Westminster View - August 2019
Recess but no respite. Deal or no deal? Brexit is all-pervasive. Those who demonstrated monumental disloyalty to Mrs. May now demand loyalty themselves. There is half- hearted shuttle diplomacy between London, Berlin, Paris and Dublin in the run up to the G7 summit in Biarritz. The Number Ten spin machine holds out hope of a deal while different noises emanate from Europe. While Mr. Johnson seeks to resolve the Irish Backstop issue the European Reform Group busies itself by moving the goalposts yet again. Red Jerry meets with other parties in Church House to try to get himself installed as the ‘interim Prime Minister’ at the head of a Government of National Unity but there is no unity of support for that cause. The Father of the House, Kenneth Clarke, finds himself in the unlikely frame as a possible caretaker Premier in the event of a fall of Government. The ‘Gaukeward Squad’ led by former Justice Secretary David Gauke and former Chancellor ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond are planning parliamentary resistance to No Deal and Speaker Bercow is reported to be in less than non- partisan manoeuvres behind the scenes to facilitate the legislation necessary to tie the Government’s hands. In Scotland the highly regarded Tory Leader Ruth Davidson steps aside to ‘spend more time with her infant son Finn’. In America there is slaughter on the streets of El Paso and Dayton. The President chooses to blame social media rather than risk the wrath of the Rifle Association and recognise the need for gun control. The American billionaire and alleged rapist Jeffrey Epstein is mysteriously able to take his own life while in suicide watch in a Manhattan gaol and HRH Prince Andrew finds himself embroiled in the backlash of a highly unsavoury situation to the grief and embarrassment, no doubt, of Her Maj. The Queen, having belatedly sought summer refuge in Balmoral and having negotiated the protocols of a visit from her new Prime Minister, Mr Johnson, and his live- in lover Ms. Carrie Symonds, cannot either have been best pleased to find Mr Mogg, minus top hat, and the new Government Chief Whip banging on her castle door. As Mr Mogg, now elevated to the exalted role of Leader of the House of Commons, doubles as President of the Privy Council it falls to him to ask Her Maj to prorogue Parliament. More of that in a moment. Back in Number Ten Mr. Dominic Cummins, the poor man’s Alastair Campbell (if you remember him), an unelected person found guilty of Contempt of the House, appears to be out of the control of even the Prime Minister and is generating a climate of fear within the ranks of Government Special Advisers. The new Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, a private aviator who dangerously knows a lot about Transport, now has both the plans for HS2 and Heathrow Runway Three under review. In a most un-British proposal he is also threatening to make the country’s trains run on time. In Northern Ireland one of the world’s most famous shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, creators of the ill- fated Titanic, go into liquidation. Back in Biarritz there is all love lost between the countries of the G7, which Macron would like to be the G8 following a detente with Vlad Putin, and although there is a further outburst of bromance between Mayor Boris and The Tramp (“I have been waiting six years for this - what took you so long?”) the main issue of agreement is the threat to the ‘lungs of the world ‘as artificially stimulated wildfires rage through what is now known as Amazonia. Not that the Commander in Chief, a devout climate- change denier, was remotely impressed. Too busy trying to buy Greenland to exploit mineral deposits exposed by the melting icecap perhaps.
In the fantasy world of Brexit it is hard to see how things could have got worse but they just did. Mr. Johnson is apparently guilty of ‘constitutional outrage’ in seeking to bring about the end of the longest Parliament for four hundred years.
I am not known as Mr. Johnson’s greatest cheerleader but setting aside the semantic point that we do not actually have a constitution I believe that it is the absolute right of an incoming Prime Minister to ask Her Maj to prorogue Parliament and to introduce his or her own legislative programme through a State Opening and debate on the Queen’s Speech.
The circumstances are unusual, certainly, but there is a whole raft of domestic legislation that, aside from Brexit- related issues, needs to be addressed and while I understand the suspicions I cannot see that the loss of three or four sitting days, which is what, given the pre- ordained Party Conferences Recess, is what we are talking about, is going to make a wow of beans difference to the Brexit timetable. For the European Leader, M. Guy Verhofstadt, to describe the proposed prorogatIon a ‘sinister’ simply underscores the gulf of misunderstanding of the differences between the manner in which much of the rest of Europe engages in politics and the way in which we manage our own affairs. It was, of course, unwise of Mr. Johnson to proclaim that ‘this has nothing to do with Brexit ‘because that is clearly absolute baloney and merely allows people like the news editor of Channel 4 to say that ‘the Prime Minister is lying’ as she did. Nevertheless, there is no constitutional problem in bringing to an end a parliament that has been running out of steam for far too long, re-booting it and starting again. That poses no problems for The Queen and apart from the embarrassing necessity of the Prime Minister having to make a late night call to Balmoral to make sure that the Queen heard about the request from Number Ten rather than through the now inevitable leak to the media she will have had no difficulty in acting, as she has always done throughout her reign, upon the advice of the head of her Government. It is said that she has privately asked “why can nobody run my country properly these days” but that, of course, is pure speculation.
Back to leaks for a moment. Mr Dominic Cummings, now employed as the Prime Minister’s enforcer, is clamping down on them. That is a policy that was immediately itself leaked to the press and it follows in the wake of the embarrassing publication of the Operation Yellowhammer assessment of the effects upon the United Kingdom of a No Deal Brexit. Mr. Michael Gove, Head Prefect of the Government’s Brexit Spin Department, sought to discount the Yellowhammer findings as old hat, which is a trifle disingenuous as the document was apparently updated only a few weeks ago.
It is, of course, not helpful to have dire warnings of food and fuel and drug shortages splashed across the newspapers but government does have to take account of what are euphemistically referred to in this “Official. Sensitive” paper as “the most likely aftershocks” of leaving without a deal. Three quarters of our EU medicines enter the country via Dover and Folkestone and while plans are afoot to airlift vital supplies it appears that some eighty- five per cent of road haulage traffic is not yet geared up to participating in the new regime.’ School meals, we are told, may have to be the subject of ‘product substitution ‘with, heaven forfend, ‘Turkey twizzlers’ back on the menu, ‘Traffic chaos for three months’ does not offer much comfort to diabetics, for instance, dependent upon imported insulin. The document talks of ‘violent protests’ and given Comrade Corbyn’s capacity to incite civil unrest through the ‘closure of roads and bridges’ that is the stark reality that may be facing us shortly. There is also the small matter of a ‘data sharing cliff edge’ with the Head of Counter Terrorism warning darkly of the disruption of our crime- fighting tools while the F&CO predicts that our embassies throughout Europe could be overwhelmed. The ‘sunlit uplands’ of Brexit to which Mr Johnson is wont to refer might be just as intangible as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Even his new best friend in the White House may have difficulty in throwing him a “Fantastic and big” Trade Deal lifeline may prove hard to achieve if the Leader of the American House, Nancy Pelosi, decides that Brexit is damaging to the cause of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.
The leaking of the Yellowhammer material was laid at the door of Philip Hammond who has hotly denied any involvement. That did not protect one of his former special advisers, Sonia Khan, more recently employed by the new Chancellor, ‘The Saj’ Javid, from being frogmarched out of Downing Street on the orders of D. Cummings. How long before the tumbrels are rolling down Whitehall?
Having accepted the result of the referendum I have always wanted to leave Europe with a deal. I voted for the Withdrawal Agreement three times (unlike Mr. Johnson who voted twice with Mr. Corbyn) and I shall vote for a deal again when given the opportunity. While the irony of the manner in which the European Reform Group undermined Theresa May should not be lost on anybody I can see that now is not the moment to create further uncertainty in Europe and on that basis I part company with those of my friends who want to legislate to rule out a No Deal departure. Europe has to understand that we are leaving on March 31st and that we therefore need to use the remaining time available to jointly agree terms that, when we come back in October, will get through the House of Commons. If the Prime Minister uses the prorogation period to achieve that then I think he will get sufficient support and although the die-hards on both sides will never acquiesce we may be able to move forward together. If he fails then he may well, also, lose the inevitable General Election.
On the Labour benches erstwhile Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (aka Lady Nugee) has said helpfully that “we would be off our bloody rockers not to back Remain and put the issue back to the people for another vote” while Alan Johnson, Home Secretary under Blair and arguably one of ‘the best Prime Ministers that Labour never had” opines that he would “not trust Corbyn to tie his own shoelaces”.
Certainly the antics of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition seem to be increasingly desperate and unedifying. Certainly, in a time of national crisis, it is not unreasonable for the Leader of the largest Opposition party to seek to offer an alternative to the Government but the idea that Mr. Corbyn could in some way head up an interim Government of National Unity is risible. That requires the trust of a majority that he simply does not enjoy and demanding ‘audiences with The Queen’ is not going to make friends and influence people. His Shadow Chancellor, John MacDonnell, is reported to have said that if the Government were to lose a vote of confidence - unlikely at present - and if Mr. Johnson were to refuse to resign then he would ‘take Jeremy Corbyn off to Buckingham Palace and demand to form a Government to ‘stop a no deal Brexit’ and that might indeed precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Much has been made of the fact that a million EU citizens have applied for and been granted ‘settled status’ in the United Kingdom and that there are another two and a half million who still have to be processed. We are, you see, trying to be nice to our European colleagues. Which is all nice and fine except that the priority, surely, should be to protect the interests of UK citizens living or who may choose to live throughput the remaining 27 states of the EU. I have written to Number Ten, to the Home Office and to the DWP because it is still not clear what arrangements will be made, not piecemeal but on a pan- European basis, for the payment in perpetuity of unrated Pensions, exportable benefits, the provision of healthcare and rights of domicile and movement. For those concerned these are matters of more than passing interest.
In other news August has proved a bumper month for illegal immigrants seeking to cross the Channel in small and dangerous craft and the Office of National Statistics, having discovered that its figures for net EU migration were flawed has downgraded its calculations to ‘experimental status’.
Ruth Davidson, the highly effective and well- liked Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland has announced her resignation from that role while indicating that she will remain as a sitting MSP until at least 2022. The prospect of having to lead her Party into a Westminster General Election in the probably immediate future followed, in short order, by elections for the Scottish Parliament have proved unacceptable to a young mother wanting to spend time with her infant son. That said, and although she was gracious enough not to refer to this in her resignation speech, it is no secret that there is small love lost between Ms. Davidson and Mr. Johnson over Brexit. The lady who arguably kept this Conservative Government in power through her hard work north of the border will be sorely missed and as the chief protagonist for the ma8ntainance of the Union in Scotland her absence can only strengthen the growing number now supporting succession.
George Young, known as ‘The Bicycling Baronet’ and a former Leader of the House of Commons, has become the first Government Office- holder (he was a whip in the House of Lords) to resign over the issue of the prorogation of Parliament.
Instagram, Facebook and YouTube face potential fines of millions of pounds under Government and Ofcom plans to clamp down on harmful videos portraying violence child abuse and pornography. Failure to impose stringent age verification checks may also lead to the suspension of services. Better late than never.
And to end on a more cheerful note nobody with a soul could do anything other than applaud the magnificent innings of Ben Stokes who, having contributed massively to the delivery of the World Cricket Cup then went on to keep English Ashes hopes alive in a quite extraordinary display of sporting courage and determination.
Children’s author Enid Blyton, creator of The Famous Five and stimulant of generations of young readers is persona non grata. Ms Blyton has been tried and found wanting, in the court of political correctness, as a racist and homophobe.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, is in the process of approving the minting of an issue of celebratory 50p coins for issue on 31st October. What chance of their coming into circulation?
Norwich Cathedral’s £2 a ride 55 - foot helter skelter installation is proving an attraction and pulling people into the hallowed place of worship. This is, in ecclesiastical language, called ‘seeing it differently'.
The Tramp’s State Visit to the UK involved the commitment of 6300 police officers, resulted in four arrests and cost the taxpayer a modest £ 35 million. Cheap at half the price.
Eighteen year old Khadijah Mellah has become the first woman and the first minor to ride a winner in a hijab. Her 25-1 outsider Haverland took the Magnolia Cup on Ladies Day at Goodwood.
The ‘Greenerati’ arrived at the Google Climate Change conference and camp in Sicily. By private jets, helicopters and super- yachts.
A garden centre in Shrewsbury has, under the Offensive Weapons Act 1996, found it necessary to ban the sale of broom heads to anyone under 18and without ID. A brush with death, presumably.
‘Sexist’ beer names have been banned from the Great British Beer Festival.’ Dizzy Blonde’ and ‘Village Bike’ are out as are pump clips and bottle labels featuring pin- ups. Farewell ‘Elsie Mo’ that decorated World War Two fighter aircraft.
The cycle cafe Velolife in Berkshire has been told by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead that it must not allow cyclists to “gather” because their ‘visual effects’ are harmful to the ‘character and appearance’ of the area. They are not ‘banned’ you understand, but may not hold ‘organised meets’. So presumably a ‘disorganised’ gathering of a couple of hundred bicyclists is in order.
The House of Commons, clearly seeking to set an example, has got through six hundred thousand non- recyclable plastic bottles and cups in the course of the last financial year.
A 1905 bandstand in Croydon, Surrey, has been granted Grade 2 listing as a historic structure. David Bowie performed there to an audience of just a few hundred following the release of what became his first hit single, Space Oddity.
A person defined as “an employee who dances in adult entertainment establishments” or a ‘striptease artist’ in real money may no longer seek employment through the DWP Universal Credit Job Option noticeboard.
Marcel Berlins (77), journalist, literary critic, broadcaster and lawyer appeared with Radio 4’s Law in Action for fifteen years. He was the BR Council’s 1996 Legal Journalist of the Year and a panellist on Round Britain Quiz.
One of the last of the remaining Battle of Britain veterans, Flt.Lt. Archie McInnes, died on his one hundredth birthday this month. He completed his training on August 30th 1940 and was commissioned on the following day. Serving with 601 Hurricane Squadron he escorted bombers. In May 1941 flying from the aircraft carrier HSS Victorious he engaged in the hunt for the Bismarck. In the same year he was shot down and lost an arm but returned to flying with 691 Squadron from Plymouth.
Australian born Peter McNamara (64) was a leading doubles player and a two- times Wimbledon doubles champion during the 70’s and 80’s.
Joe Longthorne (64) won a talent contest organised by the Kingston on Hull Parks Department at the age of six for which he received a £1 prize and a toy. The singer and impressionist participated in Yorkshire TV’s Junior Showtime when he was fourteen and in 1881 won Search for a Star. He worked with Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Ray Charles and Shirley Bassey and has his own TV show for three years from 1988. He received the MBE in 2012 for Work with the Variety Cub charity.
Danny Doyle (79) popularised folk music and had the rare distinction of knocking ABBA off the number one spot in the Irish charts with his recording of “The rare auld times”.
Peter Fonda (79) starred in the 1960’s counterculture film Easy Rider with Dennis Hopper and also in Captain America and Wild Angels Richard Williams (86) was a master of hand- drawn animation. He was the animation director of the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit which won two Academy Awards in 1989 and generated graphics for ‘What’s New Pussycat’ (1965), ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966) ‘Casino Royal (1967), and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), he won the Oscar for the best animated short film with Christmas Carol in 1972 and an Emmy award in 1982.
Richard Booth (80) was known as ‘The King of Hay on Wye’. He turned the Welsh town into the world capital of second hand books when, starting in 1961, he bought an old cinema and other properties and began importing books by the truckload selling them as ‘wallpaper’ for their bindings to American interior designers. He was instrumental in the founding of the Hay Festival in 1988.
Lord (Tim) Bell (77) worked with Gordon Reece on Margaret Thatcher’s 1979,1983 and 1987 elections. The co- founder of the Bell Pottinger PR company launched the famous “Labour isn’t working” poster in 1979.
In a tribute from his wife Lizzie, Police Constable Andrew Harper, dragged to his death by a moving vehicle while attending a travellers’ campsite is described as ‘the kindest, loveliest husband’. Twenty- eight year old Constable Harper, who had been married for one month and was awaiting his honeymoon, was called out to an incident when he was killed. He joined the Thames Valley police as a ‘Special’ in 2010 and became a regular officer in 2011.Ten people, including a youth of thirteen, have been arrested in connection with the crime.
It is reported that on average there are twenty- eight attacks on police officers daily.