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Westlake Legal Group > George Osborne MP

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

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

As the ‘meaningful vote’ approaches, apply buckets of salt to all Government news

The healthy follower of political news is an autocondimentor, taking everything with at least a sprinkling of salt. That habit ought to intensify as controversial votes grow near – and some of this weekend’s headlines require not just fistfuls but barrels of the stuff.

The game underway is the latter stages of an ongoing attempt to bounce opponents of the Prime Minister’s proposed EU deal into supporting it. The particular focus, as displayed by Jeremy Hunt yesterday, is on trying to persuade Leavers that the alternative to the deal is no Brexit rather than No Deal.

If the dubious quality of the arguments being mounted is an indicator of the Government’s desperation, then the Whips appear very worried indeed.

Take for example the exclusive revelation, helpfully presented by George Osborne’s Evening Standard, that:

‘Brexit looks increasingly likely to be delayed beyond the scheduled exit of March 29, Cabinet ministers today revealed to the Standard. A backlog of at least six essential Bills that must be passed before Britain leaves the European Union has left ministers convinced the timetable will be extended…A senior minister said: “The legislative timetable is now very very tight indeed. Certainly, if there was defeat on Tuesday and it took some time before it got resolved, it’s hard to see how we can get all the legislation through by March 29.”’

In other words, trust us to negotiate and implement a bad deal, or our failure to competently manage the legislation will prevent Brexit. Not a very enticing or inspiring message in itself, but also a rather bogus one.

As our very own Henry Hill laid out on Wednesday, the Government’s legislative planning has been careful and detailed, precisely in order to restrict the risk of necessary laws not being in place in time for Brexit Day.

This isn’t the weirdest outcome of the politics of Brexit, but it is odd to see Ministers talking down their own ability to manage Government business, all in order to try to encourage MPs to place more faith in the capacity of the same Government to negotiate and deliver the Withdrawal Agreement. “Trust us, or we will cock it all up” is quite the slogan.

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

Brexit: The Uncivil War. Graham gives us Cummings Agonistes – and a Tory work of art.

“Coming to a television set near you: Farage the movie,” the Daily Telegraph reported in August 2017.  “A major Hollywood studio is poised to sign a deal with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks to make a £60million, six-part film of Mr Banks’ best-selling diary of the referendum campaign “The Bad Boys of Brexit”.  The script is nearly finished and shooting will start in the New Year. The series will air in April, once the deal is signed next month at a meeting in Los Angeles.”

Eighteen months on, there’s no sign of the film.  Instead, we have a drama centred on the man who can claim instead to be the real winner of the EU referendum – Dominic Cummings.  There really is a God after all.  Or, if there isn’t, at least there is James Graham, who wrote Brexit: The Uncivil War, shown yesterday evening on Channel 4.

A virtue of his film is that it gets Banks’ measure, accurately nailing him as a comic sideshow. And an even bigger one is that it gets the referendum campaign’s, correctly fingering Cummings as the man who made the difference.  Had he not been appointed, Vote Leave might well not have won official designation.  Had he been deposed from it, the organisation would have collapsed.  There would have been no Take Back Control.  And, like it or not, that’s what the British people were persuaded to vote to do.

Banks has complained about the drama, though he may not yet have seen it.  So has the woman who has done so much to project him – Carole Cadwalladr.  He doesn’t like being played for laughs and she doesn’t like it side-stepping her conspiracy theories.  These were nodded to in the closing credits, and then a bit, but otherwise mostly avoided.

In a sense, though, one sympathises with both of them – at least, if one is hoping for documentary rather than drama.  We could offer a list of corrections and clarifications.  Douglas Carswell didn’t avoid parts of his former constituency.  Michael Gove made his mind up far earlier than the film suggested (though he kept quiet about it).  Cummings himself uses focus groups to test voter opinion, not random visits to pubs.  But all this would be beside the point – like expecting a piece of poetry to be a chunk of prose.

No, the real weakness of Brexit: the Uncivil War emerges from its greatest strength – that’s to say, putting Cummings, portrayed with eerie verisimilitude by Benedict Cumberbatch, at the centre of the film. For Graham balances out Cummings with Craig Oliver, then David Cameron’s Director of Communications.  This neat piece of parallelism sets them up as the contending antagonists of the drama.

But Oliver wasn’t really Cummings’ real-life equivalent.  George Osborne was Remain’s chief strategist, if anyone.  And he is missing from the film altogether in fictional form.  So for that matter is Jeremy Corbyn.  Indeed, the film is largely blue-on-blue action.  Back in the real world of the referendum campaign, Corbyn’s lethargy depressed Remain’s Labour vote, just as Farage’s energy, over a longer period, helped to deliver Leave’s core support.  Graham’s palette is striking for the absence of red.

Again, it’s worth stressing that art isn’t fact.  None the less, a structural flaw in a drama’s foundation can collapse it – especially, perhaps, if it looks back to recent events.  Some will say that the film fails to stand up because it has too much to say about Cummings and too little about others, or about the case for and against the EU itself: that it’s real title should be Vote Leave: the Uncivil War.

Others will claim, we think with justice, that the campaign didn’t pit head, in the form of rational Oliver, against heart, in that of romantic Cummings, as Graham seems to suggest.  Rather, two different emotions went head to head: fear and anger.  The drama shows a lot of the stoking of one but little of that of the other – Project Fear.  The balance between data and message on the Leave side is better, but it was the latter that counted most (at least, if you agree with Oliver which, in part, we do).

None the less, Brexit: the Uncivil War has an emotional strength at the heart of it: it gets why so many people voted Leave.  The focus group scene in which a woman makes it clear that she feels, ignored, by-passed, and treated as if she has no value – and will back Brexit in consequence – had the power of truth.

It’s a force that drives the progress of the plot, from Cummings stumbling upon “Take back control”  as a winning slogan through the failed coup to depose him through the campaigning switch to immigration to the very end.  A mention in dispatches, and then some, for Roy Kinnear, whose Oliver is a sleek fictional foil for Cumberbatch’s angular Cummings.  Graham may be a man of the Left, but something else entirely comes out of the near-final scene in which they square off against each other over a pint.

“You won’t be able to control it either,” says Oliver of the forces that Cummings has helped to unleash.  In the film, the latter can almost hear them, so finely-tuned are his sensibilities.  The drama begins with him picking up noise like a wireless picking up a signal – straining for it with a concentration that is almost clairvoyant.

Later in the film, he lies down, his ear pressed to the ground, in order to hear it better.  The noise is voices.  What are they saying?  Cummings may not be sure, but Graham seems to be.  Surly, turbulent, angry, swelling to a roar – this is the clamour not of a queue waiting to vote, but of a mob pitching the mighty from their seats.  We have before us not so much the ballot box as Pandora’s box.

Graham is not a Conservative, but this sensibility – this fear of riot, of disorder from below, of revolt – has been linked to the Right of politics for longer than the Left.  He might not thank us for saying so, but he has, in one sense at least, produced a Tory work of art.  There are worse ways of sketching a first draft of history.

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

Universal Credit. Noble aim, thorny problems. But if it’s to work properly, it must be paid for.

ConservativeHome spoke yesterday to Conservative MPs in marginal seats about Universal Credit.  One particularly switched-on Parliamentarian told us that food banks in his seat hate the new payment and that job coaches love it.  He said that the former claim that it pushes people into debt, homelessness and destitution.  And the latter counter that makes it easier for them to help benefit claimants move into work and get better-paid jobs.

Both perceptions can be true.  It was never going to be easy to make a major change to the system which is reliant on people reporting changes to their income in real time – and new computer systems to enable this to happen.  This helps to explain why Universal Credit, originally intended to be fully operational by 2017, will now not be so until 2023.  The payment poses particular challenges for claimaints migrating to it from what Ministers call the legacy system.  Last autumn, the Resolution Foundation calculated that 2.2 million families were expected to gain under the system and 3.2 million to lose, with single parents especially adversely affected.

The Government has chucked transitional relief at Universal Credit.  Ministers argue that claimants can take on more work to increase their income.  Philip Hammond announced more support and an increase in work allowances in last autums’s Budget.  But the bottom line is that too many people are being paid late: last summer, the National Audit Office said that it a fifth of those expecting their first full payment were in this position.

A Commons vote is due on transferring three million claimants from the old to the new system.  David Cameron had a small majority, but his Government was vulnerable to defeat on welfare-related and many other issues: remember George Osborne’s U-turn on planned changes to tax credits.  Theresa May has none at all.  A handful of backbench protesters could sink the change.  Amber Rudd thus had little alternative but to postpone the vote, and has duly done so.  She will now seek Parliamentary approval for a pilot scheme that transfers just 10,000 people from the old to the new system.

The operation of Universal Credit is complex, but the politics are simple – or straightforward, at any rate.  The Universal Credit system is the brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith’s work in opposition at the Centre for Social Justice.  It has a visionary aim: to roll six benefits into one, make the system more simple and flexible, and improve incentives to work.  Writing on this site last autumn, Alok Sharma, the Employment Minister, complained of the three cliff-edges in the legacy system that deter claimants from seeking work, and reported that 86 per cent of people on Universal Credit are actively looking to increase their hours, compared to just 35 per cent of people on Jobseekers Allowance.

If you are going to appoint Duncan Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary, as Cameron did in 2010, you cannot do so without allowing him to room to implement his scheme.  And if you are going to do so, it follows that the Treasury must take the funding consequences on the chin.  It didn’t.  Think back to that Osborne tax credits U-turn.  The reason for Duncan Smith’s resignation in 2016 was precisely that the then Chancellor was not prepared also to reverse planned savings to disability benefits (which in turn impacted upon Universal Credit).

Amber Rudd is the fifth Secretary of State for Work of Pensions to hold the post since he left – a turnover rate of about one every six months.  She has started by doing what every new Cabinet Minister should do if confronted by a policy problem: namely, to promise that she will listen and learn.  There is more to this than the usual bromides.  Rudd is particularly sensitive to the position of women in the system.  She will campaign for more money for the system: Downing Street’s Brexit-driven weakness may thus well be Universal Credit’s gain.  That she is on broadly the same wavelength as the Chancellor over EU policy can’t do her cause any harm.

Writing on ConservativeHome last autumn, Tom Clogherty of the Centre for Policy Studies identified what new money could do to help realise Duncan Smith’s goal: a report from the think-tank, he said, “advocates bold action on Universal Credit, suggesting that the taper – the rate at which benefits are withdrawn against each pound of post-tax earnings over any work allowance – should be cut from 63p to 50p. This would give a huge boost to the lowest earners, while also giving them a strong incentive to increase their hours and make progress in the workplace”.

Separately, senior backbenchers and former ministers are piling on pressure for an end to the benefits freeze.  A coalition of five former Secretaries of State, ranging from Nicky Morgan to David Davis, made the case last year.  Davis said that the freeze contradicts “the basic Tory notion of having a robust safety net and an effective ladder out of poverty.”  Rudd can be expected to make the same case in private.  Whatever your take, one thing is certain.  If Universal Credit is to be introduced in the first place, it must be paid for.

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