Category Archives: EU

What is Boris up to?

It has been an exhilarating week in Parliament. The Repeal Bill has passed its second reading, the Government has u-turned on the public sector pay cap and Labour gained victories on NHS pay and tuition fees. It has been quite a few days before recess.

Unfortunately, it has also been the week where terror has returned to the country. An explosion at Parsons Green Tube Station saw a number of people injured, although thankfully it appears no loss of life or life threatening injuries. This has led to the Prime Minister raising the security level to critical from severe, meaning an attack is believed to be imminent.

It is amidst this backdrop that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has decided that now is the time to intervene.  In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson has set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. Most prominently in this article, Johnson has repeated the controversial claim that leaving the EU would save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS. Unsurprisingly, this has created a lot of headlines.



This article has drawn criticism from some senior figures in the Conservative Party. Will Tanner, a former adviser to Theresa May called the article a “prelude to resignation” and Ruth Davidson in what was widely perceived as an attack on Boris Johnson said at the present time “the only thoughts should be on service.” Another unnamed Conservative MP described this as an “extraordinarily selfish act.”

Allies of the Foreign Secretary have claimed the article was authorised by 10 Downing Street and that Johnson was merely setting out his position. However, accepting this argument is highly naïve. When penning this article, Johnson and allies would have known it would be interpreted as a leadership bid and the resulting problems this could then cause the Prime Minister, who is due to give a major Brexit speech on Friday. Johnson is no novice.

It is unclear what Johnson is up to here. Leadership; resignation; clearing his name; putting pressure on the PM or a mixture of these things. Take your pick! Regardless, the timing is appalling and will not help the Foreign Secretary or his reputation. It was reported earlier this week Number 10 has been attempting to keep Johnson on board. I think we can now safely say this attempt has just failed! Prior to party conference, Johnson has given the PM another headache.

 

 

#Moggmentum

It is impossible to write anything political at present, without prefacing it by saying how unpredictable politics is. Brexit, the rise of Trump and Corbyn’s Labour etc. This, neatly brings us to the curious case of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. Prior to this summer Rees-Mogg was somewhat a laughing stock. His posh accent and old-fashioned views made him a walking stereotype. This summer though, something has changed. Rees-Mogg has become one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader. What has changed?

Firstly, there is no obvious pretender to the Conservative throne. This means journalists and pundits are looking outside of the Cabinet for future leaders. Secondly, Rees-Mogg has authenticity. His opinions are controversial, but there is no doubt where he stands on the major issues of the days. Thirdly, he is a good media performer. His dry sense of humour and articulate speaking style has made him a favourite amongst media producers. Lastly, everyone is looking for the next political shock.

So, can it happen? Rees-Mogg has claimed stories he will stand as the next party leader are part of the media’s silly season but other reports claim he has sounded out friends about his leadership ambitions. He has also just topped ConservativeHome’s survey of party members on who they would like to be next Tory leader.

Comparisons have been made with Corbyn’s rise, but it is important to note Conservative leadership contests have different rules to Labour ones. Rather than all candidates being presented straight to the membership, the parliamentary party first whittles the choice down to two candidates. Rees-Mogg would have support from the Right of the party, but it is clear there would be a significant stop Rees-Mogg campaign, indicating it would be difficult for Rees-Mogg to reach the final two.

If Rees-Mogg was to reach the final two, it is possible he could win. His Eurosceptic stance and traditionalist leanings are popular with Conservative members. But, we are a long way from this scenario. Currently there is no vacancy, and it is unclear when this contest would happen and what the political climate will be. Crucially Rees-Mogg would also have to gain support from the Parliamentary Party. That appears unlikely.

#Moggmentum may be picking up, but I still wouldn’t put any money on Jacob Rees-Mogg being the next Conservative leader.

 

A sensible Brexit deal

Although Parliament has officially broken up for the summer, the debate about Brexit continues to heat up as MPs head for their summer holidays. The current momentum appears to be moving towards the Chancellor’s position of accepting the need for a transitional phase after Britain’s formal exit from the European Union. This transitional phase could see Britain stay in the Single Market and Customs Union for a limited time period as the final stages of a trade deal are negotiated and business adapts to the new environment.

This apparent change in direction and policy from the Government is a direct consequence of the recent General Election. It is wrong to claim, as some do that the result of the General Election was an uprising against Brexit, but it is also wrong to claim the Government can continue as if nothing has changed. The new parliamentary arithmetic does impact on the type of Brexit the Government could hope to get through Parliament. This indicates the Government is going to have to compromise.

The benefits of a transitional phase are clear. It ends the prospect of a cliff-edge Brexit and reduces the danger of a ‘no-deal’ solution, and in doing so limits the possible economic consequences. This level of compromise would appease some of the more moderate Remainers in Parliament. It would also help provide businesses with clarity, whilst accepting their argument that they will need time to adapt to the new climate. Furthermore, the additional time period could be vital in thrashing out the final details of a satisfactory trade deal between Britain and the EU.

This gives clear ground to ‘Remainers’ but may worry the ‘Brexiteers’. Therefore, in order to highlight the referendum deal is being respected, then there must be a clear end date to the transitional phase when Britain formally cuts all ties with the European Union. A transitional phase cannot be used as an excuse to stay in the European Union indefinitely. A transitional phase which ends before the next General Election which is scheduled to occur in 2022 would appear to most a sensible time limit, which gives the Government time to deliver on their Brexit promise and for business to adapt.

A transitional phase will not please everyone. The most ardent Remainers will never accept the referendum result, while the most extreme Brexiteers will reject the need for any negotiations with the European Union. However, this sort of agreement could appeal to moderate Brexiteers and Remainers who want to make Brexit work.  With the evidence showing this is where most of the population lie, expect this solution to gain more and more traction in the immediate future.

Bercow under pressure

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has always enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with the Conservative Party. This relationship further soured when Bercow used his position as Speaker to signal that he would not be in favour of President Trump addressing Parliament. This delighted the opposition benches but caused a stir on the Conservative side and has led to back-bencher James Duddridge tabling a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker.

The role of Speaker is vitally important in the House of Commons. The Speaker has a duty to act impartially and respect all sides in Parliament. The Speaker will also represent Parliament across the world and the country and must be respected. Bercow has successes to his name including making Ministers more accountable and introducing long overdue modernising reforms. However if the Speaker is not seen to be impartial and is believed to have overstepped his mark then the position must be in doubt.

This is not the first time John Bercow has found his position in jeopardy. In 2015 Conservative MPs led by William Hague attempted to introduce secret ballots on Speaker elections which would have made it easier to remove a Speaker. This move was defeated by 228 votes to 202 as Tory rebels voted against the whip but was a clear sign of the historic discontent there was on the Conservative side towards Bercow and his supposed lack of impartiality.

The pressure on Bercow has further intensified with video footage seen by the Daily Telegraph showing Bercow’s position on the EU Referendum. The footage shows Bercow stating that he voted to Remain in the EU referendum and casts doubt on whether Bercow can be relied upon to maintain a neutral stance in any future EU debates.

Bercow did overstep the mark in making the comments he did about Trump, and the video footage seen in the newspapers will not have helped him. They have cast doubt on his impartiality and have caused Parliament unnecessary problems. The controversy could easily have been avoided given President Trump has yet to ask to address Parliament. Given that Bercow still commands support from Labour and the SNP it is hard to envisage Bercow losing a Parliamentary vote. Should, though enough Tory MPs vote against Bercow (could be up to 150 according to reports) then Bercow’s position could become untenable.

For some opportunistic Tory MPs who have long disliked Bercow this could provide the perfect opportunity to remove him and could well prove a costly mistake from the Speaker.

 

Douglas Carswell should call another by-election!

In August 2014 Douglas Carswell shocked the political world by announcing he was leaving the Conservative Party to join UKIP and in doing so triggered a by-election in his Clacton constituency which he subsequently won convincingly. He then went on to hold his seat in the 2015 General Election, but tensions with the top of the party and in particular Nigel Farage and the direction he was taking the party begun to come to the fore with Carswell calling for the UKIP leader to quit after the General Election in 2015.

More recently revelations have emerged about Carswell’s true motives for joining UKIP. In Owen Bennett’s book on Brexit The Brexit Club it is claimed that Carswell only joined UKIP to undermine Farage and stop UKIP and the UKIP leading running the ‘Out’ campaign for the EU referendum. Carswell is unrepentant about this and claims the success of the Brexit campaign justifies his decision and actions.

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall claimed he was hardly surprised by Carswell’s decision and that ‘Carswell had been becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the party’s direction of travel’, despite Carswell claiming recently he was ‘100% UKIP’. Former leader Nigel Farage long estranged from Carswell could not hide his joy saying the former UKIP MP ‘jumped before he was pushed’ and that now he should call a by-election in his Clacton seat.

Carswell has been unmoved by these calls and claimed that as he was not moving to a new party there was no need to call a by-election. This has not stopped Nigel Farage saying that Clacton residents will be contacted by UKIP to ask for their thoughts on whether a by-election should be called and has also cited Carswell’s support for the ‘recall principle’.

Carswell is correct to state that becoming an independent MP is different from moving from one party to another, but cannot hide from the fact that he will now no longer be obliged to follow the manifesto that he was elected on. Carswell was elected to serve as a UKIP MP by the constituents of Clacton. That was an important pledge Carswell made to his constituents. This pledge has been broken and should justify a by-election.

Carswell previously called his electorate in Clacton ‘his boss’. If this is something that Carswell still truly believes, then he should call a by-election as he did in 2014 and see whether he has the support to make this decision.

 

Parliament should have a say on Brexit!

Britain’s projected exit from the European Union has taken another twist. High Court judges have ruled that Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 without the backing of Parliament putting at risk the government’s planned timetable for Brexit. The decision will be challenged by the Government but unless the appeal is successful, Theresa May could be forced to change her plans.

This ruling will not stop Brexit. Some pro EU campaigners point to the large majority in the House of Commons of Remain MPs but fail to grasp the changed climate. The country in a huge democratic exercise has now voted to leave the European Union and the campaign is over. Although many MPs are unhappy with this decision they understand the ramifications of overturning the will of the British people and will accept the result and vote for Article 50.

On the 23rd June, Britain voted to leave the European Union. That much is clear, that debate is over. However there were many different reasons as to why voters took this decision. Issues such as immigration have taken precedence in the post-mortem but there were other reasons as well. There was nothing on the ballot paper which spelt out what Britain’s new relationship would be with Europe and it is right this is discussed and debated.

In this country we live in a parliamentary democracy. It was Parliament who voted to bring about the referendum and it is Parliament who should sign off on the deal, sealing the will of the British people. The government should not be forced to reveal their whole bargaining hand before Parliament but should highlight their general direction. This way Parliament can carefully scrutinise the government’s plans and ensure that the British people gain the best possible deal.

The reality is this is a situation which could easily have been avoided. At no stage would Parliament have defeated the government on this and Theresa May could have prevented this outcome by including Parliament in the process. Brexit was never going to be smooth, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this difficult. This will be interpreted as a setback for the government but could be the reminder they need that they cannot bypass Parliament and that Parliament could actually be useful in this process.

Can UKIP survive?

It has been a tumultuous period for UKIP of late. The populist party has bounced from one crisis to another in recent times, beginning when Nigel Farage stepped down after the referendum triggering a leadership contest. This contest quickly turned into a farce when front-runner Steven Woolfe failed to make it onto the ballot submitting his forms late, paving the way for Diane James to win the contest. Diane James lasted 18 days in charge before resigning leaving questions about whether she had wanted to run in the first place. This resignation meant Nigel Farage was announced as interim leader and it was confirmed a new leadership contest would take place.

Steven Woolfe was first to declare his candidacy in this new contest promising to learn lessons from the last contest. Raheem Kassam, a former adviser to Nigel Farage and editor-in-chief of Breitbart UK also confirmed his desire to stand. This was before things took a turn for the worse in Strasbourg this week when Steven Woolfe was rushed to hospital (fortunately he now seems to be recovering!). It later emerged there had been an “altercation” between Woolfe and Mike Hookem (another UKIP MEP) over the news Woolfe had been in talks about defecting to the Tories (exactly what happened here is still unclear, so it’s unwise to speculate at this stage). Subsequently an inquiry has been announced.

These events have been seen as being systematic of the underlying tensions which have existed in the party for quite some time. For a relatively small party UKIP are riven by factions and infighting. At its most simple it can be split between those who are loyal to Farage and those who are loyal to Carswell (UKIP’s only MP) but in reality it is far more complicated than that. After recent events major donor Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party if Woolfe is barred from standing and Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell stayed in the party, possibly taking away UKIP’s war-chest. From the Carswell wing of the party it is considered likely Suzanne Evans will run for leader paving the way for a very bitter leadership campaign.

Despite all these problems UKIP have showed they are still a political force winning a council seat off Labour in Hartlepool and continuing to poll around 12%. Of course there are challenges ahead, such as re-positioning themselves and finding a leader with similar appeal to Farage but this indicates there remains a place in the British political spectrum for a party with right-wing populist appeal such as UKIP, especially given questions about Labour’s long-term future. Whether this is UKIP in its current form or whether it is a new party or movement is up for dispute, but what is clear if this particularly form of UKIP wants to survive then they need to sort themselves out fast as they will not survive many more weeks like this.

The Lib Dems could be back in business!

The last few years has been a chastening period for the Liberal Democrats. It started with the coalition and the broken promise on tuition fees and was followed by poor local election results; finally culminating in the 2015 General Election where the party was reduced just to 8 seats. Since then a lot has happened in British politics and the Liberal Democrats have struggled to gain attention.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has changed politics forever in this country. The historic vote has opened up new schisms in British politics and has mobilised a new generation of voters, especially ‘Remain’ voters. Among these ‘Remain’ voters there is a real sense of anger and a feeling that they have been let down by the result. Although this is not the result the Liberal Democrats wanted or campaigned for, this may present them with an opportunity.

The Liberal Democrats are unashamedly pro-European. Leader Tim Farron has already stated the party will fight the 2020 General Election on a platform of reversing Brexit. This will appeal to a decent proportion of the 48% of the country who voted to Remain in the European Union and want to see Brexit avoided at all costs. It opens up opportunities in ‘Remain’ strongholds, particularly in London where the Liberal Democrats lost seats in the 2015 General Election.

Furthermore the ongoing turmoil of the Labour Party creates a space for the Liberal Democrats to exploit. Labour’s move to the left has given the Liberal Democrats a chance to appeal to voters on the centre left who feel alienated by the Labour Party. Some clever political positioning alongside their stance on the EU could enable the Liberal Democrats to quickly recover some ground lost over the last few years.

The Liberal Democrats are showing some signs of recovery, but have yet to achieve anything too dramatic. This may not change anytime soon. However a gradual recovery from a party many thought to be dead should not be scoffed at. It is impossible to predict what will happen next in politics in this country, but maybe just maybe a Liberal Democrat revival is not too far off.

 

 

Russia’s Very Own Turkish Coup

The move by Russia to normalise its relations with Turkey was unexpected. However, it makes perfect sense when one considers Russia’s foreign policy strategy is focused on outmanoeuvring the US and Europe over the refugee and Syria crises.

The tension that had until recently dogged relations between the two nations had been caused by the downing of a Russian jet near Turkey’s border with Syria on 24th November last year. One of the most significant links between this incident and the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations is that a repeat is now highly unlikely. The strengthening of ties between the two will allow the Russians additional freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Russia is thus in a considerably stronger position to advance its own aims and those of Bashar al-Assad, something which the US and Europe do not want to see.

The significance of Turkey in the current refugee crisis cannot be ignored either. There are approximately 2.75 million refugees currently in Turkey. Russia, like ISIS, has utilised the crisis to destabilise the domestic and foreign affairs of the US and Europe. The normalisation of ties with Turkey will give the Russians increased influence over the fate of the millions of refugees resident there. This spells bad news for a Europe that is already being strained at a political and societal level by both this crisis and Brexit. The EU’s aim of expanding will also have been set back by the normalisation as Turkey had a significant interest in one day joining the EU. It is now highly doubtful that this will happen anytime in the short or medium term future, and once again shows the ease at which Russia is able to outflank the EU at a diplomatic level.

Normalisation of relations with Turkey was nothing short of a masterstroke from Russia. It shows that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, whilst decreasing the likelihood of a solution to the refugee and Syrian crises and the instability in the EU being found. Should the isolationist and unstable Donald Trump capture the White House later this year, Russia’s work to ensure that it becomes one of the dominant powers in Eurasia will be frighteningly close to fruition. The need for greater cohesion and purpose within the EU, and for the West in general over the refugee and Syria crises has never been greater.

The Immigration Debate Will Continue!

Even if Britain opts to ‘Remain’ on Thursday night, the debate about immigration is likely to continue. Immigration has been a key theme throughout the referendum debate and ranks very highly in voter concerns according to a recent poll from Ipsos Mori. A large ‘Leave’ vote, even a losing ‘Leave’ vote will be interpreted as a sign of disillusionment with current government policies on immigration and a signal that the public want a more effective system.

Above all else the British public want an immigration system that they can trust and that they view as fair. A government that repeatedly fails to meet its own immigration targets will not gain trust. Consecutive Conservative manifestos have pledged to bring immigration to the tens of thousands, but according to the latest ONS stats they remain well off that target. Feasibly there is no way that this can be met. The longer the government stands by this promise, the more trust will decline. Politically it is hard for any government to renege on a commitment, but a more considered targeting system, possibly separating skilled and non skilled migration which could be hit would be smarter.

Fairness must also be at the heart of future immigration policy. Immigration has had a disproportionate effect on certain areas of the country and this has caused some strain. A proper migration fund set up to help areas with high migration would be astute. Increasingly this idea is gaining traction with Yvette Cooper the latest to back this move. A contributory welfare system where new arrivals have to pay in before they can take out and rigorous enforcement of the minimum wage ensuring British workers cannot be undercut are also other possible suggestions.

It is not racist to be worried about immigration, nor discuss the topic and there are many legitimate fears which should be tackled and will continue to exist after the referendum. The conversation though must be sensible and reasonable. These reform proposals would not solve the problem overnight but are a decent starting point for debate post-referendum in the event of a ‘Remain’ win. It is time to move from the somewhat hyperbolic language we have seen in recent weeks to the more sensible, reflective and reasonable.