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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.

The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty to 0.002% of the people

The Conservative party is outsourcing sovereignty. The 150,000 party members (0.002% of the UK population) will have the final say on who will be the prime minister will have to take one of the momentous decision in British History.

David Cameron had passed the responsibility to accept the result of the referendum and start the process of leaving the EU by notifying the European Council to his successor. It is a sovereign decision to be made by the prime minister: there is no provision for votes in he Houses of Parliament.

It is right that party members choose their leader. But choosing a prime minister who will take, what looks like being, an existential decision for the UK is another matter.

The front-runner to replace David Cameron has already announced what her decision would be. Teresa May said yesterday: “Brexit means Brexit.”

Prime ministers also have the right to declare war without the approval of parliament but this has been strongly challenged particularly since the Iraq war. In 2005 Clare Short (Labour) introduced a bill to requiring parliamentary consent to armed conflict and was supported by senior figures in all parties. It was talked out.

This issue will return next week with the publication of the Chilcot report.

Except in cases of urgency, it is now difficult to imagine a prime minister declaring war without first having a debate in parliament and vote, even it was not binding.

Yet there is no suggestion of a vote on triggering Article 50 to exit the EU. Labour has joined the Conservatives in saying the people have spoken and their will must be respected.

Well, 37 per cent of the population have voted in favour of leaving without knowing what leaving will mean. The capital city and two of the four countries of the union have voted to remain, a division which in normal circumstances would lead parliament to be very cautious about making a final decision.

At the very least, the new prime minister should seek confirmation of her or his role by calling a general election before making a decision on triggering article 50.

If that does not happen our democracy means very little.

 

Could this be the new UK flag?

Flag without Ireland

Talk of a break-up of the UK has focussed on Scottish independence. But could Northern Ireland be the first to leave?

Although Northern Ireland voted to remain the chances of the six counties with their unionist tradition has always looked unlikely to leave the UK. But might that change if there is no Brexit-lite deal, no access to the free-trade area and border posts along the border with the Republic of Ireland?

It would not present many of the problems Scotland would face have membership of the EU. Northern Ireland would not become independent but transfer its allegiance from London to Dublin. And so remain in the EU.

The Irish Republic already claims the six Counties, there is an apparently good relationship between the NI administration and Dublin, legal ties and citizenship rights as well as strong trade relationships.

Sinn Féin has called for a border poll but is probably putting down a marker rather than expecting anything to happen quickly. Nothing will change quickly but if Brexit negotiations do not go well the prospect of a united Ireland will grow.

Is Merkel trying to give UK time to reconsider Brexit vote?

I may be reading more into the words coming out of Berlin this morning than are really there but they seem to hint that Angela Merkel want’s to give the UK a chance to reconsider Thursday’s Brexit vote.

This comment is from Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff (Guardian):

Should we just be saying: we’re sad that the referendum has ended this way, but now you have to go? I am not sure that would be the right step. Because at this referendum something has happened that I never imagined: on the hand, the sad result is that there were 52% of said they wanted to leave.

But on the other hand –and that’s something that I as a European find deeply moving – even in this country that we often thought of as deeply eurosceptic and not truly European, there has been an incredible turning towards Europe by millions of people … As a European, I feel a responsibility towards those people.

This contrasts with the draft resolution to be put to the European Parliament which demands immediate triggering of Article 50.

Personally I am not turning towards Europe because I have always faced that way. I just hope everyone in the UK we will have time to reflect on the implications of the referendum result. For some reason many went into the polling stations without realising they were partaking in one of the most momentous decisions in British history.

An appealing plan to defeat Brexit from Lord Heseltine

It is good to see Michael Heseltine still has the spirit to swing the Mace even if today it is a virtual one. His idea is appealing: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage must lead the Brexit negotiations because if others did this the trio would campaign against any outcome as being unsatisfactory.

So they would have to negotiate and present the outcome to the Commons which would inevitably reject it as a big majority of MPs are pro-Remain. Then there would have to be a general election or a second referendum.

Lord Heseltine’s argument is appealing (BBC)  but we could not reach that stage without triggering Article 50. I would prefer it if Article 50 was never invoked.

And what would be the choices if we were outside the EU. It could be exclusion from the European free trade area or accepting something like the arrangement Norway has including membership of Shengen Area and rather larger payments to the EU.

What will happen in the next few months is impossible to predict but I sense that the mood in the country has changed quite a lot since Friday. Politicians are constantly telling us they “respect” the referendum vote. They would not need to say that if the they were bound by the vote. It will take time, but they might just come to exercise the sovereignty of parliament they insisted upon when drawing up the referendum laws.