19 October 2017
Week In Brief: UK NEWS
THE EU POSITION: Currently the parties are at something of an impasse. On the one hand the UK Government is not willing (and indeed is politically unable) to improve on the offer made by Mrs May in Florence to fund our share of the current cycle of spending. On the other, the EU says that it will not open negotiations on a future relationship until agreement has been reached on the final divorce bill. This stand-off is leading to tensions in the EU camp where M Barnier is in favour of widening negotiation unilaterally, a move which is being blocked by France and Germany who are anxious to use their leveraged to extract as much money as possible. Needless to say they do not put it quite like that, but it is widely rumoured that their purported enthusiasm for ECJ control of residency issues is a ploy designed to hide naked cupidity behind a figleaf of principled disagreement.
THE UK: Meanwhile, back in the UK, the delay is causing frustration and the adherents of gesture politics sporadically call for one or other of the current Cabinet to be sacked. At the moment the debate centres on the extent to which we should be planning for a no-deal exit. Mr Hammond has indicated that there will be no provision for this in his budget (reflecting his view that it is not a realistic outcome) but the Department for Exiting the EU has produced detailed impact assessments on the various possible scenarios. So far these have not been released but pressure is building with 120 MPs demanding publication. It seems highly unlikely that the Government will be able to keep the lid on these assessments, so publication is likely in the near future.
LABOUR: John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has told the Andrew Marr Show that he does not think that the government will be able to get a no deal withdrawal through the House of Commons. Although Labour does not have sufficient votes to block it on its own he believes that MPs from other parties would also find that outcome unacceptable.
GREAT REPEAL BILL: Progress on the bill governing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has stalled as the Government tries to analyse 300 amendments. A number of these are supported by groups of Conservative MPs and may therefore command a majority.
SLAVERY: Requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that 152 Vietnamese children in local authority care have gone missing since 2015, raising the concern that they have fallen into the hands of traffickers. Many more have disappeared temporarily. Apparently Vietnamese immigrants sometimes pretend to be minors so that they can be placed in care, from which it is easy to abscond, rather than in detention centres, from which it is not.
IRANIAN HACKING: It turns out that the attack on Parliamentary email accounts on 23 June was the work of Iranians and not, as previously thought, Russians. 9000 accounts were attacked and about 90 compromised. The motive behind the attack is unclear. One possibility is that it was orchestrated by opponents of the disarmament deal with the West seeking to stoke ill feeling. Another is that it was a revenge for cyber-attacks on Iran’s centrifuges.
ENERGY PRICES: The Government has published proposals to cap energy prices charged to individual consumers. The idea is that the cap should limit amounts charged to a level set by Ofgem. It will be introduced as a temporary measure from spring 2019 until 2020, at which stage it will presumably be renewed. The cap is a response to the view that the system under which charges are restricted by the ability of consumers to switch tariffs and suppliers, is not working. A large number of poorer consumers are on the expensive standard annual tariff.
LORDS REFORM: Lord Lloyd Webber is to become the 70th peer to retire from the House of Lords under a mechanism introduced in 2014 which allows him to retain his title but not his seat. A committee of the Upper House is currently reviewing ways of reducing the membership from its current level of just below 800. One possibility being mooted is to impose a 15 year limit on new peerages, an idea borrowed from proposals which Nick Clegg developed for the Coalition Government
SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Campaigners are anxious that NHS patients should be asked whether or not they are non-binary or transgender. As from next year they are to be asked about sexual orientation. Clearly anything which increases the amount of form filling in the NHS must be a good thing, although patients can refuse to answer the questions.
Courts and crime
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: It is understood that the Metropolitan Police are investigating five allegations against Harvey Weinstein. He denies having been involved in any non-consensual sex.
CARELESS DRIVING: Following public consultation, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving will be increased to life imprisonment. There will also be a new offence of causing serious injuries through careless driving. Life sentences will be awarded where death is caused and the careless driving was due to the influence of drink or drugs.
SCANDAL AT MATRIX: Barristers at Matrix Chambers, which specialises in human rights law, have been warned not to discuss a sexual assault which was alleged to have taken place in the Chambers lift. An enquiry, by retired judge Sir David Calvert Smith, exonerated the barrister concerned but it is understood that a further enquiry is pending.
PRIVATE PROSECUTION: A Liverpool couple, Paul Roberts and Deborah Briton, have been sent to prison for 15 months and 9 months respectively after making fraudulent claims on their travel insurance, falsely alleging that they had suffered from gastric illnesses. The prosecution was undertaken privately by Thomas Cook.
PRESS REGULATION: A courtroom challenge by the News Media Association to the recognition by the government-sponsored Press Recognition Panel of Impress as an approved watch dog has failed. Impress is funded by Max Mosley who, perhaps not surprisingly in view of his history, is now a privacy campaigner. National newspapers have generally signed up to the regulator Ipso which is not registered with the Press Recognition Panel.
RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS: The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling by Ofsted requiring mixed schools to stop segregating boys and girls. The school in question, the al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, completely separates them as do many other religious schools. Single sex schools have a specific exemption from the equality legislation.
WESTMINSTER ESTATES: The Exchequer will not be obtaining a windfall from the estate of the late Duke of Westminster. That is because most of his assets were held in trusts which attract 6% inheritance tax every 10 years rather than 40% tax on the death of a duke. Although it is impossible to say which system yields the most tax, regular payments are generally much easier to plan.
ROUND POUNDS: Round £1 coins are no longer legal tender, although still exchangeable at banks and at some supermarkets. It is understood that there are still some 400 million of them in circulation, if indeed being lost down the back of a sofa can be described in that way.
DARWIN THWARTED: A fisherman in Bournemouth held his catch over his open mouth as a joke and nearly died when it jumped into his mouth and blocked his windpipe. A paramedic managed to dislodge the fish which turned out to be a small Dover sole. The man recovered. The fate of the fish is unclear.
RED OCTOBER: Monday was the hottest October 16 on record as the skies over Britain darkened and turned red. However, it was not the beginning of the apocalypse. The darkness and colours were caused by dust and debris in the upper atmosphere, some of it from the Sahara and some of it from large fires in Portugal and Spain.
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