20 July 2017
Week In Brief: UK
BREXIT BILL: The Government has published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the statute which gives EU legislation effect in the UK. The bill, which has the effect of freezing the law as at the date of Brexit so that EU legislation in place at that date continues to have effect until repealed by Parliament, has a number of critics. The Scottish and Welsh assemblies are concerned that powers relating to the environment, agriculture and fisheries, currently with the EU, will be passed to Westminster rather than into the assemblies themselves. Labour is concerned at the extent to which the bill gives power to the government to make adjustments without Parliamentary scrutiny and wants the EU charter of fundamental rights incorporated into UK law. That is different, of course, from the European Convention on Human Rights which is unconnected with the European Union and will remain in force in any event.
EU TRANSITION: A division has opened in the Cabinet over transitional provisions to cover the period following Brexit. The Chancellor is understood to be in favour of an extended period of, say, four years but Liam Fox, whose job involves the signing of free trade agreements, believes that any period should be restricted to a few months. Ex cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell has said that it will take longer than 20 months to come to an agreement. In reality, of course, nothing will be agreed until just before the deadline so putting that back will itself extend the period necessary for negotiations.
UK OBLIGATIONS: David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has acknowledged that Britain has financial obligations which it will have to continue to meet after Brexit. His comments contrast with those of Boris Johnson who suggested that the EU could “whistle” for its “divorce payment”.
AUSTERITY: The Office of Budget Responsibility has stressed the importance of reducing the debt to GDP ratio in preparation for the shock to public finances which may result from Brexit. If leaving the EU was to weaken the economy or to drive up borrowing requirements, the UK could be left with a choice of making much deeper cuts in public spending or defaulting on its debts.
CARRIER FORCE: An investigation by The Times has revealed problems with the F-35B Lightening II aircraft being purchased for use on the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers. The UK is expected to buy 138 of the aircraft, which is the vertical takeoff version of the state-of-the-art F– 35A. Difficulties encountered include handling at high speed, overheating, icing up and reliability. To an extent they seem to arise because the F35 which is expected to be used extensively by the US, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Canada, Norway and Japan, is still under development. Since the US military are taking a large number of the planes themselves, the issues will presumably be sorted out. In any case the MOD has the choice of buying state of the art planes and putting up with glytches or going for yesterday’s planes and becoming vulnerable to anyone with the new version. Seems pretty obvious really.
AID SPENDING: A report by the National Audit Office expresses concern that ministries responsible for dispensing the 26% of the aid budget not administered by the Department of International Development, are spending a large proportion of their allocation in the last quarter of the year. That suggests that expenditure may be driven by targets rather than effectiveness. Britain spends 0.7% of the gross national income (currently about £13.3bn) on aid each year.
TREASURY COMMITTEE: The new chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee is to be Nicky Morgan who replaces Andrew Tyrie in the role. Other new select committee chairmen include Tom Tugedhat (Foreign Affairs), Rachel Reeves (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and Norman Lamb (Science and Technology).
SCHOOLS SPENDING: Education Secretary, Justin Greening, has announced a £1.3 billion cash injection into the school system. The money is to come from other savings in her department including £280 million from the free schools budget and £420 million from the capital budget, much of the latter from the provision the sports facilities.
STATE VISIT: The King and Queen of Spain have made a state visit to the UK, the King making the traditional speech to both houses of Parliament. His comment that the problems of Gibraltar could be overcome through dialogue were badly received by the territory.
LABOUR: Tony Blair has qualified his view that the far left could never be elected to office, although he believes that the country would be worse off under an “unreconstructed far left programme”.
Law and Order
ACID ATTACKS: An increase in acid attacks has put the Home Office under pressure to take immediate action. Last year there were 458 attacks in London alone, more than three times the total for the entire country in 2012/13. One possibility is to make the carrying of acid on the street an offence. Another is to restrict sales. There are currently two teenagers in custody in relation to acid attacks and it seems likely that they will be dealt with harshly by the courts.
YOUTH PRISONS: Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has warned ministers of serious problems in youth jails where assaults and self harm have doubled over the last six years. Almost half of boys within the institutions feel unsafe and the level of vocational training has dropped. In many cases the facilities are “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”. The Ministry of Justice has announced that it will be introducing a new youth custody service to take over the running of the establishments.
SENTENCE CHALLENGE: Arrangements under which victims and members of the public can challenge lenient sentences by asking the Attorney General to examine them are being expanded to cover more terrorist offences. The Attorney General may refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal for review if it appears to be too light.
NEW LORD CHIEF: Lord Justice Burnett will take over as Lord Chief Justice on October 2. Appointed QC in 1998, he became a High Court judge in 2008, and was the presiding judge of the Western Circuit for three years prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeal in 2014.
PEER IMPRISONED: Viscount St Davids has been sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment on two counts of sending menacing messages by public media. One message included threats to anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller following her legal challenge to the government’s notice to leave the EU. He is on bail pending an appeal.
SOUTHERN RAIL: Further problems loom for the hard-pressed Southern Rail commuters as Aslef calls strikes on 1st, 2nd and 4th August despite drivers being offered a 23.8% rise over four years. That would take pay for a four-day week to £60,683.
IN AND OUT: The final route chosen for HS2 passes through sixteen newly built properties in Mexborough. The properties, which have just been occupied, will have to be demolished.
THE NATIONAL TRUST: Dame Helen Ghosh is leaving the National trust to become master of Balliol College, Oxford.
BBC: The BBC annual report has revealed the amounts which it pays to its stars. Top of the list is Chris Evans at £2.2 million a year, way higher than the highest paid woman, Claudia Winkleman, at £450,000. Generally male stars are paid more than female and white stars are paid more than Asian or black ones. Since the value of a star is his or her contribution to ratings, this raises the question of whether white male stars have higher followings than others.
EMERGENCY SERVICES: Response targets to 999 calls are to be changed so that more priority is given to urgent cases, at the expense of patients in less danger. The current system with an across the board eight minute target is regarded as wasteful with 25% of ambulances attending to find that hospital treatment is unnecessary. The change has been cautiously welcomed by the ambulance service and the unions.
TENNIS: Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic in straight sets to become the men’s Wimbledon champion for a record eighth time. Garbine Muguruza took the ladies championship, defeating Venus Williams, also in straight sets.
TEST MATCH: England lost the second test to South Africa so the series now stands at 1-1
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