30 March 2017
Week in Brief: UK
ARTICLE 50: Britain has served notice under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, beginning the two year countdown to its exit from the EU.
LABOUR: Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has set out six conditions which his party will require if they are to back the final Brexit deal in the Commons. Slightly bizarrely one of the test is whether the deal will deliver exactly the same benefits as our current membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. Read literally that would indicate that Labour would prefer no deal (i.e. reliance on WTO tariffs) to marginally decreased access to the market. Mr Starmer also said that the Prime Minister should now commit to establishing transitional arrangements running from the end of the two-year period, apparently overlooking the fact that such arrangements can only be put in place with the agreement of the EU.
WESTMINSTER ATTACK: After days of speculation in the press, the Metropolitan Police have come to the conclusion that Khalid Masood who murdered four people, including a police officer, in last week’s attack at Westminster Bridge and at the Houses of Parliament, was acting alone. Despite thorough investigations into his background and the questioning of a number of his associates, the authorities have not been able to identify any conspirators. As a “one-off” attack the incident has few implications as to the likelihood of similar incidents occurring.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called for WhatsApp to produce the texts sent by Masood immediately prior to the attack. Unfortunate, however, the texts are encrypted so that is not possible. Ms Rudd has called for a “backdoor” through which encrypted text can be read but it is questionable whether this can be achieved without undermining the privacy of communications generally.
EX UKIPPER: Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, has left UKIP, now without any representation in the House of Commons. Carswell was not a natural fit for the party but joined it because of his belief in the importance of getting Britain out of the EU. Now, job done, he is leaving it. For the time being he will sit as a cross bench MP but he has not ruled out a return to the Conservative fold at some stage.
Holyrood and Stormont
SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT: The Scottish parliament voted by 69 votes to 59 to request a further referendum on independence before Britain leaves the EU. The UK has already indicated that it will not agree to this, inter-alia because the level of uncertainty during the negotiations will mean that the people of Scotland do not have a fair choice. Previously it had been suggested that the Scottish Parliament might arrange a non-binding referendum but this seems to be impracticable because those who oppose independence could invalidate it by not participating. The most likely outcome is that if Scotland is not satisfied with the terms, and the SNP is still in power, there will be further calls for a referendum in about 2021.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Talks designed to re-establish power sharing in Northern Ireland have reached an impasse with Sinn Fein failing to designate a deputy first minister. Power sharing came to an end in January following a dispute over a green energy project.
Money and Mergers
NEW COINS: The replacement of the old circular 1 pound coin by the new 12 sided version should be bad news for forgers. The new coin has the latest anti-fraud technology, important at a time when it is estimated that one in 30 coins is counterfeit. It is slightly larger and slightly lighter than the pound we are used to – presumably reflecting a change in the alloy. Since the coin is not made of gold, however, that is a matter of convenience rather than an attempt to dupe the public. The coin is to be introduced over six months and slot machines throughout the country have been adjusted, except for those on Tesco trolleys however where conversion is yet to take place. Tesco’s have some 200 stores with trolley locks and for the time being those locks will be disconnected. Tesco say that there will be additional staff available to assist customers, presumably at stores where the locks are back in use.
STOCK EXCHANGES: The proposed £21 billion merger of the London Stock Exchange and the Deutsche Borse, already threatened by Brexit, has been blocked by EU competition regulators.
PRINCE GEORGE: It has been announced that Prince George is to attend Thomas’s school in Battersea, a mixed sex primary school.
Compensation and Courts
OFCOM: Consumer groups have welcomed proposals by Ofcom that suppliers of telephone and broadband services should have to compensate customers automatically for missed appointments and failure of service. The compensation for missed appointments would be £30 whereas failure of service would result in payments of £10 a day. It is estimated that currently 2.6 million people would receive compensation each year at a cost of some £185 million.
SON OF WHIPLASH: It used to be whiplash, now it is bogus holiday sickness claims. Law firms and claim companies are targeting holidaymakers, telling them that they can make claims against the organisers of package holidays for stomach bugs and other minor sicknesses on the basis that in the case of minor claims only a verbal confirmation of the sicknesses is required. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is investigating 15 firms, suggesting that some of them have made illicit payments to claim management companies. The area is particularly remunerative for lawyers because holiday sickness abroad is not covered by rules limiting fees. ABTA has called for those rules to be changed but one cannot help thinking that a simpler answer might be a few high-profile prosecutions followed by deterrent sentences.
DIVORCE RULING: The press and legal establishment have reacted with outrage at the refusal of the Court of Appeal to overrule a High Court ruling that a woman, Mrs Owens, could not to divorce her husband because he had not reached the threshold for unreasonable behaviour set by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. There are two questions here. The first is why this came as such a surprise. The law is fairly clear and, where the threshold of unreasonableness is not met, to obtain a divorce against the wishes of the other party the plaintiff needs to show five years of separation. That is the rule set by Parliament and it is hard to see how the judges can be criticised for applying it. The second is whether Parliament should change the law. In many jurisdictions it is enough to show that the marriage has broken down and perhaps the time has come to update our law along these lines. It is been suggested that the case will go on to the Supreme Court. It is hard to see that there is much point in this. The correct approach is surely to lobby for a change in the law.
YOUTUBE: Pressure on Google to remove terrorist materials from its platforms is increasing following videos on YouTube exploiting the Westminster bombing. The bill for lost advertising has been estimated at $750 million a year.
If you enjoyed this article please share it using the buttons above.