Theresa May’s new brexit Ministers have hard line Brexit records

Labour Party

Theresa May’s week began in the worst possible way following resignations from her Brexit ministers and Boris Johnson.

The cabinet was hastily shuffled, but the replacements have raised eyebrows among commentators today. They remind us that the new Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, has previously called for Britain to use negotiations with the EU to scrap workers’ rights.

It has also emerged that he was responsible for drafting a white paper which called for opt-outs from EU employment regulations, including those that guarantee employees time off and limit the number of hours staff can be made to work.

The Independent also report that he is opposed to giving agency workers the same rights enjoyed by full time workers.

And the replacement junior minister, Chris Heaton- Harris, is the politician who just a few months ago, appallingly wrote to universities across the country demanding to know the names of all lecturers teaching European studies.

He was accused of “McCarthyite” behaviour, following the letter sent to all universities asking them to declare “what they are teaching their students about Brexit and to provide a list of teachers’ names.”

He went on to ask for each universities syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit. This was disgraceful behaviour, but less than a year on from the incident Theresa May has made him her junior minister.

It is a measure of a Prime Minister who offers promotion to someone who displays such shockingly bad political acumen.

Heaton- Harris is a former MEP despite being a Brexiter will have some knowledge of Brussels. Meanwhile Raab who has worked as a lawyer in the Foreign Office has had less direct association with the EU. He is a staunch Brexiter too. Worryingly he is known to be relaxed in the scenario of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Raab was criticised by Theresa May in 2011 following an article in which he described some feminists as “obnoxious bigots”, claimed “men were getting a raw deal” and attacked the “equality bandwagon”. Rebuking him at the time Theresa May who was the then Home Secretary and equalities minister accused him of fuelling “gender warfare”.


Time is running out and Theresa May must listen to business leaders concerns over Brexit

Labour Party

Theresa May says she will listen to business leaders following a fall out from parts of the business community and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, after several companies warned of their fears following Brexit.

Johnson reportedly swore and was dismissive following reports from Airbus and BMW after they raised concern over the effect Brexit will have on their businesses. The two companies are among several multinationals who have warned that the disruption to customs after Brexit may well have an impact on their ability to invest and manufacture in the UK.

A day ago, the motor industry lobby group also warned that investment in the UK car industry has fallen dramatically – with their estimates suggesting it has been cut by half which is a direct result of the UK’S uncertain future relationship with the EU.

Furthermore, Japanese car manufacturers which account for around half of all cars made in the UK have been explicit in their concerns about how Brexit will affect future business relations with the UK. Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s Ambassador to the UK, said Honda, Toyota and Nissan, who account for around half of the cars made in Britain each year, need access to the EU.

“Already 80-90 per cent of their production is going to EU market, if there are tariffs, if there are procedures, that certainly will be in jeopardy,” he said. While none of the companies are actively looking to leave Britain, they may have no choice if their ability to access the EU market is impeded.

There have been further warnings from the City. The Bank of America announced it has moved its senior London trading trio to Paris. Merrill Lynch will move three of its most senior sales and trading executives in the City to the French capital, Paris.

This comes as other investment banks begin the process of enacting their Brexit plans, not least because uncertainty remains following the insignificant progress towards any Brexit deal. Merrill Lynch is also set to move hundreds of posts to Ireland and other posts across Europe.

Another international company- Heathrow operator Ferrovial- will move its international HQ to Amsterdam.

I could continue – it’s almost an endless list of relocations for both UK and international businesses which are currently based in the UK but feel forced to move to other parts of the EU so that their business activity is not interrupted.

If Theresa May is ready to listen to the fears business leaders are bringing to her door then I should hope she will give the same level of attention to the (more than) a hundred thousand citizens who marched through the streets of London at the weekend to demand she gives UK voters a final say on Brexit.

Just looking at the concerns of business leaders alone shows what a grave situation we are in. Voters have a right to a final say on any deal she may finally reach with the EU.



Boris’ speech will not win hearts or minds

Labour Party

They say you should kill them with kindness – and its precisely what Boris Johnson will try to do in his speech today on, ironically, Valentine’s Day when he attempts to win the hearts of pro EU campaigners.

But it will likely fall flat if he insists, as the leaked transcripts suggest, that he “cannot and will not allow Brexit to be reversed.” Just a minor detail but clearly, he didn’t get the memo- it’s not completely within your power to decide this Boris!

Attempting to thwart any mobilisation of opposition Boris will, as Paul Waugh writes, attempt to “love bomb” his critics. But even before his speech, has been made critics have accused him of hypocrisy. He was, after all, central to the Vote Leave campaign which as we all know exploited fears on immigration and on government spending on the EU.

In his attempts to supposedly win over pro EU supporters he will warn that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope. He can’t possibly be taken seriously- his leading campaign slogan was to promise voters vast sums of money for the NHS post Brexit, and we all know how that turned out.

Not only that but by preaching that he is right and dismissing the prop European campaign he is doing the very thing he claims he isn’t. Typically muddled.

As Chukka Umunna said in an interview with Huff Post: “Boris Johnson is totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal when he engaged in disgraceful scaremongering with his ridiculous assertion that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU and he has already betrayed millions of people by going back on his pledge to secure £350 million extra per week for the NHS. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

“He has so far failed to explain why he is campaigning in Cabinet to take the UK out of the Customs Union when there is no other solution to the Irish border issue and it will jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement settlement.

“Boris Johnson needs to come clean and concede that we cannot have our cake and eat it when leaving the EU. His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day.”

The Government is deluded if it thinks that, Boris, of all people will be the one to win over the hearts and minds of pro Europeans. He doesn’t know how to reach out to anyone who doesn’t believe in ‘Boris-ology’ or who refuses to be part of the campaign to further his own political career.

The only sensible option is to go back to the electorate and ask them if it is satisfied with the deal the Government negotiates- if it ever manages it.

The EU has more concerns than just Brexit

Labour Party

Theresa May has the dubious honour of being probably the worst British Prime Minister since the 1930s. Rather than list what has gone wrong, it would be easier to consider what has gone right, in general as well as for Brexit. The answer – a blank space, a big fat zero, absolutely nothing (except perhaps regaining blue passports).

To be fair to her, she wasn’t dealt the best of hands. Brexit was always an infinite black hole lying in wait for whoever drew the short straw. Yet May did not draw it, she positively chose the role, as do all Prime Ministers. Perhaps they are all masochists. Maybe Boris Johnson is even more of a masochist than Theresa May for so desperately wanting her job.

But her latest skirmish with Brussels does her, and especially the UK, no favours as we enter the next phase of negotiations. Her latest clash concerns her refusal to agree to continue with the “status quo” for the transition period which would see free movement and citizens rights for those who settle in the UK during that period.

While May muddles through with gritted teeth and “duty” written all over her features, the EU looks on with a mixture of bemusement and concern. However, from my perspective in the European Parliament, Brexit is not the only, and probably not even the main, concern. The UK would do well to understand that the world does not revolve around Britain, and certainly not round England.

To me, it often feels like two parallel universes: the EU looking outwards to the wider world, Britain caught up in a backwards facing introspection. What is more, there is really not a great deal of interest in Brexit in the European Parliament. True, we agreed that enough progress had been made to proceed to the second stage of the negotiations. Yet, on the few occasions Brexit had been discussed in meetings of my political group, the Socialists and Democrats, attendance has not been as high as usual and the speakers have been mainly the British members.

Brexit is floundering on its own self-absorption. Britain is not the country it was when I was elected to the European Parliament in 2000. This government and the coalition before it with their disastrous referendum on EU membership have greatly diminished the United Kingdom. This is not what people voted for on 23 June last year. Britain deserves another say.

Sorry gentlemen, Britain is Stronger In the European Union

Labour Party

Over the weekend I watched two household names dodge logic and truth and declare themselves for leaving the EU.

George Galloway, a perennial contrarian, stood onstage with Nigel Farage and, as in the Scottish referendum, invoked the glories of a long-gone Britain, standing alone against the might of fascism. Aside from his unprovable claims that he would have been first in line to defend the UK and the dubious historical accuracy of such a statement, his argument was essentially that we could become the great trading nation

we once were, that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would no longer be a reality.

Does he really believe that the Conservative Party, a party he proudly claims to have spent his political lifetime fighting against, will suddenly become all social-democratic and cuddly outside of the EU? That the workers’ rights, consumer rights and citizens’ rights that we have thanks to the EU will simply be untouched, treated as part of British culture? This is a party which has said it wants to repeal the Human Rights Act!

Additionally, his view of international trade is totally defunct. We always hear how nimble and agile the UK would be outside of the EU, making deals to suit us with the great powers of the world. Again though, Boris and George have both forgotten that we no longer have an empire, and we will soon be overtaken by growing economies. We are an island nation of 65 million people, with little manufacturing and a service-dependent economy, and we seek to trade with – as equals – China and India with more than 1 billion people each, and economies streaking ahead, the USA and Russia with 350 million and two of the largest and most developed economies in the world, putting up increasing trade barriers, not to mention the idea of a ‘special relationship’ with the Commonwealth.

Boris Johnson, standing outside his home in London and causing a headache for David Cameron, harkened back to the notion of sovereignty, a concept that a nation or people is free to choose the law which governs it.

Legally, Boris doesn’t have much going for him in a best case scenario. In a case called Factortame, a seminal case in British and European law, judge Lord Bridge reminded us that the sovereignty of the British parliament is still absolute, we have only chosen to relinquish it as long as we are members of the European Union. This logic has been picked up on by both the German and Italian Constitutional Courts.

Politically and economically however, he has no leg to stand on. As mentioned above, we live in a multi-polar world, in which we are confronted with growing economic and military powers. Sovereignty, as pointed out in the Economist, in the 21st century is always relative. We can’t impose our will on others, so why cut ourselves off from our friends and try to go it alone? Especially since, as I have mentioned before, the Out campaign doesn’t seem to have a clue what the UK will look like post-Brexit.

 It’s time to deal in hard facts, not just wishful thinking.

‘The poor can’t cook” says Tory Peer

Labour Party

If last week was dominated by offensive comments made by Ukip leader Nigel Farage regarding breast feeding women and the heavy traffic of the M4 being the fault of immigrants, then this week’s offering of offensive and regrettable comments is delivered by the Tory party.

On the day an important report looking at ways to tackle food poverty in the UK was launched, a Tory peer who had been involved with the report was quoted as saying that the poor can’t cook.

Baroness Jenkin was part of a panel that has written a report exploring ways address the problem of the number of Britons who are struggling to feed themselves. Yet this important reports launch was over shadowed by the Baroness’ remarks.

It was a foolish thing to say and hurtful, especially to those who are struggling to feed themselves and their families each night. Indeed for some there might be a trade-off of paying your rent, keeping your house heated and warm or feeding yourself. That’s a really difficult decision some families have to make so comments like that are totally unacceptable, even if they were said off the cuff, it is revealing nevertheless.

Meanwhile the London Mayor made some very peculiar remarks on LBC responding to a caller who asked him what he thought about Nigel Farage blaming the bad traffic jams on Britain’s motorways as being the fault of immigrants.

Although Boris Johnson didn’t condone Farage’s remarks initially he went onto claim that xenophobia was natural. He said xenophobia was a “natural concomitant of the human condition” that came from a suspicion of “the other” and which must be dealt with in a systematic way rather than “freaking out about traffic jams”.

Again, another unhelpful set of remarks made by a senior Tory figure.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Protesters this week took to the streets in the Ukraine after the government there reversed plans for greater EU integration. Events were sparked at the start of the week, after the country’s President, Viktor Yanukovich, succumbed to pressure from The Kremlin and backed out, at the eleventh hour, of a free trade and political integration pact with Europe. At the subsequent EU summit on Friday, Yanukovich stood by his decision, prompting further demonstrations, with peaceful protesters dispersed from Kiev’s Independence Square early on Saturday.

Over the weekend 300,000 strong crowds converged on the city, and marchers carrying EU flags clashed with riot police. Tear gas was used on demonstrators, many of whom had travelled from Ukrainian-speaking parts of the country where pro-EU sentiment is strongest. Recent polls show 45% of Ukrainians support EU integration– compared to less than a third who say the country should remain in Moscow’s orbit.

Those involved in the Orange uprising of nine years ago described developments this week as “a revolution”. With opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko still jailed, many feel the demands of the 2004 insurgency – for a more transparent, less corrupt democracy – have not been met. For some it came down to a straight East-West decision. One demonstrator said he was there “to support a European choice for the Ukraine”.

The Ukraine is very difference place to Britain, and drawing overly close parallels would be pointless. But I do find it striking, when so many recognise EU integration as their best hope of a stable and prosperous future, that those on the UK political right want to turn their back on the continent.

Eurosceptics will mock the comparison, arguing that Britain is an affluent world power whereas the Ukraine is a post-USSR satellite state. But they underestimate the extent to which our wealth and global influence come because of – rather than despite – the fact we are in Europe. I will be making this case tomorrow evening at an ‘EU In or Out’ debate at One Birdcage Walk in Westminster.

This week also saw London Mayor Boris Johnson spark outrage by claiming, in a speech commemorating Margaret Thatcher, that fighting inequality was “impossible” because “16% of our species have an IQ below 85”. He added, using language which verged on social Darwinism, that “The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top”.

Although couched in Johnson’s usual crowd-pleasing terms the comments went down badly, both in the room and among politicians. Nick Clegg called The Mayor’s words “unpleasant, careless elitism”.

Johnson is a florid and often frivolous character, who uses eccentricity to beguile voters who would otherwise find his views repellent. As someone from a privileged background, who is set on extending the inequalities from which he has profited, he is the very opposite of what a city like London, with its jarring poverty and wealth, is in need of.

Finally, as I wrote in my round-up last month, we are now into the part of the year where women effectively cease to be paid. It is an outrage that the gender pay gap still exists. As Labour’s spokesperson for women in Europe I am determined that the EU leads from the front in the fight to eliminate it. This week I set out my ideas about how we can make this happen, and from now on I will be producing regular bulletins on what the EU is doing to end workplace inequality for women.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Boris Johnson received something of a battering on the Andrew Marr show this weekend (you can watch the full interview here).

Eddie Mair, standing in for Marr who is recovering from a stroke, quizzed Johnson about the “sandpapering” of quotes as a Times journalist, failing to deny that he lied to the party leader at the time, Michael Howard, about an extramarital affair and conceding that he had humoured an old friend when he asked for a phone number of someone he intended to beat.

Johnson also said the UK economy benefited from the influx of “skilled workers around the world” but this led to a “real indignation” among UK workers.

The interview, which originally was supposed to promote the BBC documentary on Johnson that is on tonight, is rather painful to watch, but does say rather a lot about the man who is currently mayor of London.

I would rather have seen Johnson being taken to task for some of his failures as Mayor though, rather than problems that are already out in the open. He did admit there was a lack of planning ahead of the financing of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford but said the deal to allow West Ham United to play at the venue would help provide £10m a year to the taxpayer.

Johnson has also singularly failed to encourage housing development in London, leading to a growing housing shortage and massively increased rent. The figures, showing the situation towards the end of last year, may indicate that the long-predicted “displacement effect” of capping and cutting local housing allowance – the form of housing benefit paid to tenants housed by private landlords – has been occurring, with households being obliged to relocate from the heart of the capital to its cheaper suburbs.

The overall number of claimants in Greater London as a whole has gone up sharply in the period concerned, reflecting the very a high rate of rent increases in the capital compared with incomes.

I think Johnson may have got a taste of what putting himself forward to be leader of party might be like.  Thus far he has managed to charm and bluff his way through, but some of the sheen definitely came off him yesterday

Tory Boris Johnson blatantly disregards Londoners’ fears

Labour Party

There was a fiery exchange in the chamber of the London Assembly yesterday after Mayor Boris Johnson was accused of political bias and astonishing ignorance as he announced the latest round of cuts to London fire services.

The mayor was questioned about how much exactly was to be saved by reducing the number of fire engines, a perfectly reasonable question asked by Labour’s Andrew Dismore as the closure of 12 fire stations and loss of 18 fire engines happens across the capital.

However, he was clearly on the defensive when scrutinised by the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee in City Hall because when asked to give a precise figure of how much would be saved by cutting the number of engines Johnson snapped: “I won’t take repeated ignoratio elenchi from you! I’ve given you the answer! put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

The news site London Loves Business, further reported the Mayor told Dismore, who was merely doing his job by holding the mayor to account, “to go and find out about it himself”.

This blatant disregard Johnson has for political process and for those trying to hold him to account could not be more apparent than in this episode. Quite rightly Labour AM John Biggs told the mayor he should know the answer: ““It’s your budget, you have your fingerprints on it. You own it.”

He even refused to confirm with the committee, when asked about the Metropolitan Police Service’s new targets on Police numbers, who had advised him of aiming for such a target and jokingly said: “I get advice on these things from reputable people… and some disreputable people I’m sure!” Of course none of this is a joke. Ensuring adequate fire services are available across London is hugely important.

Labour politicians attempted to have a serious debate, tried to hold the mayor to account and asked searching questions, but they were dismissed, chided and seemingly sneered at by the Mayor who, based on what I’ve read on the London Loves Business site (you can read it here too), didn’t seem to take it at all seriously.

Boris Johnson’s bid to lead the Conservative Party gathers momentum

Labour Party

You have to feel sorry for the beleaguered David Cameron. Caught between a rampant Boris Johnson on one flank and his Eurosceptic wing on the other, Cameron clearly doesn’t know which way to turn.

Today’s Times reports that Cameron may urge the public in a referendum to support the looser relationship with Brussels he hopes to negotiate. However, Cameron is prepared apparently to give the country the chance to say no to such a deal. Such a result would effectively be seen as a vote to leave the European Union.

Although David Cameron has not, as yet, made his well trailed speech on EU membership, he is obviously going in only one direction – a referendum which may well signal Britain’s exit from the EU.

Yet before we get there, the Prime Minister will have to negotiate with the EU this much hyped change in Britain’s status. He seeks to take us from the heart to the periphery getting rid of what he and the Tory Party see as troublesome regulations on the way.

There is one extremely serious flaw in this approach which is obvious yet almost virtually ignored, namely that the EU may well not play ball. The idea that powers can be “repatriated” from Brussels to London is at present purely a Conservative Party construct. Although Germany may be making some helpful noises, there are those who would be glad to see the back of Britain.

While it is true that we are a contributor country to the EU budget that does not necessarily mean there will be unanimous agreement to go along with the Tory demands and negotiate in the way David Cameron envisages. There are, as we all know, very many ways to conduct EU negotiations and since it will be 26 member states against Britain, I would hazard a guess that David Cameron is not in a very strong position.

Enter both Christian Noyer and Boris Johnson. Mr Noyer, Governor of the Bank of France, makes it clear in today’s Telegraph that he wants London stripped of its status as Europe’s financial hub, saying, “Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area. It’s linked to the capacity of the central bank to provide liquidity and ensure oversight of its own currency.” 

“We’re not against some business being done in London, but the bulk of the business should be under our control. That’s the consequence of the choice by the UK to remain outside the euro area.”

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, according to the Times, would prefer a minimalist EU stripped down to the single market. What this really means is that the social and employment legislation associated with the single market – health and safety at work, maternity rights and much more, will go. This is what the Tories really want. Rights for people at work are, as we know, anathema to many Tories.

Withdrawing from one side of the single market while keeping the part the Conservatives see as good for the British economy may just not be a runner. It’s difficult to see how and why the rest of the EU would allow the UK such power without responsibility.

David Cameron has a long way to go to realise his dream of the EU allowing the UK to become semi-detached on its own terms rather than those of the EU as a whole. What is more, the CBI, Britain’s foremost business organisation, want Britain to stay in the EU. Cameron is, indeed, between a rock and a hard place, digging an ever deeper hole for himself.