Max-Fac customs model could cost UK business £20bn

Labour Party

The customs model favoured by Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and other senior Government ministers could cost business as much as £20bn a year the head of HMRC has warned.

The Government department said, during a hearing at the Treasury Select Committee, that the so called “Max-Fac” model-which relies on technology to carry out border checks-is a significantly more expensive option than the alternative.

It is yet another blow for the divided Government, and perhaps in an attempt to ‘shrug some embarrassment, senior cabinet figures claim they were never briefed by HMRC that the cost could be so high.

Meanwhile Theresa May’s partnership model, the alternative model, has come under fire from within her own Government and those such as Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg have reportedly applied pressure on the Prime Minister to press ahead with the Max-Fac option instead. And far from denying the £20bn claim Downing Street said it had asked for more work to be done on the various customs models. In other words, the Government isn’t certain about which model it should propose.

Either way Jon Thompson advised that it would take around “three to five years to begin implementing the UK’s new customs arrangements, depending on which of the two options were decided upon by the government.”

It is yet another example which reveals the Government is lacking credible evidence for it to make any decisive decisions relating to how it should proceed on this matter. And despite explicit warnings from a senior civil servant, some senior cabinet members maintain that the “Max-Fac” model, which will be prohibitively expensive for many businesses and is therefore hardly viable, is still favoured.

Parliamentary group reports on trafficking and exploitation in UK

Labour Party

A Parliamentary Group has published its report on the problem of sexual exploitation in England and Wales, which it found is widespread throughout the UK.

The report ‘Behind Closed Doors’, conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, urges the Government to combat the demand that drives sexual exploitation by making paying for sex a criminal offence in all locations. This is a model I have supported and campaigned for over many years.

The problem for the police and other law enforcement agencies who seek to fight this criminal activity is that by its very nature the model is transient, in other words brothel owners will operate for a short period of time in one area, before moving to another location.

In addition to these “pop up brothels” women themselves are moved across different locations, allowing the sexual exploitation to continue. This makes it incredibly hard for the Police to identify, challenge and eradicate.

Furthermore, while the size and the structure of these organised crime gangs varies, what they have in common is the methods used to source and retain women, while also ensuring law enforcement agencies do not impede the ‘work’. They use coercive measures to stop women from talking to agencies, they isolate them, use sexual and physical violence and debt bondage among an array of other despicable and cruel measures to ensure the women stay.

The report states the UK must become a hostile environment in which trafficking is not able to flourish in any way.

To achieve this it suggests several recommendations which include: The Government working to combat the demand which drives sexual exploitation. This should be done by making the purchasing of sex an offence. It also recommends that Government makes prostitution procurement websites more accountable. They must take more responsibility for facilitating and profiting from this kind of exploitation. It’s other significant recommendation is that the Government should change the law by removing the criminal offence of soliciting in a street or public space for selling sex.

However, because of the deceptive nature of exploitation and the lengths traffickers go to ensure they aren’t uncovered, all of which is outlined brilliantly well in this report, law enforcement agencies are only aware of a small proportion of what takes place.

The true scale of the problem is not reflected in the figures that are available. But we do know that still in 2018 thousands of women are being sexually exploited across the country and we must challenge the source of the problem and as a significant move in the right direction the introduction of the Nordic Model (where the purchaser of sex is criminalised not the supplier) would help.

Nuclear safeguards at risk

Labour Party

Sky News has revealed in a special investigation that Britain risks missing a vital deadline for establishing full post Brexit nuclear safeguards.

Leaked documents revealed by the TV station found the late delivery of an IT system along with problems in recruiting adequately qualified inspectors are in part causing the problem.

The document identifies five high level risks facing Britain unless it addresses the issues before Brexit. It categorises these risks as red, amber and green. Examples of red warnings include the “High Level Risk” that the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)is unable to train and warrant an adequate number of new inspectors in time. And a further red warning concerned the failure to: “recruit enough people with the right skills to deliver a UK State System of Accountancy for control of nuclear material to meet international obligations by 2019”.

In addition, there have been problems with recruitment along with failures to arrange a comprehensive handover of hardware and equipment from the EU agency Euratom.
The new IT system must be ready to run in parallel with the European system before it can take over in March 2019 but a key milestone has been “irretrievably lost”.

Although Parliament has been notified that 13 inspectors and trainee inspectors have been recruited there is concern as to whether they can be trained within the time frame, with claims stating it takes five years to fully train a safeguards inspector.

In real terms if Britain was to leave the EU without an adequate deal in place then, nuclear operators warn Sky news of potential for: “shutdowns to nuclear power stations, and the transfer of crucial medical isotopes being blocked in such a scenario.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, told Sky news: “If no deal means no transition then this is a very exacting time frame to try and do everything by.

“I’m not at all confident that we can get everything done by March 2019.”

You can read the full investigation by Sky News here.

Our Time: The Mayor of London’s drive to beat gender inequality

Labour Party

Some forms of gender inequality are unambiguous, easy to define, easy to spot and, in theory at least, should be easy to rectify. However, not all forms of discrimination are obvious.

Women in the workplace can face discrimination in ways they may even find hard to define. It’s never justified but can happen because the behavior pattern is never challenged, for whatever reason.

A new initiative, Our Time, launched by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan seeks to address the problem of the lack of women leaders in the city. The programe will provide formal, structured coaching and support for future women leaders.

The scheme, which launched on Monday 14 May, will see women paired with workplace champions, senior male and female colleagues who will support them in their ambition to access and build professional networks. The mentors will help them to pursue leadership opportunities and provide them with invaluable contacts as well as ensuring the chosen women are provided with the necessary training they need to move into senior leadership positions.

To support the initiative the Mayor of London’s office produced a powerful and evocative film which really is required viewing if you are someone who wants to get a better understanding of the issue of gender inequality.

It depicts a busy tube station and a male TFL worker standing at the bottom of both a lengthy staircase and escalator. The male commuters are told they are free to use the escalator, but the women are only permitted to use the staircase. The scene cuts to hoards of men stepping on the escalator to complete their journey to the top in relative comfort. The women, meanwhile, trek up the enormous staircase some carrying bags others struggling with buggies.

Its message is clever and powerful. And the additional information throughout is worth noting:

-The gender pay gap in London is the largest for all parts of the country.
-A FTSE CEO is more likely to be called John than to be a woman.
-Maternal employment is 8% lower in London than for the rest of the country.
-Almost three-quarters of London council leaders are male.

The pace of equality in the workplace is too slow. In a city as diverse and in so many ways as progressive as London it’s poor to note that it also has a significant problem with equality.

A formal scheme such as Our Time is a pro active way to challenge this.

And its modelled-on research which shows women with a formal champion in the workplace are significantly more likely to negotiate for a pay rise and report feeling satisfied with their rate of professional advancement.

I am excited about this campaign which is a tangible effort to redress the imbalance on inequality and goes beyond merely paying lip service to the problem.

Government must pay attention to security and intelligence services warnings

Labour Party

The head of MI5 stated intelligence sharing has never been more important than in today’s uncertain world in a speech today.

MI5 Chief, Andrew Parker, said that cooperation between the UK and other intelligence agencies in the EU is crucial to effectively fight terrorist threats from across the globe. “Europe faces an intense, unrelenting and multi-dimensional terrorist threat… in today’s uncertain world we need that shared strength more than ever,” he said.

MI5, MI6 and GCHQ are concerned not to affect the close working relationship that has developed with European colleagues. The services insist that maintaining it at the same level it exists today is crucial.

The MI5 head described how the work of the Intelligence agencies is unrecognisable today from five years ago. This can be directly related to the work of one of the main terrorist fighting platforms, the Counter Terrorism Group (which is made up of all 28 EU member states along with Norway and Switzerland.)

Andrew Parker went on to describe the Counter Terrorism Group as the “largest multinational counter-terrorism enterprise in the world” where “real-time intelligence sharing” involves “thousands of exchanges on advanced secure networks every week”.

It’s not difficult to see judging by his comments today how important Britain’s relationship and cooperation is with European counterparts. It is so obviously dependent on strong relations and partnerships with these agencies to continue to successfully fight terrorism here in Britain.

Some commentators such as the Guardian’s Ian MacAskill have already flagged how leaving the EU would “throw up some problems, with the UK, in order to continuing sharing data at a European level, almost certainly needing new legislation to ensure it stays in line with the European legal framework on privacy and data sharing.”

But it’s not only in the areas of counter terrorism that such partnerships are necessary to expose criminal activity. I already outlined last week how important EU partners are to continue to fight trafficking. Over the weekend the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that Brexit will provide criminals greater opportunity to launder money in the UK”.

“UK-based companies looking to increase trade with countries outside the EU are more likely to come into contact with corrupt markets, particularly in the developing world,” the NCA said.

The report described how a re designed customs set up in Britain would make the country vulnerable by allowing criminals to take advantage of the customs situation.
If all the security services are raising similar concerns, then it would be irresponsible for the Government to not pay attention to their consistent warning and advice.

The fight against trafficking could be jeopardised by Brexit

Labour Party

Some 16000 men, women and children were registered as victims of human trafficking within the EU between 2013-2014, according to the European Parliament Research Service. I tweeted this earlier in the week because facts and figures get banded about day in day out, but this is about people, real lives. These are people who have been identified because of dedicated and professional work of agencies across the EU who work to rescue victims of trafficking.

At the same time as these statistics were revealed, the news information service Reuters published research from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) which suggested Britain’s exit from the EU could hamper the fight against human trafficking.

It’s work to tackle forced labour, slavery and trafficking is under jeopardy because the picture post Brexit is so unclear. Its main concern is that the sharing of intelligence could be compromised. The GLAA’s report states: “Dependent upon worker restrictions, there may be a drop-in intelligence flows as EU nationals will seek to remain under the radar of any law enforcement/immigration activity”.

As the use of encrypted social media makes it easier for traffickers to operate covertly it becomes ever more critical to ensure effective communication and cooperation is carried out among agencies across the European Union.

Europol, has also said that the use of social media for trafficking purposes is making their work harder. It’s therefore imperative that all our agencies have the access they need to continue the fight against trafficking. The effect of a break down in intelligence flows would have a catastrophic effect on the ability to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable people who are used in this dreadful way.

Brexit plans in tatters after Government faces further defeats

Labour Party

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has been left in tatters following another shock defeat in the House of Lords. MPs will now be able to vote on whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Area following the Lords vote.

I’ve lost count how many votes the Government has lost on Brexit, it’s around 13. It would be easy to dismiss the actual figure, but it is symbolic because it shows the Government simply isn’t yet able to move forward with Brexit plans.

It’s not ready to meet the 29 March deadline and consistent defeats in the upper chamber along with open criticism from within her own cabinet (even before the vote yesterday, Boris Johnson called his own Prime Ministers proposals for a customs partnership “crazy”), illustrate that May really has not got a full grasp on Brexit.

Formal moves to remove the official 29 March exit date from the bill are sensible. If Brexit plans continue then a huge amount of work is required to sort out ‘macro’ problems, such as the customs union and single market – of which most of us are familiar with and understand their significance. Despite this the Government has continued to underestimate the level of detail required and the length of time such negotiations take.

And even if they do end up being resolved it’s just scratching the surface. EPLP leader Richard Corbett, MEP, has recorded an extensive list of what he calls “a long list of little things”, which, if Brexit goes ahead, “will impact ordinary people in a remarkable wide number of areas – and mostly things we didn’t know about or weren’t told about) at the time of the referendum,” he says.

His archive charts everything from holidays, to sport and health among other matters. You can read about it in more detail here.

 

 

UK’s relationship with WTO unclear following Brexit

Labour Party

The complex process of understanding and moving through Brexit negotiations knows no bounds. Every day a new issue arises. Some of the problems are so grand that it’s difficult to know where to begin, trying to untangle the intricate web of complex legal and political ramifications.

One area I’ve recently been drawn to is the position of the UK and its membership to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) post Brexit.

Of course, currently our membership to the WTO is as part of our relationship with the EU.

If Brexit progresses, then obviously our membership with the WTO will naturally cease to exist. Some probably dismiss the problems of re-joining the organisation and believe the UK’s re admission would be a straight forward process and the UK’s wishes will be accommodated.

However, those who believe it to be so straightforward are completely misguided. They either ignore or are ignorant of the way business is conducted at WTO. Around 162 countries are members of the WTO and it conducts business by way of consensus rather than by strict voting. This can lead to all sorts of issues, chiefly that matters may not be resolved or at least this can’t be guaranteed.

Precisely because the WTO operates by way of consensus just one objection from any country will further stall the UK’s ability to re-join. As such ongoing disputes we have with other WTO states, an obvious example being Russia, could jeopardise the UK’s future position. Either way it won’t be a quick or simple process.

By the end of last week, a joint proposal for future membership between Brussels and the UK had broken down. Despite this the UK plans to speak during its 21-month transition period with an independent voice at the WTO table; a move the European Commission is resisting.

How the UK’s membership to the WTO will be resolved is an ongoing question and is just one example of the very many complexities surrounding Brexit.

House of Lords ensures parliamentary scrutiny for any EU withdrawal deal

Labour Party

Last night the House of Lords voted to give Parliament a potentially decisive voice over the final shape of Brexit. The vote offered some protection against Britain crashing out of the EU without any deal.

Yesterday’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill avoids a “no deal” scenario and also means David Davis and Theresa May would be expected to return to Brussels and re-open negotiations if  Parliament rejected a deal. Though some commentators are sceptical as to whether the UK will even reach this point, the Lords vote ensures Parliament has a proper role in the Brexit negotiations.

Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer said it is right Parliament is given the opportunity to properly scrutinise the deal and that at no point should Theresa May “be given a blank cheque to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal.”

Meanwhile those opposed to the amendment said it undermines the Government’s authority and ability to negotiate with Brussels. I believe it’s a sensible and rational amendment which restricts Government from taking decisions which will affect the country for generations to come. It is right and just that Parliament can participate in the Brexit negotiations in a meaningful way.

It ensures that our future relationship is determined by Parliament and not by the Government.

Peers backed the amendment to the Withdrawal Bill by 335 to 244.