Issue 74: 2016 10 06: Week in Brief: UK

06 October 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Government Policy

BIRMINGHAM: Normally party conferences are for the benefit of activists, with back-slapping aplenty and occasionally some fancy oratory. The rest of the world raises a weary eyebrow and takes little notice. The Conservative party conference this year is different because it provides the first insights into the agenda of the new administration. Mrs May spoke twice, once at the beginning and once at the end to set out the government’s stall.

Her first speech focused on Brexit where the big announcement was that, although the article 50 notice will be given at a time of Britain’s convenience, it will not be later than the end of March 2017. There will be no second referendum and no vote in Parliament. The government has its mandate and will act on it.

There was some technical information too. There will be no attempt to unravel current European laws as part of the Brexit process. Instead all EU regulations and directives will be frozen into UK law on the date the UK leaves and, after that, Parliament can decide which ones it wishes to amend or repeal.  At that point the European Communities Act 1972 will itself be repealed so that the European Court of Justice will lose its jurisdiction in relation to the UK, although, as part of the “freezing” process, prior rulings will presumably continue to have effect unless set aside by legislation.  UK courts will have the option of following its later rulings, rather in the way that they currently have the option of adopting the reasoning of Commonwealth, or an occasion American, courts.

The gruel gets thinner when we come to the U.K.’s negotiating position and the interplay between market access, free movement, the passporting of financial services and tariffs. Here the government is keeping the cards close to its chest but, by giving primacy to taking control of immigration and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, Mrs May threw further uncertainty over the level of market access, and the pound weakened accordingly. Her position here conflicts with that of Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, whose emphasis is on the membership of the single market.  Since it is clear from the European reaction that there will be deep resistance to affording the UK market access unless it makes concessions on movement of workers, negotiators and the markets will clearly have to plan on the basis of a hard Brexit, even if they hope to do better than that.  Whatever the outcome, something which depends as much on internal EU politics as on the negotiations, it is likely to be a rough ride.

Mrs May’s second speech was a grab for the central ground of UK politics, with warnings to UK companies who avoid tax, hire foreign workers rather than training British ones, do not cooperate in the fight against terrorism or do not treat their staff well. Proposals for a more interventionist approach include promise of more worker protection, representation of consumers and workers on company boards, and state interference where markets (such as those for energy, housing and broadband) are not delivering. She defended her proposal for new grammar schools stating that this did not mean a reintroduction of the cut-off formerly imposed by the 11+.  She also proposes to protect British troops from litigation by suspending the Human Rights Act during armed conflicts.

Although the speeches have different focuses, the two parts of the government’s program are clearly interrelated.  In particular the scope for successful reform may depend on the extent to which the Brexit negotiations have a satisfactory outcome.

MEDICAL TRAINING: As if the dispute over contracts was not sufficient, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to take on junior doctors by requiring them to repay the government contribution to the cost of their qualifications if they leave the NHS within four years of qualifying.  Promising to increase training places by 1500, he points out that 25% of Britain’s doctors are from overseas, depriving countries like India and Pakistan of much needed talent.

MEDICAL TESTS: In an interview with The Times, Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has said that he will reduce the repetitive medical examinations required to justify benefits paid to people with degenerative conditions.  The tests were pointless and caused unnecessary stress.  The number of people sanctioned for gaming the benefits system has halved over the past year.

IMMIGRATION: Faced with the task of reducing annual net migration from 327,000 to less than 100,000, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd has promised a consultation paper on how to ensure that jobs are offered first to British citizens.  Other areas of possible action highlighted in her speech include tougher visa restrictions for students, with tighter rules for those on less prestigious courses, legislation making it easier to deport foreign criminals, and compulsory checks by landlords.


UKIP: Diane James, the UK MEP, has resigned the leadership of the party after eleven days in office.

LABOUR: The vice chairman of Momentum has been sacked for making anti-Semitic comments.  She remains, however, on the executive.

Other News

CARELESSNESS: If to lose two parents looks like carelessness, an enquiry which loses three chairman, its leading lawyer and his junior is clearly going seriously wrong.  The resignation of Ben Emmerson QC from the Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse follows swiftly on the departure of New Zealand judge, Lowell Goddard.  The current chairwoman, Alexis Jay, a social work expert rather than a lawyer, will need to consider whether the enquiry can proceed in its current form.

POLICE: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has announced that he will be leaving in February, several months before the end of his contract, which was extended by Teresa May when home secretary. Those in the frame as possible replacements include Sir George Zambellas, previously First Sea Lord, and Sir Charles Montgomery, who has been running the Border Agency since his retirement from the Navy as Second Sea Lord in 2012. Possible candidates from within the police service include Cressida Dick, formerly the head of counterterrorism and now at the Foreign Office; also Mark Rowley who succeed her in the counterterrorism role. The choice will be made by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, after consultation with London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

KILLER LORRIES: Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has announced that heavy goods vehicles with dangerous blindspots are to be removed from the capital’s roads. Those scoring 0 out of 5 for visibility will be banned by 2020. Those scoring below 3 will be banned from 2024. Currently heavy goods vehicles account for more than half of cycling fatalities and one fifth of pedestrian deaths, although the vehicles represent only 5% of traffic.


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