How close to solving the problem are we?

Over the last few days I have seen a number of pieces being posted on the internet about the future of our economy beyond the 31st December and the prospects of trade deals. This image was published just over two years ago in June 2018 by the Government on their website and it showed how at the time our exports and imports had grown between 2017 and 2018. This was of course a reflection on the growth of our economy at that time and things are currently very different. However focusing on 2017-2019 makes more sense than trying to find out what is happening this year due to the impact of COVID-19. The growth amongst EU nations was greater than the non EU nations over the period which is included in this diagram and it was post the referendum. However this image is no longer available on the latest version of the website but the data for the calendar years is available from here and so the exports and imports is easier to find as shown in the table below.

YearImports from EUExports to EU

The total amount of imports for 2019 was £502,075m compared to £487,190m the previous year and the total amount of exports were £372,618m compared to £344,811m and the EU sums are very similar on each of those years so the growth that was taking place across our economy at that time was clearly taking place in other parts of the world. The USA imports grew from £41,937m to £46,448 and our exports to the USA extended from £54,908 to £61,280 so this is clearly a positive direction given that our departure from the EU is intended to increase our trade deals with other nations. What is not clear is how much of a reduction will take place over the next 18 months in our deals with the EU and where if anywhere we can significantly increase our deals. One of the people who posted some items on social media in the last few days included an item from the daily Express which was suggesting that the Canada, Australia and New Zealand (CANZUK) could be our new super power alliance which is an interesting suggestion so I spent a few minutes checking on the economic size of that alliance and certainly if they were to be added to our USA trade deals, assuming that there was no conflict between then together CANZUK and USA would represent 11.9% of our imports and 19.5% of our exports based on the 2019 trades. Clearly it would be a great deal more challenging to add China into the same group but that would increase the overall sums to 21.2% and 26.2%. However we would need to go a long way further forward with these nations if we saw a major drop in the EU deals. One wonders how well Liz Truss and Liam Fox are doing on some of our external settings along with Michael Gove in his oversight of the EU deals?

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Most Conservative MPs have ended Parliamentary Sovereignty

It can sometimes take time for mistakes that have occurred in Parliament to emerge and for them to begin to be understood. I appreciate that writing about an event that took place three weeks ago today is not very prompt, but very sadly the outcome will impact our nation for many decades to come. I recall that one of the arguments made by the Vote Leave campaigners during the EU referendum was that the Sovereignty of Parliament needed to be returned from Brussels. However three weeks ago Parliament handed over its sovereignty on Free Trade Arrangements (FTAs) to the Government. On the 20th July the House of Commons debated and voted on a law regarding how FTAs would be determined, now that we are leaving the EU which sets out its FTAs with the involvement of the European Parliament. One MP who played a critical role in the recent debate was Jonathan Djanogly who is now the Conservative MP for Huntingdon. Prior to that he was a Solicitor and so he understands legal issues better than most of his colleagues. Prior to the 2010 General Election he was the Shadow Solicitor General for England and Wales and afterwards he was the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice until 2012.

The reason that Jonathan took part was because he introduced a new clause to go into the Trade Bill and the title of this was the Parliamentary approval of Trade Agreements or Trade Deals. Such a theme would make sense to most people and so it is very disturbing that by the end of that day, the vote to allow Parliament to approve the terms of all future Trade Agreements or Deals was lost by 63 votes. Given how the Conservative Party currently dominates Parliament the result was not a great surprise except of course that Jonathan is a Conservative MP and along with his vote there were 11 other Conservatives who voted for his clause 4 including well known MPs such as Damian Collins, Roger Gale and Theresa Villiers. In addition votes came from John Stevenson who is also a Solicitor and Peter Aldous, George Freeman and Julian Sturdy who are all people who have strong connections to the farming industry which will be strongly impacted by many of the trade deals. Another vote was from Neil Parish who was the South West MEP from 1999 to 2009 and he has been an MP since 2010 so he understands more about FTAs than most MPs. Clause 4 included the following text “Negotiations towards a free trade agreement may not commence until the Secretary of State has laid draft negotiating objectives in respect of that agreement before both Houses of Parliament, and a motion endorsing draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The United Kingdom may not become a signatory to a free trade agreement to which this section applies unless a draft of the agreement in the terms in which it was to be presented for signature by parties to the agreement has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.” Sadly all of the Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Peter Bottomley voted to oppose Clause 4 and the three other MPs from Brighton and Hove all voted to support Jonathan’s proposal. The only Sussex MP who spoke during the debate was Caroline Lucas who stated “As a member of the European Parliament’s trade committee, I had far more powers of scrutiny over trade agreements as an MEP than I have ever had as an MP here” Along with this statement there were comments from parties such as DUP, Plaid Cymru, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Labour all of which supported this clause and most of them called on the Conservative Party to support Jonathan Djanogly who stated “Clause 4 suggests a new scrutiny process for all FTAs. It will still be the Executive that negotiate FTAs, but Parliament would get a yes/no vote on the negotiating objectives and, importantly, on the final draft agreement, as happens in the US and Japan. Not only has such a provision not ended up in the Bill, but the Government’s position has seemingly reverted to us having less scrutiny than we had as a member of the EU” So the question which I and many other Sussex residents have is why did our Sussex Conservative MPs choose to ignore the basis for this vital clause. Clearly many of us who wanted to remain in the EU lost out that opportunity but most people, who voted to leave including many of our Sussex residents, did so to give sovereignty to our Parliament. Yet the MPs who opposed this have removed sovereignty from Parliament and handed it over to the Government.

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Will we be able to celebrate 70 years of the Refugee Convention?

In around 50 weeks on the 28th July 2021, the 1951 Refugee Convention or Geneva Convention will have reached its 70 year Anniversary. In one sense we should be able to celebrate that despite the many challenges that have arisen ever since, sadly often created by our current Government and some of their supporters. It is a United Nations treaty that defines who refugee’s are and it also provides the nations that signed up with it the responsibility to provide asylum for people who are fleeing from locations where bombs are dropping or where political decisions are placing them and their families under huge risk. Arguably this would help to explain why Boris Johnson has recently promised to give a home to around 3million people from Hong Kong. Just as we should be able to celebrate this 70th anniversary next year, two years later we may also be able to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included article 14 that helped provide the basis for the 1951 Refugee Convention. There was also in the 1948 declaration article 33 that was under the heading of non-refoulment. Rather than reproduce a Refugee Convention in any detail by simply going to an online dictionary we can get a definition of that word:

The practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.”we are appealing to all states to uphold their international obligations with regard to non-refoulement”

I hope that on the 28th July next year our Government and our nation will be in a position to acknowledge that despite our weaknesses and failings, that in broad terms we have sought to stick to the deal that we helped to set out 69 years ago. The UN website provides a lot more information which includes

The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of our work. Ratified​ by 145 State parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them. The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law. UNHCR serves as the ‘guardian’ of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. According to the legislation, States are expected to cooperate with us in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

So perhaps given the current challenges that are being made by Priti Patel and Nigel Farage along with a small number of other people, that we could invite the UN to send someone to our nation to help advise us how to maintain our signature on this convention. According to Simon Jones from the BBC on twitter today “The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has appointed former National Crime Agency executive Dan O’Mahoney as the UK’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander. He will work to make the Channel route ‘unviable’ for small boat crossings.” This has a sound that is very close to tearing up the 1951 commitment. Over the last few days Nigel Farage has been reinforcing his attempts from a few weeks ago when he and Daniel Hannan were trying to try to tear up the Refugee Convention.

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Turning back boats is an awful response to an International crisis

According to the mail online in an article first published at 10pm on Thursday “The crisis is a personal blow for the Home Secretary, who made a pledge last October that crossings would be virtually eliminated by now.” So her response now is to call on the Royal Navy to begin to spend time in the Channel attempting to turn boats back towards France to try to prevent them from arriving on our coast. We need to take a major step back and begin to try to understand why so many people who have already travelled many thousands of miles from their homes, trying to get away from warfare and violence end up either feeling that the UK is the safest and best place for them to set of for, or else being obliged by the people who offer them a way to escape their place of violence that they must come to the UK. There are a major number of issues to deal with but turning small and dangerous boats back to France will not solve any of the problems. Some of our people may prefer these people not to arrive, but they are still coming in very small numbers by comparison to the people arriving in places like Lesvos in Greece which at the end of last year UNHCR had stated that there were more than 21,000 asylum seekers and refugees on Lesvos, including some 1,050 unaccompanied minors, many of whom are sleeping in the unofficial ‘jungle’, as there isn’t enough space for them in the designated safe zone. That statement came from a friend of mine who is currently working in Lesvos. So by comparison during the whole of last year in the UK 1,850 people arrived by boat in the UK according to the Mail and so far this year the number is 3,643. So given that the people in Lesovos are being assessed and some are being accepted in to Greece and some are being sent back after they have been assessed the prospect of the UK ever facing even a quarter of the Greek challenge is inconceivable and of course we have much more resources than Greece has.

Any Minister with human sensitivity would recognise that the people trying to get to our shore and the people arriving at Lesovos and indeed in the many other parts of the world near where conflict is taking place are people that our many safe nations should be trying to help. Our use of the Royal Navy should be to protect the people in the boats and we should be working with France and any other Channel based nation where these people are starting of from to avoid them setting off in boats, while at the same time agreeing to assist those nations who have groups of people on their coast who are clearly intending to try to get to our nation. Anyone who has made it to the North of France and is clearly trying to get to the UK should be helped by the UK rather than assuming that the Channel can deal with them. As the Mail published:

The Home Secretary has said she wants ‘stronger enforcement’ on the other side of the Channel and has been trying to persuade the French government to allow migrant boats to be turned back. She said last year that a previous deal with the French would make crossings an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by this spring. It came as an inquiry was launched into the crisis by the Commons all-party home affairs committee. MPs will begin their investigation when Parliament returns at the start of September. A committee spokesman said: ‘The inquiry will look at the role of criminal gangs in facilitating the growth of this form of illegal immigration and the response of UK and French authorities to combat illegal migration and support legal routes to asylum.’

I think it is fascinating that MPs who are supposed to be able to work even when Parliament is closed down are nevertheless waiting till it reopens before they start their committee. They could do that now! Priti Patel certainly needs to work with France in a way that tries to end boats leaving but once any have left it is clearly something we need to do to avoid people risking drowning between our two nations. Ideally we should be working to collect them long before they arrive on our coast and at the same time trying to help them as they are clearly facing a great many challenges and we are all part of the same world that they are part of. The millions moving around in other parts of the world are the real concern. A few hundred or even a few thousand by comparison are numbers we are well capable of assisting. I am very grateful to Paul Cardwell and Teresa Crawford for their tweets. We need to raise this issue much higher than the alternative and appalling claims by a number of other high profile people.

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Sussex MPs need to learn from the Manchester mistakes

This letter is directed at the nine Conservative Greater Manchester MPs who have recently written publicly to Matthew Hancock in an attempt to criticise Andy Burnham. They appear to have ignored that the call for the whole of Manchester to be placed in a level of lockdown came at around 9.15 last Thursday from Matthew Hancock although it was a decision which Andy Burnham agreed to accept. It is clear that two out of the ten areas in Greater Manchester have been less impacted than the other eight, but all have been impacted to an extent and have seen increases in COVID-19 cases. The starting point is that our nation which includes Sussex and Manchester needs to handle the attempt to end a national lockdown approach very carefully. As I suggested in my blog on Monday that was published in the Argus newspaper, it is vital that the MPs in Sussex learn from the way in which Manchester is being impacted. Manchester contains 27 MPs who represents a population of about 2.7m people. Sussex contains 16 MPs who represent a population of about 1.6m people. The Manchester MPs are 18 Labour and 9 Conservative. The Sussex MPs are 13 Conservative, 2 Labour and one Green. It is vital that the residents of Manchester and the residents of Sussex can all benefit from MPs in their area working together, irrespective of the party differences. Although Manchester is much bigger, it does have the benefit of an area wide elected Mayor (Andy Burnham) which in due course Sussex should be seeking to achieve. However the relationship between the MPs in Sussex and the numerous local authorities has a much greater set of challenges because apart from our Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner and the Sussex Police along with a range of charities that cover the whole of Sussex there is not a lot of connection when compared to the whole of Manchester. However we do have one Chief Officer for West and East Sussex County Councils who is very well known in Brighton and Hove Council so there are some tentative elements. The fact is that when issues impact Sussex like the issues that impact Manchester, we need the MPs to work together and instead of sending party based messages to the Government, that they recognise the need to communicate locally with their colleagues in the public sector and then dramatically improve the provision for their constituents.

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Beirut was not a Nuclear explosion, but….

As the work begins in Beirut to deal with the catastrophe caused by the explosion that occurred on Tuesday evening, it is very clear that all nations need to do whatever we can to prevent such things ever happening again. Although it is now clear that there is no connection between it and nuclear explosions, despite the huge impact, nevertheless it is a very timely reminder of the anniversary today of Hiroshima 75 years ago. My MP and her political party are working to use this anniversary as the basis for a campaign to end the replacement of Trident and any other nuclear items and I totally agree with this. As we listen to the stories of Hiroshima and Beirut it is clear we cannot ignore such tragedies. Sadly the Conservative Party which is currently trying to run our nation post the beginning of COVID-19 is also facing a huge number of internal challenges and so the prospect of them focusing on the 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima is very low. They have one ex-Minister who helped to set out the basis for our departure from the EU and voted with his colleagues for the agreement that was settled with the EU, who is now trying to scrap it and have a different deal. Apparently it is ok for him to do this and gain a huge amount of attention, not doubt partly because he appears to have forgotten what he voted for. However those of us who want to remain in the EU and have wanted to do so ever since we were faced with a question are still not able to persuade our nation or Government to find a different way forward. Yet in the last few hours it has emerged how much investors had used Brexit as a way to make Billions of pounds for themselves and in doing so had invested in the same political party that IDS is a member of as well as the Vote Leave campaign. Then one of the Boris Johnson advisers has written a piece in the Times that claims that we are overcrowded as a nation. This is despite the fact that around 11% of our nation is UK is built on and that is with 67m people who live here, although sadly some people are in need of homes so we certainly need to build more homes. However it would be possible to build far more homes and the impact on our nation would be very little and we are certainly not overcrowded as a nation, unlike Lebanon. Indeed they have nearly 3 times as many people for their land mass as we would have. Meanwhile as I wrote on Tuesday another Conservative Minister, Ben Wallace is calling for an expansion to the Trident arrangement so that if there are going to be any explosions as a result of their, they will be far more damaging than the existing Trident prospects. I certainly hope that Caroline Lucas will be listened to at least as much as Iain Duncan Smith, Ben Wallace and Claire Foges as her campaign is a great deal more important than any of the others.

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Ben Wallace is ignoring the 2019 manifesto and Parliament!

The news that Ben Wallace, our nation’s Defence Secretary has been quietly trying to persuade the USA to spend more money and invest more time and energy in developing a new form of nuclear warheads is deeply concerning. It emerged in a Guardian online article late on Saturday but as the article points out it was based on a letter that Mr Wallace sent out in April to the US Congress. The Guardian article is available here. The piece begins with these two sentences which are sufficiently concerning.

The UK has been lobbying the US Congress in support of a controversial new warhead for Trident missiles, claiming it is critical for “the future of Nato as a nuclear alliance”. A letter from Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, seen by the Guardian, urged Congress to support initial spending on the warhead, the W93.

The Conservative manifesto published in October 2019 did state very clearly that despite our nation acting as the source of an International policy to end the use of nuclear weapons that we are not going to end the provision in the next five years based on the terms included, However it equally did not claim that we were going to upgrade or extend our provision either.

We will maintain our Trident nuclear deterrent, which guarantees our security.

So although many people including myself believe that Nuclear weapons are a completely inappropriate way of running our military provision, there is clearly no prospect of us ending Trident in the near future. However to upgrade Trident items is equally a step beyond what the Tory manifesto claimed it would set out to achieve. There were a number of other defence based themes which demonstrate that our defence provision is much wider than any nuclear elements. Indeed many of us feel that they are a much more sensible form of investment. The big question therefore is why Mr Wallace has written to the US Congress without discussing this proposal with Parliament or indeed with us as the nation. In case there is any doubt about this, prior to the 25th February this year, the last time that Wallace mentioned Trident in Parliament was in 2016. His statement this year which is shown below was very clear that he was not proposing to dramatically upgrade the Trident as long back as February and yet by April he had apparently chosen to begin to discuss it with the US Congress, who perhaps he considers more important than our Parliament?

In 2007 the Government, endorsed by a Parliamentary vote, began a programme to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the early 2030s. The 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review (Cm 9161) confirmed the UK’s commitment to an independent minimum credible deterrent, reaffirmed in 2016 when the House voted overwhelmingly to maintain the Continuous At Sea Deterrence posture. Our independent nuclear deterrent is essential to defend the UK and our NATO allies against the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life. The Government’s 2019 manifesto pledged: “We will maintain our Trident nuclear deterrent, which guarantees our security”. To ensure the Government maintains an effective deterrent throughout the commission of the Dreadnought Class ballistic missile submarine we are replacing our existing nuclear warhead to respond to future threats and the security environment.

As set out in our annual updates to Parliament on the Future of the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Nuclear Organisation is working with the Atomic Weapons Establishment: to build the highly skilled teams and put in place the facilities and capabilities needed to deliver the replacement warhead; whilst also sustaining the current warhead until it is withdrawn from service. We will continue to work closely with the U.S. to ensure our warhead remains compatible with the Trident Strategic Weapon System.

Delivery of the replacement warhead will be subject to the Government’s major programme approvals and oversight. My Department will continue to provide updates through the annual report to Parliament on the United Kingdom’s future nuclear deterrent.

Given that Parliament itself is now closed down till early September perhaps we could persuade our MPs to write to him to call for a clarity regarding why he has chosen to change his mind and the mind of his political party and in doing so has chosen to fail to communicate with Parliament and with the electors?

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COVID-19 demonstrates how local areas need more power

Ever since Parliament closed down 10 days ago a number of issues have arisen that suggests that our Government is not capable of dealing with the challenges that our nation and our local communities are facing. Of course given that Parliament is on its long summer break it seems unlikely that it will be able to address these problems as whilst MPs can call for a return to Parliament, it is the Government that gets to choose if that can take place. As the Prime Minister demonstrated last year, he is not willing to make such a radical idea. In the meantime he and his Ministerial colleagues are running our nation and indeed part of the challenge is that they are not currently being held to account. At the end of last week just after 9pm on Thursday night, the Health Minister made an urgent tweet directed to people living in parts of Northern England that were particularly impacted by COVID-19. His call was for residents to remain in their homes and not visit friends or relatives in their own places of residence. However whilst they cannot visit people at home, they can still go to Pubs, Cafes and outdoor spaces and now even theatres. If this sort of communication is not causing enough confusion and frustration to people in those areas, two of Matthew Hancock’s colleagues from his party in one of the areas spoke out to the media demanding that he change the geographical elements in his announcement. A bit later a Labour MP also raised her concerns on the same subject. I was born in North West England and several of my relatives still live there although thankfully at present they are not in any of the areas being restricted for visits. However they do live near Greater Manchester and it was three Manchester MPs who spoke out claiming their communities should not be damaged. One of them is Graham Brady who is the Chair of the 1922 Committee so if Parliament was open, he would have a lot of leverage towards the Government. Of course this sort of challenge could easily arise in Sussex in the future if our own numbers of COVID-19 conditions arose. If that happened would our 16 local MPs seek to support or challenge Matthew Hancock? Indeed would they speak out to the media or attempt to engage with their constituents? Certainly since my call a week ago for Sussex MPs to communicate with our residents using visual technology there has not been a single response or comment that I have spotted. Perhaps they are all on holiday and not interested in responding to such trivial issues?

Along with this challenge caused by Ministers over the COVID-19 arrangements there has been a recent emergence of how the Prime Minister has told lies or exaggerated to our nation and Parliament. This example relates to the numbers of children facing poverty and sadly the evidence of his lies did not emerge until after Parliament had closed down. However it was a Government agency called the Office for Statistics Regulation that confirmed the false claims in Parliament and at the General Election. Along with this, the report of how the Russian Government has interfered with our elections and referenda was published in the last week of Parliament, after many months of the Government placing barriers for it to happen. Since then the Home Secretary has claimed that the report was out of date and that the Russian interference into our nation is now far less damaging than it was two or more years ago. The irony is that her support for our departure from the European Union overlooks the fact that the referendum took place four years ago. It was one that also featured a wide range of dishonest claims by people like Boris Johnson. So the real issue that many of us face is what can we now do to ensure that future elections, referenda and indeed the running of the nation along with local communities is handled in a much more effective manner than at present. The need for local communities to be able to connect with all of their MPs is vital. In Greater Manchester the 27 MPs, elected Mayor and Council Leaders now need to all work together along with their 2.7million residents to demand that the Government makes good decisions and tells the truth. Here in Sussex we face our own range of challenges and we need our 16 MPs and all of the Councils to engage in an effective way with all 1.6m of us to ensure that our area is protected from issues such as too many South Coast visitors when the lockdown was first being relaxed and decisions over road and rail developments and family based poverty.

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We need a more flexible strategy to increase apprenticeships

The summer closure of Parliament does not stop MPs from asking questions and the Government responding to them. What is so tragic is that far too often the same or similar questions get asked and almost identical answers get made and nothing appears to change in the one size fits all Government policies. As I wrote a few days ago, one of the challenges that impacts the small business sector when it comes to taking on apprenticeships is that even the Government can only take on 2.7% of their staff as apprenticeships and most small businesses are too small to be able to match this proportion even if they took on one person. So one way to try to resolve this is to offer small businesses much great support than the Government is currently offering all businesses, irrespective of their size. A £2,000 grant for an under 25 year old apprentice and a £1,500 grant for an over 25 year old apprentice may well work ok for large businesses but small businesses would need more significant funding if they were to take on an apprentice, particularly as the Apprenticeship Levy which was supposed to begin in 2017 and was claimed it would provide small businesses with training support has never arrived. Anyway just to repeat the response that was handed to Karin Smyth who is the MP for Bristol South, here it is from Gillian Keegan, the MP for Chichester.

As part of the government’s Plan for Jobs, apprenticeships will be more important than ever in helping businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills they need to recover post COVID-19. Apprenticeships also present excellent opportunities to young people seeking to start and build careers.

The number of new apprenticeships that will be taken up by employers benefiting from the incentive payments announced in the summer economic update on 8 July 2020 will depend on a wide range of factors that will impact on the recruitment decisions of those employers in difficult economic circumstances.

The new incentive payments are there to encourage employers to take on new apprenticeship recruits. They are designed to help as many employers as possible in responding to the pressures of the first six months of the economic recovery, in enabling flexibility to create the apprenticeship opportunities which will benefit their business.

So let us hope that by the time that the MPs return to the House of Commons for a few days in early September that some of them will have bothered to contact a few small businesses to ask why this is not sufficient for them to try to improve matters for the young and not so young people wanting to gain an apprenticeship at the moment.

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