01 December 2016
Week In Brief: UK
BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS: Guy Verhofstadt, the chief EU negotiator on Brexit, has suggested that, following the UK’s secession from the EU, individual Britons should be able to pay an annual fee in return for personal EU membership, an idea unlikely to appeal to “leave” MPs. According to reports in The Times Mr Verhofstadt sees Brexit as an opportunity to reform the EU which, he believes, may not be able to survive in its current form. In a book to be published in January he argues for Britain to have some form of associate membership. He apparently has a pleasing sense of humour and an interest in vintage British sports cars. See comment Renewing the EU.
Meanwhile the lawyer-fest continues with think tank British Influence arguing that abandonment of the EU does not necessarily involve departure from the European Economic Area and proposing to take legal action to prove the point. The government’s view is that the UK is only a member of the EEA because it is a member of the EU, so that membership will lapse automatically.
SNOOPER’S CHARTER: The Investigatory Powers Bill has received Royal assent. It includes a requirement for web and phone companies to keep a record of visitors to sites for twelve months, powers for the security services to hack and collect data, powers for police forces to do the same in certain circumstances and a new mechanism under which certain activities require judicial approval. It has been criticised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee as “disproportionate”.
RICHMOND BY-ELECTION: Polls show the Liberal Democrats closing the gap between their candidate and Zac Goldsmith, the Independent who resigned from the Conservative Party in protest against the expansion of Heathrow. Polling at the weekend showed the Liberal Democrats on 43.3% and Mr Goldsmith on 46.7%.
CORPORATE GOVERNANCE REFORM: The Government has published a Green paper seeking views on how to curb excessive executive pay, how to strengthen the “voice” of employees and other stakeholders, and whether corporate governance rules should be tightened for large private companies. The paper indicates that the government has dropped the idea of requiring the appointment of employee directors.
HOSPITAL BED CRISIS: A leaked NHS memo requires hospitals to bring bed occupancy levels down to 85% over the Christmas period, where necessary using the private sector to carry out operations.
EBOLA: The Nursing and Midwifery Council has found that a nurse, Donna Wood, deliberately concealed the high temperature of her colleague Pauline Cafferkey in order to get the group through Heathrow more quickly. Ms Cafferkey was later diagnosed with Ebola but survived.
SMOKERS AND OBESE: The Vale of York clinical commissioning group is to postpone operations for those who smoke (by up to six months) or are overweight (by up to 12 months). Cancer and emergency treatments are unaffected. As Vale of York is in special measures, the move will have had the approval of NHS England, which may encourage other Clinical commissioning groups to follow suit. Clare Marx of the Royal College of Surgeons criticised the idea as the wrong approach and shocking.
NEUROSEXISM: According to an article in the Journal of Neuroscience Research by Professor Cahill of the University of California Irvine, neuroscientists have avoided research on the difference between male and female brains out of political correctness. He said that studies into major diseases were being seriously hampered as a result and the health of both men and women is being put at risk.
NURSING APPRENTICESHIPS: As from next year it will be possible to become a nurse by starting as a nursing apprentice rather than obtaining a degree. The Royal College of Nursing described the plan as ridiculous.
HAMILTON SUICIDE: The British fashion photographer who was accused on French radio of the rape of a prominent presenter has been found dead. Allegations had been made against him by four women but were denied. The cause of death has yet to be established.
CHILD SEX ABUSE ENQUIRY: Groups representing victims have written to Alexis Jay, the current chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, asking her to clarify what has gone wrong and to set a clear path. The enquiry has now run through three chairwomen and five senior lawyers. As if that was not enough, there have been suggestions of bullying, racism and sexually inappropriate behaviour at its London Office.
METROPOLITAN POLICE: HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has condemned the Met’s handling of 278 of a sample of 374 abuse cases as “inadequate or requiring improvement”. The Home Secretary has ordered quarterly inspections of the child abuse team and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has branded the force’s performance as unacceptable.
SUPREME COURT MARCH: The proposed march by Brexit supporters which was intended to put pressure on the Supreme Court on the first day of the appeal relating to the triggering of article 50 has been cancelled amidst concerns that it could be hijacked by the far right. It may also have occurred to the organisers that Supreme Court justices were unlikely to be influenced by the marchers.
FOOTBALL ABUSE: The Football Association is treating allegations of sexual abuse of junior players by coaches with the utmost seriousness. Allegations initially focused on Manchester City Crewe Alexandra but are now spreading to involve other clubs. It is been suggested that some leading clubs have made secret payments to silence victims of sex abuse. Governing bodies for other sports have been ordered to check on their files and call in the police where there appears to have been a cover-up.
LIFE SENTENCE: Stephen Port, who poisoned four young men before having sex with them and leaving them to die, has been sentenced to a whole life sentence and been told that he will never be released. The Metropolitan Police has been criticised over its failure to properly investigate the earlier death, the suggestion being that, had they done more, later deaths could have been avoided. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is to investigate.
Thomas Mair, who murdered Labour MP Jo Cox shortly before the European Referendum, has also been given a full life sentence. Evidence at the trial revealed that Mrs Cox had died urging her companions to run for safety and leave her to her fate.
DRUG SALES: The Competition and Market Authority is to give its final decision on a Joint Venture by Pfizer and Flynn Pharma to relaunch the drug Epanutin under a new name and at a greatly increased price. Although the drug is out of patent, there was a lead time of 3 to 5 years before rivals could enter the market, so there was an effective monopoly for that period. The CMA will reveal whether that monopoly was unfairly exploited.
WITHDRAWN INVITATION: 221 students at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury have written an open letter objecting to the withdrawal of an invitation to old boy Milo Yiannopoulos to address them. Mr Yiannopoulos edits an American website Breitbart which is accused of being racist, sexist and anti-Semitic, and the invitation was withdrawn under pressure from the Department of Education. The boys complain that they have been deprived of the opportunity to interrogate him, and say that by attempting to silence him the school has vindicated his accusation that society is against free speech. Some will think it a pity that the school showed such a lack of confidence in its pupils, many of whom would have been old enough to vote in the Scottish referendum.
TIMSS: The Timss report comparing international maths performance at 4th grade (9 to 10) and eighth grade (13 to 14) has been published for 2015. The results need to be treated with care as different countries participated at different levels. England, and still more so Northern Ireland, did well at the fourth grade level, coming ahead of the USA, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Neither France nor Germany participated at the 8th grade level, where the UK came out equal with the US but above Australia and New Zealand. For tables see http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017002_timss_2015_results.pdf
CONSETT DIRECTORS: One might think that the presence of hundreds of company directors in Consett heralded an industrial revival. In fact they have simply been used as directors by a company formation agent which makes companies available for online businesses including pornography. Frequently the directors have no idea of the company’s activity. Apparently businesses can only get certain types of banking facility if they have a local subsidiary with a local director.
TEACHING RECRUITMENT: Graduate teacher trainees have dropped for the fourth year running with the overall number down to 27,229 from 27,761. There was a similar drop in the much smaller number of undergraduate trainees.
RAIL STRIKES: ASLEF is to bring Southern Rail drivers out on strike for three days in the run up to Christmas and for a week in the New Year, as part of its campaign not to allow drivers to operate train doors. The union says that its action is motivated by concern for the safety of the public. The RMT Union which represents guards is also planning strikes. Other possible sources of disruption over the season of goodwill include a 24 hour tube strike on Tuesday, a strike ballot by BA cabin crew over pay, and a work to rule by Virgin Atlantic pilots over union recognition.
LAKELAND SHEPHERDS: Shepherds in the Lake District are complaining that the 15 year tenancies granted by the National Trust are not long enough to enable them to invest in their flocks. There is already tension between farmers and the National Trust over the latter’s purchase of land at Thorneythwaite without the farmhouse, making it difficult to sustain sheep farming there. The National Trust’s lakeland estate was largely bequeathed to it by Beatrix Potter, and the farmers believe that she would see them as its natural custodian.
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