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.

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.


Home Office app for EU Nationals cannot be used on an iPhone

Labour Party

As reported in the Guardian, Home Office officials from the UK met with MEPs yesterday to offer reassurance that functions of a new Home Office app designed for EU nationals seeking to stay in the UK, were sound.

However, in an embarrassing u turn, officials had to concede a major blunder after it was revealed that the user-friendly app will not work on iPhone- a brand that is used by over half the adult population.

Reports suggest that one MEP was told by Home Office staff, who attended the meeting, that anyone who couldn’t access the app (due to owning an iPhone) should simply borrow a friend’s phone and use that instead.

It beggars’ belief that an app designed to be used by more than Three million EU nationals won’t be accessible on a major platform – the most common piece of hardware used globally.

It didn’t stop there-Amber Rudd came under increasing fire for suggesting the app would be as easy to use as “setting up an online account at [the fashion retailer] LK Bennett” – claiming it had been “extensively tested”. However, officials at yesterdays meeting admitted that mass testing of the app had yet to begin.

And further problems could occur after officials stated that 1000 call centre case workers would be needed to help EU citizens, but the recruitment process has not even started.

There is also concern surrounding the cost of registering, which at £72 per person is unquestionably expensive for most families. In addition, the requirements expect every member of a family to apply individually for settled status.

Following the dreadful treatment in the UK of the Windrush generation there is renewed anxiety the Government may not get this right. But this is precisely why it has no room for errors. Any mistakes made today in the construction of the technology (or in any other areas) may well have consequences for many generations of EU citizens to come.


Leave Voters in doubt over Brexit

Labour Party

For some time those of us campaigning on the doorstep have consistently heard the same message from Leave voters.

They are unhappy with the way in which negotiations are progressing and feel that how they voted in 2016 doesn’t necessarily reflect how they feel now, in the light of two years of negotiations.

And at last research conducted by the think tank Global Research and Kings College, London, confirms our anecdotal findings. The research surveyed 1000 people and reveals that the majority of voters, even those who backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, feel that Brexit would come at too high a price.

The research also found that of the scenarios currently on the table in relation to exiting the EU all are worse than they had hoped for.

And over the weekend a further warning for the Government came from the Japanese Ambassador to the UK who warned that Japan was watching the negotiations closely. “Britain will not get a Brexit deal better that the current single market,” Koji Tsuruoka the country’s ambassador to the UK warned.

Car giants such as Nissan and Toyota both have large factories in the UK and use the UK as a gateway to selling cars across the continent. The ambassador warned that these firms will want to stay inside a single market if Brexit progresses. If that is in jeopardy they will look at their operations he warned in an interview with the Observer.


Parliamentary log jam on Brexit legislation

Labour Party

A parliamentary log jam is going to affect the ability for the government to pass important legislation relating to Brexit, according to the Guardian.

Its report revealed today that almost half the legislation required for Parliament to vote on the final Brexit deal has yet to be introduced.

Despite Parliament sitting for 123 days since the last election it has yet to pass a single piece of related legislation. There are only a further 80 days where Parliament will sit before MPs are expected to vote on the final deal scheduled for October this year.

The obvious problem is that Parliament will be asked to vote on a deal which it has little knowledge of because it won’t have approved any of the crucial legislation. It’s completely unacceptable that MPs will be expected to vote on a deal that they do not have the full details of because it won’t have been finalised! It just doesn’t seem feasible to expect Parliament to commit to such a vote which can’t possibly be meaningful since the government has failed to introduce any vital legislation.

Theresa May promised this parliament would be a “busy legislative session” and yet, as the Guardian report points out, just four pieces of legislation have been passed from the Queen’s speech which is half the amount at the same point following the 2010 election.

You can read the Guardian’s full report here.

Launch of the People’s Vote

Labour Party

The Peoples Vote launched last weekend and I am delighted to support it. Whichever way you voted in the referendum you deserve a say on the final Brexit deal.

This is something that will affect generations of people.

You can find out more about the People’s Vote UK campaign here.