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Westlake Legal Group > United Kingdom

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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An election and Johnson’s deal. Ulster will say No No No.

Nationalists in Northern Ireland are opposed to Brexit, and so will have little time for Johnson’s deal.  Unionists have no time for the deal, even though they support Brexit.

A December election in Northern Ireland could therefore turn, in a manner of speaking, into a referendum on the deal in which Ulster Says No.  Expect the DUP to make the most of the opportunity to get their vote back up.

It will argue that its MPs will seek to block the deal in the next Parliament. Loyalists are already rallying against it – on the ground that anything the Irish Government is for, they must themselves oppose.

In little more than a week, we have moved from hearing about potential violence and protest from Republicans to the same from Loyalists.  ConservativeHome is not at all sure that Downing Street is taking this into account.

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David Gauke: When your bell rings in December, you expect to be sung a carol – not asked how you’re going to vote

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

We now begin the most exciting and dramatic week in the Brexit saga since the last exciting and dramatic week…which was last week. It will be followed by an exciting and dramatic week next week, too. But before turning to the future, it is worth looking back at developments in the last two weeks since my last column.

The big development is that the Prime Minister got a deal and he deserves credit for that. I remain convinced that at the time of the passing of the Benn Act there was no real determination to reach a deal and, even if there was, the Prime Minister did not have the political space with the European Research Group to make the concessions that he has now on Northern Ireland. If the current deal had been presented to Parliament and the alternative would have been a no deal on October 31, ERG members would have stayed loyal to the DUP and opposed it.

Some will argue that the EU would have caved on the Irish border, but there remains no evidence to support that view. The choice that has been available to the UK has always been continued customs alignment between the UK and the EU or some kind of customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Theresa May’s deal went for the former until alternative arrangements might emerge; Boris Johnson has chosen greater divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

As a Unionist, I prefer the former option but at least the Prime Minister has made a choice. Any option has downsides, but to govern is to choose and that is what he has done. In reaching a deal, he has turned his back on unicorns and we have something tangible to examine. That does constitute progress.

In terms of the deal, there are two big issues. The first is Northern Ireland and the Union. As I have already touched on, this is a worse deal than Theresa May’s deal from this perspective, and the DUP are understandably furious. In truth, the Government had adopted incompatible red lines, and something was going to have to give. It was probably the Prime Minister’s least worst option.

The second issue is the long term relationship between Great Britain and the EU. Those of us deeply concerned about a No Deal Brexit this year will take little comfort if the consequence of the Withdrawal Agreement is a No Deal Brexit for Great Britain at the end of 2020.

Completing a Free Trade Agreement with the EU by December 2020 was always highly ambitious when this deadline was negotiated by May’s government with a view to leaving in March 2019. But with the May deal, if an FTA had not been negotiated, the provisions of the backstop meant that regulatory and customs alignment with the EU would be maintained. This gave businesses a level of certainty and reassurance they needed to continue trading with the EU on current terms whilst a future relationship was being negotiated.

We have now lost many months of the implementation period and, with a new Commission being appointed, it is unlikely the EU will have a mandate for negotiations until next Easter. Getting a trade deal done in the time available looks fanciful. And the consequences of not getting an FTA finalised is now much more serious. If we do not extend the implementation period to the end of 2021 or, more realistically, 2022, the chances are we will be trading with the EU on WTO terms – with the introduction of tariffs and disruption to supply chains – by January 2021. This would be a very bad outcome for jobs and living standards.

In my view, the Government should seek an extension of the implementation period as soon as we have left the EU (it would have been better to have extended the implementation period in the Withdrawal Agreement, but that ship has sailed) and I welcome the confirmation from the Government that Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on seeking an extension of the implementation period and that the Government will abide by that decision.

This concession was sufficient for me to support the Government’s programme motion last week, albeit with little enthusiasm. Not only was the time for Parliamentary scrutiny very short, but I feared it was counter-productive in meeting the objective to ‘get Brexit done’ to attempt to get the Bill through the Commons in three days. It would have legitimised the Lords taking its time and delegitimised leaving the EU under the terms of this deal with even more Remain voters.

It is true that the Prime Minister had repeatedly promised to leave by October 31, but there was never going to be time to properly scrutinise a deal reached at the October 17 EU Council and leave in that timescale. And if we leave at some point is November of December, who – in future – will really care what the date was?

The sensible course of action would have been to put forward a programme motion which allowed the Commons to take two or three weeks to scrutinise properly the Bill. The motion would have got through (I do not think Labour want to be seen as filibustering it) and Parliament could then have done its job in scrutinising legislation. The likelihood is we would have left the EU within weeks.

A more aggressive, high risk timetable resulted in an unnecessary defeat, followed by the even more high risk move to seek a general election. I say high risk, because the result of a December poll should not be treated as a foregone conclusion.

The Labour Party might be seen as there for the taking given the obvious inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn, but Labour voters have proven themselves to be remarkably resistant to voting Conservative in the past. The Liberal Democrats and SNP will be a threat to a number of our current seats, and the Brexit Party might see a resurgence if we go to the polls still as members of the EU.

The other big unknown is how the public will react to a snap election. At the best of times, voters distrust governments calling elections if the move is seen as being motivated by party interest. This would not be the best of times. When someone opens the front door to a stranger in December, they expect to be sung a carol, not asked how they are going to vote. A government that is seen as provoking a season of ill-will is unlikely to be viewed affectionately by the general public who have had more than enough of politics in 2019.

In any event, the argument many of us have made against a second referendum on EU membership was that it would be divisive but not decisive. Exactly the same argument could be made about a December general election if we have not left the EU. It might easily become a second referendum by proxy but with a result less legitimate because it would be distorted by our electoral system and a lack of clarity as to the question the electorate is trying to answer.

I will listen to the arguments in Parliament about why we should dissolve Parliament a week after the Government won on both the Queens Speech and Second Reading of the WAB, but the heavy-handed approach to the programme motion and the now abandoned threat to ‘go on strike’ has not been a good look. The Prime Minister’s successes at the European Council and in winning the Second Reading vote seems a long time ago.

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Jan Zeber: How to unleash the power of the Union 3) Culture unites us, and teaches us about one another

Jan Zeber is a Research Fellow at Policy Exchange.

Before it is anything else, a nation is an identity, and identity is expressed through culture. This is why any endeavour to strengthen the United Kingdom must have a strong cultural dimension. Sport, art, history and trade all have a role a play.

But how is this to be done? This third and final instalment of Policy Exchange’s articles on revitalising the Union – drawing on our recent report, Modernising the United Kingdom – will offer practical answers. Celebrating the constituent nations of the United Kingdom in all corners of the country, regularly sharing government art and museum collections with regional galleries and exhibitions and ensuring that more sporting events that unite the nation are on free-to-view TV are just a few examples of what can be done.

The upcoming centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland in 2021 is an opportunity to celebrate its history and culture in the spirit of our shared heritage. As the then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirmed in July of this year, the Northern Ireland Office is already exploring the options for official celebrations. It should consider making the day a UK-wide bank holiday, which would fall on the 5th May 2021, so that its impact and significance is felt across the entire country.

Whitehall departments should also consider how they can take part in and support the planned Northern Ireland ‘Expo 100’ events taking place in 2021 to celebrate Northern Ireland’s birthday. The Department for International Trade could, for example, launch a special campaign promoting foreign direct investment opportunities in Northern Ireland, while the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport could support the development and promotion of cultural tourism opportunities, such as working with Tourism Northern Ireland to promote Northern Ireland as a tourism destination in the UK.

We should also make our shared heritage – recorded in works of art and museum exhibits – more easily available to people all over the UK. In 2015, it was revealed that just three per cent of central government and local authority-owned art collection – valued then at £3.5 billion – was on display and available to the public. This is an opportunity to build on the success of Tate Liverpool and V&A Dundee, as well as ‘roving’ exhibitions such as the tour of ‘Dippy’ the replica diplodocus skeleton usually on display at the Natural History Museum. It requires our most prominent cultural institutions that receive significant amounts of public funding to demonstrate their impact across the United Kingdom. Importantly, it should also mean key cultural institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (such as the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Scottish National Gallery, National Museum Wales, Ulster Museum and Titanic Belfast) establishing a presence outside the borders of their home nations, similarly through temporary exhibitions and other outreach programmes, working together with their counterparts from other nations of the UK. All four nations of the United Kingdom have proud cultural traditions, and together they make Britain an internationally renowned cultural leader.

Moments of national unity that take place whenever a home nation does well in the Olympics or world cups show how important sport is to countries coming together in shared celebration of their identity. Whether they are playing in men’s or women’s tournaments, playing as Team GB or as constituent nations, playing football or cricket, rugby league or rugby union, sporting teams have an immense capacity to bring British people together. The UK has had many sporting successes to celebrate over the summer, but unfortunately they are often all too difficult for the public to access.

Celebrating these successes (or failures, as the case may be) must be easier. The Government should review what sporting events should be protected (‘listed’) under the Broadcasting Act 1996 and therefore ‘free-to-air’ in whole or in part. There is a particularly strong case for making at least one of England’s home cricket test matches each summer and coverage of the men’s and women’s Cricket World Cup final and semi-finals, as well as women’s national football tournaments, available on free-to-air TV, the latter of which already has the backing of Nicky Morgan.

The Government should also renew support for the joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA Men’s Football World Cup in the UK and Ireland, as well as support a new joint bid to also host the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The objective should be to host games all over the UK, and as part of this, the Government should work with the Scottish Football Association to upgrade the Scottish national stadium at Hampden Park in Glasgow, and with the Irish Football Association to support Belfast in being able to host games in the future.

These are just some of the examples of what could be done to strengthen the cultural appeal of a collective British identity. It should be noted that it is not just about promoting what we have in common. It is also about bringing the culture of individual nations of the United Kingdom closer to people outside them. Many (even most) Britons will have roots in more than one of the constituent nations – it should be easier for someone living in England to celebrate and identify with their Scottish roots, for example. That is also what we mean by ‘shared heritage’.

As Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor at Ulster University, points out, ‘[when] placed in the broadest international context, the United Kingdom can sometimes look like an oddity. But the Union on which it is predicated is a remarkably enduring constitutional arrangement and – by almost any comparative standards – a surprisingly cohesive national state.’ Culture is a key part of that cohesiveness and should not be forgotten in any attempt to reinvigorate the Union.

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Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In August, my research in Scotland found a slim majority for independence. In September, my poll in Northern Ireland found a tiny margin for leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic. This month, to round out the picture, I have surveyed voters in England to see how they feel about the Union, especially the parts of it that voted to remain in the EU, and how they see the prospect of one or more of the home nations deciding to go its own way.

Who benefits?

Many English voters think Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively benefit more from the Union than the rest of the UK. This is particularly the case among those who voted Leave in the EU referendum, and especially among Conservative Leavers – two-thirds of whom say Scotland benefits most from being part of the Union, compared to one in five who think all parts of the UK benefit equally from its membership.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.11.57 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Notably, people were slightly more to think Scotland benefits disproportionately from being part of the UK than they were to say the same about Northern Ireland.

Just over half of English voters think that England subsidises Scotland financially, and they are divided as to whether or not they are happy with this arrangement (while four in ten say they don’t know whether they subsidise Scotland or not).

Conservative voters are by far the most likely to think that England provides financial support to Scotland – three quarters believe this to be the case, and most of them are unhappy about it. Tory Leavers are also the most likely to think that England subsidises Northern Ireland, but with the difference that they are more likely to be happy to do so.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.11.57-1 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Our focus groups – conducted with voters of different political outlooks in Bexley, south east London, and Newcastle upon Tyne – shed some light on this apparent discrepancy. The widespread view that the English “pay for Scotland” goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that Scots get certain things – free NHS prescriptions and free university education – that are not available in England: in other words, that English taxpayers are paying for the Scots to have things that they don’t get themselves.

There is an extra dimension to this in Newcastle, where people question the idea of a more prosperous England supporting its poorer neighbour to the north: affluence was really confined to “that belt that goes from the Cotswolds through to London, into Essex to some extent, not as far north as Norfolk and Suffolk, not the Midlands”.

Moreover, it rankled with some of our English voters that Scotland seemed to show little affinity for the Union they felt they were paying to maintain: “It’s always Scotland. They say ‘I’m not British, I’m Scottish’;” “With the Barnett Formula they come out ahead, and they’re still moaning;” “I’ve got nothing against Scotland but if they want to be independent let’s stop paying the funds.”

Indeed, some felt that those who had voted against independence in 2014 had done so for purely economic reasons: “My Scottish friends are worried about their pensions if they become independent. They hate the English;” “I don’t think the people who voted to stay were particularly attached – I think they just thought it was in their best interests.”

These things do not apply in the same way with Northern Ireland, for three main reasons: people feel the province is much less able to support itself financially than Scotland; there was no perception that people there enjoyed benefits that were not available in England; and there was little awareness of a concerted movement to take Northern Ireland out of the UK or “moaning” about the English while enjoying their apparent largesse.

The Brexit effect

A plurality of English voters – including a majority of EU Remainers – think Brexit makes Scottish independence in the foreseeable future more likely, while Leave voters are more likely to think it makes no difference. For some in our groups, this was more because it had given the SNP “an excuse to go for another referendum” rather than any material change: Scots had already had “a chance to make a decision and they bottled it… They decided to stay part of the UK, therefore you have to sort of grin and bear what the general UK decision is. You’ve got to live with that.”

However, this was a minority view. Remainers were unsurprisingly sympathetic to the argument that Scots were being taken out of the EU against their will: “I can identify with their feeling of loss, they’re feeling angry that someone has taken something away that the majority of them wanted to keep. It adds to the longstanding list of things that ‘people in bloody Westminster do and we have to put up with’.”

But English Leave voters – themselves feeling that their democratically expressed will was not being acted upon – also empathised with the Scottish Remainers’ predicament: “I’d be miffed. We’re miffed because we voted out and we’re not;” “Let them have their independence so they can stay in the EU if they want to.”

However, some were less sure that Brexit had hastened Scottish independence, arguing that the post-2016 saga might make some voters reluctant to go through the whole thing again: “If I were Scottish, I would be thinking – is there a Withdrawal Agreement, is it deal or no deal, what does that mean? They don’t want the farce of the three and a half years that we’ve had.”

Indeed, many English Leave voters saw many parallels between some Scots’ desire for self-determination and their own wish to leave the EU: “It’s similar in the way we want to control our own destiny. Scotland want their independence, we want our independence from the EU for roughly the same reasons… Taking back control.”

Remain voters also sympathised – especially with the wish not to be “taken out” of the EU – but often ascribed more noble motives to the independence movement: “With Brexit, a lot of it was prejudice, ‘we don’t want foreigners in our country’. With Scotland it’s not as emotional.” While Brexit had in their view been driven largely by immigration, the Scots “are really into their heritage. It’s ‘I really want to be Scottish’.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.14.14 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Most voters think Scotland is on course to leave the UK – and while most of those think Brexit has accelerated the process, a large minority of them (and three in ten of all Leave voters) think Scotland would probably vote for independence in the next few years whether Brexit was happening or not.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.16.24 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   When the same questions are applied to Northern Ireland, English voters are much less likely to have a view. Apart from the observation that “the religious element is very strong,” very few had any grasp of the dynamics of Northern Irish politics, which seem complicated and even mysterious to many people.

Some were not even aware that Northern Ireland’s long-term place in the Union was even an issue, and for others the question seemed less to do with self-determination, as in Scotland, than with identity: while Unionists there “probably feel much like us, that they’re part of us”, it was natural that others should feel that “Ireland is their own country. There’s water separating England and Ireland. So if Northern Ireland became part of Ireland, that’s Ireland, one whole country.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.18.28 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   Only just over a quarter of English voters – and only one in three Conservative Leavers – think it would be wrong on principle for some EU laws and regulations to apply in Northern Ireland after Brexit but not to the rest of the UK. A plurality – and a majority of Tories – think such an outcome is not ideal, but an acceptable compromise to get a sensible Brexit arrangement.

Should they stay or should they go?

On the big question of Scotland and Northern Ireland’s membership of the union, English opinion largely divides between those who say yes, and those who say it is for the Scottish and Northern Irish people to decide.

Of this latter group – more than two in five of the English population – only a handful say that if either voted to leave the UK they would be happy to see them go. Of those who say it is for Scotland and Northern Ireland to decide, a large minority nevertheless say they would be sorry to see them leave if they chose do so. This means that, overall, most English voters would rather keep the Union together if it were up to them – though they recognise it isn’t up to them.

This overall view was also reflected and expanded on in our focus groups. Many felt there was something important but intangible about the Union, and that the country would be diminished if one or more parts of it were to leave: “I like being part of the United Kingdom, I do. I think if we divide it we could make ourselves weaker, not stronger;” “We’re known as the four countries together worldwide. The Royal Family, bringing all of us together – people see us as one. I don’t think people abroad see us as separate countries;” “It’s like a family. You have dysfunctional families but you still come together;” “Historically, worldwide, the UK has been a leading force in a lot of areas. If it was all divided up I don’t think we would have the same standing in the world;” “If we separate from Scotland, would there be a border? That would be pretty sad. It would be going backwards. It’s the Berlin Wall all over again and the Mexicans and Trump. It’s not positive.”

As in the poll, very few of our focus group participants actively wanted Scotland to leave. For those who would be least unhappy to see them go, the point was not that we disliked them, but that the Scots seemed to resent the English. As mentioned above, this made the idea of financial subsidies harder to swallow: “We don’t want to be governed by the EU, they don’t want to be governed by us. But they still want our money.”

And while the idea of unity was good in principle, it seemed illusory to some, who often also felt that rivalry and antagonism went back much further than the Union: “You go up to the borders of Scotland and see the castles and everything. We were always fighting;” “I don’t feel we’re united anyway. They’ve fought us for years and years;” “We’ve been segregated for quite a long time actually. I don’t think there’s much unity.”

This also helps to explain why, when asked what they would do if they had to choose between going ahead with Brexit and keeping Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Union, most Leave voters chose Brexit. As was clear from the groups, this does not reflect a callous disregard for the Union but a pragmatic view that all parts of the UK had the right of self-determination. England and Wales had voted to leave the EU; if Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to chart their own course, so be it: “If they want to be their country, what’s it got to do with us? Just let them crack on” – especially since their campaigns to leave the UK would continue whether we were in the EU or not.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-10-20-at-19.19.20 Lord Ashcroft: What my latest surveys found voters south of the border think about the Union United Kingdom The Union Scotland Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Northern Ireland Newcastle ireland Highlights England Comment Bexley   But even most of these voters hoped it wouldn’t come to that: “I’d be prepared to say goodbye to all of them, because that’s what we voted for. But I don’t want that to happen;” “You’d have to change the flag and everything. It wouldn’t be the United Kingdom any more;” “We’re proud of our little nation and I don’t want bits breaking off. I want people to remember us as a dynamic little nation that fought against major powers and beat them. And it’s strength in numbers and historically what we’re known for. I’d rather we all stay together.”

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Letwin let-down: Parliament shuts down Brexit approval in key procedural vote

Westlake Legal Group johnson-rees-mogg Letwin let-down: Parliament shuts down Brexit approval in key procedural vote United Kingdom The Blog Parliament Letwin amendment European Union elections Brexit Boris Johnson Benn Act

Yesterday, it looked like Boris Johnson had the momentum to gain a narrow majority in Parliament to approve his new Brexit deal. Just hours later, however, the question got mooted through a procedural effort to close off any attempt at a covert no-deal Brexit. The PM and his government lost a vote on an amendment from Oliver Letwin that withholds any approval on Johnson’s deal until he supplied the actual legislation that would enable it. The loss will now force Johnson to seek an extension — although Johnson himself insisted that he could avoid it:

Lawmakers voted 322-306 for the amendment, put forward by former Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin. It means that parliament will not vote on Saturday on whether to approve Johnson’s agreement.

Unless Johnson has approved a deal by the end of Saturday, he is obliged by law to ask the EU for a Brexit delay until the end of January 2020. If Johnson can get all the legislation through parliament, he could still deliver Brexit by Oct. 31.

The final vote on the Letwin Act is significant, as it signals real trouble for Johnson’s deal regardless of the procedural issues. The DUP, which has provided the necessary seats to prop up the Tory government since Theresa May’s disastrous snap election, wound up voting for the Letwin amendment today in protest of the deal itself. Had the DUP stuck with him, Johnson would have defeated the Letwin amendment 316-312 and scored the first major parliamentary success of his government. A no-deal Brexit would be preferable to the DUP, at least theoretically and in the short run, than the deal Johnson negotiated that cuts Northern Ireland out of the UK’s customs and regulatory regime.

If Johnson can’t get the DUP back behind him on the outlines of this deal, then the enabling act has little chance of passing either. Letwin himself says he will likely vote for it now that his amendment has foreclosed a default no-deal Brexit, but will the rest of the 305 MPs who tried to kill the Letwin amendment? The devil of Johnson’s deal will be in those details, and the more of those Johnson has to put on paper without Parliament having already committed to authorizing the deal, the more risk he assumes of having soft support peel away.

More acutely, Johnson now has to decide whether to abide by the Benn Act. He had until 11 pm GMT today to gain parliamentary approval for any Brexit deal without requesting the EU for a 90-day extension on Article 50. Parliament passed the bill at the beginning of September to prevent Johnson from cooking up an impasse that would lead to a default no-deal Brexit, and they even wrote into the law the precise wording of the letter the PM must send to the EU for the request. If the EU approves the request, the PM must abide by it; if the EU counter-proposes a different date, the PM must accept it or else Parliament can accept it in his stead. It was written to be watertight, and any attempt to bypass it will quickly end up in court.

Johnson claimed in the post-Letwin speech that he doesn’t think the Benn Act obligates him, but so far his office is playing that argument very coolly. He has a few hours to ruminate on this, but it does appear that Johnson’s hands are tied.  Guardian reporter Rafael Behr suggests that Johnson will pout for a while, then abide by the law:

Johnson doesn’t have too many options left, at least if he intends to abide by the law. The Letwin amendment cut off his most promising avenue of getting around the Benn Act, but he has a few other options. Johnson could send a second letter repudiating the first, but the EU could simply recognize the first and ignore the second in offering an extension, too. Johnson could work with any allies within in the EU to get one member-state to veto the extension, but given the annoyance factor the UK has provided, there’s probably few to zero European leaders willing to pull Johnson’s political chestnuts from the fire, especially not in service to a no-deal Brexit. Johnson could leverage his unpleasantness within the EU by threatening to sabotage it if forced to remain within it, but that’s a short-term strategy with long-term consequences — whether it works or not.

If Johnson really wants this deal, an extension should be no big problem. If he can get the enabling act passed by Parliament in the next two weeks, the extension won’t be needed anyway. If, however, this deal was intended as an end-around for Johnson’s desire for a no-deal Brexit, as Letwin and 321 other MPs suspected it was, then he’s stuck … unless the EU rescues him. Hmmm:

Even assuming Johnson does send the Benn Act letter and the EU offers the extension, what does come next? This deal will likely go down to defeat unless the terms change enough to get DUP on board, and the changes necessary won’t be accepted by the EU. Labour wants a second referendum, but that’s absurd; what happens if Remain wins this time 51/48? Which referendum would matter more? Why not hold a third referendum after that and call best-out-of-three?

The real solution is to clarify the electorate’s desires by holding a national election on the Brexit question. That’s how parliamentary systems are supposed to work, where executives operate on the confidence of the legislature and therefore their negotiations with foreign powers have credibility and legitimacy. Two successive Tory governments have lost so many votes on Brexit this year that credibility and legitimacy are practically laugh lines at this point. Johnson can either campaign on this deal or a no-deal Brexit, while Labour can campaign on Remain, and the end results should make it clear to the Parliament that the election produces how to proceed with the EU. Until that happens, Johnson’s not the only one stuck in the Brexit brambles.

Addendum: Don’t forget that Johnson’s government told a court two weeks ago that he would comply with the Benn Act if this circumstance came to pass. Refusal to do so now could mean a boatload of legal trouble for Johnson:

Legal sources believe the prime minister is in significant legal peril. Lawyers for the UK government told the court on 9 October they knew the solemn pledges given at an earlier hearing that Johnson would comply with the act were legally-binding.

The UK government told the court of session on Friday 4 October the prime minister accepted “he is subject to the public law principle that he cannot frustrate its purpose or the purpose of its provisions. Thus he cannot act so as to prevent the letter requesting the specified extension in the act from being sent.”

And the court will also adjudicate on a second part of the application: an interdict forcing the UK government not to frustrate or undermine the intent of the letter, by attempting to sidestep the extension move.

If he or his ministers, or their proxies, try to subvert the request for an extension – say be sending a second letter asking the EU to ignore the extension application, they will also be at risk of contempt.

And the court has the authority — rarely invoked but still extant — to use a contempt order to bypass the PM:

It is only if Johnson fails to send the letter and fails to adhere to the court’s interdict requiring him to do so that the court will consider the nuclear option. It has unique powers called nobile officium, which allow the court or its agent to send that letter to all 27 EU member states and institutions on Johnson’s behalf.

Johnson and his team are no doubt mulling over that point, but their concession to get the court to beg off the fight is what created this trap.

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Hmmmm: BoJo’s Brexit deal set to pass Parliament tomorrow?

Westlake Legal Group bojo-hands Hmmmm: BoJo’s Brexit deal set to pass Parliament tomorrow? United Kingdom The Blog Parliament European Union Brexit Boris Johnson

The situation has been fluid all day in Westminster, but The Guardian’s calculations suggest Boris Johnson just might get his Brexit deal passed. Ten Labour MPs have declared their intention to support the proposal, along with enough Tory rebels returning to get to a majority of two, even without the DUP. That’s an early assumption, however, and a key loss on a procedural motion might throw a spanner into the works for Johnson tomorrow.

For now, though, Johnson looks like he’s building a winning coalition:

Onn partnered up with Tory MP Victoria Prentis on an op-ed to urge unity in getting Brexit done and “move on”:

Last month, we came together with colleagues across the house to find a middle ground between the extremes of no deal and a second referendum. Our mission was to give a voice to the silent majority – both in parliament and across the country – a voice to those who respect the result of the referendum, and who want us to leave with a deal and move on. …

That’s why we have decided to write together the day before this historic sitting – not just as a proof that MPs of different stripes can work together, but to implore our colleagues to use this unique chance to help us move on, and get back to helping our constituents.

A no-deal Brexit will risk their prosperity, and a second referendum will only deepen the schism of the past three years. Pride needs to be swallowed on both sides, and clear heads must prevail.

The risk of letting this final shot at a deal slip through our fingers is too great. Our collective hope rests on brave Labour MPs, and indeed others, who can see that.

There isn’t a word in this essay that supports any of the elements of the deal, nor a single word about Boris Johnson. Still, it appears that the momentum has swung his way and that Johnson’s deal might still pass.

That might not be the end of it, however. Some apparently suspected that Johnson might try to use this version of a deal as a stalking-horse for a later no-deal Brexit. Johnson’s government lost a vote to keep the authorizing bill from being amended, and Parliament began attaching conditions to the deal. The most significant of this is one offered by MP Oliver Letwin that suspends approval of the deal until the government passes enabling legislation, which is separate from the approval that may pass tomorrow:

The amendment would withhold approval of the deal, until the legislation to enact it was safely passed – a move that would automatically trigger the “Benn Act” and force the prime minister to request a further postponement of Brexit until 31 January. …

Sir Oliver’s amendment is a cunningly-crafted proposition which, crucially, could be voted for by MPs who want a deal, but don’t trust this one, and don’t trust the government.

It rests on the idea that were Parliament to approve the deal for the purposes of the Benn Act now, there might then be a danger that the subsequent legislation to enact it might be, somehow, derailed, resulting in a no-deal exit on 31 October.

With the Benn Act out of the way, they believe that some manoeuvre, some legislative judo move, by factions inside and outside the government, who favour a “clean Brexit” could leave no time for any effective counter… and Britain would be out, with no deal.

The perceived need to seek such a guarantee in legislation speaks to a profound lack of trust in Johnson and his fellow Brexit hardliners. Given all of the machinations on all sides over Brexit to this point, it’s hardly outside of the realm of possibility that Johnson could have been angling for a way to get to a no-deal Brexit by finding a way to get around the Benn Act. That would have been a clever ploy, one that would have enabled Johnson to avoid some of the political damage for splitting off Northern Ireland as he has in this current version of the deal while still claiming to have delivered a functional Brexit deal.

Letwin insists he’s not trying to scupper the deal but to save it:

“My aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation,” Letwin said in an explanatory note sent to reporters.

It might, however, be a poison pill in the end that some Brexiters can’t swallow. At the very least, tomorrow’s sitting might end up being more academic than climactic:

This assumes that the EU would grant another extension, a point that is far from established. However, it would be almost automatically granted if Parliament passed the authorization and needed a little more time for the enabling legislation to pass; certainly the EU would not jeopardize their own interests in a pedantic argument over the deadline with nothing else at stake. With that as the context and another no-deal escape hatch closed, will hardline Brexiters come along with Johnson? At least one of them announced this afternoon that she’ll throw in with the government on the deal:

Johnson might still need a few more to get around the DUP, but it’s now leaning in his direction.

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WATCH: Climate Change Protestors Learn a Hard Lesson About Blocking People From Getting to Work

Westlake Legal Group maxresdefault-2-620x349 WATCH: Climate Change Protestors Learn a Hard Lesson About Blocking People From Getting to Work Video United Kingdom Trains Shocking Politics London insane Glue Front Page Stories Front Page Featured Story Extinction Rebellion Crazy Climate Change Beaten Allow Media Exception

Early this morning in the United Kingdom, climate change protestors dubbing themselves part of the “Extinction Rebellion” took to the streets. Some of them got the bright idea of climbing on top of the morning commuter trains, which effectively forced the city to stop running them. This left thousands of people stranded with noway to get to work and frustrated by what was transpiring.

Then things got a little rowdy.

If you watch the video, you’ll see the two protestors start to get pelted with what looks like coffee cups and other pieces of debris. Eventually, an angry commuter climbs up the side and pulls a man down into the crowd where he presumably gets pummeled (you can’t really see at that point).

It’s a pretty crazy visual, but not surprising. Trains are already a form of “green” energy, are they not? And you aren’t going to win any converts by stopping people from making money to to support their families.

And what is it with these people and glue?

This stuff is only hurting their cause. People don’t respond well to insane people invading their lives and forcing hardship on them.

Further, these protests are nonsensical. Do they expect to convince China to stop burning coal by gluing themselves to trains in the UK? Even if everyone these people interacted with said “you know, I see the light,” it still wouldn’t change anything.

All this comes back to the religious nature of the climate change movement. These people really think they can “save the world” and affect the climate. In reality, they’d be much better off using their time coming up with technological solutions to deal with any possible rise in temperatures over the next 100 years. Because the truth is, even if catastrophic climate change were real and wholly caused by man, there’s essentially nothing we can do about it.

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Parents of British teen killed by diplomat’s wife tell Trump: We’ll meet Sacoolas in the UK, not the US

Westlake Legal Group dunn-gmb Parents of British teen killed by diplomat’s wife tell Trump: We’ll meet Sacoolas in the UK, not the US white house United Kingdom The Blog robert o'brien intelligence community Harry Dunn donald trump diplomatic immunity Anne Sacoolas

Did Donald Trump’s attempt at a rapprochement in a difficult diplomatic jam backfire? The parents of a teen killed in a road accident involving the wife of an American diplomat in the UK met with Trump to urge him to withdraw Anne Sacoolas’ immunity and send her back to face criminal charges. Trump declined to do that, but offered instead to arrange a meeting between the parents of Harry Dunn and Sacoolas … who just happened to be in the next room, along with members of the media.

No thanks was the reply to the offer, which the parents called an “ambush” later. Charlotte Charles was aghast at the idea for Sacoolas’ sake as well:

The parents of British 19-year-old Harry Dunn, who was killed in a traffic accident involving American Anne Sacoolas, tells “CBS This Morning” they rejected President Trump’s surprise offer to meet with Sacoolas during a White House meeting on Tuesday.

After offering them his condolences, “it didn’t take long for [Mr. Trump] to then drop into the conversation that Anne Sacoolas was in the building,” mother Charlotte Charles said in her first U.S. TV interview since the meeting.

Dunn’s father, Tim, said when he first heard the offer to meet with Sacoolas, it took his breath away.

“He did ask two or three times,” Tim said, adding, “It was a bit pressure, but we stuck to our guns.”

Charles said it was the “wrong setting.”

“We’ve said all along that you know we are willing to meet her. We are still willing to meet her. But it needs to be on U.K. soil, you know, and with therapists and mediators,” Charles said. “And that’s not just for us. That’s for her as well.”

In fact, as CBS later explains, Sacoolas herself would have been ambushed by the circumstances of the meeting. She had been called to the White House and apparently informed that Dunn’s parents were meeting with Trump, but was not aware of the plans made for an attempt to bring them all together. As the attorney for the parents describes itawkward might be the most polite description possible. Radd Seiger lays out four surprises that awaited his clients, with the third perhaps the most unpleasant of all:

“Thirdly that Mrs. Sacoolas was present in the building and fourthly that it was the president’s intention for Harry’s family to meet Mrs. Sacoolas in the Oval Office in front of several photographers in what was obviously designed to be a press call,” Seiger wrote in his statement.

The Dunn family blames National Security Adviser O’Brien for the misstep. “It struck us that this meeting was hastily arranged by nincompoops on the run and in particular Mr. O’Brien, who appeared to be extremely uptight and aggressive and did not come across at all well in this meeting which required careful handling and sensitivity,” Seiger wrote. “The family remain open to the possibility of meeting Mrs. Sacoolas one day in the future but in a neutral and appropriately controlled environment.”

The description by Daily Beast correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau might come closer to the mark:

You can almost imagine the reality-show excitement that surely went into the ill-considered plan to introduce Anne Sacoolas, the American diplomatic wife who killed 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn when she drove down the wrong side of an English lane in August, to Dunn’s grieving parents.

What was nat-sec adviser Robert O’Brien doing as facilitator for this meeting anyway? That should have been either Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State or one of his deputies, if the claim of diplomatic immunity relates to actual diplomatic function. O’Brien’s presence leaves the impression that Sacoolas’ husband is involved in a different kind of diplomacy (cough cough). This case needed an especially deft diplomatic touch regardless, not an intelligence operation.

Let’s be honest, though; we all know where the reality-TV show approach originated. It didn’t come from O’Brien, although one might have thought that a nat-sec adviser would have suggested to his boss that he needed to dial down the attention on this case rather than blow it up. It came from the man who leveraged his reality-TV experience into a presidency, and whose instincts still run in the reality-TV direction. Sometimes that works spectacularly well for Trump, but in this case it produced a traumatic backfire that victimized two already grieving families.

Even so, Charles remained gracious about Trump, both on CBS This Morning and on Good Morning Britain. She tells both programs that she thinks Trump sincerely wants to find a way to help her get justice for her son, although she also concludes that it’s not likely to happen. It’s a terribly sad situation, but Trump’s already got enough troubles with the diplomatic and intelligence communities. He can’t afford to touch off any more retaliation, especially right now.

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