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After a slow news period post-‘inauguration’, everything accelerated again to the point where there is too much to cover in one week.

At the end of January 2021, the EU tried to block the UK’s coronavirus vaccine supply, specifically to the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in Oxford!

The EU poked at the softest, most vulnerable part of the UK-EU agreement post-Brexit: not to create division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, covered by Article 16.

However, the EU, being short of coronavirus vaccines, briefly invoked the sacrosanct Article 16 on Friday, January 29, 2021, despite Jean-Claude Juncker’s old commitment to Ireland that there would be no hard border with a post-Brexit EU-UK trade agreement. This debate in the Irish parliament took place long before coronavirus. What a sloppy dress code:

Then, just less than a month after the UK made a full Brexit with a trade agreement, the EU did this:

On Friday, January 29, Guido Fawkes reported (emphases in the original):

As part of its plot to block vaccine exports to the UK, the EU has invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This has effectively removed Northern Ireland from the EU’s customs. In plain English, Article 16, the so-called safeguard clause, allows both the EU and the UK to unilaterally suspend part of the Northern Ireland Protocol (which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs territory) in specific circumstances.

Most discussion around this particular article had been how or whether the UK would use it. The fact that the EU has implemented it less than a month after coming into effect could set a big precedent.

Practically this new EU-imposed hard border won’t make a huge difference as Northern Ireland will receive their jabs via Great Britain, but this political move is extraordinary, after a week of terrible news for the Union. After years of arguing to keep Northern Ireland in its customs territory, the EU has just merrily kicked it out.

However, such an action threatened the long-standing peace agreement between North and South.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s action managed to unite Britain’s — and Ireland’s — Right and Left for the first time in years:

Guido’s article says of the centre-right Democratic Unionist Party:

UPDATE: The DUP have, not unsurprisingly, slammed the EU’s decision as “an incredible act of hostility”. Arlene Foster says:

“This is an incredible act of hostility. By triggering Article 16 in this manner, the European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner — over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives.

At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the Coronavirus vaccine.

With the European Union using Article 16 in such an aggressive and most shameful way, it is now time for our Government to step up. I will be urging the Prime Minister to act and use robust measures including Article 16 to advance the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

As for Labour:

UPDATE II: Labour join in with the EU condemnation: Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, commenting on the European Union’s decision to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol:

“This move is deeply destabilising and undermines the huge efforts being made to make the Protocol work.

Unilateral actions like this do nothing to aid the stability in Northern Ireland which the Protocol was designed to preserve.

The European Union must remember the Protocol depends on joint working and they share a responsibility to uphold that. They must think again, and revoke this action.”

Later that day, Guido recapped the previous five days of hassle for AstraZeneca and vaccine supply. CEO Pascal Soriot insisted that the company never made a hard and fast commitment to the EU. AstraZeneca made what are contractually known as best reasonable efforts to supply to the EU. Guido’s article has a copy of the contract, which you can read at the link:

AstraZeneca has committed to use its Best Reasonable Efforts (as defined below) to build capacity to manufacture 300 million Doses of the Vaccine, at no profit and no loss to AstraZeneca, at the total cost currently estimated to be [REDACTED] Euros for distribution within the EU [REDACTED] (the “Initial Europe Doses”), with an option for the Commission, acting on behalf of the Participating Member States, to order an additional 100 million Doses (the “Optional Doses”).

The ball was then in von der Leyen’s court:

Guido reported von der Leyen’s response:

No. There are binding orders and the contract is crystal-clear. AstraZeneca has expressly assured us in this contract that no other obligations will stand in the way of fulfilling the contract.

However, Guido explained:

The key obligation in the agreement is in Section 5.1, which “silos” production for the doses to go to the EU, making clear that the AZ obligation is only to use best reasonable efforts to manufacture the initial doses within the EU. If they are manufacturing doses outside the EU that’s irrelevant to that obligation. Has the EU just shot itself in the foot?

Guido’s founder Paul Staines is based in Waterford, Ireland. He thinks that, for the good of relations between North and South, the UK should share their AstraZeneca doses with the Republic:

He was not alone. The Scotland editor for The Spectator agreed:

Fine. Let’s make sure that Britons get their share first. That’s why the deal was set up in the first place.

By the end of last Friday, right, left, centre and the Church of England opposed the EU action:

The Archbishop’s intervention seemed to have a huge impact in Britain, which is surprising for such an atheistic nation:

The strange thing about Article 16 is that the British EU-lovers assumed that the UK Government would implement it first against the EU. That was the big stink around the Internal Market Bill, which gives the UK leeway to back out of parts of the trade agreement if the EU becomes threatening.

In the end:

Late that evening, the EU president conceded:

Boris made no mention of it on his Twitter feed.

More on the UK’s coronavirus vaccine success will follow on Monday.

For now, here’s the next EU-UK drama, which also started on Friday, January 29 — international travel:

Macron’s probably upset because the Institut Pasteur vaccine failed this week. Because of that failure, he rubbished the AstraZeneca vaccine:

As Guido said:

The French haven’t been able to produce a vaccine, and the Germans couldn’t do it without American corporate help. No wonder voices in the EU were so keen to hit out, falsely, at the success of Brexit Britain’s Oxford vaccine. Poor Little EU.

Oh, boy. Politics, politics.

2021 will be a doozy of a year.

The United Kingdom has an ambitious delivery programme of coronavirus vaccines in the UK, reaching not only England but also the devolved nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our armed forces are helping where necessary.

As of Monday, January 18, 2020, this was the state of play with regard to vaccines. See how far behind Scotland and Wales are in delivering injections:

It is worth noting that England has a majority of Conservative MPs.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister is a member of the centre-right DUP (Democratic Unionist Party).

Scotland has a majority Scottish National Party government, socialist.

Wales has a Labour-dominated government, also socialist.

Watching the proceedings in the assemblies of the devolved nations as broadcast on BBC Parliament, there is a stark contrast between what goes on in Northern Ireland’s compared with those in Scotland and Wales.

Even though the assembly in Northern Ireland’s Stormont also has a fair amount of left-leaning members, complaints about money and vaccine provision from the UK government in Westminster are few and far between.

In Scotland and Wales, however, the situation is quite the opposite. The UK government — Westminster — is always to blame for lack of money.

Scotland and Wales have enough vaccine, but delivery does not seem to be getting off the ground.

In Wales, Mark Drakeford, First Minister (Prif Weinidog, in Welsh) says that he wants to ration the vaccines so that vaccinators have something to do every day:

Guido Fawkes has the audio of an interview Drakeford gave to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, January 18, and I can vouch for the fact that he said the same thing before the Welsh Senedd (Senate) last week, having seen him on BBC Parliament.

Guido says (emphases in the original, the one in purple is mine):

Appearing on the Today Programme this morning, Mark Drakeford was asked why Wales has the lowest vaccination rate of any UK nation, which the First Minister merely passed off as “marginal differences” and “not the most important issue”. Drakeford is relying on the ‘supply’ excuse much more than any other leader in the UK, claiming Wales isn’t to receive its second doses of the Pfizer vaccine until the end of the month and therefore is slowing the deployment of Pfizer vaccine:

There would be no point and certainly it would be logistically damaging to try and use all of [the Pfizer vaccine] in the first week and have our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do.

Given Wales has proportionally suffered more than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from Covid, Drakeford should have a strategy of getting as many jabs in as many arms as quickly as possible – if there’s a wait of 12 weeks for the second jab, so be it. At the weekend, Starmer called for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic; Guido suggests Wales is much more in need of one…

UPDATE: According to ONS statistics just released, Covid was the leading cause of death for the month in Wales, accounting for 27.4% of all deaths in Wales, a third higher than in England where it accounts for 20.8% of all deaths.

Good grief.

In Scotland, vaccines are not being sent where they should be. Some areas receive the vaccine, others do not:

Lily of St Leonards, who writes about the state of Scotland under the SNP, has an excellent post that explains what is happening.

Her post of January 18, ‘SNP mismanagement is killing Scots’, is well worth reading in full. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

She lives with her mother, who is 87 years old, in the age bracket to be vaccinated first:

My mother is nearly 88. She has yet to receive an invitation for a Covid vaccination. I hope it comes soon. The risk to her comes entirely from me. She has hardly left the house since March, but I have to go shopping. If I caught Covid on one of those shopping trips, it would be difficult to stop her catching it too. We live in the same house and I care for her. If an 88-year-old catches Covid, there is a good chance she would end up in hospital and a good chance that she would die.

Meanwhile, south of the border in England, the over 80s have already received the first of two vaccine injections:

England is about to send out vaccine invitations to the over 70s. I am left to conclude that if my mother lived in England she would already have been vaccinated. If she catches Covid in the next few weeks and dies it will be because we live in Scotland under an SNP Government that prioritises independence over healthcare.

Last year, the SNP roundly criticised the UK Government — Conservative — for not waiting for an EU rollout of the vaccine. Thank goodness we didn’t, because we had one far sooner than they did and more flexibility in purchasing doses, and a large number of them at that:

We are doing better than nearly everyone else firstly because we left the EU. The EU managed the vaccine collectively and didn’t do it well. The British Government did better at ordering the various vaccines and also developed our own. We made these vaccines available before anyone else and the British vaccine is easier to deliver because it does not require ultra-low temperatures.

Being a part of Britain is therefore saving Scottish lives. This is not merely because the British Army is helping to organise and administer the vaccine, but because the British Government made the right choices which led to us buying effective vaccines and developing our own. The Scottish Government neither funded, nor ordered any vaccines. We are completely dependent on the supplies we are getting from Britain. The only thing the Scottish Government is responsible for is organising the rollout of the vaccine. Healthcare unfortunately is devolved. It is doing that job worse than England and Northern Ireland.

Scotland is getting a proportional share of the vaccine. There are supply difficulties for everyone. England and Northern Ireland may have advantages because they are rather more densely populated than Scotland. It may be harder to administer the vaccine to very remote places in the Highlands and Islands. But this also makes it less likely that we will catch the virus in the first place.

Scotland may have decided to vaccinate care homes first, which given the difficulty of bringing ultra-low temperature vaccines to such places might be slowing us down. But why didn’t we use the Oxford-AstraZeneca in care homes, which requires only an ordinary fridge and use the Pfizer vaccine elsewhere. I hate to think that Sturgeon doesn’t want to use the English vaccine. She cannot even bear to say the word Oxford.

Covid is the defining event of our time, but the SNP’s handling of it has been poor since the start. With our low population density Scotland should have done much better than England in terms of Covid cases and deaths.

Scotland has had 1,492,656 cases with 7,704 deaths.

But this is worse than any other European country with a population of 5 million.

Denmark has had 189,000 cases and 1,775 deaths.

Slovakia has had 223,000 cases and 3,474 deaths.

Norway has had 58,651 cases and 517 deaths.

Finland has had 40,337 cases and 618 deaths.

If you compare like with like, then it becomes obvious that SNP Scotland has not merely done worse than anywhere else with a population of 5 million it has done more than ten times worse in terms of deaths than Norway and Finland.

She then addresses the issue of money. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is forever complaining about the lack of money going Scotland’s way, yet the UK government has continued to pump money in throughout the coronavirus crisis:

Scotland has been kept going this year because the UK Treasury has funded us. We are receiving the vaccine only because the UK is supplying it. We have done no better than the UK as a whole with regard to Covid cases and deaths and on care home deaths, which ought to have been avoidable, we have done considerably worse. Despite having the advantage of low population density, we have done massively worse than any European country of a similar size. It is staggering to believe that so many Scots believe that Nicola Sturgeon has done a good job.

Everything that has gone well this year, such as furlough and the vaccine has been provided by the British Government. Everything that has gone badly such as our failure to deliver the vaccine as quickly as England and Northern Ireland and our decision to send people sick with Covid back into care homes has been due to decisions made by the SNP.

This year has demonstrated that Scotland has depended on the British Government for paying our wages and for the vaccine that will end the pandemic.

She concludes, referring to the failed 2014 Scottish referendum on independence:

Scots who want independence should refuse their furlough money and refuse the vaccine, because if the SNP had won in 2014, we would have got neither.

I couldn’t agree more.

Be it Scotland or Wales, one thing is patently clear: socialism does not work.

This is the final instalment of my long-running series, the Brexit Chronicles.

My previous post discussed the December 30 vote on the EU Future Relationship Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent in the early hours of the final day of Brexmas, December 31, 2020.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair in Britain, as we were in lockdown.

One week earlier, Boris said that he would not be dictating to Britons how they should celebrate our exit from the EU, which was a bit rich, because he had already put us into lockdown before Christmas:

What UK independence from the EU means for Boris

The UK negotiating team did some star turns with this agreement, which polished Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political reputation.

Boris’s ratings had taken an understandable hit during a year of coronavirus, which included a lot of flip-flopping on his part, however the trade agreement improved things considerably. Liz Truss, who has been negotiating our trade deals with more than 50 countries, deserves her place at the top:

According to an Opinium poll, an overwhelming majority of Britons — even Remainers — wanted MPs and the Lords to pass the deal:

Guido’s article noted:

Troublingly for the anti-deal SNP, the poll’s sub sample of Scottish voters shows that by 47% to 19%, Scots want their MPs to vote for the deal too…

The Norwegians said that the UK had negotiated a better deal with the EU than they had:

Guido Fawkes thinks that this could give Norway the impetus to renegotiate their terms with the EU. I hope so (emphases in the original):

Marit Arnstad, parliamentary leader of Norway’s Centre Party, argues that the UK deal is better than the Norwegian deal her country has as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). “The UK has now reached an agreement that gives them more freedom and more independence” she tells Klassekampen, Norway’s answer to the Guardian, “the British have a better agreement than the EEA. They get access to the internal market and the common trade that is desirable, but they do not have to be part of a dynamic regulatory development that places strong ties on the individual countries’ national policies. …The most difficult thing for Norway is that we are bound in areas that are national policy, and that it happens in more and more areas. The British have now taken back this authority, and it is extremely interesting”.

Arnstad is not the only politician complaining, the leader of the Norwegian Socialist Party’s EEA committee, Heming Olaussen, also believes that the British agreement with the EU is better than the EEA, “because the British escape the European Court of Justice. Then they are no longer subject to EU supremacy and must not accept any EU legislation in the future as we must. This agreement is qualitatively different and safeguards national sovereignty in a better way than the EEA does for us”.

Could we soon see Norway and the other EEA countries try to renegotiate their terms?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made sure that he got everything possible arranged by the end of the day, including Gibraltar. The first tweet has a statement from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab:

Remainers constantly brought up the future of the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. They can silence themselves now.

Chronicle Live reported:

Automotive giant Nissan has welcomed the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, which appears to have safeguarded the future of its Sunderland plant.

The plant has been at the centre of the Brexit debate over the last decade, with both Remain and Leave campaigners using it to back up their respective arguments.

A number of global Nissan executives have used visits to Sunderland to warn that its future was threatened by a no-deal Brexit, and two models either being made or due to be made at the plant have been cancelled since the 2016 referendum.

But the Christmas Eve agreement of a deal that appears to allow tariff-free access to EU markets for British-made goods has been welcomed by the company.

On Boxing Day, The Telegraph — Boris’s former employer — published an interview with him, excerpts of which follow (emphases mine):

“I think it has been a long intellectual odyssey for many people of this country,” he said, casting back to 1988, shortly before he, an up-and-coming journalist at The Telegraph, was dispatched to Brussels to report on the European Commission.

“The whole country has been divided about this issue, because we are European, but on the other hand we don’t necessarily want to feel that we’re committed to the ideology of the European Union.

“That’s been the problem and I think it is absolutely true that Margaret Thatcher … she did begin this period of questioning. Her Bruges speech was very, very important.”

Mr Johnson is referring to a speech that, to many Eurosceptics, formed the foundations of the bitter and protracted political struggle against ever closer union that ultimately set Britain on the path to Brexit.

At the height of her power and railing against Jacques Delors’ latest move towards deeper integration, in 1988 Baroness Thatcher urged the Commission to abandon aspirations of a “European super-state” which would infringe on the “different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country”.

Her warning went unheeded, however, and just four years later the UK signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and with it the creation of the European Union as it is constituted today.

And yet, even after she was toppled and replaced by John Major, an ardent Europhile, the seeds of discontent and the desire to reclaim British sovereignty had been sown in Bruges.

He explained that we will always be European, just not part of the huge project that seems to continually move the goalposts of membership obligations:

“I think this gives us a basis for a new friendship and partnership that should attract people who love Europe and want to have a great relationship with it, who want to feel close to it.

But it should also be something that is welcome to people who see the advantages of economic and political independence. I think the country as a whole has got itself into a new and more stable footing. It’s a better relationship and a healthier relationship.”

The tariff and quota-free deal covers £660bn worth of trade a year, which Mr Johnson said will still be “smooth” but with new customs procedures and paperwork which will mean things are “different and there will be things that businesses have to do”.

In particular, he is keen to stress that the UK will be free to diverge from EU standards.

This is particularly gratifying for Mr Johnson, who said that after being accused of “cakeism for so many years,” he has achieved what his critics said was impossible: “That you could do free trade with the EU without being drawn into their regulatory or legislative orbit.”

Boris enjoys his ‘cakeism’ references. He made one on Christmas Eve upon the announcement of the deal and he made yet another on January 1, which was Guido Fawkes’s Quote of the Day:

I hope I can be forgiven for reminding the world that many people used to insist that you couldn’t do both: you couldn’t have unfettered free trade with the EU, we were assured, without conforming to EU laws. You couldn’t have your cake and eat it, we were told. Maybe it would be unduly provocative to say that this is a cake-ist treaty; but it is certainly from the patisserie department.

The Spectator had an excellent article on the new treaty, ‘The small print of Boris’s Brexit deal makes for reassuring reading’. Brief excerpts follow. The article has much more:

The Brexit deal takes things back to where they were before Maastricht. The EU is limited now in any meddling to very specific areas indeed. It ends the oddity where because circa seven per cent of UK business trade with the EU, 100 per cent have their laws made by the EU (although that is a bit more blurred in supply chains)

There are parts of the deal that mean that, should Britain wish to diverge, then UK committees will have to talk to EU committees. Requiring the UK to ‘consult’ on implementation and change of the agreement etc. But how this is done in practice is left free and thus pretty non-enforceable and limited in scope. It is diplomacy now, not law

While there is a lot of hot air in the treaty, it does not go beyond that. Lord Frost and his team seem to have seen off the (no doubt many) attempts to get EU regulation in through the back door. The UK is leaving the European Union and the lunar orbit of its regulations. It depends on your politics whether you approve of concessions over fish and some aspects of trade. But the legal question – to take back control – has been accomplished.

In The Atlantic, Tom McTague, a balanced journalist, looked at Brexit from the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto policy of ‘levelling up’ all parts of the United Kingdom:

at root, Brexit was a rejection of the economic status quo, which too many had concluded was benefiting the country’s urban centers at the expense of its more rural regions. And not without evidence: Britain is the most unequal economy in Europe, combining a supercharged global hub as its capital with areas a three-hour drive away that are as poor as some of the least-developed parts of the continent.

Brexit was not solely a vote of the “left behind”—much of the wealthy and suburban elite also voted to leave. But Brexit was a rejection of the direction the country was taking, a desire to place perceived national interests above wider European ones that too many Britons did not believe were also theirs. Is this entirely unreasonable?

The Revd Giles Fraser, rector of the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington — and co-founder of UnHerd — wrote an excellent article on Boris, Brexit and old Christmas traditions involving seasonal games of chaos and fools. He also delves into the Bible. ‘Why chaos is good for Boris — and Brexit’ is worth reading in full.

You will want to see the photo he includes in his article, which begins as follows:

Back in early December, after a dinner between the British negotiating team and their EU counterparts, a photograph was released that, it was said, “sums everything up”. A characteristically dishevelled Boris Johnson was unflatteringly contrasted with the smartly dressed Michel Barnier. “Johnson’s loose tie, shapeless suit and messy hair alongside Frost’s errant collar stood out somewhat beside an immaculately turned out Ursula von der Leyen and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier” reported the Huffington Post, while reproducing a series of damning twitter observations …

Fraser points out that Brexit is charting a new course. The old rules no longer apply. Boris seems to be the king of chaos, perhaps a ‘fool’:

The problem with an orderly approach to things such as Brexit is that most problems, especially the large ones, are always going to be imperfectly and incompletely specified. In such a context, it is not always a straightforward matter to argue in a linear way from problem to solution. Indeed, when situations seem to require some sort of paradigm shift, the rules of the old order present a block on the emergence of the new. Things will always seem chaotic when change does not travel according to pre-established ideas of how one thing follows from another.

In his fascinating book Obliquity, the economist John Kay describes the shortcomings of turning decision making within a complex environment into some sort of algebra. Often, he argues, “complex outcomes are achieved without knowledge of an overall purpose”. The importance of rational consistency is exaggerated. Some values are incommensurable, not plottable on a single system of reference. In such situations, neatness is overrated, distorting even.

That, I take it, is partly why Boris Johnson remains ahead in the polls, even now. Yes his shambolic manner, strongly contrasted with Keir Starmer’s orderly, lawyerly disposition, speaks to a refusal of some imposed authority. It’s a kind of trick, perhaps, given that he is the authority. And Old Etonians are not typically chosen as “the lowly” who are lifted up as per the Magnificat.

But the importance of Johnson “the fool” exceeds the fact that he has become an unlikely poster-boy of some unspecified insurgency against the established European rules based system of governance. The fool understands something the rationally wise does not. “Man plans, God laughs” goes an old Jewish proverb. Much to the deep frustration of its proponents, order can never be finally imposed upon chaos. And those who are comfortable with this, celebrate it even, are often better able to negotiate the complexities of life. Being chaotic might just turn out to be Johnson’s unlikely super-power.

Boris certainly has had a good track record over the past 12 years. The coronavirus crisis is the only obstacle remaining:

What independence from the EU means for Britons

The BBC website has a short but practical guide to changes that came into effect on January 1.

In addition, UK drivers licences will be recognised in EU member countries as they were before:

With regard to students and foreign study, we will no longer be part of the EU-centric Erasmus study programme beginning in September 2021. The UK government is developing the worldwide Turing programme, named for Alan Turing:

Guido explains:

… Unlike the Erasmus programme, which was founded in 1987 “to promote a sense of European identity* and citizenship among its participants”, the new scheme will have a global outlook, targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers. It will be life changing for the student participants.

A year of Erasmus-funded reading of Sartre at the Sorbonne in Paris, or a year of Turing-funded study of Nano-engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras? It is a no-brainer to choose the exciting future that is beyond Little Europe.

*The EC in latter years funded a post-graduate exchange programme that offered opportunities outside Europe. Some 95% of the budget still focuses on Europe.

Women will be pleased that the EU tax — VAT — on sanitary products is no more.

How we celebrated, despite lockdown

On New Year’s Eve, I was cheered to see an article by The Guardian‘s economics editor Larry Elliott, ‘The left must stop mourning Brexit — and start seeing its huge potential’. YES! Every Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MP should read it.

He, too — like the aforementioned Tom McTague of The Atlantic — sees Brexit as an upending of the status quo. He tells his readers on the Left that they should be happy about this (emphases mine):

Many in the UK, especially on the left, are in despair that this moment has arrived. For them, this can never be the journey to somewhere better: instead it is the equivalent of the last helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.

It marked the rejection of a status quo that was only delivering for the better off by those who demanded their voice was heard. Far from being a reactionary spasm, Brexit was democracy in action.

Now the UK has a choice. It can continue to mourn or it can take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit has provided. For a number of reasons, it makes sense to adopt the latter course.

For a start, it is clear that the UK has deep, structural economic problems despite – and in some cases because of – almost half a century of EU membership. Since 1973, the manufacturing base has shrivelled, the trade balance has been in permanent deficit, and the north-south divide has widened. Free movement of labour has helped entrench Britain’s reputation as a low-investment, low-productivity economy. Brexit means that those farmers who want their fruit harvested will now have to do things that the left ought to want: pay higher wages or invest in new machinery.

The part of the economy that has done best out of EU membership has been the bit that needed least help: the City of London. Each country in the EU has tended to specialise: the Germans do the high-quality manufactured goods; France does the food and drink; the UK does the money. Yet the mass exodus of banks and other financial institutions that has been predicted since June 2016 has not materialised, because London is a global as well as a European financial centre. The City will continue to thrive.

If there are problems with the UK economy, it is equally obvious there are big problems with the EU as well: slow growth, high levels of unemployment, a rapidly ageing population. The single currency – which Britain fortunately never joined – has failed to deliver the promised benefits. Instead of convergence between member states there has been divergence; instead of closing the gap in living standards with the US, the eurozone nations have fallen further behind.

I was especially pleased that he pointed out the coronavirus vaccine. We were the first in the world to approve one and get it rolled out:

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of nation states and the limitations of the EU. Britain’s economic response to the pandemic was speedy and coordinated: the Bank of England cut interest rates and boosted the money supply while the Treasury pumped billions into the NHS and the furlough scheme. It has taken months and months of wrangling for the eurozone to come up with the same sort of joined-up approach.

Earlier in the year, there was criticism of the government when it decided to opt out of the EU vaccine procurement programme, but this now looks to have been a smart move. Brussels has been slow to place orders for drugs that are effective, in part because it has bowed to internal political pressure to spread the budget around member states – and its regulator has been slower to give approval for treatments. Big does not always mean better.

Later on — at 11 p.m. GMT, midnight Continental time — millions of us in Britain were only too happy to toast each other, confined in our own homes, and say:

Free at last!

Here’s Nigel Farage:

Baroness Hoey — formerly Kate Hoey, Labour MP — worked tirelessly for Leave in 2016.

She had a message for her late mother …

… and for Guy Verhofstadt, who is shown below a few years ago in London with the Liberal Democrats campaigning against Brexit:

In the days that followed …

On New Year’s Day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave an optimistic message for 2021 — ‘the UK’s best years lie ahead’:

The Sun‘s political editor, Harry Cole, urged all of us to unite behind a new Britain:

Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, continues to pursue his quest for French citizenship, having researched his family tree.

Nigel Farage’s new campaign will be against dependence on China:

Our ports have been problem-free:

On that cheery note, after four and a half years, this completes my Brexit Chronicles! Onwards and upwards!

Yesterday’s post detailed the first day of Brexmas — Christmas Eve 2020 — when the UK and the EU signed the deal to end the transition period and move on to a future outside of EU control.

MPs and the Lords were preparing to vote on the deal on Wednesday, December 30, in a special recall of both Houses of Parliament.

The Brexit referendum in 2016 attracted more voters and two of the largest campaign donations in British history.

The days between Christmas and December 30 seemed like a long wait. We were in lockdown, to various extents, at the time. However, Leavers were able to get an idea of how MPs thought about the new trade agreement, which is a treaty. A summary of practical considerations for Britons can be found here.

We also garnered snippets from journalists on some of the deal/treaty provisions.

Natasha Clark, who writes about politics for The Sun, tweeted:

Some pointed out a few downsides. There are concerns about British financial services operating overseas, the performing arts and, equally important, international security:

That said, Sir John Redwood MP was optimistic:

Even better, the hardline Brexit group, the European Research Group (ERG), was all in for the deal:

The ERG issued a three-page statement of support on Tuesday, December 29, concluding:

Our overall conclusion is that the Agreement preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties. The “level playing field” clauses go further than in comparable trade agreements, but their impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government. In any event they do not prevent the UK from changing its laws as it sees fit at a risk of tariff countermeasures, and if those were unacceptable the Agreement could be terminated on 12 months’ notice.

Even Labour — and Opposition — leader Sir Keir Starmer said that he would back the deal (starting at 1:30):

Sixty per cent of Conservative Home readers considered the deal a win.

On the morning of December 30, Graham Stringer, a Labour MP, said that Parliament should support the deal:

However, MPs from Northern Ireland thought differently. They have to abide by the EU rules because they border the Republic of Ireland. MSN Money published a fuller statement from the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), which reads in part (emphases mine):

Whilst we accept that this agreement does bring about zero tariff and quota arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Union thus removing many goods from attracting tariffs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the fact remains that this agreement does not assist Northern Ireland in the context of having to operate under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

When Parliament is recalled on Wednesday we will vote against this agreement. We will do so as a point of principle and not because we supported a no deal option. A free trade deal is better than no deal but for Northern Ireland this deal does not undo the detrimental aspects of the Protocol.

Understandably many in Great Britain will be able to support these arrangements as applied to Great Britain but sadly for Northern Ireland we will be governed by the arrangements in the Protocol. While Northern Ireland will remain in the UK customs territory and we are out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy we will be aligned with the EU for manufactured goods and food and animal products alongside other EU imposed restraints.

The removal of a so-called cliff edge on 1 January will be welcomed but more work will be required to ensure that we can maintain free flowing business supply lines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. To that end we will continue to work with the Government to mitigate against those damaging practical outcomes flowing from the Protocol.

It was a long day in the House of Commons. When bringing in the motion, Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, mistakenly referred to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, by his first name:

Leader of the Opposition Starmer said that not voting for the agreement was akin to voting ‘no deal’:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced the new legislation. Scotland’s SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford stuck his oar in, but Boris wasn’t having it:

Even the Speaker of the House told Blackford to not intervene — not once, but twice — as time was short. However, Blackford, as always, persisted in interrupting with the same broken record he always plays. I enjoyed when Boris called Blackford’s party the Scottish Nationalist Party. It’s Scottish National Party, but Boris knew and said ‘nationalist … with a small “n”‘:

Blackford persisted, causing the Speaker to ask him a third time to stop intervening:

Not surprisingly, Scotland’s SNP voted against the agreement, the subject of the EU Future Relationship Bill. Gove, also a Scot, called them out in his summation speech before the vote. This is one for the archives. It was pointed yet witty. This was Gove at his best (even though I don’t trust the man):

The SNP’s Ian Blackford and Stuart O’Grady are on the far right in the video:

Going back to Boris’s introduction of the bill. After he spoke, Keir Starmer gave his response as Leader of the Opposition. When he urged his MPs to vote for the agreement, an indignant Theresa May rose to speak her mind. Labour and the other Opposition parties had opposed her deal throughout 2019, leading to her resignation as PM.

The second clip below — ‘May’s finest moment’ — is from 2019. Labour MP Rupa Huq had accused her of ‘parliamentary ejaculation’. May said that if Huq ‘looked more closely’ she would find that she (May) was incapable of such a thing:

On December 30, May was upset with Starmer for not having voted for her deal in 2019. Starmer had called Boris’s agreement ‘thin’ — meaning not enough integration with the EU. May pointed out that if he had voted for her deal the previous year, he would not have had that complaint, ‘so I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition on this deal’:

When it came time for the vote, 37 Labour MPs rebelled, with three having to resign their shadow front bench posts. One of them, Helen Hayes, is pictured below:

The Mirror reported:

Moments after the result of the vote was declared, frontbencher Helen Hayes announced she had quit her role.

She tweeted: “I’m grateful to all who’ve contacted me on the EU Future Relationship Bill.

“I can’t vote for this damaging deal & have abstained today.

“With much sadness & regret I’ve offered my resignation as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. It’s been a privilege to serve.”

MP for Gower, South Wales, Tonia Antoniazzi said it was “with the deepest regret” she was resigning as a parliamentary aide to the Shadow Scotland and Work and Pensions teams …

Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, South London, quit as a whip – a frontbencher responsible for enforcing the leader’s power.

She said: “This Bill was rushed and a ‘no deal’ is the worst outcome for the country but I cannot support the bill and I have abstained.

“I have offered my resignation as an Opposition Whip.”

The resignations are a blow for Mr Starmer’s bid to reposition the party.

He ordered Labour MPs to back the agreement, believing Labour needed to show voters in its traditional heartlands – most of which overwhelmingly backed Leave in the 2016 referendum – that it has heeded the result.

Urging MPs to back the deal, Mr Starmer told the Commons: “This is a simple vote with a simple choice – do we leave the transition period with the treaty negotiated with the EU or do we leave with no deal?

“Labour will vote to implement this treaty today to avoid no-deal and to put in place a floor from which we can build a strong future relationship with the EU.”

It didn’t matter much in the end, because the EU Future Relationship Bill passed with ‘a stonking majority’, as Guido Fawkes put it:

AYES 521

NOES 73

The vote lists aren’t out yet, however we can assume around 40 rebels abstained.

PARLY had a further breakdown:

The Conservatives must have been relieved to be able to tweet this — after four and a half years:

The bill was quickly rushed to the House of Lords, which had to debate and vote on it.

Nigel Farage watched the proceedings on BBC Parliament:

A vast majority of the Lords are Remainers.

However, I hope that Farage did not miss Kate Hoey’s — Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin in the County of Antrim’s — tribute to him in the Lords. I saw it and couldn’t believe she mentioned him in the Valley of the Remainers, but she did. I was delighted:

The Lords debated for the rest of the night, then voted.

The Queen’s Royal Assent was the final step.

One reporter had a very long day:

Royal Assent was granted shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve:

Shortly afterwards, the Daily Mail carried a report with rare, behind-the-scenes photos:

Boris Johnson has heralded a ‘new beginning in our country’s history’ after his Brexit trade deal was signed into law, setting the stage for a smooth divorce from the EU tonight.

The Prime Minister thanked MPs and peers for rushing the Bill through Parliament in just one day so it could take effect at exactly 11pm this evening when the UK’s transition period ends.  

At 12.25am, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs that the EU (Future Relationship) Act 2020, had been granted royal assent by the Queen

It enshrines in legislation the trade agreement finally negotiated between London and Brussels last week following more than four years of wrangling since the referendum. 

Shortly before Her Majesty gave the Act her seal of approval, a bullish Mr Johnson marked out a new chapter for Britain, which first joined the bloc in 1973.

He said in a statement: ‘I want to thank my fellow MPs and peers for passing this historic Bill and would like to express my gratitude to all of the staff here in Parliament and across Government who have made today possible.

‘The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands.

‘We take on this duty with a sense of purpose and with the interests of the British public at the heart of everything we do.

’11pm on December 31 marks a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally. This moment is finally upon us and now is the time to seize it.’

More on that and what it means for Boris Johnson’s premiership tomorrow.

Andrew Neil, veteran BBC journalist and chairman of The Spectator worldwide, hosted Episode 7 of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, October 15, 2020:

A summary follows.

Not surprisingly, given events of the past week, coronavirus led the news.

Andrew Neil began with England’s increasing number of regional lockdowns. It would seem that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is no longer following the science. The Labour and official Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, wants another national lockdown. The political editor of The Spectator, James Forsyth, said that, whatever coronavirus crisis measures Boris Johnson takes, he’s ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ and has to deal with the damage of lockdowns.

Across the Channel in France, Emmanuel Macron has been following a similar strategy to that of Downing Street and is very concerned about COVID-19 in all respects. Neil asked about last week’s contretemps in Ireland. Forsyth said that Ireland’s dispute between their government and medical experts was played out in public; by contrast, in the UK, it was in private. In any event, he said that scientists are now in a position of ‘negotiation’.

The magazine’s deputy political editor, Katy Balls, was on next to discuss Labour’s position on coronavirus. Labour MPs disagreed with Keir Starmer behind the scenes, a move which she said has united the Conservatives. That said, it seems England could well be heading towards a short ‘circuit breaker’, although that would be very difficult for Conservative MPs to stomach.

Forsyth said that this is a very dangerous time for the Government. Starmer could even emerge victorious. (‘At some point’, I might add, as Boris has a majority of 79 [from 80], and no general election is due before 2024.) At this stage, it’s too soon to tell. He said that no one knows if a circuit breaker would actually work in England.

The Spectator‘s editor Fraser Nelson was up next. He said that Boris was pretty well on to the way to a national lockdown, adding that he lacks the way to fight off SAGE, having been  ‘outmanoeuvered’.

Neil asked about a recent poll showing approval for more coronavirus restrictions. Ben Page from IPSOS-Mori explained the polls, which showed that 62% of respondents thought that stricter measures should be taken. Page indicated that these were somewhat alarming results: ‘quite astonishing in some ways … across the piece’.

Forsyth noted that 19% of Conservative voters in England oppose increased restrictions, which poses a problem for Boris because it creates a North-South divide. Ben Page countered that the polling support for Labour and Conservative has been fairly stable this year. Labour haven’t been able to gain much ground since December 2019.

Jake Berry MP, a Conservative representing the northern constituency of Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire, spoke next. He said that, although their regional lockdown had been relaxed recently, they are now on Tier 2. He said that people are largely ignoring the Government guidelines and will comply only with what they think is appropriate. He does not favour a national lockdown but supports a local circuit breaker ‘based on the data’, so that it becomes less political for the public. He believes that the Government could have ‘handled the North better’ and that recent weeks have proven a ‘very dangerous moment for Parliament and the North’. That said, he added that Labour ‘is in quite a lot of trouble over this as well’ and said Starmer committed quite a big mistake this week when calling for a national circuit breaker.

Berry further advised that we need to give this new two-week regional lockdown the benefit of the doubt which might lead for in-and-out local lockdowns.

Neil then changed tack, moving across the Channel to France, with its local 10 p.m. coronavirus curfews (some of which are now at 9 p.m.) and a campaign against extremism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, speaking to the latter point, was the next guest. She was sceptical about any success against extremism. She said that extremists have convinced French immigrants they are living within another type of state to which they do not feel they naturally belong. She added that this is enough to subvert the French nation. She also said that the same narrative is going on in other Western nations, because leaders remain silent and refuse to admit what is really going on.

Talk then turned to Brexit arrangements, which were to have been concluded that day. James Forsyth said that the EU threw the ball into the UK’s ‘court’. That leaves the situation whereby Michel Barnier wants to carry on talks but neither side wants to back down.

Forsyth expects there will be a deal to be done ‘but with a twist in the tail’. Fraser Nelson said that Boris and Macron communicate with each other quite closely and expected that Britain will budge over fishing rights. It will be, he predicted, one for revision: ‘a process rather than an event’.

Forsyth said there could be a November deadline, even though neither side wants an early deadline because they do not want any changes to the deal. He predicted a last minute November 15 deal.

The last part of the programme concerned protecting the triple lock pension with Katy Balls affirming that Boris is ‘committed to it’.

The panel noted Boris’s ‘unstrustworthiness’ problem with voters. Questions from listeners followed for the last ten minutes. Ben Page said that the Labour Party is very unpopular even if Keir Starmer is popular in the polls.

Viewers are grateful to Charles Stanley Wealth Managers for sponsoring the programme.

On Monday, October 12, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system for England in an attempt to make new coronavirus restrictions easier to understand:

He delivered a statement in Parliament and later addressed the nation. In the video clips below, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty is on the left and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is on the right:

These plans run for the next six months:

Earlier that day, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented an update. It is unnerving when SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) members make an announcement of upcoming health policy before the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. They did this on September 21 as well, against a Government backdrop. They have official permission to do so, but it is unsettling to see. It looks as if they are in charge. Perhaps they are.

Hmm.

I very much agree with this tweet about SAGE members who are physicians, such as the aforementioned three men (emphases mine below):

‘Drs’ go into epidemiology and PH because they want the same salary as the frontline grafters without the hours, stress or risk.

So, how accurate were Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming projections from September? Not very accurate at all, as many people in England suspected three weeks ago, and deaths are thankfully minimal compared to springtime statistics:

The SAGE members spoke on Monday morning. Boris addressed MPs that afternoon.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, rightly pointed out that a Conservative government should let citizens make informed choices for themselves:

As Conservatives, we often speak of levelling up. However, now is the time to level with the British people. There is no silver bullet. All measures to stop the spread of covid have painful effects on our economy, social lives and mental wellbeing. Voices on the Opposition Benches believe that British people are incapable of understanding complex issues such as Brexit. The Conservative party is the champion of individuals’ rights to make autonomous decisions without state interference. Will the Prime Minister double down on our party’s historic commitment to invest greater trust in the individual to decide what is best for themselves?

Boris gave his standard communitarian response:

Indeed, and I hope that the individual will also recognise that the risk that we carry—he or she carries—is not just to ourselves, but to the whole of the community because, in the end, we are all potential vectors of this disease and we may bring it inadvertently to someone who is more vulnerable than ourselves. That is the risk. That is why we are bringing in these measures, why we have had the package of measures that we have had throughout this pandemic, and why we now need to intensify them in some local areas now.

Boris answered over 100 questions in two hours. The session ended just before 6 p.m.

He addressed the nation on television at 7 p.m.

The adjournment debate in Parliament that evening revealed that the National Health Service would be more aptly named the National Covid Service.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in south west London, spoke about the continued closure of the Urgent Care unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Excerpts follow:

In August 1997, Queen Mary’s Hospital, which is in Roehampton, ended its A&E service, and has since had a minor injuries unit, which the trust gave a gold-standard accreditation in November last year. So there is no A&E service in my constituency. The minor injuries unit was upgraded to an urgent treatment centre, with a GP added to the excellent nurse practitioner staff, earlier this year. In a normal year, the centre serves 16,000 to 18,000 people, so it is a vital service in our community.

During the peak of the pandemic, the decision was taken to temporarily close the service because of a lack of space for social distancing and to be able to adhere to Government guidelines, and also to move the staff to other areas that needed them more. The pharmacy for out-patients has only recently been closed, and at very short notice. Of course I understand, as do local residents, that changes had to made and that health services had to adapt. I fully appreciate that our NHS managers had to make some extremely difficult decisions on service provision as they faced the prospect of being overwhelmed, which they are now facing again, with the second wave. The continued closure makes us in Roehampton feel overlooked, and it is putting additional pressures on NHS services at Teddington, the walk-in centre at Kingston, St George’s Hospital A&E and local GP surgeries. I am concerned that this will cause untold long-term damage to the health and wellbeing of our community.

I have been asked, “What about the person with the dislocated shoulder, the chest pain, the allergic reaction?” They all need to be assessed and stabilised urgently, but at the moment they are being turned away. I have met the chief executive of the hospital trust and raised these issues. I asked her to assure me that the centre would be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so, but she has not confirmed when it will reopen, if at all. That is very worrying. I hope to hear from the Minister this evening that he will support the trust in making plans to reopen the walk-in urgent treatment centre. 

I would like briefly to explain the impacts that the closure is having on local people. Anyone who goes to where the minor injuries unit used to be is asked to travel far away to the Teddington walk-in centre, to Kingston A&E or to St George’s A&E in Tooting. Those bus journeys can take an hour, which can result in painful journeys or in many people not making the journey, not being seen and not being treated. I am sure the Minister will agree that an hour on public transport is an unacceptably long journey time when there is a really good hospital right there in Roehampton, but it is just not open for walk-in urgent care. One of my constituents wrote to me this week to say:

I took my elderly father, who is nearly 90 years old, to Queen Mary’s just over a month ago, because he had cut his fingers quite badly and they were bleeding. The kind staff there had helped us when my father had a similar problem last year and they knew how to bandage his fingers because he has very thin skin…Because the Centre was closed, we had to go all the way to Kingston Hospital which was quite stressful. While his treatment there was good, it would have been far easier if we could have gone somewhere more local to him as my father isn’t used to travelling that far.”

Also, some patients are unable to travel or should not travel. An example is patients with diabetic foot ulcers, who should keep their activity to a minimum to allow ulcers to heal. At the same time, if they have an infection, it needs treating immediately as it could deteriorate rapidly leading to the need for amputation. That is one group of patients who are not getting the care they need because the urgent treatment centre and the pharmacy are not open. There is an obvious health risk to people needing to travel further if they are seriously ill.

There is also an increased risk of covid infection through asking people to travel greater distances by public transport during the pandemic, especially when they are unwell or chronically ill. They could have an underlying condition, which might be the reason they are going to the urgent care centre in the first place. That would make them more susceptible to the effects of covid-19. Closing the pharmacy is having the effect of delaying patients receiving treatment, as they are now being referred to their GP by the clinics. If they cannot immediately get an appointment with their GP, this can lead to delays of up to 48 hours before starting their treatment. That is another impact.

There is also a knock-on effect on services in other places. The fact that 16,000 to 18,000 people a year used to be treated at Queen Mary’s is putting pressure on St George’s and Kingston, along with the increasing demand at the momentGP surgery appointments are already at a premium, and this demand will only worsen as the difficult winter months approach. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that over 11 million patients had to wait more than 21 days for a GP appointment. In my constituency, there are 14 main surgeries and three branch practices. My team has called round all the local GP services. Several are still only doing appointments over Zoom, and in one local medical centre, a member of staff begged for the urgent care centre to reopen due to the pressure its closure is causing for GP surgeries.

Increased demand for overstretched GP surgeries with finite resources ultimately means fewer local people’s conditions or illnesses receiving treatment, and even more concerningly, serious and urgent illnesses such as cancer being missed and going undiagnosed. It is cancer diagnosis that I am particularly concerned about. As the Minister knows, lots of cancers are diagnosed when people present at hospital with a symptom. With the doors of the urgent treatment centre still closed, many cancers that might otherwise have been spotted will have been missed

Edward Argar, Minister for Health, responded on behalf of the Government:

… I am conscious that the trust has yet to set out a firm commitment to a reopening date, but I join the hon. Lady in saying that I hope it will set out its future plans as soon as possible. I am conscious that she has met the trust’s chief executive, Jacqueline Totterdell, to discuss these issues and plans for the reopening of the urgent treatment centre. Although that reopening date is still to be confirmed, I understand that the trust and local commissioners are undertaking work to agree a new covid-secure model of care before reopening, which is the right approach.

The hon. Lady highlighted not only the urgent treatment centre but its role in helping early diagnosis and treatment of cancers. I completely understand and recognise her concerns about the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and the importance of ensuring that cancers do not go undiagnosed. The NHS is working to restore the full operation of all cancer services, with local delivery plans being delivered by cancer alliances. Systems will be working with GPs and the public locally to increase the number of people coming forward and being referred with suspected cancer to at least pre-pandemic levels—I will come on to the performance of her local trust in a moment.

To support that, systems will help to ensure sufficient diagnostic capacity in covid-19-secure environments, through the use of independent sector facilities and the development of community diagnostic hubs and a rapid diagnostic centre. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that diagnostic capability is a considerable challenge, not least because, to put it perhaps a little bluntly, many diagnostic tests are very close and personal, and the equipment used is intimate in terms of looking inside the human body. The cleaning and infection control measures that are necessary between each patient make it challenging to see as many patients as would have been the case before the pandemic.

That last sentence worried my far better half, who asked, ‘Does that mean they weren’t cleaning between patients before coronavirus?’

After discussing cancer services, Argar discussed the Urgent Care pharmacy in question:

The hospital pharmacy is absolutely vital for people being able to have timely access to the medicines they need and being able to get them on site. Although people using it will have been treated and advised in hospital, they can none the less get very helpful advice from the pharmacy as well, so I share her view about the importance of that. As I have said, I include that in my offer to her—to discuss that with her and with the chief executive. I will endeavour to do that later this week …

I simply reiterate that I share the hon. Lady’s view that, where services for perfectly good and legitimate clinical reasons have been temporarily closed or altered, it is extremely important that they are reopened as soon as trusts are able to do so and, where in the future any changes are proposed, that they are subject to the usual full public consultation, engagement and consideration. I do not want to see temporary measures becoming permanent by default, and she can read that as perhaps an expression of my view on what is happening in Roehampton

I hope that I have been able to offer the hon. Lady some reassurances today. I thank her for securing the debate, and I very much look forward to meeting her

Fleur Anderson was reassured. I hope that Queen Mary’s Hospital gets back to full service soon.

The content of that debate was alarming.

Apologies for the digression, but this is the state of play for the NHS, or should I say NCS, not only in Roehampton but all over the nation. It is an absolute shambles.

Tuesday, October 13 — the almighty SAGE, no evidence needed

On Tuesday, October 13, Treasury Minister Steve Barclay laid out the Chancellor’s expanded plans for financial support during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

The 10 p.m. curfew for pubs was also voted on later that day.

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP representing Central Devon, asked for scientific evidence about the curfew:

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done a great deal to support the economy, but there has to be a careful balance struck between protecting against the virus and avoiding further economic destruction. With that in mind, what scientific evidence has the Treasury received that closing pubs at 10 pm gets that balance right?

Steve Barclay did not answer the question and inadvertently pointed out SAGE’s woefully inaccurate modelling (see graph at the top of the post):

We have to balance the evidence that the Government receive from a range of quarters. My right hon. Friend will recall that when the initial advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was put forward, the Government came forward with a range of measures, such as the rule of six and the curfew. Indeed, if we look at the projections that were made at that time, we see that we could potentially have had 49,000 or so daily cases by 14 October when in actual fact the figure on that date was 12,872. That indicates the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had an influence. However, listening to the SAGE advice, it is recognised that we need to go further and that is why the tiered approach has been set out.

Mike Wood (Con, Dudley South) sounded the alarm about pubs in his West Midlands constituency:

A tenth of pubs have not reopened since lockdown in March while two thirds were already trading at a loss, even before restricted opening times, mandatory table service and the new restrictions announced yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend look at the support that is available for pubs that are not yet compelled to close, but are legally prevented from operating economically, and in particular state aid limits that threaten to prevent 10,000 pubs from receiving the support they need? Without that support, many thousands of pubs will close their doors and never reopen.

Barclay responded:

Ultimately, that is why the Chancellor set out the wider package of support, recognising the concerns he speaks of with the tax deferrals, the loans, the business rate support and the measures on VAT, which are targeted at the sector because of the very real concerns he correctly articulates.

Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) asked for evidence that compels swimming pools and gyms to close in some areas under the new restrictions:

Is there any specific evidence that swimming pools and gyms are centres for covid transmission? Has any research been done into rising obesity and unfitness levels, and has any research been done into rising unemployment caused by the closure of gyms and pools that is now happening in parts of the UK?

Barclay reiterated that those sectors were part of the reason for the Chancellor’s expanded support package. Again, he could not provide any scientific evidence:

In some ways, that is slightly more of a Health question than a Treasury question, but I recognise that there is read-across from those businesses into the economy. In short, the opinion of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer is that those businesses do carry significantly more risk, which is why they have been harder hit in the guidance that has been issued.

What if it turned out that Whitty and Vallance were as wrong about that as they are with their astronomically mistaken ‘case’ projections?

I fully agree with the assessment of Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

It is not surprising that more and more Members are calling for more Government support, because the Government are forcing more and more businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, out of business. The Chief Secretary says that his priority is to help business. The best way to help businesses is to let them get on and do business. We are going bankrupt as a nation—there will not be the money to pay for the NHS or pensions. What is the Treasury doing to row back against other parts of the Government and insist that we must allow British business to operate? He did not answer the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—what is the scientific evidence for pubs closing at 10 o’clock? Is he leading the fight to help Britain to stay in business?

Barclay replied:

With respect, I did answer it. I pointed to the projection given by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser at that time, the SAGE guidance and the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister has resulted in a lower infection risk. The CMO and others would recognise that this is a range of measures. My right hon. Friend says that the Government have gone too far and that there is no evidence for the curfew. The tenor of most of the questions one gets is that we have not moved far enough and should be taking more drastic actions. That speaks to the fact that this is a balanced judgment. One needs to look at the range of measures we are taking, and that is what I would refer him to.

After that, MPs debated then voted on all the new coronavirus measures. All passed, including the 10 p.m. curfew for pubs across the nation.

Matt Hancock delivered the statement which opened the debate.

He took strong exception to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Some people have set out this more relaxed approach, including those in the so-called Great Barrington declaration. I want to take this argument head on, because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false. First, it says that if enough people get covid, we will reach herd immunity. That is not true. Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, such as measles, malaria, AIDS and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to covid, even if everyone caught it. Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we cannot.

Well, not all of us get flu every year, and, in the wide scheme of things, COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.

I agree with Hancock’s second point about the impossibility of isolating older members in multi-generational households.

However, overall, Hancock really is in thrall to SAGE. They must be relishing the power they have over him:

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) asked a simple question:

How long do the scientists think we will need these lockdowns for, and what is their exit plan?

Hancock had no real answer. The one he gave proves that lockdowns do not work. So much for SAGE advice:

We have seen the exit plan from local lockdowns. For instance, in Leicester, where we had a firm local lockdown, the case rate came right down. We lifted that and we have sadly seen it start to rise again. The case rate is determined by the amount of social mixing, and it reduces during a lockdown. In some parts of the country where the case rate has continued to rise, there is an argument for further ensuring that we do not reach the level of contact that is at the root of the virus spreading. The challenge is how to calibrate the lockdown to get the virus under control while doing the minimum damage to the economy and to education.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) pointed out the futility of a 10 p.m. curfew, as everyone pours out into the street and onto public transport at the same time:

The Secretary of State talks about a regulation on pubs closing at 10 o’clock, which has been in force for four weeks. There may be some undoubted positives for health, but we see some negatives with people amassing together on public transport and in the streets. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, as far as the science is concerned?

More waffle from Barclay, I’m sorry to say.

You can see some of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s reply to Barclay in the video below. Ashworth says that the Government have not gone far enough, even if he opposes another full lockdown, or circuit-breaker, as it is now called.

The debate continued.

Addressing Matt Hancock, Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Southwest Wiltshire), who is a physician, cautioned him against being closed-minded and advised looking at other voices in the medical world, including those of those who say that lockdown serves little purpose and should be confined to the vulnerable only:

I support these restrictions with a heavy heart. On balance, I will be supporting the Government this evening, but I want to make just a few quick points.

I would be very careful about subscribing to the Vallance/Whitty orthodoxy that informed these regulations, while not at all examining very carefully respectable bodies of medical opinion to the contrary. I would cite particularly the Heneghan/Sikora/Gupta line. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team address those things head-on and treat them with the respect that they deserve

We need to be careful about groupthink, confirmation bias, a thin evidential basis and uncertainty masquerading as certainty. There is a huge margin of uncertainty with all this, and we all need to develop a level of humility in our attitudes towards dealing with this crisis. That is why I shall be supporting the Government this evening …

In all this, we simply do not know and we are learning all the time. We have to accept, I think, the expertise of those advising Ministers and that we have experts for a reason, but there is an alternative view. Unless we get a vaccine—goodness me, I hope we do—I think we may find that the cure is worse than the disease in terms of lives lost directly to covid, incidental lives lost to other common diseases—stroke, heart attack and particularly cancer—loss of liberty, loss of livelihood and the compete trashing of our economy. That is what is at stake. I do not envy the Secretary of State in his work.

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) made excellent points. I agree with every one of them:

There is a huge principle to be debated here. At the heart of it is the false dichotomy posed again by the Secretary of State today between hospitality and the economy and jobs, as though hospitality were not part of the real economy and millions of jobs did not depend on it. Tell that to the workers and businesses owners in pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes, hotels and wedding venues, theatres and cinemas, betting shops, bingo halls and casinos and gyms, all of which are facing really hard times and challenges. They are facing closures, ruin and job losses on a massive scale. At the same time, as we heard earlier, Treasury support is weakening and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only losing the cost of support but suffering a major loss of revenue.

Unfortunately, the approach seems to be driven less by deep analysis and more by the dreaded doctrine of “something must be done”. This is something; therefore we must do this irrespective of proportionality, outcome or impact. But this time it is even worse. It seems to be “something needs to be seen to be done” without any cost-benefit analysis or considering the impact on a beleaguered industry and a workforce facing mass redundancies. Accordingly, I and many other Members are unclear about the basis, either at a local or national level, of these proposals. The Chief Secretary talked earlier of anecdotes. I want a bit more than anecdotes.

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, rightly said on Radio 4 today that a far better way than closures and curfews is to give powers to local councils to take rapid action to shut down non-compliant venues. In my authority of Sandwell, which has an enviable contact rate of 85% led by the excellent public health director Dr McNally, we have had one case linked to a hospitality venue, and that was early on in the pandemic in a pub in Smethwick. The Express & Star, our evening newspaper, investigated and found that across the Black Country, which is home to 1.25 million people, there have been just 10 such incidences of covid, again all early in the pandemic.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State did not give an indication of how long he thinks this can go on. It could last almost indefinitely unless we develop a vaccine, an event that, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted yesterday, is uncertain and would not be 100% effective. One of the tests of an exit strategy is considering how we contain the virus if we are not able to eliminate it, as we have had to do with major diseases throughout history and as many of parts of the world still have to do today.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) brought up the economic damage done and his support for the Great Barrington Declaration. He said that the Government must find a middle way:

three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed …

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.

All Government measures passed in the votes that night.

Labour’s mixed messages

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet are all over the shop.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ashworth opposed a national lockdown, while saying that the Government were not going far enough with measures:

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced on national television that he wants a national lockdown, as Guido Fawkes points out (emphases in the original):

Why does Keir Starmer support imposing a national lockdown on areas with low Covid incidence whilst opposing regional lockdowns on areas with high Covid incidence? Whatever side of the argument you are on, surely it is clear that being on both sides of the argument at the same time makes no sense logically? Unless it is pure political opportunism…

Ashworth said, rightly that a national lockdown “would be disastrous for society… but I don’t believe anyone in the house is proposing that…” Hours later Starmer proposed precisely that…

Tiered lockdown: public money from taxpayers or private enterprise?

In closing, this is what is allegedly happening in Essex, which is just to the east of London. This is puzzling, because Essex has low positive test rates.

Adam Brooks is a publican:

Essex Council deny that money is involved. The councillor giving the following statement said that the Council is doing it for health, not financial, reasons:

Fair enough.

The leader of the Council issued this video announcement, which was not well received by Essex residents (read the replies):

Essex aside, on the subject of lockdown money, Laura Dodsworth has written a lengthy article for Spiked, ‘There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock down’.

She stands by her article:

She explains that Liverpool Council made sure they received commitment to a financial package from the Government before entering Tier 3:

Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.

This policy is not without its drawbacks:

The new funding package for councils is designed to alleviate the pain of lockdown, to sugar the pill. But the structure of the funding might end up providing local authorities with the ingredients to make lockdown cake indefinitely. It is specifically intended to support more testing, including door-to-door testing, sometimes with help from the military. But more testing leads to more cases. More cases lead to more lockdowns.

the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.

Liverpool Council is nearly broke:

Back in April, Liverpool council warned it was facing bankruptcy. It’s easy to appreciate that local leaders are anxious to secure funds to deal with the ongoing lockdown crisis. I am not suggesting that councils and local politicians would make calculated decisions to push areas into lockdown. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This financial model has the potential to become a vicious circle. Seasoned disaster-planner Lucy Easthope tells me: ‘There is a tendency in reactive disaster funding to create dependency and to actively avoid thinking through the long-term harms and over-reliance [on emergency funds].’

Allegedly, London is likely to be next:

It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the months to come. I hope that the Treasury have terms and conditions attached to this funding.

The end of the road for England’s pubs?

Since the smoking ban in 2007 and the financial crisis the following year, the number of pubs decreased from 50,000 to 39,000 in the UK. That was as of 2018.

Because of the earlier lockdown this year, more have no doubt closed — for good.

The new coronavirus regulations began on Wednesday, October 14:

Below is a video of the ‘last hurrah’, as my parents’ generation would have called it, in Liverpool, before Tier 3 regulations set in.

Regardless of what one thinks of the video, according to the pie chart, when workplaces and schools/universities are factored in, according to Public Health England, hospitality accounts only for 3 per cent of coronavirus ‘case’ sources:

Not all pubs have to close, but in order to stay open, they must serve ‘a substantial meal’, as in New York City. A packet of crisps or pork scratchings will not do. The Pub Curmudgeon said that the Government have not precisely defined the term ‘substantial meal’, which could be problematic.

Meanwhile, Adam Brooks, the aforementioned publican from Essex, has given an interview to Spiked:

More to come tomorrow on how his business has fared during the coronavirus crisis.

Once again, coronavirus measures featured strongly in this week’s debates in the House of Commons.

Yesterday’s post explained that a compromise was reached over the proposed Brady Amendment and covered the subsequent debate on the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

In the end, only a handful of MPs voted against the extension. Congratulations to them and to the Liberal Democrats, all of whom voted No:

The Labour MPs were Dawn Butler, Kevan Jones, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John Spellar, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg. I do have a particular admiration for Graham Stringer who adds lucidity in every discussion in which he participates. I’ve seen him in Select Committee hearings and he’s brilliant.

Below is a review of coronavirus debates from the other days.

Monday, September 28

Steve Baker (Con) was in rebel mode on his way to the Commons that morning:

In the afternoon, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock appeared at the despatch box for a debate on COVID-19 measures.

He received several interventions (interruptions).

Sir Edward Leigh (Con) was the first. He also mentioned Sir Graham Brady of the eponymous amendment (emphases mine below):

If the first duty of Government is to keep people safe, will the Secretary of State remember that the first duty of Parliament is to hold Government to account? I know that he wants to take public opinion with him, but will he therefore reassure us that he is also determined to take Parliament with him? In that respect, may I urge him to meet with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and come to a compromise to ensure that, if there are further national lockdowns, Parliament will be fully involved in the process?

He agreed, but note the ‘where possible’ in his reply:

We are looking at further ways to ensure that the House can be properly involved in the process—in advance, where possible. I hope to provide the House with further details soon. I will take up the invitation to a further meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), whom I have already met to discuss this matter, to see what further progress can be made. I hope that that, for the time being, satisfies my right hon. Friend.

Mark Harper and Steve Baker, both Conservatives, hit the nail on the head.

Harper said:

To develop the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I accept the points about scrutiny that the Secretary of State makes, but it is about not just scrutiny but the laws we are making. The laws that came in at midnight, for example, were 12 pages of laws, with lots of detail, criminal offences and duties not mentioned when they were set out in a statement last week. That includes duties on employers, directors and officers, with serious criminal penalties. We need to scrutinise the detail of the legislation before it comes into force and give our assent, and not, I am afraid, just allow the Secretary of State to put it into force by decree.

Hancock batted that away, as if it were nothing:

Of course, sometimes in this pandemic we have to move fast. Sometimes we have had to move fast, and we may need to do so again. The challenge we have in this House is how to ensure proper scrutiny while also being able, when necessary, to move fast in response to the virus. That is the challenge that collectively we all face.

Steve Baker dismissed that answer with facts but had to couch it, knowing how thin-skinned Hancock is:

I reassure my right hon. Friend that I am going to praise him later, but the Constitution Unit at University College London tweeted earlier about the regulations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) that

this policy was briefed to the media 8 days ago. Was it really not possible to schedule proper, detailed parliamentary debate during that time, given the far-reaching consequences?”

It added:

“Given the current mood, it seems very likely MPs will ask this.”

Well, I am asking. Surely it was possible, in eight days, to have the debate that my right hon. Friend has called for.

Hancock replied that both he and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made statements about the new laws the week before.

Labour’s John Spellar, who voted against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, pressed Hancock on the issue:

It is nice to be informed, nice to be consulted and nice to be able to scrutinise, but in the end it is about who decides. Can the Secretary of State explain why he is so against Parliament’s making the decision, even if he argues for urgency and immediacy —within two days, for example—to either confirm or revoke those regulations? Why is he against Parliament’s being the one that finally decides on this? It is quite clear that this is not even being decided in Cabinet, but just by one or two Cabinet members. Let Parliament decide.

Hancock said he hoped to find a way forward.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, replied on behalf of Labour.

This was an excellent debate, one worth reading in full. A few more highlights follow.

John Spellar pointed out that a vaccine would give no guarantees:

There has been much mention of the success of a vaccine, but, first, it is unclear when that is likely to be and, secondly, surely even if we have a vaccine, it will not be 100% effective.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) gave the best speech of the debate — a must-watch at just under two minutes:

He took exception to Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s televised presentation the week before with a graph that strained credulity. They took no questions from the press. No government minister was present, either, even though they sat in front of a No. 10 backdrop.

Swayne rightly railed about it and them:

Less than a year ago, I celebrated what I thought was the election of a sceptical and liberal Conservative Administration. Now, I am left wondering if the Prime Minister has not been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by the SAGE over to the dark side.

The purpose of politicians is to impose a sense of proportion on science and not to be in thrall to it. I will make myself very unpopular, but I believe that the appearance of the chiefs last week should have been a sacking offence. When they presented that graph, it was with the caveat that it was not a prediction, but nevertheless it was clear that they presented it as a plausible scenario, with its 50,000 cases per day by mid-October based on the doubling of infections by the week. Not on one day since March have there been infections on a day that were double that of the same day of the week preceding—not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph? It was the purpose of the fat boy in “The Pickwick Papers”:

“I wants to make your flesh creep.”

It was “project fear”. It was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they had not been terrified enough.

I have been banging on about this since March, and with every criticism I have made, I have been told that the Government were relying on the best possible science. So I was delighted by the letter one week ago today with the nuanced criticism of Professors Heneghan, Gupta and Sikora. I believe that the Government now have to answer that criticism. I am glad that the consensus in the scientific community is broken and the critics are speaking out.

I do not underestimate for one moment the horrible nature of this disease and its post-viral syndrome, but in terms of the United Kingdom’s killers, it is 24th in the league, accounting for only 1.4% of deaths. As a consequence, I believe the Government’s policy has been disproportionate. By decree, they have interfered in our private and family lives, telling us whom we may meet, when we may meet them and what we must wear when we meet them. We have the cruelty of elderly people in care homes being disoriented, unable to see the faces of their loved ones or to receive a hug. We have the tsunami of deaths that we may experience shortly as a consequence of undiagnosed cancers and heart disease, and the discontinuation of clinical trials.

He praised Sweden’s lack of lockdown and compared the Government’s warning about Christmas celebrations to Cromwell, who, as Lord Protector, also banned the holiday:

All sorts of criticisms are levelled against the Swedish Government that, on examination of the data and comparing like for like, are without foundation. I certainly hold up the Swedish model as an alternative.

We have seen the eye-watering costs that we must now all face for a generation, having closed down our economy for all those months as a consequence of the Government’s policy. We face the crushing of enterprises, the destruction of livelihoods, and unemployment among young people, all as a consequence of an overreaction. I understand that there is now some question as to whether students will be allowed to return from university at Christmas. I say most gently to the Minister that the last Administration that sought to restrain celebrations at Christmas was during the Commonwealth, when the Lord Protector was left musing in public whether, if he were to arm one in 10, that would be enough. How many marshals will be required?

I conclude by saying that the policy of the Government has been disproportionate in response to this threat. There may be a virus one day that threatens our very way of life, but this is not it, even if we are behaving as if it were.

In other news, people in England were deeply unhappy to discover that, while they are under 10 p.m. closing time for pubs and restaurants, Parliament’s bar and restaurant were allowed to stay open past that hour.

Guido Fawkes reported that a U-turn took place. The exemption was initially made because both are considered as a ‘workplace canteen’, as sittings in both the Commons and the Lords occasionally run into the night. Now, at least, alcohol will not be served after the witching hour:

Tuesday, September 29

The 10 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants in England has rankled both proprietors and the public to the extent that the Mojo Bar in Manchester has banned all MPs until the curfew is cancelled:

Guido Fawkes had more details (emphasis in purple mine):

After five days of the disastrous mandatory 10 pm closing time policy for bars, pubs, and restaurants, Mojo Bar in Manchester is taking matters into its own hands. Clearly fuming at the counterproductive curfew order imposed this week, the bar took to social media to share pictures of all MPs – declaring none of them will be served until the curfew is cancelled. Clearly the management know which strings to pull to get the attention of MPs…

Managing Director Martin Greenhow tells Guido that the eye catching policy came about “from frustration and fear”. Before the curfew the bar had bounced back pretty strongly from lockdown, back up to 85% of normal turnover. After the curfew was imposed it’s down to just 20%.

Good grief! Stop the madness.

The coronavirus restrictions in England became so complicated that ministers, including Boris, could not keep them straight any more.

Gillian Keegan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, had a rough start in the morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today:

Guido had more (emphases in the original):

… she was unable to clarify the newly-imposed rules in the northeast on meeting other families, squirming “no, I’m sorry I can’t clarify that… no I don’t know the answer to that question”, claiming she couldn’t answer the ever-increasingly complex regulation question because she’s “not from the northeast”. Mishal Husain correctly pointed out Keegan, as a minister, couldn’t understand the new rules, what hope does the general population have of being able to stick to them…

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, also appeared on BBC radio that morning. He took issue with their ‘gotcha’ tactics:

Boris, too, got tripped up around lunchtime. He was asked to clarify Gillian Keegan’s answer on Today:

Guido reported:

Responding to a Channel 5 question, Boris said:

“Outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside and six outside, in those areas such as the North East where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of local authorities, but it’s six in a home or in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside. That’s the situation there.”

Which is precisely the opposite of what the new restrictions say, as the Government announced last night:

“Measures will be brought into law restricting inter-household mixing in indoor settings, including pubs and restaurants”

So in indoor settings no household mixing. Outdoor can see household mixing. Something the PM got 180 degrees the wrong way round…

He quickly issued an erratum early in the afternoon:

Wednesday, September 30

In the debate on extending the Coronavirus Act 2020, another highlight was Conservative MP Charles Walker’s speech. He was on fire:

He said:

I first thank the Secretary of State for everything he has done to get us to this stage tonight, but 90 minutes to debate the renewal of an Act that has fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between the state and citizens is not good enough. If this is the portent of the promises to come, it is not good enough. I need, at some stage, more than three minutes to discuss the fundamental hardships that are going on in my constituency—the jobs that are being lost, the opportunities that are being lost, the young people struggling to find work, to get back to university and to come back from university. Ninety minutes is an utter, utter disgrace. It is actually disrespectful to this House and it is disrespectful to colleagues.

I am sorry, Secretary of State, if I sound—actually, I am not sorry that I am angry, because a lot of people in this place are angry. We want to see this virus beaten, of course we do, but it would be nice—just nice—if this House were shown some respect.

Charles Walker is the vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee, which Sir Graham Brady chairs. It represents backbench Conservative MPs.

Walker’s righteous anger has been building since September 10:

I note that Steve Baker did not vote against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, despite a bold interview days before on Sky News.

Despite that, he still has his eye on the ball. He retweeted this from Italy:

And he’s doing more interviews:

We really do need to reopen the economy in full — now.

Next week, I’ll have a wrap-up of the final debates of the Brexit-oriented Internal Market Bill.

Last week, I wrote about the Brady Amendment, brought by Sir Graham Brady MP to stop the Government ruling ‘by decree’ when it comes to local coronavirus lockdowns and other measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been appearing at the despatch box to announce these lockdowns and measures without allowing MPs to debate them in the Commons first.

As I wrote then, because Sir Graham and Steve Baker MP were confident they had the numbers for it to pass on Wednesday, September 30:

It’s all good news — but only if Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle allows Brady to bring the proposed amendment forward for debate.

In the end, conversations took place behind closed doors and the Speaker did not table it for debate.

Here is what happened in the meantime.

On Thursday, September 24, Guido Fawkes posted a copy of it (emphases in the original):

Prior parliamentary scrutiny of major national coronavirus regulations

Line [1], leave out from “expire” to end and add “provided Ministers ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that in the exercise of their powers to tackle the pandemic under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other primary legislation, including for example Part 2A of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, Parliament has an opportunity to debate and to vote upon any secondary legislation with effect in the whole of England or the whole United Kingdom before it comes into effect.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment appends to the statutory motion, Section 98.2 of the Coronavirus Act, a provision that Parliament shall have the opportunity to debate and vote upon secondary legislation of major national importance before it comes into effect. The amendment makes clear Parliament’s intent to renew the powers of the Coronavirus Act with this provision.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society, wrote an analysis of it: ‘Building on the Brady Amendment: how can Parliament scrutinise Coronavirus regulations more effectively?’

At that point, 46 MPs had signed the amendment. Forty of the MPs are Conservatives.

On Sunday, September 27, the BBC’s Andrew Marr interviewed the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, who said he was ‘hugely sympathetic’ to the amendment, would ‘almost certainly’ vote for it and said it doesn’t go far enough:

On Monday evening, Steve Baker tweeted to say that the Conservative Whip invited him and other signatories to discuss the matter with Matt Hancock and Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg:

William Wragg (Con) is also one of the good guys. His tweet below met with mixed reactions from the British public:

Bloomberg’s economics editor tweeted …

… as did The Spectator‘s deputy political editor:

Katy Balls’s article, ‘Is No. 10 about to move on the Brady amendment?’

She wrote, in part (emphases mine):

The critical conversations … have been going on out of sight. As Tory support grows for the Brady amendment — which seeks to give parliament a say on changes to coronavirus restrictions currently covered by emergency laws — government chief whip Mark Spencer has spent his afternoon meeting with would-be Tory rebels.

While it’s still unclear whether the amendment will even be selected on Wednesday for a vote (the expectation in government is that it will be ruled out of scope by the Speaker), the size of the potential rebellion has been enough to focus minds …

Former ERG chair Steve Baker described the meeting online as ‘cordial and constructive’. The expectation among those rebels who attended today’s meeting is that the government is in ‘listening mode’ and will come back with a proposal in due course. However, while there is room for negotiation here, a red line among many of the leading rebels is that it isn’t enough to be given more time for speeches, MPs need a say — they need votes. Up until now, that’s something No. 10 has been reluctant to give.

On Tuesday, Guido tweeted:

By that time, 80 Conservative rebels had signed the amendment.

Guido’s accompanying post was, as usual, accurate in predicting what would happen on Wednesday. ITV’s Robert Peston was spot on (emphases in the original):

By all accounts a deal is close to being struck before Wednesday’s vote. Robert Peston reckons Hancock will acquiesce at the Despatch Box tomorrow, and allow MPs to vote on national coronavirus measures – albeit reserving the power to delay the vote until a few days after the imposition of a new restriction in the case of “an emergency“. Rebels are holding what specific procedure they would agree to close to their chest, although Steve Baker described yesterday’s meeting as “cordial and constructive”…

While the Brady Amendment could still be ruled out of scope by the Speaker on Wednesday instead of being put to a vote, Number 10 has been at pains to communicate that it understands the swelling sense of feeling on its back benches. Guido is told by one senior rebel that they are “confident a solution will be found”…

On Wednesday, September 30, the Speaker sympathetically announced why he rejected the Brady Amendment. However, he also rebuked the Government:

I will now look the the Government to rebuild trust with this house and not treat it with the contempt it has shown.

Here’s the video:

He allowed a 90-minute debate that afternoon, followed by a vote, on renewing the Coronavirus Act 2020.

The first part of his statement pertains to the Government and the latter half to the Brady Amendment (emphases mine):

I wish to make a statement about this House’s scrutiny of delegated powers during the pandemic, and on the selection of amendments to the motion relating to the Coronavirus Act 2020 later today.

The way in which the Government have exercised their powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory. All too often, important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before they come into force, and some explanations why important measures have come into effect before they can be laid before this House have been unconvincing; this shows a total disregard for the House.

The Government must make greater efforts to prepare measures more quickly, so that this House can debate and decide upon the most significant measures at the earliest possible point. The use of made affirmative statutory instruments under the urgency procedure gives rise to particular concern. I will give very sympathetic consideration to applications for urgent questions or emergency debates in such cases, requiring Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to justify the use of such powers.

That last sentence means that Matt Hancock will have to appear at the despatch box to answer questions and allow debate.

Moving along to the debate held that afternoon and to the Brady Amendment:

I hope that all hon. Members will have a chance to express their views through substantive amendable motions on scrutiny of delegated powers, or on the operation of the Coronavirus Act 2020, or both.

I turn now to the motion to be considered later today, which invites the House to make a narrow, binary choice as to whether the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should or should not expire. Unfortunately, as it is only a 90-minute debate as a proceeding under an Act under Standing Order No. 16, I am disappointed that I cannot give additional time to discuss the issues. I know some Members will be disappointed.

When I became Speaker, I made it clear that I would take decisions on matters relating to procedure guided by professional advice. I have concluded, on the basis of advice that I have received, that any amendment to the motion before the House risks giving rise to uncertainty about the decision the House has taken. This then risks decisions that are rightly the responsibility of Parliament ultimately being determined by the courts. Lack of clarity in such important matters risks undermining the rule of law. I have therefore decided not to select any of the amendments to the motion.

As I hope my earlier comments show, I have not taken this decision lightly. I am looking to the Government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory. I now look to the Government to rebuild the trust with this House and not treat it with the contempt that they have shown.

Matt Hancock introduced the debate of the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and said:

This has been an unprecedented time. This House has had to do many unprecedented things, many of which have been uncomfortable. I have listened to the concerns raised about scrutiny. As you pointed out earlier, Mr Speaker, there have been times when this pandemic has challenged us all and we have not been able to do this as well as we would have liked. I therefore propose that we change the approach to bringing in urgent measures. I am very grateful to all colleagues we have worked with to come forward with a proposal that will allow us to make decisions and implement them fast, yet also ensure that they are scrutinised properly.

Today, I can confirm to the House that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament; wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are needed to control the virus and save lives. I am sure that no Member of this House would want to limit the Government’s ability to take emergency action in the national interest, as we did in March.

We will continue to involve the House in scrutinising our decisions in the way my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week, with regular statements and debates, and the ability for Members to question the Government’s scientific advisers more regularly, gain access to data about their constituencies and join daily calls with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General. I hope these new arrangements will be welcomed on both sides of the House, and I will continue to listen to colleagues’ concerns, as I have tried my best to do throughout.

That said very little. I remain unconvinced.

Sir Graham Brady was the first to respond:

I thank my right hon. Friend for being prepared to listen and for the constructive conversations that we have had over the last couple of weeks. As he said, Members on both sides of the House understand the importance of Ministers having the freedom to act quickly when it is necessary, but we are grateful that he and other members of the Government have understood the importance of proper scrutiny in this place and the benefits that that can bring for better government.

Steve Baker also expressed his thanks.

A few minutes later, Steve Brine (Con) pointed out that some of these dangers to civil liberties come from older legislation:

I thank the Secretary of State very much for the sensible measures the Government have taken today on the involvement and ongoing consent of this House. There is widespread public concern out there about consent and the measures we are imposing on their lives. Just to be clear for the public, and some sectors of the media, watching this debate: many of the restrictions that we are reluctantly having to place on our constituents’ lives do not come through the Coronavirus Act 2020; they come through many other pieces of legislation, but primarily the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Mark Harper (Con) asked for more detail on how this new rapprochement would work:

May I just press the Secretary of State? He said in his remarks that the Government will bring forward votes in advance of the measures coming into force on national measures covering the whole of England or the whole of the UK. Obviously, some of the measures that have come into force so far have been quite significant, covering large parts of the country and millions of people. I accept there is a judgment to be made here; can he say a little more about where the line will be drawn about what is brought to this House in advance?

Hancock gave a slippery answer:

In a way my right hon. Friend, who has huge experience in these matters, answers his own question, because of course there is a judgment to be made. We have made a very clear commitment to the process that we will follow, and I hope that over the weeks to come we will demonstrate through our actions and through what we bring forward that we are true to that commitment, which essentially will become a new convention.

‘A new convention’! It is standard parliamentary procedure.

Tim Farron (Lib Dem) asked about the seeming inconsistency of social distancing and the harm to certain businesses:

Will he agree, though, that the inconsistent and sometimes nonsensical application of some of the rules is doing damage to some of the businesses that he talks about? In particular, I am thinking of the wedding industry and the many families who have been affected by that. The rule of six surely can apply so that a place that can take many multiples of six could host weddings and give people their special day, and so that it does not kill a vital industry not just in the lakes and the dales, but across the country.

Hancock gave a stock answer about following public health evidence.

Andrew Mitchell (Con) also asked about weddings as well as the events industry:

I have a lot of sympathy with what the Secretary of State is saying, but may I also support what was said by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), not only about the wedding industry but about the exhibitions and events industry? Will my right hon. Friend at least bear in mind that good sense from careful people who seek to be covid-sensible and compliant would enable him to exercise some flexibility in the very inflexible rules that currently govern those two important industries, which are flat on their backs?

Edward Timpson (Con) was also concerned about wedding venues:

On the 15-person limit at wedding venues, it would help a lot of those in the industry, which is struggling desperately, if they could see the public health evidence and anything else taken into consideration in coming to that judgment. The difference between them and the rest of the hospitality industry does stand out, and they are going to be in a further desperate state for the next six months.

Hancock referred him to the Business Secretary!

Nick Thomas-Symonds responded on behalf of Labour to Hancock’s statement.

Sir Graham Brady rose to speak:

Mr Speaker, may I begin by thanking you? Although you gave your reasons earlier for not selecting the amendments in my name and that of 80 other colleagues across the House, you also made your expectations of Government crystal clear. No one could doubt your commitment to upholding the Standing Orders of this House, Mr Speaker, and nor have you left any doubt about your resolve in defending parliamentary democracy and the right of this House to scrutinise and hold Ministers to account.

I am also pleased to be able to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Throughout my discussions with him, he has accepted the need to find a better approach to scrutiny and parliamentary approval of coronavirus measures. The new procedure that he has committed the Government to follow shows a genuine understanding of what has been wrong in the past and a real promise of transparency and engagement in the future. I believe the outcome we have reached is in the interests of Parliament, in the interests of better government and, most importantly, it gives the British people reassurance that measures that restrict their liberty, interfere with their family life, and very often threaten their livelihoods will not be implemented without important questions being asked and answers given in advance.

This video is a must watch as Hancock looks absolutely petulant:

Chris Bryant (Lab) asked Brady:

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what this new procedure is?

Brady replied:

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on procedure, and he will soon get to grips with it. It is the made affirmative procedure, which entails the setting of a commencement date in the future for measures, which will allow for a debate and vote to take place in advance of commencement. The House will therefore have that crucial ability to refuse consent.

It isn’t often that I agree with Chris Bryant, but I did here. He came back with this:

But the Government decide.

Brady said:

These things will be brought forward. We have had the assurance, and we will hold the Government to it. The hon. Gentleman will see it very soon.

I will close by thanking those Members across the House who, by supporting my amendment publicly or privately, have helped to achieve what I believe will be an important step forward for all of us.

The Speaker set a three-minute time limit on the rest of the speeches, in order to fit everyone in:

Scotland’s Ian Blackford (SNP) banged on for 20 minutes, beginning as follows:

I regret the fact that this is only a 90-minute debate. The Government should have ensured that a more appropriate amount of time was given. In that context, I will not do what I normally do; I apologise to Members, but because of time, I will not be taking interventions. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!“] That is utterly pathetic.

Jim Shannon (DUP) asked about a future vaccine, hoping that its uptake would be voluntary:

Very quickly, one of the issues that has come to my attentionthe number of emails has been enormousis to do with the enforcement of vaccines on those people who do not wish to have them. I personally would take such a vaccine, but others will not. Does my hon. Friend agree that when it comes to vaccines, it should be by choice only?

I couldn’t agree more.

Sammy Wilson (DUP) had the best speech, because he wanted to find out more specifics of this ‘new convention’ of Hancock’s. He began by replying to Jim Shannon:

Well, of course, that is an issue that the Government will have to address in the future, if ever a vaccine is found.

The important thing is the frustration that many in the public are experiencing at present. It might not have been totally wiped out, but I believe there certainly would have been far more scrutiny if this House had not just had the ability to listen to statements or ask questions, but had actually had the real sanction that if the Minister did not make a consistent and competent case for the measures that he was introducing, they could be voted down. That is why the demand that there be effective scrutiny by this House is important.

We have listened to what the Minister has said, but I am not convinced that we will see that effective scrutiny; because if I heard him right, first, it would only be for matters that are significant. Now, who will make the judgment on whether the issue is significant? I can tell the Minister that, if I own a business and it is decided that it could be closed down, that is significant; yet we do not know who will make that final decision.

The scrutiny will only be for issues that are national. Sixteen million people are currently affected by a range of local decisions and local restrictions. That, to me, is as bad—half the nation, half the country, is affected—yet according to the Minister’s definition today that would not be covered because it would not be a national decision. And, of course, scrutiny will happen where possible. I suppose if the Government wished to escape scrutiny they could always say, “But this has suddenly emerged,” even though the data could have been collected days and days before. So who will decide whether it is possible to have the time to do this?

Hancock gave him a deathly stare.

After an intervention, he continued and concluded:

It certainly should not be left to those who have wanted to rush through decisions and those who in the past have wanted to escape scrutiny because the decisions have been illogical and inconsistent, and people cannot understand them, and even some of those who have made the decisions do not understand them and sometimes have a different interpretation.

This is not just about MPs having a sense of their own importance. This is important if the measures are to have acceptance among the public, because with that kind of scrutiny, with a final vote, at least if we were not convinced that the measures were necessary, if we were not convinced that they would not have disproportionately damaging effects, if we were not convinced that they would actually work, if we were not convinced that the public would understand them, we would have the right to say, “Minister, you cannot proceed with them,” and have the opportunity to vote them down. I do not think we have had a convincing assurance from the Secretary of State today about when we would have that kind of role, and if we do not have that kind of role, I do not think that we should support the continuation of these kinds of measures.

In the end — because of Ian Blackford:

Shameful.

After a few more MPs spoke, it was time for Hancock to wrap things up prior to the vote on the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

He gave a very watery response to Sammy Wilson:

I listened with care to the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I urge him to support the Coronavirus Act this evening, not least because he knows, from the commitments I have given, that there will be further chances for both scrutiny and votes on measures in future thanks to the discussions we have had today.

Unfortunately, the Act was renewed: 330-24.

More on this to follow tomorrow.

This week in Parliament was another exciting and contentious one.

I wrote about Conservative MPs’ responses to the new coronavirus measures a few days ago. Two MPs spoke up at the end of Wednesday’s debate (see the end of this post).

I will cover Rishi Sunak’s new funding plans for individuals and businesses early next week.

To follow up on angry Conservative MPs, Guido Fawkes reports that Sir Graham Brady (right) and Steve Baker (left) are confident that they can get Brady’s amendment to the Coronavirus Act 2020 passed:

On Thursday, September 24, Guido wrote (emphases in the original):

MPs have been growing increasingly concerned with the Government imposing new restrictions with no debate in, or assent from Parliament. Increasing scepticism meant the Government leant away from as harsh measures as many were expecting earlier this week. This being said, the curfew measures for example are baffling many, and they want the opportunity to have their say over new measures in the future. All this led to a proposed amendment from Graham Brady which, if selected by the Speaker, would require Parliamentary approval for new measures.

Around 40 Tory MPs backing his amendment, which would be enough to overturn the Government’s 80 seat majority if opposition MPs back it too. Last night Steve Baker told Robert Peston that he is “absolutely, 100% certain it will pass if Labour and the SNP vote for it. But I’m afraid Labour and the SNP have been missing in action on civil liberties…”

One potential snag is that, as The Times’ Steven Swinford revealed yesterday, House Clerks have advised the motion on extending coronavirus powers is “binary” – and can only be approved or rejected, not amended. Rebel MPs do not see this as a problem as they believe if the amendment is selected and passed, it does not need to carry legal authority. The theory is the moral authority of the will of the Commons will be enough to brow beat the Government into finally putting new measures before Parliament for debate before being enacted…

It’s all good news — but only if Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle allows Brady to bring the proposed amendment forward for debate.

Yesterday, I wrote about last week’s progress on the Internal Market Bill.

On Monday, September 21, the bill entered its third day at Committee stage. Debate on amendments and clauses continued. This time they centred on Part 5 of the bill which relates to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Robert Walker, Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office, said:

Through this Bill, we are acting to uphold those priorities and deliver the commitments we made in our election manifesto that we would provide unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and

“maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”

The protocol also explicitly depends on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland for its continued existence. As we implement the protocol, that must be kept in mind. Those commitments are, of course, entirely in accord with the protocol itself, which makes it clear that, among other things, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory, that nothing in the protocol prevents unfettered access from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK market, and that in its application the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Walker received a lot of interventions from both sides of the House after that introduction.

Theresa May (Maidenhead, Con) tried to stick the knife in:

My hon. Friend has been setting out throughout his speech that the Government want clauses 41 to 45 because of the bad consequences that could come from an interpretation of the withdrawal agreement. If the potential consequences of the withdrawal agreement were so bad, why did the Government sign it?

Walker responded:

As my right hon. Friend knows well, the withdrawal agreement was negotiated by the UK and the EU and agreed with a view that certain elements would be resolved by the Joint Committee. I think there was a reasonable expectation on both sides that the Joint Committee would have made more progress on those issues, but unfortunately we have heard some harmful interpretations over the past few months. The point of these Government clauses is to ensure that we can rule those out and put in place the appropriate legal default.

After allowing further interventions, Walker resumed a detailed set of provisions and reasons why the Government was rejecting others:

Clause 45 completes the all-purpose safety net for regulations made under clauses 42 and 43, so that there can be no confusion about the position in domestic law for our courts, businesses and public bodies

Finally, clause 50 disapplies certain provisions of the UK Internal Market Bill in the scenario that Northern Ireland’s representatives resolve, under the protocol’s consent mechanism, that articles 5 to 10 of the protocol should cease to apply. This is a practical step to account for and respect the principle of consent enshrined in the protocol. The protocol itself is not codified as a permanent solution for Northern Ireland, and neither should it be in the domestic legislation that implements it. Taken together, these clauses deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland

I turn to two amendments regarding the commencement of these provisions that have been subject to much debate and attention, including a number of powerful and persuasive speeches on Second Reading. Amendment 4, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Bob Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, and is signed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, seeks to provide in essence that break-glass mechanism on the key safety net provisions in relation to the protocol by stating that clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the Bill may not come into force until a motion in this House is passed. Since that amendment was tabled, I am pleased that there have been constructive talks between my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and Ministers, and the Government have tabled amendment 66, which provides for substantially the same break-glass mechanism, with the additional requirement for a take-note debate in the other place (House of Lords). I hope that that amendment will demonstrate to hon. Members, including the Chair of the Justice Committee, that we are committed to ensuring that any decision to use the powers is explicitly approved by Parliament.

Neill was satisfied:

I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive tone that he and members of the Government have adopted in these matters. It enables some of us who otherwise would not have been able to support these clauses to proceed, on the understanding that there is a specific parliamentary lock that bad faith on the counter-party’s side must be proven to the House before these powers are brought into operation, which of course all of us hope will never be the case. I welcome that, and it enables us to support the Government’s amendment.

Walker replied:

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. A fundamental principle of our constitution, and one that lies at the very heart of our exit from the EU, is that this Parliament is sovereign. As set out in clause 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, that means that it can choose to legislate to deliver an interpretation of the protocol consistent with our understanding, while recognising that to do so is a significant step. The parliamentary procedure set out in amendment 66 recognises that, and provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of the powers. I therefore commend amendment 66 to the Committee, and urge my hon. Friend and all Members to support it and not to press amendment 4.

He continued:

Amendments 64 and 65, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, make it clear that any regulations made under clauses 42 or 43 would, of course, be subject to judicial review, contrary to some of the claims that have been made over recent weeks, while ensuring that any claims must be brought within a three-month period. That ensures that any challenge to the regulations will be subject to a timely resolution before the courts, which is essential to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and investors in Northern Ireland have the certainty that they need, which is at the heart of the Bill. I commend those amendments to the House. As they clarify the position on judicial review, amendment 44 is not necessary.

Amendments 61 to 63, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, are targeted technical amendments to ensure that the Government are able to maintain the integrity of the UK’s VAT and excise systems and can deal with any threats to biosecurity in Great Britain in response to changes required in Northern Ireland under the protocol.

In particular, the amendments ensure that the Government can act to address cases of double taxation and non-taxation created by the Northern Ireland protocol, as well as to close down opportunities for tax evasion.

The amendments will also ensure that both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations can continue, as they do now, to respond to specific biosecurity threats arising from the movement of animals and high-risk plants. The principle of facilitating actions to protect biosecurity on an ongoing basis between England, Scotland and Wales is already reflected in schedule 1 to the Bill. The amendments simply clarify that similar processes can also apply with regard to Northern Ireland where there is a genuine risk of a biosecurity threat that poses a serious threat to the health of humans, animals or plants.

I commend those amendments to the Committee …

Amendment 41 seeks, among other things, to add a paramount duty to clause 40, requiring authorities to act without prejudice to international and domestic law. Amendment 53 similarly seeks to prevent authorities from exercising functions in a way that is incompatible or inconsistent with relevant domestic or international law. Amendment 52 appears to require the Government to follow the process agreed in the withdrawal agreement as the only mechanism for dispute resolution. Amendments 54 and 55 seek to prevent regulations made under clause 42 from having effect, notwithstanding international and domestic law. Amendment 46 would remove the Northern Ireland protocol from the list of international law that may be set aside, undermining the intent of clauses 42 and 43.

Amendments 57 and 59 would prevent regulations under clause 43 from interpreting, disapplying or modifying the effect of article 10 of the protocol. Clause 43 is a necessary provision that will ensure that the Secretary of State’s interpretation will achieve the correct effect in domestic law.

I repeat that the Government are committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol; however, as a responsible Government we cannot accept any amendments that would undermine the provisions in the Bill and render them no kind of safety net at all, thereby risking the compromising of the UK internal market’s economic integrity by unintended consequences or harmful defaults contained in some interpretations of the protocol, or creating confusion or uncertainty about the position in domestic law. I therefore urge right hon. and hon. Members to withdraw the amendments.

I recognise the spirit behind amendments 67 and 68. The Government have been clear that, as we set out in the Command Paper, we will ensure that there are no tariffs on any goods that remain within the UK customs territory. I hope Members will welcome the further relevant measures that will be set out in the Finance Bill.

There will not be any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland. We have always accepted that there will be some limited, streamlined processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, building on what already happens at existing points of entry and limited to electronic declarations for businesses in Great Britain to confirm that their products are for the Northern Ireland market.

We have outlined our commitment to providing extensive support for businesses, including through the new trader support service, which will provide an end-to-end service and guide traders through all import processes at no additional cost. This is a unique intervention, backed by £200 million in Government funding to ensure that businesses of all sizes can draw on the support that it provides. Given those assurances, I hope that Members will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East, DUP) was unhappy at being asked to withdraw the amendments without seeing any specifics as to why.

Walker tried to reassure him:

I absolutely hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have made the point about what we have said in the Command Paper and what the Prime Minister has referred to in respect of the Finance Bill.

Amendment 69 seeks to ensure that there would be no new costs for a Northern Ireland business to access or sell in the market. The UK Government have already committed in legislation to delivering unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses, including through the Bill, which will apply the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination to qualifying Northern Ireland goods, thereby ensuring that they can continue to be sold in the Great Britain market in the same way as now. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment 70 seeks to ensure that goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain through Ireland will benefit from unfettered access. I reassure Members that we recognise the importance of trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain that moves via Dublin to Holyhead. We are currently engaging with businesses and the Northern Ireland Executive on the long-term means for delivering qualifying status for unfettered access. It would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation, so the Government cannot accept the amendment.

On amendment 71, the Government have been working and will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on the implementation of the protocol, including on unfettered access, but we do not agree that a restriction on the Government’s powers to make regulations effectively would be justified.

We resist amendment 72 on the basis that it is legally unnecessary. The current wording already encompasses distortions of competition between persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business within the UK internal market. Such wording is already sufficient to cover the regulation of subsidies that would have the effect of making Northern Ireland businesses less competitive in the Great Britain market.

Although the Government agree with the spirit of amendment 78, the whole Government are acutely aware of the need to maintain Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK internal market, which is already referenced many times elsewhere in the Bill, so we do not believe the amendment is necessary.

On amendment 79, I understand Members’ concerns and support mutual recognition and the non-discrimination principle, but the exception to mutual recognition that we have introduced for chemicals is there to allow the relevant authorities to respond to local factors. Authorisations granted by the EU after the end of the transition period will not take local conditions into consideration. I emphasise that the authorisations relate to the use of substances of very high concern. It is important that the Government and devolved Administrations can take local factors into account when they decide how to protect human health or the environment from the significant risks posed by such chemicals. I therefore urge Members to withdraw or vote against the amendment.

On new clause 7 and amendment 45, I want to reassure Members that the Bill includes provisions that are there precisely to protect the essential basis of the peace process, by ensuring that, regardless of whether further agreement is reached in the negotiations, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to benefit from unfettered access to the rest of the UK market when the transition period ends.

I can also reassure hon. Members that our commitment to protecting the Belfast/ Good Friday agreement of course includes protecting north-south co-operation in areas specified under that agreement, and the protocol is clear on that. That commitment is already enshrined in UK legislation: in section 10 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and through our continued support for this strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement throughout the process of exiting the European Union …

Walker then covered several other amendments which the Government deemed unnecessary.

Debate centred around the possible violation of international law.

Sir William Cash intervened during Paul Blomfield’s (Sheffield Central, Lab) speech with this:

I am actually going to look briefly at a simple point, which is that, apart from our own judges, the German federal constitutional court in December 2015 clearly stated that international law leaves it to each state to give precedence to national law. International law gives effect in that way. How does the hon. Gentleman answer that?

In his defence Blomfield quoted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who said on September 8 that the Internal Market Bill would ‘break international law’ in a ‘specific and limited way’.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West, SNP) cited the Gina Miller court case against Brexit, wherein our Supreme Court ruled that international law, not domestic law, governs international treaties.

Blomfield continued, casting doubt on the bill.

Theresa May spoke next, again having a go at Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was not present for the debate. She and the Opposition were in agreement on breaking international law:

Today, we are focusing on the parts of the Bill that relate to the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the withdrawal agreement—the withdrawal agreement that was signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister less than a year ago. I can say to the Minister that, in my view, clauses 41 to 45 have no place in this Bill. We are told that they are there because the EU either is acting in bad faith, or might act in bad faith. This is because the withdrawal agreement put a border down the Irish sea and the Government cannot accept that—but the Government did accept that when they signed the withdrawal agreement with the European Union, and I assume that, when they did so, the Government signed that in good faith. Yet here we have clauses 41 to 45 saying that the Government should have the ability to renege on parts of the withdrawal agreement to break international law.

There are three reasons why I believe that these clauses have no place in the Bill. The first, which has been referred to in earlier interventions, is that it is unnecessary. There is an arbitration process available. Under article 175, the ruling of the arbitration panel should be binding on the UK and the EU. The Government have acknowledged the existence of the arbitration procedure, but they are saying that they would enter into that in parallel with the operation of the elements of this Bill. The message, it seems to me, is very clear, which is, if we do not like the outcome of the arbitration panel, then we will break international law and we will not accept it. Yet, again, that is breaking the international treaty—an agreement that UK Government signed—because it is breaking article 175, which says that the view of the arbitration panel shall be “binding” on both parties. However, there is not just an arbitration process available. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred to, article 16 says:

If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

Clauses 41 to 45 are not necessary …

She continued, then concluded:

I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am that a Conservative Government are willing to go back on their word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.

Later, at least one MP on the Opposition benches acknowledged her warmly for that.

Bill Cash was able to intervene:

Is she aware that the EU itself and indeed many other states throughout the world, including many democratic countries, have persistently broken international law, and that this applies not only to other countries, but to the United Kingdom? There are many overrides of international treaties by the UK itself.

May persisted:

Let me get this right. My hon. Friend seems to be saying, “If somebody else does something wrong, it’s okay for us to do something wrong.” I am sorry, I do not agree with him on that point.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) has taken every effort to ameliorate the impact of these clauses, and the Government have accepted and put down their own amendment. But, frankly, my view is that to the outside world, it makes no difference whether a decision to break international law is taken by a Minister or by this Parliament; it is still a decision to break international law. This can only weaken the UK in the eyes of the world. One of the great strengths we have as a country is our commitment to the rule of law, and this will have been damaged. Our reputation as a country that stands by its word will have been tarnished, and the willingness of other countries to trust the United Kingdom and its values will have been reduced. So much for global Britain!

I consider that, in introducing clauses 41 to 45, the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought to the long-term impact on the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation and puts its future at risk. As a result, with regret I have to tell the Minister that I cannot support this Bill.

May had the support of the next speaker, the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire):

It is a privilege to follow such a thoughtful and considered speech

Bill Cash spoke next:

There are many essential reasons, in our national interest and on constitutional and legal grounds, and grounds of practical necessity, for the clear, unambiguous “notwithstanding” clauses in the Bill that have been discussed in the context of clauses 42 to 45.

I mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) that this was a question not just of whether the Euro pot was calling the British kettle black, but of whether, in the United Kingdom, we had ourselves overridden clear treaties. There are too many—they are far too numerous—to mention in this short debate. Of course, there is also an enormous number of examples of international law breaches by foreign states—not only, in Europe, by member states but by the EU itself, egregiously. Furthermore, there are examples of other countries, every one of them democratically elected, having done so. This question of values and reputation, and the issues that have arisen, has to be weighed against that context

There is no argument about it; it is there in black and white in the treaties and in the sections of various enactments that have overtaken and overridden international law.

The debate went on for some time — fascinating and fractious.

In the end, the Government won in the divisions.

On Tuesday, September 22, the bill was at Committee stage for the fourth day. The debate centred on rewording of certain clauses and amendments.

The day’s theme was ‘power grab’ and the lowering of animal welfare among other standards.

The SNP are terrified that the UK parliament will attempt to reduce the Scottish government’s powers under devolution.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) led the charge:

This Cummings-directed Tory UK Government are breaking international law, and they are breaking devolution. Behind the innocent-sounding mutual recognition mechanism, the Bill simply starts a race to the bottom on standards with the UK Government imposing it against our will in Scotland.

The Bill will see the Tories mount an assault on devolution with the biggest power grab since the Scottish Parliament was re-established. People in Scotland are seeing through the contempt that the Tory Government and Westminster have for their democratic choices. They are not daft. They know that this shabby, illegal, dogmatic Bill is not designed to fix anything, but it is designed to game the system for vested interests.

It is a fact that existing mechanisms and simple changes to Standing Orders could have worked with consensus instead, but this Government do not believe in consensus, just in getting their own narrow ideological way.

The UK Government’s approach—the diktat—is the opposite of the democratic European single market approach. The development of the EU single market has been based on the principles of equality, co-operation, co-decision, subsidiarity and, of course, consent. Crucially, it sets a baseline of minimum agreed standards with which all member states’ own rules must be compatible. What a contrast with this hasty, badly written, contemptuous Bill. The Government are even having to amend their own Bill as they go along, so shabby is it. Government amendment 109 is necessary to remove clause 20—how slapdash is that?

On the mutual recognition mechanism, clauses 2 to 9 contain sweeping powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards, set elsewhere in the UK, on animal welfare, food safety and environmental protections, among a host of other areas.

I do not think that is the case.

Liz Saville Roberts from Wales (Dwyfor Meirionnyd, Plaid Cymru) agreed:

… policies that already exist under the auspices of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, if they were to be adapted, might then fall within the scope of this Bill. These are popular policies that we have made to cut our own path in the past, and yet this now threatens their future.

Bill Cash got into an exchange with Drew Hendry over whether the EU interferes. Cash said that EU policies have done serious damage to British industry. Hendry disagreed.

Cash said (in part):

The hon. Gentleman puts forward capable arguments. I notice how he weaves his way round these subjects. That is a compliment, in a way, but it does not alter the fact that the people in Scotland will suffer grievously if they continue to have EU regulatory arrangements inflicted on them. The Bill ensures that they will not. I dare say that the Minister is noting what I am saying—I hope that he is—because it is important to understand the damage that has been done.

Liz Saville Roberts expressed her concern over a halt to devolution in Wales and state aid.

Cash replied:

I am always extremely aware of other points of view—I have been subjected to them for the past 35 years in this House, but so far they have not prevailed. I am clear in my mind about the benefits of the United Kingdom as a whole, on all these matters—there are so many aspects that we do not have time to go into today—but state aid is central to the whole question of maintaining our spirit of enterprise. It is central to the degree to which we can provide tax incentives to facilitate and encourage UK jobs for the whole UK, including Scotland. It is central to our ability to encourage competitiveness, based on our own laws, and level up throughout the entire country, including Scotland. This is fundamental stuff

This is not a small matter; this is monumental. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to talk about this in terms of independence, but people will not thank him, and they will not thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) or anyone from any other part of the United Kingdom when the truth comes home to roost, which is that the EU will not allow us to compete favourably or at all. Its cardinal principle is to make sure that we cannot compete with it, and that is a reason in itself why we have to stand firm on the whole question of the notwithstanding clauses.

The debate was lengthy: more here.

The SNP MPs talked, seemingly at length, about Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing, which they lauded — one of the great achievements of devolution, in their minds. They fear that the UK government will want to change the policy. Unlikely. Wales adopted it, too.

The Government won on the ensuing votes.

Debate on the bill concludes on Tuesday, September 29.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has tabled the following for debate that day:

Wednesday’s session ended with two Conservative MPs raising a point of order about coronavirus legislation rushed through without proper debate in the Commons.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest) said:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Some of the orders that we are about to deal with are quite dated, but I assume that they have been debated in a Committee upstairs. They touch on very intimate parts of our liberty and our choice. Is there any protocol on the circumstances in which they could be debated on the Floor of the House, rather than upstairs in a Committee stitched up by the Committee of Selection?

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans replied:

The default procedures of the House, as the right hon. Member knows, are designed such that these measures are not debated on the Floor of the House. Of course, any Committee stages upstairs could have been attended. If any of these measures do not quite fit with his understanding as to what is acceptable, he is able to shout “Object”. I will take that objection, and he will have the opportunity to have his name recorded in a deferred Division tomorrow.

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) spoke:

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the inconsistency between quite a few of these remaining orders. Because of the delay in introducing these orders, some of them amend orders that are earlier on the Order Paper. We know that members of the public find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the changing scene of regulation on criminality and restriction of liberty. Surely if a regulation is amended by a subsequent statutory instrument, there should not be a need for the original statutory instrument to be approved by the House. For example, there are two separate statutory instruments relating to the north of England, one dated 25 August and one dated 2 September, and they are inconsistent with each other. Can you explain the reason for this confusion? Would it not be much better if—as I thought the Government had already promised—every regulation brought forward was debated at the earliest opportunity, before the Government had a chance to change their mind?

Nigel Evans repeated his answer to Desmond Swayne.

No objection was raised.

The first part of a review of last week in Parliament concerned coronavirus with a follow-on here.

The other big debates last week were about the Internal Market Bill, a legislative safeguard to preserve Britain’s sovereignty after the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of the year.

Talks with the EU have reached an impasse. Worse, the EU wants to take Northern Ireland hostage, as it were, with the possibility that food from other parts of Britain might be prohibited from reaching it. Absurd, but that is the state of play.

On Saturday, September 12, Steve Baker tweeted:

The Telegraph article in Steve Baker’s tweet explains (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has accused the European Union of threatening to impose a food “blockade” in the Irish Sea that would destroy the “economic and territorial integrity of the UK”.

Writing in The Telegraph, the Prime Minister made a passionate defence of his decision to alter the Brexit divorce deal, saying he has to protect Britain from the “disaster” of handing Brussels the “power to carve up our country”.

He also issued a direct plea to Tory MPs threatening to rebel over his plans, telling them that, if they stand in his way, they will reduce the chance of getting a trade deal with the EU.

Mr Johnson insisted a Canada-style trade deal with the bloc is still possible and remains his goal, but that Brussels must “take their threats off the table” and rebel MPs must get into line. He also believes the UK will still “prosper mightily” under a narrower, Australia-style trade deal.

The Prime Minister claimed the EU could effectively impose a food blockade across the Irish Sea by refusing to grant the UK approved “third party” status for food exports, which officials say Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has “explicitly” threatened.

The Withdrawal Agreement gives the EU oversight over goods of animal origin being transported from the mainland to Northern Ireland for four years, meaning Brussels could use an “extreme interpretation” to impose tariffs or declare such trade illegal

The Government is trying to rush through legislation that would amend the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular its Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Johnson argues that he has been forced to act because of a “serious misunderstanding” in Brussels about the terms of the agreement, and must unilaterally make changes to it because it has become a “danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom”.

The EU has told Mr Johnson that, unless he backtracks by the end of the month, the trade talks are over

That weekend, the news was full of MPs, senior legal experts and former Prime Ministers saying that Boris Johnson’s proposals were a ‘violation of international law’:

On Friday a group of more than a dozen MPs, among them former ministers, signalled that they would press ahead with attempts to bar the Government from overriding the Withdrawal Agreement without the support of Parliament

In the House of Commons, Sir Bob Neill, an avowed Remainer, led the rebel charge. Neill is:

the chairman of the Commons justice committee, who has already secured the backing of Damian Green, Theresa May’s former deputy, and ex-solicitor general Sir Oliver Heald.

The Remain media gave airtime to those who said this proposal violates international law, a distinctly Remainer stance. In 2018, Theresa May watered down an excellent Brexit plan — Canada ++. Boris pushed a stronger ‘deal’ last autumn. Now Boris sees what the EU could do next year if the UK doesn’t close this loophole.

In short, those who oppose Boris’s proposed legislation are Remainers. Those who support it are Leavers.

This became evident in Parliamentary debates last week and this week.

On Monday, talkRADIO interviewed two Leavers.

Sir Desmond Swayne gave an early morning interview:

Labour Peer — and Leaver — Kate Hoey went on the air later:

Guido Fawkes published the full text of the bill.

The second reading of the bill took place on Monday, September 14. Excerpts from the debate follow.

Boris introduced the second reading, emphasising its importance to the Union:

The creation of our United Kingdom by the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801 was not simply a political event, but an act of conscious economic integration that laid the foundations for the world’s first industrial revolution and the prosperity we enjoy today. When other countries in Europe stayed divided, we joined our fortunes together and allowed the invisible hand of the market to move Cornish pasties to Scotland, Scottish beef to Wales, Welsh beef to England, and Devonshire clotted cream to Northern Ireland or wherever else it might be enjoyed.

When we chose to join the EU back in 1973, we also thereby decided that the EU treaties should serve as the legal guarantor of these freedoms. Now that we have left the EU and the transition period is about to elapse, we need the armature of our law once again to preserve the arrangements on which so many jobs and livelihoods depend. That is the fundamental purpose of this Bill, which should be welcomed by everyone who cares about the sovereignty and integrity of our United Kingdom.

We shall provide the legal certainty relied upon by every business in our country, including, of course, in Northern Ireland. The manifesto on which this Government were elected last year promised business in Northern Ireland “unfettered access to the rest of the UK”.

Sir Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst, Con) spoke, asking about upholding ‘the rule of law’, a popular theme among Remainer MPs:

I have listened carefully to what the Prime Minister says, but does he accept that were our interlocutors in the EU to behave in such an egregious fashion, which would clearly be objectionable and unacceptable to us, there is already provision under the withdrawal agreement for an arbitrary arrangement to be put in place? Were we to take reserve powers, does he accept that those reserve powers should be brought into force only as a final backstop if we have, in good faith, tried to act under the withdrawal agreement and are then frustrated? The timing under which they come into force is very important for our reputation as upholders of the rule of law.

The PM responded:

there is the question of tariffs in the Irish sea. When we signed the protocol, we accepted that goods “at risk” of going from Great Britain into the EU via Northern Ireland should pay the EU tariff as they crossed the Irish sea—we accepted that—but that any goods staying within Northern Ireland would not do so. The protocol created a joint committee to identify, with the EU, which goods were at risk of going into Ireland. That sensible process was one achievement of our agreement, and our view is that that forum remains the best way of solving that question.

I am afraid that some in the EU are now relying on legal defaults to argue that every good is “at risk”, and therefore liable for tariffs. That would mean tariffs that could get as high as 90% by value on Scottish beef going to Northern Ireland, and moving not from Stranraer to Dublin but from Stranraer to Belfast within our United Kingdom. There would be tariffs of potentially more than 61% on Welsh lamb heading from Anglesey to Antrim, and of potentially more than 100% on clotted cream moving from Torridge—to pick a Devonshire town at random—to Larne. That is unreasonable and plainly against the spirit of that protocol

MPs on the Opposition benches were restive. The PM said:

To answer the questions that are being shouted at me from a sedentary position, last year we signed the withdrawal agreement in the belief, which I still hold, that the EU would be reasonable. After everything that has recently happened, we must consider the alternative. We asked for reasonableness, common sense, and balance, and we still hope to achieve that through the joint committee process, in which we will always persevere, no matter what the provocation.

Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam, Con) asked about violating international law:

When I was the Attorney General in the previous Government, I was happy to confirm that the ministerial code obliged Ministers to comply with international as well as domestic law. This Bill will give Ministers overt authority to break international law. Has the position on the ministerial code changed?

The PM replied:

No, not in the least. My right hon. and learned Friend can consult the Attorney General’s position on that. After all, what this Bill is simply seeking to do is insure and protect this country against the EU’s proven willingness—that is the crucial point—to use this delicately balanced protocol in ways for which it was never intended.

The Bill includes our first step to protect our country against such a contingency by creating a legal safety net taking powers in reserve, whereby Ministers can guarantee the integrity of our United Kingdom. I understand how some people will feel unease over the use of these powers, and I share that sentiment. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that I have absolutely no desire to use these measures. They are an insurance policy, and if we reach agreement with our European friends, which I still believe is possible, they will never be invoked. Of course, it is the case that the passing of this Bill does not constitute the exercising of these powers.

Ed Miliband (Doncaster North, Lab) moved an amendment on behalf of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was not in the Chamber as he was self-isolating. Note ‘the rule of law’:

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

this House notes that the UK has left the EU; calls on the Government to get on with negotiating a trade deal with the EU; recognises that legislation is required to ensure the smooth, effective working of the internal market across the UK; but declines to give a Second Reading to the Internal Market Bill because this Bill undermines the Withdrawal Agreement already agreed by Parliament, re-opens discussion about the Northern Ireland Protocol that has already been settled, breaches international law, undermines the devolution settlements and would tarnish the UK’s global reputation as a law-abiding nation and the UK’s ability to enforce other international trade deals and protect jobs and the economy.”

There are two questions at the heart of the Bill and of why we will oppose it tonight. First, how do we get an internal market after 1 January within the UK while upholding the devolution settlements, which have been a vital part of our constitution for two decades and are essential to our Union? Secondly, will our country abide by the rule of law—a rules-based international order, for which we are famous around the world and have always stood up?

Those are not small questions. They go to the heart of who we are as a country and the character of this Government

After interventions from a few MPs, Miliband openly challenged the PM, which had to be seen to be believed, it was that bold:

there is also an irony here—the Prime Minister tried to slip this in; I do not know whether the House noticed—which is that this Bill does precisely nothing to address the issue of the transport of food from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It is about two issues where the Government are going to override international law: exit declarations, Northern Ireland to GB, and the definition of state aid relating to Northern Ireland. If the Prime Minister wants to tell us that there is another part of the Bill that I have not noticed that will deal with this supposed threat of blockade, I will very happily give way to him. I am sure he has read it; I am sure he knows it in detail, because he is a details man. Come on, tell us: what clause protects against the threat, which he says he is worried about, to GB-to-Northern Ireland exports? I give way to him. [Interruption.]

As the PM smouldered at Miliband’s arrogance, Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing intervened:

Order. The right hon. Gentleman cannot give way unless he is asked to.

Miliband carried on ranting, ending with:

I do not understand this. He signed the deal. It is his deal. It is the deal that he said would protect the people of Northern Ireland. I have to say to him, this is not just legislative hooliganism on any issue; it is on one of the most sensitive issues of all. I think we should take the word of two former Prime Ministers of this country who helped to secure peace in Northern Ireland.

An indignant Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP) intervened:

Before the shadow spokesman lectures the Prime Minister about reading documentation or starts lecturing us about the Good Friday agreement, does he not recognise, first of all, that the Good Friday agreement talks about the principle of consent to change the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, which is what this protocol does? The Good Friday agreement has within it a mechanism to safeguard the minorities in Northern Ireland through a cross-community vote, which again the protocol removed. So before he starts talking about the threats to the Good Friday agreement, does he not recognise that the protocol was a threat to it in the first place?

Miliband replied to Sammy Wilson, then went on to invoke other Remainers, Theresa May and former PM John Major:

The right hon. Gentleman did not like the protocol at all. He would rather have not had the protocol. He and I just have a disagreement on this issue. I believe it was necessary to make special arrangements for Northern Ireland, or for the UK to be in the EU customs union to avoid a hard border in Ireland. That is why the Prime Minister came along and said the protocol was the right thing to do

Let us just get this straight for a minute, because I think it is important to take a step back. The Prime Minister is coming to the House to tell us today that his flagship achievement—the deal he told us was a triumph, the deal he said was oven-ready, the deal on which he fought and won the general election—is now contradictory and ambiguous. What incompetence. What failure of governance. How dare he try to blame everyone else? I say to the Prime Minister that this time he cannot blame the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), he cannot blame John Major, he cannot blame the judges, he cannot blame the civil servants, he cannot sack the Cabinet Secretary again. There is only one person responsible for it and that is him. This is his deal. It is his mess. It is his failure. For the first time in his life, it is time to take responsibility. It is time to ’fess up: either he was not straight with the country about the deal in the first place, or he did not understand it.

Enough of Miliband.

Sir William Cash (Stone, Con) spoke on behalf of the bill:

There has never been a level playing field in the EU. Its cardinal objective in these negotiations from the outset has included preventing us from being able to compete fairly. That is not good faith. Under the protocol, the EU would even control our legal tax freedom to create freeports and enterprise zones. All of this would massively undermine our businesses and jobs and therefore our voters

He gave several examples of how the EU operates unfairly, then concluded:

The EU seeks to subject us to a foreign regulator, taking essentially political decisions and armed with undemocratic prohibition powers and authorisations. It would be unconscionable and utterly naive for us to allow that to happen. It would be contrary to our national interests at this time of economic instability generated by coronavirus.

You can watch his speech in full here:

Leavers thought it was an excellent performance:

Bill Cash is part of the pro-Brexit ERG (European Research Group), which issued a three-page briefing memo explaining the importance of passing the Internal Market Bill. Guido Fawkes published it in full.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) gave his ‘Scotland’ speech once again and made an egregious emotional appeal, invoking, like other Remainers, the rule of law:

Every Member has a choice. We know that the Bill breaks international law—so many learned individuals, including the previous Attorney General, have told us so. Tonight, this House can tell the Government that it is not on and that this House is not going to be complicit in a breach of international law. I venture that that is the responsibility that each Member has. Every Member—every Member, Madam Deputy Speaker—should examine their conscience. This is about a Bill that breaches the terms of a treaty, the ink of which is barely dry and on the delivery of which the governing party fought an election.

As is his wont, he spoke for ages, taking interventions from Labour MPs supporting his position.

Blackford said that the bill would hamper further devolution. Michael Gove, the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, asked how.

Blackford replied:

I hear the Cabinet Office Minister shout, “How?” Perhaps he should go and talk to the General Teaching Council, and it will give him its views directly. [Interruption.] Really? We have the Business Secretary, who is supposed to be taking this Bill through, sitting laughing—laughing at the legitimate comments made by stakeholders in Scotland. It is little wonder that the Tories are rejected in the way they are at the polls in Scotland

Sir Bob Neill began to come around to see the positive points in the bill yet said he could still not support it without amendments being added.

Sammy Wilson responded, making an excellent point:

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said that we have obligations to the rule of law and obligations to the EU. What about the obligations to the people of the United Kingdom to ensure the provisions of the Act of Union? The economic basis of the Act of Union makes it quite clear that there shall be no barriers on trade between different parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that the Government are fulfilling, in part, their obligations to the people of Northern Ireland in this Bill, and that is why we will support it tonight.

There were many excellent contributions from Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs. Opposition MPs were feisty and the debate was lively.

That evening, the bill passed — 340 to 263:

Guido has the list of Conservative abstentions. Theresa May’s name was among those listed.

The Labour amendment to reject the bill entirely failed by 349 votes to 213. TalkRADIO has an analysis.

The bill then moved on to Committee Stage.

On Tuesday, September 15, MPs debated various clauses and amendments.

That might sound boring, but it made for excellent viewing on BBC Parliament. Sparks were flying left and right.

SNP MPs insisted that the bill would decrease their powers under devolution. This is an argument that Conservatives, rightly, find absurd.

Paul Bristow (Peterborough, Con) asked the SNP’s Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey):

The hon. Gentleman called the Office for the Internal Market an unelected quango. Does he accept that, if he had his way, he would be handing powers back to unelected quangos in Brussels?

Drew Hendry replied:

This is the argument that Government Members try to propagate all the time—that if these powers came to Scotland, they would immediately be transferred to unelected people in the EU. Two things are wrong with that. First, nobody in the EU is actually unelected when they make decisions; they are all elected by either the Parliament or the people who go there. The second and most fundamental point is that, under these proposals, the UK Government are simply taking all control and overriding the ability of Members of the Scottish Parliament to do their job by representing the people who voted for them and their choices.

The SNP fear that the UK Parliament will make decisions that override the spending wishes of the Scottish Government. It’s possible but probably unlikely. Still, would that not be better than the EU making those decisions? According to the SNP, no, it would not.

Bill Cash intervened in an attempt to add reason to the debate:

The arguments that I have just heard from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) are, in my judgment, completely unjustified. [Interruption.] He might expect me to say that; it is hardly surprising. The reality is that the Bill is intended to provide for independent advice and monitoring through the creation of this internal market within the Competition and Markets Authority arrangements. What the provision clearly states—far from it being just a bunch of nodding donkeys, which is more or less what the hon. Gentleman is saying—is that it will be a non-ministerial department, albeit sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and it will have an enormous amount and range of experience and knowledge brought from its predecessor.

Hendry asked him who would be in the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Cash replied, dryly:

What I can say for sure is that it will not be the European Union, and that summarises the argument in a nutshell.

Cash elaborated on the danger of EU interference:

We will need to be able to compete effectively throughout the world. This is a serious matter about a serious issue. What we cannot have, as I mentioned yesterday, is the situation that we have at the moment, which is where authorisations are given by the European Commission that either create discrimination against British businesses or have the perception or the potential for doing so. They will affect the voters in Scotland—and the voters in Sheffield, if I may say so. I was brought up in Sheffield. I saw what the European Coal and Steel Community did to the British steel industry. [Interruption.] I hear what the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) says. The reality is that those businesses were driven out of business by, in many cases, unfair subsidies and unfair state aids that were given to other member states. I can give an example. I happened to know many people who worked at the coalface—I used to play cricket with them when I played for Sheffield—and I can tell Members that the Sheffield steelworkers, whom I also played with on occasion, sometimes it was rugger, found that they were very severely jeopardised by the massive state aids that were given to the German coal industry—it was as much as £4 billion—and authorised by the Commission. For a variety of reasons, we did not get the same kind of treatment here in the United Kingdom. This is all part of the problem of how to have fair and reasonable competition.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West, SNP) directed her comment to Cash, unintentionally getting the soundbite of the day in his reply:

I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Scottish National party wants Scotland to remain part of the European Union—a single market of more than 500 million consumers. The SNP does not wish to put up trade barriers with England. It is his party that wishes to enforce upon us trade barriers if we dare to exercise our democratic right of self-determination, which he has spent the last 40 years banging on about in this House for England.

Cash’s reply was brilliant:

If I may say so, not unsuccessfully.

Cherry was clearly irritated:

That remains to be seen.

There is too much to quote from this lively debate, so do read it here.

An Opposition amendment and a clause were defeated.

The debate in Committee Stage continued on Wednesday, September 16. The Opposition brought forward more amendments.

The theme of devolution continued. Discussion about a possible threat to Welsh devolution accompanied the concerns of Scottish SNP MPs.

John Lamont, a Conservative MP representing the Scottish constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked the SNP’s Alison Thewlis why she thought the UK government was working against Scotland’s interests:

The hon. Lady is giving a typically bitter speech around the role of the UK Government into Scotland. Does she not accept that the UK Government and the Scottish Government have worked very closely together on the growth deals and city deals in Scotland? They are very good examples of what can be achieved in Scotland with both Governments working together, rather than the attitude that she takes of opposing everything that this place does.

Thewliss replied:

I am very interested that the hon. Gentleman raises growth deals, because every single growth deal in Scotland has been short-changed by the UK Government. The Scottish Government have put in more than the UK Government to those growth deals and we are still waiting for the money for some of those growth deals to be realised.

Andrew Bowie, another Conservative MP representing a Scottish constituency (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) couldn’t change her mind, either.

The Conservatives brought logic to the debate, something Opposition MPs were unable to do.

A Labour amendment, brought forward by Ed Miliband, requiring financial assistance to be the subject of a framework agreement to be agreed by resolution of each House of Parliament was defeated: 330-208.

That day, Boris Johnson appeared before a Select Committee to explain why the Internal Market Bill was necessary:

He told Labour MP Hilary Benn that he thought the EU representatives were negotiating in bad faith:

It is always possible that I am mistaken. Perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong.

On Thursday, September 17, Guido Fawkes outlined the debates which took place this week (emphases in the original):

The Government will table two amendments to its own Bill on Tuesday, firstly a redrafted version of the Neill Amendment – setting in stone the need for a parliamentary vote beyond the requirements of ordinary statutory instruments, and secondly a clause to prevent significant litigation of the enactment of the controversial provisions. Tightening up the ability to deploy with the consent of the House.

Of course, the Government insists it still does not want to have to use these powers of last resort. But now it will have them in case the EU don’t offer concessions…

I’ll cover those tomorrow.

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