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Westlake Legal Group > Foreign Office

Lord Ashcroft: An open letter to Alok Sharma, the new International Development Secretary

Dear Alok,

Congratulations on your richly deserved elevation to the Cabinet. The job of International Development Secretary is always a challenge for a Conservative politician, given our desire for fiscal responsibility and understandable scepticism among Party members over the sanity of fixing aid spending as a proportion of national income rather than determined by need. The struggle must be especially acute for someone who was trained in accountancy.

As you have no doubt already discovered, the Department for International Development seems to see itself as closer to the charity sector that it funds so lavishly than to the rest of Whitehall, which can only look with envy at the department’s constantly-rising budgets. Even as Tory prime ministers oversaw the imposition of austerity policies in Britain, Dfid’s budget doubled in a decade to more than £14 billion. Little wonder there is such public concern, since this is more than we spend on our hard-pressed police forces in England and Wales as they grapple with issues such as gang violence, knife crime and cyber-theft.

Although pleased for you personally, I am disappointed the Prime Minister did not do as he suggested earlier this year by folding Dfid back into the Foreign Office to maximise the potential of Global Britain. ‘We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO,’ Boris Johnson told the Financial Times. ‘The present system is leading to inevitable waste as money is shoved out of the door in order to meet the 0.7 per cent target.’

This apparent shift matches that of some of your predecessors, whose prior scepticism mysteriously disappeared on taking on taking on the job. With his experience working in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Rory Stewart had even admitted the public was being duped by politicians claiming they could create jobs in poor parts of the planet and impose stability on fragile states. He pointed to some astonishing sums being frittered away such as £4.5 billion spent in Malawi over half a century – yet it ended up poorer.

India provides another example. Though we no longer give aid directly to its government, Britain still spends tens of millions of pounds of aid money in the country, despite its economy being forecast to overtake our own as the fifth biggest in the world. India has both a thriving space programme and its own aid agency giving large sums to poorer nations. These alone are valid reasons to question if it still needs our charity, even if you ignore that nation’s constant struggle against corruption. And a leaked memo from Nirumpama Rao, a former foreign minister, once pointed out the damage caused by the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID.’ The drip-drip of such depressing imagery of developing countries as basket cases desperate for Western aid also causes fury in Africa.

I am glad you have already managed to visit Uganda to highlight the fight against Ebola. Few critics, not even sceptics such as myself, would begrudge aid going on the vital struggle to defeat this cruel disease when almost 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding areas have already lost their lives. But nor should we avoid the facts. One reason the last outbreak in West Africa took off so tragically was the failure to control and monitor aid spending, resulting in weakened local health sectors. A British parliamentary inquiry found the European Union gave £19 million in the year before the devastating outbreak to Liberia’s health ministry, but only £2.5 million reached its destination. No wonder academics have used this country as a case study in aid’s failure to stabilise fragile states. Western donations also poured into Sierra Leone, despite systemic corruption in the health services that failed to thwart the ravage of Ebola when it struck with such appalling force.

You have highlighted the difficulties of delivering life-saving Ebola treatment in a conflict zone. So perhaps you should ask why we keep pumping money into despotic states run by leaders with bloodstained hands such as Rwanda, the cause of so much misery in the region, and Uganda, which was even found to have been inflating refugee numbers in its most recent aid scandal last year.

If we believe in the concept of Global Britain, as I do, then surely we should stand as a beacon of democratic values in a dark world. Instead Dfid ignores the wisdom of development experts who point out that these massive aid flows can achieve the opposite of their aims by undermining the evolution of democracy, especially when showered on societies under the thumb of repressive regimes. Other critics say it fosters conflict and corruption. I know there is so much cash swilling around this sector it is hard to find untainted experts, but might I suggest you listen hard to those without a personal stake in the aid boom rather than those consultants and charity chiefs who make their living from the aid industry?

Unlike many commentators, I believe this to be an exciting time as Britain strikes out boldly to reassert our independence as a nation. Disruption can be a creative process, as I have seen often in the business world, and Westminster definitely needs to be shaken up. This makes it an ideal time to look again at the sheer lunacy of having a fixed aid target that is swelling each year despite the decline in poverty around the world and number of urgently pressing domestic issues.

I know many Tories who want to help those in desperate humanitarian need, but few who think this target is the right way to go about it. Some fear that the mega-charities, which failed to stop gross abuse by staff, will claim the ‘nasty party’ is back if the Conservatives dare to ditch their precious aid target. But if you want to help the world’s poorest people while setting Britain on a brave new course for the future, please turn off those golden taps and change course, so our success in this field is measured by the good we achieve, not just by how much we spend. It is both right, popular and smart – a rare mix in politics.

Yours sincerely,


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David Snoxell: The Government should seize opportunity to negotiate a Chagos settlement

David Snoxell is Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group.

The Chagos Archipelago of 54 islands was excised from Mauritius in 1965, before independence, and its inhabitants deported to Mauritius and Seychelles between 1968-73 to make way for a US base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

This complicated saga has reached a critical stage following the referral by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 of the issues of decolonisation and resettlement to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an Advisory Opinion, which was delivered on 25 February.

The Court decided that the UK was in unlawful occupation of the Islands and must as rapidly as possible hand back the Territory to Mauritius and cooperate in facilitating the resettlement of Chagossians of Mauritian origin.

Boris Johnson’s new government will need the recess before it is ready to review policy on Chagos in the light of the ICJ Opinion and two crushing defeats in UNGA. Until now the UK has rejected the Courts findings and the UN’s endorsement of them. The Government is faced with two short deadlines – Brexit on 31 October, and ‘Chexit’ on 22 November.

As the Prime Minister has amply demonstrated it cannot be assumed that he will continue with the same policies as the previous government. Clearly Brexit will entirely dominate the political agenda, but this does not mean that progress cannot be made in other areas by the Foreign Office (FCO).

Indeed, with the limelight fixed on Brexit there is an opportunity for quiet diplomacy behind the scenes. The Government should seize this opportunity to win back international support at a time when the UK most needs it.

After two decades of the UK avoiding an agreement with Mauritius on the future of Chagos and the Chagossians, commentators have assumed the new government will carry on like its predecessor, in denial of the facts and realities of Chagos which the international community fully appreciates.

There is, however, a reasonable chance that the new government will accept that it cannot continue to ignore the Advisory Opinion and the demand of an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly in its resolution of 22 May that the UK must implement the Opinion within a six-month deadline, i.e. by 22 November.

The departure of Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, and Sir Alan Duncan as a Foreign Office Minister of State, is an opportunity to ease the tensions with Mauritius and enable a constructive dialogue to take the place of the UK’s hitherto rather defensive and confrontational approach.

I believe Mauritius would act positively towards a genuine desire on the part of the UK Government to reach a resolution of the issues. I expect FCO officials and lawyers would welcome this opportunity to set aside dubious legal arguments advanced by the FCO, move forward, and enter into diplomatic discussions.

The three main players on the British side are Johnson, Dominic Raab and Lord Ahmad, the FCO Minister of State, who remains in place and was sympathetic to both the Chagossians and Mauritius.

The Prime Minister was involved with Chagos as Foreign Secretary 2016-18, and is said to have told the then Mauritian Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, at the UN in September 2016, that if Mauritius held off tabling a resolution at UNGA he would “fix” Chagos. There was no fix, and in June 2017 Mauritius lost patience and tabled its draft resolution,which it had first considered in 2004 and postponed pending diplomatic discussion.

It is quite possible that the new PM will see the damage that the policy of the previous government has done to the UK’s reputation for upholding international law and human rights and decide that it is just not worth continuing to oppose the ICJ and the UNGA any longer.

The appointment of Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary could also make a difference. Raab is an international lawyer who from 200O-06 was an FCO legal adviser, dealing inter alia with prosecution of war criminals and maritime law. This is helpful background for understanding the many aspects of international law which affect Chagos and the Chagossians that previous governments have glossed over and ignored. His appointment should encourage FCO Legal Advisers to take a much stronger line on the need to uphold international law and respect the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law by implementing the ICJ Advisory Opinion and the UNGA resolution.

Although ICJ Opinions and General Assembly resolutions are technically non-binding, international law is. The ICJ found that the excision of Chagos from Mauritius was unlawful in international law.

On 17 July the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, which has members from seven political parties and now in its 11th year, held its 75th meeting and issued a statement which was aimed primarily at the next Government. Members welcomed UN Resolution 73/295 endorsing the ICJ Advisory Opinion, which the General Assembly adopted by 116 in favour, 6 against and 56 abstentions.

Recalling its statement of 21 December 2018 urging the Government to seek a resolution of the issues concerning the future of BIOT and of the Chagos Islanders the Group reaffirmed its wish to help bring about agreement between all parties on a way forward, in the light of the UNGA resolution setting a six months deadline. The Group noted that the General Assembly was guided by the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter, including the inalienable right of self-determination of peoples, and the obligations arising from other instruments and rules of international law.

The Group urged the next British Government to respect the will of the United Nations, the ICJ Opinion, and the requirements of international law which from the signature of the United Nations Charter in 1945 remains the keystone of the UK’s foreign policy and commitment to international order based on the rule of law.

The APPG felt that these matters should now be addressed urgently in diplomatic discussions between the UK and Mauritius so that an outline agreement on the implementation of the resolution can be put before the General Assembly at it 74th session beginning on 17 September. To that end the Group recommended that the new government appoints an independent special envoy to negotiate an agreement.

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Martin Parsons: The new Prime Minister should implement Hunt’s review on persecuted Christians

Dr Martin Parsons has a PhD in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and has been involved in supporting persecuted Christians since the 1990s, including while living in Afghanistan as an aid worker under the Taliban. He previously wrote an annual survey of Christian persecution for ConservativeHome.

“This is not about special pleading for Christians: rather it’s about ensuring that Christians in the global south have a fair deal, and a fair share of the UK’s attention and concern. So in that sense it is an equality issue. If one minority is on the receiving end of 80 per cent of religiously motivated discrimination it is simply not just that they should receive so little attention.”

(From the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for Persecuted Christians.)

Spot on, some may say. However, the most important thing about the bishops’s review, which Jeremy Hunt set up just after Christmas, is not what it actually says about persecuted Christians – which isn’t new, anyway. It’s what it says about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Go back to the 1990s, and the review observes that the Foreign Office was actively engaged in advocacy on behalf of persecuted Christians in such countries as Pakistan. That date, incidentally, is significant as, by then, communism, which had been the main ideological driver of Christian persecution around the world, had collapsed. However, Islamism was already on the rise in countries such as Pakistan, which by 1990 had already introduced the main aspects of its blasphemy laws.

However, the review found that today Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), particularly for Christians has, with a few fine exceptions, largely dropped off the radar of most UK embassies and High Commissions overseas. No-one can make the excuse that there is now less persecution – far from it, as some of us were warning long before jihadists such as Islamic State were able to control large parts of Syria and Iraq where they executed, enslaved and religiously cleansed Christians and other minorities.

Well before then, the rising tide of Christian persecution was being carried out both by state actors in forms such as the spread of sharia enforcement and by non-state actors in ways which ranged from communal violence, following spurious blasphemy allegations in countries such as Pakistan, to the terror attacks on churches in northern Nigeria. But somehow the Foreign Office became distracted with a myriad of other issues.

The independent review headed by the Bishop of Truro discovered that, during the last five years, 63 per cent of UK diplomatic missions overseas had never implemented the ‘FoRB toolkit’ – the FCO’s primary means of assessing the status of Freedom of Religion or Belief in their host country. Indeed, six UK missions admitted they had never even heard of the toolkit.

The review did find some embassies, such as those in Islamabad (Pakistan) and Jakarta (Indonesia) which actually had an embassy official with specific responsibility for freedom of religion issues. But, even there, this was a part-time role for a single officer with a “huge number” of other responsibilities. In short, there is no overarching FCO strategy on the importance of freedom of religion in UK diplomacy.

To be fair, the Foreign Office went through something of a rough period when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, often being side-lined in foreign policy-making by Number Ten which led to a downgrading of the importance of detailed country knowledge and even such traditional forms of diplomatic training such as language acquisition.

However, when William Hague became Foreign Secretary in 2010 he began a process of reversing that decline. The whole area of freedom of religion was particularly championed by Baroness Anelay when she was Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The independent review praises the appointment of Lord Ahmad, her successor at the FCO as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to promote religious freedom, noting that this has brought a renewed awareness of the importance of FoRB at the Foreign Office.

It also specifically praises Lord Ahmad for his contact with embassies around the world, which led, among other things, to the reopening of a number of churches which had been closed by the Algerian government. So what is needed is not so much a new direction as continuing that journey, so that the Foreign Office once again does what we used to lead the world in doing.

The independent review makes 22 specific recommendations, some of the most important of which are:

  • The UK should again become a global leader in championing freedom of religion or belief.
  • Advocacy for victims of religious persecution should be a regular and normative part of the work of UK diplomatic missions, which should also be providing data on the status of FoRB in their country back to the Foreign Office in London.
  • The FCO should undertake detailed research to better understand the ‘huge increase’ in discriminatory acts against Christians around the world and give that phenomena a specific name (in his speech welcoming the review Jeremy Hunt termed it ‘Christophobia’).
  • The post of ‘Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief’ should be made permanent and should be supported by a Director-General level champion to lead the FCO’s FoRB team. This is an excellent recommendation. There is an urgent need to ‘beef up’ to tiny FoRB unit at the FCO so that it can provide detailed analysis of emerging global trends in the persecution of Christians and other minorities. However, that will require not simply a senior diplomat, but an adviser with specialist expertise in FoRB to head up that unit and fully support the endeavours of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in spreading FoRB around the world.
  • There should be a specific ‘John Bunyan’ stream of funding, promoting FoRB within the Magna Carta Fund, which the present Government launched in 2016 to promote democracy and human rights across the world.
  • Training in religious literacy and FoRB should be mandatory for all FCO staff.
  • A full cabinet discussion of ForB issues – including the need for departments ‘to recognise religious affiliation as a key vulnerability marker for members of religious minorities’ i.e. recognise that Christians and Yazidis etc. are targeted by jihadist groups precisely because of their faith. That is spot on. The failure of UNHCR’s vulnerability criteria to include anything which would directly encompass victims of the sort of religious cleansing we have witnessed in the Middle East is the primary reason why so few Syrian Christians and other religious minorities have been resettled under the governments’ Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
  • ‘All of these foreign policy recommendations to the Foreign Secretary should be reviewed independently in three years’ time’ to ensure they have been implemented.

Of course, the real risk of all this is that the report gets praised – but is then quietly filed away. What needs to happen is a change of Foreign Office culture – and that these recommendations be institutionalised. Since freedom of religion largely developed in this country, and spread from here across the world, this is an area in which we really should be taking the lead. A good start would be for the Foreign Secretary to institute an annual report to Parliament on how UK foreign policy is helping spread FoRB. That would require all embassies and high commissions to report on it annually.

Our new Prime Minister has a whole host of incredibly urgent and important priorities to get through. However, it’s worth recollecting that so too did Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – and she achieved most of them. But, it is sobering reflect that she concluded her autobiography The Path to Power by saying her greatest achievement as Prime Minister was bringing freedom of religion to the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe. That’s a genuine legacy.

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The civil service isn’t neutral. It shouldn’t be, it can’t be.

The civil service may be impartial, but it isn’t neutral.  Indeed, a world in which civil servants worked in a vacuum, without values, policy expertise or vision, couldn’t be the world that we live in.  Nor is it.  The civil service will remain broadly committed, whichever party holds office, to a core of policy aims that are unobjectionable, or ought to be.  These include maintaining a first-rate relationship with the United States – the “special relationship”, as it is sometimes, not uncontroversially, described.

Kim Darroch has in no way made that relationship more difficult by writing memos that are critical in some respects of the Trump administration.  It is the duty of our Ambassador to the United States to give Ministers and others his view, and it is his right to be able to do so in confidence.  As journalists, we rejoice in the Mail on Sunday getting hold of Darroch’s memos: they provide a cracking story.  But as citizens, with wider interests than journalistic ones, our take is that the leak is bad for Britain.  It will make politicians and civil servants alike less likely to tell the truth, as they see it, to both themselves and to each other.

It neither follows that all Darroch’s judgements are necessarily right, nor that the civil service’s instincts shouldn’t be challenged.  These are worth a long view.  Consider, for example, Michael Palliser – one of a series of Foreign Office civil servants who, during the run-up to British membership of the Commons Market, helped turn the department’s Eurosceptism into Euroenthusiasm.  Or Michael Quinlan, the civil service theoretician, at the Ministry of Defence, of nuclear deterrence.  Or Charles Farr, the former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who had a particular take on what policy should be towards non-violent extremism.

Examples are endless, and there are more of them since recently-retired senior civil servants have taken to Twitter.  Nicholas Macpherson, the former Treasury Permanent Secretary, likes the hashtag #soundmoney.  Simon Fraser, a counterpart at the Foreign Office, is critical of the Brexit project.  This takes us to the point.  The civil service worldview is multilateralist, pro-EU, pro-NATO.  There are worse causes to adopt.  But the referendum result has exposed a difference between the view of much of the machine and the take of a mass of voters.  Particular decisions have worsened this tension.  The civil service is responsible for none of them.

It was Theresa May, not the bureaucracy, who centralised Brexit policy, cut DexEU out of it, and made Olly Robbins, in effect, her personal negotiator with the EU.  It was also the Prime Minister who brought much of the culture of the Home Office into the heart of government.  We have nothing against Mark Sedwill, but senior parts of the civil service have become leaky on his watch: consider the recent briefing against Jeremy Corbyn, whose future was “openly discussed at an event attended by mandarins this month”.  It is the job of the rest of us to keep him out of Downing Street, not that of the civil service – let alone for mandarins to brief about it.

Which returns us to Darroch.  There is a suspicion that Sedwill, and not Darroch himself, was the real target of the leak.  The former is reportedly interested in the Washington post.  A new Prime Minister will be in place by the end of the month.  Changes at the top of the civil service are expected.  The leak looks designed to prepare the way for a replacement for Darroch who is more Trump-friendly than Sedwill.  But the disposition of Darroch’s replacement to the President is not the exam question, or shouldn’t be.

There is a precedent for sending a non-civil servant to Washington as ambassador: Peter Jay, Jim Callaghan’s son-in-law, was sent to Washington when the latter was Prime Minister.  However, the example is not encouraging.  Perhaps Prime Minister Johnson should scour the more junior civil service ranks, and send for one of those who, pro-Brexit Ministers tell us, have put in exemplary work preparing for No Deal if necessary, regardless of their own views.

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Fifteen years after I started writing about Johnson, one might almost think his time has come

In the summer of 2004, when I began writing a life of Boris Johnson, reputable judges predicted he would be the next Prime Minister. It was 12 years since the Conservatives had won a general election, and ten years since Tony Blair became Labour leader.

Four Conservative leaders – John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard – had failed to inflict lasting damage on Blair.

Perhaps it was time to send for Johnson, who possessed the curious attribute, for a scholar of Eton and Balliol, of being a celebrity. As Michael Gove suggested, in a defence of Johnson published in October 2004:

“Boris himself seems to recognise, whether intuitively or through observation, that celebrity now plays the role in politics that possession of an aristocratic name or a distinguished war record used to perform. It gives you a right to be heard. Celebrity allows you into people’s lives and homes, where they give you permission to share your views, in a way that others are denied.”

The celebrity living a life above the rules, appealing to our fantasies of effortless success, is a vulgar figure. But it seemed to me that there was more to Johnson than that, a curious amalgam of humanity, selfishness, toughness, vulnerability, loyalty, unreliability, flexibility, stubbornness, energy, laziness, wit, recklessness, ambition, linguistic invention and the ability to transform the atmosphere on entering a dull shopping centre.

He entered the Commons in 2001, has never devoted as much time as he should have done to becoming a skilful parliamentarian, and in the summer of 2004 was somehow managing, in defiance of prudent advice, and of assurances he had given, to edit The Spectator while playing a shadow ministerial role.

I had known him, though not particularly well, since 1987, and I thought, regardless of whether predictions of a brilliant future were fulfilled, he would make an enjoyable subject for a biography.

When I told him of my idea, he laughed for a long time before saying: “Such is my colossal vanity that I have no intention of trying to forbid you.”

But very soon he began to get cold feet, and after a few months he attempted to discover how large my advance was, and to buy me out of writing the book.

“If it’s a piss-take that’s OK,” he said at an early stage, but went on: “Anything that purported to tell the truth really would be intolerable.”

I contended that on the contrary, politicians almost always get into trouble, not for telling the truth, but for trying to conceal it. Painful episodes in his past would lose their power to hurt him once they were known, and it would be much less dangerous to deal with this stuff now than when he became Prime Minister.

In late 2004, Johnson suffered a number of setbacks – the forced apology to the people of Liverpool, the “inverted pyramid of piffle” affair, his sacking by Michael Howard from the Opposition front bench – so severe they would have driven a less resilient figure out of politics.

I am confident he never for one moment considered retiring from the fray and prostituting his talents as a vacuous, over-paid television presenter.

But in 2005, when Howard stepped down after leading the party to its third defeat in a row, there was clearly no possibility of Johnson becoming a Conservative leadership contender. He instead backed David Cameron, who came through and won.

The first edition of my book appeared in 2006, and made no difference to anything. Johnson wrote in the copies people asked him to sign “it’s all rubbish” and other messages which amused the recipients.

The new leader, who almost until taking office had been much less well known than Johnson, proceeded to keep him at a distance. In the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle of July 2007, Cameron promoted Gove, who had only entered Parliament in 2005, to the key role of shadowing Ed Balls, whom Gordon Brown had promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools.

Johnson was left in the post he already had as Shadow Spokesman on Higher Education. It had become clear that as long as Cameron was leader, Johnson was not going to get anywhere at Westminster.

So after much agonising, he took the risk of becoming the Conservative candidate who in 2008 would take on Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, at this point reckoned to be pretty much invincible.

After several months during which, at Lynton Crosby’s urging, Johnson told no jokes, he defeated Livingstone and entered City Hall. In 2012, he beat Livingstone again, and in 2015, not long before the end of his second term as mayor, he re-entered the Commons at the general election in which Cameron gained – to the commentariat’s surprise – an overall majority.

Cameron had promised that if he won, he would hold an EU referendum. Here was another decision for Johnson. Could he bear to become a subordinate cog in the Cameron-Osborne machine?

He could not. After more agonising – for he possesses a well-hidden streak of prudence – he became the most prominent figure in the Leave campaign, to which Gove had lent a degree of intellectual respectability.

The commentariat believed Remain would win, but turned out not to know its own country as well as it thought it did. On 23rd June 2016 Johnson led Leave to victory.

Cameron, after nearly 11 years as party leader, at once resigned, and for a few days Johnson was the favourite to succeed him. But at 9.02 a.m. on the Thursday after the referendum, Gove sent an email to journalists which said:

“I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership.”

Johnson withdrew from the race, and Theresa May, who looked the only grown-up left, became Prime Minister. She proceeded to make Johnson Foreign Secretary. These convulsions I describe in the most recent edition of my book.

But she never used Johnson, or brought him properly into her team. Successful Prime Ministers have usually travelled to major international events with the Foreign Secretary they appointed.

That was not May’s way. She created a new Brexit Department, supposedly to deal with the great issue arising out of the referendum, but that too played little part.

In a manner that recalled Tony Blair, Anthony Eden and Neville Chamberlain at their least successful, she set out to run foreign policy from Number Ten.

Johnson won poor reviews as Foreign Secretary, and not much better after his resignation in July 2018 in protest at the Chequers plan for Brexit. The commentariat reckoned he was probably out of it.

As so often, it was wrong. Johnson has run a more professional campaign than on previous occasions, while his rivals could not decide which of them would run against him, and have instead run against each other.

I confess to feelings of bemusement, even incredulity, at this turn of events. People ask me “when is your new edition out?”, but for the next few weeks, it would seem both rash and impertinent to assume Johnson will definitely become the next occupant of Number Ten.

Conservative members will vote as they wish. So far as I know, nothing I have ever written or said about Johnson has changed a single mind. All I may occasionally have done is provide some of the evidence, both for and against, needed to support a view already arrived at instinctively.

For Johnson dramatises the temperamental divide which runs through our history and our nation

“between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).”

Having just glanced at1066 And All That in order to check the quotation, I cannot resist quoting the next paragraph, with italics as in the original:

“Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and sombre garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.”

A sort of Civil War rages now. Johnson the Cavalier brings out the puritanical instincts which lie buried in such otherwise genial figures as Matthew Parris, Max Hastings, Simon Heffer and Bruce Anderson.

They simply cannot bear his style of politics, consider him incapable of learning from the mistakes and misjudgments he has made, and condemn him in unmeasured terms. There can be no modern Conservative who has been denounced by a larger number of well-known pundits.

A considerable number of MPs of all parties have similar feelings about him. They stiffen when you mention him. But others in increasing numbers think Johnson is now needed, and that he has developed the qualities needed to run a brilliant team.

It is all rather bewildering. Never have a received a greater number of requests for interviews about Johnson, and to appear on various programmes along with his other, admirably unimpressed biographer, Sonia Purnell. The Americans, the Germans and the Japanese all want to know more about him.

And the more he annoys the Establishment, the better he appears to do. One might almost think his time has come.

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WATCH: “I have a lot of respect for the President… I don’t agree with him on everything.” Hunt on Trump.

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Henry Hill: Hunt pulls Foreign Office support to Sturgeon’s separatist excursions

Hunt pulls Foreign Office support for Sturgeon to ‘protect the Union’…

The Foreign Secretary took an opportunity to burnish his unionist credentials this week when he withdrew Foreign Office support from Nicola Sturgeon’s diplomatic excursions to Brussels, the Scotsman reports.

In what the paper describes as “a major change of protocol”, Jeremy Hunt has restricted the First Minister and other devolved ministers’ ability to avail themselves of Britain’s diplomatic network and assets to set up meetings with foreign leaders.

This “will now be restricted to trips touching on “areas for which [Scottish ministers] have a devolved responsibility” and where they “avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to [the UK] Government’s position””, according to the paper.

Hunt has been strongly criticised for this by some politicians and commentators in both Scotland and Wales (he recently denied an official car to Mark Drakeford for similar reasons), and been accused of showing ‘disrespect for devolution’. Some have taken up the usual refrain that denying devocrats anything they want is a sure-fire way to break up Britain.

But Hunt is right to take a stand. It is absurd that the British State should actively support devolved politicians trespassing on its reserved prerogatives, especially when they’re doing so to pursue a diplomatic policy which conflicts with its own or are outright trying to win support for seceding altogether.

In fact, he might consider going further. Stephen Daisley has written scathingly about the SNP’s penchant for overseas junkets, and offered the following suggestion which might be right up the Foreign Secretary’s street:

“First, they could amend the Scotland Act to require the Scottish Government to submit for approval to the secretary of state for Scotland any proposed spending which could reasonably be construed to involve reserved matters or be otherwise ambiguous. Next, they could require that all ministerial visits outside of Scotland are signed off by the secretary of state as falling within the remit of Scottish ministers.”

Something to mull over as he hits the campaign trail in Scotland.

…as MPs criticise him for his stance on Ulster veterans

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Hunt has come under fire from a number of Tory MPs for saying that members of the security forces who served during the Troubles should be treated “the same way” as the republican terrorists they were fighting.

He argued that the peace process secured by the Belfast Agreement required the equivalent treatment of both sides, no matter how ‘difficult’ that may be.

Such a stance will do little to deflect the charge that he is continuity Theresa May. Both the Prime Minister and Karen Bradley, her hapless Northern Irish Secretary, have been strongly criticised for failing to protect ex-servicemen and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers from historical investigations and legal action.

This topic has been increasingly heated on the Conservative side since the revelation that Tony Blair’s administration had offered a de facto amnesty to hundreds of IRA ‘on-the-runs’ by issuing so-called ‘comfort letters’, one of which collapsed the trial of the Hyde Park bomber.

Northern Irish cabinet post ‘hotly contested’

Conor Burns could become the first-ever Ulster-born person to be appointed Northern Irish Secretary, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

He is also a Brexiteer, a staunch unionist, and a practising Roman Catholic, which would make for a fascinating combination if he were given the opportunity to take on the role.

According to the Sun, there is fierce competition for the post, which is reportedly coveted by Gavin Williamson – the man responsible for negotiating the Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionists.

Either candidate could give the department a much-needed shake-up. There is deep resentment in Ulster’s unionist circles at the Northern Irish Office’s high-handed and studiously neutral stance, which they feel does not adequately counterbalance the de facto support nationalists receive from Dublin.

Elsewhere Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, has called for whoever wins the leadership race to establish a dedicated Downing Street team aimed at protecting the Union.

Johnson appoints Thomson as his campaign manager in Scotland

Following the collapse of ‘Operation Arse’ – the Scottish Tories’ abortive campaign to block his path to Downing Street – Boris Johnson has finally started to build up some support amongst their parliamentary group.

Andrew Bowie, the Prime Minister’s PPS and one of the fastest-rising stars of the 2017 Scottish intake, has now endorsed him. So too has Douglas Ross, another tipped for high office, and Colin Clark, the ‘Salmond-slayer’, who has rowed in behind the front-runner after initially backing James Cleverly.

But the first to come out for him was Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, and he has now been appointed Johnson’s campaign manager north of the border.

He certainly has a mountain to climb. The Scottish Tories’ reservations about his candidate are apparently rooted in some private polling showing that a Johnson premiership would have a horrible impact on the party’s performance. Whilst Davidson appears to have reconciled herself to the need to make it work – which was always the logic of staying in the UK-wide party, the basis of her leadership – Johnson himself will have to work very hard to improve his standing in Scotland.

Clark, Thomson, and Ross have written in the Daily Telegraph that their man will ‘swat’ the Nationalists. That remains to be seen.

Hands and Morgan say Ulster border is soluble problem

In other news an Alternative Arrangements Commission, run by Tory MPs Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, has concluded that a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic can be avoided using existing technology. In a report set to be published on Monday they claim that “futuristic high-tech solutions are not needed”.

This comes amidst reports that Ireland is coming under pressure from Brussels to set out its plans to maintain the border in the event of a no-deal exit. Suffice to say, the fact that Dublin is reportedly prepared to erect a border rather than compromise its position on the EU puts paid to any suggestion that London is obliged by the Belfast Agreement to do otherwise itself.

If Hands’ and Morgan’s findings are accurate they will be a fillip to Johnson, who is in the Ulster press this week saying that there are “abundant technical fixes” to the border question.

News in Brief:

  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘Citizens Assembly’ – The Herald
  • Davies selected to re-fight Brecon & Radnorshire in recall by-election – The Times
  • Foster warns both candidates that UK must leave on October 31 – Daily Express
  • Sturgeon wants no minimum vote threshold for an independence referendum – The Herald
  • Devolved ministers ‘don’t know what they’re doing’ on the economy – Wales Online

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Benedict Rogers: Character, values and dignity. Why I am voting for Hunt.

Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute.

As a former journalist, a human rights campaigner and a Christian, there are obvious reasons why I like Jeremy Hunt. As Foreign Secretary he has done more in a year than any of his predecessors combined to champion human rights – and in particular press freedom and freedom of religion or belief, two foundational freedoms that underpin any civilized democratic society.

Hunt has also done more to speak out against crimes against humanity in Burma, for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and peace in Yemen than his predecessors. His decision not just to mandate the Bishop of Truro to conduct an inquiry into the persecution of Christians but to write, every day throughout Lent, to a persecuted Christian, speaks volumes about his values.

So too did his decision, on his first visit to Beijing, to meet the wives of jailed Chinese human rights lawyers. And his statements on Hong Kong, a city I lived in for the first five years of my working life and to which I was denied entry on the orders of Beijing 18 months ago, have been far more robust than his predecessors. Has he done enough? No, of course not: no activist would say enough had been done. But has he shone, as a Foreign Secretary who prioritises human rights? Definitely.

But of course, one doesn’t vote solely on these issues. The challenges facing our party and our country are wide-ranging. Brexit is the most immediate and most obvious. But there are pressures on our public services, threats to our security, challenges to our economy and questions about our standing in the world. And the answer to all of these major questions is clear: Hunt.

Of the original 11 candidates, there were only ever four whom I seriously considered – Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt. Rarely have I had such a difficult choice. Rarely have I been such a floating voter.

I didn’t declare my support until last Thursday, when Javid was knocked out, for the simple reason that whichever one of my four favourites made it into the final two would have won my support. It was only when Javid was eliminated that I decided, when it came down to the final three, to declare my support for Hunt. Once I made the decision, the reasons crystalised. It comes down to three factors: character, values and dignity.

I have not really met Hunt. The only time we have encountered each other was just before Christmas last year. To my surprise, I received an invitation to a meeting with the Foreign Secretary to discuss the persecution of Christians – prior to his announcement of a review. Around the table were the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Catholic bishop representing Cardinal Nichols, the Coptic Archbishop Angaelos, the chief executives of three charities, and survivors of persecution.

I was impressed by Hunt’s personal engagement with the issue. It was obvious by the fact that he allowed people to speak for far longer than they should have done, and asked insightful questions, that he really cared.

While we had never met before, when he called me to speak he addressed me by my first name, and as he left he said: “It’s great to finally meet you.” There’s no reason, in the great scheme of things, why he should know who I am, but he did and that shows an impressive mastery of detail and personal focus.

I first became aware of Hunt about 13 years ago. A colleague of mine was his constituent. My colleague is a living saint – the epitome of charity, compassion, justice and Christian faith. But he is definitely not a Tory – he is firmly on the Left. Yet he told me early on that he had become a fan of his local MP – Hunt – who, he said, was remarkably responsive, compassionate and interested in human rights. My colleague then brought a Burmese friend, the daughter of a political prisoner, to see Hunt.

I am inspired by Hunt’s emphasis on turbo-charging the economy, deploying his experience as an entrepreneur to turn post-Brexit Britain into the world’s most dynamic economy. A man who has made millions from a successful business, and known the hard grind of business failure, is more likely to be able to take us forward as a global enterprise than one who has never run anything except some precarious newspaper columns.

One handicap sometimes held up is Hunt’s conflict with doctors. But if you look at his record as Health Secretary in full, it is this: he stood up to vested interests, expanded NHS delivery, won battles for further funding and championed the NHS – all qualities we want in a Prime Minister.

Brexit must be delivered, and made not just to work but to succeed. For that to happen all of us, whatever side we were on three years ago, must come together. That means we don’t need a ‘Brexiteer’ leader, we need a unifier, a leader who is not marked by labels but by their ability to implement the referendum result. We need a skilled and experienced negotiator. That man is Hunt.

If Britain is to walk tall in the world post-Brexit, it needs a leader respected by his counterparts as a statesman, taken seriously and not regarded as a subject of mirth. And we need a man who is internationalist and outward-looking. Hunt is clearly that man. Just read his speech on building an “invisible chain” of democracies.

My mother used to live in Japan, and speaks Japanese. When I showed her the video of Mr Hunt delivering a speech in fluent Japanese with no notes she was impressed. To have a Prime Minister who can speak several languages fluently walking the world stage would help turbo-charge Global Britain.

I joined the Conservative Party at the precocious age of 13. In 2005, I stood for Parliament. I have been a Conservative for over 30 years, and I retain hope. In times of victory and wilderness, I have never doubted the Conservative dream and Conservative values. In ups and downs, in government and opposition, I have stuck with three things I hold dear: a Great Britain, a Global Britain and a compassionate conservatism. It is clear to me that it is Hunt who will deliver all three.

I have always championed the underdog – minorities in Burma and Indonesia, prisoners in North Korea, dissidents in China and Hong Kong. So once again, I am with the underdog, and I believe he can win. As the American poet James Russell Lowell once wrote, “once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side … Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust, Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just; Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside.”

Join me in backing Jeremy Hunt.

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Bob Seely: Saving Britain billions. Ideas for the contenders in this leadership contest.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

Throughout this coming week, the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership launch their campaigns in earnest.

Whoever wins faces a massive challenge. Not only do we have to deliver Brexit – and until we do Britons won’t listen to us on anything else – but we also need to introduce a raft of domestic and foreign policies to renew us in office.

We badly need new ideas and new projects , some of which will need new cash. We also need to cut taxes. To help with the coming battle for ideas, and to support Liz Truss’ work on the spending review, here below are ideas to save between £50-100 billion. That figure doesn’t include the £39bn from a nodeal Brexit.

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First, some basic facts. Government spending made up 38.5 per cent of GDP in 2017-2018. Departmental budgets set by spending review (DEL) amounted to £358.4 billion in 2017-2018, but the total departmental expenditure, including spending which is difficult to predict, manage or forecast (AME) was £812.9 billion in 2017-2018. Of that, £734.9bn was spent on services.

So where could we save money?

High speed rail

First, scrap the planned High Speed Rail link – HS2 – and save £50-100 billion. HS2 initially cost £33.4 billion, then rose to £42.6 billionIt is now costed at £56 billion. One government-commissioned estimate suggests it could total a breath-taking £403 million per mile. The Institute of Economic Affairs estimates the real cost to be £80 billion, and even that may be too little.

Terry Morgan, former chair of HS2 Ltd, told the Lords “everybody has their own guesstimate” of cost and “nobody knows, actually, the number”. Doug Thornton, HS2’s former Land and Property Director, has said the valuation of properties along the route was “enormously wrong”The National Audit Office found that the estimated net cost to acquire land and property for Phase One was £1,120 million in 2012 (2011 prices) ,but £4,316 million was budgeted at the 2015 spending review (2015 prices). Every honest review has considered it bad return for the taxpayer. The Lords’ respected Economic Affairs Committee has suggested delaying HS2. Let’s bite the bullet and bin this white elephant.

As with all the ideas here, the money could be better used by giving it back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, or supporting local and regional infrastructure projects to counter London’s domination of infrastructure spending, or to right the injustice faced by female pensioners – the so-called WASPI women. Alternatively, the next Conservative Government could pledge to ensure fibretopremises broadband nationwide to deliver near unlimited broadband speeds.

The farce of HS2 highlights a wider issue; UK public projects cost much more than in other countries – construction cost per mile of HS2 maybe as much as nine times that of its French equivalentMegaprojects run over-budget and over-time – time after time.

Cost overruns for the Channel Tunnel were 80 percent and for the National Health Service IT System up to 700 percent. The Scottish Parliament was estimated to cost between £10 and £40 million. It cost £414 million and was delivered three years late. An excellent study by the Taxpayers Alliance found that 57 per cent of over 300 public schemes overran by an average of 33.7 per centAnother study in 2009 found total net overrun on 240 projects was more than £19 billion. Even by Government standards, these are eye-watering sums. Running public projects to time and budget would allow us to slash taxes and still leave billions for education, policing or defence.

Overseas aid

Second, reallocate the 0.7 percent legally defined amount that the UK needs to spend on overseas aid. Many traditional Labour and Conservative voters alike are losing faith with this figure.

Why? Because we now spend more on overseas aid than we do on policing. To keep public support for overseas aid, which is important, and to integrate our overseas policy, we need to change the definition of aid to give us more flexibility in how we spend, as I outlined in a Henry Jackson Society study six months ago.

We should continue and even increase the basic lifesaving and humanitarian development aid that we are rightly proud of. But there are other elements of the £14.5 billion aid bill that we can re-allocate to provide much-needed support to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office(FCO), Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for International Trade (DIT). The DfID money should fund:

  • The BBC World Service TV and Radio, tasking it with becoming the global broadcaster of integrity to counter the propaganda output of authoritarian states such as Russia and China.
  • Minstry of Defence peacekeeping operation.
  • Some of the Department of International Trade’s work, especially where that trade represents a moral as well as economic good, such as providing new and greener technologies for developing nations.

Whilst the above doesn’t offer money back to the Treasury, ieffectively gives a spending boost of £85 million to the FCO, £269 million to our Armed Forces and tens of millions to our trade missionswithout having to raise taxes or borrowing. In addition, £254 million for the World Service that comes from the licence fee can be returned to taxpayers or reinvested in the service.

Health and social care

Third, integrate health and social care with local government. This has a potential for big efficiency savings, allowing money to frontline services rather than bureaucracy.

Attempts to make this idea work so far have floundered. The Better Care Fund was intended to save £511 million for departments and partners in the first year. It failedNevertheless, the idea is a valid, one and the council in my constituency of the Isle of Wight is hoping to win Government support to set up a pilot scheme.

In an increasingly complex world integration, be it in overseasspending, or public servicesintegration is key to efficiency and delivery. Artificial Intelligence, tele-medicine and better use of big data will support this, especially in more isolated communities such as the Island.

Cut corporation tax

Fourth, cut tax to raise more in revenue. The principle is a sound one – we cut top rate tax in the 1980s and dramatically increased the tax take.

Slash rates of corporation tax to 12.5 per cent.  Britain has been willing to give the fiscal firepower to “pull every lever we’ve got” a no-deal BrexitDown from 28 per cent in 2008, Corporation tax will soon be set at 17 per cent, the lowest in the G20 – yet receipts have never been higher at £56.2 billion. Lower corporation tax would increase the demand for labour, which in turn raises wages and increases consumption.

Winter fuel payments

Fitth, there are more difficult areas to cover. For example means test winter fuel payments would not be popular but could save £2 billion a year. Despite being estimated to cost £1,967 million in 2018/19, these were described by the Work and Pensions Committee (114.) as a “blunt instrument” which “gives a cash payment to many households do not need it”.

According to the Social Market Foundation, pensioners, who are by far the wealthiest age group in society, “are likely to save rather than spend the value of the windfall. It asked: “Why should older, wealthier pensioners receive more money than poorer, younger ones?”

An estimate for 2012-13 stated if payments were only made to those in receipt of pension credit, expenditure would only be £600 million in 2012-13 (to nearest £100 million). Surely it is better to spend the money on increasing the basic state pension, or increasing the amount that poorer pensioners receive, than giving it to those need is less.

Street and motorway lighting

Next, there are smaller but no less valuable schemes that we could champion. For example, do we need to keep streetlighting on overnight in rural areasThere’s no link between having lights off or dimmed and an increase in crime. Do motorways lights have to be on throughout the night? On the Isle of Wightwe can vary our lighting from a central point. That has the potential to save tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.

Roadside verges

Next, why don’t we cut roadside verges less. They represent a natural habitat for wildlife, but often the way they are cut today during flowering season kills wildflowers and replaces them with thick grass which need more cutting. There are parts of verges, in roundabouts, on curves, which will need very regular cutting, but if we adopted verge cutting to encourage wildflowers and pollinators such as bees, we would beautify roadsides AND save moneyDorset saved £93,000 by ‘greening’ their verge cutting, and Monmouthshire County Council estimates it has saved £35,000 annually from reducing verge mowing. For councils’ up and down the country, every little helps, especially if it has an environmental and quality of life benefit.

Legalising cannabis

Sixth, there are other potential tax streams which have not been examined. Should we examine legalising cannabis, for example, especially weaker strains of it, not only to raise tax but also for reasons linked to mental health and crime reduction.

Colorado, with a population of under six million, raised $247 million in 2017 alone from marijuana tax. One of the most comprehensive studies into legalisation estimates that between £397 million and £871 millio, could be raised annually. A US-style system here could generate up to £2.26 billion a year from tax and fees.

n addition, there is money saved. The Taxpayers Alliance estimates that by legalising cannabis, the UK could save at least £891.7 million a year in reduced spending by police, prisons, courts and the NHS through pain relief treatments. Do we need a Royal Commission on this subject? Should we be treating cannabis, especially in mild form, as yet another sin tax, like smoking and alcohol?

Doing things better

Seventh, we need to do simple things better. There are more prosaic aspects of best practice, such as procurement.

Procurement amounts to around one third of public spending in the UK. In 2016/2017, the UK public sector spent an estimated £355 billion with external suppliers. Efficiencies, such as buying common goods and services on behalf of the whole government, saved £255 million through the Crown Commercial Service and £879 million through specialist commercial expertise.

We need a systematic method of driving procurement best practise across all of Government, from paperclips to tanks, and supporting new, smaller entrants into a market dominated by bigger players who too often bid, take their cut and sub-contract.

Finally, by leaving the EU we will have more power over procurement, buying locally as far as free markets allow. Some organisations believe that EU regulation costs the UK as much as £33.3 billion per year, potentially moreBy taking a common sense attitude to regulation post Brexit, we could save Britain billions.

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These ideas are just a start. Ensuring a Conservative Government after the next General Election requires two things. First, we must deliver on Brexit, second, we need to produce ideas and policies that renew in office.

This is a contribution to the debate. Let’s see what the candidates offer in the week ahead. I wish them well.

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