Issue 115: 2017 07 27: Week in Brief: UK

27 July 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS: Last week’s round of talks ended with little agreement.  Points at issue include whether EU citizen should be able to bring their families to the UK without restriction, whether the European Court of Justice should have any jurisdiction in the UK, whether the British people can continue to belong to the European healthcare scheme while on holiday (under this system care is provided locally but charged to the home jurisdiction), the circumstances under which the UK should be able to deport EU citizens, whether UK citizens living in the EU should have voting rights and, of course, the financial settlement.

According to The Times, the government is proposing to suggest leaving free movement in place for two years after Brexit.  The plan which has been devised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is said to have gained Cabinet support although Brussels is understood to wish to restrict British citizens living abroad to the state in which they are now living.  There is plenty of room for confusion over all this with all parties regarding the others’ proposals as inadequate.

SINGLE MARKET AND LABOUR: Jeremy Corbyn has clarified the Labour Party’s position on the single market, stating that the UK would have to come out of it because it is dependent on EU membership. Instead they would seek tariff-free access.  This stance is likely to result in further clashes with pro-EU Labour MPs and particular Chukka Umunna, who is emerging as their leader.

Government News

PENSION WAIT: The government has accepted the recommendation made in a report by John Cridland, former boss of the CBI, that the pension age should rise to 68 in 2036.  The age, which equalises between the sexes at 65 next April, will increase to 66 in 2020 and 67 in 2028.

GROUND RENTS: The Government is to take action to deal with abuses by housebuilders selling leasehold property, and in particular escalating ground rents.  In an article in The Times, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pointed to an example of a house costing £200,000 where the ground rent would increase by 3000% to almost £10,000 by 2060.  Apparently freestanding houses are also being sold as leaseholds in order to exploit this source of profit.  There are also excessive charges for making alterations et cetera.

It is understood that in the north of England banks have become reluctant to lend against properties with escalating ground rents, which makes you wonder why lawyers acting for purchasers have not pointed out the downside to their clients.  Are we going to see a series of actions against solicitors?  The government is to consult on proposals but some areas are likely to be difficult, for example how to deal with existing reversionary interests which have been acquired by investors.

UNIVERSITY CONTRACT: Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, is to consult with the Office of Students in relation to the rights which students should enjoy in return for the tuition fees which they pay.

MIGRATION: According to figures produced by the Office of National Statistics, net migration into the UK has increased the population by 250,000 people a year since 2004.  That is more than the increase resulting from the number of births exceeding the number of deaths.

LICENSING DRONES: The Department of Trade has announced that users of drones weighing more than 8 ounces will need to register on a database, after taking an online test.  Hopefully this will alert them to safety and legal requirements.  Other proposed reforms are signal disruption around prisons and government buildings.  A ban of unofficial drones within a specified distance of an airfield is also being considered.

IMF DOWNGRADE: The IMF has downgraded its predictions of UK growth this year to 1.7%.  In April it estimated 2%.

MINIMUM WAGE: The new minimum wage threatens to bankrupt disability learning charities which provide overnight supervision. Although the Government has agreed to stay HMRC’s enforcement of the legislation in such cases, the fact remains that unless something is done the new wage rates will make vital services unaffordable.

POLLUTION: The sale of new diesel and petrol cars, including hybrids, is to be banned from 2040.  From then on all vehicles will have to run on electric power.  The change, which mirrors a recent pledge by France, will be a problem for vintage car owners as it becomes more and more difficult to find places to refuel their vehicles.  On the other hand it may save some of the 40,000 premature deaths which occur each year because of pollution.  The government has also committed £255 million to be spent with local authorities on dealing with nitrogen dioxide from diesel vehicles.

Other Politics

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham, has been elected unopposed as leader of the Party.  He has suggested that he might be able to recruit MPs from the other parties to create a party of the centre.

STUDENT DEBT PLEDGE: Jeremy Corbyn has denied that he made any pledge to wipe out student debt as part of the last election campaign.  Although his manifesto contained a pledge to abolish tuition fees going forward, he had been unaware of the amount of the outstanding debt and had done no more than to say that his party would look into how the burden of that could be reduced.  This appears to be true but its force has been undermined by the fact that statements made by shadow ministers Imran Hussain and Sharon Hodgson indicated the opposite.

FRACKING ABUSE: Arfon Jones, police and crime Commissioner for North Wales and an anti-fracking campaigner, has been criticised for objecting to his force assisting Lancashire Constabulary to deal with protests against Cuadrilla.  Supporters of fracking say that this was a misuse of his official position.

Law and Courts

SUPREME COURT: Baroness Hale of Richmond is to be the next president of the Supreme Court, replacing Lord Neuburger who retires later this year.  Lady Hale will be joined by another female Supreme Court judge, Lady Justice Black, making it the first time that there has been more than one woman at the top level of the judiciary.

KNIFE CRIME: Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show an 18% increase in the level of violent crime.  Murder is up by 9%, excluding the victims of Hillsborough.  Knife crime rose by 20%; gun crime by 23%.  The Government is currently under pressure to deal with a spate of acid attacks and is holding a consultation on the sale of knives online.  Commentators suggest that the crime wave may be linked to the decline in stop and search for which Mrs May received so many plaudits as Home Secretary.

CHARLIE GARD: The parents of baby Charlie Gard have accepted that irreversible damage to his muscles means that his quality of life would not justify further treatment.  Accordingly they have decided to abandon the litigation against Great Ormond Street hospital.

POLICE CHASE DEATHS: According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, 28 people died in police chases last year of whom two thirds were bystanders. The police shot six people dead last year and 14 people died in police custody.


FLOODING: A freak storm devastated the Cornish village of Coverack with 100mm of rain falling in less than three hours.  The weather is thought to have been created by rising hot air in France.

GRADE INFLATION: The proportion of firsts awarded by universities has increased, with almost 30% of Russell Group students graduating with a first and the Royal Academy of Music awarding firsts to 64% of its undergraduates.  The Higher Education Policy Institute are concerned at the possibility of  “grade inflation”.

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Overtime bans and strikes planned for Southern Rail have been called off as talks resume between Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, and the unions.

MORNING AFTER PILL: Boots the chemist has been criticised for refusing to reduce the price of morning after pills on the grounds that they might be overused.  Boots is now looking for a cheaper pill than the one which it currently sells.

TIME LADY: Arguments have broken out over the new Doctor Who, actress Jodie Whitaker, with high minded talk of role models, gender specific casting and the possibility of using ethnic actors.  All this seems to ignore the fact that there can be no right or wrong about which actor represents a fictional character.  In the end the question depends upon who will get the best audiences.

OXFORD AWARDS: According to The Times newspaper, the Europe Business Assembly, an entity controlled from the Ukraine but also with a presence in Oxford, is selling prizes and awards which appear to be linked to Oxford University even though that is not in fact the case.  The EBA hosts conferences and arranges ceremonies, some of which include that famous Oxford character, a man in the uniform of the Yeoman of the Guard.

ENGLISH SPORT: England women won the 2017 cricket World Cup at Lord’s, beating India by nine runs with eight balls remaining. Chris Frome secured his fourth victory in the Tour de France and said that he hopes to compete for another five years.

GLOBE THEATRE: Actress Michelle Terry is to be the new director of the Globe Theatre, replacing Emma Rice.  Although Ms Terry has no experience of directing she is an accomplished Shakespearian actor and an enthusiast for his work.


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