03 August 2017
Week In Brief: UK
TRANSITION: In a move which has attracted broad cross-party support but is still contentious within the Cabinet, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that he would like to see a transitional deal which left trading relations with the EU much as they are now for three years after Brexit. Whether this would involve a retention of part of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice remains to be decided, but presumably it would. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has indicated that any change in the free movement of people following Brexit is likely to be gradual. She envisages an intermediate stage with some sort of registration of EU citizens.
TAX HAVEN: Mr Hammond has also said, in an interview with the French paper Le Monde, that, following Brexit, Britain will not compete unfairly in regulation or tax policies. Currently Britain’s tax take as a share of GDP is 15th out of the 28 EU countries and the Chancellor expects that we will stay in the middle of the pack.
IRISH BORDER: The new Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has reversed the Republic’s previous stance that the North could be divided from the South by surveillance rather than a physical border, suggesting that there should be a single physical border at the Irish coast. As he coupled this with a desire to keep free movement of people, goods, services and livelihood between the North and the Republic, he appears to be arguing for the North to become part of the Republic’s economy rather than the British one. That is unlikely to commend itself to the majority in Northern Ireland.
US TRADE TREATY: Preliminary discussions with Washington on a possible trade treaty have become entangled with environmental standards. Apparently chlorine-washed chickens are legal in the US but not in the UK and there is similar tension over meat treated with hormones. The issues are important to the US farming lobby. Cabinet members take different views with Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, saying that we would not sacrifice food standards and Liam Fox, responsible for trade deals, taking a more flexible line.
ELECTRIC CARS: Research by Cambridge Econometrics indicates that a ban on petrol and diesel cars would increase electricity demand by less than 10%, dispelling concerns that government proposals that all new cars should be electric by 2040 will put too much strain on the National Grid. In any case electric cars are likely to recharge at non-peak hours.
Meanwhile both BP and Shell are planning to install electric car chargers at their petrol stations. It is understood that the first chargers will be able to provide an 80% refill of power within 30 minutes.
WARSHIP DEPLOYMENT: Speaking in Australia, Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, has said that Britain will be sending a warship into disputed areas of the South China Sees next year in order to assert freedom of navigation. Mr Johnson who is accompanying Sir Michael suggested that we might also send the aircraft carriers once they are complete. Fans of Tomorrow Never Dies will urge MI6 to keep Commander Bond available.
GAS RISES: It is understood that Ofgem will not intervene to prevent British Gas increasing its charges for electricity by 12% because they regard it as a matter for the government. It is possible that legislation could be passed with all-party consent.
LABOUR: A group of MPs from the Labour and other parties has called on Mr Corbyn to censure President Maduro of Venezuelan for his destruction of his country. Labour MP, Graham Jones, who chairs the group, points to food shortages, the murder of citizens and the export of cocaine, all now rife in a country which boasts considerable oil wealth. Mr Corbyn has a history of praising Venezuela, celebrating the current regime as recently as June 2015. Ken Livingstone continues to act as an apologist for the regime, putting its problems down to US interference.
NEPOTISM: A video produced by Momentum in order to expose middle-class nepotism backfired when it emerged that Mr Corbyn’s eldest son, Seb, is employed as chief of staff to John McDonnell.
ANTIBIOTICS: Medical specialists writing in the BMJ have reversed the time-honoured view that it is important to complete courses of antibiotics. They say that this is often unnecessary and may result in the patient becoming antibiotic resistant. Instead they suggest that it is often be better to stop taking medication when you feel better.
CARE HOMES: An investigation by The Times newspaper reveals that the Care Quality Commission failed to take any action in relation to serious sexual abuse at homes run by Hillgreen Care. Of particular concern was the destruction of evidence at one home which made a prosecution impracticable.
A report by Age UK indicates that relatives are being asked to pay top up fees where local councils cannot afford to pay care home charges. Such fees should only be charged for voluntary extras, for example to have a better room.
MORNING AFTER PILL: Claims by Boots to be seeking a less expensive morning after pill were undermined when it emerged that its sister company, Alliance Healthcare, already supplies such pills to other retailers. Currently the Boots pill costs £26.75 and other pharmacies sell pills at as little as £4.99.
HIV TESTING: Research at Queen Mary’s Hospital and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine indicates that giving patients who register with a doctors an HIV test would lead to a fourfold increase in the diagnosis rate. The programme would cost £4 million and become cost-effective within 33 years.
STATINS: Research by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests that statins should be prescribed widely for men over 60 and women over 75. Apart from the cost of such a program, however, and statins are cheap at 10p per patient per day, doctors are concerned at the prospect of putting healthy people on medication.
Law and Crime
MANSLAUGHTER: Nicholas Allen from Stafford has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment plus an additional five year period on licence, for manslaughter, after driving his ex-girlfriend to suicide by harassing her. Allen, who pleaded guilty, had a history of making threats against women.
EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL FEES: The Supreme Court has upheld arguments by the trade union Unison that fees payable by those making claims for unfair dismissal, equal pay and redundancy are illegal because they impede access to justice. The ruling is likely to result in a revival in the level of litigation against employers, something which died down following the introduction of the fees.
TRADITIONAL SILENCE: In the forward to a report on “Rethinking Judicial Independence” published by Transform Justice, Sir Alan Moses, previously a Lord Justice of Appeal and now chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, said that the traditional approach by which judges maintained silence outside the courtroom was outdated. He suggested that judicial authority might be better maintained by speaking out to offer clarity on issues to which cases related.
GRENFELL FIRE: The Metropolitan Police have notified the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and also the management company which ran Grenfell Tower, that there are grounds to suspect corporate manslaughter. Although that sounds very grand it is hard to see what charges will achieve. Since corporate bodies cannot be locked up, the only real remedy is fines which would in the end fall on public funds. If there really was negligence amounting to manslaughter (and in view of the similar mistakes now emerging all over the country, one might doubt that) prosecution of individuals would be more effective.
HOLIDAY DELAYS: British tourists have been affected by new checks imposed on those entering the Schengen area, which are causing substantial delays. The checks are required by an EU regulation brought in to improve security and to enable a number of databases to be used.
CAUGHT NAPPING: Cuadrilla, the fracking company, delivered a drilling rig to its Preston site at 4:40 am on Thursday while the protesters who had assembled to block the delivery were asleep. Cuadrilla’s planning permission specifies that deliveries should be made during the day. The company had liaised with the police over the delivery.
KIDS COMPANY: The Insolvency Service is to take proceedings against Camilla Batmanghelidjh, and also against Alan Yentob and seven other directors of the former charity Kids Company, seeking their disqualification from acting as company directors.
CLIMATE CHANGE: The annual report from the Meteorological Office indicates that the 2015/16 winter was the first in which no deep snow (snow of 20 cm depth or more) occurred in the UK. Deep snow has been declining for a number of years.
LIFEJACKET FAILURE: Lloyd’s register of shipping is working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to investigate why three fishermen died despite wearing government approved lifejackets. Apparently the jackets do not hold the head clear of the water as they should, so that wearers drown when they become unable to support themselves. The MCA has asked the European Commission to ban the lifejacket in question.
CRICKET: England beat South Africa by 239 runs in the third test, the victory being sealed by a hat-trick by spin bowler and all-rounder Moeen Ali.
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