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Westlake Legal Group > Nicky Morgan MP

Greg Hands: One might think that no-one in Brussels has read our Alternative Arrangements report

On the face of it, this week’s exchange of letters between Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk doesn’t offer a lot of encouragement for the great majority of us who do want to see a Brexit deal done between London and Brussels. Tusk’s response in particular, came across as rather intransigent, even absurdly claiming that the Prime Minister is seeking a return of a hard border in Ireland.

At times, the whole debate about the Northern Ireland Backstop is reminiscent of that between Pope Leo X and Martin Luther in the years after 1517. Brexit can appear like a debate between two rival sets of theologians. In 1517, the issue was transubstantiation or consubstantiation: did the communion wafer actually become the body of Christ, or was it merely representative of it?

This was a debate which would have been barely familiar to anyone just a few years before. And the sale of indulgences, and the basis of the scriptures and so on all formed part of it, too. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, the debate came to a head between the representatives of the papacy and Emperor Charles V on the one hand, and Luther and his followers on the other.

Four years on, however, what the theologians had missed was that the debate was no longer about narrow points of doctrine, but had come to involve much more fundamental principles like self-determination and popular consent, and a desire to find a solution that all sides could work with.

The current Brexit debate seems like that debate in 1521. Brussels has become entrenched. It is sticking hard and fast to the backstop, stubbornly ignoring the bigger picture. Practical politicians need to give this a fresh look. Unfortunately, the current Commission remains in place until November. A new set of eyes would understand that whatever the merits of the backstop, it simply isn’t going to pass through the Commons. And without the assent of the Commons, there is, by definition, never going to be a Brexit deal. That has been the case since early 2017 – whatever deal was negotiated would have to be agreed by the Commission and Council with the UK Government, and then ratified by the Commons and the European Parliament. All four hurdles need to be crossed. Three isn’t good enough.

So the backstop, like transubstantiation in 1521, might seem esoteric. But Johnson is also right when he describes it as anti-democratic, and therefore, like in 1521, emblematic of wider and more significant issues. He puts it succinctly in his letter to Tusk: “The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.”

And that isn’t his only objection to the backstop. So, if the backstop isn’t going to pass the Commons, and doesn’t any longer have the agreement of the UK Government, it is self-evident that we need to urgently find something that does. This might seem an impossible task with just 72 days to go until Brexit date.

But much of the work has already been done. When Nicky Morgan and I agreed to co-chair the Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission in April, we knew we would be working with a superb team of technical experts from around the world – experts in borders, customs, logistics, transit and so on – and that we were giving ourselves around 10 weeks to produce a report on how it could all be done.

Fortunately, we knew that both sides wanted to see the work done. In their Strasbourg Declaration (actually, not that far from Worms) in March, both sides had committed themselves to finding alternative arrangements to the Backstop. When we published our 272 page report and draft protocols in July, we therefore thought we ought to be pushing at an open door. We went three times to Northern Ireland, twice to Dublin, and to Brussels, Berlin and The Hague to market the proposals to politicians, the media and other opinion-formers.

Both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt warmly welcomed our report during the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It should therefore not have a been a surprise to Messrs Tusk and Juncker that Alternative Arrangements would form the explicit or implicit basis of a refreshed UK approach on Brexit. The Prime Minister’s letter was, in my opinion, carefully crafted to be both realistic and conciliatory on what could be done, but one thing was clear, that the backstop could not form part of the deal, as it won’t pass the Commons. That is simply a statement of Realpolitik.

So Tusk’s response was disappointing. A Brussels spokesman quoted by the BBC claimed to not know much about Alternative Arrangements at all, asserting that the Prime Minister’s letter “does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be” and there was “no guarantee” they would be ready by the end of the transition period. It is almost as if nobody around Tusk had actually read our report.

Our Commission concluded clearly that Alternative Arrangements can and will work. But they won’t be up and running by October 31st. This is not a “No Deal” blueprint. Quite the opposite: our solution is the only one available which leads to a Brexit solution which will pass all four hurdles. And our proposals do need the (or at least a) transition period. Many of them can be brought in quite quickly. Some like the trusted trader scheme might take 12 – 15 months. We don’t believe anything will take longer than two to three years.

The Brexit solution lies in Alternative Arrangements. It just needs both sides to grasp it. Otherwise, I fear there could be a schism between London and Brussels which might take years, maybe decades to overcome.

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

Asher Glynn: One-nation Conservatives should stay and fight for our Party

Asher Glynn is a Conservative Party member and founder of the Liberal Conservatives.

Since the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister, one-nation Conservatives have had a tough time in the Conservative Party.

Theresa May wanted to be a one-nation Prime Minister, but was at the mercy of the European Research Group throughout her time in government and failed to implement any policy with the cloud of Brexit over her premiership. The election of Boris Johnson has caused many one-nation Conservatives to leave the Party, and in some cases, join the Liberal Democrats.

However, we one-nation, Liberal Conservatives want you to stay and fight.

To those who have left us, or are considering leaving, we understand your frustrations with the party. We find it difficult that our Home Secretary has previously supported capital punishment. We find it difficult having a Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State who has called feminists “bigots”. We find it difficult that the government is fully championing a no-deal Brexit. We have the same frustrations as you.

However, we are optimistic about the future of the Conservative Party. Despite not leading government anymore, the official One Nation Caucus, led by MPs Nicky Morgan and Nicholas Soames, among others, now make up over one third of the parliamentary party. This group of MPs also includes some senior cabinet ministers such as Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd, and Robert Buckland, leading their departments in a one-nation way.

This group is working very hard to win the battle for the soul of our party, and they need our support.

In the leadership contest, Boris Johnson and many of his supporters, such as Johnny Mercer, pledged that he is a one-nation Conservative, and would govern as one. He also responded to letters from the caucus and the Tory Reform Group about his one-nation credentials and plans. In these letters, Johnson claimed to be “liberal”, “progressive”, “compassionate” and “moderate” and with 66.4 per cent of the Conservative party membership, and over half of Conservative MPs, supporting him on this pledge, he has a clear mandate to govern in this manner.

As one-nation Conservatives, our mission is to unite people. Benjamin Disraeli talked about how Britain had become two separate nations: one poor and one rich. His idea about One-Nation Conservatism was to re-unite these two nations in order to create one harmonious country.

Brexit can be seen in a similar way with our country separated into two nations: the 52 percent and the 48 per cent. As Disraeli proposed in 1845, one-nation Conservatives need to follow in our founder’s footsteps and re-unite Britain with a one-nation Brexit. We Liberal Conservatives have taken the view that the best way to do this is to do Brexit as quickly and as well-managed as possible, with a deal. If we are to get out of this mess as unscathed as possible, we all need to compromise and step back from our ideological positions to come up with a solution.

Brexit, however, is not what one-nation Conservatives are in politics for. There are people on both sides of the EU debate that share our values, but it is not what drives us in politics. We have a vision for a pragmatic and liberal Britain with equality of opportunity at the heart of every policy we make. Only under a one-nation Conservative government will you see a strong economy, social freedoms and sound public services, and this is what drives us to remain in the party and fight for our values.

We created our page to counter the infiltration and blatant entryism seen by Leave.EU and former-UKIP members. Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU, boasted about putting 20,000-25,000 members into the Conservative party to vote for the hardest Brexit candidate and to deselect one-nation Conservative MPs.

We are clear that we don’t want to be Blue-UKIP, and that these people that have joined our party just to kick talented MPs out are not Conservatives and should be kicked out. If centrist members leave the party, the only people left in are the hard right, who would like to see Nigel Farage as Prime Minister and wouldn’t mind our precious Union splitting up.

This is why we are writing to you today, to stay in the party and fight for our party to return to being a one-nation Conservative party again, rather than turning into a UKIP tribute act.

We recently set out our ten Liberal Conservative values on our Twitter page, and we invite you to go and read them.

We do not want people who are not Conservatives to join. That is the entryism that Leave.EU and Arron Banks have inflicted on our great broad-church coalition. But, if you are not a member, but support our values as shown on our twitter page, please join the party to support our vision and aims.

To those members considering leaving, the only way to avoid a Jeremy Corbyn government and to make Boris Johnson govern as a one-nation Conservative is to stay and fight from within, where we have real influence and power.

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

Javid pips Johnson and Rees-Mogg to the top of the podium in our first Cabinet League Table of the new Government

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Jul-19-1024x955 Javid pips Johnson and Rees-Mogg to the top of the podium in our first Cabinet League Table of the new Government ToryDiary Theresa Villiers MP The Cabinet Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Ruth Davidson MSP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Nicky Morgan MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP Jo Johnson 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 Andrea Leadsom MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

When Mark predicted last month that it would be the last Cabinet League Table with that line-up, he was more right than he might have expected. Boris Johnson ushered in the new era with one of the more brutal reshuffles in modern political history.

A glance at last month’s table illustrates how the clean break has certainly restored the Cabinet’s standing in the eyes of the grassroots: every single member has a positive rating, nearly all of which would have put them comfortably in the top ten during the ancien régime.

But how much of that is due to unfamiliarity? This isn’t usually something we scrutinise, but no fewer than 16 of the politicians above-listed had ‘Don’t Know’ as their highest single response, with a couple more avoiding that fate by a bare handful of votes. A blow to the egos of a few, perhaps, but it does also mean that those ministers still have plenty of scope to make a positive impression.

Here are a few of the other takeaways:

  • Javid leads the pack. The Chancellor holds onto the position he took last month, and continues to enjoy the dividends of a good leadership election. Remarkable to think that two months ago this spot was held by Penny Mordaunt, now on the backbenches.
  • Johnson in his prime. Theresa May departed our table with a score of -61.2 (that’s lower than Chris Grayling), so Boris Johnson’s +77.2 is a happy contrast. However, he ought to recall that at one point his predecessor recorded record-breaking positive scores too. Fail to deliver and his standing will fall, fast.
  • Rees-Mogg makes the podium. Perhaps unsurprising, but the titular star of our Moggcast is a hit with the membership. Leader of the House is a good position for retaining their favour too, as Andrea Leadsom discovered, as it offers numerous opportunities for scoring points off John Bercow.
  • Brexiteers on top. Also unsurprisingly, Leave-backing MPs dominate the top of the table – it isn’t until Liz Truss, in seventh place, that we find a minister who backed Remain in 2016. Amber Rudd, one of the surprise survivals of the reshuffle, is at the bottom of the table. Except…
  • Davidson in the doldrums. The Scottish Conservative leader has previously been relatively shielded from the ups and downs of the Cabinet, often chalking up podium positions as she focused her fire on the SNP. She is currently the lowest-ranked politician in the entire table, most likely fallout from her highly-publicised split with the Prime Minister and hostility to No Deal.
  • Survivor spread. Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a particular position pattern for those ministers who did appear in our previous table (apart from the generally improved scores). Truss, Michael Gove, and Steve Barclay are at the upper end of the table, Rudd and Brandon Lewis near the bottom.

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

Javid pips Johnson and Rees-Mogg to the top of the podium in our first Cabinet League Table of the new Government

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Jul-19-1024x955 Javid pips Johnson and Rees-Mogg to the top of the podium in our first Cabinet League Table of the new Government ToryDiary Theresa Villiers MP The Cabinet Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Ruth Davidson MSP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Nicky Morgan MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP Jo Johnson 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 Andrea Leadsom MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

When Mark predicted last month that it would be the last Cabinet League Table with that line-up, he was more right than he might have expected. Boris Johnson ushered in the new era with one of the more brutal reshuffles in modern political history.

A glance at last month’s table illustrates how the clean break has certainly restored the Cabinet’s standing in the eyes of the grassroots: every single member has a positive rating, nearly all of which would have put them comfortably in the top ten during the ancien régime.

But how much of that is due to unfamiliarity? This isn’t usually something we scrutinise, but no fewer than 16 of the politicians above-listed had ‘Don’t Know’ as their highest single response, with a couple more avoiding that fate by a bare handful of votes. A blow to the egos of a few, perhaps, but it does also mean that those ministers still have plenty of scope to make a positive impression.

Here are a few of the other takeaways:

  • Javid leads the pack. The Chancellor holds onto the position he took last month, and continues to enjoy the dividends of a good leadership election. Remarkable to think that two months ago this spot was held by Penny Mordaunt, now on the backbenches.
  • Johnson in his prime. Theresa May departed our table with a score of -61.2 (that’s lower than Chris Grayling), so Boris Johnson’s +77.2 is a happy contrast. However, he ought to recall that at one point his predecessor recorded record-breaking positive scores too. Fail to deliver and his standing will fall, fast.
  • Rees-Mogg makes the podium. Perhaps unsurprising, but the titular star of our Moggcast is a hit with the membership. Leader of the House is a good position for retaining their favour too, as Andrea Leadsom discovered, as it offers numerous opportunities for scoring points off John Bercow.
  • Brexiteers on top. Also unsurprisingly, Leave-backing MPs dominate the top of the table – it isn’t until Liz Truss, in seventh place, that we find a minister who backed Remain in 2016. Amber Rudd, one of the surprise survivals of the reshuffle, is at the bottom of the table. Except…
  • Davidson in the doldrums. The Scottish Conservative leader has previously been relatively shielded from the ups and downs of the Cabinet, often chalking up podium positions as she focused her fire on the SNP. She is currently the lowest-ranked politician in the entire table, most likely fallout from her highly-publicised split with the Prime Minister and hostility to No Deal.
  • Survivor spread. Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a particular position pattern for those ministers who did appear in our previous table (apart from the generally improved scores). Truss, Michael Gove, and Steve Barclay are at the upper end of the table, Rudd and Brandon Lewis near the bottom.

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

Johnson’s shuffle. If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – don’t complain when it’s delivered.

ConservativeHome offered Boris Johnson advice on his coming reshuffle over a month ago.  Whatever you do, we said, shuffle with purpose.  Every single member of your new Cabinet must be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31 – without a deal if necessary.  Do or die.  All together now.  Band of brothers (and sisters).  No more Theresa May-era mass resignations over Brexit policy, totting up in the end to over 50, even without taking into account the very last ones.

A question this morning is whether or not the new Prime Minister has followed that train of thought to the point where it crashes into the buffers – and drives uncontrollably through them, leaving a trail of wreckage and corpses in its wake.  For he not only fired those Cabinet members who couldn’t support the policy (those that were left, anyway), but went on to sack many of those who surely could have done, or would at least have made their peace with it.

Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, David Mundell, James Brokenshire, Karen Bradley, Jeremy Wright – all of these would presumably have rallied round the new leader.  Two of them, Fox and Mordaunt, were 2016 Brexiteers.  The latter was prominent within Vote Leave.  One of them, Brokenshire, was a Johnson voter in the leadership election.  Yet the new Prime Minister deliberately chose to bundle them up in no fewer than nine full Cabinet sackings.  Greg Clark hung on until the end, while Chris Grayling went of his own volition. That brings the total to ten.

This was the bloodiest Cabinet Walpurgisnacht in modern history – making Macmillan’s night of the long knives look like a day trip to Balamory (although technically the changes marked the start of a new Government, not a shuffle within the old one).  Add the ten to the departure of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and David Lidington, and one reaches 15.  And that’s before getting into the dismissal of MPs entitled to attend, such as Mel Stride and Clare Perry.  That’s ten Conservative MPs alienated and in some cases added, perhaps, to the core of perhaps 25 ultra-rebellious Tory Soft Brexiteers and Remainers.  And the Government’s majority soon looks to dwindle to one.

There are many ways of assessing the replacements for the departed 15 or so.  For a start, there is ethnicity.  To Sajid Javid is added Rishi Sunak, now to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alok Sharma at International Development plus, above all, Priti Patel at the Home Office (and of those entitled to attend there is James Cleverly, the new Party Chairman, plus Kwasi Kwarteng).  Then there are women: to Patel, we can add Liz Truss at Trade, Andrea Leadsom at Business, Theresa Villiers at Environment, Nicky Morgan at Culture, Amber Rudd at Work and Pensions.  This is Johnson’s briefed-in-advance “Cabinet for modern Britain”.  May had only three female members of her full Cabinet: Rudd, Mordaunt, Bradley and herself.  Javid was the only ethnic minority member.

As for the changes themselves, they seem to us to be a mixed bag.  Sunak, Cleverly, Leadsom, Robert Buckland at Justice, Ben Wallace at Defence: these are good appointments.  Julian Smith will know the Northern Ireland scene well from his work as Chief Whip.  Alister Jack is presumably in because Johnson wants a Leaver at the Scottish Office.  Nicky Morgan at Culture can take as her motto the saying of Leo X: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it”.  Robert Jenrick, with Sunak one of three authors of a pro-Johnson leadership endorsement, has a big promotion to housing.  Their co-signatory, Oliver Dowden, will be a Cabinet Office Minister “entitled to attend”.

He will be among a swelling group of people: no fewer than ten, including Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.  The new Prime Minister is doing nothing to make the Cabinet more compact.  The site would have preferred to see Theresa Villiers back at Northern Ireland rather than pitched in to Michael Gove’s shoes at Environment.  The big experiment will be exposing Gavin Williamson to the electorally-sensitive world of teachers and parents.

But if you want to locate the key to this reshuffle, it isn’t ethnicity, or gender, or finding horses for courses.  Rather, it is support for Johnson himself – and for Brexit. Rudd is the only declared Hunt voter to survive.  Morgan plumped for Gove.  Everyone else voted either for Johnson, right from the start of this contest, or at least after elimination themselves (if we know what they did at all).  Furthermore, 15 out of the 32 people eligible to gather round the Cabinet table voted Leave in 2016, compared to seven out of 29 in May’s last Cabinet.

Dom Raab at the Foreign Office – First Secretary of State, to boot – plus Patel, and Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office, working hand in glove with Dominic Cummings, while Steve Barclay hangs on at DexEU.  These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.  One has the spooky sensation, looking at this Cabinet and leadership, that the year is somehow 2016 – and that we now have the Government that we should have had then, ready at last to counter the charge that Vote Leave scurried away from Brexit, rather than manning up to deliver it.

Yes, the slaugher is spectacular.  And yes, the demotion of Hunt was unwise – though perhaps not as much so as his own refusal to take responsibility in government for our armed forces.  But look at it all another way.  Johnson stood accused of being a soft touch – indecisive; yielding; vacant.  So one can scarcely complain when he wields – not least before those who look on from abroad – the power that the premiership still has.  Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility.  After this shuffle, they can’t be: Johnson and Patel and Raab and company are unmistakably, unmissably in charge.

Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.

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

ConHome’s Ministerial recommendations: how did we do and what did we learn?

Here is our recommended Cabinet list from June 21.

  • On the credit side, Boris Johnson’s appointments and our recommendations coincided in four cases.  Sajid Javid became Chancellor of the Exchequer; Robert Buckland (pictured), Justice Secretary; Nicky Morgan, Culture Secretary and James Cleverly, Party Chairman.
  • He also kept Matt Hancock as Health, as we advised, plus Natalie Evans as Leader of the Lords, Alun Cairns as Wales Secretary and Geoffrey Cox as Attorney-General.
  • We recommended the following new or returned Cabinet members. Dominic Raab as Brexit Secretary (he was appointed Foreign Secretary).  Alok Sharma, as Work and Pensions Secretary (he was made International Development Secretary).  Theresa Villiers, as Northern Ireland Secretary (she was appointed Environment Secretary).  Gavin Williamson as Transport Secretary (he was made Education Secretary). Andrea Leadsom, as Commons Leader (she was appointed Business Secretary).
  • That’s four successes and nine part-successes.

– – – – – – – – – –

  • On the debit side, the following Ministers who we recommended for promotion or retention were dismissed: Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds and David Mundell.
  • And the following Ministers or backbenchers who we suggested be promoted to Cabinet were not: Steve Baker, Kit Malthouse, George Eustice and Greg Hands.
  • That’s eight failures.

– – – – – – – – – –

  • Of that final group, five of the eight were Leavers. But only one of them, Malthouse, voted for Johnson – and that after he himself expressed an interest in standing.  A reminder that the most reliable key to promotion in this shuffle wasn’t having backed Leave in the referendum – it was supporting Johnson in the leadership election.

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

Luke Tryl: The next Prime Minister must complete the education revolution

Lule Tryl is Director of the New Schools Network. He is a former Director of Strategy at Ofsted, and former Special Adviser.

While his forthcoming book will, no doubt, try and set the record straight, David Cameron must by now be resigned to the fact that he will largely be remembered for Brexit. More charitable types will cite the introduction of equal marriage, the commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP to foreign aid, or his work tackling the budget deficit, but when it comes to Cameron’s legacy, most will likely miss the most important area of reform during his administration – education.

True, the Coalition Government’s education reforms are more closely associated with Michael Gove than David Cameron, and it’s undoubtedly true that both the policy innovation and determination to drive through reform came from Gove, Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan’s leadership at the Department for Education (DfE). But the simple fact is, they were given the license to operate because they had a Prime Minister who, having been a Shadow Education Secretary himself, was a passionate believer in the cause of improving education.

I remember a meeting in 2015 as Nicky Morgan’s Special Adviser during the spending review negotiations in which George Osborne, then Chancellor, remarked “I don’t know whether it makes you lucky or unlucky, but education spending is one of the areas the Prime Minister will take most interest in”. It was a level of interest I saw throughout my time at the DfE. Fundamentally, Cameron, perhaps conscious of his own life advantages, recognised that there was no point in trumpeting the traditional Conservative mantra of meritocracy while we had a school system that simply didn’t offer equality of opportunity.

That is exactly what the reforms introduced by his Government did. On the standards side, changes to the curriculum ensured that all children, not just the privileged few, are exposed to the best that had been thought and said, new gold-standard qualifications genuinely prepare young people for work and further study, and grade inflation has been stopped; on the structures side, turbo-charging the academies programme has given more head teachers the freedom to run their schools in the way they know best and to support other schools. Arguably, most radical of all was the free schools programme which gave teachers, parents and employers who weren’t happy with their local schools the chance to demand something different for their community and open a new school.

Those reforms have worked. We now have 1.9 million more children in Good or Outstanding schools compared to 2010, more children are on course to become better readers thanks to the phonics check, and more will have mastered the 3Rs by the end of primary school. Across the country, free schools have brought in innovative practice, are the top performing schools at GCSE and A-Level, and are 50 per cent more likely to be rated Outstanding by Ofsted than other schools.

Unfortunately, as with so much domestic policy, Brexit sapped the momentum from education reform. This was compounded by the Government’s disastrous attempt to promote grammar schools, which undermined the central premise of earlier reforms – that every child should receive a rigorous academic education up until age 16 – while the surprising impact of school cuts campaigners on the 2017 election has meant that the debate has since been dominated by arguments around funding and workload rather than standards.

But the cause of education reform has never seemed more urgent. Most of us recognise that while much of it was about the EU, the Brexit vote was also about something else: communities that felt left behind, pushing back against a rigged system. A system where because of poor schools and lack of opportunity, parents no longer believe that their children will have better lives than they do. The Sutton Trust’s latest report confirmed what many already assumed – the top echelons of society continue to be dominated by those who were privately educated. And of course, while it is no fault of their own, the fact that both candidates to be the next leader of the Conservative Party were educated at elite public schools is not the greatest advertisement of the Party’s commitment to meritocracy.

That is why the charity I run, the New Schools Network, is urging the two leadership candidates to put education policy back at the heart of their Government.

Both candidates have committed to increasing school funding, and the case for extra resources for our schools is undeniable. But money alone isn’t enough. Simply throwing more investment at schools will not raise standards in and of itself.  The next Prime Minister also needs to complete the reform programme.  That means restoring the incentives for good schools to become academies so that they can share their expertise with underperforming ones. It means reaffirming the commitment to 100 new free schools a year, focused on the areas that need them most, and cutting down the bureaucracy that is stifling the next wave of innovative schools coming through. It means investing in alternative provision free schools for excluded kids, because every child deserves a chance to get their education back on track and to be kept safe from the risk of grooming and gangs.

The Government’s record on education since 2010 is one they can be proud of, but there is still much to do. The Prime Minister who gave a rallying cry against burning injustices may be on her way out of Downing Street, but the biggest injustice of all – the uneven distribution of educational opportunity – remains. Whether it’s Hunt or Johnson, the next Prime Minister should make it their number one priority that when their time comes to leave Downing Street, their legacy has been to finally tackle it.

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

Henry Hill: Johnson and Hunt woo DUP as leadership roadshow hits Belfast

Leadership contenders woo DUP…

It is difficult to to think of the last time Northern Ireland – and more specifically, Northern Irish politicians – have been so central to the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. Perhaps not since Bonar Law.

Although they didn’t get to vote in the early rounds of the contest, the ten Democratic Unionist MPs nonetheless have clout when it comes to the Tory leadership race. Whoever wins will need to be able to maintain, and ideally strengthen, the Government’s working relationship with its Ulster allies in order to maintain any sort of majority in the House of Commons.

So this week both candidates hit the stump in Northern Ireland, with pitches both to the Province’s small but loyal band of Tory members and the DUP.

At a gathering of 240 local activists, Johnson publicly disavowed suggestions that he had ‘toyed’ with the idea of resolving the backstop by reverting to the EU’s original plan and hiving off Northern Ireland’s economic arrangements from the rest of the UK, according to the FT.

It adds that both candidates met with representatives of the DUP: Johnson with Arlene Foster, the leader, on Tuesday and Hunt with Nigel Dodds, their Westminster leader, on Monday night.

The Daily Mail also reported Johnson’s enthusiasm for the construction of a road and rail bridge connecting Ulster with the mainland. Questioned on the subject by members, he highlighted plans by Alan Dunlop, a professor of architecture. He also wrote in the paper about his plans for the Union. The Daily Express writes, meanwhile, about his ruling out any reform to the Barnett Formula.

In other news, Ruth Davidson has rebuked Johnson over his priorities, telling him the Union must be his “do-or-die” issue, amidst fresh reports of Scottish Conservative unease about his premiership. Katy Balls suggests that these could keep the Tories out of power, whilst Jacob Rees-Mogg argues that Johnson will stop the EU ‘corroding’ the Union.

Party faces clashes with allies on same-sex marriage and abortion

In light of the above, both Hunt and Johnson will need to think carefully about how they handle two issues which, after months of can-kicking by Karen Bradley, threaten to come to ahead as the stalemate over restoring devolution drags on.

The first is same-sex marriage. Patrick Maguire sets out in the New Statesman how a cross-party group of MPs are almost certain to legislate for Westminster to extend it to the Province in the event that Stormont is not imminently restored (chances of that: slim to none). He writes that this could push the Government into a row with the DUP – not over the decision, to which even socially conservative Unionists appear resigned at this point, but because of its implications for Ulster’s governance.

For over a year, Bradley has resisted the DUP’s calls to introduce ‘full-fat’ direct rule. Legislating on marriage from Westminster would be an act of direct rule, and shred what remains of the Government’s case for not going further.

The other possible flashpoint is abortion, with Penny Mordaunt having made the papers yesterday with a call for reform to the Province’s “appalling” laws on the issue. Abortion is completely banned in Northern Ireland. Both Hunt and Johnson have ruled out change, but the same Commons coalition pushing same-sex marriage could do the same for abortion – especially once the precedent for such acts for direct rule has been set.

May calls for review of devolution as part of legacy pitch

The Prime Minister has charged Lord Dunlop, a former Scottish Office minister, with conducting a review into devolution, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Apparently the object of this would be to assess the extent to which the current constitutional order bolsters or damages the UK, and come up with proposals for how to strengthen the role of Westminster and other British institutions in the political lives of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Current ideas include the creation of a Government-controlled ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ to replace EU grants post-Brexit, and replicating Brussels’ policy of heavily branding projects to make sure the public is aware of who paid for them.

Whether or not this review actually does the UK any good will depend in large part on the terms, which are apparently under dispute inside the Government as some push for a broad remit and others try to box Dunlop in. There is also a risk that it will end up hijacked by the devocracy and more-powers lobby and turned into just another set of demands – Nick Timothy, formerly one of May’s key advisers, was peddling this exhausted orthodoxy in today’s Telegraph.

Britain can’t afford a repeat of May’s fumbling u-turn on the devolution of repatriated EU powers. Unless Dunlop has the freedom, imagination, and courage to take the knife to devolution’s sacred cows, his review won’t help his country.

News in Brief:

  • Morgan and Hands’ panel delivers interim report on backstop – News Letter
  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘citizens’ assembly’ – The Scotsman
  • Hunt and Johnson support moves to protect Ulster veterans – The Times
  • Dugdale says Corbyn could offer Sturgeon referendum to win Commons support – The Scotsman
  • SNP beat retreat on ‘vote-killer’ gender laws – The Times
  • Scottish Government tells medical schools to admit fewer English pupils – The Scotsman

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Greg Hands: Here are the next steps towards implementing our Alternative Arrangements plan

Greg Hands is the MP for Chelsea and Fulham.

One point just about everyone in the Conservative Party agrees on is we need to deliver Brexit as soon as possible if we are not going to face some sort of existential crisis at the ballot box.

All effective political action, in my experience, rests on three qualities: keeping your overall objective resolutely in sight, but be being willing to listen and to compromise when it comes to implementation.

It was that philosophy which underpinned the Brady Amendment, the only positive Brexit amendment to pass during the recent Parliamentary debates on Brexit. It recommends approving the Withdrawal Agreement, as long as the Backstop could be “replaced with Alternative Arrangements”.

Prosperity UK’s Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC), which I co-chair with Nicky Morgan, was launched in April to build on the Brady Amendment by developing credible and practical Alternative Arrangements to the Irish backstop. The AAC is neutral on Brexit outcomes and politically independent. We draw our legitimacy from a Parliamentary Commission, including over 40 MPs and peers, and a Technical Panel chaired by Shanker Singham and including a former head of UK Border Force, a leading Dutch customs expert, Sweden’s former Director of Customs and Fujitsu’s Industry Lead for Customs and Borders.

This week the AAC launched its interim report at an all-day consultative conference in Westminster. It’s taken a lot of work to get this far, but one thing we don’t have is time because, frankly, the Government should have started doing this work months ago. In that regard, I am delighted that, as the DEXEU Secretary of State, Stephen Barclay, told the conference, the Government has now commenced its own work in this area and set up three advisory panels.

Our ambition has been to produce credible and detailed Alternative Arrangements, and a protocol on how to implement them, and publish them as a resource for all sides in the Brexit negotiations. It’s up to the next UK Prime Minister, and his interlocutors in Brussels, Belfast, Dublin and other European capitals to work out how best to use them. We recommend that Alternative Arrangements can be fully implemented within two to three years, or sooner in many cases.

We have not recommended any single solution. Instead we have suggested a tiered trusted trader programme for large and medium-sized companies; special economic zones for cross-border communities, such Derry/Londonderry-Donegal and Newry/Dundalk; exemptions for the very smallest companies; and that Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) checks should be carried out by mobile units away from the border using the existing EU Customs Code or a potential common area for SPS measures.

We will spend the next few weeks sharing our ideas with key stakeholders in Belfast, Dublin, Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Paris – indeed, I am due to visit Holland and Germany as I write. We are also encouraging people to share their comments and ideas by filling in the consultation form. We will listen carefully to what people have to say before publishing a final report, including the Protocol, in July.

The first and most important precondition we set for the report is that any workable arrangements must protect the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement. An important aspect of the AAC’s work has been the opportunity to spend time in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Let’ s be honest, listening and respecting Irish opinion on the ground has not actually ever been a strong point of Westminster politics and we have been determined to behave and to act differently.

We’ve tried to spend spent as much time as we can talking to people, organisations and businesses in Northern Ireland and Ireland. In total, we met over 50 organisations on three separate visits. These have included Diageo (the owner of Guinness); the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association; the Irish International Freight Association; the Irish SME Association; Manufacturing NI; Londonderry Chamber of Commerce; the NI Retail Consortium; the list goes on…

The second precondition is that any solutions should rely on existing technology and processes – which, incidentally, are advancing all the time – and not any high-tech “unicorns”.

And the third precondition is that Alternative Arrangements must be compatible with any of the potential Brexit outcomes, including but not limited to the current draft Withdrawal Agreement. This means Britain would be ultimately able to adopt its own independent trade and regulatory policy.

We believe our Commission has met these conditions.

So what are we going to do, once we have finished consulting on our findings? We are going to finalise the report and publish alongside it next month a Draft Alternative Arrangements Protocol. This could either be inserted into the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure the Backstop is superseded or used on a standalone basis in any other Brexit outcome.

Politically, we hope that by genuinely listening, engaging and doing the technical work we can help break the Brexit logjam and give both sides something to negotiate around. Having demonstrated that Alternative Arrangements are possible, in a reasonably short time-frame, we can further say to both the EU and to the Irish Government that a negotiated Brexit is within reach, as long as they can make progress on the Backstop issue.

That is an incredibly important prize and it is no exaggeration to say that upon it the future of both Brexit and the Conservative Party depend. I hope all colleagues in the party can wish us good luck.

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Henry Newman: The Alternative Arrangements Commission offers the best route through the backstop problem

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

It’s now three years and a day since the referendum was declared for Leave on the morning of 24th June 2016. And yet Brexit seems – if anything – further away than it has for some time. The Conservative leadership race will change the occupants of Downing Street, but will leave the three essential paths unchanged: Brexit with a version of the current deal, Brexit with No Deal, and no Brexit. With almost no Parliamentary majority, it’s hard at this point to see a way through to any one of those paths.

Over the next few weeks things may become clearer, unless Brexit day ends up being delayed again. A new Prime Minister will make no difference in of himself to the Parliamentary maths – although the stock of patronage in the Whips’ office may be reset. But various Conservative factions are already threatening to bring down the next government. One group would withdraw confidence if the Government pursues a No Deal Brexit; another has also threatened to do so if the Government fails to deliver Brexit on 31st October.

Opinion has polarised in Parliament and across the country. There’s little mood for compromise. The spoiled ballot paper in the final round of voting on the leadership last week was ominous. To make matters worse, the Conservatives will soon face a challenging by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. The Tories face a simultaneous squeeze from both the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The landing zone for a negotiated way through Brexit is slim but just discernible. At its core would be ensuring that the UK can avoid being permanently trapped in the backstop. The Alternative Arrangements Commission, chaired by Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands, and backed by Prosperity UK, is attempting to provide reassurance on that.  The Commission argues that the backstop is “at the heart of the UK Parliament’s objections to the existing Withdrawal Agreement”. Of course, the only time when a majority was found for a particular Brexit scenario was Graham Brady’s vague amendment on replacing the backstop with Alternative Arrangements – the Commission is attempting to clarify what that could entail.

I have previously argued that the Withdrawal Agreement (including the backstop) is more advantageous to the UK (and to Northern Ireland) than many critics accept. I have also outlined how the backstop itself poses various problems. But we are rather beyond that sort of analysis now – Parliament has refused to support the deal as is. That’s why it’s so crucially important that the Government gets behind the work of the Commission on Alternative Arrangements.

There’s plenty of cynicism about the Interim Report and the Commission overall. And certain pundits seemed keen to dismiss all the suggestions out of hand. But, although some of the ideas are ambitious, they deserve serious consideration. Radical ideas will be needed to find a way through. Brexit poses unique problems for Northern Ireland, and it’s overwhelmingly in the interests of the UK, Ireland and the EU to find a way of resolving these issues together.

The EU has somewhat legitimately complained that the UK had not put forward proposals to resolve the Irish border. (Although, of course, the entire Chequers policy was designed to do just that). But if Brussels and Dublin reject out of hand all innovative answers to address the border, then it will be hard to persuade Brexiteers that the UK will not end up trapped in the backstop.

Back in March at Strasbourg both the UK and EU agreed to fast track the search for alternative arrangements. The EU agreed that these alternatives could apply on a provisional basis to allow the UK to avoid the backstop altogether. The Strasbourg instrument also places obligations on Brussels to find alternative arrangements. A Policy Exchange report concluded that “it would be clearly incompatible with its obligations… for the EU to adopt a negotiating stance that boils down to the position that only ‘backstop 2.0’ can replace the current backstop”. So, the EU must accept workable alternatives to the backstop and these can’t simply be the same thing packaged up with a different name.

Yesterday’s interim report by the Alternative Arrangements Commission argues that working alternatives should be up and running within three years. They note that there is no single solution to the border, and that a combination of existing technology and best practice will be needed. Importantly, the report argues that “futuristic high-tech solutions are not required”.

Several of their interim recommendations tally with arguments that Open Europe has previously made, including an expanded trusted trader scheme in Northern Ireland with exemptions for smaller businesses. The most radical proposal amounts to an option to create a common area for Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures between the UK and Ireland. Irish sources have dismissed such a possibility out of hand. There are obvious problems with this sort of suggestion, but it’s also the sort of bold idea that both sides will need to consider if a way through is to be found that can provide a sustainable answer for region and meet the concerns of the UK, Ireland and the EU.

Unfortunately, trust is in short supply. That’s hardly surprising when European capitals watch British politicians promising to use Article 24 of the GATT treaty to provide for tariff free trade in the event of No Deal. Or when they hear senior figures suggesting we use a transition period to negotiate a trade deal, if we leave with No Deal. And they watch as some claim that we should “just” go back to the offer of an FTA which Donald Tusk made. (Unfortunately, Gatt 24 would only work if the EU also agrees to tango in the event of No Deal – so far they have refused; there will be no transition period without a deal; and the offer from Tusk (and indeed the EU as a whole) was always an FTA with a backstop for Northern Ireland.)

On the other hand, the EU will need to accept that the trust issue cuts both ways. The more that the Commission rubbishes alternatives to the backstop, the harder it will be to persuade people that a path out is possible. Equally, Brussels must now see that something will have to give. There is practically no chance that the exact same deal can pass the Commons, without further legally-binding changes. The EU’s preferred answer of a cross-party arrangement failed to bear fruit. And there is still little sign of a majority for a second referendum, nor indeed a clear swing in public opinion against leaving the EU.

Back in April, Tusk pompously warned the UK not to “waste” the extension to Article 50, while the Council decided to delay Brexit by the worst possible length of time – long enough to ensure that MPs felt no pressure to make decisions, but too short really to allow for a change in politics or a reset in negotiations. With Brussels out of action following European elections, and with August summer breaks looming, these months were always going to be largely fallow. When things do get back underway, there will be precious little time to get anything agreed before the first scheduled meeting of the European Council on 17th October – the biggest priority for both sides must be to rebuild trust.

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