Hancock’s Half Page

CHEATING THEIR WAY TO BREXIT.

 

LET’S CALL IT OUT.

 

What a truly dreadful week it has been. What a vindication for those who claim politicians are liars and cheats. I’ve always argued against this lazy generalisation, but some of them have shown that they are this week.

I do not believe that the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, broke his pair “by mistake”.

I do not believe that the President of the United States “misspoke” in Helsinki.

I do believe Vote Leave cheated to win the EU Referendum, and so do the Electoral Commission.

ON WE GO TO BREXIT.

There are slight indications of a move against Brexit in the polls but my summary of the events of this week is as follows. When it comes to the crunch, the hard line Brexiteers are calling the shots. It is an extraordinary considering they are a minority in the Conservative Party, a minority in Parliament and a minority in the country.

Peter Bone and his ilk report outrage at the betrayal of the Chequers Agreement. The anger is coming from grassroot members of the Conservative Party living in the suburbs and rural England, whose average age is 65. They are not representative of the moderate cosmopolitan majority.

The problem is that the majority can’t get their act together because of several reasons. The Remainers and soft Brexiteers in the Tory Party back down when the crunch comes. Labour Remainers are trapped by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They are actually Leavers believing in the freedom to subsidise failing industries against the EU’s State Aid rules. The Lib Dems, who should be doing far better in the polls with their Exit from Brexit campaign, are not cutting through. They were not helped by the absence from a crucial EU vote this week of both the current and former leaders.

MAY CARRIES ON.

I have always believed in the resilience of Theresa May when most commentators were predicting her demise.

The fact is as we go into the summer recess that she has got through the Commons, the major bills to implement Brexit. There is no sign of the 48 letters requesting a Tory leadership contest, still less evidence that 159 Tory MPs would vote against her in an election she would intend to fight.

The truth has always been that she is best placed to be in charge through this nightmare process and then she will disappear in a welter of criticism from Remainers and Leavers as the country descends into chaos and economic downturn when we are out of the EU.

POOR OLD BUSINESS.

Meanwhile business lives with the thing it hates most, uncertainty. But we are already paying a heavy price for this madness. Investment decisions being put on hold, talented Europeans leaving our university research teams and pharmaceutical companies spending millions setting up European plants to wastefully duplicate drug testing facilities in anticipation of a hard Brexit.

HERE COMES SUMMER.

I may have got this wrong, but I have the impression that everyone involved in the negotiations are going on holiday. They all talk about time running out and the crunch coming in October as if August didn’t exist.

Politicians and civil servants need to scrap their holidays and get on with the detailed talks over the most critical issue this country has faced since 1945.

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NO DEAL, A REAL POSSIBILITY.

 

DOG’S BREXITFAST.

The White Paper and the Chequers Deal are a dog’s breakfast not a basis for Brexit. It is highly unlikely the EU is going to accept its “cake and eat it” approach. They may be bribed by losing the £39 divorce bill but will probably conclude that the fearsome complexity of it all and the breaches it would make with regard to customs and freedom of movement, make it impossible to do a deal.

We are stepping up “No Deal” preparations. A minister admitted this week they included massive new lorry parks at Dover. So, we can now see in plain sight the reckless stupidity of it all, but that is the way we are heading. This is how a No Deal Brexit may happen.

The Prime Minister now has a Cabinet signed up to her unworkable compromise. Reined against her are at least 60 Tory MPs in the European Reform Group, large sections of grassroots activists, the opposition parties (Labour MPs have refused to be picked off) and very likely the EU, European Parliament and 27-member states.

The EU, and the German Chancellor in particular, know how difficult it has been for Mrs May to get this far but nevertheless it is almost certain Europe will want further concessions from the UK.

Mrs May will not be able to concede anymore, the Brexiteers have no plan and there is no agreement in parliament for anything else. Thus, we go over the cliff edge on World Trade Organisation terms, the lorries start queueing at Dover and tension starts to rise on the hard Irish border.

There is an answer, to ask the people what they think. People’s experience of the last two years of shambles may have made them wiser. Labour is inching towards this position following Unite’s conversion to the cause. We shall see.

GOOD RIDDANCE JOHNSON.

Lord Carrington died within 24 hours of Boris Johnson quitting as Foreign Secretary. Carrington honourably resigned in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. He was a decent man who held the office with distinction. Johnson was the polar opposite. His flippant style, lack of attention to detail and blatant disloyalty to the Prime Minister must make him one of the worst holders of this distinguished post. He is also a coward. He got out of the country when the Heathrow vote took place and sheepishly followed David Davis in resigning.

His political stock has been damaged even amongst those that were drawn to his “patriotic” buffoonery”. He will probably try and head up an opposition movement to May but might find her more strong and stable than he imagines.

NEW CABINET.

Jeremy Hunt will restore dignity to the office of Foreign Secretary. It has been good to see someone left to get on with the job for several years. Let’s hope the energetic Matt Hancock now tackles the issue of elderly care with vigour.

Chris Grayling was lucky to stay on as Transport Secretary. He would probably have gone in a more planned Cabinet shakeup.

It’s a good job Tatton’s Esther McVey has managed to survive her problem with the “actualite” over universal benefits, because she is the only full Cabinet Minister with a northern constituency. Eleven represent seats in the South East.

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CHEQUERS MATE.

 

ANOTHER SHOOT OUT

As a write the nation is holding its breath for the second time this week. After the penalty drama in Russia, we now await the result of the Chequers shoot out over Brexit. The difference is that a result can’t be guaranteed in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

We may at last get a UK position on which the Cabinet are agreed. We may get spectacular resignations from Brexiteers like Johnson and Gove which would be a good thing. Or it may be another case of kicking the can down the road. There is a suggestion that this is a deliberate policy of the Prime Minister which she could carry on until the autumn. The idea being to confront the hard-line Brexiteers with the impossibility of what they are demanding. If so it is high risk and deeply worrying for business.

Almost daily large companies are expressing their anxiety. The way some members of this supposedly pro-business government dismiss these concerns is truly astonishing. The conclusion has to be that companies can no longer rely on government for a coherent and stable economic environment when they have to choose between sneering Tory Brexiteers and Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell pledged to end capitalism.

HOW CORNY!

Jacob Rees Mogg, who is normally associated with the eighteenth century, became almost contemporary (for him) this week when he raised the spectre of the nineteenth century Corn Law crisis to try and force Mrs May into a hard-line Brexit. Bury born Conservative leader Sir Robert Peel split the Tory Party by reforming the Corn Laws that had protected farmers and left Ireland starving. Mogg thinks May is in danger of doing the same now over Brexit. He then points out the reformed Conservative Party was out of office for nearly thirty years, (note that Brexit is all about Conservative internal politics).

What he fails to mention is that by breaking with its past, for reactionary farmers now read Brexiteers, the Conservative Party embraced the emerging middle class and since 1874 has become the most successful political party in the democratic world. Mrs May should now split the party if necessary, cast off the Brexit extremists and embrace young voters who largely want to either Remain or have a close sensible relationship with the EU.

BREXIT EFFECT ON THE NORTH.

Brexit was one of the topics at a Heseltine Institute conference in Liverpool this week. There was a lot on the agenda and I will return to the performance of metro mayors and devolution in future blogs. For now, I’ll focus on the discussion on the Brexit damage we could face in the North. The Heseltine Institute said the impact was already being felt with growth 2% down and people facing the prospect of being £700 a year worse off under a soft Brexit and £850 under a harder version.

The North was vulnerable because it depended more on EU trade than the South although London too could be hit if a deal is not struck on business services.

The academics proposed a damage limitation exercise involving more devolution, a national spatial strategy and a campaign to convince people in Leave “left behind” areas of the virtues of immigration.

I challenged this concept and remain unconvinced by the answer I received. My concern is that many people voted Leave because their communities had been changed too quickly by immigration and labour markets distorted particularly by Eastern Europeans. Elite academics lecturing them is not a solution.

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NORTHERN POWERHOUSE DERAILED

THE RHETORIC AND THE REALITY

The key question for the Northern Powerhouse concept is this, how can all the fancy talk about vision for the future economic prosperity of the North have any credibility when chaos and suffering is the every day experience of train and car drivers?

I was looking forward to hearing Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, speak at a major transport conference I attended this week in Manchester. He didn’t turn up because the government chose to hold the vote on the third runway at Heathrow on Monday. Two things about that. The debate didn’t have to be on Monday and the symbolism of yet another major London transport project getting the Transport Secretary’s attention ahead of coming north seems to have escaped him.

At least Grayling was present for the Heathrow vote. Boris Johnson’s escape to Afghanistan when he had promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop the runway being built, must surely have irreparably damaged this buffoon’s chances of being Prime Minister.

Government presentation managers might think they are being clever by convenient management of Ministers diaries, but they aren’t. Grayling’s replacement at the conference Baroness Sugg is the aviation minister. She spoke for ten minutes, wouldn’t take questions and left. It says it all.

Northern Rail also ducked the conference. Its boss, David Brown, has been a rising star in the northern transport world. His reputation is now in jeopardy.

The various absentees left an open goal for the mayors of the two North West Metro Regions. Steve Rotheram said people could be driven off the trains for good. The Liverpool Metro mayor turned his attention to Network Rail. Their failure to complete the electrification of the Manchester-Blackpool line was a key factor in the chaos. He said their structure was opaque and not fit for purpose.

Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) said a Mayoral Transport Board had been set up with Network Rail and Highways England to try to bring some accountability but then he came to the central point of all this. How can the Northern Powerhouse have credibility when this chaos is going on? Burnham said the progress of four years ago was going backwards.

Although there are many organisations to blame for the intolerable rail chaos that seems to be easing at last, the buck stops with the government. Whitehall has failed the North over transport for decades over investment in electrification, coaches and stations. Northern Powerhouse devolution has given some responsibility to Transport for the North and Transport for Greater Manchester, but the Transport Secretary is still involved in major decisions like cancelling electrification between Manchester and Leeds and the Ordsall Curve scandal. The promised platform improvements at Piccadilly were cancelled by Mr Grayling, massively reducing the effectiveness of the new link to Victoria station.

There are suggestions the rail chaos will rumble on until November when the inquiry into the fiasco will report. What’s the betting that the report will just lead to buck passing when what we need is urgent action before the Northern Powerhouse becomes an empty joke.

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