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Westlake Legal Group > Columnists

Rachel Wolf: The Right is good at producing ideas. We need to get better at founding and running institutions.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Every week ConservativeHome publishes a list of public appointments because ”our Party has punched beneath its weight”: few Tories apply.

There are other issues with appointments. Previous administrations have treated the appointment of someone on the Left to lead a review or run a project as a major moral victory (Labour does not tend to return this favour). This is classic bubble thinking – who outside Westminster would notice?

Nevertheless, the basic analysis of this site is right. Not enough apply. The problem is broader, and deeper, than appointments to pre-existing, government-funded jobs. We remain, on the Right, insufficiently interested in creating and running the institutions that deliver on ideas as well as think about them.

On ideas, we are blessed. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Centre for Policy Studies in the last year and they – along with others – have come up with a series of brilliant proposals for future governments.

But coming up with the idea is only the first step, and it is simplistic just to say ‘government should deliver’.

I was reminded of this twice in the last few weeks.

First, because I’ve been reading the General Election Manifestos of the last several decades. In 1945 the Conservatives failed to win an election with ‘Winston Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors’. The author of Labour’s manifesto – which led to the government that founded much of the welfare state – was Michael Young. He later created, among many others, the Open University, Which?, and the first Research Council for economics and social sciences. He has been more important to people’s lives than the vast majority of Cabinet Ministers. I can’t think of any organisations like his being created now.

Second, because this month is the tenth anniversary of the launch of the New Schools Network (NSN), the charity I founded to create Free Schools. I set up NSN because I did not believe that putting Free Schools in an election manifesto was enough – civil servants weren’t going to hunt for the teachers and charities and community groups up and down the country who might want to set up the first schools. I remain convinced of this – I don’t think there would have been many Free Schools without NSN. I don’t think many of our social justice reforms would exist without the Centre for Social Justice, which was founded by Tim Montgomerie, the former editor of this site.

We need many more of these kinds of entities, across the country. For example, we now have a plethora of graduate public sector recruitment programmes – Teach First for teachers, FrontLine for social workers, Unlocked for prison officers. That’s brilliant.

But when I think of my grandmother, who became a social worker when her kids had grown up, and had all her life experience to draw on, I wonder how many older people we are failing to tap. The government is never going to do that well.

Or if I think of my mother, who had young children in the US, and relied on pre-existing co-op systems for babysitting and childcare, I wonder why we don’t have equivalent structures here.

I look in vain for the equivalent of Which? for schools. No producer interests – just an organisation that aims to inform and help parents really understand what their kids should be learning, what that looks like, and how to get the best for their child.

You may think these are terrible ideas – and you may be right! i think my point still stands – governments alone do not create change, and we still lack institutions that can.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: Beware the push by Hammond and others to make Britain an EU rule-taker

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Perhaps torture works. The collective waterboarding that is the impending Brexit deadline is forcing confessions, anyway.

Philip Hammond was in a government whose stated policy was a desire for new post-Brexit trade deals once it could exit the Northern Irish “backstop” of a single UK-EU customs territory. Now, with Boris Johnson tunneling for just that, the former Chancellor’s official position has shifted. Economic sense, he says, actually means Britain should stay in the Single Market for goods anyway, abide by “level playing field” commitments with the EU, and junk dreams of an independent free trade agenda. Buccaneering Britain, Hammond thinks, is an illusion.

Brexiteers who foresaw May’s backstop as an excuse by her to bounce us into Brussels’ permanent trade and regulatory orbit have seemingly been vindicated. But the danger has not passed. Alongside The UK in a Changing Europe’s new report, Hammond’s intervention pressures wavering Labour MPs and former Conservatives to reject Boris’s proposed “Canada Plus” destination as “too hard a Brexit” for Great Britain. At stake here is whether Britain ultimately repatriates meaningful economy policy, or becomes a rule-taker that’s only ever one small step away from EU re-entry.

Hammond couches his argument in economic terms. Everyone acknowledges trade-offs exist between policy freedom and EU trade frictions, with the latter more easily quantifiable, and the former dependent on active choices. But Hammond’s preferred modelling by the Treasury and others is based on assumptions. Results that suggest a free trade agreement Brexit must reduce GDP by 4 to 7 percent by 2030 relative to Remain, while new free trade agreements and regulatory freedoms could only possibly compensate by 0.2 to 0.5 percent of GDP, do not pass the smell test.

Pre-referendum, such results came from “gravity models,” built around observed relationships showing trade volumes rise in proportion to the size of economies and fall with distance between them. Treasury analysis back then had estimated EU membership raised trade volumes for members, on average, by 115 per cent beyond these factors, suggesting leaving full membership for an FTA would produce a large, long-term 6.2 pe rcent loss of GDP. Importantly, liberalising trade elsewhere could only weakly compensate, because of longer distances to new export markets.

Those results were challenged extensively. The model risked chalking up gains from general deregulations over recent decades (which wouldn’t be lost after exit) as EU membership benefits. Cambridge economists pointed out that the model itself overpredicted UK exports to the EU compared to real trade flows, suggesting a UK-specific trade uplift of a much smaller 20-25 per cent. Global evidence suggests services trade is much less influenced by distance anyway. Treasury results then looked biased towards big negative effects.

Since then, Hammond’s Treasury has changed model but not conclusions. Their November 2018 publication estimated a permanent net loss of 4.9 percent of GDP from a simple FTA Brexit, rising to 6.7 percent if net EU migration ceases. This is much higher than the more static estimates of trade expert and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who estimates first-order net costs of about two per cent of GDP (before any compensatory trade liberalisation). When you hear much larger results, the findings are usually based on “black box” assumptions about large effects of trade on productivity (analysis where economists agree on the direction but disagree on magnitudes).

Four large assumptions that we can assess drove the Treasury’s results:

  1. That significant “non-tariff barriers” to UK-EU trade will arise if we leave the customs union and single market for an FTA
  2. That repatriated regulatory powers bring practically zero upside
  3. That customs procedures at the border will prove significantly costly
  4. That an independent UK free trade agenda would produce little upside.

Do these stack up? At the point of exit, UK exporters will be fully compliant with EU product standards after decades of integration. Assuming then that we’d face the same non-tariff barriers (NTBs) as existing FTA partners looks like a significant overestimate of initial new frictions. Yes, there would be economic costs associated with rules of origin requirements (though the WTO thinks these are small), and a loss of some mutual standards recognition outside the EU legal system. But bigger NTBs arise if regulations deviate. One would hope that sensible governments, Jeremy Corbyn notwithstanding, would only pursue regulatory change if it perceived net economic benefits anyway.

Indeed, it’s baffling to presume both that there will be no upside to repatriating regulation (the Treasury assumes a GDP gain of just 0.1 per cent) but that standards will significantly deviate. Current political moods might be non-conducive to widespread deregulation, but Open Europe once estimated politically feasible changes worth 0.7 per cent of GDP; let alone the potential benefits long-term of avoiding further EU labour market harmonisation, financial sector regulation, and shirking the EU’s precautionary principle in agriculture, health innovation, AI, and robotics.

Customs costs at the border look exaggerated too. Swiss estimates suggest these could be as small as 0.1 per cent. The UK’s would be higher outside the single market, of course, but Paul Krugman thinks the UK would adopt new systems relatively quickly, unilaterally lowering standards if necessary. Previous meta-analysis has found that extensive FTAs have a bigger trade boosting impact than customs unions, suggesting customs costs aren’t really prohibitive to trade flows. NAFTA, for example, is not a customs union.

But it’s really on external trade where the analysis was most slanted. Not only did Hammond’s government say the UK would not unilaterally liberalise tariffs or meaningfully reduce EU non-tariff barriers on the rest of the world; it suggested signing free trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and TPP countries would only raise GDP by 0.1 to 0.2 per cent. Closer inspection shows why: it assumes only half of the non-tariff barriers on goods and a third on services are “actionable” through these deals, and then only a quarter of these get eliminated in new FTAs. Overall then, given the countries examined for FTAs, the model assumes that the upper-limit for NTB liberalisation is eliminating 6.25 per cent of the very high level of NTBs we are assumed to want to keep.

If anything has become clear recently, it’s that Conservatives have an appetite for a far more expansive free trade agenda. Economists agree free trade boosts growth. Australia’s government estimated it has increased GDP by over five per cent over 20 years through manufactured goods trade liberalisation alone; the government’s own analysis suggests a UK FTA with the EU would life GDP by three per cent relative to WTO terms. So the conclusion that free trade policies don’t matter, especially in regards an FTA with the US, is baffling, even accounting for trade distance. Of course, the gains from a UK-US deal are bigger still when it and the EU look set for a trade war. And the UK is arguably much more likely than the EU to pursue service sector-heavy FTAs as the world becomes richer, to our own benefit.

Now I’m not arguing here that there’s no risk and uncertainty to “breaking free.” It’s difficult to ascertain precise GDP effects from trade negotiations that haven’t happened, regulations that haven’t yet been avoided, and new customs procedures that haven’t been tested. But it’s important to remember Hammond’s favoured analysis largely assumes no upsides to Brexit by construction and calculates downsides based on evidence for policies that the UK shouldn’t want to pursue, or relationships elsewhere that we wouldn’t replicate.

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Daniel Hannan: Canada’s election choice. Bimbo or believer?

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Canadians are so bloody polite, even their general elections are decorous. I have spent the past week in the Big Dominion, whose fiercely contested campaign culminates on Monday. Not that you’d think it from the local hustings meetings: “Sorry to interrupt, please finish your point”, “I apologise if I misunderstood you”, etc etc.

Candidates rarely talk across each other, impute base motives or misrepresent their opponents. When I offered a very mild joke about Justin Trudeau’s blackface fetish to a Conservative MP, he goggled at me in horror: “I’m not going to go negative!”

There have, in fairness, been one or two gentle digs. Andrew Scheer, the likeable Tory leader, pokes fun at Trudeau for flying about with two jets (one, presumably, for all the blackface props). Meanwhile, in what must surely be the most Canadian scandal ever, Leftists attacks Scheer for not having been a fully qualified insurance broker.

To British or American eyes, it is extraordinarily consensual. But Canadians are shocked – shocked – at the attacks. “Didja hear that, eh, didja? Oh, ya, the gloves have come off!”

God, I love this place. Canadians understand that democracy depends on respect, on norms, on unwritten rules – and, not least, on a measure of generosity. They grasp, not as a matter of civic theory, but as a matter of practical politics, that winners need to display restraint, and losers need to display consent.

In the United States, Trumpsters demand legal action against Joe Biden, as they once did against Hillary Clinton. In Britain, MPs have passed legislation that could see Boris Johnson convicted for failing to sign a letter nullifying the promise on which he was elected. But Canada remains confident, comfortable and calm. Even the anti-establishment People’s Party of Canada, currently polling at two per cent or so, offers a strikingly Canadian shade of populism, promising to reduce immigration from its current level of 350,000 a year to 150,000.

How has Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand, avoided the authoritarian, anti-politics surge that has swept across the United States, Britain and Europe? I have various theories. For one thing, these three countries came through the credit crunch without a downturn. There were no big bailouts, no transfers of resources from ordinary taxpayers to wealthy bankers and bondholders. For another, all three have popular immigration policies, which combine relatively high levels of controlled, legal immigration with very low levels of illicit entry. It may have to do with the absence of an inherited class system. Take your pick.

Who will win? Some polls show the two main parties level-pegging, others suggest a slight Conservative lead. The trouble for the Tories is that it is hard to see them forming a government unless they win an absolute majority. Even if they win a plurality of votes and seats, the odds are on a Trudeau minority of some sort.

Yet, oddly, it is Trudeau who sounds the more rattled. He has taken to attacking Scheer for his Euro-scepticism (Scheer was a moderate Leave supporter) and for his adherence to Catholic teachings on abortion.

This week, he escalated in a remarkably un-Canadian way. At a rally in Ontario, he swapped his black greasepaint for a bulletproof vest. Asked what might have prompted a threat against him, he blamed “increased politics of fear and negativity and now, as we have seen from the Conservative Party, flatout lies”. Yep, those were his exact words: politics has turned negative, and it’s all because of those evil Tories. To complain of negativity is one thing. To accuse your opponents of inciting violence another. But to do both in the same sentence? Jeez, eh.

“My first concern was for the safety of my family and for all the Canadians in the room,” Trudeau told us – failing to explain how his jacket would make all the Canadians in the room any safer. But it was good theatre – and he was, in fairness, a drama teacher. Not that many Canadians are falling for it: no one seriously believes that the jocular, dimple-cheeked, quietly devout Scheer would provoke violence against anyone.

In a country that dislikes negative campaigning, the negatives are telling. The case against Trudeau is not that he is a racist, but that he’s a bit of a berk. Almost no one, watching his blackface antics, thinks he secretly despises black people. It is just that, as with his dressing up games in India, he looks dim and vapid.

The case against Scheer, by contrast, is that he believes in God. That’s not how his critics put it, obviously. They say he is anti-women and anti-gay. But what they really mean that he is a practising Catholic. Even in a largely post-Christian country like Canada, I am not sure that this is quite the killer blow they imagine. No one truly believes that Scheer is going to impose his religious convictions on a secular nation by, for example, seeking tighter abortion laws. The only question is whether tolerance works both ways – whether, in other words, holding religious views is a disqualification from high office. And here, I suspect, the Left is over-reaching.

As a thought experiment, try substituting “Muslim” for “Catholic”. Imagine that a Muslim political leader was declared to be a danger to the nation because he declined to go on an LGBT march and had a personal belief that abortion was wrong. I suspect that, in such a situation, even Trudeau would see that something was wrong. Canadians understand that the same applies to Scheer.

Faced with a choice between a bimbo and a believer, Canadians might just decide that, on balance, they prefer the guy who believes in something bigger than himself. If they do, they can expect lower taxes, balanced budgets and, not least, free trade with a post-EU Britain. Good, solid goals for a good, solid country.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Frayne: Voters would welcome a Brexit deal. But it might harm and not help the Conservatives with working class voters.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

You can’t credibly poll how people might think or feel in the future. We can’t therefore know what the public will think if Boris Johnson secures a deal that looks vaguely similar to Theresa May’s.

But there’s been enough polling to guess. It’s reasonable to assume – hardcore Remainers aside – most voters will be so relieved it’s nearly over they’ll back a deal regardless of any friendly fire from Eurosceptics or Unionists. The Conservatives’ conference slogan – ‘Get Brexit Done’ – perfectly summed up what most people think about the whole thing. It also seems reasonable to assume most people would be exasperated and angry with those standing in the way of a deal – and there’ll likely be little interest in a betrayal narrative from eurosceptic purists.

The next stage in the electoral cycle writes itself: Boris Johnson’s ratings rise as a Prime Minister that delivers on his word, and the Conservative Party’s ratings rise too; Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage look irrelevant; and the Liberal Democrats’ position as a vehicle for disaffected middle-class Remainers is threatened as the world moves on. What do the Lib Dems stand for at that point? Amid the wreckage, Johnson at some point runs a short campaign securing a workable majority, and the Party goes back to the happy days of 2015 when it looked briefly truly ascendant.

While there’s a clear political logic to all this, delivery of a deal at least raises the prospect that the Conservative Party could become a victim of its own success on Brexit with a big chunk of its coalition. What if delivering Brexit ended up costing it working class votes?

As I’ve been arguing for the last few months here, the Conservatives’ hold on working class voters is extremely precarious. Depending on which polls you look at, the Conservatives are currently on course to secure between a third and a half of the working class vote. And working class voters have been coming over to the Party slowly for the last decade.

But they have come over overwhelmingly because of Brexit and immigration – and the Conservatives’ relative position on these issues compared to Labour. Amongst working class voters, there’s no love for the Party and there’s precious little for Boris Johnson either. The Conservatives are seen as a useful vehicle for their views on Brexit and immigration – as well as taxation and welfare. There’s no cultural affinity to those they see as “posh Tories”.

The fact is that, over the last three years, the Conservatives have talked obsessively about working class voters without doing much for them. The Conservatives’ working class strategy has amounted to little more than people saying they have one. Until Johnson became Prime Minister, the only thing the Party really did in recent times for working class voters was pledge to increase NHS spending. He has transformed the Party’s approach – as yesterday’s Queen’s Speech showed. Under him, it has pledged further funds to the NHS, schools and the police, and promised to end automatic early release of prisoners and paved the way for a points-based immigration system. It has also promised new funds for towns.

This is all progress and should not be under-estimated. But imagine that Brexit was “done”, would these things be enough to keep working class voters onside? Would they actually think that, now Brexit’s done and immigration back under control, that they can return to their natural home in the Labour Party? After all, Labour will be chucking a lot more cash about even than the Conservatives.

We don’t know the answer to this, and we won’t until Brexit is resolved. My sense is that, as long as Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party, even a halfway decent campaign on working class priorities will carry a big proportion of the working class vote.

However, my sense is also that the Party has done so little of recent practical benefit to working class voters, that Brexit and immigration done, a change anytime soon in the Labour leader to someone even vaguely moderate and competent would be a disaster for the Conservatives. The announcements that Johnson has made recently have been spot on, but they’ve come so late in the day there’s a chance they won’t filter through in time, and certainly a big chance that nothing will be felt on the ground in working class communities.

There are two implications from all this. The first is that the Party needs to view the Queen’s Speech as being the beginning of a major campaign to create a working class base that currently doesn’t exist. Similar sorts of policy announcements must follow in coming months, and obviously above all during the election campaign.

Just as the saner parts of the Labour Party are obsessing over provincial English towns (although bizarrely they’re still threatening to raise their taxes), so the Conservatives must develop the same obsession. Amongst other things, to do this they must re-form old alliances with the business community in provincial England to help them create a credible supporter base (admittedly a longer-term goal). This will likely be their starting point for the growth of a working class activist base.

The second implication is that the Party needs to look to build bridges with the middle class Remainers that have recently left the Party (or been removed from it). With the working class vote far from assured, the Party needs all the support it can get. The Party should be thinking of policies that appeal directly to middle class professionals – childcare, workplace, personal finance – that don’t risk any interference with their messages to the working class. And there should be a pathway back for MPs like David Gauke.

Time will tell, but it could be that the high watermark of the Conservatives’ attractiveness to working class voters was the autumn of 2019 – when the Party was led by a PM that would apparently do anything to deliver Brexit, amid hostile opposition from all sides. What better rallying call to the working class than to say “vote Conservative and get Brexit done”? The Party needs to do a lot more for working class voters – and very fast – so it can say “vote Conservative because we got Brexit done”.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stephen Booth: Step by painful step, both sides creep close to agreement over Northern Ireland

Stephen Booth is Acting Director at Open Europe.

The silence from the Brexit negotiations has been deafening. Before Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar’s surprisingly positive meeting last week, a deal looked all but impossible. There remain significant political and technical hurdles to a deal being reached, not to mention a very tight timeline for the parliamentary ratification required to take the UK out of the EU by 31st October. However, negotiations between the UK and the EU have “intensified” and the fact that we have had very few leaks, briefings or counter-briefings would suggest that all sides are taking this process seriously in the run up to the European Council later this week, and all are mulling difficult compromises.

The recent talks have focused on the three issues relating to Northern Ireland at the heart of finding alternatives to the “undemocratic backstop”: regulatory alignment with the EU’s rules on agricultural and industrial products; the customs regime; and mechanisms for ensuring that what is agreed has the consent of both communities. The secrecy surrounding this phase of negotiations means we do not know the exact details – and the devil is often in the details of last-minute EU deals – but the general shape of what a revised deal could entail is becoming clearer. The question is, could it fly in Westminster, Brussels, Belfast and Dublin?

Two weeks ago, the UK proposed an “all-island regulatory zone” whereby Northern Ireland would align with EU rules, not only for agricultural products but manufactured goods as well. This would remove the need for regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic but would require traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to enable checks to satisfy EU concerns that products meet its standards. This would expand, potentially significantly, on the veterinary checks that are currently undertaken on Northern Irish imports of livestock from Great Britain. There would be no regulatory checks on trade in the other direction.

Of the three areas being discussed, the proposals for regulatory alignment most clearly resemble the provisions of the backstop and would therefore be a major concession for the DUP in particular. This is why the UK has suggested that any regime of Northern Irish alignment is subject to the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive – the so-called “Stormont Lock” – before it can come into effect and that this consent is renewed every four years. The EU and Dublin have objected, stating that this grants Unionists an effective veto over alignment, yet the rumoured EU counter-offer would have given a similar veto to Nationalists in the other direction.

The second plank of the current negotiations is customs and this is where we have the least information to go on. The UK has been adamant that Northern Ireland must be part of the UK’s customs territory, so that the UK can leave the EU’s customs union as a whole and conduct an independent trade policy. However, the EU appears to have rejected the UK’s proposals for a light-touch Irish border upheld by simplified procedures, exemptions for small businesses and checks away from the border.

Nevertheless, the talks have continued and the speculation is that both sides are considering a hybrid, dual-tariff regime for Northern Ireland, resembling the New Customs Partnership previously floated for the entire UK-EU relationship under Theresa May’s premiership. A dual or hybrid customs regime would remove the need for a North-South customs border and mean that goods for final consumption in Northern Ireland would be eligible for UK tariffs, which could be lower than the EU tariff. Therefore, Northern Ireland could benefit from any UK trade liberalisation post-Brexit. Exactly how the dual tariff regime would be administered is unclear, but it could take the form of a consumer rebate. The obvious drawback would be that goods moving to the island of Ireland from Great Britain would be subject to customs procedures in the Irish Sea.

The EU was fiercely opposed to the dual tariff idea when it was previously suggested, since it would be complex to administer and enforce. But it might be persuaded if it applied solely to Northern Ireland because the risk of border leakage is much smaller than if it covered all UK-EU trade.

However, the idea of customs procedures in the Irish Sea ought to be anathema to the DUP; so why might they consider this idea? Firstly, in contrast to the backstop, the Northern Irish consumer would benefit from independent trade deals struck by the UK. Secondly, Northern Ireland would be subject to a trade policy governed by Westminster in consultation with Stormont, rather than Brussels in consultation with Dublin.

Another potentially significant attraction of the hybrid customs regime to Unionists is that it would provide a much more durable relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK than under the backstop. A fundamental DUP anxiety has been that, without a clear exit mechanism for the whole UK, a future UK government might be tempted to “ditch” Northern Ireland in the backstop, in order to secure an independent trade policy for Great Britain. Seen in this light, not only is the backstop politically painful for the DUP now, it has the capacity to get significantly worse. If, however, the UK is able to pursue an independent trade policy under this hybrid regime, there would be no need for it to be revisited in future or the resulting uncertainty for Northern Ireland’s status that would inevitably arise.

The final area of negotiation is around the principle of consent in Northern Ireland for whatever arrangements ultimately govern its relationship with the EU and the UK. This is clearly a very thorny area but if Northern Ireland’s customs regime were secured at the outset (with Unionists’ consent), finding a mechanism to deal with regulatory alignment or divergence on food standards or widgets in the future might be a little less contentious.

UK and EU negotiators may be missing a trick by insisting that Northern Ireland has to choose whether to be aligned with the UK or the EU en bloc. Given that the UK is not going to diverge on every or even many rules covering product standards on day one post-Brexit, why not assume that Northern Ireland starts off fully EU compliant but will diverge along with the UK on an ad hoc basis in the future, unless Stormont elects to continue EU alignment? Stormont could then make such decisions with an understanding of the practical implications either way. Any issues or checks arising from any individual instance of divergence could be mediated through consultation between the UK, the EU and Ireland, bringing in a North-South dimension to resolving all-island issues in the future.

Overall, the odds are probably still stacked against a deal in the given timeframe but it does appear that agreement is now possible.

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David Gauke: Whatever briefings from Downing Street may claim, an election fought on a No Deal platform would be disastrous

David Gauke is a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and is MP for South West Hertfordshire.

How much has the Conservative Party changed? To what extent has it moved from being a mainstream, centre-right party containing a broad range of views to being a party overwhelmingly focused on delivering an uncompromising Brexit?

It is a question I have asked myself a lot in recent months. Having fought off a deselection attempt because I opposed a No Deal Brexit, and having lost the Conservative whip because I continued to oppose a No Deal Brexit, it is hard to escape the conclusion that quite a lot of Conservatives disapprove of people who oppose a No Deal Brexit. Has the debate become so rancorous and intolerant that there is no longer a place for the likes of me in the Conservative Party?

The answer to that question is uncertain, but I took some encouragement from the Manchester Party conference.
I admit to attending with some trepidation. My position on Brexit is evidently a minority one within the Party. I have not sought to hide my criticisms of the substance and tone of the Government’s approach to Brexit. And I have not ruled out standing in my constituency as an independent if the whip is not returned. If ever I was going to get a hard time from Party activists, now would be the time.

And yet, at fringe event after fringe event, Party members were courteous and polite. Andrew Gimson generously wrote up my appearance at the ConservativeHome event, but a similar report could have been written for those I did with the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. Don’t get me wrong: I am not claiming that I won the audiences over to my position – the occasional eye-roll, sigh and shake of the head was detectable – but nor was there anything like the hostility one might expect if, for example, you ever read the comments below one of my ConHome articles.

In truth, the Conservative Party felt – in those fringe meetings, at least – very similar to the party of which I have been a member for 29 years. Sensible, practical, well-meaning and decent.

I also take some encouragement from the apparent, new-found enthusiasm within the Government to reach a deal on Brexit. In previous columns, I have argued that seeking a deal and being willing to compromise is the right approach. That view would appear to be in the ascendant at the time of writing.

Until recently, an alternative approach appeared to be prevailing which seemed determined to crash us out on  October 31 at any cost. I have previously acknowledged the electoral case for this strategy, but in terms of the outcome for the country, it is thoroughly irresponsible. As such, it is also a huge departure from the modern traditions of the Conservative Party.

Let me give seven examples of principles that most Conservatives would support. I would happily sign up to each and every one of them but I struggle to reconcile them with those pursuing a No Deal Brexit at any cost.

  • We believe that living standards can only be raised and public services properly funded if you have a strong economy.

It is the argument that we have to fight at every election when our opponents make great promises but we respond by pointing out that we have to create the wealth in the first place if we properly want to fund the NHS, for example. Yet the overwhelming economic consensus is that No Deal Brexit would result in a sharp contraction in GDP. And before anyone rushes to claim that this is all a re-run of 2016’s ‘Project Fear’, remember our economy is 2.5-3 per cent smaller than it would have been had Remain won.

  • We believe in free trade.

Open markets benefit both our exporters but also our consumers. This has not always been the Conservative position but, thankfully, it has been for some time. And I know that there are plenty of Brexiteers who are sincere free traders and think that Brexit provides great new opportunities for bringing down trade barriers.

Unfortunately, it is simply not true. The Government’s analysis shows the benefit of getting trade deals with all the English-speaking nations and the major emerging economies will be just 0.2 to 0.6 per cent of GDP whereas the loss of access to European markets of a Canada-style free trade agreement (let alone a no deal Brexit) will be 4 to 7 per cent of GDP. The net effect of a No Deal Brexit or even a Canada style FTA will be to make our economy less open and more protectionist.

  • We believe in fiscal responsibility.

This was the battleground of British politics from 2009 to 2015 when we made the case for getting the deficit down. The contraction of the British economy will inevitably result in deteriorating public finances. Add to that a political strategy which focuses on winning the support of traditional Labour voters which has meant that we are almost certainly already breaking our fiscal rules.  Remember when we criticised Labour for more borrowing and more debt?

  • We don’t believe that the Government should bail-out unviable industries or businesses.

As a statement, this sounds like a bit of a throw-back to the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher weaned the country off supporting lame-duck businesses. But what do we think would happen when businesses no longer became viable because of the impact of No Deal? The pressure to provide support ‘in order to deal with the temporary disruption’ will be immense. The Government has already prepared for this with Operation Kingfisher but removing that support will be very difficult politically. There is a risk that our economy will become much more corporatist than any time since the 1970s.

  • We believe in our national institutions – Parliament, the monarchy and the independent judiciary.

This should go without saying but when Number Ten briefs that the next election will be people versus Parliament, that the Prime Minister will ‘dare the Queen to sack him’, that the judiciary is biased and that the Government will not comply with the law, we don’t sound very conservative (to put it mildly).

  • We believe in national security and ensuring that we do all we can to protect our citizens from terrorism.

And yet a ‘source in No 10’ says we will withhold security co-operation from those countries that fail to block an extension. Meanwhile, the former head of MI6 says that our security depends upon co-operation with the EU and that leaving without a deal means we will have to ‘start again with a blank sheet of paper’. In addition, it is hard to see how any ‘no deal’ outcome doesn’t destabilise the Good Friday Agreement one way or another. The Prime Minister, it is reported, is increasingly concerned about the risk of an upsurge in terrorist activities by dissident republican groups.

  • We believe in the United Kingdom.

It is obvious that Brexit is placing a strain on the union. A No Deal Brexit would be likely to result in a border poll in Northern Ireland, especially with Stormont not sitting and some form of direct rule being necessary. As for Scotland, the chaos of a No Deal Brexit provides plenty of ammunition for the separatists.

Not every Conservative voter will agree with every single one of those principles, or my criticisms of a No Deal Brexit. But a Conservative Party that fights a general election with No Deal at its heart must know that it will be pursuing an approach that is such a radical departure from the traditions of the Conservative Party and that it is vulnerable to losing the support of millions of our longstanding supporters.

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Will Johnson get a Brexit deal done after all?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

It is still impossible to predict what will happen next week, but whatever it is will be pretty momentous.

It still seems unlikely that a deal will be done before the deadline day of October 31st but, given yesterday’s events on Merseyside, it doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did just hours before. At the time of writing, we don’t know who has conceded what – so it’s impossible to say what the Northern Ireland parties will make of it all, and whether any concessions on the UK side would affect the likelihood of any deal getting through the Commons.

So let’s park that one and look at a somewhat negative scenario.

So Boris Johnson goes to the EU council next Thursday; it ends in chaos; he comes back, addresses the Commons on Saturday week, sends the EU a letter requesting an extension to Article 50 – but also makes clear he doesn’t believe a word of it.

The EU then grants a year-long extension, thus enabling a second referendum to happen and at that point Johnson challenges the opposition parties to agree to an election.

And that is where the fun starts. Labour decides that it will only agree to an election after a second referendum is held, and it says that the options put to voters would be Theresa May’s deal v Remain. It is assailed by the SNP for effectively inflicting another nine months of a Conservative government on the country.

At that point, Johnson resigns as Prime Minister, and attempts are made to form an alternative government – all of which fail. He fights the election on a ‘leave the EU with no deal’ manifesto, which results in dozens of Tory MPs quitting, but the Brexit Party stand down all of their candidates.

Would Johnson win a majority in those circumstances? As the polls stand at the moment, yes, but we all know what can happen in election campaigns. And if you don’t know, just ask May.

– – – – – – – – – –

The scenario I paint above shows just how much influence Nigel Farage will have over events. And the core thing to remember is that he doesn’t trust Johnson one iota. I cannot see how the latter could ever agree to a formal electoral pact with the forner and if, he did, it would have to be written in stone.

There’s some talk of the Prime Minister offering the Brexit Party a free run in 50 selected seats, presumably in the north of England, I return for a free run everywhere else. I think it’s completely fanciful. But in this political environment, I suppose stranger things have happened.

– – – – – – – – – –

The best news of the week is that Chris Mason is taking over the reins as the new host of Any Questions. Chris is one of the few journalists that is liked by everybody (by which I mean everybody in the political firmament).

This is not because he’s pliant, or soft; it’s because he’s a transparently nice bloke who knows his stuff. I haven’t got a clue what his politics are anymore than anyone else has. It’s a cracking appointment, and even though he has huge shoes to step into, I have absolutely no doubt he’ll do well and bring a freshness and vitality to the show.

I did ponder applying for it myself, but I figured there was little point given I’ve been on the show as an opinionated panellist a dozen times, and the BBC would never appoint someone to a show like that with a previous political background.

The fact that I present a similar show and have proved my hosting abilities would be by the by. Sometimes you have to just accept the reality of a situation. Newsnight quite happily employed James O’Brien as a host, but then of course he is a man of the centre left. Someone on the centre-right would never get a look-in. And if you think that’s me being paranoid, John Humphrys says the exact same thing in his excellent new book.

– – – – – – – –  – –

For almost this entire year, most of my weekends have involved work of some description or other. Not this one. At least, that’s the intention.

After doing my regular slot on Good Morning Britain, I’ll be driving west to spend three days in North Devon with my Aunt and cousins, who live in Braunton.

No Andrew Marr, no newspaper columns, no Twitter (that one is a lie) – just catching up with family gossip and reminiscing about times gone by. And a walk across Saunton Sands. I have honestly never looked forward to a weekend more. The calm before the storm…

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Garvan Walshe: Erdogan’s Kurdish invasion will be a disaster

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

When a civil war in a neighbouring country allows terrorists and guerrillas to flee next door, establish territorial control, use it as a base from which to train, supply and provide medical assistance to their forces, and even use it as a base from which to launch attacks, the temptation to use your regular army to crush them is hard to resist. Territory gained is territory from which attacks cannot be launched. More strategically it is a foothold form which to press your national interests in any negotiations that might bring the war to an end.

We don’t have to go back to Gustavus Adolphus’s invasion of Brandenburg in 1630 to understand how intractable such interventions, even when geographically contiguous, can get. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, early military and even political success (the then president Amine Gemayel even signed an agreement to normalise relations with Israel in 1983), led to 20 years of guerrilla war, international opprobrium and the rise of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, of course, would later be as instrumental in preventing Bashar Assad losing power in Syria as Assad’s father was in derailing Israeli plans in Lebanon. And it’s Syria where a neighbouring power is as much in danger of committing a terrible mistake as Israel was in the 1980s.

The neighbouring power is Turkey, and the operation is a buffer zone Ankara has been seeking to carve out on its southern border. From Turkey’s perspective, the case for intervention is strong. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, which control the area in question, are inextricably linked with the Kurdish terrorist organisation, the PKK, which has waged a bloody terrorist campaign for independence for decades (though secular, and traditionally Marxist, they practice suicide bombing).

The SDF however are also inextricably linked with the United States and the international coalition against Daesh (ISIL). The US and France have troops on the ground advising them, and planes in the air protecting them. Turkey has for some time sought to push Donald Trump to withdraw American troops, and almost managed to do so last December, leading to the resignation not only of Brett McGurk, the American official in charge of anti-ISIS operations, but even James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary.

Forty-eight hours ago, Erdogan tried again. Trump tweeted his announcement of a withdrawal (catching the SDF, France, and even Mattis’s replacement at the Pentagon by surprise), and Turkey announced it would start military operations.

This has further heightened America’s political crisis, with numerous Republicans, most of whom had been merely silent following Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into inventing corruption allegations against one of his 2020 opponents, to condemn him. Lindsay Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, threatened sanctions and even Mitch McConnell, a study in circumspection when it comes to asserting legislative authority against the executive, thought to rebuke the President. Trump responded to the pressure with another bizarre threat to obliterate the Turkish economy (something he claims he’d already done before).

Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, preened his feline whiskers, called for calm and offered to mediate. The Security Council, which meets today, at Paris’s request can be expected to deadlock. The situation on the ground however, is becoming increasingly urgent.

Though there cannot be said to be anything as coherent as Western policy in Syria, the SDF are strategically aligned with Western interests there. Their impeccable propaganda: female soldiers driving Daesh from Raqqa’s Margaret Atwood-inspired dystopia; Western volunteers training side by side with local troops, and the adoption of a post-Marxist secular environmentalist creed to replace their traditional Leninist ideology, should not disguise their military effectiveness. They provided the ground troops that defeated ISIS, and currently guard some 15,000–20,000 prisoners, mainly from Western countries.

Now they insist that under pressure from the Turkish threat they have no manpower to spare for the task and are threatening the US with allowing a jailbreak. Trump, whose only understanding of negotiations is to screw his partner, hasn’t realised they can screw him back. The American Army is furious at being told to abandon their allies without whom the so-called Islamic State would still be in existence. They know, too, that “we’ve been told to abandon you, and can you please help us extricate our men from here” isn’t a winning offer.

The greatest strategic difficulty however is Turkish. Ankara officially has two aims for the campaign: first, to use Israeli terminology again, to eradicate the “terrorist infrastructure” that the SDF provide to the PKK. Second, to find somewhere to settle a portion of the millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. They aim to do this by establishing a buffer zone, some 30 kilometres into Syria.

Entirely coincidentally, this zone contains every major Kurdish population centre. Behind them is only desert. Settling the refugees in these towns (which isn’t, incidentally, where they are from) will, it thinks, prompt a building boom, as it has in areas inside Turkey where a Kurdish insurgency was crushed in the past 18 months. Let’s just say this: the organised settling of a new population in an area occupied by hostile locals can on occasion be successful, but it is not something that has ever produced peace.

In tactical terms, Turkey asserts, as everyone does these days, that it only aims at the terrorists, and not the civilian population. It also asserts that its superior air force and artillery will make short work of any opposition. This is nonsense. In reality they are hoping that the SDF will flee, as they fled from Afrin, to the west, in an earlier round of confrontation. When they fled from Afrin, they could at least go to Kurdish-held North West Syria, but now Turkey proposes to take precisely that territory away from them.

That is the first mistake. If they’ve nowhere to go, they’ll have no alternative but to fight. There are two ways to defeat an enemy entrenched in urban centres: hard street-by-street fighting in which thousands of your own men will be killed; or what might be called the Russian school of counterinsurgency, as practiced on Aleppo, in which tens of thousands of their civilians are murdered.

Neither is an appetising choice. The fact that this decision has been taken and the arguments advanced for it suggest more that decision-making within the Turkish state has broken down; that since the coup, the military have been unable to block Erdogan’s ill-thought through impulses, and Turkey is about to commit a historic mistake whose consequences for Syria, the region and Turkey itself will be calamitous.

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Robert Halfon: Sex offenders are slipping through the net. They must be stopped.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

As I write, an incalculable number of children and vulnerable people are potentially at risk – learning or working in an environment with a convicted sex offender, who has slipped under the authorities’ radar. We are failing these individuals in our duty of care because of a shocking loophole in our safeguarding legislation.

Two weeks ago, I met with my Harlow constituent and CEO of The Safeguarding Alliance, Emily Konstantas. Her research into the recruitment and vetting process for those adults who work with children, young people and vulnerable adults, has uncovered that registered sex offenders are able to change their name by deed poll online, for as little as £15. In turn, sex offenders and paedophiles are able to evade and undermine fundamental safeguarding protection measures – and we simply cannot ever know exactly how many children and vulnerable people are at risk.

There are three major areas of concern.

1. Sex offenders’ automatic right to a new identity

Firstly, the process by which a convicted sex offender or criminal can change their name by deed poll is far too simple, inexpensive and unregulated. It is an automatic right – and, filling out the form online can be carried out from prison, with some online providers charging as little as £15.

At no stage in the Gov.uk website’s deed poll forms (LOCO20, 21, 25) – costing £36, incidentally – does it ask the person to declare any history of offences. Completion of this form, and payment, is all that is required to “enrol” the name change with the courts.

Once their name has been changed, sex offenders can secure official documentation in the new name, potentially allowing them to travel abroad, attend educational establishments and obtain qualifications in their new name.

Coupled with the lack of a joined-up approach between the relevant bodies (which I will come on to later), we face a terrifying and sickening fact. Our current system is allowing sex offenders to operate under a new name and successfully pass vetting processes (such as DBS checks) for qualifications and/or jobs, including those working with children or vulnerable individuals.

Evidently, the process in this country is not sufficiently robust. Why should it be so simple for a convicted criminal to just wipe away their past, possibly even before they have served their sentence? We are falling at the first hurdle, here, and the repercussions of this oversight is disastrous.

It is so unnecessary, as well. Other countries, such as Greece, require any convicted criminal to make a formal application to change their name, before a court. There is no automatic right, but it is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

This seems like a wholly reasonable way forward. The backlash, no doubt, will be one of funding. Our courts are already stretched beyond their means, I accept this, but why not make the applicant pay for the resourcing, as we do with other civil proceedings, such as a divorce or monetary claims?

2. The Sexual Offences Act 2003: an oversight?

Secondly, we have taken a wrong turn in legislation – an oversight, perhaps. Once that sex offender has changed their name by deed poll, the onus of reporting that name-change to the police, is placed on the offender.

Currently, under Section 84(1)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a convicted sex offender must report any change of name “within the period of 3 days” to the police. Failure to do so, receives a maximum penalty of “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years”, according to Section 91(2) of the Act.

Already having the propensity to commit a crime, this approach is wholly problematic. Reporting is unreliable and our registers, such as the Child Sex Offenders Register, cannot be said to be accurate.

The Safeguarding Alliance’s FOI of police constabularies pointed to at least 1,300 paedophiles having changed their name. But, with around 45,000 known sex offenders, how many more have done so, and not reported it?

This legal loophole is allowing paedophiles to slip under the radar, “go missing”, and it undermines the effectiveness of, not only Section 84, but so many others, like Sarah’s Law, which serve to protect vulnerable people.

3. A lack of any joined-up cooperation

Thirdly, and interlinked with the other concerns, is the lack of any joined-up approach between the Deed Poll Office, with whom a name-change is conducted, the courts, with whom the name change is enrolled, HM Prison Services, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and other recruitment vetting agencies.

The impact of this can be demonstrated with the example of the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme. At present, were a member of the public wishing to find out if an individual in contact with a child has a record of sexual offence, police checks could be carried out – thanks to the incredible efforts that went into passing Sarah’s Law.

However, the lack of a joined-up approach is undermining its effectiveness. There is no guarantee that the new name being searched would bring up any links to the old name, detailing a history of criminal offences.

We need the prison services to work with the Deed Poll office and the courts, to disclose when a convicted sex offender has changed their name to the police and vetting agencies. In turn, police records would reflect any name change, restoring the intended purpose of Sarah’s Law, the DBS and other vetting procedures.

But it must be effective. Together with the Safeguarding Alliance, I am calling for a regulatory body to be set up by the Government that can oversee this more joined-up approach.

Time is of the essence

The nature and consequence of these issues mean that we cannot know how many convicted sex offenders are currently working in our schools, teaching our children. We cannot know how many are employed in our places of work.

Time is of the essence. The Government should implement interim measures.

A simple first step would be to publish guidance for any organisation or institution employing somebody who will work with children, young people or vulnerable adults, making it a compulsory best practice measure that an attested birth certificate is checked against official documentation (for example, a passport or drivers’ licence) provided as part of safeguarding and vetting procedures. Schools that The Safeguarding Alliance work with, have already started implementing this as a best practice.

There are significant loopholes in our safeguarding measures against sex offenders that are entirely preventable, but potentially disastrous. We need to work together to achieve legislative reform, before any further harm can be done.

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Andy Street: Let business beat politics and build the nation’s first ‘Gigafactory’ in the West Midlands

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

At the end of both the Labour and Conservative conferences we saw a key element of the future of UK’s automotive industry put forward, but with sharply contrasting approaches.

The term ‘Gigafactory’ has slipped into 21st century language, a buzzword driven by the ambitions of TESLA and Elon Musk, who expects his facility in Nevada to be the ‘biggest building in the world’ when completed.

But while a Gigafactory is about scale, and manufacturing the batteries needed for the next generation of vehicles, it’s also about creating a site that uses cutting-edge technology, employs thousands of highly skilled people and sits at the heart of a complex and inter-dependent sector.

It’s also much more than a buzzword – the Gigafactory concept is a vital ingredient in enabling the switch to electric-powered transport. Both Labour and us Conservatives agree that the UK must adopt the concept and build the Gigafactories that will make us global contenders in the race to electrification, while supporting thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly.

But there, sadly, the consensus ends – because location is everything when making such monumental decisions in industrial investment.

Labour have decided that politicians – Labour politicians – are best placed to decide where the UK’s gigafactories will be built. The areas they have chosen are Stoke, Swindon and South Wales.

It may be laudable for politicians to try to support communities by sticking a pin in a map and saying ‘build it here’, but this approach increases the chance of failure. The temptation to use key investments to win votes must be resisted. We must learn from the history of the UK automotive sector – and we must listen to those within the industry when they speak.

The demise of the British car industry hit the West Midlands hard. As the centre of the nation’s automotive sector, car building’s decline was a huge factor in the post-industrial malaise that impacted on the entire region in the second half of the 20th century.

The recent resurgence of Jaguar Land Rover has shown that there is a real future here for British automotive. We are building confidence as well as cars.

However, as we face investment decisions that will affect generations to come, we must consider how the choices of the past – often made by politicians with the best of intentions – accelerated automotive decline.

In the 1960s there were two clear examples of this. To prop up mass employment in Glasgow, the Government supported the building of a British Leyland factory in the city, at Bathgate.  The other option at the time was to develop the existing Leyland factory at Longbridge, in Birmingham, investing in the heartland of car manufacturing.

Then, politicians decided to build a new factory at Linwood, in Scotland for the Rootes Group – whose Midlands plants built famous marques such as Humber, Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam. As a result, half-built Hillman Imps had to be shipped backwards and forwards between Scotland and Coventry to be completed.

None of these factories exist anymore. Perhaps if we had concentrated investment on building up the existing West Midlands factories, benefiting from the expertise and logistical common sense of keeping things close together, outcomes may have been different.

The lesson here, surely, is about politicians allowing their political needs to influence what should be business decisions. For the UK’s first Gigafactory to succeed, it needs to be based on a robust business case. Putting aside local loyalties, as someone who spent 30 years in business, I know this to be simple fact.

Here in the West Midlands we have an automotive cluster, based around the flagship that is Jaguar Land Rover. We have a huge network of supply and support firms that have developed over decades, with a track record of transforming to meet the changing demands of the sector. We also have the foundation industries that make the metals and materials that underpin vehicle manufacture at more than 20 sites.

In terms of battery technology, the Government has already played an important role in helping make the West Midlands competitive in this race, investing £108 million in a state-of-the-art Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, and creating the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. In fact, the West Midlands is the UK centre of the driverless car research, with vehicles already being tested on the streets of Coventry and the region’s motorways.

In manufacturing, alongside JLR’s commitment to build electric vehicles at Castle Bromwich, electric drive units are being made in Wolverhampton, with battery assembly at Hams Hall in North Warwickshire. Our brilliant universities in Birmingham and Warwickshire are contributing significant research in partnership with the automotive sector.

So, as the sector moves to electrification, we are reclaiming our place as one of the world’s automotive powerhouses. I would be proud to be known as the Mayor of the UK’s Motor City.

The West Midlands was the first UK region to draw up a Local Industrial Strategy, and the concept of industrial clusters and the benefits they bring in terms of skills, costs and logistics was a formative aspect of its creation. Clearly, the UK’s biggest automotive cluster is taking shape right here – and it is one that is looking ahead to the challenges and innovation of the 21st century, rather than resting on the glories of the past.

We need the UK’s first Gigafactory to be based in the heart of this cluster – minimising transport and disruption costs and maximising the mutual support and expertise that exists here.

Battery manufacture is vital to the success of electric transport, as 40% of a vehicle’s value lies in this crucial component. Batteries are also the heaviest part of the vehicle, meaning their production needs to be near the car’s assembly lines. We must not repeat the mistake of the Rootes factory, and the logistical nightmare of hauling car components around the country, hampering the manufacturing process and driving up costs.

If the batteries are made elsewhere, the laws of economics make it more likely that car manufacturing will eventually be forced to move closer to them – breaking up the successful cluster here in the Midlands, fragmenting the UK sector and fundamentally weakening it.

From an environmental perspective too it is also counterintuitive to build an ‘eco-friendly’ electric car sector that actually increases the need for long-distance haulage, and the accompanying carbon footprint.

That’s why I believe for business reasons the Gigafactory must be in the West Midlands. So, I was delighted that at Conference the Prime Minister spoke of bringing the Gigafactory here, saying our region is seeing ‘a 21st century industrial revolution in battery and low-carbon technology’.

It’s time to remember the lessons of the past. Let’s not repeat the mistake of making this a political decision – least of all one made by the current Labour Shadow Cabinet.

Let’s not let Jeremy Corbyn and co repeat the Hillman Imp experiment and weaken the West Midlands automotive industry for political reasons.

At a recent CBI speech at Conference I set out my vision, as a businessman, of making the West Midlands Motor City again – albeit this time with an electric motor. The business case is there, and business must beat politics.

 

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