If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu

Dear readers, I’m sure you’ll have appreciated my not adding to the Brexit confusion by giving my opinions here. I hope not to abuse that trust, though I feel I must mention the political discussions about us remaining in the EU Customs Union while essentially having left the EU. Whatever else happens in our relationship with the EU, we must not stay in the Customs Union after we have left the EU.

Here’s the argument played out in Parliament between Greg Hands MP and Ken Clarke MP. It’s worth listening to, or reading below. The most telling point is Greg Hands quote of American Senator Elizabeth Warren who said,

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

Hansard, 1st April 2019, EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham): I will begin by answering my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who said that he had not heard a single argument against a customs union. I credit him for staying for the whole debate, because I am going to give him plenty. He also said that I had been involved in a filibuster, but my contribution to the business of the House motion lasted for one minute and 13 seconds. That must be the shortest filibuster that there has ever been. I did once speak for one hour and 43 minutes on beer duty, but I do not think that one minute and 13 seconds really counts.

Why is a customs union a very bad idea? Broadly speaking, it would mean a huge loss of control over our economic policy, a decline in our foreign policy influence and a huge democratic deficit. Trade policy is not just about trade deals. It is about much more, which we would be handing over to the European Union without a seat at the table. There are tariffs, remedies and preferences as well as trade agreements, and these would all be given over. The House of Commons would abrogate its responsibility in relation to the UK’s trade policy. This is not Andorra or San Marino, which are currently in customs unions with the European Union. This is the world’s fifth largest economy.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and I were on the same side in the referendum in 2016, so I am approaching this debate not as some kind of Brexiteer, but from the position of what makes sense for the UK’s trade policy. It makes no sense in our democracy for the House of Commons to vote tonight to hand over control of UK trade policy to Brussels. It would mean that a Maltese Commissioner, a Latvian MEP, a Portuguese Commissioner and a Slovene MEP ​would all have more say over UK trade policy than any elected politician, including the UK Prime Minister. That is not democratically sustainable, nor is it sustainable for our foreign policy.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I served in the Government together. At that time, I went into various rooms in foreign countries to speak to foreign Governments, so I know that trade is one of the aspects of leverage that we have. As a member of the European Union, the UK has influence on EU trade policy. That will obviously be gone when we are no longer a member, but under a customs union we would also have no influence over our own trade policy. We would be unable to have those conversations with the Government of the United States when we can say, “Well, if we can do this on some other area, we will have a word in Brussels on this particular trade issue.” All of that would be gone.

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because I did not have time to give way to him in the end. I think he would acknowledge that it is a slight exaggeration to say that the British Government would have as little influence over deals being negotiated by the EU as a Latvian MEP if we moved into a customs union. As the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) just said, a big economy such as ours would add to the attractions of the EU market for a negotiating partner, so surely we should put in place a structure giving us far more consultation and involvement in the negotiations than my right hon. Friend is describing—not as good as now, but perfectly adequate.

Greg Hands: I think that is wishful thinking. The European Union is highly likely to prioritise the interests of its members versus the interests of non-members. That has always been the case. There are also serious arguments as to whether European Union rules would even allow a non-member to have an influence on EU trade policy. I am afraid that that is just a fact.

Entering into a customs union would be democratically unsustainable. Tariffs would be set by people who are not accountable to this House or to our constituents. That could be damaging for goods coming into the country, if those people were to set high tariffs on goods that our consumers would quite like access to. It could also happen the other way around with things such as trade remedies, as has been briefly mentioned. All these incredibly important aspects, including trade defences, would be handed over to Brussels. Now, Brussels might look after our trade remedies, but it would not give them priority. It would give the defence of its own industries—the fee-paying members of the European Union—priority over countries such as ours. This would mean that those all-important WTO investigations into, say, the ceramics industry, would be relegated below investigations to protect, for example, the German or Dutch steel industries.

On trade deals, the Turkey trap has been mentioned; this is about the asymmetry. The EU would offer access to our 65 million consumers without necessarily being able to achieve anything in return. I can guarantee that the UK asks would be the ones that would be dropped first, and that the UK items of defence would be the ones that the EU would concede first. It is inevitable because we would not be a fee-paying member of the European Union, so we would not be a priority.

Steve Brine  (Winchester and Chandler’s Ford): I am listening very carefully to my right hon. Friend. I have a lot of respect for him, I have read his article and I have listened to every speech so far during today’s debate, so I understand what he does not want, which is a customs union. But bearing in mind that Parliament has yet to decide what it does want—and has rejected all other options, and the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration—what is he arguing for?

Greg Hands: I continue to argue for the Prime Minister’s agreement, and that is where I think we should head. People talk about a compromise; that is the best compromise, and it is the one that my hon. Friend and I have both voted for.

I am astonished that the Labour Front Benchers are supporting the idea of handing over our trade policy. They were the people most passionately against TTIP, and other trade agreements, due to the access that it would supposedly have given foreign companies to the NHS. As it happens, I do not buy into that idea, but the idea that it will now be fine because we are handing over trade policy to the EU without having a seat at the table is for the birds. I think it was Senator Elizabeth Warren who said,

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

That is exactly what I fear will happen in an EU customs union if motion (C) is passed this evening.

It had better be for a good reason Theresa

Theresa May has pulled the ‘Meaningful Vote’ in Parliament on Tuesday. It had better be for a good reason, which she’ll tell Parliament later today.

I’ve stayed away from commenting of the state of affairs around Brexit, no longer will that be the case.

Simply delaying the vote is no solution. The vote has been promised in Parliament after days of debate about the deal. Irrespective of the likely outcome, we need that vote to see the position of the MP’s, and parties.

Watching the farcical Prime Minister’s Questions today

It’s not my normal habit to watch Prime Minister’s Questions on TV. Not even sure why today of all days that I did watch.

What a day to choose to watch.

Theresa May’s words on the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy were well delivered, recovering some lost ground in her earlier failures on the subject. Jeremy Corbyn hit home with some choice comments on Boris Johnson’s leaked remarks, making it uncomfortable for both Mrs May and Boris.

The Prime Minister was on firmer ground explaining the contortions of Brexit voting and backstop arrangements, again committing the country to leaving the EU, single market, and customs union.

Then, absolute uproar. Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, ensured his dismissal from the chamber by refusing to accept a ruling from the Speaker. On leaving the chamber, all of the SNP members followed him out of the chamber.

In my view the Speaker lost control of events. That he wasn’t able to respond to the developing situation without having the House of Commons clerk continually offer him advice, I thought showed a surprising lack of knowledge of procedure, about which he should know more than members.

Of the SNP’s tactics, a pretty amateurish debating strategy. You can only do this once, so it ought be on a phenomenally important point, and this one isn’t that. I have some sympathy with the SNP not getting a chance to speak in yesterday evening’s debates. But to come up with this pre-planned tactic at PMQ’s – to confect outrage at a perceived slight on the Scottish parliament – while then not recognising the offer of an almost immediate debate on their point by the Speaker, proves P. G Wodehouse’s famous quote,

It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

Keep Windlesham in Surrey Heath Parliamentary constituency

The Boundary Commission for England has issued a report on the Revised proposals for new constituency boundaries in the South East.

The recommendation is that the electoral ward of Windlesham should be moved from Surrey Heath parliamentary constituency to a Windsor constituency. See page 4 of the proposals.

Monday 11th December is the closing date for submissions on this proposal. If you consider this change illogical and unreasonable, then please visit  https://www.bce2018.org.uk/, enter your postcode, click on ‘Make a Comment’ and tell the Boundary Commission why Windlesham should stay in Surrey Heath.

I’ll be submitting my comments today. My arguments will be,

  • Fracturing the longstanding cultural and democratic links between Windlesham and it’s nearest neighbours in Surrey Heath will, over time, drive Windlesham residents to focus on the Windsor constituency and its parliamentary activities.
  • By way of example, here a some of the many cultural and logistical things that Windlesham shares with Lightwater, its nearest Surrey Heath neighbour,
    • church diocesan links and heritage
    • annual remembrance day services, where MP’s, would be misaligned to services
    • Lightwater’s large shopping parade
    • Lightwater’s GP practice serves Windlesham, and it’s a member of Surrey Heath Clinical Commissioning Group
    • Small shared cultural organisations, such as Windlesham Country Market who meet in Lightwater, who might want their MP it officiate at significant dates, may be confused as to which MP to invite.
  • The proposed change will create political representational confusion, where,
    • At Parish council level, Windlesham shares a Parish Council with Lightwater and Bagshot.
    • At Borough Council level, Windlesham ward is in Surrey Heath Borough Council
    • The Surrey County Council ward is Bagshot, Windlesham, and Chobham
    • The Parliamentary constituency is proposed to be Windsor – containing, Windsor & Maidenhead, a large unitary authority in Berkshire.
  • Local government services would continue to be provided by Surrey Heath. Therefore, Surrey Heath’s MP might not unreasonably be expected to be engaged in Windlesham affairs, as the Windsor MP would have for borough/unitary councils engage with, and Windlesham would be the smallest of the constituency wards.
  • Difficulty in travel from Windlesham to a Windsor MP’s constituency office.

Al things considered, moving Windlesham ward into Windsor is illogical, as it involves moving a Surrey County ward into a different county, that of Berkshire.

There’s little cultural or democratic synergy between the Windlesham and Windsor, while Surrey Heath is far closer culturally and democratically to Woking and Rushmoor boroughs. Time to rethink the proposal.

One suggestion might be to join all the military lands together by moving Brookwood, from Woking, into Surrey Heath, where there’s a natural barrier in the route of the Basingstoke Canal. Perhaps, with one of the Ash wards in Surrey Heath moving into into Guildford.

Being a naughty boy in Parliament yesterday

With a party of colleagues, I toured the Houses of Parliament yesterday.

It was informative, instructive, and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s an amazing place, being able to enter the Commons and Lords chambers while Parliament is sitting is special. To see the parliamentary staff prepare the Commons chamber, and being able to speak to them while they’re do so, is a privilege.

Now, to my being a naughty boy. Photography in most of the parliamentary estate is discouraged. It’s allowed in the Central Lobby, well, I think it is. It’s from where the TV reports and interviews occur. I took a photo of the ceiling and chandelier, and then was a bad boy and took a photo in the Members Lobby, strictly against the rules. It was of the statue of the Mrs Thatcher – aka the ‘Blessed Margaret’.

I just about got away with it, and was hoping to take a photo of the statue of Winston Churchill, but frosty looks, and a few people shouting, Tim! Thoughts of dungeons and the Tower crossed my mind.

Do watch Steve Richards’ Leadership Reflections talks on TV

The older readers among you will remember the TV lectures on history, diplomacy and warfare by A J P Taylor. With a map as the background, Taylor stood in front of the camera and expounded his views. These lectures were riveting in their erudition and scope. Other TV lecturers in the same period, Prof Sir Mortimer Wheeler on archaeology, and Lt Gen Sir Brian Horrocks on battles, were as captivating just talking to camera.

This type of TV lecture seems to have gone out of fashion, until now with journalist and columnist Steve Richards’ Leadership Reflections – a series of unscripted talks on the theme of leadership focusing on six prime ministers.

We’ve watched five of the six programmes, only Tony Blair remaining, and have enjoyed Steve Richards talks enormously. Having lived through the era of all six prime ministers his reflections resonated with me.

The, difficult to find, lectures are on the BBC Parliament Channel, and now on they’re on iPlayer, there’s no excuse to not watch them.

Predicted Parliamentary constituency election results at ward level

My dear wife found the Seat Explorer in the Electoral Calculus website, which gives ward by ward predictions for every parliamentary constituency. It’s a well-presented and easy to use resource, and is well worth time, for political nerds, having a wander around.

Below is their ward predictions for the Surrey Heath constituency. I ‘ll compare their predication to the result, and show them both here. [Click on the image to go directly to the website]