Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Week in Brief: UK

17 August 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


TRANSITION: Philip Hammond and Liam Fox have published a joint article confirming that Britain will leave the customs union and the single market in 2019 and that, although there may be transitional provisions, they will not be used as a way of remaining in the EU by the back door.  Meanwhile, however, a position paper from the Government proposes a transition period during which the UK would be able to negotiate but not implement trade treaties, followed by either smooth tariff arrangements or none at all.  This suggestion seems unlikely to make much progress at the moment; the EU is still taking the position that there will be no discussion on trade until the divorce bill is settled.

The Government will be issuing a series of papers over the next month or so setting out its proposals on the various Brexit issues.  At that stage serious negotiations will presumably start with the EU but expect plenty of posturing on both sides before progress is made.

GOVERNMENT LIABILITY AFTER BREXIT: You would have thought it was completely obvious. The rule set by the ECJ in the Italian case of Francovich, which enables a member of the public who suffers damage to sue the Government for failing to legislate in accordance with its EU obligations, will disappear following Brexit as, after that (and subject to whatever twists and turns come out of the negotiations) Britain’s obligation to legislate in conformity with the directives will cease.  No need to cover it in the Repeal Bill, then.  The rights going forward will die of their own accord.  Why then do we find at Schedule 1 the words: “There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich”?  They should be unnecessary unless of course the Government is trying to slip out of liability for past breaches.  Now why would it want to do that?

The key is to this is the UK’s failure to comply with European law in the environmental field.  Here the ambulance chasing is beginning to gather momentum and soon your anonymous caller will stop talking about “an accident which was not your fault” and ask if you have “suffered from an illness which might have been avoided if…”.  The ensuing legal circus will suck out of the public sector money which is needed to build hospitals and reduce class sizes.

We have seen something similar before.  When the European Court of Justice found that that the UK’s corporate tax system did not fit the parent-subsidiary directive, huge amounts were claimed by large international companies as professional advisers scoured the rules for mismatches.  The government is anxious to stop this all happening again and you can see why.  The important thing, though, is that the provision should be properly debated.  It is a serious thing to remove rights which have already accrued and Parliament should weigh the matter up carefully before it does so, however sensible the decision may be.

CHAPMAN TWEETS: At last Britain has its answer to Donald Trump.  James Chapman, one time political editor at the Daily Mail and subsequently chief of staff to David Davis, contributed to the Twittersphere with several hundred messages on Tuesday.  Amongst the general vitriol cast in the direction of leavers is the allegation that Mr Davis is lazy and only works three days a week.  This appears to be intended as a criticism whereas you might think that sitting back and reflecting was more important than running around like a lunatic at the moment.  Replying on LBC, Mr Davis said that Mr Chapman had been a good chief of staff and that he did not propose to criticise him.  Maybe Mr Chapman needs to go on holiday, at least to rest his fingers.


EGGS: Initial confidence that only 21,000 of the eggs poisoned with fibronil by criminal poultry farmers in Holland and Belgium reached the UK turns out to be misplaced.  Apparently the number may be closer to 700,000 and the risks include cancer, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, kidney damage, liver damage and thyroid damage.  The eggs are not currently thought to contain horsemeat.

CARE HOMES: Out of 7497 care home companies examined by accountants Moore Stevens, 1210 were in a state of financial distress, a one third increase over last year.  A major contributor to the difficulties is the introduction of the national living wage.

PENSIONERS’ TEETH: A report by the Faculty of Dental Surgery indicates that at least 1.8 million people aged 65 or over may be suffering from an urgent dental conditions and that the figure could rise by 50% over the next 23 years.

MOTORWAY LEARNERS: Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has said that from next year learner drivers will be allowed on motorways.  The change has met with general approval although the safety charity Brake has suggested that the lessons on motorways should occur once drivers have already passed their tests.


MODERN SLAVERY: Although convictions for modern slavery offences have fallen, the National Crime Agency says that large numbers of slaves are being forced into sex work and also work at car washes and farms.  Apparently perpetrators are often charged with more general offences such as rape, drug offences or money-laundering.

NEWCASTLE SEX TRIAL: Police officers in Northumberland have been accused by ex-chief constable Sue Sim of using a convicted child rapist as a paid informant without her agreement.  The individual, who was paid sub £10,000 for his help, claimed, in an interview with the Sun, that by working underground for the police he had put hundreds of people behind bars.  The current chief constable, Steve Ashman, with whom Ms Sim had an acrimonious dispute, said he took full responsibility for the decision.  Ms Sim claims that her criticism of her old force is unconnected with her dispute with it.

PREVENT: Consideration is being given to making the Prevent scheme, which is currently entirely voluntary, compulsory for certain categories of people thought to be at risk from extremism.  Jihadists returning from IAS territories might be one.  The move is contentious as some regard the scheme as eroding trust between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.


UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS: The combination of a declining youth population with a drop in EU students leaves many universities trying to drum up applicants following the release of A-level results.  According to The Times, Mike Nicholson of the University of Bath has said that this may mean that offers are made at lower grades than previously.  It would be cynical to suspect that universities in need of applicants will also drop the level required to obtain a good class degree.

UNIVERSITY SALARIES: Lord Adonis, previously Labour education secretary, has criticised the level of pay at universities, suggesting that the amount paid to vice chancellors should be no more than that paid to the Prime Minister.  In his view recent increases in pay are one of the reasons that student fees are so high.


NEW NOTES: The Bank has announced that it will not be changing the composition of the new polymer £5 banknotes to eradicate small amounts of tallow as this would cost over £16 million.  Other banknotes will contain a similar quantity.  Tallow is already used in many plastics such as carrier bags, cosmetics and detergent bottles.  It is also used in debit and credit cards, and mobile phones.

FOOD STANDARDS: Michael Gove has announced that slaughterhouses will have to install CCTV so that the treatment of animals can be monitored.  The announcement has been welcomed by animal charities across the board.

BIG BEN: Under plans approved by the House of Commons Commission, the ringing of Big Ben would be restricted to special occasions for four years from monday while work is carried out to the Elizabeth Tower and its clock.  However, silencing the bell, a precaution to protect the hearing of the workmen, is being reconsidered following objections by MPs.

RAIL FARES:  Proposals to increase fares by 3.6% in January have been criticised on the basis that they are based on the Retail Price Index rather than the Consumer Price Index which excludes housing costs and is preferred by the Department of National Statistics.  Apparently many of the costs of rail companies depend on RPI.


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