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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Daniel Hannan MEP"

Elections 1) The Conservatives can hope to make gains in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. But will it make a difference?

We have an array of local elections being held, May 7th, in England and Wales. We have the high profile Mayoral contests along with a complicate mix of contests in district councils, unitary authorities, and metropolitan boroughs. I have already provided an initial overview but as Polling Day approaches, I will provide a closer look at the different categories in a weekly series. We shall start with the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Contests to elect a PCC will take place in the following areas:

  • Avon and Somerset
  • Cheshire
  • Derbyshire
  • Devon & Cornwall
  • Dorset
  • Gloucestershire
  • Gwent
  • Hampshire
  • Humberside
  • Kent
  • Lancashire
  • Leicestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Merseyside
  • Northamptonshire
  • North Yorkshire
  • South Wales
  • Staffordshire
  • Surrey
  • Sussex
  • Thames Valley
  • West Mercia
  • West Midlands
  • West Yorkshire
  • Wiltshire

Police and Crime Commissioner elections last took place in 2016. That time the Conservatives won 20 PCC posts with 15 going to Labour. Both parties made gains at the expense of independents, though the independents still won three seats. I suspect that some voted for an independent at the first elections in 2012 due to a vague sense of disquiet that a PCC could order the police to go off and arrest political opponents (or decline to arrest political supporters). As such concerns proved ill-founded, the independents found it more difficult in 2016. Perhaps they will have a revival this time if disillusioned Labour voters turn to them – finding that easier than voting Conservative.

Plaid Cymru won two seats. Elections took place the same day for the Welsh Assembly – which probably helped Plaid and certainly will have increased turnout. That will not apply this time, as the Welsh Assembly operate on a five year cycle and so takes to the polls next year. Dyfed-Powys was gained by Plaid from the Conservatives last time. The General Election in December would suggest the Conservatives have a decent chance of taking it back.

Labour only narrowly won in Cheshire and Derbyshire. Lincolnshire was a fairly close Labour victory. So those will be potential Conservative gains. Humberside will be more of a stretch – but it was won by the Conservatives in 2012. The same applies to Leicestershire.

UKIP got a significant vote share last time – 13.7 per cent. Where will those votes go? The Lib Dems only got 8.6 per cent. Even in their best result, Cumbria, they were in third place. So even if they substantially increase their vote share they are unlikely to win any seats.

Might Labour be saved from a drubbing by the election of a new Leader on April 4th? It is expected that Sir Keir Starmer will win. That will give him a chance to tour the studios and proclaim that Labour has a “fresh start”, that it has “moved on” from Corbynism. Surely, on the issue of crime, the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn must have been especially toxic for Labour? With his sympathies for assorted terrorist groups, any Labour candidate claiming the Party was “tough on crime” faced being laughed to scorn. The difficulty for Labour is that they are doing so badly at present that even if a Starmer Bounce does transpire, giving them an extra couple of points in the polls, they would still be likely to lose seats.

So the Conservatives have good prospects of winning the PCC elections. Why does that not set the pulse racing? Why have several of the Conservative candidates been selected late and secretively?

After all, the PCCs have real power. They can set the budget and policing priorities. They have the power to hire and fire the chief constable. The contrast between the previous regime of police authorities – which were toothless talking shops – is stark. The cost of the system is much the same. But the new arrangements offer real democratic accountability. For that very reason some of the chief constables don’t like it. But there are advantages for them too. The PCC can help communicate with the public and provide “joined up” Government between the police and local authorities and the NHS.

The language used doesn’t help. The areas covered sometimes have artficial bureaucratic names such as Thames Valley, Humberside, or West Mercia. Then there is the title “Police and Crime Commissioner.” Dan Hannan first proposed that such a role should be introduced. He suggested they should be called “sheriffs.” This title was rejected as “too American” – an objection that betrays a limited grasp of history. Hannan also argues that the PCCs be given power “over local sentencing guidelines.” He says:

“Imagine that the PCC for Kent jailed shoplifters, while the PCC for Surrey took a softer line. One of two things would happen. Either a flood of Kentish crooks (and crooks of Kent) would pour across the county border, encouraging Surrey to elect someone tougher; or, conversely, Kentish taxpayers would baulk at funding the extra prison places. Either way, voters would be in charge.”

That reform would be welcome. But so would the existing PCC doing a more effective job with their existing powers. How many have really made clear that political correctness is to be banished and free speech upheld? Or taken bold steps to bring in reforms to improve value for money? What has been done to reduce bureaucracy and make policing less risk averse? Often it is the poor who suffer most when the police decide not to take action over “minor crime” – such as the theft of low value items. What are PCCs doing to change that defeatist culture?

The test would be if it really makes any difference if there is a Labour of Conservative PCC. In London, the role is taken on by the Mayor and there is clear evidence that the failings of Sadiq Khan have had an impact on rising crime. I’m not sure if there is a such a strong contrast between police forces elsewhere.

In fairness, there have been quiet achievements by PCCs that have tended to attract little media interest. But it is time for more assertiveness if the role is to win public credibility. For many Conservative PCC candidates, the hardest part will not be winning the election in May, but in proving that their victories make a difference to the rest of us.

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Phoebe Griffith: Like Hannan, I have lived in Peru. But my take on its recent story is very different.

Phoebe Griffith is Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research. She writes in a personal capacity.

From Suez to the fall of the Berlin Wall, first political memories leave an indelible mark on political beliefs. The outcome of Daniel Hannan‘s early experience of Leftist military dictatorship in Peru delivered a lifetime commitment to anti-statist, libertarianism. My early experience, also in Peru but a decade later, was very different.

I remember the day when Alberto Fujimori was elected President of Peru in 1990. The outsider in the election, he came from nowhere to defeat one of Peru’s most globally acclaimed novelists, the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. His strategy was simple – playing up his image of a naive rank outsider by wearing Andean clothes and driving a tractor through dusty slums. It endeared him both to the powerful, who thought he’d be easily manipulated, and to the people, who thought his Asian roots were likely to make him competent and honest.

All were soon disenchanted. In the space of ten years, Fujimori gained a stranglehold over public life in Peru and, in the process, rewrote the populist handbook.

Within his first six months in office, he delivered a brutal economic programme. Bringing on board the neoliberal economists who had originally advised Vargas Llosa, he proceeded to abolish price and currency controls, sold off state-owned industries and utilities to foreign investors, and slashed public spending. National debt and inflation were brought under control but with vicious brutality and at a huge human cost. By 2005, half of Peru’s population lived in poverty (almost double the proportion it had been in 1985).

Alongside, the Fujimori regime set about a project of consolidation of power. Learning the lessons of Latin America’s decades of coups which triggered unhelpful international scrutiny and fanned the flames of opposition, he restrained himself to only one formal (fairly brief) suspension of Parliament (in 1992). His strategy proved smarter and arguably more corrosive in the long term.

Fujimori, or El Chino as Peruvians referred to him, instead opted to retain but weaken all institutions which could hold him to account – from the judiciary to the press. Indeed, the regime launched an extensive fake news operation which pre-dated Facebook, and indeed the internet. I remember picking up a copy of ‘El Chino’ one day, a Government daily sold alongside bus stops at a heavily subsidised rate. No need to clamp down on the free press – just feed people a cheap diet of propaganda shrouded by tabloid fodder.

The dramatic capture of the leader of the Shining Path, a brutal Maoist guerrilla which had taken control of swathes of the Peruvian countryside, added a further element to Fujimori’s strategy: a secret service with unchecked power. Its chief spy, Vladmiro Montesinos, became the power behind the throne, working behind the scenes to exert a vice-like control across all elements of power. Elites were kept onboard through kleptocratic means, with millions of dollars made from foreign aid and the selling off of national assets making their way to bank accounts abroad.  Surveillance films, or ‘Vladivideos’, were made during meetings and used to blackmail targets into submission.

Meanwhile, the powerless were bought off through Fujimori’s brand of capitalist-populism. Fujimori shunned the strategies of political behemoths such as the Mexican PRI and the Argentinian Peronists, the archetypes of 20th Century populism. Rather than consolidate his power through organised labour and party-political allegiance, the Fujimorista brand relied on keeping the burgeoning ranks of informal workers, who made up approximately 70% of the labour force, happy.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Lima’s transport system. Bus routes were left to emerge wherever demand took them. Gaps in the bus system were plugged by a huge taxi fleet, also deregulated and left to grow unchecked (when short of cash, friends of mine sometimes stuck impromptu TAXI stickers on their windshields on their way to the pub to make some cash for the drinks). Informal markets the size of shopping malls sold everything from forged Harvard MBA diplomas to Clavin Klien (sic) pants. They were not just tolerated; they were offered credit and celebrated as hubs of enterprise and innovation. Tax avoidance at this scale was sustainable whilst the country’s infrastructure was being sold off.

As a young researcher, I spent some months interviewing poor women employed in the informal sector. They loved Fujimori and described scenes of him, literally, delivering the handouts by hand (normally out of the back of a lorry). The women admitted to appreciating the food, saucepans and toys for the kids. They were also fully aware that the gifts, and indeed the cheap loans which they needed to keep their food and clothing businesses afloat, would dry up should their support go elsewhere. The notion of paying taxes and then expecting a level of accountability was an entirely foreign concept to that cohort of hard-headed capitalists.

The legacy of the Fujimorista regime has shaped Peru to this day (his movement remains a major political force ) and has been far more pervasive and corrosive than General Velasco’s.

Despite high levels of economic growth since Fujimori’s demise in 2000, fuelled primarily by record high commodity prices, the country has lurched from one political crisis to the next, largely as a consequence of the lack of institutions to hold the powerful to account and by a political culture which has greed and opportunism at its core. Four of its past Presidents, Fujimori included, currently reside in prison for charges of corruption (a fifth, Alan Garcia, shot himself earlier this year, moments before being apprehended by police).

The lasting effects of a toxic combination of deregulated capitalism, contempt for democratic institutions and dirty underhand tactics – is the insight that foreign observers, including my small band of fellow Anglo-Peruvians like Daniel Hannan, should draw from Peru’s recent political history. Perhaps they will find resonance even closer to home?

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Andrew Gimson’s Conference sketch: No riot in Manchester, Rees-Mogg and Gauke applauded

Westlake Legal Group unnamed Andrew Gimson’s Conference sketch: No riot in Manchester, Rees-Mogg and Gauke applauded ToryDiary The Moggcast Paula Sherriff MP Paul Goodman Lord Ashcroft Jo Swinson Jacob Rees-Mogg MP House of Lords George Osborne Dominic Cummings David Gauke MP Daniel Hannan MEP Constitution and democracy Anand Menon

There was no riot. David Gauke was not torn limb from limb by infuriated Eurosceptics when he appeared this morning in the ConHome tent.

The wreckage of the ConHome marquee does not now lie in a bedraggled heap outside the Midland Hotel, with fire officers picking through the sodden canvas to see if they can find any more survivors, or at least gather up what pitiful personal effects can be rescued – a signed copy of an early pamphlet by Daniel Hannan, blamed unjustly for setting the trouble off; a column by Boris Johnson which included some remarks in questionable taste, triggering a national debate which raged for several days; even a monocle which a dodgy antique dealer will by next week be advertising as having been worn by Jacob Rees-Mogg himself.

No, Conservatives do not riot. They do not, at least, riot during the party conference. Shouting, drinking too much and staying up far too late are as bad as it gets.

And neither Rees-Mogg nor Gauke, both of whom took questions, in succession rather than together, in the ConHome tent, is an incendiarist.

Rees-Mogg used humour, including self-mockery, to carry people with him. He was, admittedly, before his home crowd, recording an episode of the Moggcast, his  ConHome podcast.

Paul Goodman pointed to a recent headline in The Mail on Sunday, above an extract from Michael Ashcroft’s biography Jacob’s Ladder, which described Rees-Mogg as “The World’s Most Unlikely Sex Symbol”.

Rees-Mogg agreed that this “doesn’t sound like me at all”. He also mentioned his own recent book,The Victorians, a work not received with universal enthusiasm, and said he believed it could still be found in some bookshops, “perhaps second-hand”.

He urged his listeners to imagine what was like to be a Remainer, with “30 days to hold on to the thing you most love”.

This accounts for their “fanaticism”, and their “very strong” rearguard action: “They will throw any bit of mud at Boris Johnson they can find.”

The House of Lords has treated the British people, who voted Leave, with disdain: “The Duke of Omnium could not be more condescending to his lowliest tenant.”

The Moggcast will be published on this site, so need not be quoted extensively here. He ranged with playful seriousness over the whole scene, defending freedom of speech, expounding the principles of the British Constitution, declining to comment on the Supreme Court judgement – “too raw” – and expressing an amused sympathy for the Liberal Democrats, caught between the desire to stop Brexit, and the knowledge that if they go into coalition with the Labour Party they will be destroyed.

On the great question of whether to readmit the 21 Conservative MPs, including Gauke, from whom the whip has been withdrawn, Rees-Mogg said he ‘always believes in politics in being as generous as you can possibly be’, but ‘you cannot have a situation where people are trying to put Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the order paper’.

When George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would “uncork the Gauke” whenever the Commons was infuriated by some measure, and lo, by some indefinable mixture of sympathetic understanding and studied dullness, Gauke would restore tranquillity.

Gauke did the same in the ConHome tent, though he was not dull. There was standing room only when he entered, punctual to the minute, to take questions from Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, joint hosts of the meeting.

The identity of Gauke, and of his conservatism, came under scrutiny. He said he had entered Parliament as a Eurosceptic: “I’m not someone who whistles the Ode to Joy in the shower and I don’t look good wearing a beret.”

He observed in a pained tone that the report in The Mail on Sunday that Downing Street is investigating “foreign collusion” by Remainer MPs “leaves a nasty taste in the mouth”.

In Gauke’s view, “we’ve got to find a way of lowering the temperature in the debate. We shouldn’t impugn everybody’s motives all the time.”

He added that “the chances of getting Paula Sherriff” – the Opposition MP whom Boris Johnson recently accused of “humbug” – “to defy a three-line whip to get Boris Johnson out of a hole are not high.”

By giving an “implausible and inaccurate” justification for proroguing Parliament, Johnson had provoked the system to “bite back”.

Instead of trying to harden divisions, Johnson should “change the strategy, change the strategist” – i.e. sack Dominic Cummings.

But Gauke added that although he does know Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, “reasonably well, I am not a Liberal Democrat”.

Nobody shouted “Yes you are!” The temperature in the tent was by now appreciably lower than when he entered it, and it would be surprising if anyone in the audience doubted his sincerity.

Let other parties tear themselves apart if they wish to. The Conservatives don’t want at this fraught juncture to fight each other, a point the Prime Minister may understand better than some of his critics do. The eerie atmosphere at this conference is the calm in a party which still hopes to come back together.

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Ashcroft’s life of Rees-Mogg, a serious politician mistaken for a character out of P.G.Wodehouse

Jacob’s Ladder: The Unauthorised Biography of Jacob Rees-Mogg by Michael Ashcroft

All future biographers of Jacob Rees-Mogg will be in Michael Ashcroft’s debt. Never before has so much material been assembled from such a wealth of sources about the first 50 years of the man appointed this summer by the new Prime Minister to serve as Leader of the House of Commons.

That event occurs three pages from the end of this book, so here is an account unaffected by the triumphs and disasters with which its subject will meet in high office.

Rees-Mogg is often depicted as a figure who has stepped straight from the pages of P.G.Wodehouse, a comic turn rather than a serious politician. When he was filmed the other day almost prone on the Treasury Bench, this was regarded as either funny or disgraceful, but certainly not as serious.

His fans see him as an endlessly amusing rebuke to everything that has happened to the Conservative Party since 1965, and applaud him for upholding sartorial standards which almost every other Tory has allowed to slip, with even Sir Nicholas Soames yielding to the modern age by appearing in the House in what look like trainers.

Rees-Mogg’s critics cannot bear him, and perhaps never will, especially as in their eyes he is in on the wrong side of the Europe debate. They deride him as a bad joke, an anachronistic toff, a ludicrous plutocrat who cannot understand how ordinary people think and feel about things.

In the course of Ashcroft’s account, the inadequacy of both these accounts soon becomes apparent. For although this biography is crammed with “well fancy that” moments, many of which are wonderfully amusing, it is not composed in the manner of a comedy.

The style owes nothing to Wodehouse, or to Evelyn Waugh, neither of whom would have written, “the EU question was now circling British politics rather like a shark which has smelled blood”.

The tone is journalistic, as when Ashcroft says of another character, “his upbringing got off to a devastating start as a result of being interrupted by tragedy”. Expert attempts are made in this book to establish the net worth of its subject, a quintessentially journalistic inquiry.

And the greatest influence on Rees-Mogg is rightly identified as a journalist: his own father, William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times.

The father could write an eloquent and authoritative editorial on any subject in an astonishingly short time when needed. The son possesses the same ability, but produces his verdict in the form of a speech.

And Rees-Mogg the younger is quite unafraid of the company of journalists. Indeed, he seems to revel in it. Among modern politicians, the ability to relax in the company of journalists is not as widespread as one might expect.

The anxious, cautious careerist – a type widely found at Westminster – regards the press as suspect, interested only in discovering embarrassing stories which might terminate the career in question.

From his boyhood onwards, Rees-Mogg has treated the press as his ally, and has understood that what it needs is vivid and amusing copy, the more outspoken the better.

At the age of 11, he sprang to media attention by addressing, as a shareholder, the annual general meeting of Lonrho. Soon he was being interviewed by Jean Rook of The Daily Express, known as The First Lady of Fleet Street, and was telling her:

“I like playing with money. I love the stuff; I want more and more of it… I’ve always loved money as money, not for what it buys. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know the answer to it.”

Here was a child who knew the value of talking the story up. In 1982, at the age of 12, he made his first television appearance, during which (the presenter recalls) “he wasn’t intimidated at all”, and grasped that the point of the programme, during which he is seen meeting his stockbroker, is for him “to look bossy and like I’m telling the stockbroker what to do”.

Here is a media performer of exceptional precocity, who learned at least part of his art from his father, and knew that if you wanted people to pay attention, it paid to turn the volume up. He has remained a prolific performer, who has recently recorded over 30 episodes of the Moggcast for ConHome.

The actor Dominic West, an exact contemporary at Eton, said in a recent interview that Rees-Mogg was

“exactly the same as now; he’s never changed, which is both admirable and dodgy. Despite the sober exterior, he’s a showbiz tart.”

This is not quite fair. Rees-Mogg also has a sober interior. Like his father, he is a devout Roman Catholic.

And at Oxford, and indeed subsequently, Rees-Mogg was neither louche nor drunk. In a previous “unauthorised biography”, Ashcroft related a scandalous and unauthenticated story about David Cameron and a pig’s head.

These pages are chaste by comparison. Rees-Mogg got to know Daniel Hannan and Mark Reckless at university, and in 1990 was one of the first to join their Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain.

Bertie Wooster would not have done that. Nor did Cameron. Rees-Mogg was from an early stage a convinced eurosceptic.

Simon Hoare, now the MP for North Dorset, met him at the Oxford Union:

“We happened to be sitting next to each other by fluke and fell into conversation, and that’s where it all started. He’d obviously been very active in the Conservative Party, as had I. We sort of hit it off. We were both Tories, both Catholics, so we had that in common, and you have this rather incongruous friendship, if you will. I’d gone to a state Catholic school in Cardiff, and here I was, the first of my family at university, becoming great mates with someone who had an entirely different background.

“There’s not a snobbish bone in his body. He will talk to anybody and always with the same degree of politeness and charm, even if they’re hurling abuse at him or pouring great praise on him. He’s got that very even temper.”

Rees-Mogg was for some years innocently employed getting money in the City and Hong Kong. He stood as a Tory candidate in Central Fife in 1997 and in The Wrekin in 2001, on both occasions doing far more than the bare minimum of work, but was not able to get into Parliament until 2010, for North-East Somerset.

His old-fashioned manner has long led him to be underestimated. While Cameron was party leader, Rees-Mogg was regarded as an impediment to modernisation.

But for those with eyes to see, Rees-Mogg was a rising star. As Ashcroft points out, Tim Montgomerie suggested in 2012 on ConHome that in 2020, Boris Johnson might be Prime Minister, and Rees-Mogg Leader of the House.

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George Eustice: The EEA is the missing piece of the Brexit jigsaw

George Eustice is MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, and is a former Minister of State at DEFRA.

The tide is rapidly going out on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and it is probably already dead. The EU have said they won’t make any substantive changes, and it is unacceptable to the UK in its current form.

Although the focus has been on the backstop, there are other problems too. The Implementation Period implements nothing and is effectively a state of limbo. As time wears on, the logic for it gets ever weaker.

As early as next spring, ministers would start having to consider whether to exercise an option in July to extend this state of limbo or to resign themselves to the backstop. Even the Prime Minister said she didn’t want to have to exercise either of those options, but its hard to see how such a fate could be avoided.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission, chaired by Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, last week published an incredibly comprehensive piece of work showing how things could be done in a better way without the need for a backstop. Time will tell whether that unblocks the situation.

However, if it doesn’t then we will have no alternative but to just leave first and talk afterwards. I resigned from the Government earlier this year because I thought it was a mistake to delay our departure. We were far better prepared for “no deal” than some pretended. Personally, I have voted against every extension and voted to embrace no deal at every opportunity presented.

But I have also been far more willing than most to compromise, because many in Parliament are far more nervous of change. We have to try to reach an accommodation with them, because it’s hard to get anything done unless Parliament at least acquiesces to it, as the opportunistic amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill this week demonstrated. So the real problem is not that “no deal” would be catastrophic (it wouldn’t be) but that Parliament would stand in the way.

Boris Johnson has said that we must rule nothing out and keep all options open, and I think he is right. The next Prime Minister has a difficult course to navigate to get us out of the EU by the end of October without the current deal. We will need agility and a willingness to think outside the box. Some have suggested that we could rely on article 24 of GATT as part of a managed “no deal” to keep a stand-still in preferential trade but others, such as Liam Fox, have poured cold water on the idea, claiming you need an agreement for it to work.

The compromise I have advocated is that we rely on our existing treaty rights as a signatory to the EEA and simply rejoin the EFTA pillar, and use that as an exit mechanism.

The EU is obsessed by treaties, and they understand rights where they exist. It would be a faster solution with no need for any implementation period. Relying on existing rights avoids getting stuck in the morass of a protracted EU negotiation. We would be outside the Customs Union with an independent trade policy, but would have a ready-made free trade agreement. We would have full control of agriculture and fisheries, the 1972 European Communities Act would be repealed, and we would be an independent country again.

If we didn’t like the agreement and wanted to step away even further, then we could quit the EEA at any time with just twelve months notice in writing. No need to worry about whether some backstop is time-limited, or has a good-faith clause, or whether we could have a protocol or a codicil. Just give notice in a letter. On virtually every measure the EEA is a superior option to the Withdrawal Agreement that May finally negotiated.

I was not the first to suggest an EEA or EFTA exit mechanism. The late Christopher Booker, who sadly passed away recently, dedicated most of his journalistic career at the Telegraph to campaigning against the monstrosity that is the European Union.

He was uncompromising in believing we should leave, but he was also probably the first to declare that we should use the EEA as an exit mechanism, for tactical reasons, and he did so within weeks of the 2016 referendum result. His prescient argument was that we would be ground down by EU negotiators if we started with a blank sheet of paper. Richard North, another long-standing campaigner with impeccable Brexit credentials also advocated it, as did Dan Hannan MEP, who throughout his career has been one of the most thoughtful but principled campaigners against the EU.

Then from the other side of the political spectrum there is Lord Owen, who campaigned against the euro, campaigned to leave the EU, and has considerable experience of international diplomacy. Too many people on both sides of the argument have been too ready to dismiss the counsel of such long-standing eurosceptics without giving it proper consideration.

On the current debate about the scope of article 24 of GATT, maybe our existing EEA membership is the missing part of the jigsaw? We could leave at the end of October without May’s Withdrawal Agreement but, instead, rely on our existing legal rights under the EEA as a starting point. That then gives us an existing agreement which addresses the Trade Secretary’s legal concerns and enables article 24 of GATT to be relied upon after all.

All tariff rates could then stay the same while we build a new Free Trade Agreement out of the one we already have. We leave on time but in an orderly way, with the consent of Parliament, and in a way that would not fetter our future independence in any way at all.

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Mark Francois: The funeral of Sir Michael Spicer – a man who saved his country

Mark Francois is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford and Vice Chairman of the European Research Group.

A fortnight ago today I had the privilege of representing the European Research Group at the funeral of the Group’s founder, Baron Spicer of Cropthorne – probably better known to most ConservativeHome readers as Sir Michael Spicer MP.

The small parish church in Cropthorne was absolutely packed to the rafters, such that an informal “overspill” area had to be provided on the lawn outside. Such was the attendance that even Daniel Hannan MEP, the ERG’s first ever researcher, had trouble getting into the church. A number of Parliamentary colleagues, both past and present, were there to pay their respects, including Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Sir Simon Burns, Sir Gerald Howarth, Christopher Frazer, and myself.

The service was a beautiful one, including a eulogy from one of Sir Michael’s oldest friends from prep school days, some traditional hymns including “I vow to thee my country”, and some lovely readings, including from five of Sir Michael’s very eloquent grandchildren.

It was clear not just from the attendance but the atmosphere in church that Sir Michael had been dearly loved, not just by his colleagues but by his constituents, for so many years, many of whom also attended to pay their respects.

After the service, Sir Gerald kindly gave me a lift back to London and we chatted about Sir Michael’s life and what he had achieved, not just as a minister and as Chairman of the 1922 Committee (during which he oversaw three leadership elections) but also in his role as (effectively) the Chairman of the Maastricht rebellion and, thereafter, his crucial role in establishing the ERG.

Following Maastricht, Michael decided to establish what became the European Research Group, such that if ever there was another comparable episode, Conservative MPs would have access to an organisation which could give them detailed and accurate briefing on the vital issues at stake. The Group was subsequently formed in 1994 and began to produce detailed research papers on all aspects of the UK/EU relationship. I joined the Group as a recently-elected backbencher back in 2002 and many other Parliamentary colleagues have followed since.

During our drive, I recounted a visit to Guildhall, for the book launch by the late Roy Jenkins, of his wonderful biography on Winston Churchill. At that event, Greg Barker (then another recently elected colleague) beat me to the punch, in asking the octogenarian biographer (who incidentally spoke for well over an hour without a single note) “What would have happened if Churchill had never lived?”.

In his confident reply, Roy Jenkins argued that if Churchill had never existed, Lord Halifax would have almost certainly become Prime Minister in 1940 and done a deal with Adolf Hitler – which would probably only have delayed the eventual subjugation of this country.

That made me wonder, by the same token, what would have happened if Sir Michael Spicer had never existed?

Well, perhaps someone else might have Chaired the Maastricht Rebellion – which might or might not have turned out differently as a result. However, if no one had created the ERG – whose efforts highlighted why the so-called post Chequers “Withdrawal Agreement “ would actually have turned the United Kingdom into a vassal state – then it is at least possible to argue that without its determined and well informed resistance the Withdrawal Agreement would already be on the statute book and we would now be locked into a customs union, without a unilateral exit, and thus effectively bound into the European Union, forever.

I therefore believe that, alongside others, I recently attended the funeral of a man who saved his country. As we stood on the lawn of the Spicer’s manor house (located directly next to the church) following the service, I looked out over the Worcestershire countryside in the valley below and thought how fortunate we were that this man had not only existed but that he had devoted his life to politics and the service of his country.

With luck, by the time his memorial service at Westminster is arranged for later this year, we could be living in a free and sovereign nation again – which would be the most fantastic and fitting tribute to the memory of this quite exceptional man.

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