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The fight against Brexit starts today

The fight-back against Brexit starts today as the triggering of Article 50 opens negotiations on our future. For me the European Union is not only an economic union but a social and political alliance formed after World War II to ensure a peaceful continent.

This has been my conviction for a long time. At the age of 17, in 1959, I spoke in a debate on Europe and said we should not forget that Europe reached to the Urals. Long ago I realised I would not see that youthful dream come true, but I don’t want see what has been achieved thrown away by English nationalists.

I am angered each time Mrs May talks about representing everyone in the United Kingdom as she did this afternoon. That is not true. She does not speak for me. She has declared war on everything I believe.

There is no inevitability about what happens in the next two years. The EU will undoubtedly change in the next 18 months and such reforms will be the priority of the 27 countries remaining: the UK will have no influence but they could make Europe more acceptable to some here.

As the Brexit negotiations develop there will be changes in public feelings here. We simply cannot guess what will happen in the talks or how people will react. It maybe that a deal which would keep the Northern Ireland and Scotland within the UK could be reached or it could be going over the cliff edge.

My objective is to see the Article 50 letter revoked and the UK remaining a member of the EU. The argument that this cannot be legally done is fallacious. The law has not been tested and at some stage the European Court is likely to rule on this. There are plenty of people both here and in European countries believe it can be done.

But, in the end, it is a political matter. If both side in the negotiations wanted it to happen the law would not stand in the way.

I am optimistic because I don’t think Mrs May will want to go down in history as the prime minister who took England and Wales out of both the European Union and the United Kingdom.

 

Is there a real difference between Trump and May policies on controlling borders?

There is not a lot of difference, at heart, between Theresa May’s “we will have control of our borders” after Brexit and Donald Trump’s pre-election rhetoric about controlling US borders to create more jobs for US citizens and to keep out terrorists.

Now we are seeing how Trump sets about delivering on his promises — the Mexican wall and restrictions on entering the USA — we should focus on what May’s statements really mean.

While May and Trump use very different languages the intent is similar.

The protests about Trump’s executive orders are largely coming from the East and West coasts. Anyone who has travelled inland from New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles or San Francisco know that you enter a very different county: Trump’s moves will be supported by a large proportion of the US electorate.

They are also welcomed here by the likes of Nigel Farage, the UK constituency that terrifies May.

Implementing May’s “control our borders” policy would be fraught with difficulties in meeting the wishes of her right-wing and liberals, business people and academics. We need to know how she plans to do this, before she makes an Article 50 notification to the EU.

The idea that May is a careful Prime Minister who thinks matters through before committing herself is rapidly turning to dust. Her reluctance to condemn Trump’s immigration order and her offer of a State Visit to the UK by the US president, suggest she was totally unprepared for the consequences. If she was prepared, her actions are even more terrifying.

 

Alt-right Brietbart bids to extend its media influence in Europe after Trump victory

If, in the United Kingdom, there was concern about some media reaction to the High Court ruling on Article 50, there is worse to come. A new generation of web-based news organisations are squaring up for a battle.

Yesterday, Brietbart.com’s London office published a story headed: BBC Plan to Counter ‘Christian Bias’ Could Include Broadcasting Muslim Call to Prayer. It is true that the BBC is looking at the balance of its religious content and has invited faith leaders to talks. I could find nothing in the copy to justify the headline which plays into the Islamaphobic agenda.

President elect Donald Trump has nominated Stephen Bannon, chief executive of Brietbart, as his chief strategist. Brietbart, regarded as an online home of the alt-right, is now planning expansion in Europe and other parts of the world.

Its objective is, according the AP news agency to be “the best source of news on the new administration”. AP says:

That scares its critics, which consider Breitbart News the home of cheerleaders rather than journalists — and often offensive at that.

Politico.com, one of a generation of new largely online news organisations, makes its fears clear with the headline, Will America Now Have a Pravda? The intro reads:

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take control of the American executive branch, he will have a weapon at his disposal that few if any presidents have enjoyed—a direct connection to a faithful media operation that reaches millions of loyal populist readers in the form of Breitbart, the self-styled honey badger of alt-right journalism.

To balance my comment on the Brietbart headline, the Politico story has no quoted source for the use of the name “Pravda”. A quote suggesting Brietbart could become the closest thing the US has had to a “state-run media enterprise” is the nearest it gets.

Politico is a more mainstream news organisation and its European site, Politico.eu is a partnership with the German Springer group. It also publishes print editions in both the US and Europe.

The executive editor of Brietbart London is James Delingpole who has also written for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.

Yesterday he wrote a climate change denying piece for Brietbart which includes this:

Gosh I do wish I’d taken my own advice and gone long on fossil fuels, short on renewables in the run up to the U.S. presidential election. I would have even bigger a reason to celebrate the Donald Trump victory than I do already.

Make no mistake, the Donald Trump presidency represents the biggest blow yet to the Great Global Warming Swindle.

I fear the Anglo-American idea of impartial journalism is facing its greatest threat on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trump victory will make Brexit even more painful

The Iberian peninsular breaks away from the mainland and heads towards America before eventually returning to Europe, in The Stone Raft, a wonderful novel by José Saramago.

It feels today as if the United Kingdom will start a similar journey into dangerous waters when the decision to leave the EU is made irrevocable by signing Article 50. But the far coast is much less attractive with a protectionist Donald Trump in the White House.

While the political establishments in both the UK and the USA have miscalculated the anger of many electors the similarity of the Brexit and Presidential votes ends there. The consequences are very different.

As the Economist comments:

Brexit is a giant shock to Britain’s place in the world. It will sever old links and require new ones to be forged. As some of its keenest proponents concede, this transition will bring painful costs. Most of all it demands lots of good will and flexibility on all sides. In so far as Mr Trump’s win means a meaner, more fractious, more volatile global order, it raises those costs and shrinks that space for compromise and consensus essential for a smooth Brexit.

It seems to me that we now need, more than ever, to be a part of strong European Union and its trading bloc.

The silence of Teresa May and her ministers acquiesces in attack on judges

Silence is acquiescence. The silence of Theresa May in the face of yesterday’s newspaper attacks on the British judiciary tells us much about our prime minister and her cabinet.

The silence of her Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has come under attack from a former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, in today’s Guardian, pointing out that she has a constitutional duty to defend the judges. He writes:

 She needs to make it clear immediately that the government has no quarrel with the judges and has total confidence in them. Disagreement with the judges is dealt with by appeal not by abuse. So far Truss has been completely silent, no doubt waiting for guidance from a prime minister who appears so mesmerised by the fear of what the public may do or think that she is willing to throw constitutional propriety overboard.

Truss’s silence feeds the sense that the government is either hopeless at avoiding conflict or couldn’t care less about the constitution.

That a national newspaper, The Daily Mail, can run a front page with pictures of three judges over the headline “Enemies of the people” without being criticised by the government is extraordinary. That our government is failing to defend the separation of powers between the parliament and the judiciary, one of the corner stones of our constitution and democracy, is more extraordinary.

It is as if our government, many of its supporters and much of the official oppositions (the Labour Party) are rabbits caught in the headlights of the hard brexiteers steam-roller.

But not all. Dominic Grieve, a former Tory Attorney General, has done what Truss should have done yesterday. His analysis was forthright and the story in the Huffington Post starts:

The criticism of the judiciary over the recent Article 50 ruling is “chilling” and reminiscent of “Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”…. He also described attacks the judiciary as “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”

The Huff Post report on the silence of Theresa May continues

Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, said the attacks were “threatening the independence of our judiciary” and had “no place in a civilised land”.
He told The Times: [pay wall] “Some of the things which have been said about the court’s judgment by politicians have been utterly disgraceful.
“All ministers from the Prime Minister down must now make clear that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to our democracy. You have to respect that even if you think they have got a decision wrong.

Anna Soubry, a remain campaigner said media reports were “inciting hatred” and continued: “I think we have to call this out and say ‘not in my name’.”

Stephen Phillips, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, a brexit campaigner, who resigned his seat yesterday, said in his letter to constituents:

It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but it has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current Government mean I am unable to properly represent the people who elected me,

That goes to the heart of the problem. Too many MPs feel cowed by brexiteers to be “delegates” rather than fulfilling their constitutional role as “representatives”.

Those parliamentarians  who have spoken out against the attacks on the judiciary emphasises the silence of Theresa May, Liz Truss and other members of the Government.

 

 

 

When judges are called ‘Enemies of the people’ I am afraid for our future

The language being used today following the High Court ruling on the use of the royal prerogative to trigger Brexit is frightening. The headlines in at four national newspapers effectively seek to undermine the rule of law.

The Daily Mail: Under pictures of the three judges who made the ruling is: ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE.

The Sun shouts WHO DO EU THINK YOU ARE.

The Daily Telegraph cries: The judges versus the people.

The Daily Express evokes Churchill’s fight on the beaches speech with its headline, WE MUST GET OUT OF THE EU, printed over the Union flag.

The Guardian has a measured headline, Turmoil for May as judges rule that parliament must decide on Brexit. But its first paragraph starts: “Theresa May is heading for a rebellion over her Brexit strategy…” I can find no justification for the use of the word “rebellion” in following paragraphs.

The front pages can be seen on the BBC website.

For the record, the judges’ ruling was about the process of Brexit not about whether the UK should leave the EU. The ruling upholds sovereign power of the legislature: it supports our MPs and restates the separation of powers between the parliament and the executive. That is something I thought every democrat supported.

The language reflects a very nasty country which is emerging. It is empowering those who feel they can abuse women wearing a head-scarf, those speaking another language and those they think do not look “English”.

A friend told me yesterday of an incident in a pub. He was talking to another friend about Brexit when he felt someone poking him on the shoulder. He turned to be told: “I don’t agree with what you are saying.”

My friend responded that he was having a private conversation and was not talking to the man who had prodded him who then said: “I am Anglo-Saxon, pure Anglo-Saxon.”

My friend rightly ignored this although I would have been tempted to point out that the man was clearly descended from Germanic immigrants.

It is not just in this country that the language of political discourse is being debased.  The United States presidential election has descended into a slanging match between the two leading contenders. Russia sounds increasingly bellicose. In Turkey academics, journalists and civil servants are arrested or arbitrarily sacked. There are more examples.

We are seeing something of the language and attitudes which allowed Mussolini, Franco and Hitler to rise to power and was also heard in Britain before the Second World War.

It is frightening. I woke this morning thinking I was less afraid for the future during the Cuba missile crisis 50 years ago.

 

 

 

East of England hospitals will be among the worst hit by Brexit

Hospitals in the East of England are among those most likely to be affected by Brexit, according to a new study by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). NHS Trusts in the London, Thames Valley and the East of England regions are the most dependent on the recruitment pipeline from Europe, says the report on How Brexit will affect the NHS.

Researchers at the  IES say: Nurses from the European Economic Area (EEA) currently make up 4.5 per cent of the total nursing workforce in England. The figure it masks huge geographic differences between NHS Trusts, with some much more reliant on this recruitment pipeline from Europe than others because of current nursing shortages. Brexit threatens this labour supply because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the status of EU workers in England, which makes it harder for Trusts to recruit from Europe as well as to retain current EEA nurses already working here who might well be questioning their future prospects in the UK.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has seen the most rapid increase in numbers of nurses from other parts of the EU in recent years. In 2009 only 1.3% of nurses at the hospital were from the EEA. The figure has now risen to 18%, one of the highest in the country. The national figure is a quarter of that.

The report authors say:

The most sensible solution now, particularly post Brexit, would be for the government to act now to ensure that we have a ‘homegrown’ domestic supply of nurses. This will require adequate and sustained investment in workforce planning to address the potentially gaping hole in our future nursing workforce. For too long now, there has been a lack of long-term, strategic workforce planning that offers oversight, coordination and alignment of the different dimensions of the nursing workforce (financial, education, employment and international recruitment).

The price of Brexit starts to emerge: Ford estimates cost at $1bn in two years

The Financial Times (paywall) says: “Ford is considering closing plants in the UK and across Europe in response to Britain’s vote to leave the EU, as it forecast a $1 hit to its business over the next two years.”

The price of cars in the UK will also rise before the end of this year, according to Ford.

One of the problems is the fall in the value of the pound which will increase the price of imported cars. Ford now has two factories in the UK, at Dagenham and Bridgend which makes engines which are exported to European assembly plants. Complete cars, including the British made engines, are then imported into the UK.

Manufacturers like Ford have very complex supply chains which move components around European single market freely without restrictions. The possibility that the UK would be outside this market is naturally spooking businesses like car makers whose manufacturing strategies are based on the free movement of goods.

Other car makers are likely follow Ford when it raises prices. General Motors which owns Vauxhall has said the fallout from the referendum vote would cost it $400m this year.

The FT says:

Questions have been raised over the prospects for the UK’s car industry in the wake of the Brexit ballot, with analysts questioning whether the plants can win fresh work during a period of uncertainty over trade and the country’s position in the single European market.

For the sake of the country, Jeremy Corbyn should withdraw from leadership race

The overriding political concern at present is to ensure that there is a functioning opposition in the House of Commons. It is clear that, given the hostility of the parliamentary Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn cannot provide the leadership needed.

At the same time it is far from clear that an Owen Smith leadership would be as effective as it should be with rebellious  party membership snapping at his heels.

The majority of members of the PLP accuse Corbyn of a failure of leadership but is that the result of so many refusing to be led? The real facts are hard to find.

Today on Twitter there is a lot of noise: a strange coalition of journalists and Corbynistas coming together to rubbish the PLP’s Unity candidate. And very little sign of those who nominated him providing support.

If Corbyn really aspires to lead he should have asked his party to abstain on the vote on Trident arguing that more debate was needed. The range of possibilities from direct replacement, an alternative ever-ready system, or possession without deployment to nuclear disarmament could be considered. In those circumstances Labour MPs voting for Trident would have been the disloyal ones.

The moment when I decided Corbyn could not deliver the opposition needed was when he moved quickly after the referendum vote to accept it and urge early triggering of Article 50. This immediately left opposition in the hands of the SNP, SDLP, Lib Dems and the solitary Green with Labour only able to oppose at the edges of the debate.

What made Corbyn decide on this course is a mystery. The only account of events I can find is from a speech to constituents by Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood:

… I sat at the Regional Count with Glenis Willmott the Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, my friend, a fellow trade unionist from the East Midlands doing media duty for our Party.

And as we left at 5am, defeated and in despair, we finally got sent lines to take from the Leader’s office. Acknowledging Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart for their work in the Leave campaign. Their work in direct opposition to Labour Party policy.

And shortly after we heard Jeremy calling for the immediate triggering of Article 50. Without any discussion with the Shadow Cabinet or the Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.

Think about that. The country had just voted to leave the EU after more than 40 years and Jeremy made a major announcement on the Party’s position without waiting to discuss it with the Shadow Cabinet, without even consulting the leader of our MEPs in Europe.

It was the call for early triggering of Article 50 that decided me that Corby should not remain the Labour leader.

Overall, Corbyn’s policies were unexceptional. Indeed, Theresa May’s speech on the steps of Number 10 echoes much of his thinking. Few would oppose them. During the referendum campaign his defence of free movement of people was brave.

So who should lead the party. The choice now is between a man who lacks (or is prevented from using) leadership skills, or another man who would lack the support of a large part of the party.

The best solution would if Jeremy Corbyn stood down from the election because, even if he wins the election, he cannot command the loyalty needed to lead the parliamentary opposition the country needs so badly.

The result would still be unsatisfactory, a split would remain on the cards, there would be a lot of anger but there may be a functioning opposition. The referendum felt too much like an argument within the Tory party:  we cannot afford to let the same thing happen to the Brexit negotiations.

‘Tory Britain, no longer aspires to be a leading Western power’ — a view from overseas

Anne Applebaum in her perceptive Washington Post column last week wrote: “Johnson, Osborne and many British Conservatives are now quite comfortable with the idea of Britain, or possibly just England, as the Dubai of the North Atlantic, the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere: a small trading nation…” The headline was: “New cabinet may signal Britain’s retreat as a Western power.”

This morning comes the news that ARM, the  British company which leads the world with its chip designs at the heart of connected world — the internet of things — which is developing very fast, is to be taken-over by Japanese Softbank business for £24 billion.

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent wrote:

It’s hard to exaggerate just how important ARM is to the UK tech sector – and the shock many are feeling this morning at the news that it is about to lose its independence.

Its brilliance was to realise that if chips were about to come with everything, you didn’t have to make them – designing them was the key.

The British Government is to nod through the takeover, with Philip Hammond, the new Chancellor, telling the Financial Times: “Just three weeks after the referendum decision, it shows that Britain has lost none of its allure to international investors.”

That is one way of spinning the story but it is not necessarily the way it is seen in other parts of the world.

Anne Applebaum is based in London and has written widely for serious British publications. Her Washington Post column provides a chilling insight into how the United Kingdom is being portrayed in the District of Columbia and, no doubt in many other capitals. It is a column which should be read in full but here is an extract:

… May’s choices also suggest a more profound change, visible for some time but only just now swimming into focus: Britain, or at least Tory Britain, no longer aspires to be a leading Western power. Surely May knows that Johnson is a hated figure in Brussels. Surely she guessed that the reaction to his appointment would be laughter in Washington. But she doesn’t care because — like the leaders of all small countries without aspirations to international leadership — her concerns are more parochial. She doesn’t need a foreign secretary who is taken seriously in foreign capitals.

Nor was she bothered by the further implications of the choice. Johnson has been a brilliant cheerleader for Britain in the past — a great ambassador for London — and some people now hope he will continue in that role. But in his recent columns and conversations, he has also made it clear that Britain’s traditional alliances — with the United States, with Europe — mean little to him. Instead, he has flirted with Putinism, praised Bashar al-Assad and gone on trade junkets to China. Johnson’s admiration for rich foreign dictators echoes the views of many leading Tories, even George Osborne, the just-retired chancellor of the exchequer. Johnson, Osborne and many British Conservatives are now quite comfortable with the idea of Britain, or possibly just England, as the Dubai of the North Atlantic, the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere: a small trading nation, an offshore home for Russian, Chinese, Malaysian and Nigerian money, a place comfortable with oligarchs of all kinds — even with Americans, as long as they have cash — and very distant from old Thatcherite ideals about democracy and rule of law.