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Westlake Legal Group > Margaret Thatcher

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: A strange and ominous day in the Palace of the Westminster

What a strange, ominous day in the Palace of Westminster, desultory but tense, nobody quite clear what was going on, MPs swirling about the Chamber as they voted on Hilary Benn’s Bill, the Lords in the early stages of a determined filibuster, a great struggle unfolding between Leavers and Remainers, accusations of bad faith flying back and forth, the outcome uncertain.

Confusion was increased by the continued presence of the Tories who have had the whip withdrawn on the Tory benches. Had there really been an irreparable rift, or did Kenneth Clarke, Sir Nicholas Soames, Sir Oliver Letwin and the rest still belong to the Conservative Party?

Letwin spoke of “the horrors we’ve gone through for the last 18 months”, during which he and his colleagues had become “estranged from a party we love”.

Soames gave a short, valedictory speech, already published on ConHome, in which he observed that he had voted for the Withdrawal Agreement on every occasion it had been presented, “which is more than can be said for my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, and other members of the Cabinet whose serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us”.

As in a marriage which comes under strain, it was difficult to tell whether this was a severe but essentially transitory row which would blow over, or proof of an irrevocable breakdown. Soames still called Boris Johnson his friend, yet accused him of serial disloyalty.

Andrew Percy (Con, Brigg and Goole) accused the Remainers who were promoting the Benn Bill of trying, by repeated delays, to scupper the whole of Brexit.

He reported that his constituents have “figured it out”, and they object to Remainers who “get to tell people who voted Leave what they voted for”, and write them off as stupid, thick, racist Northerners.

In the evening, while the final vote on the Benn Bill was taking place and MPs could wander where in the Chamber they wished, Michael Gove crossed to the Labour side of the House, sat on the step directly beside the bench on which Benn was seated, and addressed him with great force and rapidity.

Benn listened with a frown of concentration, intervened from time to time, gave occasional emphatic nods, and then, as Gove made some parting remark, laughed uproariously. Watching from the press gallery, one could believe friendly co-operation was still possible.

But the prevailing mood was of uneasy flux and deep antagonism. The Benn Bill passed its Third Reading in the Commons by 327 to 299 votes, and Johnson rose to demand an early general election: “I don’t want an election, but the House has left no other option.”

Jeremy Corbyn proceeded to accuse Johnson of making no progress towards a Brexit deal: “Like the emperor’s new clothes there really is absolutely nothing there.”

Sir Patrick McLoughlin (Con, Derbyshire Dales) rose and demanded: “Does the Leader of the Opposition want a general election? A Yes or No will suffice.”

Corbyn declined to provide a Yes or No, but lobbed another accusation at Johnson: “What he’s offering is the poison of a no deal.”

Kenneth Clarke delivered the heaviest attack on a Conservative Prime Minister from his own side since Sir Geoffrey Howe’s denunciation of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990, which paved the way for her downfall.

But Howe had once been the Prime Minister’s close and loyal colleague, and few people had expected him to be so ferocious in his resignation speech.

Clarke, though a big beast, speaks for a smaller fraction of the party, and few people supposed he would pull his punches. He paid tribute to Johnson’s “tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he’s being disingenuous”, remarked that the PM is “now desperate to have a general election”, and told him to “stop treating all this as a game”.

Nobody plays to win with greater ardour than Johnson, but he does now need a general election, and has not yet got one.

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

David Gauke: Why I believe that Parliament must stop a No Deal Brexit this week

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

Following Nicky Morgan’s return to the Cabinet, the Editor of this website (and my esteemed former colleague in George Osborne’s Shadow Treasury team) asked if I would like to be a regular columnist. My role, as I understood it, would be to demonstrate that all strands of Conservative Party thinking was represented on this site and, in doing so, I should therefore stir it up a bit. I gladly accepted.

It hasn’t passed my notice that my views are not entirely in harmony with the majority of ConservativeHome readers when it comes to Brexit. And, given that this article is being published at the beginning of one of the most contentious and important weeks in the Brexit saga – and I have found myself somewhat in the thick of it – this is not likely to be a gentle introduction.

Before turning to the events of the week ahead, I should say a little about the evolution of my thinking. Like most Conservatives of my generation, I came to political age in the era of Margaret Thatcher. I admired her determination to transform the British economy, her willingness to take on vested interests, her belief in the free market, free trade, sound public finances, low inflation and the need for a pro-business tax and regulatory environment.

I also shared her instincts on Europe. I was opposed to our membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, feared that the Delors European Commission was trying to reverse her supply-side reforms and always believed that the UK should stay outside the single currency. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, I feared that, in the end, we would have a choice as to whether to become part of a United States of Europe or leave the EU altogether. If it came down to that choice, I would be a Leaver.

When I entered Parliament in 2005, I joined a small group of Eurosceptics who chipped in a contribution from their Parliamentary Staffing Allowances to pay for a researcher to ensure we were ever vigilant against the advance in Euro-federalism. I even had a spell as Treasurer of this organisation, called – accurately enough – the European Research Group.

It would be fair to say that the ERG and I drifted in different directions over the years. I came to the view that the UK could be part of the EU without being destined to be part of an EU superstate.

I also came to accept that it is only possible to bring down trade barriers on the basis of co-operation with other countries. There is a trade-off between regulatory autonomy and the openness of markets and I am a free trader.
By the time we got to the 2016 referendum, I was firmly in the Remain side. Not a starry-eyed, Ode to Joy-singing Europhile, still concerned about EU overreach but, nonetheless, a believer that, on balance, our interests were best served by continued EU membership.

I was on the losing side. Having provided a referendum, we had a duty to implement it. Failure to do so would ensure our politics would be scarred by the politics of betrayal.

The only responsible way to do so was with a deal, ensuring that we entered into a deep and special partnership and that we would have a smooth and orderly departure from the EU. But the problem with this is that leaving the EU was always going to be complex. It was never possible to maintain exactly the same benefits of EU membership whilst walking away from the institutions and the rules. Leaving in the abstract was one thing; the specifics of leaving – where detailed trade-offs have to be made – is another.

The Leave campaign made big promises in terms of our independence from EU institutions. It also reassured the public as to the minimal impact on businesses and sectors trading with the EU. The problem is that it is impossible to deliver on both sets of promises at the same time.

Theresa May tried and, in my view, got a good deal – a compromise that struck a pragmatic balance. But, as measured by the absolutist hopes of some Brexiteers, it fell short of delivering the dreamed for ‘independence’. Any deal will. But the cost of failing to reach a deal – in terms of our prosperity, security and the integrity of the UK – is far too high.

Leaving with a deal remains much the best outcome. But, given that Parliament has three times rejected a deal, this is not going to be easy. The Prime Minister clearly wants a deal but he has set out one big red line – the replacement of the Northern Irish backstop.

Will the EU change their position? The purpose of the backstop is to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is an important and legitimate objective, and it is unrealistic to think they will abandon the backstop unless there is an alternative that works.

The Prime Minister has accepted that it is for the UK to propose a workable replacement to the backstop. To succeed, it must have the confidence of the people and businesses on both sides of the Irish border. If we engage positively in that endeavour, the EU has always said they would work constructively with us. But if we fail to come up with credible plans, threats of a no deal departure (which will obviously impact the UK more than the EU) will not force the EU to abandon its long-held position.

Assuming a deal is reached (and that is a very big assumption), the deal then needs to get through Parliament. It may well face opposition from a significant number of Conservative MPs who want wider changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. The more my colleagues say they want wider changes, the more remote it appears any kind of deal could be delivered.

Even with the numbers, there is the question of time. The European Council is on 17 October and the Queens Speech debates will conclude on 22 October. Is anyone seriously suggesting that a Withdrawal Agreement Bill can be concluded in nine days? All stages in both the Commons and the Lords in just over a week? Those of us who served in the previous Cabinet will recall that those responsible for managing House business would advise us that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would take two to three months to complete.

The conclusion is clear. If the Prime Minister is sincere that we leave on 31 October ‘do or die’ (and I believe he is sincere) the overwhelming likelihood is that, unless Parliament intervenes this week, we will leave without a deal. Some may welcome that. But for those of us who believe that this would be a tragic mistake, Parliament will have to step in.

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

Luke de Pulford: We must stand with Hong Kong, even if it harms trade with China

Luke de Pulford is Director of the Arise Foundation and serves on the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

As No Deal looms large a terrible question hangs in the air: can Brexit Britain afford to stand up to China? (I’m an unrepentant leaver, before you ask).

Resolving our approach to this question is becoming urgent. We have witnessed continuing demonstrations in Hong Kong, including the closure of the world’s 8th busiest airport and the sight of the Red Army amassing on its borders. Events like these are placing before the UK a stark choice: do we want to prioritise trade prosperity or our human rights obligations? With China threatening economic consequences if the UK continues to “interfere”, it’s starting to seem like it will have to be one or the other.

I’ve been genuinely surprised by how many party colleagues seem content to hold their noses in a search for post-Brexit prosperity. The trade-trumps-all strand of thinking is alive and well. But these Conservatives are in danger of forgetting their tradition. The Party has a proud history of confronting authoritarianism. On top of that, we have more skin in the game with Hong Kong than anyone else.

The peaceful transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty, ending 156 years of British Rule, was the result of careful diplomacy led by Conservative Governments. This was motivated by the same commitment to the rule of law, self-determination, democracy and freedom that led us to oppose fascism and the USSR.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, she worked closely with Murray MacLehose, then the Governor General, to take forward discussions that had begun with Deng Xiaoping. Three years later she sent Edward Heath, as her Special Envoy, to continue the negotiations, paving the way for her own visit to China in 1982.

Deng, who was placing China on a trajectory of post-Mao and post-Cultural Revolution political and economic reform, told Thatcher that “I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon”. In her characteristic response, she agreed – and, with words that have great relevance today, she added “there is nothing I could do to stop you, but the eyes of the world would now know what China is like”.

By December 1984, in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, political pragmatism and statesmanship culminated in the signing of the Sino-British Declaration. Four Conservative Foreign Secretaries, Geoffrey Howe, John Major, Douglas Hurd and Malcom Rifkind, and Hong Kong’s last Governor, Chris Patten, all played their part in creating the internationally guaranteed Treaty that created “two systems in one country.”

So when Boris says he is with the Hong Kong people “every step of the way”, he is invoking a tradition that goes to the heart of the Party. These were events of seismic importance, engineered and delivered by successive Conservative administrations. As I say: we have skin in the game. 

For years, Martin Lee, the “father of democracy in Hong Kong” – whom I recently had the privilege of meeting – has been warning of the gathering storm clouds. The reforms of Deng Xiaoping are a distant memory, superseded by a return to the authoritarianism of Mao under Xi Jinping. Lee’s warnings are coming to fruition. A harbinger of what Hong Kong people fear was plain to see in an editorial in the Communist Party’s Global Times which claimed that the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen, 30 years ago, had “immunised” China against political instability.

Authoritarianism is not to be confused with political stability. And when an all-powerful Communist State imprisons political dissidents, academics and lawyers, sends a million Uighurs to detention centres, bulldozes Catholic and Protestant churches, and is accused of myriad other human rights abuses, it is authoritarian. When an authoritarian state violates a treaty with Britain to the detriment of the rule of law in Hong Kong, we have a moral as well as legal duty to act.

Tom Tugendhat is surely right to argue that we should guarantee the citizenship and right of abode of Hong Kong’s people. Even better if the Commonwealth were to make this pledge at the Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda next year. This is the very least we can do given our obligations to the people of Hong Kong. The very worst we can do is pretend not to notice in anticipation of favourable trading terms.

Conservatives must not forget their history. Unbridled market-worship is much of the reason the younger generation struggles to identify with Conservatism, and prioritising trade over our obligations to the people of Hong Kong would be a tragic affirmation of their criticisms. In contrast, our greatest moments have been where we have stood up for underdogs beleaguered by authoritarianism. The consequences for standing up for Hong Kong may well be punitive trading terms with China. But, in Thatcher’s words, at least “the eyes of the world would now know what China is like.”

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

A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

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

A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

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

Johnson has the inestimable advantage of a divided Opposition

The best news yesterday for Boris Johnson was written by Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications. Alastair Campbell brought out a lengthy denunciation of Jeremy Corbyn under the headline “Why I no longer want to be readmitted to Labour”, and repeated this message in numerous broadcasts.

There could be no more striking proof that the Opposition is for the time being irreparably split. Labour Remainers feel so betrayed by Corbyn that many of them have decided to switch to the Liberal Democrats.

It is true that Tory Leavers felt so betrayed by Theresa May that at the recent European elections, they switched in huge numbers to the Brexit Party.

But the Conservative Party reacted to that shock by electing a new Leader, and the Brexit Party is now being squeezed, as Mark Wallace noted on Sunday in his analysis of the most recent opinion polls.

The nearer the Johnson Government comes to delivering Brexit, the tighter that squeeze will become.

But suppose Parliament manages to block Brexit? Can Tory Remainers, including such resolute figures as Dominic Grieve, find some way at the eleventh hour, in alliance with the Opposition parties and with intransigeant negotiators in Brussels, Dublin and other European capitals, to delay the whole process, or even to bring it to a juddering halt?

This is a question on which it is possible for well-informed people to disagree. We find ourselves bombarded with mutually incompatible assertions about what can and cannot happen.

Johnson, however, is building a fallback position. If as he takes the country towards No Deal he finds his path blocked, or severely impeded, by a parliamentary coalition of Remainers, he can say, “Very well, let us have a general election, and let the people decide whether they wish to proceed with Brexit.”

What then will Labour MPs decide to do? Most of them know, as Campbell has pointed out, their party is in no condition to win such an election, and could indeed be destroyed by it.

In a Brexit election, Labour cannot be as welcoming to Remain voters as the Liberal Democrats, or to Leave voters as the Conservatives.

Jo Swinson has yet to make an impact as Lib Dem leader, but she is at least much newer than Corbyn, and much clearer on the European issue.

And Johnson is not just clear on Europe. By hastening to announce the increased spending on various public services which one would expect to find at the heart of a Labour manifesto, he has stolen the clothes a more dynamic Labour leader would already be wearing.

Many Labour MPs probably do not know themselves what they would do if confronted by the threat of an early general election. The problem for their party is that they might split several different ways.

Some might reckon that under Corbyn, a leader whose abilities as a campaigner were underestimated in 2017, the party could still perform well.

Some might call for a new leader, which would be difficult or impossible to arrange in a hurry, or for a Lib-Lab pact, which again would be difficult or impossible to arrange in a hurry.

And some might decide to do just about anything to avert an early general election. They might decide to accept Johnson’s argument that proceeding at full speed towards No Deal is the only way to obtain the necessary concessions from the EU.

Divided parties seldom do well in elections. Nor do divided oppositions. One of the conditions for Margaret Thatcher’s success in the 1980s was the splintering of the Left, with the formation in March 1981 of the SDP.

Johnson is an ebullient campaigner, who plainly hopes that by mobilising public opinion, he can place pressure on MPs to support what the Government is doing.

Campbell writes of “Johnson unspeakably now prime minister and changing the dynamic of the political debate”. Those words indicate a certain haplessness, an inability to work out how to get to grips with this new opponent.

Johnson has “unspeakably” seized the initiative, and no considerable figure on the Opposition side yet seems to have the faintest idea how to deal with him.

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

Chris Philp: Cut Stamp Duty – and unleash a new Home Ownership Revolution

Chris Philp is has served as PPS in the Treasury and MHCLG, and on the Treasury Select Committee. He is MP for Croydon South.

One of the signal achievements of the Thatcher Government was the home ownership revolution. Millions of people were able to buy their own home for the first time – through right-to-buy and a more dynamic housing market generally. Sadly, much of that good work has been undone in the years since.

Home ownership rates have fallen from a high of 71 per cent in 2005 down to 63 per cent today. The falls are especially acute amongst those in their 20s and 30s, where home ownership rates have almost halved since the early 1990s. No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote Conservative.

Home ownership is an inherently beneficial thing. Those who own their own home enjoy secure tenure and lower housing costs than those renting. Over the long term, it is financially better to own rather than rent – even if house prices do not rise faster than inflation. And owning a property gives people a real sense of a place they can call home. It is no surprise, then, that 86 per cent of the public aspire to own their homes. Given only 63 per cent actually do, around a quarter of our fellow citizens wish to own their own home but do not. We should help them.

Stamp duty is a major barrier to buying a home. It is a cash cost that cannot be mortgage-funded. Given that up-front cash costs are the biggest impediment to buying, this is serious. Stamp duty acts as a barrier for buyers of all kinds, which means housing stock is not freed up by downsizers and there are negative effects on labour mobility.

It should be a legitimate – and popular – objective of public policy to help prospective home buyers. In the last ten years, owner occupiers have been crowded out by financial investors and second home buyers, often from overseas, who have superior financial firepower. They currently make up around a quarter of all residential sales, and even more of new build sales. The Government has already recognised this by abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers purchasing properties under £300,000 and cut it by £5,000 for those buying at under £500,000.

We need to do more. As I and Guy Miscampbell set out in a new report for Onward, the Government should:

  • Abolish stamp duty entirely for all purchases of a main home under £500,000.
  • Halve current rates of stamp duty for purchases of a main home over £500,000.

This would abolish stamp duty for nine out of ten owner-occupiers and save a family buying an average priced London home £13,000, or half of a five per cent deposit. The cost of this policy is £3.3 billion. But it would help more people buy their first home, and make moving house – for a new job, to downsize or to upsize – much easier. For the most expensive properties, where stamp duty is currently charged at a marginal rate of 12 per cent, it is likely that transaction volumes are being suppressed. Halving stamp duty for those properties should result in a positive Laffer effect, due to an increase in transaction levels.

But any new policy should be fiscally responsible. To fund the £3.3 per year billion cost, I propose a number of smaller tax changes, where there is broad public support for taxation and a clear case for action:

  • Introduce a one per cent annual tax on the value of homes left empty for more than 6 months in a year, raising £645 million.
  • Increase the current three per cent stamp duty surcharge on second homes and investment properties to 5 per cent, raising £790 million.
  • Introduce a further three per cent stamp duty surcharge of non-UK resident buyers of residential property, raising £540 million.
  • Introduce an extra higher band of council tax at a £1,700 per year council tax premium for the 0.4 per cent most expensive properties, raising £173 million.
  • End all council tax reliefs for vacant and second home property, raising £75 million.
  • Create a new eight per cent (up from five per cent) stamp duty band for the portion of commercial property purchases over £1 million, raising £682 million.
  • Levy stamp duty on residential properties transferred by selling the company that owns them via transparent ownership rules (which would also help combat money laundering), raising £175 million.
    Double the Annual Taxation on Enveloped Dwellings, raising £140 million.

These measures taken together will help first time buyers, down sizers, upsizers and people moving home to help their job. It will tax overseas investors (usually from the far east) who are treating UK homes as a financial asset and crowding out first time buyers with their superior financial firepower.

Tilting the playing field back towards UK-resident first time buyers and owner-occupiers is the right thig to do. The new Government should use the coming autumn budget to do exactly that.

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

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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John Penrose: The conventional wisdom about this leadership election is wrong. Hunt’s spending plans are neither unaffordable nor irresponsible.

John Penrose is MP for Weston-super-Mare and a Northern Ireland Office Minister.

If you listen to the sober-sided, serious economists at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, or to the Chancellor Philip Hammond himself, you’d think the Conservative leadership election is a horrible bidding war of doolally spending promises from Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. Has the party of sound money lost its soul? Betrayed its heritage? Are Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman spinning in their graves as leadership contenders try to out-Corbyn each other with unaffordable spending promises?

Well no, not really. I can’t speak for Boris Johnson but, as someone who’s been involved in a lot of Jeremy Hunt’s policy development work, that’s not what we’re doing at all.

Let’s start with the charge that, if it was right to introduce austerity in 2010, we should do the same for Brexit in 2019. Otherwise we aren’t being consistent.

But the problem in 2019 isn’t the same as 2010. Brexit isn’t the banking crisis, thank goodness. And if the problem is different, the answers should be too.

By 2010, Gordon Brown was trying to keep the economy going with huge increases in public spending, paid for with ballooning debt. Something like one pound in every four the Government spent had to be borrowed, to be repaid by taxpayers later. If we’d carried on like that, pretty soon the country’s credit card would have been snipped up and the bailiffs would have been knocking at the door. So we simply had to throttle back, to stop spending money we hadn’t got.

But today is different. Public spending isn’t ballooning and borrowing is under control. We’re living within our means, and there’s even headroom for a bit more spending if we’re careful. We’ve come a long way, and it hasn’t been easy. You can understand why Hammond doesn’t want the next Prime Minister to blow it.

What are today’s problems, if they’re different from 2010? The biggest is that some – although certainly not all – firms are putting off growth-creating investments until after the Brexit fog has cleared. And that no-one knows whether our trade with the EU will be easy or awful once we’ve left.

So it makes sense to spend a bit of money to promote economic growth. Post-Brexit Britain needs a stronger, more dynamic, more energetic, turbocharged economy, so we’re prepared for the challenges of life outside the EU. And Jeremy Hunt’s plans to cut corporation tax to 12 and a half per cent, increase investment allowances and exempt small high street firms from business rates would do exactly that. They would spark economic renewal and investment in UKplc, making us more resilient in economic shocks and recessions, and more productive and efficient so we can grow faster too.

In other words, it’s OK to use different answers in 2019 than in 2010. But what about the charge that we’re making the same mistake as Brown, by spending and borrowing unaffordably?

Hunt is on pretty firm ground here, because he agrees we’ve got to keep the national debt falling relative to the size of our economy. That means borrowing can’t balloon, and we’ll always be able to repay our debts. And his business career helps here too, because his plans to turbocharge post-Brexit Britain’s economy would mean we’d be investing to grow. They’re sensible investments in our economic future, not pale copies of unworkable, hard-left Corbynomic plans.

Nor is he expecting to do everything at once. We’d need to raise defence spending progressively over five years, for example, to allow time to plan. Otherwise you’d simply waste money on the wrong things.

The same goes for fixing illiteracy. That will take ten years, building on the huge progress over the last decade that has seen more pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools than ever before.

And some of the plans would only be temporary, too. The pledge to help farmers adjust to a post-Brexit world has to be a hard-headed, short term plan to help re-equip machinery, buildings and breeding for new global markets, for example. Not a woolly, open-ended subsidy.

The plans have got to be about changing things, so we’re ready for a new world. Not expensively preserving the way they were before we voted to leave. Transformation and preparation, not status quo. But, for Hunt’s proposals at least, they are sound, practical, affordable ideas. And, most important of all, they’re thoroughly Conservative too.

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Iain Mansfield: Brexit by October 31. Stop using the Left’s language. And stand for skilled workers. Essentials for our next Prime Minister

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

Our next Prime Minister will take office at the most challenging time since the 1970s. Not only is there Brexit – an issue of fundamental national importance, that has destroyed the last two Prime Ministers and poses an existential challenge to the future of the Conservative Party – but the old political assumptions are changing. Across the West, traditional voter coalitions are shifting, as citizens reject centrist compromises. Flatlining productivity, unaffordable houses and millions of voters feeling abandoned, either culturally or economically, are just some of the challenges they will face.

Many of those who voted for David Cameron in 2010 are lost to the party, alienated by Brexit. In Britain today, age and education level are better predictors of a person’s vote than class. To win a general election, our next Prime Minister must forge a new coalition of voters that unites the traditional Tory shires with the left-behind Leave voters in the Midlands and North. Even more importantly, they must deliver authentic right-wing policies that address the causes of ordinary working people’s dissatisfaction. People want change and, if the Conservative Party does not deliver it, they are likely to seek answers in the flawed blandishments of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism.

In that context, there are three essentials that our next Prime Minister must prioritise for the good of the people, the nation and the party:

  • Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed.
  • Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left.
  • Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes.

Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed

Not only is delivering on the outcome of the referendum a democratic imperative, it is vital for the continued existence of the party. Recent polling shows that, if we have not left the EU, the Conservatives are likely to suffer devastating losses in a general election; these figures could be even worse if large numbers of members, councillors or even entire associations defect to the Brexit Party. Many members have held on over the last few months purely out of hope that the next Prime Minister would deliver where May failed: another betrayal in October would see these members permanently lost.

Leaving with a deal is preferable, if some changes to the backstop can be agreed and Parliament will pass it. If not, as I have argued previously on this site, we have nothing to fear from No Deal. Preparations for such should be put into top gear on the first day in office. The Prime Minister must make clear that they will under no circumstances ask for an extension; and that they are, if needed, prepared to systematically veto any measure put forward by the EU on regular business if the UK is for some reason kept in. While every effort should be made to secure a deal, if it cannot be reached, Parliament must be faced with the simple choice of permitting a WTO exit or voting no confidence in the Prime Minister – a gamble, admittedly, but one that is preferable to another disastrous extension.

Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left

In recent years too many Conservative politicians have allowed our opponents to define the playing field. We cannot beat the socialists by adopting the language and assumptions of socialism. Our next Prime Minister must stop feeding the narrative of identity, grievance and division, with its assumption that an individual’s potential is defined by their characteristics, that so-called ‘burning injustices’ are solely the responsibility of the state to address, and that the government always no best.

Changing the narrative will be a long endeavour. The systematic appointment of those with conservative values into key ministerially appointed positions; an authentically right-wing approach to policy making in Whitehall; and the withdrawal of state funding from the network of organisations that maintain the left’s grip on the policy narrative are essential. But over and above this, the Prime Minister must be willing to personally stand up and champion individual liberties and freedoms; to condemn progressive authoritarianism and to be visibly proud of Britain, our culture and the rich global heritage of our citizens.

Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes

Young, metropolitan graduates may once have been natural Conservatives, but no longer. There is little hope of reversing this in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Instead of squandering our effort here, our new Prime Minister should instead make the party the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes, particularly in the midlands and north.

Such voters have a natural affinity to the traditional conservative values of low tax and individual liberty, but also greatly value and rely day-to-day onn strong public services. This places the Conservatives in a difficult position after a decade of austerity: Labour made hay campaigning on cuts to police numbers and falls in per pupil spending in 2017. But how to fund significant increases in core services without raising taxes or alienating core Conservative voters, such as via the disastrous proposals on social care in the 2017 manifesto?

To find the funding the next Prime Minister must be bold enough to slay the progressive sacred cows that soak up billions annually in public funding. Three immediately spring to mind:

With the additional £15 billion plus a year, the Prime Minister could at a stroke increase police funding by 25 per cent (£3 billion), boost school funding per pupil by 20 per cent (£8 billion) and increase spending on social care by 20 per cent (£4 billion). And then split the proceeds of further growth between public services and tax cuts.

As well as this, we should champion the interests of the high street, enterprise and small businesses and oppose crony corporatism. Multinational companies that make use of aggressive tax avoidance, abuse their market position or actively work against UK sovereignty should not enjoy government grants, procurement or time in No. 10. Fundamentally, our next Prime Minister should spend more time listening to the Federation of Small Businesses and less time listening to the CBI.

Conclusion

As members, we have two candidates set before us. Both are able politicians and tested leaders who represent the best the Parliamentary party has to offer. As we assess who should be not just our next leader, but our Prime Minister, we should do so against their ability to deliver these vital elements.

Both have committed to delivering Brexit by October 31 – but which one has the ability, the genuine will and the courage to do so by any means necessary? Both are true-blue Conservatives – but which one will truly champion our values, taking the battle to our adversaries with the eloquence and conviction of a Thatcher or a Churchill? Both recognise the importance of reaching out to new voters – but which one can devise and push through the policies needed to unite the Tory shires with the Leave voters of the north? Consider carefully and cast your vote.

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