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Parliament is entering Easter recess on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

A few notable news items follow from both Houses — and the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Parliament — MSPs standing down

A number of MSPs are standing down from their seats in Holyrood. Scots will elect new MSPs in May.

The Scotsman has a useful list, complete with photos, cited below. Emphases mine:

While all 129 of Holyrood’s seats will be contested at this year’s ballot, more than a quarter of the current crop of MSPs are standing down – including high profile figures like Ruth Davidson, Iain Gray and Jeane Freeman.

Highlights follow.

Independent

I will miss Ken Macintosh, who was a faultless convener presiding over fractious debates during the past year:

Ken Macintosh has been an MSP since the opening of the parliament in 1999, before unsuccessfully seeking the Labour leadership twice. He was elected as the parliament’s fifth presiding officer in 2016, but announced in September that he would not be seeking re-election as an MSP.

Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson will be elevated to the House of Lords:

The former Scottish Tories leader took over the party’s reins at Holyrood once more when MP Douglas Ross was elected as the new leader last year. Ms Davidson will now take up a seat in the House of Lords.

Scottish Labour

Iain Gray is ending a long career as an MSP:

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and is currently Labour’s education spokesman at Holyrood.

SNP

Here is the list of SNP MSPs who are standing down. Many have been in Holyrood for a number of years:

Jeane Freeman was in charge of health during the coronavirus crisis. Many residents of Scottish care homes died during that time.

One wonders what she will do next:

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed she will not seek re-election. The Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley MSP said she had “more she wanted to do” outside of politics.

The Scotsman has an interesting article from 2018 about her career history at that time:

Jeane Freeman, for it was she, has moved on to greater things as Health Minister in the Scottish Government. In the first half of this decade, she was a useful cog in the SNP machine as a former Labour apparatchik who, when the wind changed, discovered she was really a Nationalist.

Long a habituée of the quango circuit, Ms Freeman’s new appointments included the disastrous Scottish Police Authority. In her peak year of 2013-14, she pulled in £57,000 from that source alone. There were a couple of NHS roles, not forgetting the Judicial Appointments Board.

All this added up to 376 paid days in the financial year. One might have thought the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments (for such a person exists) might have done the arithmetic and asked questions but that is to over-estimate the vigilance of our non-barking watchdogs.

At the same time, Ms Freeman fronted “Women for Independence” and ran a lobbying firm which targeted the public sector. When a member of the public tabled a Freedom of Information request in 2015 about her business meetings with Scottish Ministers and officials, he was given the classic brush-off – the question would cost too much to answer.

Not unreasonably, he then wondered how lobbying activity could be monitored if ministers refused to provide information about their contacts on such implausible grounds. Another of our civic protectors, the Freedom of Information Commissioner, dismissed his complaint. Scotland really is a village …

There are still individuals floating around the Scottish quango circuit who were being put up for every chairmanship that occurred 20 years ago. The qualifications are that they challenge nothing, remain anonymous and nod their heads when directed by ministers. Political influence is as prevalent as it ever was – just much less transparent. Ask Ms Freeman.

This all fits into the wider pattern of centralisation which has systematically downgraded every other centre of influence within Scotland – public bodies, local government, police boards, funding-dependent third sector organisations – in order to create a closely integrated structure which brooks no challenge.

There is a powerful political agenda waiting to be created around the need to restore diversity and scrutiny within Scotland in order to challenge the power of the centre. Some might see that requirement as a paradoxical outcome of devolution while others recognise it as depressing – but largely predictable.

Linda Fabiani was the convener for the Holyrood inquiry examining the way Alex Salmond’s case was conducted. Hmm. Interestingly, The Scotsman makes no mention of this:

Ms Fabiani was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as an MSP for Central Scotland, but since 2011 she has represented East Kilbride.

Then there’s Mark McDonald:

The Aberdeen Donside MSP resigned from the SNP after sending a woman an inappropriate text message which referenced a sex act.

House of Commons news

Historic Westminster by-election in Scotland

A historic by-election will be taking place in Scotland as the SNP’s Neil Gray announced he would be standing down. He made his final speech in Westminster — the mother of all Parliaments — on Tuesday, March 23:

An arcane parliamentary point needs to be explained:

Although the actual Manor of Northstead in Yorkshire no longer exists, the estate has been redeveloped as a park.

In political terms, this is a temporary position for MPs who have resigned and is given out at the pleasure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Wikipedia explains:

By virtue of the fact that it became and was retained as a Lordship of the Crown beyond the sale and eventual disappearance of the estate, since the nineteenth century the post of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead has played a role in the procedure for effecting resignation from the British House of Commons by Members of Parliament (MPs). While no longer having any actual role or responsibility, it remains a nominal paid office of the Crown, a sort of sinecure, appointment to which is one of the things that by law disqualify an MP from the House. This principle goes back to the Act of Settlement 1701, and is now regulated by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Since 1624, MPs have not been permitted to resign their seats directly. While several such offices have been used for this purpose in the past, in the present day only two are used: the Northstead post and that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.[1][2]

Appointments to the posts are made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Using two posts allows more than one MP to resign simultaneously, although more commonly, single resignations are effected by alternating appointments to the Northstead and Chiltern Hundreds offices. One of the most recent MPs to be appointed to the Northstead office was former Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his decision to resign from his Parliamentary seat of Witney on 12 September 2016.[5]

Neil Gray was praised again in the House of Commons today during Business Questions, including by Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg. Here are more compliments from Tuesday:

This means there will be a by-election in Gray’s former constituency of Airdrie and Shotts:

This is the first time there will be a Commons by-election in an SNP-held seat:

Boris reasserts his position as Prime Minister

On March 24, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Liason Committee, comprised of heads of the parliamentary Select Committees.

The session lasted around 90 minutes and covered several topics, one of which was devolution.

Scotland and Wales are trying to whittle away the significance of the UK government.

Stephen Crabb (Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire) asked Boris how he saw his position. He confirmed that he is the Prime Minister of Scotland as well as the United Kingdom:

Part of the answer is to employ civil servants with the ability to accommodate the interests of the United Kingdom as well as those of the devolved nations:

House of Lords news

Two notable things happened in the House of Lords this week.

Unusual tie vote

The Lords voted on an amendment to a Government bill, only to find the result was tied. As such, the amendment failed, meaning that the Government won that round:

Hereditary peer says old biscuits perfectly edible

The House of Lords still has 90 hereditary peers.

One of them is Lord Palmer, whose family part owns the famous biscuit manufacturing firm Huntley and Palmers Ltd.

If anyone in the Lords should know when a biscuit is past its best, it would be he.

I’m bookmarking this for future reference:

With Parliament in recess, I’ll be able to do some springtime projects around the house. If I find a stale biscuit, I’ll let you know.

For months now, questions have been asked of Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP.

They have to do with how much she knew about the Me Too case surrounding her SNP predecessor, Alex Salmond.

The powerful political party of independence in Scotland has been in the headlines for months as other sexual harassment complaints have been levelled between other SNP members. To say that some of them have their minds in the gutter is an insult to gutters.

Furthermore, earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament passed the SNP’s far-reaching Hate Crime Bill.

Local elections will be taking place in May. Will the SNP still control Scotland’s devolved government at Holyrood?

Returning to Sturgeon and Salmond, the main question has been ‘What did she know and when did she know it?’

Tom Harris of The Telegraph has an excellent summary of past and present from Monday, March 22, 2021: ‘James Hamilton’s convenient conclusions don’t exonerate Nicola Sturgeon entirely’.

Let us begin with the past, when Alex Salmond lived and worked at the first minister’s residence in Edinburgh, Bute House, which is an elegant Georgian building located just off Princes Street in Charlotte Square.

Emphases mine below:

Let us revisit those years in which Salmond was first minister, and let us not fail to remind ourselves that during that entire time, Sturgeon was not only his deputy but his closest friend and colleague as well as a senior minister. For it is events in that period, not more recent events, that were at the root of the current crisis. The SNP and its followers have spent a good deal of time on social media and elsewhere trying to promote the narrative that somehow the complainants have been let down both by the Scottish government (meaning the civil service, not its political leaders) but also by the partisan manoeuvrings of the MSPs who make up the committee; a leak of its conclusions became a political football last week.

But it was Salmond’s tenure at Bute House, not events since, that is key to all this.

During that period, rumours swirled around Westminster and across news rooms about unhappy civil servants, mainly women, who were unhappy with the first minister’s behaviour. The rumours were no doubt exaggerated and it should be pointed out that when Salmond was finally brought to trial for sexual offences based on the evidence of ten complainants, he was acquitted on all charges. Nevertheless, the complaints were made and everyone in politics knew about them, and we knew (or thought we knew) the identity of at least some of those who had complained.

But you know who didn’t know about those rumours? You know who was completely blindsided until she first heard, from Alex Salmond’s own mouth, about the complaints against him as late as 2018, four years after he left office? That’s right, his protégé and trusted lieutenant, Nicola Sturgeon. We are asked to believe that this was a coffee-spitting moment, that nothing had prepared her for what Salmond was about to tell her.

In fact, women had been complaining about Salmond since 2009:

In 2009, Angus Robertson, the then Westminster leader of the SNP, was asked by the management of Edinburgh Airport to speak to Salmond about the “inappropriate” nature of then serving first minister’s behaviour towards female members of staff. Robertson did so; he interviewed Salmond, put the complaints to him and then concluded that there was nothing else to report and closed the case

But even though this event happened in 2009, while Sturgeon was Salmond’s loyal deputy, we are asked to believe that no report or hint about it was ever conveyed to her.

Is it not rather more likely that Sturgeon was as aware of these rumours as every journalist in Scotland and beyond. Is it not more logical to conclude that she chose not to do anything about them because she considered that the greater prize, one far more important than the safety at work of female civil servants or airport staff, was the SNP’s central goal of independence?

Now let us fast forward to the present.

The SNP are a particularly tightly knit party:

The same Angus Robertson is a close political ally of Sturgeon’s; he is standing in May’s Holyrood elections and was selected after the ruling SNP executive – controlled by Sturgeon and her husband, party chief executive Peter Murrell – made it almost impossible for Robertson’s most likely rival for the nomination, Joanna Cherry MP, to stand. Robertson’s account of his intervention on behalf of Edinburgh Airport was detailed in a letter Robertson wrote to the committee investigating the Salmond scandal.

Earlier in March, Sturgeon gave evidence to the Holyrood committee investigating the Salmond inquiry. It was an eight-hour session, and I watched the last three hours.

Salmond had appeared the week before in front of the committee. His evidence was concise and judicious.

Sturgeon, on the other hand, answered every question with a form of ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I cannot remember’. She often used a form of the words ‘soul searching’ more than once to indicate that she wished she could remember more details, including those from a meeting at Bute House between her and Salmond.

The committee was comprised of four SNP MSPs (including the convener, Linda Fabiani) and one MSP each from Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The question afterwards was, ‘Did Nicola Sturgeon break the ministerial code?’ Did she withhold knowledge from the committee?

It was up to barrister James Hamilton to decide in the first instance. He determined that Sturgeon did not, in fact, break the ministerial code. (Full report here.)

The Telegraph‘s article led with this:

So the (rather unsurprising) verdict is in: Nicola Sturgeon’s own adviser to her government has concluded that she did not break the ministerial code in statements to the Scottish Parliament.

Barrister James Hamilton delivered his verdict to a breathless press pack this afternoon. His conclusions will be welcomed by the SNP and by Sturgeon herself, obviously, as a glimmer of light in a very dark landscape recently. As if there was much doubt about it, she will now lead her party into May’s elections, and elections are what the SNP care about most.

Sturgeon spoke to the media on Monday after his findings were announced:

However, the story does not end there.

On Tuesday, March 23, The Telegraph had a follow up article: ‘Holyrood inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and SNP government “badly” let down Alex Salmond complainants’.

It says:

James Hamilton, the Irish lawyer who conducted the ministerial code investigation, concluded that it was for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were misled.

This new report is the one from the aforementioned Holyrood committee: the four SNP MSPs and the three others.

The report is 192 pages long. The article summarises the report’s findings:

Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and her government “badly” let down women who lodged complaints against Alex Salmond, a damning Holyrood inquiry has concluded.

The committee examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond found the First Minister gave “an inaccurate account” of what happened at a meeting with him and so misled the cross-party investigation.

In a 192-page report, the MSPs also said the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and the subsequent judicial review, was “seriously flawed”.

The two civil service complainers who triggered the investigation told the committee in private they had not seen a “meaningful change in culture” in Ms Sturgeon’s government and it had “given itself a bigger hill to climb because of the failure of the process.”

The complainers – Ms A and Ms B – also said they had been “taken aback by the lack of contact and support from the Scottish Government” following the conclusion of the judicial review, adding that “it felt as though we were just left to swim.”

The report said there was a “fundamental contradiction” between Ms Sturgeon’s evidence about her meetings with Mr Salmond and that of his team.

MSPs concluded she had left him with the impression she might intervene in the complaints process. They also said that her written evidence was “an inaccurate account of what happened”, and that “she has misled the committee on this matter”.

They also said they were “concerned” about how long it had taken Ms Sturgeon to inform the government’s permanent secretary that she was aware of the complaints and it was “inappropriate for the first minister to continue to meet and have discussions” with Mr Salmond.

It seems unlikely that Nicola Sturgeon could be forced to stand down as Scotland’s first minister.

However, the Scottish Conservatives tried to by holding a vote of no confidence at Holyrood on March 23:

Murdo Fraser, a Tory member of the committee, said: “The committee verdict is in – Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament and the public.

“It seems clear that Nicola Sturgeon will refuse to abide by the principle of democratic accountability for her government’s monumental mistakes.

Someone will have to be the fall guy or gal, because the report states:

The Committee finds that this state of affairs is unacceptable by an organisation such as the Scottish Government and that those responsible should be held accountable.

There is much more in the article.

Nicola Sturgeon skates away, like water off a duck’s back.

The Rev. Stuart Campbell is the author of the best known pro-independence website, Wings Over Scotland.

On March 23, he commented on the above findings in ‘The Switch’. He concludes:

The committee’s key finding that it “may have insufficient powers to hold the executive to account” was OPPOSED by the four SNP members.

In other words, they actually WANT the Scottish Parliament to be too weak to hold the Scottish Government to account, and for it to have fewer and weaker powers …

The abject refusal by SNP MSPs of more powers for Holyrood in case those powers might impose actual democratic accountability on their own administration is in some senses the most revealing and most shaming aspect of the entire affair.

It is an all but open admission that Nicola Sturgeon has survived only by using every means at her disposal to escape proper scrutiny

But more than that, they show a First Minister very comfortable within the confines and limits of devolution, and deeply unwilling to accept significantly more power for Scotland’s parliament because of the difficult responsibilities that come with it.

And that’s a characteristic which readers might wish to reflect honestly and soberly on when considering the likelihood of her ever delivering independence.

One of Wings Over Scotland‘s readers summed up then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s approach to his concept of Scottish devolution, an executive without checks and balances:

Tony Blair’s Labour basically designed something for Scotland they would have wanted for Westminster: an executive that could not be held to account by the parliament or the judiciary.

When Alex Salmond became First Minister in 2007, he tried to separate the powers by NOT having the Lord Advocate as a minister in his government. Nicola Sturgeon invited the Lord Advocate right back in.

That the SNP under Sturgeon is now endorsing the flawed devolved parliament design is the real tragedy for Scotland

Right now, they’re very happy with devolution – with periodical noses about “independence” when they need to harvest votes at an election – and in the unlikely event that Scotland became independent under Sturgeon’s SNP, she and her cabal and acolytes would be perfectly happy to keep the original devolved parliament design flaws and have the parliament and judiciary of an independent country firmly under the control of the executive, with no accountability or transparency.

Anybody who desires an independent Scotland that aspires to be an open, transparent, accountable, modern democracy should recoil in horror from Nicola Sturgeon’s vision for Scotland.

One wonders if many Scots will forget all of this by the time the May elections roll around.

Sixteen-year-olds will also be able to cast their ballots, probably bringing more votes the SNP’s way.

As I write, informed Scottish voters, whether pro-independence or unionist, are figuring out how to vote strategically. Many are suspicious of Sturgeon’s stated desire for independence. Is it just a cynical ploy for SNP votes? More on that in a future post.

Yesterday’s post covered Piers Morgan’s polemics, which cost him his job last week.

In the latter half of last week, Scotland passed what appears to be a draconian Hate Crime Bill, the subject of today’s post on censorship in Britain.

Thanks to BBC Parliament, I saw some of the debate in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood a few weeks ago. I was grateful to the Scottish Conservatives who raised many questions about the scope and the reach of the then-proposed legislation.

On March 10, 2021, the day before MSPs passed the legislation, Lucy Hunter Blackburn wrote an excellent article for Holyrood: ‘Chilling effect: how the Hate Crime Bill threatens free speech’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

The article begins with the wide ranging opposition the bill had received:

The bill has had an exceptionally difficult passage to date, prompting criticism from a range of organisations, including at various times the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society, the BBC, the National Secular Society, the Catholic Church and a raft of writers and artists.

Much of the objection revolves around the precise definition of ‘stirring up hatred’ in Part 2 of the bill, particularly with the trans movement being active in Scotland. In fact, the article has a photo of trans rights activists to illustrate the point:

In particular, significant concerns remain in relation to issues around sex and gender identity, and the risk of furthering chilling effects in an area of debate that people are already afraid to enter.

The Scottish Government and some commentators have downplayed such worries, insisting that people will not be criminalised for making basic statements about the nature of sex and gender identity, in ordinary language.

A leading lawyer tweeted: “in my opinion of the bill (if enacted) it will not be criminal to criticise the government. Nor will it be criminal to say there are only two genders. Neither involves stirring up hate, or is threatening or abusive.”

But the risks here are more subtle. And not for the first time, subtle risks are not being dealt with well in the process of making law, and seem to be least apparent to those least expecting to be affected.

The article looks at the language used in Part 2 of the legislation:

The bill as amended at Stage 2 requires that behaviour must be judged “abusive or threatening” by a “reasonable” person, and “intended to stir up hatred”. None of these terms are further defined.

MSPs have taken the view that the meaning of all these words will be obvious, and they will “set a high bar”.

Yet this overlooks the mass of evidence presented over the course of the passage of the bill that demonstrates what is hateful, abusive, and reasonable is substantially contested in the context of discussing sex and gender identity.

Even before this legislation was passed, women in Scotland were in danger of losing their jobs for expressing their opinions on the subject of sexual identity:

… women have already lost their jobs, and had their details recorded on police databases for asserting that sex matters.

This is probably how the legislation would work in practice:

In practice, a person will only have to find a police officer willing to entertain the idea that particular statements are intended to “abusive”, to trigger an investigation into whether a group or individual intended to stir up hatred.

What might an investigation entail? Organisations representing journalists giving evidence to the committee spoke about the serious professional and personal disruption of having laptops and phones seized, for unknown periods.

It would be likely to mean police interviews. It would be a non-trivial experience, even if charges were not pursued. This [is] broadly what happened to veteran feminist politician Lidia Falcon in Spain, before the authorities decided she had no hateful intent.

Before contemplating the possibility of going to court, let alone the likelihood of receiving a conviction, the sole barrier to a large disruptive criminal justice system intervention in a person’s life is, therefore, the application by the police of the “reasonable person” test of being “abusive”.

Guessing how that might be applied if or when someone complains will now hang over people. How it is actually applied will be the difference between ordinary life and sudden, substantial disruption to that.

Earlier this year, MSPs attempted to bring in amendments to the Bill that would have protected freedom of speech, but the backlash outside of Holyrood was too great:

Following a social media backlash and accusations of transphobia, opposition MSPs and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice hastily withdrew all these amendments, and agreed to take a ‘collaborative’ approach to discussing a generic wording for a Stage 3 amendment on freedom of expression instead.

The justice secretary apologised for any hurt caused by singling out particular characteristics. The convener of the justice committee, Adam Tomkins, stated that he was “‘alarmed and distressed and perhaps even, if I’m honest, a little afraid” by how this had played out.

In committee, the justice secretary refused to state that there are only two sexes.

More recently, Labour MSP Johann Lamont unsuccessfully attempted to bring in another amendment with a list of words that would not be considered threatening:

This includes asserting that sex is a physical, binary characteristic that cannot be changed, that terms such as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ refer to the characteristic of sex, and that a person’s sex may be relevant to their experience.

On 5 March, the Equality Network and Scottish Trans Alliance circulated a briefing to all MSPs, advising voting against this amendment, describing such statements as sending a message that that “trans people’s rights are open season for attack”.

The article concludes:

If the bill is passed in the form the government is seeking, while it will not make certain types of statements about sex and gender identity criminal in themselves, the freedom to do so without risking at least serious disruption to life will now rest wholly on what frontline police officers decide in practice a “reasonable person” might judge “abusive” here.

Given the evidence presented to the parliament, and the passage of the bill to date, that feels like a very thin blue line, making Scotland look an increasingly hostile place for anyone who believes it is ever important to have the freedom to see, name and discuss the relevance of sex.

Later that day — March 10 — The Scottish Sun posted an article: ‘Hate Crime Bill: Humza Yousaf faces anger as law gives protection for “cross-dressers” but not women’.

Humza Yousaf is Scotland’s justice secretary.

The article says, in part:

The Justice Secretary’s controversial law introduces an offence of “stirring up hatred” against groups with “protected characteristics” of race, religion, disability, transgender identity, sexual orientation and age – punishable by up to seven years in jail

But Labour MSP Johann Lamont – backed by a list of other MSPs – were angry that the Bill does not provide protection for women, but does for cross-dressers.

Tonight, Ms Lamont said that the Scottish Government recently confirmed that they hold no data on cross dressers being a target of hate crime – despite collecting data on the characteristic from 2009.

However, she pointed out that women, goths, and homeless people are not covered by the Bill – despite plenty of evidence they have been targeted for serious offending. 

Ms Lamont told the Scottish Parliament: “The Cabinet secretary has talked about ‘a man who is not a trans woman but wears a dress for a drag performance’. 

“The Equality Network has brought up the example of a man dressing up for a night out at the Rocky Horror Show, and also of men who cross dress for what they term ‘emotional need’. 

“When women are would be likely to be recognised as cross dressers is obviously much less clear. 

“Why do we believe occasional hatred to crossdressers should be covered in this bill, but not hatred towards all the other groups I have mentioned, but most especially women.”

In response, Mr Yousaf said: “In my view these amendments would limit the protections in the Bill and remove protections already provided within the existing definition of Transgender identity within the offence as aggravation by prejudice, Scotland Act 2009. 

“While ensuring existing protection is not lost which is a very important point indeed, people who cross dress are also included in the Bill because they experience hate crime.” 

However, SNP and other MSPs rejected separate amendments that would have added sex to the protected characteristics, and also removed the protection for cross dressers from the Bill.

The move prompted outrage online with thousands of women posting the hashtag #iamthestorm in response to sex not being included.

One woman fumed: “Welcome to McGilead, a country so progressive that men on a stag do, wearing dresses, have more rights than actual women.”

Another said: “Scotland, under the first female FM, has become a place where women discussing, challenging and debating issues regarding their sex is fast becoming a crime. They can’t win the argument so they have made the argument a crime.”

The pro-independence SNP lead Scotland’s parliament. Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister.

Yet, not everyone in the SNP was on board with the law, including former deputy leader Jim Sillars:

Local and parliamentary elections will be taking place in May.

George Galloway, a Scot who moved back to his homeland from England to run for office, is part of the new political party, All(iance) 4 Unity, standing in direct opposition to the SNP, agreed with Jim Sillars:

The BBC reported that Scots are concerned about conversations they have in their own home:

Scottish Conservative MSPs Adam Tomkins and Liam Kerr have proposed amendments that they say will protect free speech in private – something the new law doesn’t offer.

Their amendments are related to the so-called “dwelling defence” that already exists in relation to stirring up racial hatred.

Mr Tomkins – who is also convenor of Holyrood’s justice committee – said his move to protect speech “wholly in private” is in line with the right to respect for privacy and a family life.

He told BBC Scotland: “I’m not seeking to insulate everything that happens in the home.

“But I am seeking to say there is a zone of privacy that is protected by European human rights law. We all have the right to respect for our private and family life.

“If something is happening wholly in private, with no public element at all, then it should be safeguarded from the Hate Crime Bill.”

Mr Yousaf said: “If you are sitting round the dinner table having a debate about transgender identity and your view is that a man can’t transition to a woman, that won’t get you prosecuted.

“If your behaviour is found to be threatening or abusive by a reasonable person and it was intended to stir up hatred – and that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt – then you will be prosecuted.”

The bill came up for final debate and successful vote on Thursday, March 11, having overrun from Wednesday. The debate can be viewed here.

Pete (Runrig) Wishart, an SNP MP in Westminster, seemed critical of the Conservatives, the only party opposing the legislation:

Would that other parties had opposed the bill:

The pro-independence site, Wings Over Scotland, strongly objected to the bill’s passage. In ‘The Wrecking Crew’, the Rev Stuart Campbell, who founded the site, wrote:

For the last couple of years this site has been critical of the SNP’s failure to make any sort of progress on independence. But this is far, far worse even than that. Because if they somehow miraculously achieved independence tomorrow, we’d be afraid to live in the Scotland they’re creating.

Our country doesn’t have a SINGLE political party remotely fit for government. Voters in May face a choice between the evil, the stupid, and the evil and stupid. And they can’t even be angry about it, because even the politest anger is now a hate crime.

We wish we had a constructive course of action to suggest to you, folks. But we don’t, because democracy has failed you. There is no way you can vote that will fix the ruins the SNP have made of Scotland. We cannot see a way forward. It is becoming nearly impossible to evade the conclusion that all is lost. Nicola Sturgeon has destroyed it.

The deputy editor of Country Squire magazine tweeted his objections to the bill:

Women are concerned that seeking the privacy of a ladies’ restroom is under threat as a man who self-identifies as a woman will have more ‘right’ to use that facility than they:

Lily of St. Leonards posted on the ethical dilemmas in this legislation involving a potential confluence between a variety of hate categories. ‘Humza’s hate crimes‘ is well worth reading in full. On women, she says:

If I am taking off my clothes in the woman’s changing area of a swimming pool and I see someone with male anatomy, am I allowed to politely ask them to leave? What if this person says, “I am a woman” and finds my attitude hateful, insulting and discriminatory? Will I be convicted of a hate crime in Scotland if I tell the person I don’t believe it is possible for men to become women?

For female politicians on the left, however, the problem goes much deeper. Some have been the subject of truly hateful, obscene messages for not toeing the party line on sexual identity, as The Herald‘s Kevin McKenna pointed out on Sunday, March 14 in ‘Hate Crime Bill: Do women’s rights not matter to this authoritarian SNP?’ He wrote:

The problem here though is that, judging by social media, the SNP has been hollowed out by a vociferous group of illiberal nasties who seem determined to view reasonably-expressed opinions – especially around gender – as evidence of hate speech.

A significant number of them also seem to derive pleasure from threatening women (never men), both online and in person. Joan McAlpine, the most prominent SNP critic of the Hate Crime proposals has had a target crudely drawn on her Twitter profile amidst explicit threats of sexual violence towards her. Other female members have left the party because their own complaints about similar treatment have been ignored by the leadership.

Joanna Cherry is an SNP MP at Westminster who has also been the subject of a vicious campaign:

I’ve previously been disobliging of several of Nicola Sturgeon’s Labour predecessors but none would have scoured the floor of the swamp as she did a few weeks ago when she whistled up the bullies on the party’s scarecrow wing before sacking Joanna Cherry from the front bench of her Westminster team.

Yesterday, at Edinburgh sheriff court a man pled guilty to sending Ms Cherry messages that were grossly offensive, menacing and included threats of sexual violence. The messages were sent days after the First Minister’s intervention.

Ms Cherry says that allegations of transphobia made against her from within her own party “put a target on her back”.

This week Ms Cherry was the only Scot named on a list of the 100 most inspirational women at Westminster. In the SNP, though, she is considered a pariah and has endured a two-year campaign of intimidation and bullying. This is a party where strong, talented women of independent minds are considered a threat rather than an asset. Its failure to make sex a protected characteristic in their Hate Crime Bill is the final proof – if any were still required – that the SNP does not take women’s safety and wellbeing seriously.

Joanna Cherry has also been a QC (Queen’s Counsel) since 2009:

Regular readers of McKenna’s columns point out that his critical article could mark a turning point for the SNP:

Jamie Blackett, the leader of the new All for Unity (Alliance4Unity) party of which George Galloway is a member, says that this legislation creates a dangerous precedent:

As Lily of St Leonards notes in her aforementioned post:

Nothing should limit my right to write freely about any topic including even if other people find that writing hateful and insulting. Letting their perception of hatred limit my ability to write and speak freely means there is a special group of people living in Scotland who can in theory control what the rest of us say write and do. But it is mere prejudice that elevates these people above everyone else and it is disgraceful that the Scottish Parliament has in effect created a form of reverse Apartheid in Scotland.

This also means that teasing — called ‘flyting’ in Scotland — is out, as Iain Macwhirter pointed out in ‘So what will independence be if SNP no longer protect freedom of speech?‘ for The Herald:

The abuse is, of course, an ironic form of affection, of bonding – a demonstration that your relationship is so strong that you can playfully abuse each other. But it’s something that is almost impossible to explain in the age of social media and the tyranny of the literal. And with the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill now passed into law, flyting is finally grounded.

He points out that hate crimes have already been covered under legislation for 11 years:

threatening and abusive behaviour is already illegal, not least under the 2010 Criminal Justice Act. Incitement to racial hatred is also illegal.

Existing legislation means that even a passer-by could notify the police:

You don’t even have to be a “victim” yourself. Anyone who overhears something offensive can report a hate incident and the police will be required by law to record it. This will rarely lead to actual prosecution, but it carries a punishment nevertheless. The mere recording of a hate incident will hang around the neck of whoever is accused of it, and could be dredged up when they apply for jobs involving childcare or race relations.

It looks as if the only recourse will be the courts. Such an action has worked before:

Most ordinary SNP members are mystified as to why the Hate Crime Bill ever saw the light of day. It threatens to be even more perverse and indiscriminate than the Scottish Government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which criminalised football supporters and had to be repealed in 2018. It is arguably worse than the named persons scheme, which sought to install a state guardian for every child, and was struck down by the UK Supreme Court because it infringed the European Convention on Human Rights.

All for Unity pledge to repeal the new legislation if they win a majority in May:

As Spiked noted:

Scotland is in serious trouble of becoming the land of the unfree.

Indeed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out between now and May’s local elections.

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.

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.

Episode 14 of Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV was broadcast on Thursday, December 3, 2020.

He interviewed Trevor Phillips, past head of the Commission for Racial Equality and chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the succeeding organisation. Since then, Phillips has held a number of other appointments in human rights, the arts and retail. He is currently managing director of Webber and Phillips, a data analytics provider.

Neil also interviewed Mark Harper, one of my favourite Conservative rebel MPs, who has spoken out against coronavirus lockdown and restrictions. Harper has served as the MP for the Forest of Dean constituency in Gloucestershire since 2005. He has also served as a junior minister in the Cabinet Office, an Immigration Minister and Minister for Disabled People. He was the Chief Whip for the Conservatives in the House of Commons between May 2015 and July 2016. His tenure as Chief Whip ended when Theresa May became Prime Minister.

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, also appeared on the programme:

By the time the show aired, the mass purchase of the BioNtech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was finalised, announced and is now on its way to the UK.

A vote on the new tier restrictions after England’s second national lockdown was held on Tuesday, December 1. Mark Harper was one of the rebels who voted against the Government.

Conservative rebels

The Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth said that the rebels’ vote against the Government, while not toppling the final result, ‘was the biggest of Boris Johnson’s premiership’. Had the Opposition (i.e. Labour) not supported the Government, Boris and his Cabinet would have lost.

Forsyth pointed out that the number of Conservative rebels ‘has been rising consistently’. There will be a vote in January on renewing the tier restrictions. Currently, many English constituencies that started out in Tier 1 before the national lockdown are now, arbitrarily, in Tier 2. (Kent is a good example: communities closer to London have higher coronavirus infection rates than those along the east coast of the county.) If these discrepancies are resolved for in a local way — splitting counties into two different tiers — Forsyth sees more Conservative MPs voting against the Government next year.

He said that vaccine roll out might help to quell the rebellion if it’s efficient. However, if the roll out is ‘bumpy’ and restrictions persist, the rebellion will increase.

Deputy political editor Katy Balls came on next. She said the Government tried to reduce the rebellion, through a Zoom call asking for unity, but that did not succeed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the call, had hoped.

Economics editor Kate Andrews summarised the retail losses — up to £2 billion a week — coupled with retailers Debenhams and the Arcadia Group going into administration was a real problem. Pubs are in severe difficulty, too; only two per cent of them are in Tier 1.

Forsyth thought that the Government might make the tier classification more local but said post-Christmas restrictions present real concern, including the return of university students.

Forsyth did not see any easing of the rebellion until February or March 2021.

Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group, was on next. He did not think that the Government had been as ‘transparent and open’ as they should have been. He has questions as to why hospitality was singled out as a danger sector but has received few answers. He wonders if it makes sense to have a lockdown, then a relaxation over Christmas only to be followed by further restrictions for a month.

Harper said that he wants to support the Government but cannot do so right now.

However, he has noted a change in the tone from the Prime Minister. Letters to the Covid Recovery Group have been more ‘collegiate’.

That said, there is nothing of substance in them, e.g. clinical evidence and a ‘coherent narrative’. He noted that the scientific experts’ opinions differ to those of the Government.

Neil asked Harper what policy change he would like to see. Harper said that the impact of the first lockdown and the recession it caused would have a worse impact on quality of life years (QALYs) than the coronavirus deaths themselves.

Harper says he sees no balance from the Government between health and economic issues during the crisis.

While he appreciates that this is a difficult time with ‘no easy answers’, he is frustrated with the lack of openness from Government ministers on how they arrive at their decisions.

He hopes that the Government will start showing the criteria on which they base their decisions and ‘a proper roadmap’ by the end of January 2021.

Scottish independence

The latest support for Scottish independence has risen to 56%.

Emily Gray from IPSOS Mori showed a series of slides demonstrating that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) is far and away the most popular of any political party north of the border.

While Scots admire Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Brexit is another factor in the preference for independence. Scots trust the SNP on all major issues, from the two that I named through to the NHS and education.

Conservatives and Unionists are not doing well in Scotland. Part of the reason for this, she said, was that they were not making a compelling argument for the Union, i.e. being better off together than as separate nations.

Neil pointed out that the SNP have not done well in terms of equality in health and education. Gray said that Sturgeon’s ratings have remained high throughout the pandemic. She has calmed their fears; therefore, any shortcomings are not in the forefront of people’s minds.

The Scots voted two-to-one to remain in the European Union. Brexit is deeply unpopular there. Neil said that some Scots would vote for independence as revenge for Brexit. Forsyth acknowledged that such a point of view is a problem.

Gray, however, made it clear that the pandemic was a greater factor in the yearning for independence than Brexit.

James Forsyth said that the SNP will win the local 2021 elections handily.

He added that Boris Johnson will have to address this issue of independence sooner or later. Perhaps the Unionists have to wait for ‘something to turn up’ in order for them to make their case. They would do well to ‘buy time’, he said.

Katy Balls agreed with Neil when he said that Boris does not ‘poll well’ north of the border, however, Rishi Sunak does. She said that a Labour government would have a easier time dissuading the Scots from voting for independence.

Forsyth said that a successful UK government vaccine roll out might change Scots’ minds against independence. Visiting relatives in different parts of the UK this Christmas might also help to reinforce the benefits and commonality of the Union.

Equality

Equality was the last topic of conversation when Neil interviewed Trevor Phillips.

Critical race theory — yes, Neil used those exact words — was the topic of conversation.

Phillips did not deny the use of critical race theory and said that he, too, was sceptical of the term, saying that it serves only to feed white nationalism.

He also says that it downgrades education. It is, he said, based ‘on anecdote, narrative, “my feelings” … none of which will change a single thing for people of colour’.

He called it a ‘scam’.

He said it is wrong to make the issue of race ‘entirely about white people’ with people of colour as ‘bystanders’.

Neil, somewhat apologising for his skin colour, pointed out that much progress has been made in race relations but that the theory does not acknowledge any of that progress.

Phillips said that Neil did ‘not have to apologise for being white’.

Phillips said that the UK is not the United States. He noted that a number of families in Britain have bi-racial antecedents or parents since the Second World War. He said that no other nation in the world has that number of black and white familial unions. Britain, however, does.

Neil objected to the modern treatment of the telling of American independence, which he said purported to promote slavery. Phillips agreed, calling it ‘complete drivel’. Phillips then brought up slavery in the US — tobacco and cotton-based — versus slavery on the Caribbean plantations, which he said was much larger, on a ‘factory level’.

Phillips said we should think of the current movement as we do Extinction Rebellion. He noted that Cuba, with all its black residents, has never had a black leader. He said the current movement is a front to ‘overthrow things as they are’. He said that, if they want to change things, ‘do it honestly’.

Neil asked if Malcolm X would have been a supporter. Phillips doubted it, because he would have disliked ‘the indiscipline of the movement’. However, he acknowledged that, he might have done in the middle of his life. Later, Phillips said, Malcolm X dropped the idea that ‘whites are intrinsically bad’.

————————————————————–

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored the programme.

The two- to three-week lockdown ended up lasting eight months, even if it was off and on.

It was never totally ‘off’. After we were liberated, we were told, whether it be in Europe, North America or the Antipodes, that we would have to not only continue to socially distance but also to start wearing masks. Then came curfews:

What about being able to open only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.? Nicola Sturgeon — Scotland’s First Minister (SNP) — is having a laugh, only she’s deadly serious. ‘Off sales’ refers to alcoholic beverages sold in off licences (liquor stores):

Now we are approaching the Christmas season, the peak time of year for sales: parties, banquets, family dinners. A number of US states, including those with RINO governors, were on lockdown this week. As such, they missed Thanksgiving, which ushers in the holiday season in the US.

These are the tweets I ran across this week, during America’s national Thanksgiving, a day of family, friends and food.

In the US, a lot of people cannot travel at the moment. They are not even supposed to see their families, even if they live nearby. Their governors told them they mustn’t or, if they do, they’ll ‘kill Grandma’, which must have come out of a WHO pandemic handbook, because we get that in Europe, too (the UK and France).

This is very important:

Yet, so many Westerners do not mind nearly a year’s worth of restrictions — and that includes a number of Libertarians I know personally:

This is worth repeating:

And again:

How many businesses will collapse this year? Most of them are small to medium business owners who have employees.

The hospitality sector has been devastated, even though every bar and restaurant poured in their businesses’ own money to make their establishments ‘COVID-secure’. Governments said that still wasn’t enough.

Now look what’s happening. This is an example from California:

Laws — or, perhaps more honestly, ‘regulations’ (not all of which can be legally enforced) — differ from place to place. Even in England, what is allowed in one county is disallowed in another. There’s no level playing field or explanation as to why other than this graph with spurious data from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Public Health England which shows that hospitality is the main vector for COVID-19 transmission:

Pull the other one, why don’t you, guys?

The reality from England is that, as Guido Fawkes reported on October 12 (emphasis in the original):

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust shows that “Eating out/ exercise/ shopping/events” accounted for just 2.4% of transmission.

The same data show that a staggering 92.5% of coronavirus cases occurred at home!

Here’s another chart from October, showing low incidences in the hospitality sector. The Daily Mail used NHS data. Homes were excluded from this study:

Yet another study says it’s supermarkets:

In the video below, top Scottish chef Tom Kitchin explains the bankrupting costs for the average restaurateur. The clip did not show his conclusion, which was that probably 6,000 UK restaurants will have to close because of these on-off lockdowns — costing thousands of £££ each time to close and to reopen — prohibiting them from trading. Takeaway doesn’t always help:

And what are the figures for Los Angeles County, where we started?

Restaurants in Los Angeles County account for only 3.1% of coronavirus outbreaks:

Where are there more coronavirus outbreaks in Los Angeles County? Government locations:

The saddest thing is, no state needed to lock down for more than a few weeks earlier this year. South Dakota did not have any lockdown. Below is the situation in Florida, thanks to Republican governor Ron DeSantis:

A lot of US governors need to be reined in. How, constitutionally, I don’t know. Right now, they’re a law unto themselves.

European governments need to get a grip.

Career politicians need to face reality — or they will lose a lot of needed tax revenue.

Lockdowns are a crime against humanity.

Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV posted its sixth episode of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, October 8, 2020:

Guests included Prof David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19; Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesbrough; Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times and a few Spectator journalists.

The programme began with the status of coronavirus measures in Ireland.

Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, says that the Irish government was surprised by the recent recommended lockdown which they ultimately rejected. The Irish government were highly critical of the proposed measures, privately and publicly. Leahy explained that the head of the public health advisers has been off work because of compassionate leave, then, last Sunday, he returned and recommended another lockdown. The Irish government took it as, he says, a ‘power play’.

The government objected to the health experts’ very quick meetings amongst themselves and with government officials. Leahy said that the government were ‘annoyed’.

The government did not disagree with the recommended measures per se, but there was a fine balance to be achieved. The minister of finance warned of employment and social consequences, because a number of jobs would not be coming back. He and his staff needed to consider if other measures could be taken instead.

Neil mentioned today’s minimal COVID-19 deaths in Ireland. Leahy agreed and said that the so-called second wave has much less severe than the first. That said, the admissions to hospitals have been rising dramatically. So, there is a question about whether the second wave is different from the first. The Irish government felt they could weigh the statistics, adopting a wait-and-see approach. Leahy said that Dr Leo Varadkar, a physician who was formerly the prime minister and is now the deputy prime minister, essentially threw the nation’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan ‘under the bus’.

Leahy said that the part of Ireland’s problem was assigning decisions to scientists and doctors in the first wave earlier this year. Currently, scientific advice ‘is only one factor’ in the decision making process that the Irish government will take with regard to coronavirus measures. Leahy said that time will tell whether the public will back the government. The economic factors are such that things could change in the weeks to come.

Katy Balls was up next, advocating Swedish models that a number of Conservative MPs back. A number of backbenchers disapprove of Drs Whitty and Vallance.

Conversation then turned to the WHO’s Prof David Nabarro who says we are still in a bit of the first wave and we’re not over it, so we need to learn how to live with the virus without lockdown and the ‘closing down of economies’. What he calls ‘the middle path’ requires holding the virus at bay while allowing the economy to resume in order to make certain we can put safeguards in place, so that we can stop the virus whilst getting local ‘actors’, as well as testing and tracing, involved as much as possible and a common commitment to each other to keep everything as safe as possible. He said that lockdowns serve only to give a health service some breathing space.

Nabarro said that is what South East Asian countries are doing, also Germany and Canada. As lockdown lifts, nations can deal with increased cases ‘elegantly’.

As for Ireland, Nabarro sided halfway with the Irish government and halfway with the scientific advisors. He did caution that public buy-in was necessary for any success.

Nabarro predicted many more weeks of uncertainty but that we would feel ‘much more comfortable’ in the New Year.

Neil asked Nabarro about Prof Sunetra Gupta’s views on a milder lockdown. Nabarro said that the WHO do not advocate lockdowns as an absolute principle. (UK government: please take note!) He cited the damage done to the Caribbean and Pacific tourist industry. As a result, many more people could lapse into poverty.

Neil brought up Scotland’s coming lockdown and a possible one in the North of England.

Kate Andrews had current statistics, comparing them to Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming case graph from the third week of September. So far, we are not close to Vallance’s projection, but the UK is higher than France’s and Spain’s cases, respectively.

The effect of local lockdowns showed a skyrocketing in positive tests (‘cases’).  According to statistics, it is possible that Leicester should have already been taken out of lockdown.

Kate Andrews showed graphs that revealed that hospitality was responsible for a very low number of cases: around four per cent, not dissimilar to this pie chart, which I cited last Friday.

Nabarro intervened, saying he preferred ‘local integrated responses’, because breaking the virus involves input from every institution, be it a factory or a house of worship. He praised Leicester for its diversity, holding it up as a model for the world.

The Spectator‘s political editor, James Forsyth, came on to comment about the former Labour ‘Red Wall’ in the North. Much of that Red Wall voted for Conservatives in December 2019. Forsyth said that lockdown will be viewed as flooding has been in recent years: even if measures taken are not political, they look as if they ARE political. Northerners see that London and the surrounding Home Counties will not be locked down, and, as a result, will suffer fewer socio-economic casualties.

Andy Preston, the Independent mayor of Middlesbrough, was the next guest. He has been positively incandescent about lockdown. The transmission is a bit choppy, but Preston said that many of his residents didn’t personally know many people who had or died of COVID-19. He added that Middlesbrough’s residents have paid more in tax whilst losing out locally. He felt that ‘the Government is doing stuff to us’.

Preston has asked for a temporary ban on in-house socialising but supports frequenting restaurants. He said that local government and the UK government need to work together on measures.

Preston said that he thought there was an ‘inside group’ of advisers to the government, with no one from Middlesbrough involved.

He said that this type of decision making could go ‘very badly wrong for the country’.

Talk then turned towards the American vice presidential debate. Freddy Gray covered this segment. He said that Mike Pence is ‘a very accomplished performer’, ‘intelligent and he spoke very fluently’. He disclosed that he has never been a Pence fan but predicted that he could be the next Republican nominee in 2024.

Neil said that a Trump-Biden virtual debate would not be the first. Nixon broadcasted in 1960 from Los Angeles. Gray said that no one knew what is going on in Trump’s mind and said that the American president had gone ‘full gonzo’.

Viewers’ questions came next.

The first had to do with successful measures against COVID-19. Nabarro commented on coronavirus success in South East Asia, which he attributed to community buy-in and no delay in taking action, which can result in more problems later.

Another viewer said that England’s mayors needed to come together with regard to England’s lockdown. Andy Preston said he would back Manchester’s Andy Burnham, a former Labour MP.

A third viewer wondered about the vote coming up this week on England’s 10 p.m. curfew. Katy Balls said she doubted whether Labour would oppose the vote, but Conservative rebels might have their chance in the weeks to come to succeed in voting against the Government. (Personally, I don’t think it will happen. Most of the Opposition support lockdown measures and restricting civil liberties.)

James Forsyth says that half the Conservative MPs really detest the Government’s coronavirus restrictions. He cited the communications surrounding them and questioned what the £12bn poured into the ‘test and trace’ programme has actually achieved. He said it was ‘not delivering’.

Andrew Neil asked about the Great Barrington Declaration, which Prof Sunetra Gupta and many other physicians signed a week ago in Massachusetts. Kate Andrews said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would be a ‘game changer’ with no social restrictions a year from now. As such, time is not a big deal for Boris. Neil said that Boris sounded like Chauncey Gardiner. I don’t like saying this, but I tend to agree with his assessment. Boris seems off the rails right now.

Leahy had the final word, measuring the rising positive tests with closed pubs and other measures. The Irish government, he says, needs to give these new measures time to work, including buy-in from the public to avoid another lockdown. He predicts another two to three weeks.

The final question came to Nabarro about the origin of the virus. He said, in short, that there was no definitive answer. ‘You [have to] bring in independent actors’, therefore, the WHO would need ‘to bring in other staff to help’.

Hmm. Interesting.

Then, in an abrupt change of tone, Nabarro sounded a blast at certain countries, including Belarus and Spain, saying that a second wave could come soon and that no nation should be complacent.

Hmm.

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored this week’s programme. For that, we are most grateful. Agree or disagree, Spectator TV is manna in a desert of dry, one-way MSM broadcasts.

This week, a mini-rebellion erupted on the Conservative back benches over coronavirus.

More on that in a moment.

First, let’s have a look at Friday’s headlines.

As millions of Britons are worrying about their vanishing income, it is shameful that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, an independent body which oversees the system of allowances and salaries for Members of Parliament, decided to give them a pay rise! Incidentally, a Labour MP is shown in the photograph below:

Unconscionable!

Although the economy was starting to recover earlier in the summer when lockdown was lifted, things are different today:

It’s been a challenging year for Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who replaced Sajid Javid in March, just a fortnight before lockdown. He delivered a brilliant budget for a bright year ahead, then coronavirus struck.

Sunak is one of the contrarians on coronavirus and is said to prefer letting Britons get back to work.

That said, he has given billions in financial aid to the nation and delivered a Winter Economic Plan. However, pressure is on now to not only find a way to boost the Treasury’s coffers but also to provide extra financial support to the areas of the country which are under what seems to be permanent lockdown. The Huffington Post has more on today’s new measures.

These are the highlights:

This is his latest tax plan:

Hmm:

It’s a tough job, so I’m glad Rishi is in that post. He’s doing the best he can.

Next door, at No. 10 Downing Street, Rishi’s former aide Allegra Stratton has been named as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new press secretary. Conservative men across the nation had hoped for a Kayleigh McEnany, but we will wish Ms Stratton well in her new job:

Note how media and politics intertwine. Stratton is connected not only to Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street but also to top adviser Dominic Cummings as well as to The Spectator:

Guido Fawkes says (emphases in the original):

Widely anticipated and always the bookies favourite, Allegra Stratton has been confirmed as the new Downing Street Press Secretary. Her experience as a television reporter on Newsnight, ITV News and with Peston will stand her in good stead. 40 year-old Allegra is married to the Spectator’s James Forsyth. They have one child. She has done a good job spinning for Rishi and he will miss her…

Bring on the briefings…

Stratton left ITV in April to work for Rishi:

I had bookmarked a tweet from ITV’s political editor Robert Peston a few months ago when No. 10 announced its search for a press secretary. Unfortunately, I subsequently deleted it. Peston tweeted that he knew of a perfect candidate, someone who had worked for him and was now working for Rishi Sunak: Allegra Stratton.

And, lo, it came to pass.

Here’s an interesting tweet from May, after Dominic Cummings had to give a press conference in the garden of No. 10 to apologise for his questionable trip up North to Barnard Castle (a town named for its castle) with his wife Mary Wakefield and their four-year-old son:

One of Cummings’s goals was to clear out No. 10 of Remainers in senior positions. Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the most senior Remainer and the man in charge of civil servants, resigned during the summer.

Sedwill’s replacement is Simon Case, who used to work for Prince William:

Guido Fawkes has posted Case’s email to civil servants, popularly referred to as ‘mandarins’, and says:

Simon Case, Sir Mark Sedwill’s replacement as Cabinet Secretary, has got off to a strong start in the job by sending an email to all civil servants boasting of his ‘profound sense of pride in our nation’s history”, telling Whitehall staff “We must maintain our dedication to honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity.” Guido hopes counselling will be put in place for any distressed metropolitan mandarins at this time…

Now on to coronavirus.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon is putting much of that nation under a 16-day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown (pubs shut, no alcohol in restaurants, no visiting) during half-term (break for schools). Yet she is decommissioning the Nightingale hospital in Glasgow. Why?

In England and Wales, questions have been raised about the new contact-tracing app:

Today (Friday), the Telegraph‘s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope interviewed the Conservative MP, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who had a lot to say not only on coronavirus but also Brexit (he thinks large parts of the Withdrawal Agreement should be torn up if we want a Canada deal).

Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson will never defeat the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said, and instead must start to help Britons to learn to live with the disease.

The former Conservative leader told today’s Chopper Politics podcast … : “‘I’ve never been to a time like this where we have almost suspended all judgement on everything else as secondary to Covid.

“And the truth is that if we go on just trying to push these spikes down the whole timethen we could be in this for years because there are very few vaccines that have been completely effective against viruses.”

Sir Iain said the focus on Covid meant that other risks were being completely ignored. He said that the problem was “we’ve lost the balance of risks. We now have only one risk. And if you think of only one risk, then you can damage everything around you.

He added that he thought the right course of action regarding coronavirus was “managing it but not expecting that, as people say, we can defeat this, because I honestly don’t think we will actually.”

YES!

The 30-minute podcast is here. Hope interviews other guests, too.

Conservative MPs are warning Boris not to take the votes of former Labour-supporting area lightly. Those areas, many of which now have Conservative MPs, are the ones most affected by semi-permanent lockdown:

Earlier in the week, the Government postponed a vote on the 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in England. It has been rescheduled for next week:

Members of the public are understandably concerned. One summarised Boris’s speech at the (virtual) Conservative Party conference this week:

But I digress.

The reason the Government are picking on the hospitality sector is because of this chart, which MPs on both sides of the aisle dispute:

Hospitality venues are at the top of the list.

Note that schools and workplaces are not mentioned.

This is the reality, and this is what dissenting MPs are going by. Hospitality is ranked at 4 per cent (see pie chart):

The hospitality sector had to put a lot of money into their businesses in order to reopen during the summer, yet the Government is targeting them. That is also true in France, but we’ll stick with England for now:

I am very concerned about this eventuality:

Conservative MP Steve Baker talks a good game, but he voted with the Government this week to renew coronavirus restrictions.

ITV interviewed him yesterday:

ITV has excerpts of Baker’s interview:

Speaking to the Acting Prime Minister podcast, the MP said the rule is “badly evidenced and appears to be counter-productive”.

He said the rule, which forces pubs to close between 10pm and 5am, is “wrecking the hospitality industry, which we only just pumped lots of taxpayers money into through Eat Out to Help Out”.

He claimed the “cost of lockdowns are worse than the cost of the disease” and suggested the PM is only imposing them because of hopes of a vaccine “turning up and solving all these problems”.

He said he fears the UK is in “grave danger” of “jumping into a lobster pot here from which we can’t emerge” if a vaccine is not forthcoming.

“The danger we’re in at the moment is we’ll destroy our economy,” he told podcast host Paul Brand.

He said he supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his response to coronavirus, but questioned whether he is “betting the country on a vaccine turning up”.

“If his strategy is based on a vaccine coming, I think there’s going to be a problem,” he said.

The Wycombe MP appeared to suggest the team around the prime minister was not allowing him to use his strengths …

Mr Baker, who was a prominent Brexit supporter, said he “deeply” regrets the way the UK divided over EU membership and said he can feel the same happening with coronavirus.

I’m really worried that our society is polarising with hysterical arguments on both sides.

“What I am saying is I want us to have a radical spirit of concern for one another, a radical willingness to listen to one another and then be moderate in what we say and do to try and close all these, all these divides.” 

I agree wholeheartedly with every word.

In closing, I really hope that Steve Baker and the other Conservative rebels vote against the Government on the hospitality curfew next week.

They won’t win, but they will send a strong message to Boris and Matt Hancock.

This week was a bit of a barnstormer in the House of Commons: from Extinction Rebellion to coronavirus.

Last weekend, a man stabbed several people in Birmingham’s city centre, killing one. A stabbing also occurred in Lewisham (South London). On Monday morning, a shooting occurred in a small town in Suffolk.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) disrupted the distribution of most national newspapers’ weekend editions in England. They glued themselves to scaffolding outside some of the printing plants. Members of Extinction Rebellion also protested at a printing plant in Motherwell, Scotland. The Scottish protests were less severe.

Coronavirus testing has been problematic, with many people unable to find tests when they need them.

Big Christmas gatherings are likely to be cancelled because of new coronavirus legislation.

Grab yourself a cuppa and a sarnie. This week’s Parliamentary debates and reaction were compelling.

Monday, September 7

Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, delivered a statement about the Birmingham stabbings and the Extinction Rebellion direct action. A debate followed.

An excerpt from Malthouse’s statement follows (emphases mine below):

On Friday night, Extinction Rebellion protesters used trucks and bamboo scaffolds to block roads outside the newsprinters works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and Knowsley, near Liverpool. These presses print The Sun, The Times, The Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. The police reacted quickly on Friday night, arrested around 80 people nationally and worked throughout Saturday to clear the sites completely. In Broxbourne, approximately 100 protesters were reported in attendance. Assistance from neighbouring forces was required, with work long into the early hours to ease the disruption. Fifty one protesters were arrested for public nuisance and subsequently charged with obstruction of the highway. They were taken to three custody suites in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London. Disruption concluded by midday on Saturday. All main roads remained open, including the nearby A10. However, there was disruption to the distribution of newspapers as well as for local businesses.

In Knowsley, a group of 30 protesters were reported in attendance alongside 10 observers, one legal adviser and one police liaison individual. Thirty protesters were arrested, with disruption concluding by 10.45 the next morning. These protesters were subsequently charged with aggravated trespass and bailed to appear before magistrates at a later date. Twenty four protesters also ​attended a print works in Motherwell, Lanarkshire in Scotland. In this instance there was no disruption caused and no arrests were made.

A free press is the cornerstone of a British society. The freedom to publish without fear or favour, to inform the public, to scrutinise our institutions and to stimulate debate on events that affect each and every one of us is indispensable. The actions of Extinction Rebellion were a direct challenge to this freedom and the values of liberty and tolerance that we hold dear. Extinction Rebellion claims to be an environmental campaign group, yet that worthy cause is undermined by its tactics. Its actions show that it is not interested in purely peaceful protest, dialogue and debate. Instead, it seeks to impose its view through this kind of direct action.

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental tool of civic expression and will never be curtailed by the Government. Equally, it is unacceptable for groups such as XR to hide behind the guise of protest while committing criminal acts that prevent law-abiding citizens from going about their lives. All of us will remember the disruption caused last year as the group blocked roads and major transport routes. Police forces across the country were forced to divert resources away from tackling other crime in order to oversee those occupations. It is a terrible shame to see those counterproductive tactics revived in the midst of a pandemic, when we are only just recovering from the profound disruption of lockdown. Throughout the pandemic, our police officers have been on the streets every day working to keep the public safe and to stop the spread of coronavirus. In placing unnecessary pressure on our emergency services, the actions of the protesters are contemptuous not only of the police but of the public whom they seek to protect.

The irony is that the United Kingdom is already doing more to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy than almost any other nation on earth. The UK is the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. The Prime Minister has set up two Cabinet Committees focused on tackling climate change—one for strategy and another for implementation—discussing how Departments can go further and faster in meeting our legally binding 2050 net zero target. We are also hosting the next UN climate change conference, COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow. It would be far more productive if, rather than plotting disruption and chaos, those behind Extinction Rebellion put their efforts into working with the Government to tackle climate change and build the green economy. While they persist in their current course, however, our message to those individuals is clear: if you plan to curtail our freedoms through criminal acts, be in no doubt that you will face the full force of the law. As a Government, we will not stand by and allow the livelihoods of hard-working people to be undermined by a minority using the pretence of tackling climate change to impose an extremist world view.

Extinction Rebellion’s actions have shown how the tactics of disruptive protests are changing. The Home Office has been engaging with police chiefs to understand the challenges they face and to assess how they can facilitate peaceful protest while not causing significant disruption and infringing on the rights of others with differing views. The Home Secretary and I are committed ​to learning the lessons of recent protests and ensuring that the police have the powers required to deal with the disruption caused by groups such as XR. I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review. As always, our thanks go to the police for their tireless efforts to respond to all manner of incidents, and particularly at this time when so many have worked so hard during the pandemic. I hope that the leaders of Extinction Rebellion will issue an apology to them for actions that have been roundly condemned by all mainstream opinion in our country.

By its actions this weekend, XR has done nothing to bolster the cause of fighting climate change. Rather, it has reminded us of the value of a free press and free expression and made us think about what more we may need to do to protect those freedoms. I commend this statement to the House.

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central), responding for Labour, gave an excellent speech. An excerpt follows:

all Members of the House will be deeply concerned about the wider rise in violent crime that we are seeing. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am all too aware of the seriousness of this issue. I know that West Midlands police, along with David Jamieson, the PCC, is taking this very seriously, and the violence reduction unit is doing some great preventive work in the west midlands. Does the Minister accept that over the past decade we have seen knife crime rise in every police force area in England and Wales, and ​that easing lockdown restrictions poses particular challenges? Does he further accept that rising violent crime must be urgently addressed?

Turning to the matter of Extinction Rebellion, I trust that the Minister will agree with me, rather than some members of his own party, in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation. However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change. Those who break the law should be held to account. As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.

On the policing response to the incidents, can the Minister confirm whether the authorities had any intelligence that these incidents might occur?

Today in the media, new laws have been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Can the Minister confirm what aspects of our current public order laws he believes are inadequate? Will he also confirm which aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 dealing with gatherings he believes leave gaps? Does he agree that we should not forget the many people who are concerned about climate change who wish to peacefully and lawfully protest, and that that right should be protected?

Malthouse did not answer her question about new legislation and said that the intelligence surrounding Extinction Rebellion’s actions at the printing plants was unclear.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative) suggested giving the protesters fixed-penalty notices (fines). Malthouse said that, as those were new during the coronavirus pandemic, there aren’t enough data to measure their efficacy.

An SNP MP, Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) downplayed the Extinction Rebellion incident. As SNP MPs always do, they think only of Scotland. If this doesn’t spell out the SNP’s sympathies with Marxism, I don’t know what does:

The … group perpetrated no violence—random or otherwise—nor is it a criminal gang, terrorist ​group or a deranged individual. Any attempt to portray those people as that is wrong and a dangerous precedent in a democracy. The actions carried out by Extinction Rebellion, both in Scotland and in England, were a peaceful protest. That should not be forgotten, and that remains legitimate. It is a group of young people, although not always entirely young, who care about the environment. That is a legitimate position to take. This action was not an attempt to close down free speech, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. All they were seeking to do was to disrupt the outgoing of print for a period of time. There was no cessation of the print being published. Indeed, it appeared online and at most delivery was delayed to some shops.

Malthouse replied:

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has positioned the SNP outside mainstream opinion. [Interruption.] Well, you’re all expressing consternation, and speaking, smiling and laughing. I do not know why me expressing concern is worthy of derision. In truth, the vast majority of people in this country, and all mainstream parties in this country, have expressed alarm at the tactics of Extinction Rebellion over the weekend and its stated aim of disrupting newspapers’ ability to distribute their views and opinions because they do not agree with them. One of the first things that happens in extremist states and takeovers is an attempt to grip the television station, the radio station or the newspapers. Control of information is key so we need to take care with these things. I hope he will agree with me in time.

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley, Conservative) expressed concern at the cost of the Extinction Rebellion protest:

The unacceptable actions of Extinction Rebellion show a consistent disregard for the lives and livelihoods that they disrupt. Does my hon. Friend believe we should hold Extinction Rebellion to account, not just for the significant public sector costs that rack up with the action it undertakes, but for the significant lost income that businesses across the country have suffered as a result?

Malthouse said:

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He is right that these protests are not costless. Aside from the costs to the businesses affected, there is a large overtime bill to be covered. Of all the costs, the most profound and alarming is the opportunity cost; those police officers who are spending time ungluing protesters and dismantling scaffolding are not spending time preventing knife crime, murder, rape or domestic violence. There are other much more vital activities that could be performed in the communities they serve.

Anthony Browne (South Cambridgshire, Conservative) pointed out that freer countries have fewer environmental issues:

I am a journalist and an environmentalist. I used to be environment editor of The Observer and The Times. I am currently chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, and I have seen around the world that those countries that have a free press are far better at tackling environmental problems than those countries without a free press. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Extinction Rebellion’s assault on the free press, and does he agree that such attacks on free speech will ultimately do more harm to the environmental cause than help it?

Malthouse responded:

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, the paradox, or even the tragedy, of the protests is that I understand that the edition of The Sun that was prevented from being distributed contained an op-ed from David Attenborough—no less—extolling the virtues of climate change action and urging Sun readers to do their bit on global warming. Ten years ago, nobody would have dreamt of that opinion appearing ​in that newspaper, and it shows how far the argument has been advanced by peaceful means. This protest runs the risk of setting the debate back rather than moving it forward.

Dr Julian Lewis, who is now Independent (having had the Conservative whip removed), pointed out the contradiction of fining anti-lockdown spokesman Piers Corbyn £10,000 when XR were free to glue themselves to scaffolding with no fine:

It is true that various brands of Corbynism are a little less popular these days, but does my hon. Friend agree that fining a climate change denier £10,000 for an anti-lockdown protest sets a benchmark which should equally apply to those who break the law in pursuit of more fashionable causes?

Malthouse replied:

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, a number of fixed penalty fines have been handed out over the past few days for all manner of contraventions of the coronavirus regulations. No doubt some may be disputed, but we shall see in the end where the courts decide.

The SNP’s Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) asked if XR would be reclassified as a criminal group:

Does the Minister understand the genuine concerns about any plans to reclassify Extinction Rebellion as a ​criminal group and the implications that this may have for peaceful protest, especially given that last year the Prime Minister’s own father addressed an Extinction Rebellion rally and said that he backed their methods?

Malthouse said that such groups are being watched and are under review.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East, Labour) claimed that direct action was part of democracy:

Direct action is a proud part of our history and democracy. Through it, the Chartists and suffragettes helped secure the right to vote and trade unions won the eight-hour working day and paid holidays, and it played a key part in securing legislation for gay rights and for women’s and racial equality. If pursued, would not the Home Secretary’s suggestion of defining Extinction Rebellion as a criminal gang be a betrayal of our proud tradition of civil liberties?

Malthouse said:

Direct action is not the same thing as a crime. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are certain crimes that he wishes to ignore, then I am afraid the Opposition are in a very difficult place. I am the Minister for policing and crime, and when, under our current law as approved through this House, somebody commits a crime, I have no choice other than to condemn it.

Lee Anderson (Ashfield, Conservative) would like for XR to be designated a criminal organisation:

The people of Ashfield see no benefit in protesters gluing their ears to the pavement, spraying red dye on our monuments or camping out in trees on Parliament Square. Extinction Rebellion is now public nuisance No. 1 because of the disruption it causes, as well as the massive cost to our emergency services when, frankly, they have better things to do. Does my hon. Friend agree that this group should be ​classified as a crime group and feel the full weight of the law if it continues to disrupt members of the public going about their daily business?

Malthouse repeated his earlier answer about such groups being under continuing review.

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk, SNP) did not want to see XR labelled as a criminal organisation:

Whatever we think about Extinction Rebellion’s tactics, be they right or wrong, its actions were peaceful, and such civil disobedience methods have been used throughout history, so any branding of the activists as criminals is certainly not acceptable. Does not the Minister agree that two wrongs do not make a right?

Malthouse gave this wise reply:

Not all crimes are violent.

Only one MP dared to connect Marxism with XR — Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield, Conservative). Well done:

It is with regret that, since Extinction Rebellion’s inception, we have witnessed it adopt increasingly radical measures, which masquerade upon an environmentalist platform. In truth, it is a considered ruse to gain support for its ​Marxist agenda, which attacks British values predicated on freedom and pluralism. Blocking ambulances and seeking to constrain press freedom are but two examples from a plethora of behaviours that demonstrate its devious agenda.

Her Majesty’s Government were elected with a mighty mandate from the British people to restore their ancient rights and freedoms, whether threatened from Brussels or from the barricade. The fine people of my constituency of Wakefield expect us to deliver on that. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to neutralise XR’s disruptive and dangerous tactics?

Malthouse replied:

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s stentorian support. He is quite right that people want to see a sense of order in this country, and that is exactly what we will put in place and what we are beavering away to make happen across the country—in his constituency and elsewhere.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 8

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, gave a statement updating MPs on coronavirus and the situation in Bolton. New laws, he said, would apply only to Bolton.

He was economical with the truth …

Wednesday, September 9

On Wednesday morning, Steve Baker (Wycombe, Conservative), tweeted:

No one raised this topic at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock gave a morning interview (more here):

What does that even mean?

He explained his change of advice on testing to Sky News:

More on this follows below.

It was National Farmers Day, and many MPs wore ears of British wheat tied together with British wool. Labour’s Angela Rayner wasn’t the slightest bit interested:

Most of PMQs was about testing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this startling statement about daily coronavirus testing at home:

Just after PMQs, as Boris hurriedly scuttled out of the chamber, Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West, Conservative) raised a point of order about the coronavirus legislation.

I wonder if Boris knew about it in advance and got out of there as quickly as he could:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Had the Secretary of State for Health given notice of the Government’s intention to further restrict our liberty to meet with one another in his statement yesterday, at least some of us would have been able to question him about it. What remedy is there for those of us who enthusiastically support the Prime Minister, but nevertheless want to restrain the Government’s ability to govern by order without debate?

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle replied:

I thank the right hon. Member for giving me notice. I am very sympathetic to the main point he makes. I accept that decisions have been taken in a fast-moving situation, but timings for statements are known to Ministers. It is really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in a way that shows insufficient regard to the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and to Members of this House wherever possible. I have already sent a letter to the Secretary of State. I think the total disregard for this Chamber is not acceptable. I know that the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament as well and that he will ensure that statements should be made here first, especially as this particular Secretary of State requests statements. To then ignore the major fact that he wanted to put to the country, and not put it before this House, is not acceptable and I hope he will apologise to Members.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour Co-op) had more information:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only did we not get a convincing explanation yesterday from the Secretary of State on the ongoing testing fiasco, but in fact Mr Robert Peston of ITV wrote on Twitter, ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement, that the Government were planning to shift the regulations down from 30 people to six. There was no reason why the Secretary of State could not have told the House yesterday that that was the Government’s plan. Has the Secretary of State given you, Mr Speaker, notice that he is coming to the House to update MPs on that change in policy, or should we assume that Ministers do not know what they are doing from one day to the next?

Peston had tweeted this on Tuesday:

The Speaker was uncharacteristically incandescent:

What I would take on board is the fact that it was all over Twitter as this was going on. Obviously, somebody decided to tell the media rather than this House. What I would say is that I expect the Secretary of State to apologise to Members and make sure that this Chamber knows first. He was fully aware—fully aware—of what was going to be said later. Let me say that if this Minister wants to run this Chamber ragged, I can assure you now that I am sure an urgent question every day might just begin to run him ragged.

At 4 p.m., Boris gave a coronavirus press conference, announcing new coronavirus ‘marshals’ who will be appearing on our streets as of next week — so, not only in Bolton:

I agree 110% with this tweet:

Thursday, September 10

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg was unable to deliver his customary business statement to the Commons. One of his children developed coronavirus symptoms. Stuart Andrew, the Acting Leader, stood in for him:

Matt Hancock showed up to make a statement on new coronavirus regulations. He was taken to task over his confusing advice about getting a test. Earlier this year, he encouraged people to get tested. Now, with the system overwhelmed, he’s backtracked:

Guido Fawkes has quotes from Hancock documenting his about-face on the matter and concludes (emphases in the original):

Was Hancock’s advice wrong then or is it wrong now? The public will be getting pretty sick of the Department of Health’s cock-ups being the responsibility of anyone other than Hancock.

UPDATE: A government source tells Guido “The guidance is clear. If you think you have symptoms you should get a test. Today’s message is no different to that.” Apparently people in doubt about whether they have symptoms should still get a test…

Simon Dolan, a businessman who is taking the Government to court over lockdown, tweeted:

The Speaker of the House introduced the debate:

Before I call the Secretary of State, I would like to say that he and I had a conversation in a meeting last night, and I think we have some new arrangements coming forward to help the House.

That means that Hancock will be obliged to show up to present these developments to the House for debate in future.

He’s so disingenuous:

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Just to concur with what you have said, I do regard it as incredibly important to come to the House as often as possible. Sometimes these are fast-moving situations, and I will ensure that I give the House my full attention and, as I try to do, answer as many questions as fully as I can.

Excerpts follow:

… As the chief medical officer said yesterday, we must learn from the recent experience of countries such as Belgium that have successfully put in place measures to combat a similar rise in infections. So today, I would like to update the House on a number of new measures that will help us to get this virus under control and to make the rules clearer, simpler and more enforceable.

First, we are putting in place new rules on social contact … In England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of six. Nobody should meet socially in groups of more than six, and if they do, they will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting—indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. It replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.

There will be some exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, they can still gather.

Guido Fawkes was no doubt relieved:

Hancock continued:

Places of education and work are unaffected. Covid-secure weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people. Organised sport and exercise is exempt.

These are not measures that we take lightly. I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans or missing out on precious moments with loved ones, but this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives, and I vow that we will not keep these rules in place for any longer than we have to.

Secondly, we are putting in place stronger enforcement. Hospitality venues will be legally required to request the contact details of every party. They will have to record and retain those details for 21 days and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. This system is working well voluntarily, with minimal friction, and it is very effective, but it is not in place in all venues. It is only fair that it is followed by all. We are supporting ​local authorities to make greater use of their powers to close venues that are breaking rules and pose a risk to public health, and fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises are covid-secure.

Our goal, as much as possible, is to protect keeping schools and businesses open, while controlling the virus …

Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus, as we have discussed in the House many times. The latest data show that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries such as Germany and Spain, and we have record capacity. We have increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight. While there have been challenges in access to tests, the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home. The average distance travelled to a test site is 6.4 miles, and 90% of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less. We already have more than 400 testing sites in operation. We added 19 last week and plan 17 more this week.

However, as capacity has increased, we have seen an even faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms and are not eligible for a test. That takes tests away from people who need them. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or are asked by a clinician or local authority to get a test, please apply, but if you do not have symptoms and have not been asked, you are not eligible for a test.

At the same time, we are developing new types of test that are simple, quick and scalable. They use swabs or saliva and can be turned round in 90 minutes or even 20 minutes. So-called Operation Moonshot, to deploy mass testing, will allow people to lead more normal lives and reduce the need for social distancing. For instance, it could mean that theatres and sports venues could test audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning, and anyone isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after travelling abroad could be tested and released. We are piloting that approach right now and verifying the new technology, and then it can be rolled out nationwide. [Laughter.] …

This will not meet well with a great swathe of people living in England (see the replies):

Simon Dolan tweeted:

Incidentally, the wait until Monday is partly because the St Leger Festival is being run through this weekend:

As the debate progressed, MPs from both sides of the House said that their constitutents were told to drive hundreds of miles away for tests. Here are two examples:

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State please explain the lack of availability of home testing kits, which has dropped dramatically in my area of West Lancashire? In the absence of home testing kits, very ill pensioners are being offered tests 80 or 100 miles away. The confusing message in the assurance that he is trying to give is that there are too many getting tested, but that, if in doubt, people should get tested. How does that deal with the asymptomatic carriers or spreaders? This is a huge hidden danger. In the light of the Secretary of State’s earlier comment, my constituents would genuinely love to get with the programme, get tested where necessary and stay safe—if only the Government’s words met their actual experience of the system.

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and very much welcome the exciting progress on developing saliva testing. Outstanding progress has already been made on expanding testing capacity, and he deserves our thanks for his tireless work. Inevitably, this is not without its challenges. On Tuesday evening, hundreds of cars from across the country—and I do mean hundreds—descended on Telford’s testing site, as they were directed to do by the booking system. Tests quickly ran out, roads became blocked, people who had travelled from as far away as Cornwall, Stockport and London were turned away, and my constituents were no longer able to access tests in the area and so in turn were sent elsewhere. What assurances can he give that the error in the booking system that directed so many people to Telford has now been corrected, and does he agree that people should not be criss-crossing the country and travelling for many hours to secure a test?

Harriet Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative) asked about the infringement on civil liberties and whether the Government were moving the goalposts. I won’t bother with Hancock’s response, because he did not answer her question. He merely repeated the same old waffle:

We accepted massive restrictions on our liberty in March because we wanted to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and we achieved that—indeed, not all the capacity was used. We are now imposing more restrictions on people’s liberty. Does the Secretary of State’s strategic goal for England continue to be to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, or has he now gone further and is aiming for zero covid in England?

Friday, September 11

Unusually, the House of Commons convened on a Friday.

The Speaker of the House opened the session with this:

We meet today on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We remember all those who lost their lives due to terrorism on that day and all those who were injured, as well as those who were bereaved.

Then, Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative) spoke, concerned about the new coronavirus rules coming in on Monday, September 14:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been looking at today’s Order Paper and particularly at the remaining orders, where I had expected to see the statutory instrument that the Government must lay for the draconian new rules they are bringing in on Monday to be lawful. It does not appear to have been laid, despite the Prime Minister making an announcement about it on Wednesday and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care having made a statement yesterday. I am very concerned about the lack of opportunity for the public to see the text of these new regulations and about the Government’s continuing reluctance to give any opportunity to Members to debate this. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked when we could have a debate on it, and he was told that he could apply for a Backbench Business debate. That hardly fits in with the sense of urgency about all this. When my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) then raised the matter with the Secretary of State yesterday, he was told that the Secretary of State would take it away and think about it. That is not satisfactory, as we are talking about the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty, with criminal sanctions. We need to be aware of what is happening and given the opportunity to debate it.

Mr Speaker replied:

May I say that I share your disappointment? I think that we should all be informed and the country should also know what is going on. The laying of this instrument is a matter for the Government, but I would say that you know and I know that other avenues could be taken on Monday to tickle this little item out, if required. So I will leave it with you to ponder what you want to do next. The Clerk has made a note, and we will come back with further information.

MPs debated the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill.

Earlier that morning, Steve Baker was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Today. He spoke his mind about the Government’s response to coronavirus:

Baker retweeted an item from Liberty’s feed:

Good. Finally. I hope this results in a solid Left-Right grouping of credible people speaking out against this bill, hastily rushed through the Commons and the Lords in March.

Meanwhile, in Sweden:

Sweden continues to operate fairly normally. The British Government, on the other hand, follows the rest of the Western lemmings.

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