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Westlake Legal Group > Michael Gove MP

Daniel Hannan: I wave farewell to the EU in my last column for this site as an MEP

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

This is it: the last column I’ll write for ConservativeHome as an MEP. We were supposed to leave the EU at the end of March 2019. Then at the end of June. Then at the end of October. Now, at last, it is happening. In nine days’ time, we’ll be out.

What an extraordinary three years. “If this were played upon a stage now,” says the poet, “I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” The rise in the Conservative Party’s vote from 8.8 per cent at the European election in May (our worst ever result) to 43.6 per cent less than eight months later has no precedent. If anyone foresaw the turbulence, the vertiginous swings, the sudden reversals that followed the Brexit vote, they kept very quiet.

I certainly didn’t. Several things that happened after 2016 caught me completely off-guard. The first was the radicalisation of many Remainers. Euro-federalism had never really been a thing in Britain. To be sure, there were plenty of people who thought we should stay in the EU, but their reasoning had a pragmatic, faute-de-mieux quality. The usual argument for staying in was along the lines of “Yes, the EU may be expensive, remote, meddlesome and all the rest of it, but we’re in now, and pulling out would be disruptive”. The number of people who felt a visceral loyalty to Brussels, who responded emotionally to the 12-star flag, who identified as European, was tiny – until the referendum.

When people see the same issue leading the news day after day, though, they begin to take sides. As time passes, the side they have taken starts to become a part of their identity. In due course, they polarise, taking up harder and harder positions, more from tribal instinct than from changed circumstances.

It happened on both sides – partly during the campaign, but mainly after it. Leavers who had argued for years for “a common market not a common government” were suddenly arguing that a common market was “not Brexit”. Reluctant Remainers became passionate Europeans: the blue-and-gold flag, largely unseen in the UK before the campaign, began to flap at rallies. The handful of us who tried to argue for an EFTA-style compromise were shot down by both sides.

The radicalisation of the Remainers was the more striking. Until 2016, most of the loons had been on my side. I used to wince, during the 1990s, when Eurosceptic meetings were attended by angry, shouty people dressed as John Bull. After 2016, though, there was a polar switch. All of a sudden, the angry, shouty people were standing outside Parliament in blue-and-gold berets.

The second thing I failed to foresee was Theresa May’s charmless and inert premiership. In the immediate aftermath of the result, the almost universal assumption was that the Government would be led by someone who had voted Leave. Had that happened, I suspect the tone would have been very different. There would have been no sulkiness about recognising the rights of EU nationals in the UK. There would, I am pretty sure, have been a swift but soft Brexit, reflecting the narrowness of the vote.

But the new Prime Minister had no room for manoeuvre. Having voted Remain, she had to prove her credentials. She therefore overcompensated, digging in on relatively trivial issues – the timeframe, for example – while conceding on important ones, such as trade policy. Again and again, she insisted on making the whole negotiation about border control – sacrificing even sovereignty to that end. By the final days of her premiership, she was so desperate to get her deal through the Commons that she was conceding a second referendum.

My third miscalculation was failing to see how well Corbyn would do in the 2017 general election. It never occurred to me that the country would vote for a Marxist who sided against Britain in every quarrel.

It is worth asking what happened. After all, the disqualifications that counted against Jezza in 2019 were on display in 2017: his support for Hamas and the IRA, his anti-patriotism, his links with anti-Semites, his unaffordable spending pledges. Why didn’t he lose in the same way? Two reasons: first, he fought the 2017 election promising to respect the referendum result; second, he was against Theresa May.

Which brings me to my fourth mistake. I assumed that, after that election defeat, the Prime Minister would stand down. Had she done so, she would have left with her party’s thanks ringing in her ears. But, incredibly, she refused to budge. We were thus stuck with an anti-Brexit majority in parliament, an incapable Prime Minister and an EU that couldn’t believe its luck.

While all this was going on, the norms and precedents that sustained our system of government began to break down. Completely outré ideas – that referendums don’t count unless an absolute majority of eligible voters back something, that Russian agents had tipped the result, that previous promises to respect the verdict were void – began to be voiced, not just by online nutters, but by Labour MPs, columnists, academics and peers. When the Speaker of the Commons disregarded his officials to rule in a flagrantly partisan way, a large minority the country cheered. By the time May finally stepped down, I was concerned about the future of our parliamentary democracy.

How long ago all that seems now. Boris Johnson revived his party’s fortunes, won a stunning victory and restored normal government, The Brexit Bill has been passed, the Stormont assembly is back up and running and an ambitious democratic programme is being put before MPs.

Six months ago, just before Johnson was elected, I called in this slot for the democratisation of our administrative state, and suggested putting Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings in charge.

That is now happening. When I think that it might have happened in 2016, and that we might have been spared the anguish of the intervening 43 months, I almost want to weep.

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As 2020 begins, we look back on ten years in which Tories first led the movement for austerity…and then against it

This decade is only nine years old.  When it ends there will be many different ways of assessing it.  But one aspect is already clear to those who follow British politics.

This has been a decade dominated domestically by the Tory Party.  First, it rode the first big wave – namely “austerity”, the attempt to restore the status quo pre-the financial crash.  Then, just as that wave exhausted itself, it leaped to board the second one: “anti-austerity”.  Labour never got a look in.

Let us explain – with a hat-tip, and more, to Larry Elliott of the Guardian.

The 2010 election was a debate about which party would best restore the status quo ante – that’s to say, the political and economic model founded by Margaret Thatcher and reinforced by Tony Blair.  This was based on London, finance, services, the South, high migration (at least under Blair), a strong pound, relatively cheap foreign labour, law, traditional media and rising house prices.

The voters were not quite willing to entrust the task to David Cameron.  So he formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  As Chancellor, George Osborne then got on top of the worst of Labour’s debt and deficit, and salvaged the economy – though it remained a high immigration, low productivity, southern-based model.

In 2015, the middle of the decade, the Liberal Democrats were punished for entering the coalition, and the Conservatives reaped the political gain of restoring the Thatcher/Blair model to near normality.  Their vote inched up to 37 per cent; Ed Miliband failed to persuade the people that he would deliver a convincing alternative, and the LibDem implosion delivered Cameron a small overall majority.

So the first half of the decade had produced a pro-austerity Tory majority. Cameron then had little alternative but to deliver the referendum he had promised on Britain’s EU referendum.  This had nightmare consequences for him.

Ultimately, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests, the referendum decision was about self-government.  But there was a lot more to it than that.  Those who did well out of the system tended to vote Remain.  Which is why London and much of its hinterland plumped to stay.  (Scotland and Northern Ireland were special cases.)

Most of provincial England, however, didn’t feel it was gaining from the Thatcher / Blair settlement – from the trend to services, finance, the capital and especially high migration.  Lord Ashcroft’s research confirms that the last was the second big factor at play in delivering the referendum result.  When push came to shove, the voters, faced with a binary choice shorn of party politics, voted against the status quo.

And so it was that the cause of Remain, fronted by Cameron and George Osborne, lost out to that of Leave, led by…Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.  The referendum became a blue-on-blue conflict.  Jeremy Corbyn’s position was ambigious and Labour made little impact.

Out went Cameron and in came…Theresa May, after Gove and Johnson fell out.  For a while, she looked like the perfect solution to the Brexit conundrum: a former Remainer who would deliver Leave, and grasped the difference between the Somewheres, with their rooted attachment to place and nation, and the Nowheres, with their lack of commitment to either.

Then came the disaster of the 2017 election.  May over-reached by seeking a mandate both for Brexit and reform.  This reminded non-Conservative Leave voters that the Tories were the party of austerity – a cause that the latter had formally given up on arguing for anyway.

May lost her majority, scraped back into government…and saw her administration vanish into a dispute between Conservatives who ultimately were prepared to leave the EU without a deal and those who would not.  Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers, in the wake of David Davis, and became the de facto leader of the former.

Once again, the main political action was blue-on-blue, with Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve in one corner, and Johnson and the Spartans in another.  The Party lost 42 Ministers to Brexit, including Steve Baker, Sam Gyimah, Dominic Raab, Jo Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart.  Labour took no clear position – and was sidelined again.

The rest is recent history.  May was deposed, Johnson entered the consequent leadership election as front-runner, and defied precedent by winning.  After a long series of defeats he then pulled off a near-landslide election victory, in which the Tories became Britain’s working-class party – a transformation that their 2017 wins in Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and Walsall North, inter alia, presaged.

Some will acknowledge these developments while disliking our description of them.  What is “austerity” anyway, they will ask? – pointing out that public spending has risen year on year since 2010. (We add that most departmental spending was reduced during that period.)

In any event, Osborne was accused of easing up on deficit reduction many times: read this Andrew Gimson article, from 2014, and find a list of examples.  The former Chancellor again took a path of least resistance in 2015, when he found £27 billion going spare down the back of the public expenditure sofa.

But you may insist that Osborne and austerity are synonymous.  In which case, we refer you to Philip Hammond’s post-EU referendum autumn statement, in which he junked his predecessor’s fiscal rules.  The new Chancellor promised instead to balance the budget “as soon as is practicable”.  If John McDonnell had said so instead, there would have been a riot (at least in the Tory press).

This takes us to a core point about austerity: one can claim it never happened; or try to define it out of existence; but the word does describe a broad consensus for slowing the growth in public spending that preceded the Coalition.  (Labour also pledged in 2010 to reduce the deficit, but to do so more slowly.)

In one sense, it is clearly outrageous for the Conservatives, having led the charge for public spending retrenchment, the Thatcher/Blair economic model and EU membership, to turn turtle and now push for still higher spending, regional growth and Brexit.

But that’s politics for you.  Labour, torn between pro-Brexit majorities in most of its provincial seats and anti-Brexit passion in its north London fastnesses, was never able to take a clear position one way or the other.  And its Blair/Brown era support for globalisation, and Miliband/Corbyn era unwillingness to renounce relatively high migration, did for it among a big swathe of the white working class.

So will Johnson now be able to finish what he is seeking to begin: the transformation of the Conservatives into a more regional, less London-centric, pro-manufacturing, lower migration, weaker pound, and more-slowly-rising-house-prices party?  ConservativeHome will let you into a secret. We have absolutely no idea.

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Triumphator Johnson – our final Cabinet League Table of 2019

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Dec-19-1024x954 Triumphator Johnson – our final Cabinet League Table of 2019 ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Steve Barclay MP Simon Hart MP Sajid Javid MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP James Cleverly MP Jake Berry MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Grant Shapps MP Geoffrey Cox MP Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Elizabeth Truss MP Dominic Raab MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Baroness Morgan Andrea Leadsom MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

This is it: the very last Cabinet League Table of 2019 and, unless you’re feeling especially pedantic, the decade. The Conservative Party has been in office, in one form or another, since 2010, and it really is remarkable that it is heading into 2020 with in such apparently strong shape. A few points of note:

  • Election afterglow. As you might expect in the aftermath of this month’s unexpected but decisive electoral triumph, the overall ratings have received a significant boost compared to last month.
  • Johnson just short. Our editor wrote this morning about what the Prime Minister needs to do to match or exceed Margaret Thatcher. But on one metric at least he has yet to top Theresa May, who retains her League Table record by 0.1 points.
  • Gove and Javid hold the podium… Johnson’s soaring to the gold-medal position has obviously shuffled them down but they remain, as they have been consistently, the two top-rated Cabinet ministers beyond the man himself.
  • …as Cox closes in. The Attorney General is now within touching distance of a top-three finish, which is quite a contrast with reports in today’s papers that he might be facing the chop.
  • Poor showing for the Territorial Offices. Is it coincidence that Julian Smith, Alister Jack, and newly-appointed Simon Hart – respectively the Northern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh Secretaries – are all at the bottom of the table?

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The Politics of And. Securing the Majority. 3) Wanted: a Department for the Union

he phrase is Tim Montgomerie’s.  He used to deploy it roughly as follows.  Yes, politics means making choices.  But they doesn’t always have to be either/or.  The Conservatives can have immigration control and international development.  Green growth and more fracking.  Same-sex marriage and transferable tax allowances.

The new majority Tory Government won’t necessarily smile on these examples.  But it will want to follow the principle.  To this end, ConservativeHome is reviving The Politics Of And.  In one series, we will examine Securing the Majority.  In another, Growing the Majority.  Boris Johnson will want to do both.

– – –

So Cimate Change is to come out of the Business Department. And Trade to go back in.  And DfID to go back into the Foreign Office.  And immigration to come out of the Home Office.  Or so the briefing tells us.

Yet nothing very much is apparent yet on how to respond to the bad Conservative election result in Scotland.  The Party is down by seats by more than half – from 13 to six.

It’s all the other way round in Wales, where the Tory representation is up from eight seats to fourteen.  The Party won 36 per cent of the vote, only five per cent less than Labour.

Meanwhile, the two main parties in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, performed poorly.  As David Shiels noted recently on this site, the province saw an anti-Brexit, anti-absentionist vote.

Leaving the EU will see new opportunities and challenges for the United Kingdom as a whole.

In Scotland, the new Government says No to a second independence referendum.  Good.  That argument will be harder to sustain if the SNP sweep the board in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

In Wales, the new Secretary of State, Simon Hart, and the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly have new opportunities in a country whose electoral flavour is now more like, say, the Midlands than Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, there will be a settlement that leaves the province in much of the Single Market and with new east-west regulatory provision,

The new Government needs to think and act across the three territorial departments.

It also needs to harmonise whatever it does with continuing reform in England, which now hosts a sprawling patchwork of councils, mayors, police and crime commissioners.

Downing Street is mulling Lords reform to to give the UK’s constituent nations a greater stake at Westminster.  Reform will be part of the remit of the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission announced in the manifesto.

Who will be in charge of shaping the Government’s response?  There is a Minister for the Constitution – Chloe Smith, now re-elected with an increased majority in Norwich North.

She is part of the Cabinet Office team, at the head of which sits Michael Gove who, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has been in charge of No Deal preparations.

He will require a new role after January 31.

So the obvious move is to make him Secretary of State for the Constitution, leading the media fightback against the SNP, forming policy for the UK as a whole and perhaps continuing working out of the Cabinet Office.

We have published 15 ways to Strengthen the Union and Jack Airey of Policy Exchange has written on this site about the Union and infrastucture.

There is interest in Downing Street in some of these ideas, such as promoting the Union more proactively, and one move it might make it is to appoint Lord Caine to the Northern Ireland Office. Or to this new department.

We must resist the urge to recommend Gove as the solution to every presentational and policy problem.

But it is hard to think of another senior politician at Cabinet level with the necessary policy and presentational oomph, and who can work with the Welsh Conservatives, plus Jackson Carlaw and the Scottish Tories.

There may also be new post-Brexit opportunities for the Party in Northern Ireland.  For example, it is clear that there is a potential opening for a non-DUP pro-Union party in North Down.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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Barney White-Spunner: Once the election is over, the fishing industry needs swift action

Sir Barney White-Spunner is Advisory Board Chairman for UK Fisheries.

There is some debate as to who first suggested that truth was ‘the first casualty of war,’ but one thing that is certain is that a rounded version of the truth easily becomes collateral damage in electioneering. For example, the 2019 general campaign has yet to see a meaningful examination of fisheries policy post-Brexit, although it has not been difficult to find soundbites.

Readers of ConservativeHome will probably be aware of the Conservatives’ manifesto promise to ‘take back control of our waters’ on leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and that is something that would be widely welcomed across the industry.

While short on detail, this does at least offer something like a vision, which is more than anything Labour has pledged (the Opposition manifesto vaguely offers ‘new legislation to ensure support and certainty for … our fishing industry’). But while the Conservatives pledge ‘a post-Brexit deal for Scottish fishing’ there is no specific mention of the industry in England or the sector in which UK Fisheries operates – distant-waters fishing from the English East Coast.

This is a pity. While we all understand that policies and arrangements surrounding such a complex industry as fishing are difficult to encapsulate in manifesto soundbites, few industries resonate more with the British public. Fishing may not be the force it once was, but many local communities are still culturally and financially dependent on the vessels of all sizes that, among other things, provide our national dish and bring hundreds of jobs to the key marginal constituencies of Humberside and elsewhere.

Our new representatives in Westminster and our public servants in Whitehall will need to act quickly and decisively on fishing. In December, they will immediately find themselves confronted with – and perhaps bewildered by – the sheer complexity of the UK fishing sector and its close interdependence with the European Union and coastal states around the North Sea. In fact, under the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, long-term decisions on fishing will have to be made to an even tighter timetable than December 31st, 2020. The Political Declaration specifies that a UK–EU Fisheries Agreement covering access to waters and quota shares must be struck by July 1st of next year.

But there is every reason for optimism, as long as the new government understands there is a simple and good outcome easily within its grasp.

Beyond the CFP

When the UK leaves the EU and is no longer bound by the Common Fisheries Policy, our industry undoubtedly stands to gain. The government will have the freedom to allocate quotas for UK waters as it sees fit, but there is still likely to be some kind of trade and access relationship with the EU, as well as with states currently known as ‘third countries’ – not least Norway, the Faeroes and Greenland.

At UK Fisheries, we are of course particularly concerned with the fortunes of the English distant-waters fishing fleet, which for centuries has operated in the rich but dangerous fishing grounds of the Barents and Greenland Seas.

But we are also mindful of Britain’s huge fleet of mostly small boats catching high-value shellfish around our shoreline. Such fishermen depend for their livelihood on fast, tariff- and check-free exports of their product to the EU, while the distant-waters fleet, landing its fish at British ports for the British market, relies on long-standing deals with Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands that grant access to their waters.

Neither of these groups will benefit from increased quotas for UK boats fishing in British waters (the distant-waters fleet because it does not fish in UK waters, the shellfish boats because their catch is usually not subject to quotas), but both could be faced with significant challenges if any post-Brexit regime does not take their needs into account. And so even though we fish in different places for different products for different markets, we have common cause.

Easy win?

The Department for International Trade and Defra have over the past few months shown they are able to strike sensible agreements with third countries. For example, the fisheries and trade agreements signed with Norway and the Faroe Islands would, in the event of a No Deal Brexit on October 31st, have allowed UK Fisheries’ state-of-the-art trawler Kirkella to keep operating until the end of 2019.

The same focus and flexibility are required from both Departments of State for the negotiation of new, permanent, bi-lateral deals which will grant our partners continued access to the UK market for selling fish, and maintain the fishing opportunities now enjoyed by UK vessels operating sustainably in and around the Barents Sea.

It is now absolutely vital that every effort is made to lock in these temporary arrangements, so that an unintended No Deal Brexit does not bring a sudden and permanent end to distant-waters fishing from the East Coast of England. For that is what is at stake.

There is of course nothing wrong with Michael Gove asserting that the UK will have the final say over who came into UK waters and on what terms after leaving the EU, as he did on the campaign trail this week. But our future EU partners do see a connection between trade with their markets and access to UK waters, and we, like they, will have to show some degree of flexibility if we are to protect all of our industry.

This could allow an easy win for whichever political party holds sway in Westminster after the election, and UK Fisheries will over the coming weeks be working its hardest to ensure that all candidates understand and support our message.

Fishing is a part of our local heritage. It can and will have a bright future if all our fishermen and women are allowed to get on with what they do best – bringing home British fish in a sustainable way. If our new representatives in Westminster fully understand this, then we need have no fear for the future of our industry.

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How the Conservatives won the election – and Gove became Prime Minister

December 5, 2022

ConservativeHome described the 2019 general election as three overlapping contests: one in Scotland, one in the Leave-supporting Midlands and the North, and the last in Remain-leaning London and its hinterland.

The Party duly held its own in Scotland and made big gains in the North and (especially) the Midlands.  And so it won an overall majority.

However, there was a catch.

Namely, that the Tories performed very poorly in Greater London and its immediate surroundings.  So much so that Boris Johnson, against all expectation, lost his seat in Uxbridge by the ricepaper-thin margin of 25 votes.

This curveball to end all curveballs poleaxed the Conservatives, and should have caused even more chaos than it did.

For Johnson had steered clear of leaving anyone in pole position as a potential successor (and therefore challenger).  Dominic Raab was First Secretary of State.  But only fourth in the Cabinet rankings.

And an immediate leadership contest was obviously out of the question.  The new Government needed a Prime Minister who could take charge immediately .

At this point, fate intervened.

For Raab had also lost his seat in Esher and Walton.  That left the man second in the Cabinet rankings as indisputably the most senior person left standing: Michael Gove.

After the briefest of soundings, the Queen sent for the then Environment Secretary, who confirmed that he could form a government.

Speaking at the podium outside Number Ten, he told the nation that: “We owe it to my friend Boris to Get Brexit Done now.”

Gove also confirmed that Johnson would remain Leader of the Conservative Party – and suggested that he would be willing to make way for him as Prime Minister were the latter to return to the Commons in a by-election.

Our readers know the rest of the story.

Johnson duly returned just in time for January 31 – Brexit Day – after Nadine Dorries selflessly stood down in Mid-Bedfordshire, and the local Association adopted Johnson as its by-election candidate.

But despite Gove protesting many times that he stands ready to quit in Johnson’s favour, and that no-one is more distressed by the former Prime Minister’s plight than he, the moment never quite seems to come.

Donald Trump’s sudden decision to bomb Tehran, after an altercation with Hassan Rouhani at the Trump Towers Peace Summit, has plunged Britain into a foreign affairs crisis of the first order.

Lambasting the “neo-con ideologues who have learned nothing from history,” Gove has kept Britain out of the conflict, the consequences of which have included this current extended Brexit transition period.

The negotiations grind on.  Rebecca Long-Bailey is making a poor fist of the Labour leadership.  The new anti-war Gove is turning out to be surprisingly popular with voters – or less unpopular, at any rate.

And as his growing Tory fan club of Cabinet members and Government Ministers point out, Johnson is currently threatened by – yes, you guessed it: a potential leadership challenge.

Their briefings to journalists about the former Prime Minister include “loser”, “yesterday’s man”, “time marches on, old boy” and, of course, “poor old Boris”.

It is perhaps just as well that Johnson has found a distraction to engage him, in the form of the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, to which his brilliant and lucrative column has triumphantly returned.

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The Conservative Manifesto includes a promise to back adoption. Will it be delivered on?

David Cameron was a highly effective Prime Minister. Despite the obvious constraints of being in coalition with the Lib Dems for most of his time in office, those were radical years. We have great benefits from his legacy of bold reform. But one area of complete failure was to reduce the number of children in care by increasing the rate of adoption. This was not due to any indifference from Cameron. He spoke passionately. Michael Gove, as Education Secretary, had responsibility for the issue – for whom it was personal.

During Theresa May’s premiership, we saw the failure continue. She set out to tackle “burning injustices”. But this was a spectacular example that got missed.

Under Labour, in March 2010, there were 64,000 children in care – of “Looked After Children”. The Conservatives at the time regarded that as scandalously high. Quite right. But now the scandal is even worse with the total having risen to 75,000.

In political terms, the direct impact is limited. When canvassing on the doorstep, it is not a “hot button” topic. Nor is it for the media – apart from when individual tragedies come to light.

The social work establishment is hostile to adoption and so make no complaint about the figures. Ministers who wish to be “friends of the sector” find it prudent to let matters drift. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party is on the same ideological wavelength. It would be pretty hard to qualify as a social worker without writing essays in line with a Corbynista world view.

Yet taking a broader view, reducing the number of children in care should be a political priority. A quarter of prisoners spent their childhoods in care. That equates to children in care being 50 times more likely to end up in prison when they grow up than other children. Boosting adoption is the most effective policy for fighting crime.

Opportunities have also been missed to improve the outcomes for children in care. The number offered the chance to attend boarding school is pathetically small. If children are in care, it is better for them (and much cheaper for the taxpayer) to be placed with foster carers rather than institutional children’s homes, where this is possible. Yet the number placed in children’s homes has not been kept to a minimum – as evidenced by the significant proportion of such children in mainstream education and thus for whom foster placements would clearly be viable.

What about preventing children needing to go into care in the first place? This brings in much wider subjects – housing, education, welfare, crime. Here the Troubled Families programme has made an important contribution.

Is there any hope of future improvement? The Conservative Manifesto says:

“Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children – adoption where possible or foster parents recruited by the local authority. We will review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need.

“A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives.”

That is fine so far as it goes. But to get tangible progress, robust legal changes will be needed to establish a presumption in favour of adoption for children in care. Relying on the goodwill of social workers – seeking to persuade them or to give them more money – has proven ineffective. The challenge can be met with determination and courage. Bland and worthy platitudes will just mean thousands more lives will be ruined as the expensive conveyor belt from care system to prison keeps cranking along.

 

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