29 June 2017
Week in Brief: UK
From the Brexit kitchen
QUEEN’S SPEECH: Last week’s Queen’s speech, a two-year programme of 27 measures, 8 of which related to Brexit, omitted many manifesto pledges. Gone was the proposal to means test winter fuel allowance; gone were the plans to replace free school lunches with breakfast; gone was the “dementia tax” which would have reclaimed assets from the estate of the deceased to contribute to the amount spent on social care. Other things have disappeared too. There was no mention of the net migration target of 100,000. Perhaps that policy has been downgraded. Nothing was said about a proposed cap on energy prices or Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK. Essentially the Government’s programme was gutted in order to focus on Brexit. No wonder that Mr Corbyn referred to the proposals as “thin”.
DEVOLVED ASSEMBLIES: It appears that the Scottish, Irish and Welsh assemblies will vote on the way in which the Great Repeal Bill transfers certain EU legislation back to the UK. This is mainly about agriculture and fisheries where considerable powers will come back from the EU. The Scots are determined that they should come back to the devolved assemblies and not to Westminster.
ARCHBISHOP PITCHES IN: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has told the Mail On Sunday that there is a need for a cross-party body to work on Brexit strategy. Other politicians including Lord Hague of Richmond and Yvette Cooper have also called for a more bipartisan approach and Lord Adonis has suggested that Sir John Major might make a suitable chairman for a cross-party committee. At government level, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has asked for his shadow Sir Kier Starmer to be brought into the Privy Council so that he can be briefed on difficult areas.
OPENING OFFER: The negotiations regarding the terms on which we will leave the European Union began with the issue of citizens’ rights, that is the rights of EU citizens who currently live in the UK and of UK citizens who live in the other 27 states. Mrs May’s opening bid, a proposal that those who have been in Britain for five years and have not been convicted of serious crime should be awarded “settled status” entitling them to the same rights as British citizens and that those who have been in Britain for a lesser period should be allowed to stay to accumulate those rights, was received unenthusiastically by Brussels. Issues include which courts should enforce the rights. The EU would like the European of Court of Justice to do it. Mrs May would prefer the right to be overseen by British courts.
DUP VOTES SECURED: The Democratic Unionist Party has agree to support the Government in the Commons on votes relating to Brexit, the Budget, national security, and on matters of confidence. In return the Government has confirmed £1bn of expenditure on Northern Ireland.
NEW PRIME MINISTER: Philip Hammond is being suggested as a replacement for Teresa May on the basis that he would resign his position after two years so that another leader of the party could be appointed before the next general election. Concerns of hardline Brexiteers, which focus on his preference for a soft Brexit, could be met by appointing David Davis as Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Hammond might wonder why, if he is considered competent for the important job, he should make way for someone inferior once it is done.
GLASTONBURY: Mr Corbyn attended Glastonbury Festival to a huge and appreciative audience. In an unguarded interview, however, he said that he expected to see Labour in power shortly and Trident being abolished. The latter is not official Labour Party policy.
POVERTY STATISTICS: According to the Office of National Statistics, 30% of Britons fell into poverty over the four-year period to the end of 2015. This is not a measure of falling living standards but rather of a greater spread of income in both directions. To be in poverty for the purposes of the statistics you need to have an income below 60% of the national median.
GRENFELL TOWER: The victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster are to be housed in Kensington in flats acquired by the City of London Corporation. All cladding tested so far has failed safety checks and hundreds of buildings have been shown to have other defective systems. A very large number of buildings will need to have their cladding replaced. Meanwhile the blame-storming is well underway. Councils blame the contractors who say that they did as they were told. They also blame the inpenetrability of Government guidance. John McDonnell blames the cuts and refers to “murder”. Diane Abbott blames Tory attitudes to “second-class citizens”. As politicians seek to turn the tragedy to their advantage and those involved with the construction of the blocks seek to push away the blame, the only bright spot remains the level of community support. Latymer Upper School (a fee-paying school) and Arc Burlington Danes Academy (a state school) have both opened their doors to pupils from Kensington Aldridge Academy which is currently closed.
According to the London Fire Brigade, inflammable materials at the back of fridge freezers makes them one of the most dangerous household appliances. The brigade has lobbied for a change to regulations for five years.
GENERAL PRACTITIONERS: A proposal will be tabled at the forthcoming British Medical Association conference in Bournemouth suggesting that general practitioners adopt a “black alert” system similar to that used by hospitals. Under the hospital system, a hospital sends out a black alert when it is at full capacity so that cases can be diverted elsewhere. In the case of GPs they would be diverted to walk-in clinics, other practices and Accident and Emergency departments.
SEX THERAPY: Prisons are abandoning two courses on sex therapy because the rate of reoffending is higher among those who have taken the courses than among those who have not. William Marshall, who developed the programs for Canada, says that this is because they have not been adapted in accordance with new research and that they have been led by people who are not qualified psychotherapists.
CHARLIE GARD: The European Court of Human Rights has followed the British courts in agreeing that the Great Ormond Street hospital should turn off life support for baby, Charlie Gard, and that he should not be taken to the US for further treatment. The conclusion was reached by balancing the likelihood of distress against a limited potential benefits of the treatment.
BORIS BECKER: The three times Wimbledon winner has been declared bankrupt by a London registrar on the basis that there was no evidence that a substantial debt would be paid soon. The application was made in connection with a debt owed by the star to investment bankers Arbuthnot Latham. It has been outstanding since 2015.
SEA TRIALS: HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy, has left Rosyth to begin its sea trials. According to the evocatively named Captain Kyd, bringing it out of the dockyard was quite an operation, there being only a 2m clearance under the Fourth Bridge and 35 cm on each side at the entrance to the River Forth. The ship, with her sister ship the Prince of Wales, has run hugely over budget but the Coalition Government, which would have cancelled the project, was told that that would will be more expensive than continuing with it. The ship and its complement of Lockheed aircraft is expected to be operational in 2020.
SUPERGRASS: Gary Haggarty, previously a loyalist paramilitary commander, has pleaded guilty to 200 terrorist offences including five murders. A police informant during the troubles, he is expected to receive a reduced sentence to reflect the fact that he is helping the authorities bring other offenders to justice.
HACKERS: In what is suspected of being a state-sponsored cyber attack, a foreign power gained access to the email accounts of MPs and peers. Passwords are being changed but there are concerns at the possibility of blackmail (well you know what MPs and peers are like!). The Parliamentary authorities are being criticised for the fact that the attack was not revealed for 10 hours.
Meanwhile computer systems across Britain, Russia and America were disrupted by a computer virus on Tuesday, disrupting government and commercial operations and affecting the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. As Russia is among the countries affected it is unlikely to be sponsored by the KBG (unless it is some form of brilliant double bluff). In fact the attack seems to be designed to extract ransoms for unlocking screens. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has indicated that Britain is ready to respond “from any domain”, which is understood to include airstrikes. If it is some teenager in a shed he may well get seriously flattened.
ICED SHIT: According to research by the BBC’s Watchdog programme, samples of ice taken from certain high street coffee chains contained faecal bacteria. Is this a new variant of the age-old practice of spitting into the food of unpleasant customers? Hopefully not!
UNSCHISM: The Church of England and the Methodists are debating proposals to enter into full communion. That would mean that the clergy could officiate at each other’s services and would involve the head of the Methodist Conference becoming a “president-Bishop” giving him the authority of an Anglican Bishop.
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