12 October 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

EU NEGOTIATIONS: The failure by the EU to react constructively to the proposals in Mrs May’s Florence speech has changed the emphasis of the government’s approach.  Mrs May’s position is that the ball is now in the Brussels court and that we are not prepared to offer more money in the hope that they will open negotiations on trade terms.  In fact she has little choice about this.  Clearly as a negotiating matter we cannot continue to put bigger and bigger sums on the table in the hope that the EU will finally negotiate.  Nor would the more hardline MPs allow the Government to do so.  A more aggressive stance has thus become inevitable even though it will alarm business, British resident in Europe and Europeans resident here.  Things are about to enter a “nasty” phase and the Government may yet end up reconsidering its cooperation on security matters.  Such rough play may go against the grain but then, if Brussels will not engage, why not?

Meanwhile, Mr Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in an article published in The Times, has called for Brussels to engage in discussions about a long-term relationship.  It is understood that Mr Barnier has some sympathy with this but that Germany and France are anxious to obtain guarantees on the financial settlement before moving further.  Meanwhile Mr Hammond does not propose to commit money to fund a hard Brexit until “it’s responsible to do so”.  Presumably that will be when, in his judgement, negotiations have broken down.  Mr Hammond is a supporter of a “time-limited implementation period” so that, although a deal would be struck by the date of Brexit, it would come into effect subsequently -probably over two years.

Environmental secretary, Michael Gove, has argued that the UK should take back its fishing policy as soon as Britain leaves the EU and not after a transitional period.  This would allow the UK to impose a 200 mile fishing ban around the coast.

Government

UNIVERSAL CREDIT: The government is to go ahead with the roll out of the universal credit despite opposition from a number of backbenchers and also from Sir John Major.  There are still concerns that families may fall into debt because of the different timing under the new payments, but the Secretary of Work and Pensions, David Gauke, believes that the change is likely to result in a far higher number of people in employment.

RACE: The Race Disparity Audit Website was launched by the Government on Tuesday.  Its purpose is to compare the position of the various racial categories in relation to employment, education, health, living standard, justice, etc.  The audit, which is just over 60 pages long, is to be updated regularly and will help the authorities to focus on problem areas.  It will no doubt also be used by demagogues of various political persuasions as they use and misuse the statistics to support their points of view.  Among the more interesting findings are that Chinese 11-year-olds are doing better at reading, writing and maths than the rest of their peer group, that white teenagers smoke more than black teenagers and that a high percentage of all groups felt that they belong to Britain.  In the case of whites that was 85%.  Presumably many of the remainder belong to Poland or other EU states.  There is lots to address and we provide a link to the report itself.

Medicine

ALL IN THE NAME: A campaign has been launched to revive the terms “senior house officer” and “registrar” for doctors who have not yet become consultants.  Currently they are known as “trainees” and “junior doctors”, terms which can be misunderstood by patients who do not realise that they are fully qualified and often very experienced.  As the reform would cost the government nothing and is backed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, it seems likely to go ahead.

Rather oddly, Priyanka Lakhani, Sonam Lakhani and Rohan Malik, three London doctors, have written to The Times suggesting that GPs be called “consultant GPs” in order to reflect their importance.  As yet no one seems to have questioned whether those members of the medical profession who do not hold a Ph.D. should be referred to as “doctors” at all or whether this is misleading.

HEALTH SERVICE: Figures released by the Care Quality Commission indicate that 135 enforcement actions were launched in 2016–17, as against 58 in the preceding year.  There is particular concern about patients spending too long in hospital and consequently suffering muscle wastage and becoming frailer.  Hospitals are under considerable pressure due to the absence of proper facilities for care in the community and because of shortages of doctors and nurses.

EGGS: The Food Standards Agency has reversed its guidance in relation to eggs marked with the Lion stamp, declaring them safe to eat save by people who are “severely immuno-compromised”.  Apparently tests in 2014 found salmonella in only 0.8% of flocks whereas in 1996 it could be found in 1% of boxes of eggs.  Foreign eggs, however, and others not covered by the Lion stamp, could still be risky.

Law and Order

SMUGGLING INTO PRISON: According to the Independent Monitoring Board at the Portland prison, prisoners on supervised release have been deliberately breaking their licence conditions so that they will be recalled and can smuggle in drugs – an unintended consequence of the imposition of conditions of licenced release.

ESSAY BUYING: A report by the Quality Insurance Agency for Higher Education reveals essay buying, under which university lecturers write essays for students to help them cheat their way to degrees.  The Office for Students has said that institutions which turn a blind eye to this practice may lose their power to award degrees.  Revelations by The Sunday Telegraph earlier this year indicated that more than 20,000 students were paying up to £6,750 a year for bespoke essays.

TRAFFIC ACCIDENT: An incident outside the National History Museum in which 11 people were injured by a car which had mounted the pavement turned out to be an accident and not, as first feared, an act of terrorism.  The driver has been arrested.

Misc

COIN DEADLINE: The old round £1 coin will cease to be legal tender on Sunday which means that traders will no longer be obliged to accept it.  In many cases, however, they will continue to do so, although they will be legally barred from handing the old coins out as change, and will have to pay them in at a bank instead.

 

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