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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 It says “The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”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?

Might Northern Ireland Trigger Another British General Election?

Summary: The politics of Northern Ireland are complicated and made more so by Brexit negotiations that are not taking Northern Irish concerns about the border and trade with the South. The biggest party, the DUP, has lost support over the last year both in Assembly and general (Westminster) elections. The DUP are finding their enthusiasm for Leave out of step with general opinion in Northern Ireland. Their support for a Tory party apparently insensitive to the Northern Irish concerns will stop the DUP supporting the Tories. Labour needs to rub salt in those wounds to help the Tory/DUP alliance fall apart.

If you think English politics is complicated, it is much worse in Northern Ireland. For many years the view from the mainland of Northern Ireland politics is to simply to let them get on with it. It is far too complicated to understand. However, the larger Northern Ireland party, the DUP, is critical in supporting the Conservative party in Westminster. In the recent general election DUP won 10 seats and Sinn Fein won 7.

For many years Sinn Fein have refused to take their seats in Westminster at least in part because to do so would require taking an oath of allegiance to the Queen. That is a step too far for them. However for many years Jeremy Corbyn and Labour has been very supportive of the Nationalist cause in Ireland. This may be the time to start calling in those debts.

There is more. And election for the Northern Ireland Assembly was held on 2 March 2017. That went very badly for the DUP and rather well for Sinn Fein. They now have almost identical numbers of seats in the NI Assembly (28 versus 27). Another 35 seats are shared amongst a variety of parties. The SDLP with 12 seats, the UUP with 10 seats, the alliance party with eight seats and two seats for the Greens.

The smaller parties are increasingly unhappy with the carve up of Northern Ireland politics between hard-core Protestant Unionism and hard-core nationalist sentiment. They are in a much stronger position to flex their 35 out of 90-seat  muscle and this is what they are now doing.

For many years the DUP had a clear majority of the votes and were able to take the position of First Minister with Sinn Fein providing the deputy First Minister. With the substantial reduction in DUP support Sinn Fein are no longer prepared to accept a DUP first Minister in Arlene Foster. She is implicated in the “cash for ash” scandal that has created a £500 million black hole in the Northern Ireland budget.

Sinn Fein are particularly keen that Arlene Foster should not be restored as First Minister as she was central to the scandal. They have also made it clear that they are not prepared to go on as before and want to renegotiate.

The DUP are a pretty hard right evangelical Protestant party, against gay marriage and abortion. The Unionist vote in the referendum was clearly to Leave whereas the nationalist vote was even more clearly to remain. Overall the Northern Irish vote was strongly to remain (56% against 44% to leave).

No doubt a significant part of this result was because of the highly integrated economies and sociology of Northern Ireland and Eire. There are serious concerns that re-establishing a hard North-South border would have a variety of negative consequences.

The harder versions of Brexit would make cross-border trade and cross-border travel very much more complicated. It would also bring back memories of the very hard border that was fought over during the Troubles, brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement.

However a version of Brexit that would let the present border function much as it does today would have major ramifications. Free movement of people beyond Northern Ireland would then have to be blocked  to stop further movement into the remainder of the UK. This is something that the Unionist parties would oppose very strongly.

The social and cultural ties of Northern Ireland are much more strongly and deeply felt with Scotland than they are with England. Again, any suggestion that that relationship might be harmed or blocked by the Brexit arrangements would be also very damaging to the DUP.

As is traditional with Northern Ireland issues the Tories in Westminster are not taking their concerns seriously. In contrast the EU negotiators see the Northern Ireland question as being one of the most difficult they have to deal with. They have already said that the British approach to this is long on fantasy and very short on reality. For the EU the Northern Ireland issue is much more central to the Brexit negotiations than the British side seem to appreciate.

There is no doubt that within Northern Ireland a very soft Brexit is just about all that would be tolerated. The British government, however, are basically telling the EU that it can do what it likes with the Irish border and they would blame the EU if the border becomes hard. As long as the British government continue to pursue a relatively hard version of Brexit then they simply cannot rely on the support of the Northern Irish.

The bribe for the DUP to support the Tories of £1 billion has not yet materialised. There is increasing realisation that it’s not going to come forward any time soon and that is very concerning in Northern Ireland. The DUP in particular do not want to risk another election in Northern Ireland given that DUP support has gone down so significantly. The general political climate in Northern Ireland becomes much less extreme with support for gay marriage and abortion increasing.

The lack of an agreement on power-sharing makes it highly likely that Westminster will assume control over the Northern Irish economy. Under the power-sharing agreement of the Good Friday agreement the Westminster government must act in an even-handed way. Given that the Tories depend critically on the DUP for support that becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

What is key, therefore, is that the DUP are currently supporting a Tory government that is pushing a version of Brexit that is likely to cause significant damage to Northern Ireland and be particularly unpopular there.

It is here that Labour has an opportunity to unravel the DUP support for the Tories. By drawing attention particularly to the Tory approach to the Northern Ireland border problem they will make it clear that the DUP are supporting policies that are likely to cause further political damage to their party. Only by distancing themselves from the Tories are they likely to gain any credibility with the Northern Irish electorate.

Once that happens, the Tories will find it virtually impossible to govern. Theresa May will have to resign or lead the Tories reluctantly into another general election. This is the way that Labour is currently most likely to have a chance to form the next government. For Labour concentrating on Brexit as seen from Northern Ireland problem is absolutely essential.

Summer Is Over: Back to the Salt Mine.

Summary: Summer is over with little prospect of warm weather in September. The schools are back and the party conference season approaches. What passes for life is returning to the British political system as the UK continues its losing battle with EU negotiators about Brexit. In the UK growth and business confidence are slumping rapidly. Austerity continues unabated and student loan interest rates are now about 24 times the Bank of England base rate. In Northern Ireland disagreements between Sinn Fein and the DUP are starting up again. The Equinox approaches and Christmas is not too far away. Maybe it’s time for a tax on football transfers.

It is less than a month since the last piece was posted on but it seems an age. What has been happening? The UK government is completely swamped by Brexit. Other business is so marginalised that little is actually happening. Austerity continues to bite and the cuts are having increasingly damaging effects on many individuals. Lowest paid workers are about to face a fourfold increase in their pension contributions from April. Students are now being charged an extortionate 6.1% interest on their loans. Even some Tory MPs think this may be excessive.

The economy continues to falter. Lloyds barometer of business confidence has dropped seven points to 38%, lowest level since 2012. Economic optimism has fallen 10 points to just 18%, The always excellent mainly macro blog (see: has a piece on 31 August 2017 pointing out that the worsening exchange rate against the Europe might have been expected to increase exports but in fact they are unchanged.

British companies are maintaining their overseas prices and pocketing their increased profits. Unsurprisingly those new profits are not being passed to the workers. Wage growth continues to stagnate. GDP growth is now way below that of the Eurozone, the US, Japan and many other countries. The British economy is now one of the worst performing of the G 20 nations.

Three months after a disastrous general election Theresa May remains Prime Minister. She has declared she will go on and on in a way so reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher before she was defenestrated. She looks a worrying combination of tired and defiant, but the defiance is that of a naughty schoolgirl being interrogated by the headmistress.

George Osborne continues to crouch on his eagles nest at the top of the London Evening Standard building. At every opportunity he drips acid onto Theresa May. Revenge is sweet against the woman who dismissed him from government so cruelly. He has just written a damning editorial that likened her premiership to the “living dead” in a “second rate horror film”.

The Tory party have no appetite now for a leadership battle. That would make an early general election difficult to resist. However the main problem for the Tory party is that the principal contenders look increasingly unattractive.

Boris Johnson has been widely criticised for his performance as Foreign Secretary and now appears to have the international clout of a second hand cotton bud. Boris has been very quiet over the summer. Yet George Osborne always has a little acid left for Boris. Boris’s only chance of becoming PM is by keeping very quiet and behaving himself but it seems unlikely he can keep quiet enough.

David Davis, the British Brexit Secretary, has been described by Dominic Cummings, the Campaign Director of the successful Vote Leave campaign, as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and as vain as Narcissus”. As the Brexit negotiations progress (or more precisely don’t progress) that view of Davies looks increasingly apposite. He is no longer seen as a plausible candidate for PM.

The Tory party have always done a good job at producing grey men. Philip Hammond is currently the greyest in the Cabinet. Spreadsheet Phil as he is known continues to show the damaging effects of his charisma bypass operation. Again there is not much support for him from Tory MPs. Difficult to think of him leading the Tories to electoral victory.

One of the problems with the Tory party is that it routinely crucifies the first MP to challenge a Prime Minister (think of Michael Heseltine). Younger Tory MPs are sitting on their thumbs waiting to see what might happen at the Tory party conference which starts on 1 October. Perhaps the party delegates are crazy enough to abandon Theresa May in favour of some completely implausible candidate such as Jacob Rees-Mogg or Andrea Leadsom. That might give the Tory party the jolt to choose someone much younger and less contaminated by the seven years of failed economic policies.

Labour are unsure about their short-term strategy. They feel confident of doing even better at the next election yet the opinion polls suggest there may not be such a big margin after all between them and the Tories. The Labour Party conference starting 24 September may help to focus the minds of the party on the not inconsiderable mountain they still have to climb.

If Labour wanted to force a general election there is a major problem in actually doing it. The Tories are unlikely to vote against their own government and, with the help of the DUP, don’t actually need to resign even if they lose significant votes in the Commons. Forcing a general election would be tricky for Labour therefore.

Brexit is everywhere. Keir Starmer who leads the Labour Brexit team has convinced the shadow cabinet to back a much softer version of Brexit. He wants to keep the UK in the single market and allow substantial mobility for people. If Labour were to be in government the direction of the Brexit negotiations would change radically.

At present the Tory-led Brexit negotiations are running rapidly into the sand. European negotiators are deeply frustrated with the lack of specificity in the British position papers and want to substantially finalise the position of European workers in the UK after Brexit, the Northern Irish border, and the financial settlement with the EU.

There are increasing calls to hold a second referendum. This is resisted strongly by the Leave side who claim that the people have spoken and their will must be respected. Given how vague the original referendum subject was it is difficult to resist a second referendum to establish that their will is indeed to leave the EU on the terms negotiated by the Brexit Secretary. There is a growing feeling in the country that we may not, after all, actually leave the EU at all.

In summary, the next few months look to be very interesting if you happen to be interested in politics in the UK. Should be fun!