I have done a story today on Byline Times on an issue that will further divide the communities in Ireland – proposed changes by the European Commission to cease putting the clocks forward and back every year. It is coming to a head just as the UK is close to leaving the European Union. You can read it here.
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Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50 and go into negotiations with the other 27 European Union countries to sort out arrangements covering British trade with this huge market. It is a complete mystery how Britain is going to play its cards and Theresa May doesn’t want to give anything away.
However a fascinating post from Stewart Wood, a former adviser to Labour PM, Gordon Brown and later to Ed Miliband, suggests that she does have a strategy but it may be the wrong one.
Drawing from his experience in Whitehall he suggests that Theresa May plans to draw from her experience as home secretary where she successfully negotiated an opt out on police and criminal justice matters – choosing to opt back in to measures she accepted.
She plans to use this to apply to the whole British negotiation.
He writes : “Her plan is for the UK to leave the single market en bloc, but renegotiate continued access to it on preferential terms for some key UK industrial sectors as part of a wider free trade agreement. According to this vision, these lucky sectors would continue to enjoy de facto membership of the single market, but without the requirement to be bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice. Problem solved, our Prime Minister thinks.”
So will this work? Not according to Stewart Wood because the mechanism she is using does not apply here.
” So it can work again, right? Wrong. The strategy of “exit then cherry-picking” worked with the JHA decision in 2014 for a simple reason: it was set up as an “exit plus cherry-picking” deal in the Lisbon Treaty itself. It is a colossal error to think that the same approach can work in the case of Brexit – a negotiation of phenomenally greater complexity, played on multiple chessboards simultaneously, where interests between the EU and the UK are nowhere near as simply aligned, and where opt-outs have not been negotiated by existing treaty provisions.”
I gather Stewart Wood’s views are reflected in Whitehall thinking. But whether Theresa May is taking any notice is another matter.
What it does mean is that if he is right the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Scots Nats are going to have a field day if they decide to hold the government to account. Also all the sectors – from the car industry, the financial sector and technology to name but a few – might vote with their feet to maintain unrestricted access to the EU. Interesting times.
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The reaction to the High Court decision saying that Parliament should be able to debate and trigger Britain’s application to leave the EU has been both depressing and ludicrous.
Newspapers like the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have treated the judges as ” enemies of the people ” just for having the temerity to lay down what is a perfectly valid constitutional decision.
They have NOT ruled that Britain should never leave the European Union but only that our leaving should follow proper constitutional procedures.
The papers have whipped up popularism on a totally false premise and played to the ignorance of people about what is actually happening.
The people who voted to leave the European Union should be delighted not furious about what has happened.
Their main case for leaving the EU was that they didn’t want to be ruled by Brussels and wanted to take back our sovereignty to rule ourselves.
Well what has happened. A British court composed of British judges has ruled that a British Parliament should have the last word and decide how we leave the EU. Brussels or any other foreign power has not said a word.
That seems perfectly reasonable to me. We are a Parliamentary democracy who elect MPs to pass laws and take up issues on our behalf. What we had earlier this year was a referendum not a general election in which the people decided to leave the EU. Therefore it is Parliament not the government that should be guardian of that referendum.
The last general election was won by a party that promised a referendum on whether we should leave the EU, not on a mandate that we will leave the EU – you had to vote UKIP for that.
The other criticism of media coverage of this ruling is the despicable attack on both the person who brought the case and on the judges themselves. Anybody has a right to bring a case and the idea they should be pilloried for doing so is anathema to democracy.
And the attack on the judges – particularly the homophobic criticism of one of them – was absolutely beyond the pale. What right has the Daily Mail to highlight that one of the judges was gay. Do we have ruling that no gay judge can pass judgement in this country? That is utterly despicable – worthy more of Donald Trump than Paul Dacre.
There is another profound reason why Parliament should make the final decision. Yes we voted to leave the EU but nobody was given a clear picture of how we were going to leave the EU during the referendum. The No camp did not have a plan.
So given there about 57 Heinz varieties of doing so – it is right that our MPs and for that matter peers under the present system should debate how we are going to do it and question the government on their plans.
The government is arguing that to do so would give away their hand. This is ridiculous and untenable. If the government think they can negotiate in secret they misunderstand the role of the press in this country and Europe. their plans will inevitably be leaked and when it comes to the negotiations to leave in Europe- journalists will have the resources to tap officials from 28 countries to find out what is going on. Theresa May is living in cloud cuckoo land if she thinks she can keep a lid on it.
So what is all this sound and fury about this decision by the judges – in my view it is much ado about nothing. People should grow up and accept in a mature democracy the issue should be debated and decided in the best forum to safeguard our sovereignty- Parliament.
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The extraordinary treacherous act by Michael Gove in ditching Cameron and then dumping Boris Johnson to try to be Prime Minister has obscured another damning trait in this discredited Tory star.
While the sound and fury surrounding the Referendum campaign dominated the headlines Whitehall quietly produced a damning finding which questions the competence of Michael Gove to stand for high office anywhere.
Before he moved to the Ministry of Justice, where he undid some of the nasty work of Chris Grayling, Gove was secretary of state for education.
In the run up to the Campaign Whitehall belatedly published the Whole Government Accounts – an international accounting standard record of every pound spent of taxpayer’s money and the value of the assets held by the British government.
This report was late because of the failure of one Cabinet minister – Michael Gove – to be able to account for a staggering £33 billion -yes billion- of public money and assets while he was in office. That’s equivalent to half the education budget or THREE years of our contributions to the European Union.
As the findings by the National Audit Office says in Whitehall officialese:
“The 2014-15 Department for Education (DfE) accounts were qualified on the basis of incomplete and inaccurate valuation of academies’ land and buildings assets.
“ In 2014-15, the number of academies continued to increase from 3,905 to 4,580, but the DfE has not addressed the difficulty in maintaining oversight over them. As a result the scope of this issue has grown to £33 billion during the year and is likely to continue to be a source of continued qualification within the Whole Government accounts (WGA ) until there are changes in the oversight and accountability regime for academies. “
The findings means the department has no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property they have handed over to private academies and free schools in the rush to create so many academies. The man who rushed through this in such a cavalier fashion was Michael Gove.
Whoever is the next Prime Minister is going to have a head for figures to negotiate one of the most complex series of deals to disentangle ourselves from the EU and be responsible for signing off tens of billions of pounds of complex trade deals across the world.
If Michael Gove gets to Number Ten job it would be like handing over the running of the country to a reckless irresponsible teenager who ran up huge debts on his parent’s credit card but couldn’t properly account for what he had done.
Gove obviously has no responsibility, interest or understanding of how to control our money. He is entitled to his ideological commitment to creating academies but in his enthusiasm for this controversial policy he is leaving a trail of muddle and mess in his wake. In my view this makes him totally unsuitable to hold this top job. This of all times is no place for incompetents.
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So Britain has had its ” independence day ” as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage would have it. And what have been the repercussions.
In 48 hours the pound has dropped to its lowest level since 1985.
Stock markets across the world from London to Wall Street have all fallen.
The Prime Minister has announced his intention to resign before the party conference triggering a Brexit leadership contest.
Jeremy Corbyn is facing a leadership challenge from his own MPs reinforcing the split between the Parliamentary Party from huge swathes of the membership. The shadow cabinet is now splitting as well with eleven resignations so far tonight.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has said that it is ” highly likely” there will be a fresh referendum on independence from England after Scots voted in every constituency to stay.
Sinn Fein has called for a border poll as a move to a united Ireland. Meanwhile it is pointed out that all Northern Ireland’s citizens are entitled to a Republic of Ireland passport which guarantees them free movement and jobs in Europe.
Spain has made it clear that all citizens of Gibraltar – who voted heavily to remain – could have Spanish EU passports if they took over joint sovereignty of the Rock. This means it could trigger a fresh crisis.
The promise of £350m a month for the NHS if the leave campaign one has mysteriously disappeared.
Britain’s taxpayers have begun a new bail out for the banks with £250 billion of our money earmarked to defend the pound.
The result has been however been welcomed as an ” historic opportunity” in Iran. See this report in a US pro Jewish and Israeli website here. The Islamic state also thinks it is a good idea as they see great opportunities for dividing Europe.
In the last 24 hours the situation has worsened.
In Berlin the six founding fathers of the EU met and decided they would not wait for a leisurely departure from Britain but ask the country to prepare to go this week.
Jonathan Hill ( Lord Hill) the British commissioner responsible for capital and financial markets announced his resignation from July 15. He was the lynch pin for the EU’s relationships with the City of London. See a report here. he is being replaced by a Latvian with strong support for the Euro.
A major rating agency Moody’s has changed Britain’s credit rating to negative while also ruling that the Euro’s credit rating is positive – widening the gap between the two currencies.
Some British people living in Brussels ” in the know” started applying for Belgian EU passports to ensure they had freedom of movement to apply for jobs in Europe. I wonder why?
What seems certain is that in short term prices are likely to go up but that is no problem for those Brexit supporters. some of them were celebrating their new freedom to buy bendy cucumbers without interference from Brussels.
I wonder how they will feel when Independence Day comes around next year.
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Tragic and horrible as the murder of Jo Cox was I was relieved this weekend when there was a pause over campaigning for Thursday’s EU referendum.
I have covered politics for many decades and actually voted in the last referendum to join the Common Market
Bur the standard of debate on both sides of the argument this time has been abysmal and exposed the poverty of argument. And it suggests the calibre of politicians leading Britain has plummeted to a new low.
I don’t believe for one moment the claims from Cameron and Osborne that Britain is going to have huge tax hikes, even more austerity, plummeting house prices and a further squeeze on the NHS if we vote to leave the EU. It seems to be hyperbole gone mad.And anyway with the exception of house prices they have made a good job of doing this while we are a member of the EU.
But nor do I believe that the figures from Leave that the NHS will gain an extra £350m a week if we vote to go, that only immigrants rape people or that the whole of Europe is going to settle in the UK unless we take control of immigration.
Certainly if Farage is right it is going to be a funny old Europe, 364 million new immigrants in the UK and countries like Turkey, Roumania and Bulgaria with populations down to a couple of people who decided to stay. This is the politics of fear gone mad – one side of Europe being totally depopulated and the other side full to the brim. It will never happen.
The truth is neither side really knows what will happen. The pro Europe campaigners can’t be certain how a 28 country Europe will develop and those predicting a new Shangri-La if we leave haven’t a clue how Britain will develop outside a big trading bloc.
So it comes down to gut feeling and a basic set of beliefs.
For a start my ancestry is against Leave. I am British born but my ancestors are Dutch, German and Norwegian on my father’s side. I am Lithuanian, Polish, South African, and Russian on my mother’s side. I am Protestant on my father’s side, Jewish on my mother’s side. Two of my grandchildren are Kurdish.
Frankly I am rather proud to have such a diverse heritage and an even more diverse future I have no time for little Englander faux patriotism ( except probably at sporting events!)
But there is a wider issue about Europe. Yes some of the laws -particularly on employment, access for the disabled, and safe goods, clean beaches and climate change – are driven by the European Union.. And that is a good thing.
And one only has to go to Russia – as I have been recently – to see how countries outside the EU – are not disabled friendly.
I am also highly suspicious that the key pro leave campaigners – Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith – are te very people who have been driving policies to deprive the disabled, cut benefits, put up the price of justice and destroy public services. Migrants make a great scapegoat for those dissatisfied with schools, housing and other public services.
And I am little tired of the cliche Brussels bureaucrats. Why has nothing been said about the increasing role of the European Parliament in holding the European Commission in check or the idea that some of these top bureaucrats are going to face Europe wide elections for the first time.
Yes there is a lot wrong with Europe _ I am sceptical about whether the Eurozone can survive in its present form – and I certainly dislike plans for new international trade agreements which take away powers from elected governments and use workers as commodities. But I am not convinced that the UK by itself can fight them any better by standing alone.
I also resent the idea that we have no control in Europe when as the fifth largest world economy we have a major say in all new EU initiatives outside the Eurozone.
So I will vote for Remain to continue sharing the government of Europe – home to my ancestors- and reject the Boris Johnson ego trip of a faux Independence Day on Thursday.
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The scandal of the mis-selling of Personal Protection Insurance is well known as one of the worst financial scandals in history.
Some 12 million people have received £22.5 billion in compensation from unnecessary Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) schemes sold to gullible people.
And to compound it a National Audit Office report (NAO) last week highlighted how cold calling claims management companies had ripped off £3.8 billion and £5 billion of the compensation paid for work which could be done by claimants for free.
What might also shock people – particularly in the current debate over whether we should quit the European Union – is the revelation by the NAO that it could not complete the investigation to its satisfaction because a European Union directive banned Parliament from getting confidential information. I have written about this in this week’s Tribune magazine.
The situation is this. As well as finding out the scale of the problem the NAO wanted to know -on behalf of you the taxpayer – whether the public watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority had done its job its ensuring the many banks and financial organisation had smartened up their acts to prevent a repetition.. Particularly as they are fears that there could be a new scandal involving the mis-selling of annuities and pension schemes.
The FCA had collected this information but refused to hand it over to Parliament’s watchdog.. The reason it turned out is that the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 combined with EU law restrictions prevents them obtaining the information from the FCA.
As the NAO said: “ This limits our ability to reach a judgement on the FCA’s value for money, as we could not carry out a full assessment of the effectiveness of the FCA’s actions…. we have only limited evidence on how the FCA’s actions have changed firm behaviour, and how effective its redress schemes have been in providing compensation to consumers.”
The NAO tried to get around this by contacting some 20 banks and financial companies and asking them to volunteer to disclose the information. Fifteen did reply but five including two of the companies with the largest number of complaints, Barclays and British Gas Services, declined to provide any information.
The 15 who did reply included HSBC Bank plc; Lloyds Banking Group; MBNA Limited; Nationwide Building Society; NFU Mutual Insurance Society and Santander UK plc.
But a NAO spokesman said: “The information we got from the others while helpful, didn’t enable us to carry out a full assessment of the effectiveness of the FCA’s actions.”
What is the EU doing putting the interests of banks above people and Parliament. The NAO is now asking the Treasury to pass a law allowing it some access to this information but it will have to bow to EU law on how much can be revealed.
I am not a supporter of Brexit but it seems to me there is something very wrong here that needs changing. I am surprised that the vociferous campaigners for a No vote have not latched on to this – even if it is in the small print of the report. The NAO is obviously an independent source with no axe to grind over Europe. But it has provided campaigners who say we are not in control of our country with a very potent example on a very serious issue.