The Brexit court case: Much ado about nothing

daily-mail-enemies-of-the-people

The absurd and despicable take by the Daily Mail on the court judgement

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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.

 

 

 

Why treacherous Michael Gove can’t be trusted with your money at Number Ten

Michael Gove

Michael Gove Pic Credit: Channel Four

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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.

The woes of the first 48 hours of Brexit

Palace_of_Westminster_at_sunset

Parliament at sunset. Pic credit: LSE blog

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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.

 

 

 

 

Why I am going for Remain on Thursday

referendum pic credit BBC

Thursday is referendum day. Pic Credit:BBC

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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.

 

 

How EU law hobbled Parliament investigating worst mis-selling scandal in history

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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.

 

Eric Pickles and Boris Johnson: Dirty Large Tricksters

New Tory image: The Exhaust Pipe. Pic courtesy auto.howstuffworks.com

Remember  David Cameron’s greening of the Conservative Party with that lovely logo of a tree. It is beginning to look as though it has got leaf rot or some other nasty disease. Perhaps the symbol should be replaced with an exhaust pipe.

Pickles: A cunning little plan.Pic courtesy cyclingsilk.com

The rot set in when Eric Pickles decided on a crafty  trick  in the Localism Bill to ” devolve” the payment of European Union fines from Whitehall to town hall. The two likely areas where councils will start having to pay hundreds of millions of pounds are waste disposal and air pollution. Both are affected by EU directives and Britain has little time left to comply with them.

This has caused considerable anger among  Labour councils and even at the Conservative dominated Local Government Association. Authorities now not only face swingeing cuts but also fines unless they spend money to meet tough EU standards aimed at reducing pollution and waste. And if they have to pay the fines they will have to introduce even more cuts or get into expensive law suits with ministers over what proportion of the fine they should pay.

As Baroness Margaret Eaton, Conservative leader of the LGA said:  “ Changing the goalposts now to make councils liable for fines is unfair to them and unfair to the local residents who may have to foot the bill. The Government must amend this unfair, unworkable, dangerous and unconstitutional legislation.” See full press release at http://bit.ly/g2W7EP

But there has been another extraordinary response from Boris Johnson which seems to suggest the solution is NOT to implement the new  EU anti-pollution measures so we don’t have to pay the fines anyway. Flushed out by Murad Qureshi, Labour’s environment spokesman at City Hall, he disclosed that David Cameron and Eric Pickles want the EU to defer new tough air pollution measures for four years until 2015 so major conurbations including traffic ridden London don’t have to do anything yet.

Murad Queriashi is not impressed: “: “London’s air is literally killing thousands of people prematurely every year but it just doesn’t seem like Boris Johnson appreciates this. Improving air quality standards is one area where the mayor of London can, with a bit of will, make a real difference to people’s lives and especially to the lives of children. The statistics obviously haven’t had much effect on Boris – hopefully the threat of a big fine will.”

All this calls into question whether the Tories are really committed to the environment.

 Basically Pickles has devised a very cunning plan. Make councils pay EU fines which will make the EU unpopular. See if you can delay anti-pollution measures which are affecting health – try walking across the Euston Road in London or near Birmingham’s inner ring road  – so we don’t have to bother anyway. If that fails, it doesn’t matter, because it will be the councils who pick up the tab.

Robert Neill, the local government minister, gave it away earlier this year by blaming Labour for signing up to the Lisbon Treaty for councils having to pay fines. But as far as I know there was no provision in the treaty saying councils must pay.

Perhaps Pickles, Neill and Johnson aren’t really bothered by pollution – so an exhaust pipe rather than a tree would suit them.

Whitehall’s censorship of farming subsidies spares Tories (and UKIP’s) blushes

tucking into censored farm subsidy pic courtesy daily mail

Over the bank holiday weekend senior civil servants running the country took an extraordinary decision to ban the public  from seeing  information because  they thought it was so controversial that it would disrupt election campaigning.

They decided to protect candidates from being asked questions on the issue and thought it best the public be left in ignorance about the facts.

 What was this issue? Not some horrendous economic figure, some real facts on immigration. No, it was decision not to reveal which farmers and agribusinesses scooped up some £3 billion from the taxpayer from EU farm subsidies last year.

On Friday statistics were published simultaneously in the other 26 EU countries revealing who had been paid what – it is part of a victory by European journalists to force countries under freedom of information acts to release all this previously secret information.

But in London – against an EU directive – the information was banned. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website says: “Due to the general election campaign, this website will not be updated with the 2009 figures until after the election.”

A letter from a DEFRA official to Jack Thurston, head of farmsubsidy.org, which campaigns for transparency for EU payments, says why:

“This decision reflects the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the UK Civil Service, given the potential risk that CAP payment  information relating to any individuals involved in the election might be used as part of election campaigning.”

Yet ministries continue to publish information on hospital admissions and roads just to name two. And in Scotland because of devolved government – they have taken the opposite decision. They published their figures over the weekend –revealing that 19,000 farmers and agribusinesses shared nearly £600m of public money and the world has not fallen apart north of the border.

So who does this protect? Initial research by farmsubsidy.org reveals that possibly up to 70 of the 650 Tory candidates standing at the election could be receiving some sort of subsidy. Up to half a dozen UKIP candidates- who campaign against the EU- could be receiving EU cash as well as a smattering of Liberal Democrat and BNP candidates. On the Tory side they have discovered that the declared postcode for receipt of EU subsidies is often the same one as used by a local Conservative Association, suggesting that leading officials of the local parties are also receiving subsidies. These are all taken from the previous year’s subsidy figures.

 Yet we won’t know, thanks to Whitehall, until after the election- even though the EU has made it clear in an article in the EU Observer today that it is disappointed with Britain and intends to write to the new government pointing out it is not in line with the EU directive.

Frankly disappointment is too weak a word. It is scandal that unelected officials should decide what information should be made public and when. The decision is also partisan in that it appears to protect opposition party candidates more than Labour candidates from scrutiny – particularly in the case of the Conservatives.

Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, should reverse this now. Otherwise it bodes very badly if we are in “ hung Parliament “ territory when Whitehall  will be effectively  running the country while politicians sort out a new government. If officials are going to select what information the public should know and what should be kept secret, they are exceeding their brief.

This blog is also on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.