waitrose boss joins calls for post-Brexit food standards protection – The Guardian

Trade 2) Brussels signals compromise possible in ‘level playing field’ talks

“Brussels has said it is willing to hammer out a compromise with Britain on the sensitive issue of “level playing field” rules for business, in a sign of how positions are shifting ahead of intensive EU-UK future-relationship talks, which start next week. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said his team was willing to work with Britain on a “credible and operational” framework for so-called level playing field commitments. These aim to ensure close alignment between the two sides’ state-aid, environmental and employment regulations.  However, he insisted the EU would not allow anything to jeopardise the integrity of the single market.” – FT

  • UK angles for Falklands squid in post-Brexit trade talks – FT

Rose Paterson obituary

“For 18 years Rose Paterson was the backbone of her husband’s office as North Shropshire MP, before moving out from behind the scenes to take on one of the most high profile positions in British sport. Mrs Paterson, 63, the daughter of the fourth Viscount Ridley, had been married to Owen, MP for North Shropshire, for 40 years. For nearly two decades she was a central part of her husband’s political life. Following his election in 1997, Mrs Paterson was her husband’s Shropshire-based personal assistant and office manager, including during his time at the sharp end of government as Northern Ireland Secretary, and then Minister for the Environment.” – Shropshire Star

The big speech Johnson makes next week should be about education

25 Jun

That Boris Johnson is to make a relaunch-type speech next week, in which housing and planning will play a big part, confirms that he believes that the Coronavirus crisis is over – for the moment, at any rate.

However, an aspect of it still looms large, even if there isn’t a so-called second wave that comes next winter, putting pressure on the NHS.

The fate of schools when the new term begins in September is unknown, and if they aren’t fully open then two consequences will follow.

The first is that there can be no full economic recovery, because parents with younger children will either stay at home or skimp working there or both.

The second is that there will be less levelling-up, because the most disadvantaged children lose out when schools aren’t open.  Some may have been learning for less than a hour a day.

It may well be that by the time the next term starts, bubbles will be bigger – or even burst – altogether, with health and safety, testing, cleaning and hygiene, PPE and local lockdowns taking the strain, as Ministers intend.

But the teaching unions won’t simply give Government plans to this effect a clean bill of health, which could have a significant knock-on effect on parents’ willingness to send their children back to school.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister is dependent as the economy open up on how businesses actually respond, and some may not champ at the bit to get workers returned to offices.

In other words, Johnson and Gavin Williamson are dependent on teachers – who they don’t have the power to sack, lest that be forgotten.

And still more on parents, who can’t be forced en masse to send their children to school if they dig in hundreds of thousands, let alone millions.

Additionally, it’s worth remembering that those bubbles may be as big as ever in the autumn, if the virus takes off again between now and then.

In which case, the Government will have to choose between rotas, which Ministers have opposed so far, or scrambling to find or build spaces for extra classes, and hunt down retired or stand-in teachers into the bargain.

All of which stirred us to write recently that the Prime Minister needs to make a big speech on education soon in order to get on the public opinion front foot.

It would garland teachers with praise; stress the indispensability of education as a civilising force and economic driver, and champion it as the ultimate foil to “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

As a man who loves picking up bits of learning from all over the place, he isn’t at all in a bad place to deliver such a speech.

He should follow it up by getting out and about in a series of school visits – for after all, some children of key workers have been in them throughout Coronavirus, so there is still quite a bit to see.

These would also be part of a wider programme of getting Johnson to play to one of his biggest strengths, which is engaging with people rather than staying cooped up in Whitehall.

Some in Downing Street think that there’s a connection between him having been so confined recently and the Government’s various mishaps.

He could also mull the question of whether Gavin Williamson is in a position to provide the extra public relations lift over the summer.

The Prime Minister undoubtedly make the Education Secretary’s position even more difficult by aiming for a full primary school return by the end of this return – an aspiration impossible to square with halved class sizes.

The present view in Number Ten seems to be that “the cons of a reshuffle outweigh the pros” – so a shuffle may not happen until the autumn at the earliest.

All in all, Johnson would be well advised to get his big education speech in now.  For in ten weeks or thereabouts, the autumn term will begin.

That’s not a lot of time in which to turn public opinion round, millions of parents need persuading, and so the Government has got none to lose.

Stephen Booth: While UK-EU talks gather momentum, Britain should continue to diversify its trading relationships.

25 Jun

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

There are signs that the UK-EU negotiations on the future relationship may be gathering some momentum.

Last week’s stock take meeting between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Commission and European Council Presidents, respectively, confirmed there will be no UK request to extend the transition period beyond December 31 this year.

Both sides agreed to inject fresh impetus into the negotiating process, with talks set to intensify in July, August and September. This marks the make-or-break period to reach a trade agreement and new arrangements in other areas such as cooperation on policing and security.

In my previous column, I argued that the nature of the impasse – essentially whether the EU is prepared to cut a deal under which the UK would be free to leave Brussels’ regulatory orbit – means that it is incumbent upon the EU to move on the key sticking points.

These are fishing and the demand for ongoing UK alignment with EU law on the “level playing field”, particularly with regard to state aid. Important UK-EU differences remain but there are encouraging signs that this is now happening.

Following her meeting with Boris Johnson, von der Leyen signalled in a speech to the European Parliament that the EU was prepared to compromise without, of course, putting into question “our principles and the integrity of our Union”.

In her speech, von der Leyen made no mention of the EU’s initial demand to maintain EU boats’ access to UK waters on the basis of the status quo. “No one questions the UK’s sovereignty on its own waters,” she said. “We ask for predictability and guarantees for our fishermen and women, who have been sailing in those waters for decades.”

Neither did von der Leyen mention the demand for ongoing alignment with EU law on state aid or a role for the Court of Justice (ECJ) in overseeing the level playing field. “It should be a shared interest for the EU and the UK to never slide backwards, and always advance together towards higher standards,” she said.

Notably, she limited her remarks on the role of the ECJ to the part it should play “where it matters” in the area of police and judicial cooperation, rather than in the wider trade deal. If the UK wishes to retain access to EU crime and policing databases, these are underpinned by EU law and there is no escaping that the Court has the role of interpreting how law applies on the EU side.

Though, as the UK has pointed out, the EU has consistently agreed treaties with non-EU countries on policing and judicial matters without requiring the ECJ to settle disputes between the two parties. Equally, the Government has said it will not agree to the extraordinary EU demand for treaty provisions that would oblige the UK to maintain its existing implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights in domestic law.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that a compromise on the level playing field is being explored, under which Britain would assert the right to deviate from the EU rules that it will inherit after the transition period expires. And, in return, the EU would have the ability to apply tariffs on British exports if regulatory divergence amounts to unfair competition.

Neither side has formally adopted the idea yet, but there are reasons to suggest it might have legs. The UK would regain regulatory independence (and the consequences), while the EU would retain the ability to control access to its market in instances where it perceived the UK was lowering standards.

Brussels would need to give up on its desire to export its regulatory model to the UK indefinitely by treaty and the UK would need to compromise on its current position that any commitments on subsides, labour and environmental rights should be exempt from dispute resolution.

It is also an idea hiding in plain sight. The EU’s draft UK trade agreement text already proposes so-called “temporary remedies” and “interim measures” in the event of non-compliance with treaty commitments.

Such a model would not be without difficulties. The UK and EU would still need to agree on the relevant benchmark for identifying a breach of level playing field commitments. The UK could insist that evidence should be required to show that the effects of divergence are harmful to open and fair competition. The EU could continue to insist that the letter of EU law is the benchmark.

Equally, the prospect of the EU using tariffs or market restrictions as a political tool to secure leverage over the UK in other areas of the agreement cannot be discounted. This has been a feature of the EU-Swiss relationship in recent years. However, this needs to be weighed against the prospect of UK-EU trade facing the full panoply of tariffs on day one, if talks break down completely and trade reverts to World Trade Organisation terms.

Critics have noted that rather than providing for managed divergence, such a mechanism would create perpetual conflict. But, ultimately, while it would be nice to avoid it, the likely reality is that the UK and the EU will face disputes in the future, just as they have in the past. This is a feature, rather than a bug, of an independent UK. Some disputes may be easily resolvable through treaty dispute mechanisms, others will require political resolution.

One way for the UK to insure itself in the event of such disputes is to diversify its trading relationships outside of the EU. And negotiations with the UK’s priority non-EU markets, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, are also intensifying over the coming months.

This week, Hiroshi Matsuura, Japan’s chief trade negotiator, called for a UK-Japan deal to be secured in just six weeks to be ready for ratification in the Japanese parliament. The challenge is to replace the existing EU-Japan agreement, which is due to expire at the end of the Brexit transition period, and Japan is insisting on a bespoke UK deal rather than a simple rollover of the existing EU agreement.

This may mean that the deal is less ambitious than the UK would like on agricultural tariffs but Japan and the UK could go further than the EU was prepared to in areas of mutual interest such as services and digital.

Unlike the Japanese deal, the talks with the US, Australia and New Zealand are about fresh deals and the talks are expected to run into next year. UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is next on the agenda. India would be another potential candidate for the future.

With this week marking the fourth anniversary of the EU referendum, the contours of the UK’s international trade policy are beginning to take shape.

David Skelton: Snobbery against the white working-class is all too common among the “progressive” Left

25 Jun

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

A new snobbery has taken hold within elements of the liberal-Left. This new snobbery is all too often proudly on display across social media and the target of this new snobbery is always the white working-class.

As the Left becomes increasingly middle class, both in their electorate and in their representatives, they have become increasingly detached from those working-class voters that the Labour movement was established to represent.

This means that a sneering attitude towards working-class voters is too often accepted among elements of what Michael Lind described as a “managerialist elite” on the Left, at the same time as those white working-class voters remain economically, culturally and, in many ways, politically, marginalised. 

You don’t have to look hard to find examples of the new snobbery. Only last week, parts of social media were alight with self-congratulation about a new work of modern art that had appeared in Bristol. The sculpture was of an overweight man, wearing a string vest. On the wheelie bin itself were the words “spoiler: St George was Turkish.” It was a clear display of neo-snobbery, accompanied by the smug condescension that overflows from Twitter every St George’s Day.

Only a few days earlier, a media producer rightly criticised the behaviour of some far-right thugs in Parliament Square only to also suggest that they looked like they had been “born in a Wetherspoons” – that would be the Wetherspoons that has 900 pubs and employs almost 40,000 people.

The infamous cover of The New European that had the “Jolly Fisherman” mascot of Skegness flipping the “V-sign” while wearing a jumped carrying the slogan “Go Away” is another example of the new snobbery, as were the sneering comments about the lengthy queues outside some Primark stores earlier last week.

In too many cases, the white working-class are ridiculed, stereotyped and portrayed as somewhere between bigoted and racist. Such crude prejudice and stereotyping would be rightly unacceptable for any other group and they should be utterly unacceptable about the white working-class as well.

These attitudes crossed into the mainstream after the Brexit referendum, in which working-class voters propelled the vote to Leave after decades of being economically marginalised and politically ignored. Too many Remainers refused to accept that working-class voters had voted Leave because they had thought through the arguments and had come to their decision logically.

Instead, many middle-class Remain supporters resorted to downright snobbery to explain the fact that working-class voters had overwhelmingly voted to Leave. This attitude was, of course, compounded when many of these voters voted Conservative for the first time, partially in response to condescending overtures from the Left that a second referendum would give them a second chance to give the “right answer”.

Dismissal of working-class voters has been compounded with the rise of what John Gray describes as “woke militants”. Rather than rightly focus on existing injustices faced by the BAME community, such as in criminal justice and economic inequality, the fringe of the “woke” movement is driven by a near Maoist belief that British history is a long trail of unblemished negativity.

Part of this is a belief in “white privilege” – that comes from their division of society into oppressed and oppressor groups, with white working-class males falling firmly into the oppressor category. The idea that the men, like my Grandad, who died young with black lung disease after decades working down the pit were somehow beneficiaries of white privilege is clearly a nonsense.

The idea that those workers the Labour Party was set up to represent were actually beneficiaries of “white privilege” is clearly folly and the fact that some Labour politicians talk about such a concept shows how far Labour has drifted from many working-class voters.

The white working-class became politically, economically and culturally marginalised at just the time when the impact of ignoring or mocking their concerns had become clear. They became squeezed between an economic liberalism that shook up patterns of secure employment and a cultural liberalism that belittled the worldview and marginalised the concerns of many working-class people.

Working-class voters bore the brunt of the economic decline that followed deindustrialisation, with proud and dignified work being replaced with low skilled, often insecure work. The same voters were among the hardest hit by the decade long-wage stagnation that followed the banking crash. Health and social problems continue to be a major issue, with male life expectancy in the most deprived areas being almost a decade lower than in the least deprived areas.

White, working-class boys are the lowest performing demographic group at GCSE level and research has shown that this educational divide becomes entrenched from the age of five.

The same group are also amongst the least represented at university. Indeed, research earlier this year found that more than half of universities had less than five per cent of students from white working-class backgrounds, despite this demographic being the largest proportion of the population.

Bold steps will be needed to tackle these economic, social and educational divides. Focusing education reform on those areas most in need will be one part of this, as will ensuring that this reform also includes a boost to early years education and an ambitious programme of dual-track vocational education.

Education reform must be accompanied with the revival of “post-industrial” towns and cities so that social mobility doesn’t become synonymous with escape for the few and stagnation for the rest. An ambitious programme of industrial renewal could help both revive many towns and make our economy more resilient.

The snobbery about the white working-class is an unacceptable underbelly of much of today’s “progressive” Left. By voting Conservative in record numbers last December, these voters in the “Red Wall” and beyond showed that the sneering attitude from much of the Left hadn’t gone unnoticed.

It’s now incumbent on the Government to ensure that this trust is repaid and living standards are dramatically improved for working-class voters.