Brexit has an unworkable timetable

Brexit, Labour Party

When Norway held its referendum to join the EU in 1994, the results were very similar to the UK’s to leave, being 52% against joining to 48% in favour. It was, however, a fair vote and a truthful campaign and the status quo won.

In the spirit of reasonableness and wishing to heal the divisions, Norway’s politicians at the time sought to compromise and come up with a settlement which took on board the fact that the country was divided on the issue.

In stark contrast, Theresa May’ decision to go with the hard-line Brexiteers reflected her desire to pacify noisy elements in her own Party. We are all now paying the price for both her and David Cameron’s unprincipled actions.

Incredible though it may seem, there is effectively only 10 months to go before the EU and the UK hope to sign off a formal “divorce” agreement and some kind of outline of a future trading relationship by October this year. This timetable would allow the 27 remaining EU countries to approve the package before the Article 50 deadline runs out at the end of March 2019.

Put starkly in black and white this looks an impossible task. Trade talks have not yet started, and given it took seven years to negotiate the much vaunted trade deal with Canada, 10 months is surely an impossibility.

The truly intractable problems, at least it you’re a Brexiteer or a Theresa May will o’ the wisp, such as the border with the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar, are unlikely to go away by October. Incredibly May and Davis continue to insist that a “creative”, “deep and special” relationship holding on to most of the benefits of EU membership is within their grasp. In your dreams, Mrs. May. The EU has made it clear that unless the UK changes its tune, the final outcome can only be a trade deal along the lines of Canada’s, plus some extra cooperation in areas such as defence and justice but with customs barriers and little provision for services.

This is the biggest political muddle I can ever remember, and it’s the British people who are suffering. The 52% who voted leave expected extra money for the NHS not a staggering winter crisis, and no-one voted to be poorer, now happening as inflation rises.

Come on Mrs. May, come on Jeremy Corbyn. The UK will never get a deal that’s as good as actually being a member of the EU. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


As Cameron looks to Norway he will see they are far more integrated with the EU than he likes to think

Labour Party

No-one was more delighted than me when David Cameron said at the Nordic-Baltic Summit earlier in the week that, “the evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance, so if we fail to unlock the potential of women in this labour market, we’re not only failing individuals, we’re failing our whole economy.”

It was, of course, Norway that first introduced quotas as long ago as 2003 decreeing that 40 per cent of directors of listed companies should be women. Iceland then followed with a target that 40 per cent of directors be women by 2013.

Meanwhile, in relation to our own country, a British government policy paper presented at the Nordic-Baltic summit estimated that as female entrepreneurship reached the same levels as in the United States, there would be 600,000 extra women-owned businesses contributing an extra £42 billion to the economy.

As we all know, the Scandinavian countries have excellent records on women and deserve full credit. Britain should definitely follow their example. As an active member of the group Women in Leadership, I commend David Cameron for his speech at the Nordic-Baltic summit. I, and many other women from across the political and social spectrum will, I know, now be monitoring this government to make sure Cameron’s promises are translated into action.  

Norway is a magnificent country which has much going for it, not the least of which is its enviable record on women. Many of those who are anti-EU quote Norway as the example the UK should follow, in that it is outside the EU and therefore, according to the logic of Tory MEP Daniel Hannan and his acolytes, free of “Brussels bureaucracy” with more home-grown democracy.

It has, for some, been all too easy to accept this argument. It is, however, fundamentally flawed.

A report recently commissioned under the chairmanship of Professor Fredrik Sejersted and published by the Norwegian government states, “we [Norway] are almost as deeply integrated as the UK.” Importantly, the report, covered by the BBC online, expresses concern at the political consequences of this state of affairs as Norway is bound, in practice, to adopt EU policies without voting rights. Professor Sejersted calls this “a great democratic deficit …. but this is a kind of national compromise since Norway decided it did not want to join the EU.”

It is worth noting that two-thirds of Norwegian private sector investment goes to Europe and that there have also been high inward flows of EU immigrants into Norway. These are two good reasons why Norway has felt the need to sign up three-quarters of the legislation coming from the European Union, a total of 6,000 legislative acts.

The overarching conclusion to be drawn from Professor Sejersted’s report is that in 2012 no modern democratic country can exist on its own, cut off from its neighbours. Yet this is the underlying demand coming from the 102 Tory Eurosceptic MPs who wrote to David Cameron on 6 February. Since their number included all the officers of the 1922 Committee – Graham Brady, Charles Walker, Mark Prichard and Brian Brinley – and former Cabinet Ministers John Redwood and Peter Lilley, the Norway lobby is obviously a strong one.

My view is that reverting to the status of Norway would be disastrous for the UK. Leaving aside the democratic deficit – that we would be signing up to EU legislation without any say over it – we need to develop a mature British patriotism for the 21st century. This is not about belly-aching about the reach of Brussels but much more, as Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander wrote in the Guardian at the end of last year, about how we, Britain and Europe, engage with the rise of China and India.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

I was very sad to hear about the tragic events in Norway and my thoughts are of course with the people of Norway right now.

The big news which was somewhat overshadowed by the continuing News International saga, was that the European financial crisis continued to teeter on the brink of collapse. In a last minute deal Germany agreed to bail Greece out and for now it seems to be OK. For how long we do not know.

The Guardian indicated how the Eurozone crisis had affected the UK as our stock’s plummeted and shares in the UK banking sector closed at their lowest level for almost two years. Lloyds Banking Group and RBS suffered the biggest losses. You can read the Guardian article here.

It was a big moment for the Labour party as trade union official Iain McNicol was announced as the party’s new general secretary.

He was formerly the national political officer of the GMB union for 14 years. He will be formally endorsed at conference at which point former general secretary Ray Collins will stand down. You can read more about Iain McNicol’s appointment here.

Britain needs more Women in its Boardrooms

Labour Party

One of the enjoyable things about being in London when the European Parliament isn’t sitting (we don’t call it “recess” though that’s as good a term as any) is being able to catch up with must listen programmes like Woman’s Hour.

I was particularly interested in this item today, trailed on the BBC website:

 “We know that women can struggle to “get on” at work if they have kids. And it seems that even at the very top, women with children are at a disadvantage in competing for jobs. The number of women in the most senior executive positions is actually decreasing, and nearly half the biggest companies have no women at all on their boards. The government says it wants to increase the number of women reaching the boards of public companies – but how can women break through the glass ceiling into the boardroom?”

I have, in fact, blogged myself on this very subject, a matter dear to my heart.  It’s one of those very difficult issues where progress seems almost impossible, a fact borne out by a recent study from Cranfield University. 

However, there are occasional rays of hope.  Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour discussed a new flexible working scheme recently introduced by the law firm Allen and Overy with their spokeswoman Melissa Samuel. 

It’s good to see a firm such as Allen and Overy taking the initiative, not, I should say, for purely altruistic reasons.  As a sound commercial undertaking, they recognise that when women leave to have children, the company loses considerable experience and expertise.  Allen and Overy therefore wants to keep their top employees and is therefore willing to look at ways of accommodating women with children.

Other firms sadly put prejudice before business sense.

24 percent of FTSE 100 companies have no women on their boards and more than half of the FTSE 200 companies have no women in the boardroom.

Norway has made it mandatory for 40 percent of company boards to ne made up of women.  There have, of course, been no detrimental effects.

Spain and Italy are looking at introducing comply or explain measures to get more women into their company boardrooms.

It’s high time we in the UK followed these European examples and introduced statutory measures to ensure women take up their fair share of top table positions.  The last Labour government made great strides.  Lynne Featherstone, Coalition Women’s Minister, should now be building on what has already been achieved.

Will the Coalition be up to it?  Watch this space.