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Theresa May’

An untrustworthy prime minister

Mrs May is not trustworthy. That much we know after yesterday when she U-turned on her promises to abide by her pledge not to call an election before the natural end of this parliament. Why we don’t know.

She said it was because of the opposition to her Brexit plans by the Labour, Lib Dems, the Scottish Nationalists and the House of Lords in parliament. But there are suggestions that the real reason is that she want to get the hard Brexiteers off her back so that she can deliver a soft Brexit.

Or, it could be, that she still has no vision of what Brexit means and is ruthlessly seeking power to do whatever she eventually decides she wants.

Sun front page

The Sun this morning accepts the story Mrs May put to the country in her surprise statement in Downing Street yesterday. She is aiming to kill off Labour, smash the rebel Tory remainers and “Bid for a clear Brexit mandate” although there is no indication of what that might mean.

But the alternative view is given by Nils Pratley, the Guardian’s business editor, who writes:

The real question is why sterling, which hit a six-month high, reacted so strongly to an early general election.

It was because investors calculated – counter-intuitively at first glance – that a bigger Tory majority in the Commons, if that’s what follows, will mean a softer form of Brexit. This argument was best expressed by Deutsche Bank’s analysts, who reckon the election is “a game-changer” for the pound and the Brexit negotiations. A bigger majority would set Theresa May free from the “unrealistic timetable” set by the eurosceptics in her party, they argue.

Much the same view is being expressed in Brussels according to Politico.eu.

The news website says:

“The chances for a good outcome of the Brexit negotiations have just gone up tremendously,” said a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Instead of being at the mercy of the Brexiteers, May will now get a very, very strong mandate that will allow her to negotiate a reasonable deal with the EU,” the senior official said.

So is May trying to get the Conservative “hard Brexiteers” or the “remoaners” off her back? Or is it both she wants to be rid of so that she can do whatever she likes.

Yesterday’s announcement showed a ruthlessness in power. Any lingering belief in Bagehot’s concept of the role of prime minister as the “first among equals” was shot down yesterday. There is no evidence she consulted her colleagues before her announcement. It is a decision which reeks more Lord Hailsham’s “elective dictatorship”.

The words of Mrs May as she assumed the premiership, so full of promise, now seem as hollow as her assurances there would be no snap-election. How can we believe anything she says?

She can start by laying out a credible vision of a future for the UK and its relationship with Europe and explaining how she will seek to achieve it.

Swift reactions suggest Article 50 letter was not given enough thought

Annotated letter

What TM wrote and what she means. Politico.eu has its interpretation.

That Theresa May’s Article 50 letter has been so quickly seen as a threat over European security co-operation suggests the drafting may have been hurried and not subjected to sufficiently rigorous checking in Downing Street. The alternative – that it was a deliberate threat – is worse.

The point was picked up immediately by LibDem leader Tim Farron who said Theresa May has delivered a “blatant threat” to the EU 27 by threatening to withdraw security co-operation if we do not receive a favourable trade deal.

Others in the UK and across Europe followed with similar comments.

Politico.eu has produced an annotated version of the letter and had this to say on the security issue:

WHAT SHE SAID:
“In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”

WHAT SHE MEANT:
If you want access to our superior intelligence on international crime and terrorism you’d better do us a deal on the stuff we want too. Just think about that.

Reactions to other parts of the letter were also swift. The Independent reports:

Angela Merkel has dealt an instant blow to Theresa May’s plan for Brexit by rejecting the PM’s plan for trade talks to take place at the same time as Article 50 secession negotiations.

Britain will be put into the slow lane for discussions about any future trade deal with the EU following an intervention by the German Chancellor, who intervened just hours after the UK invoked Article 50.

Was all this what Downing Street expected and wanted from the letter or is it a mark of poor drafting and hurry. They have had months to prepare the letter but it does not look like it.

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.

 

 

 

‘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.

Sending naked negotiators into EU conference chamber

Now we know. Brexit campaigners won the referendum by lying and dissembling but had no idea what they were asking people to vote for: no vision of a future outside the EU. And they had no leadership capable of working out and articulating what they wanted to happen so they have outsourced the job to the people who wanted to remain.

Tomorrow we will see a woman Remain campaigner — albeit a less than enthusiastic one — become our prime minister having promised “Brexit means Brexit”. The trouble is that we have no idea what she thinks Brexit means and I doubt if she has either. And how can we trust Theresa May who has so readily switched sides in  a fortnight — it is like the old joke about the politician who was challenged and said: “If you don’t like my principles I have others.”

There is no vision. There cannot be a realistic one because we do not know how the various members and organisations of the European Union will react. At one extreme there is possibility of being outside the EU relying on World Trade Organisation rules to conduct our business. At the other, we could be offered something like the Norwegian deal which would include associate membership of the Shengen area.

We will be sending negotiators into the conference chamber naked. The referendum result throws away our leverage for change.

The position is not so far removed from that Aneurin Bevan faced in 1957 when he addressed the Labour Party conference on nuclear disarmament:

I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. … And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.

Whoever accepts the post of foreign secretary in the May administration will know that quote from one of the most memorable political speeches in post-war Britain. George Osborne is being tipped for the post — if it is him we can celebrate a brave man.

With the Labour Party dysfunctional, failing to provide opposition, May has adopted policies put forwards by Ed Milliband before his failure to win the last election led to his resignation. The Guardian reports today that she has also adopted his slogan about a “country that works for everyone rather than a privileged few”.

For her proposal about workers in the boardroom we need to dig further back in labour history. The system which supported German post-war industrial resurgence was put in place with the help of British trade unionists led by Vic Feather, later General Secretary of the TUC.  The Tablet, in a 1987 article, commented:

… it is one of modern history’s crueller ironies that the reconstruction of the West German system, on the ruins left by Nazism and war, from which its excellence today derives, was carried out with the help of British TUC advisers led by Vic Feather.

If May succeeds in this ambition she will have done something which has not been done by any of the post-war British labour governments.

Jeremy Corby has accepted May’s policy of Brexit means Brexit (“We have to respect the decision that has been made“) as, seemingly, has a majority of the parliamentary labour party. His stance on the  importance of maintaining the free movement of people, now seems to be the most fruitful area for opposition to the new government.

But would even that survive the removal of Corbyn as  leader? The opposition can hardly survive a new leadership battle at a crucial time in British politics. Even with the summer recess coming up the opposition needs to be hard at work on its strategy not squabbling: the new government will certainly be doing its preparation.

At present the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens are providing real opposition but they cannot fill the vacuum created by a fractious (and irresponsible) labour party.