.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, April 23, 2018

A referendum on final Brexit deal still possible

With opinion polls starting to show that voters are having second thoughts about Brexit, the Independent reports on an important intervention by one of the Ministers charged with making it happen.

According to the paper, Brexit Minister, Steve Baker has said that MPs will be able to force Theresa May to accept a fresh referendum on Brexit in a showdown vote as early as the autumn. He has conceded that the crucial vote on the exit deal would not, as expected, be a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice, because “parliament can always seek to amend motions”.

He agreed that a possible amendment would be for parliament to only approve the withdrawal agreement struck with the EU “subject to a second referendum”:

Speaking to the Lords constitution committee on Wednesday, Mr Baker suggested parliament had a duty to respect the referendum result and not to “frustrate that process”.

“We will leave, there will not be attempts to stay in by the back door, there will not be an attempt to reverse the result,” he insisted – but he admitted it was “a political point, rather than a constitutional point”.

Ms May has firmly rejected a further referendum, but some pro-EU Tories believe she could yet accept one if it appears the only way to keep her warring party together on Europe.

Similarly, although Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour does not back another referendum, he has left the door open to a change of mind.

There is also evidence that support is growing for a referendum on the Brexit deal, amid continuing confusion about both the planned transition period and the final agreement with the EU.

A recent poll for Best for Britain found that 44 per cent of people want a vote – a clear eight points ahead of the 36 per cent who reject a further referendum.

Opinion appears to be shifting as the negotiations remain bogged down on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland and with the details of a future trade deal unlikely to even be discussed until after departure day.

This is very encouraging. Given the confusion as to what exactly the UK voted for in June 2016, it is crucial in my view and that of others that voters are given an opportunity to pass their verdict on the final deal and what it will mean for them and their families.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Another race row hits the Tories

As if they had not done enough to disrupt good race relations in this country through their mishandling of the Windrush generation and the targeting of long-standing immigrants for deportation, the Tories have jumped feet first into yet another row over race.

As the Observer reports, the equality and human rights watchdog has warned that Government plans that will force people to prove their identities at polling stations in May’s local elections risk disenfranchising members of ethnic minority communities.

They say that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to the Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, raising its serious concern that the checks will deter immigrants and others from participating in the democratic process:

Under the new government voting rules, being trialled in several local authorities at the 3 May local elections, people will be asked at polling stations to produce documents proving their identity – such as a passport or driving licence – before casting their vote. Currently, no such proof is required.

The Windrush scandal has highlighted how many who came to this country from the Caribbean, mainly in the late 1950s, have struggled to prove their British citizenship because the authorities failed to register them or destroyed their landing cards, or because they have never applied for documents such as passports. Ministers say the pilot projects are being run – with a view to adopting them nationwide if they are successful – in response to concerns about electoral fraud.

But in a letter to Lidington, and leaked to the Observer, the EHRC says evidence of supposed fraud is minimal and warns that there is a real risk that legal residents who might not have a passport or driving licence – or might be reluctant to produce them at polling stations – could be disenfranchised as a result.

In the letter, the EHRC’s legal officer, Claire Collier, tells Lidington: “The Commission is concerned that the requirement to produce identification at the given local elections (Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking) will have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, particularly older people, transgender people, people with disabilities and/or those from ethnic minority communities. In essence, there is a concern that some voters will be disenfranchised as a result of restrictive identification requirements.”

Of course the Government were warned about this when they first mooted this idea, but they did not listen. There are a number of voter suppression techniques being practised, mostly by Republicans in the United States, and this is one of them. That the Tories wish to bring them to the UK is a disgrace.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The divorce bill just got bigger

Are there still people out there who believe that the UK will be better off leaving the European Union? I only ask, because if so then clearly they have not been paying attention. Either that or they are Brexiteers filling some of top Cabinet jobs who feel obliged to defend the many lies that were told during the referendum.

The latest blow to the 'better-off' myth comes in the Guardian, which reports that the cost of the Brexit divorce bill for the UK could be billions higher than the £35bn-£39bn figure put forward by Theresa May.

They refer to a National Audit Office (NAO) report which has warned that the UK could pay an extra £3bn more in budget contributions as well as an additional £2.9bn to the European Development Fund. Auditors have concluded that the Treasury’s estimate includes £7.2bn of receipts which will go directly to the private sector and not to the government’s accounts:

May told parliament in December that the bill would be between £35bn and £39bn, a fee jointly agreed in a meeting between the Treasury and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Auditors found that the total amount that the UK would contribute to the EU annual budgets in 2019 and 2020 would be calculated on the basis of the UK’s economic outlook, which would also partly determine Britain’s share of outstanding commitments and liabilities after 2020.

Britain’s exit settlement could not be defined until there was more certainty in areas such as the economy’s performance in 2019 and 2020, auditors said.

Costs still to be worked out include those relating to pension liabilities, the amount British organisations will receive in EU funding after withdrawal and exchange rate fluctuations because the divorce bill will be paid in euros, according to the study.

“Relatively small changes to some assumptions about future events could push the cost outside of HM Treasury’s £35bn to £39bn range,” the report says.

Due to EU financial rules, the UK could have to pay up to £3bn more in budget contributions than Treasury estimates after formal withdrawal in March 2019. The UK might have to pay towards other costs, which are not in the government estimates, such as potential liabilities that could depend on future events.

The UK will also pay £2.9bn to the European Development Fund for overseas aid, which is not featured in the exit settlement estimate because the fund was not established under EU treaties.

Britain’s contribution to the EU pension scheme might last until 2064 unless the government decides to pay off its commitments earlier in a lump sum, which would present “risks and opportunities to the total value the UK may be liable to pay”.

I didn't see any of that on the side of a bus in June 2016.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The bizarre refusal of HMRC to co-operate with a criminal inquiry

I have spent three and a half decades dealing with the authorities, whether it is the local council, a health board, the Welsh Government, the UK Government or one of the many agencies that exist to deliver services to the public. And yet I have never seen anything like this.

It is no wonder that MPs are to investigate an HM Revenue and Customs decision to turn down a French request for help with a criminal inquiry into a major Conservative party donor given the circumstances of the refusal.

As the Guardian reports, the Treasury select committee and the public accounts committee want to explore why tax officials rejected a request from the French authorities to help with an inquiry involving the mobile network operator Lycamobile. It follows the disclosure on Thursday that the tax authority had sent correspondence to its French counterparts which pointed out that the telecoms company was the “biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party”:

Lycamobile had donated more than £2.1m to the Conservative party until French police two years ago launched an inquiry into alleged criminal activity by individuals at the company. No legal proceedings have been taken against Lycamobile itself.

In March 2017, French officials asked HMRC to assist with investigations in the UK, but the request was refused.

The parliamentary investigations have been launched after correspondence between British and French tax officials was leaked to the news website BuzzFeed.

One letter, sent to French officials from the team at HMRC that handles law enforcement requests from foreign governments, said: “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May.”

A spokesman for Lycamobile said: “Lycamobile has not contributed to the Conservative party since July 2016. Lycamobile continues to deny all allegations being implied by BuzzFeed.”

Serious as this is, the U-turn performed by HMRC's spokesperson, as reported by Buzzfeed, defies satire:

When BuzzFeed News first approached HMRC to ask about its response to the French request, the agency’s senior press officer strongly denied that Lycamobile’s donations would ever be cited as a reason not to conduct criminal raids. “No HMRC official would ever write such a letter,” he said. “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.”

However, after verifying the contents of the email seen by BuzzFeed News, another HMRC spokesman said that it was “regrettable”.

Perhaps we are living in a banana republic after all.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UK will be £615m a week worse off under May's Brexit

Having now finished reading Tim Shipman's excellent 612 page book on the Brexit referendum campaign and see what a shit-show that whole episode in UK history was, I am rather less surprised by this revelation in the Independent that the government’s preferred Brexit scenario would leave the UK public finances £615m per week worse off than staying in the EU.

The paper quotes a study for the think tank Global Future carried out by Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College, London, which looked at each of the three scenarios assessed by the government in its own leaked analysis.

His research calculates that the government’s preferred option of a “bespoke deal” would mean about £40bn more in annual public borrowing than under the status quo by 2033/34 - the same time period over which the government worked out its impact assessments:

That equates to £615m per week, or 22 per cent of the NHS budget, after translating that into today’s prices, the research claims.

It bases this scenario on the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech which outlined the Brexit she hopes to deliver.

This would mean leaving the single market and customs union whilst maintaining access to EU markets with minimal tariff and non-tariff barriers. It would also include the flexibility to diverge from Brussels regulations, negotiate trading relationships with other non-EU countries and implement restrictions on immigration.

The research estimates that this outcome would leave the country better off than a no-deal Brexit but worse off than under the “Norway model” or under an average free-trade agreement such as the one Canada has with the EU.

The Norway model, in which the UK would stay in the single market and adhere to EU rules and regulations but leave the customs union, would have a negative fiscal impact of £262m per week while the Canada option would cost around £877m per week, Mr Portes finds.

The figures are the equivalent of 9 per cent and 31 per cent of the current NHS budget respectively. A no-deal Brexit in which the UK trades with the EU under World Trade Organisation terms is estimated to cost £1.25bn per week. No scenario is more beneficial than staying in the EU.

The analysis takes into account the benefits from lower financial contributions to the EU budget and a new trade deal with the US as well as costs arising from new customs controls, tariffs, and reduced migration.

This is a far cry from the widely debunked claim by Brexiteers that the UK will have an extra £350m a week to spend after Brexit. Somehow though, I doubt the UK Government will be putting the envisaged £615m cut in public services on the side of a bus. His

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Welsh Government loses the plot

For perhaps the first time since I lost the election in May 2016 today, I am grateful that I no longer have to make the long trek down the M4 and take my seat in the Senedd chamber. Not only has the row over the Welsh Government's leak report grown out of control, but it has become embarrassing. It has started to undermine the credibility of Welsh democracy.

A quick recap: following the death of Carl Sargeant a number of reports were commissioned. One of these was conducted by the Permanent Secretary and concluded there had been no "unauthorised" leak of information about Carl's sacking before he had been told. This was despite the fact that social media was reporting the sacking in advance and a number of journalists also knew. The conclusions seemed barely credible and left only one question, if there was no unauthorised leak then who had authorised it?

Naturally the opposition parties wanted the report published, redacted so as to protect the identity of the individuals concerned, but the government refused. So the Tories tabled a motion requiring the government to publish it under Section 37 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This enables AMs to require any person to produce any Welsh Government document in their possession. However the power has never been used.

And then things really got out of control as the Welsh Government threatened the Assembly with legal action if the debate goes ahead. So much for transparency and accountability.  It was as if they were discovering the existence of the Government of Wales Act for the first time.

The saga led to angry scenes during First Minister's questions in the Senedd yesterday. One journalist says that 'political observers described it as being among the most "heated", "intense" and "angry" scenes witnessed in the 19-year history of devolution'.

And, yes, the debate is going ahead, so we face the unprecedented prospect of a government in the UK taking its own Parliament to court to try and limit the extent of its own accountability.

This is not the devolution that I voted for. Nor is the sort of name-calling on all sides that developed in yesterday's Plenary the democracy that the people of Wales deserve or want. Surely it is time for the Welsh Government to stop digging and to publish the report.

But I will leave the final word to an acquaintance and neighbour, whom I bumped into at the newsagents earlier this morning. 'They all need their heads knocked together', he said. And so say all of us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Welsh UKIP leader denies Enoch Powell was a racist

The one good thing we can say about Radio Four's broadcast of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech at the weekend is that it certainly outed some dodgy views. Chief amongst those was the assertion by the Welsh UKIP leader that Enoch Powell was not a racist.

Neil Hamilton, who is himself a disgraced former Tory MP, though for different reasons, told the BBC that the idea Enoch Powell was a "racist villain" is "absolute nonsense":

"The idea that Enoch Powell was some kind of uniquely racist villain is absolute nonsense," Mr Hamilton told the Good Morning Wales programme.

"Powell actually changed politics by articulating the fears and resentments of millions and millions of people who are being ignored by the establishment."

Mr Hamilton said: "I think he's been proved right by events.

"I don't think he was right in one sense, in that we have not seen the kind of racial violence and intolerance generated by this that, at the time, was happening in the United States."

But Mr Hamilton said the "social changes which mass immigration has brought were never desired by the majority of the British people, and indeed they had never been asked 'do you want to transform your country in the way that has happened'."

UKIP just can't help themselves can they?

In response, the Welsh Lib Dem Leader tweeted: 'Utterly despicable comments. Powell was a racist, plain and simple. To hear someone trying to defend and justify his racist views shows how delusional and out of touch UKIP really are. Wales really deserves better.'

Absolutely right!!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jacob Rees Mogg's accused of bizarre 'betrayal'

Just how messed up right wing politics is at the moment is demonstrated by this article on the Breitbart website. They report that Conservative Party backbencher and leadership hopeful Jacob Rees-Mogg has shocked his fans by speaking out against Enoch Powell MP’s famous Birmingham speech.

They say that Rees-Mogg, whose father once wrote a Times of London editorial attacking Powell’s speech as “evil” took to Twitter on Saturday to state: “My father’s view which has stood the test of time about Enoch Powell’s speech”. However, the MP was met with almost universal condemnation by the political right, while being congratulated by left wing academics and members of the establishment media:

The Times column — which ran the day after Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech warning over mass migration and the Race Relations Act — congratulated Tory wet Ted Heath for dismissing Powell from his shadow cabinet, and called the speech “disgraceful”.

A BBC Panorama poll from late 1968 revealed that 74 per cent of the British public agreed with Powell, to the chagrin of establishment types like William Rees-Mogg,

“The more closely one reads the text of Mr. Powell’s speech, the more shameful it seems,” the Times thundered. “Mr. Heath must also have strengthened his own leadership,” it risibly suggested. A few years later Mr. Powell’s endorsement to vote Conservative would be the determining factor in the Tories winning the 1970 election.

By late 1974, Powell had had enough with the Conservative Party, resigning and urging people to vote Labour. Mr. Heath was, as a result, unceremoniously turfed out of office.

The reaction by a number of Rees-Mogg's followers underlines the sad reality that the can of worms opened up by Powell received fresh impetus from the Brexit referendum, which saw racist propaganda from the Leave side of the argument and an increased number of racist incidents being reported.

The North East Somerset MP was being held up as a standard bearer for the Brexiteers. However, he remains a man of principle and integrity and it to his credit that he is prepared to stand up to some of the wilder fringes of that movement.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

New UKIP leader announces his resignation in advance

Like many people I suspect, I have lost count of the number of leaders that UKIP have had in the last few years. They sure get through them quickly. However, the latest in a long line of UKIP leaders has introduced a fresh approach - rather than waiting to be ousted he has started his tenure by announcing his resignation date.

As the Mirror reports, Gerard Batten has said he will spend the next year trying to restore the party's fortunes after a tumultuous period that has seen it implode with bitter infighting and stretched by financial struggles, and then he will quit. This is a whole new definition of crisis management:

He said: "As I said at the start of the contest, if the election were to be uncontested, I would hold office for 12 months.

"Therefore, I intend to resign on 13th April 2019 so that a full leadership contest may take place. By then I will have decided if I wish to contest that election or not.

"For the next 12 months, I will concentrate on doing all I can to restore the party's fortunes. A very good start has been made and the party is now on a sound financial footing."

Batten became interim leader after Bolton was kicked out of the job over his relationship with controversial model Jo Marney, who sent offensive messages about Meghan Markle.

After taking the helm, Batten had to appeal to UKIP members for funds after the party faced possible insolvency when it was landed with a £175,000 legal bill from a libel case lost by its MEP Jane Collins.

There is no better indication of a party struggling for relevance than one which elects a leader who does not appear to want the job and who is keen to get out from the role as soon as possible.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Is Radio 4 weaponising racism by broadcasting the 'Rivers of blood' speech?

I have been struggling a bit with the decision of BBC Radio four to broadcast an actor voicing the entirety of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech from fifty years ago.

The BBC argues that the broadcast will include "rigorous journalistic analysis", that the speech will be placed in context and the show was not endorsing controversial views:

Delivered to local Conservative Party members in Birmingham, days before the second reading of the 1968 Race Relations Bill, then MP Powell referenced observations made by his Wolverhampton constituents including "in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man".

He ended with a quote from Virgil's Aeneid, when civil war in Italy is predicted with "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".

The anti-immigration speech ended his career in Edward Heath's shadow cabinet.

The Race Relations Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Lord Adonis has called for today's broadcast to be cancelled, and has written to the regulator Ofcom. He believes that the speech was the "worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain".

He is right though I fear that other public figures have made attempts to match it since, not least the Nigel Farage 'Breaking point' poster that was unveiled during the EU referendum. And that is my problem with the broadcast.

It is not just the normalisation of racism by the BBC, it is legitimising the racism that followed it in the subsequent half century. It is impossible to achieve balance on this sort of abusive language both because of what has happened since and because of the ongoing storm over immigration ignited by Cameron's pledge to cut it to the tens of thousands and the current controversy over Brexit.

As one Twitter user says: "We can study racists without platforming and amplifying the racist things they say."

Anybody who has spent any time on social media will know what a cesspit it can be if you stumble onto the wrong sites and pages. People there can be no respecter of copyright.

I can forsee a scenario in which this acted out speech, shorn of all its context, appears on a viral video, perhaps with the 'Breaking point' poster as a back drop, as a means to promote foul and unsavoury views. And the BBC will have enabled that.

This broadcast is a massive misjudgement that undermines the corporation's duty to be balanced and impartial. It is bad enough that they made Farage and UKIP and continue to promote them with unprecedented exposure on Question Time and other current affairs programmes. With this programme they are standing over the abyss, they are opening a Pandora's box they may never be able to close.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?