Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach

Here is a picture of Leo Varadkar who is set to succeed Enda Kenny and become Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister. In 2015, he came out as gay, boosting the yes campaign for same sex marriage. His father is Indian and his mother Irish and the whole family, including his rather dashing partner Dr Matt Barrett, all seems to be involved in Medicine. Indeed, Leo was a GP before he went on to become a councillor and stand for election to the parliament. Assuming the opposition does not block Leo’s accession to the Taoiseach, he will be the second openly gay Prime minister in Europe. His party’s power is fairly fragile but we need friends in Ireland if we are to make the Northern Ireland border work following Brexit.

leo VARADKAR by TIm.jpg

 

Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

Varoufakis is wrong

Austerity and class warfare

I like Yanis Varoufakis even if he has chosen to spell his name in an idiosyncratic way. I like his enthusiasm and his style. I like his motorbike and I am personally indebted to his party for giving me time when facing serious problems in Greece in the early part of this century. His party, certainly before they got power, understood their role then in and to society in a way that the established parties of Pasok and New Democracy did not.

Nevertheless, for all my respect, it does not mean I think he is right! And as Yanis would have to admit, there is a big difference between what might be done in theory and what must be done in practice.

A while back, Varoufakis was quoted in the Independent suggesting that “Austerity” is actually a form of class-warfare. While Varoufakis is actually quoting Noam Chomsky (unacknowledged incidentally, or are they really joined at the hip?), his claim remains simplistic and at best, it merely acknowledges that, as a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis thinks class-conflict ought to play a role in the way economic policy has been dictated simply because Marxism says it plays a role in the way history develops. If there is class conflict in recent Austerity programmes then I suspect that is entirely incidental. I think, though, that it is also a bit rich coming from a man with a degree of domestic comfort that makes Mr Corbyn’s tax return look modest.

The poor have suffered from Austerity. That is quite true, but that alone does not make Austerity itself a “class war”. It simply means that Austerity causes casualties and that, as a remedy to the current economic crisis, the Austerity package is not properly thought through. “Austerity” is probably badly named anyway – it is not about being frugal with the national or international economy; it is about reducing public expenditure at a time when we are spending more than we are making. High debt, in other words, is recognised as an impediment to growth and should be curtailed. One way to do this is to increase taxation and the other is to decrease public spending. In fact, while claiming to be pursuing a policy of Austerity until 2015, our Government did not actually reduce public spending by much at all. (and there is an argument that the Government simply abandoned Austerity in 2012 and that this led to our recovery whatever the rhetoric. It again, rather suggests that “Austerity” does not work.)

Greece

In the case of Greece, Austerity has pretty-well destroyed the country, (the debt has gone up rather than down so proving that Austerity was the wrong medicine for the illness) but arguably the greatest destruction has been to impose an Austerity programme from outside and so to compromise Greece’s sovereignty and National self-esteem. To make matters worse, it was imposed by Germany -a country that benefited from debt cancellations after the war. Her post-war growth can be directly attributed to that. More than that, Greece was among the countries that cancelled the debts Germany owed it (one can think of the Viannos and Kalavryta massacres or of the 218 men, women and children slaughtered in Distomo, for example, in 1944 or indeed of the demand, in 1942, for the Greek bank to give Germany an interest-free loan of 476 million Reichsmarks which was used to pay for the military occupation of Greece?) on the understanding that a conference would be held after the reunification of Germany. That conference never happened and the debt Germany owed Greece was never paid (though Germany paid Greek individuals about 115 million Deutschmarks. If repaid now, the total debt to Greece would amount to between $14-$95 billion depending on the way it is calculated. The Syriza government calculated the amount to be 341 billion euros). If Greece had been allowed to devalue its currency, and had been given some form of debt forgiveness, then it would not have had to reduce public spending so suddenly and relentlessly. In practice, this process was interpreted both within Greece and by the International community as a punishment and has stifled growth. No one wants to sit with the naughty boy in the corner.

“Austerity” alone was not the problem. It was the way Austerity was imposed and the failure to keep the government fully on board which explains the problem. In Greece, a series of governments, from PASOK, new democracy to Syriza, has always pandered to its core vote. In the case of Syriza, that is the retired and current civil servants- hence bizzare pension reforms, a reluctance to cut public expense as well as a rise in unreasonable taxes (for instance, while public employees have remained fairly secure, the Self-employed have been penalised- Insurance contributions today often exceed half the monthly earnings and all private businesses are now expected to pay 29% of next year’s earnings! There are instances where the self-employed have to pay up to 70% of their income in taxes and insurance. It is unfair and completely absurd as it simply encourages tax evasion, bankruptcy and prologued unemployment because smaller businesses can no longer afford to take on staff).

Question time

On Question time, Varoufakis identified a number of tax issues in the past that may have needed clarification but certainly do not point to a class war. “To be talking about reducing the state further when effectively what you are doing is reducing taxes like inheritance tax and at the same time you are cutting benefits – that is class war.” A reduction in both corporation and income tax stimulates investment.

keynes 2.jpgThis is, at heart, something proposed by Keynes, even if it is often quoted by people on the Right and even if what most people remember about Keynes is his third option that Governments should borrow money and spend it. President Bush told Congress years’ ago, “To create economic growth and opportunity, we must put money back into the hands of the people who buy goods and create jobs.” Even so, it is worth noting that while reducing the amount of tax paid at the higher end, the Coalition Government was responsible also for raising the tax threshold in 2011, (helping the poor) and I think on principle there are some very solid reasons why we should cut taxes overall -cutting tax for both the rich and the poor, a principle incidentally that is absolutely the sort of thing Mrs Thatcher advocated.

Putting this into practice, though, is tough and events often get in the way of ideology and principles.

Ideal business policy

There are two ways to run a business. To employ as few people as necessary and pay them as much as you can or to employ as many people as possible and pay them each as little as is legally necessary. I much prefer the first model and I have seen the second model in action in both Greece and Russia. It is strikingly obvious that people who are not paid what they are worth, or who are not inspired or encouraged to do the most they can, are frustrated and unhappy. Yet exactly this second model has been rolled out with tremendous success recently in Turkey. A call went out to small businesses to employ more people and, so far, over 1 million workers have moved from welfare to work at minimum wage, with the Government topping up insurance contributions and tax. Once again, one size does not fit all. What might work in Turkey is unlikely to work here, but we should admire Erdogan’s direct appeal to a sense of National Responsibility.

Ideal taxation

Austerity is about a choice between increasing taxation or reducing public spending. I think there is a third way: I think we can reform public spending and also, at the same time, reduce tax.

We should look at what Turkey is doing and be inspired- because we also need our own sense of National Responsibility: specifically, we need to address the ways we collect tax and how we spend the money we get.

So, firstly, we need to recognise the principle that people of all backgrounds should keep as much of the money they earn. As I mentioned, that is something that was dear to the heart of Mrs T and I think it remains a worthy goal. (I was recently told that as a foreigner working in a State university in Russia, I should be taxed at a higher rate than nationals; indeed, I should pay twice the tax. Astonishing! It was made much worse to learn this after a very small amount was paid into my bank account. “I thought you knew” is not really an adequate explanation.) It still seems to be the case that individuals use money more wisely than large institutions and the higher the taxes, the less investment there seems to be, the less incentive there is. We need to look again at incentives to invest in public works.

I think Varoufakis is confused, because there are a number of models that support the principle of reducing tax, mostly to the rich- the laffer curve, beloved of Reagan, which suggests that taxable income changes in response to the percentage taxed, and so allows for the possibility that the less percentage we tax, the more people earn and so in theory, the amount the Government receives would be pretty much the same while the trickle down theory (which suggests favouring the rich ultimately benefits the poor) sounds patronising. In the end, the only moral approach is to reduce taxation overall. But part of that approach must involve a reduction in VAT. VAT is about not class-warfare. It is indifferent to class but it hurts the poor more.

By offering tax cuts to both rich and poor, George Osborne was not quite following the principles of Austerity, but rather reviving Thatcher’s moral vision- to reduce taxation as a whole. He was finally applauded by M. Lagarde who said, “At the IMF we have learned that there is no single best way to reduce the fiscal deficit. We clearly underestimated the growth of the UK economy in our forecasts a year ago.”

Secondly, we need to look at both the health service and social security because both systems are spiralling out of control; as we live longer, both long-term health-care as well as welfare dependency cannot be sustained in the present form. We know that is a problem with the current system, but there is also a problem with the way the system deals with those who fall outside the norm- I think it is appalling that we can see homelessness in Britain today, and it is appalling that many people struggle to access a proper doctor outside office hours. We have been seduced into thinking that one size fits all: it does not. We need to have a number of parallel systems -where one system might pick up what the other leaves behind. So, as we need to look again at welfare and health, both currently failing, we are not to embracing class warfare. Quite the reverse and we have a limited time to get this right. We must do more of this, not less.

Bureaucracy

The quick fixes of the last twenty years have, in effect, increased the number of bureaucrats who have managed a form of hybrid care that is neither genuinely private nor fully public. Bureaucracy is an attractive way to put a problem on hold because it is about passing the buck, but every new department that is created adds to the overall bill we must still pay. And in the end, the problem still needs to be addressed.

bureaucracy by TIM.jpg

We need to reign back the Bureaucrats. And what an opportunity we have: just once in a lifetime, there is an event that will actually decrease the numbers of bureaucrats- because Brexit will cull their numbers in Brussels, so we should be careful not to create yet another class of bureaucrats to replace the ones we are “letting go”.

Attracting clever people to generate clever solutions

If we want to improve social equality, then we also have to find both the money to pay for it and the people to run our schemes more imaginatively. We need to do that through an efficient tax system. Our progressive tax system, as it stands, incidentally already taxes the rich more than the poor, but VAT remains a scourge: it is a fairly inflexible tax that hits everyone and hits the poor more than the rich; it is something that we inherited from the EU, even if a rudimentary version of VAT was once introduced here during the war.

We need to attract top business brains to get us out of this mess. We cannot do that if they know they will be penalised themselves by a punitive tax system. (How would they react when they look at their first month’s pay? “I thought you knew” is no way to command confidence) We need to reduce tax overall not increase it, and that is an aim we should nurture across the board. Lower tax means an incentive to invest. Lower tax means attracting the right people who will devise systems that work!

Whether we like it or not, the coming Brexit will create a Government spending spree that would make both Keynes and Michał Kalecki smirk. But that should really be where it stops. Kalecki has emerged from the shadows of post war Poland to be cited both as an inspiration for Keynes and Varoufakis as well as a solution to our current woes. It is from Kalecki that we get the perfidious idea that a tax on the rich might help us. It will simply drive the rich away. The French have tried it. It does not work!

Brexit is change. And change is a chance for new ideas to emerge. It is no time to drive people away, but to invite them to contribute to the new reality of a post-Brexit Britain.

Part of the process of inviting people into Britain to help us and keeping the best people here is getting our taxation system right.

Some clarification:

  1. Rather than a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis calls himself an “erratic” Marxist. So I am being a bit coy here. I should be more direct.
  2. I think the point of this article is a bit lost. (a) Austerity is a fairly aggressive treatment and like chemotherapy, it can cause damage and is often not effective. It does not seem to have been effective in Britain and it has been deeply destructive in Greece and Brazil. But the principle of reducing debt is perfectly sound. It is simply about how it is done. (b) Varoufakis’ claim that “Austerity is class warfare” has become a mantra of the left. In fact, austerity budgets in France and Italy have imposed surcharges on those with incomes over 500,000 and 300,000 euros. Hardly an attack on the poor, but I think equally not a very effective source of revenue.
  3.  I did not address the issue of “retribution”: a theory that says the rich should be taxed more as a punishment for causing the banking crisis. In fact, over 40% of British do not pay any income tax (23 million people) so the burden of taxation has already shifted towards the richer Brits and the top 3,000 earners here (that is 0.01% of the total paying income tax in the UK) contribute 4.2% to total Government revenue as calculated in 2013. At the time the Treasury said, “The rich pay more under this Government than under Labour. The people who pay zero tax are the millions of low earners who have been taken out of paying income tax altogether due to George Osborne increasing the tax free personal allowance.” Across the Atlantic, the richest 1% of Americans pay 1/4 federal tax and nearly 40% income tax. So much for taxation. As spending cuts, however, hit the poor more than they hit the rich, the aim should be to restructure public spending rather than to cut it.
  4. Varoufakis, incidentally, I understand, also wants to reduce VAT. We agree on that of course! He is not so wrong after all.

Three Last Things

Three issues have dominated this week. The first is the vote in the House of Lords that frankly at this stage comes across as self-indulgent and posturing, and the second is the continued failure of Mr Corbyn. I think the two things are linked. It is, of course, Corbyn who should have questioned whether the Government’s current approach to Brexit is “unreal and optimistic”, but it fell to Sir John Major to make that point and in those words. In both cases, of the Lords and Corbyn, there is a manifestation of ideology over realism, and this is not good for the way we are seen in Europe. At  a time when we need to be united and strong, we look divided and weak. That brings me to the third point which is “Indy 2” and Nicola Sturgeon’s flirtation with yet another referendum.

A change is always an opportunity for a fresh start. I wish more had been achieved between Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon at the beginning of Mrs May’s premiership. But when article 50 is triggered that is also a significant change and a time once again to mend fences and move forward. I hope we are ready for that and Mrs May has shown with her visit to the US that she is ready to bite the bullet! Certainly, there is an opportunity to think of flexibility in the way Brexit is implemented across the UK and Nicola Sturgeon’s recommendations should perhaps be taken seriously. At the same time, her threats to break up the Kingdom are foolish because she cheapens what amounts to a solution by tying it too strongly to the tails of her Independence kite.

nicola sturgeon

As for the EU citizenship thing-

For what it is worth, I think we should have offered unilateral residency to all EU citizens currently in the UK and it should not have been dependent on what Mrs Merkel agreed or thought. The Lords agrees with me, now, though my argument has actually hardly been mentioned- specifically I have argued that granting citizenship now effectively offers no more than is already on the table, but it signals so much more and it provides security. It is the right thing to do. Because, by the time Brexit is negotiated and implemented, almost all those here on the date of the referendum would have qualified anyway for British residency, assuming they have collected the relevant paperwork. I also think, incidentally, such an offer would have established a claim to the moral high-ground, would have been a show of goodwill at a time when there is already and going to be a good deal of nastiness and would have put pressure on Brussels to match our goodwill removing this issue from the negotiations. We could not be blamed for using people as leverage, and we could have got on with the important issues of how we will do trade and politics together. There are better things to negotiate than this issue of citizenship and we need all the goodwill we can muster to get the best deal. More to the point, while I am mindful of the 900,000 Brits abroad, the fact remains that they are spread over diverse countries each with its own naturalisation processes. The EU does not have a “one-size fits all” approach to granting citizenship. For example, in Greece, citizenship might well come packaged with demands for military conscription. We would have done well to have set the terms for this debate, but we missed that opportunity. Whatever the Lords recommend at this stage is all a bit late and it looks shabby. If this offer was to have been on the table at all, to be effective, it needed to have been divorced from Mrs May’s triggering of article 50.

Bluntly, whether an undertaking by Britain now to grant unilateral citizenship to 3 million EU residents when or just after we trigger article 50, amounts to much the same thing and Theresa May is right: At this stage, it must become part of the package of Article 50 negotiations, because that is how it will now be perceived. We missed the boat. The ideologues were too late and quite simply, in pressing the issue at this stage, they have weakened the argument.

There is a time for action, and that time passed a while ago!

So, while I support the idea, that is what it should remain. A great idea, and one that should indeed have been enacted nearly 6 months’ ago. But it is too late now.

corbyn-tim

Mr Corbyn suffers from the same nonsense. He does not know when to speak and when to shut up. Of course, he should have been more vigorous in leading his party against Brexit. He was not. And as a follow-on, of course, he should not have whipped the same MPs who followed his pathetic lead in arguing to Remain into now supporting for the Brexit bill. It is not that his support of the bill or his lack of support would have seriously damaged its passing through the chamber, anyway, but his job is to challenge the government to present the best possible case, to make our legislation more robust. Instead, he thinks he imagines he is still on some sort of activist campaign. Mr Corbyn seems to have given up his effective role in the commons- if he cannot govern, maybe he thinks, and even he must recognise that he will never be Prime Minister, then he might have concluded that it is not really worth the effort at all. He is wrong and he is arrogant: he thinks there is something noble about the idea of contra mundum, but this King Canute approach to politics is simply stupid. Politics is about getting things done- governing the Polis, the city. It is entirely practical. It is not the slogans of the banners of protest that matter- it is the quality of the debate that Corbyn leads that dictates the way policies are defined- and he has long-since abandoned that responsibility. A shame because it is actually the one job he might have done well. As a result, other peoples and groups, whether they be the Ken Clarke’s, (Wonderland!) the Judges or the Lords have taken on the job Corbyn demonstrates he is incapable of doing- the debate on Brexit has shifted, therefore, to an unsightly squabble with the House of Lords. It is unnecessary. Good debate is about raising the issues that matter before they hit us. Today, when we should be controlling the Brexit issue, instead, because of Corbyn’s arrogance, we are increasingly reacting to events as they hit us. If the debate does not take place in the proper forum, it moves elsewhere. Paul Drechsler, the President of the CBI who should have been on board the Brexit bus, was left to observe recently that he feared the PM would open “a Pandora’s Box of economic consequences.” There is another vote coming that many Lords think is more important than the issue of the EU Citizens here (and note the numbers 3 million to 900,000: in terms of parity, it simply does not add up, but there we are! This is about principle not some sort of straight-forward tit-for-tat) — that parliament should be given the chance to veto whatever is agreed by the negotiating teams, so once again all a bit late, and why would anyone want to enter negotiations with the fear that everything will be rejected anyway- not by one of the 27 countries in the EU but by our own parliament! It is madness. But once again it confirms that because Corbyn has failed to do his duty, others, including two of our recent Prime ministers feel they must take over and do it. They are all playing catch-up, they are washing our dirty-linen in public and it is all too undignified. The man responsible for this mess is Mr Corbyn- he is not only messing up the Labour party- he is seriously damaging our Government and our reputation at a time when we need to pull together.

Vague and woolly

Today, the Guardian writes more on its campaign to get Mrs May to grant residence to EU Nationals in the UK. It is an issue, I think, that we have already mismanaged and may continue to do so.

In fact, we have very little to lose and much to gain. Here is the calculation: if it only takes 5 years to qualify for UK citizenship, then taking into consideration the 9 months we will have already had, after two years of negotiation, and a further 2 years of transition, almost all EU nationals resident here when the referendum took place,  would qualify anyway to stay. An announcement at this stage, therefore, simply shows our good-intent. Signally, the process of applying for full-time residence in other EU countries is by no means as simple.

In other words, if someone currently here as an EU national, wants to stay, the opportunity is available; if someone does not have all the paperwork now, they will have it in a few years’ time. To offer unilateral residence is simply to bypass that process, but it shows goodwill and that is sorely tested at the moment. We need that goodwill.

Of course, the 85-page document that is currently being used by the Home Office is both confusing and off-putting and I am sure a much simpler, stream-lined application process could be developed: anything that cuts unnecessary bureaucracy cuts further expense.

Meanwhile, Do-gooders on the left wring their hands in despair at our lack of progress, but the Guardian also goes on to record the thoughts of ms in’t Veld – on the face of it, this is an important intervention by a Dutch MEP but here is what was actually written:

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who is leading a European parliament taskforce investigating the residency issue, said the UK government had acted “immorally” in failing to offer security to those who had made Britain their home.

“We are receiving so many emails every day from people in the UK and elsewhere worried about the future that we cannot answer them individually,” she said. “This is immoral. And if this leaked document is right, then it has backfired.”

sophies-choice-int-veld-by-timIt is a bit rich for Ms in’t Veld to point the finger and say we have behaved immorally or that our schemes have “backfired” – when the EU is open to the self-same charges! This may be about our failure to offer residence to EU citizens in the UK but Mr Junker, equally and signally, has failed, thus far, to offer any comparable residence to British subjects currently living in the EU. Indeed, to make matters worse, Mr Junker has actually allowed what amounts to threats today to be issued by an EU committee. And while there is a gathering clan of elected officials militating for EU nationals to be granted residence here, I note no similar clamour in Europe to promote the cause of our own UK nationals there.

Jean-Claude Juncker

When it comes down to parity, maybe Mrs May’s caution is justified because there is nothing positive in what the EU proposes.

This is what the European parliament’s committee on legal affairs is suggesting-  that Britons resident abroad will find their position increasingly difficult:

“specific entitlements acquired validly in the past” – such as a pension or ownership of a property – may continue to apply, “it cannot … be considered that a person who is no longer an EU citizen will have unrestricted rights to live, work and study in the EU, or benefit from social security arrangements such as reciprocal healthcare entitlements, unless specific provisions are made.”

But I do not think this is about parity. It is about what Mr Cameron would have said was “doing the right thing.” The moral prize is still there for the taking but the failure to demonstrate good-will  on both sides is a worrying indication of the way negotiations might go after March. If nobody yet has the courage to take the moral high-ground on this, what will follow is nastiness.

At the end of the article, the Home office is quoted thus:

“This government has been clear that we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.

“The prime minister has reiterated the need for an agreement as soon as possible as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union. EU nationals do not require any additional documents to prove their status.”

It all looks very worrying.

We should really be capable of making a distinction between what is morally right, what is politically expedient and what is legally binding. In this instance, it is probable that we will draw three different conclusions about the same issue. What worries me is that both the Home office and the EU are ignoring the first category – the moral case is not about a negotiation or about a trade; it is an absolute commitment to care about those who have made their home among us.

Silence is Golden

The Anglican Church will learn, I hope, the harsh lesson the Catholic Church has finally begun to understand, that to interfere too much in the daily minutiae of political debate is to produce a contradictory, confused and ultimately meaningless flood of well-intentioned platitudes. There comes a time when what is said is simply ignored or rejected. The present Pope is indeed experiencing this- He is not necessarily saying the wrong things- he is simply reaping the whirlwind set in motion by his predecessors and his world-wide congregation has tired or what he is talking about.

It is really better to keep quiet.

justin-welby-by-tim-wilson

Today, Archbishop Justin Welby condemns the government for reneging on a decision never taken, namely to accept 3000 children as refugees to the UK. Of course, I warmly encourage our councils and our country to open their arms to these children and to refugees of all ages, but I recognise that there must always be a difference between what we want to do and the way we allocate the resources we have available.

Last year, about this time, the Archbishop made an extraordinary statement that it was not racist to complain about migration. I thought he was utterly wrong then and I still think so now, but his pronouncement today seems to be completely contradictory. The only logical conclusion is that, in the absence of a credible opposition in the House of Commons, the Archbishop has taken it on himself to play the role so resolutely abandoned by Jeremy Corbyn. Sadly, this is not the office to which the Archbishop has been appointed.

This is what he said last year:

He said that to be anxious about “one of the greatest movements of people in human history” was “very reasonable”. He added: “There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.” This was noted to echo the claim that “it is not racist to impose limits on immigration”

At the time, there was a good deal written about the difference between a refugee and a migrant, though in fact that distinction is a legal one, requires a lengthy process, and is rarely established at the border.

welby

But this is what he said this year, today:

“Our country has a great history of welcoming those in need, particularly the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children.

“Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings made in the image of God who deserve safety, freedom and the opportunity to flourish. Jesus commands us to care for the most vulnerable among us.”

“I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this decision, and work with church groups and others to find a sustainable and compassionate solution that allows those most in need to find sanctuary in our country.”

I agree with the sentiments he expresses but his own U-turn is astonishing. Ironically, the Coventry Telegraph headlines its article on this subject: Archbishop of Canterbury criticises U-turn on child refugees scheme. Something here about the pot and the kettle!

Leave the talking to someone else.

There is an opportunity to question the Government’s decision, my Lord Archbishop, but not with this dodgy track-record. It is simply unbelievable and it cheapens the debate.

The Immigration Act 2016

Lord Dubs helped to amend the Immigration Act last year to allow a number of unaccompanied children to come to the UK as refugees and to be settled in local councils here. So far, 200 children have arrived under the terms allowed and a further 150 are due shortly. 700 who came to be re-united with their families are already here. The aim, said Lord Dubs, was to help about 3000 children. This number was, however, never formally agreed by Parliament.

In fact, the UK has taken nearly 5000 Syrian refugees, including a great number of children so it would be wrong to overstate, as Lord Dubs does today, that the Government is “shutting the door on some of the most vulnerable refugee children”.

I have no doubt we could do more.

More than that, I have great respect for Lord Dubs who was very generous with his time when we were fighting Necati’s adversaries in the Greek navy. I also deeply respect his background as one of Nicky Winton’s kindertransport children. He knows from personal experience about “vulnerable refugee children” and he is right to urge that we do more. He is wrong, however, to be too prescriptive.

I am afraid, therefore, that the story appearing in the Press today is a bit of a paper tiger, designed by the newspapers to stir up trouble rather than to provide solutions. In a time when racism and islamophobia are daily on our doorstep, it serves no purpose to put such a negative slant on the statement by Robert Goodwill.Robert Goodwell is not issuing a Trumpist decree! I also have no doubt that Mrs May agrees we should keep doing all we can to help those dispossessed who turn to us for assistance but –  there cannot be a single solution.

This is, in fact, the flip-side to the labour amendments put forward unsuccessfully to the Article 50 bill. Amendment 6 was fine in principle but 8 was utterly absurd. Both amendments were calculated to cause maximum political chaos and neither really was, therefore, realistic. I am pleased the issue of granting citizenship to current resident EU citizens, however, is being voiced properly, but like the refugee crisis, there is a difference between what can be agreed politically and what is simply a moral fact. It does not and should not take an act of Parliament to make a moral decision.

Moreover, I believe to tie the future of EU citizens to negotiations after triggering Article 50 runs the risk of seeing these people as nothing more than pawns in a giant game of chicken. We are infinitely better than that.

dubs1

So, when the Bishop of Croydon says, “The Dubs amendment, as Alf Dubs originally put it forward, proposed a commitment to 3,000 children and ministers signalled that the Government would abide by the spirit of the original amendment. There is a huge question over how about 400 is in the spirit of 3,000,” the fact remains that the commitment to take 3000 children was never agreed to be part of the law. That may have been the proposal. It was never the law. And more importantly, bashing on about numbers like this, we run the risk of scuppering any goodwill at all.

Goodwill is bigger than bureaucracy and I worry that we often miss the point trying too hard to cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s.

Maybe clause six but never clause eight!

There is a thing going round Westminster today called “the wrecking amendment” and it wrecks in two ways. Firstly, if it goes through, it will seriously damage the chances of triggering article 50 (which may well be the intention) and secondly, it assumes a power to which Parliament has no right. The “wrecking” amendment is not clause 6 which rightly, in my opinion, states that EU nationals living in the UK should be guaranteed the right to live here. The labour amendment, however, suggests (I think wrongly) that this right should be guaranteed on the date that Article 50 is triggered.

Instead, I think these rights should be unilaterally accepted before we even enter into negotiations. This approach represents a mark of good-will, a moral standard and a commitment to the wider concept of European integration that I trust the referendum will never scupper. Indeed, despite news today that Mr Farage’s marriage is on the rocks, he led the way in marrying a German national, setting out in quite domestic terms, a commitment to European identity that seemed at odds with his vigorous campaign against the power of Brussels. Of course, I do not share most of Mr Farage’s views, assumptions or political ambitions, but I know that on a personal level he has proven to be a good man and he remains one of the best speakers in the UK. Indeed, I have heard him praised by members of our own Conservative cabinet, who point to his personal discretion and his sense of honour. this is to say nothing about my reservations about his brand of demagogy and his confusion of democracy and populism but when Mr Farage finally retires and where, we will be the poorer for it when he is fully eclipsed by the dreadful people currently taking on the leadership of UKIP.

And here is the core of the “wrecking amendment” because it is put forward by people who think a statement is more important than a credible achievement. King Canute was a twit. He was in his own way quite as mad as King Lear raging against the elements on the moor. Words are just words if they can never be translated into actions, but more than that, words are a record of what we should do, and they can cripple progress if they are actually proven to be meaningless. I salute clause 6 with reservations, but I hope clause 8 will be fully rejected as the absurdity and arrogance that it represents. It is silly to bind the EU to accept both article 50 and clause 8! It makes the whole thing a joke and that is how it will be seen. More than that, I do not really think it will not wreck the Brexit plan. It simply makes us look unrealistic.It puts us in the same boat as Varoufakis- teasing an entire contin ent with some sort of limp gamesmanship. It did notwork for Varoufakis. I cannot see it working for us.

yiannis

Clause 6 should be a moral statement, and nothing at all to do with the Brexit treaty negotiations. It should be a Statement of our National Integrity. To place clause 6 in the context of article 50, or to balance clause 6 with clause 8 is no more than Mrs May is already planning- to negotiate a frankly demeaning tit for tat deal on the care of our respective nationals living abroad. What folly!

The matter of EU Citizens in the UK

I am delighted that this issue is receiving more and more attention and support. I hope the Prime Minister will take note and act appropriately. If Mr Junker and his cohorts wish to bargain with people’s lives in this way, we in the UK should make it clear that there is a moral high ground and we have taken it. I am astonished m. Junker did not seize such ground himself but I am deeply disheartened that Mrs May has, even now, left it so long.

We need to reassure EU citizens resident here at the time of the Referendum that, whatever the outcome of future negotiations with the EU, we acknowledge and confirm that their faith in Britain was not and will not be misplaced.

Here are my scribbles during the lunchtime news a few minutes ago. I am afraid I am so busy with Edward Lear, he has crept into this page anyway… Apologies.

david-davis-brexit-by-tim