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Songs from the Viper’s Nest.

Summary: The Tory party are in total disarray about Brexit. The Cabinet will try to cobble together some kind of view of the way forward that is ambiguous and quite inadequate to allow progress with the EU negotiations. The lack of coherent government is damaging the UK. Labour will have considerable difficulty in managing the mess they leave behind. The longer this shambles goes on the worse it will be ultimately.

Boris Johnson’s description of the Cabinet as being “a nest of singing birds” is laughable until you realise the Cabinet is actually a nest of vipers. The fundamental problem with the Tories has been the same for years. A sizeable minority of Tory MPs and Tory party members are frankly xenophobic. They have never liked the EU and any of its institutions and manifestations. They have been happy to blame so many things that are wrong with the UK on EU intrusion into British matters. You don’t see signs acknowledging EU money going to infrastructure projects in the UK because our government has forbidden them. In every other European country you see these signs everywhere and people have a much clearer understanding of the importance of the EU to what goes on in the country.

On one side in the Cabinet you have the soft Brexiteers such as Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd who are open to belonging to the single market and maintaining substantially freedom of movement. On the other side we have the hard-core Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox. They have been pursuing a concept of the UK outside Europe that is largely fantasy. Economic arguments, the views of business and unions are of little concern. The people have spoken. The “will” of the people must be respected. They know they must not permit another referendum or even a significant vote in parliament because that would almost certainly terminate the Brexit process.

Boris Johnson’s piece in the Telegraph just a few days ago shows how totally deluded he is about the most basic economics. By dredging up the widely derided claim for the money to be repatriated to the NHS he has made it clear just how much he is at variance with the Cabinet at present. Yet Theresa May dare not fire him. His capacity for casual remarks that are damaging within the UK and overseas has been demonstrated now very well indeed.

Political parties must find a way forward by managing conflicting views on policy. Broadly speaking the Tories have managed that reasonably well but when it comes to Europe they are totally unable to reach a compromise. Years ago John Major described the strong Eurosceptics in his party as “bastards”. Brexit means that division is right at the surface and Theresa May’s impotence after her disastrous election and lack of a majority in parliament has undermined her authority dreadfully.

No doubt the Cabinet will be able to pull together for a few hours around the Prime Minister when she makes the speech in Florence on Friday 22 September. Nobody thinks it will really be a game changer. The divisions at the heart of the Tory cabinet and of the Tory party will remain and as the Brexit process staggers onwards without much issue the forces simmering within the party will eventually explode. The earthquake that follows will lead to the fall of the government and on to the next election. The Tories are terrified that this might happen and that will help to restrain most but not all of them. But Labour will be delighted.

The obsession with Brexit in the Cabinet means that normal government has all but ceased. Almost nothing apart from Brexit is planned at Westminster and the Westminster hothouse continues to bubble with the foetid air surrounding Brexit. The economy appears to be doing reasonably well. However this is only because of the massive amount of personal debt being racked up. Unwinding that is going to be very difficult and indeed one of the biggest challenges a Labour government must face. Yet the Tories simply don’t even recognise there is a problem.

The conference season is upon us. Labour first and then the Tories. Aficionados of extreme blood sports are looking forward particularly to the Tory conference. It will feel like watching the London Olympics except that all the losers will be British. Traditionally this is how the Tory party undergoes a gravitational collapse. Warring factions fight one another and ignore the opposition. It’s going to be déjà vu all over again.

Boris and His Bucket Bomb.

Summary: Boris has again lumbered into view to complicate further the Tory party’s view of what might happen because of Brexit. After checking that the Parsons Green bucket bomb had not killed anyone he decided to let his long piece in the Saturday Telegraph run. Boris was once for Remain and changed to Leave because he could see his political chances were much better there. If the DUP supported a hard Brexit they would be badly damaged within Northern Ireland were a soft or non-existent border with the south is widely demanded. By playing this card again he risks bringing down the Tory government. He would not be forgiven very easily by so many of his colleagues.

When Boris Johnson dropped his bombshell on 15 September, most were surprised that he had resurrected the most derided claim of the Leave campaign, that leaving would repatriate £350 million per week which could be used for the NHS. That claim was again laughed out of court yet again although Boris, predictably, claimed he had been misrepresented. If you read that article (see here: can see wasn’t misrepresented at all.

His piece in the Telegraph argued for a much harder Brexit. Recently the Tory cabinet had been sliding towards a softer Brexit. Coming as it did, less than a week before Theresa May’s speech in Florence, Boris’s move was widely understood as an attempt to steer the Tory party to the right. That would stop Theresa May from simply making the speech she had promised, developing on the Lancaster House themes, probably moving the Brexit path further towards the centre.

Many see this as Boris on manoeuvres. The fame he had achieved during the Brexit campaign had faded. You might have thought him too busy in the Foreign Office, worrying about North Korea/Putin/Trump/Iran/Syria/Yemen. Despite his notorious laziness he still managed to find time to write 4000 words, emphasising patriotism. He had forgotten that Samuel Johnson had said “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

Yet this is much more than simply about Boris wanting to raise his profile and reposition himself as the leader of the right of the Tory party. With Theresa May under siege with her flaky majority things are very difficult for her. Her position is much like her being locked in the toilet on the last train home while the carriage is full of rowdy drunken hooligans (i.e. Tory MPs). Boris is shamelessly trying to exploit Theresa May’s weakness to his own advantage.

Boris’s approach to Brexit has a lot of support on the right of the Tory party. He may or may not have the support of Michael Gove (this appears to change daily). Given Michael’s enthusiasm for political long knives Boris probably can’t rely on it!

She daren’t sack Boris because that could easily lead to an outright attack on her leadership. Yet she dare not let the Tory party lurch towards hard Brexit because she would never get that through Parliament. The Tories are only in government because of the support of the DUP.

Within Northern Ireland DUP support has been declining progressively in recent years (see: A hard Brexit deal would lead to a hard border between North and South in Ireland. If this was a consequence of DUP support for that policy they would be decimated in the polls and they know it.

The DUP understand that they are not really that important at Westminster. Their power base is entirely in Northern Ireland. Their extreme right-wing views on same-sex marriage and abortion as well as other things have meant their support is slipping anyway. Amongst the young the historical tribalism of Unionism and Nationalism is much less important. Unionists increasingly see Sinn Fein as being a forward-looking party for the young.

If Theresa May in Florence goes back on her intentions to reset the Brexit negotiations presumably in a way that reflects the view of the Tory cabinet then the future of the support the DUP offers her government will become increasingly problematic. That would lead to a General Election, and very probably a Labour majority. That would be easier for Labour as their will be no time to get a new Tory leader in place, particularly as there are few senior Tories who command much support. They know they cannot let Theresa May lead the party into another election given how badly it has gone for the Tories ever since.

Why Allowing the Henry VIII Provisions to Pass Would Be a Disaster.

Summary: The Great Repeal Bill relies extensively on the use of secondary legislation to bypass parliamentary scrutiny of the great majority of laws being repatriated. On the most cursory reading of that Bill it will be disastrous for Parliamentary democracy. It will bypass Parliament almost entirely in a way that Henry VIII (and indeed Jacob Rees Mogg as leading candidate to replace Theresa May) would heartily approve of.

The Great Repeal Bill relies heavily on use of the so-called Henry VIII powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny. It basically allows government ministers to decide when any law can be changed in a whimsical way without Parliament’s approval. Think about George Osborne changing substantially the tax credit rules.

Even Tory MPs are up in arms about this. Dominic Grieve, the Tory MP noted in the Evening Standard “Worryingly, it seeks to confer powers on the government to carry out Brexit in breach of our constitutional principles, in a manner that no sovereign Parliament should allow.” The Government wants us to trust them to get it right! Given that we don’t trust them to get anything right what chance here?

How will this actually work? Let’s start with the very first clause of the Repeal Bill. It says “The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.” We will find in the Bill that “exit” is defined as “such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint.”

This means that what is being proposed is that a minister simply gets to decide when our membership of the EU ends. There will be no way that Parliament could interfere with this. It simply needs a Minister of the Crown to make the decision. It is difficult to imagine any proposal which is so diametrically opposed to the promise of “taking back control” which was so prominent in the Leave campaign.

In fact it is probably worse than you imagine. In 18 months time most people believe that Theresa May will have been replaced as PM. On the basis of current popularity polls amongst Tory party members the most likely PM then would be Jacob Rees Mogg, the MP for the 18th-century. As a very hard Brexit supporter, and if the negotiations have got where most people believe (i.e. nowhere), Jacob simply has to say “we are out”. That will be that!

There are many thousands of pieces of legislation that are being moved under the Great Repeal Bill. In practice most of the changes that will be made by “ministers” will actually be made by civil servants and many of those will be in the Home Office. This is the same Home Office that produced the extraordinarily nasty immigration proposals that were leaked a few days ago to the Guardian.

These same civil servants will still be there in the Home Office making decisions, passing them to ministers for rubberstamping. The Home Office has for many years developed a reputation as being one of the nastier departments. Under Theresa May is became particularly vindictive and controlling. Do we really think it is safe to leave the government to do as it likes with our laws? Dominic Grieve is absolutely right in saying that secondary legislation could be carried out “in a manner that no sovereign Parliament should allow”.

Another Folly for Fallon!

Summary: The movie “Dunkirk” showed how easy it is for small old-fashioned propeller aircraft with a single small bomb to sink substantial Navy ships. Yet we hear that our brave Defence Secretary, tasked with saving £20 billion from the MoD budget is going to build another five frigates. For many years the MoD has been working hard to equip itself to fight the last war. This new program simply adds to the problems that our defences are trying to cope with.

Did you see the movie “Dunkirk”? Men who were there say it was very realistic. Did you notice that Stuka dive bombers were able to drop single bombs on fairly large Navy ships and sink them quickly and efficiently? This was all nearly 80 years ago. The Stuka was a propeller aircraft with a dive speed of only 350 miles an hour. The bomb it dropped was a maximum of 250 kg, tiny by modern standards. That was all that was needed to sink a fairly substantial ship.

Today, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the Ministry of defence was to build a batch of five Type 31e frigates. The cost will be capped at about £250 million each. No doubt our Defence Secretary will insist that they are well protected against dive bombers but any naval expert will tell you that it is virtually impossible to do that reliably. Surface capital ships are easy targets in the 21st-century with hypersonic missiles and fast torpedoes used widely.

The claim that the costs will be capped is fairly implausible. Once the contract is placed it is traditional for the MoD to ask that significant changes are made, all of which will increase the cost. The MoD is currently trying to save around £20 billion so exactly how this relatively open-ended commitment of at least £1.25 billion will help that is far from clear.

A wide range of weapons procurement programs for the MoD have already gone disastrously wrong. We have no submarines at sea because of problems. The Type 45 destroyers have serious engine problems that makes them unusable in warm seas such as the Mediterranean or the Gulf. Many other programs including the spanking new aircraft carriers is already greatly flawed and largely inappropriate for the 21st-century.

You can read more about this here:  What we really should be doing now to make us safe in the future has been discussed here:

Yet again the British military are arming frantically to fight the last war. They are devoting vast sums of money to weapon systems that are seriously inappropriate for the 21st-century. When will they wake up and realise just how ineffective and wasteful these programs really are?