Undemocratic MPs who want to reverse the referendum

Take back control of our money, our laws and our borders. It was a straightforward and very popular proposal. It received more votes than any other idea or party in our democratic history.

More than 82% voted for candidates in the 2017 General election who promised to implement the result. So why are there now so many MPs who will do anything to delay, dilute or cancel Brexit? What part of Leave did they not understand? Why do they presume that they now know better than the voters, and know better than they did themselves when they were seeking votes two years ago?

The TIG s or Change UK have set themselves up as an MP group to help thwart Brexit in the Commons. The BBC gives them plenty of coverage as our national broadcaster panders to the views of a tiny party with MPs as they seem to like their anti Brexit stance. These MPs do not want a general election any time soon and refuse to put themselves up for by elections despite changing the party they were elected to be part of. They get on well together looking down on the majority who voted for Brexit.

You couldnt make it up that Change UK tells us the public do not trust current politics and want change. They are right. The public does want change. The change the public wants is for MPs like them to keep to their election promises and to back Brexit. They say they want a new and better democracy yet they refuse to accept and implement the people’s choice. They are the opposite of democrats. They spend most of their time trying to thwart the wishes of the electors. The advocates of a people’s vote refuse to accept the verdict of the huge People’s vote we did hold.

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The case for free enterprise

Listening to debates in the Commons, the air is often thick with criticisms of companies and entrepreneurs. To many MPs companies are sources of tax revenue for their pet projects, run by people who will do harm unless regulated strictly against every risk. MPs who think like this should get out more.

Many of the things that are essential to our lives are supplied by free enterprise, and most of the pursuits that people most enjoy are supplied from private sector innovations and sources. Our food is grown by competing farmers and supplied by competing manufacturers and retailers. Our homes are built by competing construction companies. Our entertainments are private sector creations, delivered on innovatory technology that comes from a range of technology and consumer goods companies.

Parliament has to spend much of its time (when it is not groundhog day on Brexit again) debating the delivery of those services which are public sector. The NHS, schools, railways and roads are largely or wholly public sector provided and are appropriately the topic of many debates and rows. There is scarcity built into most public sector supply. We are short of GP appointments, short of roadspace, short of good quality school places in fast growing parts of the country, and short of commuter rail capacity at peaks when we most need the provision. There are problems raising quality and efficiency levels in parts of these public services. Top down allocation of cash causes arguments about its adequacy and distribution. The providers so often look upwards to the cash allocators, rather than outward to the users of the services.

The free enterprise model builds in natural incentives to innovate, to raise quality and to drive efficiency. If Company A fails to grasp the move from blackberries to ipads, Company B will and will take the business. If Company C fails to adopt better technology and machine power to make its employees more productive, Company D will and will be able to undercut Company C. If Company E gets a bad reputation for safety, people will switch to Company F that takes it seriously. If Company G treats its employees badly, they can shift to Company H who treats them well and gets a much better result for customers and shareholders as a result.

The public sector model has to try to find ways to substitute for the lack of consumer power in driving innovation and quality. Various ways have been tried, but these often are less good. The Highways Authority regularly shuts down sections of main routes without thought for the delays and problems caused to users, because it suffers no financial penalty for its failure and there is no alternative network to turn to. Network Rail regularly experiences signal failures and bottlenecks on its network delaying passengers and preventing innovative new services to meet demand,because it does not have to do better to survive. If it makes a mess it just demands more taxpayers cash to put it right. Obvious bypass track and short sections of new track top create roe capacity and new links do not get put in because they cannot be bothered to respond to potential demand or to improve the traveller experience.

The popular thing about main public services including schools and hospitals is they are free to users at the point of use. The main political parties are united in defending this principle. Other public services like railways rely on user charging, and roads rely on heavy taxation of motorists well in excess of the cost of provision. None of these financing models need rule out greater consumer choice, which could help raise quality and efficiency.

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European elections

The European elections on the continent should be gripping and important for a change. In dispute is the future of the Eurozone and the economic policy that has brought them slow growth or no growth in the deficit regions. They need to resolve how far and how fast they intend to go in pursuit of full economic, monetary and political union. They need to have a proper argument about the German vision of an economic Europe where the weaker economies accept the discipline and the rules without receiving large transfers to ease the pain, in contrast to the southern vision of a proper transfer union where money passes from the rich regions to the poor regions to create greater equality and solidarity.

They do organise loose groupings of parties that campaign on a Europe wide basis instead of sticking to national electorates and preoccupations, but have difficulty in getting a more co-ordinated conversation about transfers, a common Finance Minister and budget across the varying countries and viewpoints that still disagree strongly about the future. The political landscape is fracturing more, with the once dominant centre left and centre right coalitions of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats no longer likely to command more than a quarter of the vote and seats each. The PR system, the complexity of the EU architecture and the angry audiences in many countries are creating a wide range of new parties and movements, mainly organised in single nations. There is no obvious parallel to En March in France, Cinque Stelle in Italy, Vox in Spain or France Insoumise in other countries. Each have their own populist movements with a range of views.

It should be obvious to anyone that the UK should not be joining in these elections. Our preoccupation should be orderly and speedy exit. We do not have a view or even a right to a view on how much political union the others want and need when we are meant to be on the way out. The UK government is placing us and the rest of the EU in an impossible position by delaying our exit for no good reason. We do not want to pay for the next stage of their journey so should leave it to them to battle out just how big a budget they want and who from amongst the remaining members is going to pay the bills.

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St George’s Day

A happy St George’s day to all.

Today England should be celebrating our freedom out of the EU. England voted by 53.4% in favour of Leave, with a large 1.921 million vote margin of Leave over Remain. English voters expected us to be out by now. Once again England has been let down by UK and EU politics.

The negotiations with the EU have reminded us of the way England’s wishes are so often ignored or sidelined. There has been no Ministerial or representative voice of England in the negotiations at a time when the Scottish government has been most vocal setting out their views on the topic. The EU itself has always tried to split England up into artificial regions, and has not wished to hear an independent England view.

I have judged trying to reach a rapid and successful conclusion to the UK’s exit from the EU is the most important constitutional task confronting us. Once we are out we do need to revisit the issue of England’s representation. The Coalition reforms gave us the right to avoid Union legislation placed upon us against our will. We need next to turn to acquiring the ability to initiate measures for England without needing a majority in the Union Parliament, where those issues are devolved to Scotland.

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The leadership of the Conservative party

Many members of the Conservative party are feeling let down that we are still not out of the EU. They warmed to the Prime Minister’s approach that no deal is better than a bad deal, and accepted her assurance we would be out by 29 March 2019. Many Conservative MPs are unhappy about the plunge in the polls brought on by the news that we might be holding European elections after all, and by the fall in the general polls following announcement of delay in getting out.

There are moves to see if the question of the leadership can be revisited before the expiry of a year since the last confidence vote in Theresa May. Some MPs and some members of the voluntary party with their Associations are looking at what scope there is under the rules to test support again for the Prime Minister. It is reported that sufficient Associations have demanded the matter be examined by the party Board. Many MPs are sending letters to the Chairman of the 1992 Committee demanding action.

Mrs May herself has said she would resign as leader after the Withdrawal Agreement has gone through. She said nothing about what she would do if it did not. It is looking increasingly unlikely it will go through, as Labour have many difficulties with the Political declaration and the future partnership which is an integral part of the Agreement. As a result there is doubt about her intentions. Nor has she stated a definite leaving date were the Agreement to go through. Her wish to get it through with Labour votes is also unpopular with many Conservatives.

I do not favour the attempt to broker a deal for the PM to step aside in return for getting through a bad Agreement. I am urging the PM to lead us out on May 22nd, by cancelling the European elections. Under the Extension Agreement with the EU we would then automatically leave on May 22nd. We should offer further talks to secure more agreements on a range of things, led by tabling a free trade proposal, to start as soon as we leave.

If the Prime Minister did this the difficult problem of the European elections vanishes, and the Conservatives would go back up in the polls as Leave voters returned, grateful that we will be out on May 22nd. If she does not do this a very unhappy party will look for a legal means under its constitution to force a meaningful vote of confidence in the Prime Minister.

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Striking a successful balance between landlords and tenants

It is right that the law requires landlords to treat their tenants well and to stick to the promises they make in their contracts with tenants. There have been too many cases of bad landlords who have failed to maintain properties to a decent standard, or who have sought to evict tenants for no good reason.
The government is currently reviewing the balance of the law to see if tenants can be offered more security. It is after all their homes we are talking about, and it is disruptive and upsetting if people have to move out of a place they need and like living in.
In the review the government also needs to take into account how landlords are likely to respond. Tenants have more freedom, more choice and more affordable rents if there are enough landlords wishing to make property available. Some overseas markets have been badly damaged by offering strict rent controls and other advantages for tenants, only to discover the supply of rented accommodation falls, creating scarcity and upward pressure on the general rent level.
Today both landlord and tenant can agree to a rental contract for a stated period. The landlord may have good reason why they want the property back at the end of the specified time. If this is no longer possible more potential landlords may be put off, concerned that they cannot get their property back.
We have already seen a contraction in the supply of more property to let by the tax attack on buy to let investments by individuals. The disallowance of mortgage interest relief and the higher stamp duties on such investments has put some people off contemplating put their savings into such a venture. More emphasis has been placed on institutional and company landlords, who will in turn be concerned if contracts are too restricted.
I want tenants to get a good deal, and want there to be sensible legal protections against poor or bad landlords. The government for its part needs to recognise that the best way for tenants to get good deals and have choices is to encourage a larger and healthier private rented market. You do not achieve this by overtaxing provision, nor by intervening too much in the contracts willing landlords want to exchange with willing tenants.
I am not myself a tenant, nor do I have a buy to let investment.

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Houses became a bit more affordable last year

In the year to February 2019 house prices edged up by just 0.6% nationwide, whilst average earnings advanced by 3.4%. Housing just got a bit more affordable.
There was a north-south divide, with London prices down by 3.8% and South east house prices down by 1.8% whilst prices rose in all other regions bar one. Prices were particularly strong in Wales, Northern Ireland and the North West of England.
Some will say this is good news. We want more people to be able to afford to buy a home of their own. These recent changes make homes a bit more affordable, without pushing recent buyers into heavy losses shortly after buying.
If you live through a house price collapse, as we did in 2009 during the credit crunch, people struggle to take advantage of the fall owing to the general shortage of credit and the risk of losing their job. Others who have recently bought can end up in a bad position. If they lose their job and main income they may have to try to sell their house into a falling market and end up with a nasty capital loss.
The recent squeeze on house prices has come from the tighter rules over mortgage provision. Banks are under instructions to limit the multiple of earnings they can advance and to demand bigger deposits from the buyers. Higher stamp duties have hit dearer houses where the price falls have been largest.
The issue is how far do we want this to go? Whilst it means more affordable homes, it does not necessarily mean more people manage to buy these homes. If house prices fall because of shortage of mortgage credit, that remains an obstacle to more people fulfilling their dream of a home of their own.
Meanwhile the government that says it wants homes to be more affordable continues with penal Stamp duties on many buyers. The London market in particular, where the average price is so much higher, is being badly damaged by high transaction taxes. It gets in the way of people downsizing and upsizing, moving to minimise their travel to work, and impedes people buying to restore an renovate.
When will the government listen to the need to cut Stamp duties some more?

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A response to the Parliamentary Early Day Motion on climate change

The UK has been one of biggest cutters of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Since 1990 UK carbon emissions are down by 43% compared to a target of 40%. The UK met its first carbon budget in 2008-12 and outperformed targets in the second budget 2013-17. All looks good for outperforming again in the current budget up to 2022. In contrast Germany was only trying to get 40% below 1990 by 2020 but is a long way off hitting that target, last seen only 27% below. German carbon output is more than twice the UK’s. China and the USA are the two largest worldwide contributors.
If we look at carbon dioxide per head the USA at 15.7 , Germany at 9.7, China at 7.7, Russia at 12.3 and the EU average at 7.0 are all well above the UK at 5.7. This is a global issue which needs global policies. The UK is active in pressing for international targets and agreements. It makes little sense for one country to cut back if others do not, and even less sense if a country like the UK cuts back on its own use of energy for production and transport, only to import items that are energy intensive from elsewhere. It is bad for UK jobs and the balance of payments if we uniquely have dear energy that prices industry out of the UK.
The UK government claims to be the greenest ever, and has put a lot of effort into technological alternatives to encourage fuel saving and substitution. The EDM does not recognise any of this. It does ask the government to make more money available for a “green deal”. I would need to know how much is being sought and how it is proposed it should be spent. I am always happy to support initiatives to promote fuel saving and would be willing to look at further good suggestions. We need to avoid initiatives that do not make overall net reductions, or destroy jobs and create fuel poverty.
As the EDM says, the good news is we all have access to technology which means we can make a difference ourselves. Ultimately it is about how we all live our own lives. I have taken action to curb draughts and heat loss at home. I try to buy locally sourced food as it makes little sense to bring in food from the continent by ferry or airfreight when we can grow it nearby. I have improved my heating controls and heat my home to lower average temperatures by flexing the temperature to my use of the rooms. I have proposed removing VAT on all green products once we are out of the EU and allowed to do so, as I want better draught excluders, insulation materials and control systems to be cheaper and more accessible.
The public is keen to see cleaner air by setting higher standards on particulates and smoke, and to pursue commonsense policies to promote better insulation, greater fuel efficiency and fewer food miles. It is also important for individuals to choose to limit family size if they care about the demands on planetary resources. The UK rightly does not favour any government controls on such matters in the way China did for many years. Governments can help create a climate where people self impose sensible limits on population growth in the interests of sustainability and limiting demands on resources, and can control migration levels.

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The latest polls should warn the two main parties in the Commons to avoid a European election.

The latest poll for the possible European elections shows Labour on just 22% and the Conservatives on a new low of 15%. The two main parties in the current Commons commanded 82.4% of the vote between them in June 2017. Then both parties promised to implement the decision of UK voters to leave the EU. By making that important promise many UKIP voters returned to the two main parties. The Conservatives hoovered up Eurosceptic votes and Labour attracted left wing votes from people who had often not voted before. Labour kept a lot of its Leave voters in the Midlands and the North by promising to leave. The two parties have lost 55% of their vote according to the latest poll, and will struggle to get it back for the Euro election.

The votes have gone to parties clearly committed to an early Brexit on the one hand, and to parties wishing to abandon Brexit on the other. The pro Brexit parties are on 34% of the vote, and the anti Brexit parties on 29%

Brexit party 27% Greens 10%
UKIP 7% Lib Dems 9%
Change 6%
SNP/Plaid 4%
Total 34% Total 29%

It is difficult to see how a Euro election could be other than a verdict on how and when to get out of the EU. The indecision by Conservatives and Labour over this very issue has led to their collapse in the polls, as many voters have come to doubt their stated intention at the last election to get us out in good time.

My advice to the government remains the same. Announce you are cancelling the Euro elections and leave without signing the Withdrawal Agreement. We can leave on 22 May under the extension agreement. Offer talks on a free trade agreement for the day after we leave.
Looking at these polls were Mr Corbyn and Mrs May to do a deal to put the Withdrawal Agreement through they could avoid the Euro elections that way. The problem with that approach is as described yesterday. The Withdrawal Treaty entails binding us back into the EU, meaning both parties have a great deal of explaining to do as to why they have committed to it. Both parties would continue to suffer in the national polls from uniting to push through a much disliked Treaty that does not allow us to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders any time soon ,and does not agree terms for our eventual possible departure from the EU. They are also leaving it very late to get the complex and unpopular legislation through Parliament against a determined minority opposing it all the way.
It is strange to watch two leaders fixated by such an unpopular Treaty and willing to preside over such a huge collapse in their party’s vote owing to failure to do as promised in the summer of 2017.

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Mr Corbyn’s dilemma

Over the next two weeks Mr Corbyn can determine the fate of Mrs May’s EU Agreement. If he placed a three line whip on Labour MPs to vote for the legislation necessary to bind the UK into this new Treaty, he would give Mrs May enough votes to secure the matter. There might well be more Conservative rebels against such legislation, but not enough to prevent a grand coalition of Mr Corbyn and his loyalists with Mrs May and her government appointees putting through the necessary law. So far Mr Corbyn has been unwilling to do this, even though Labour has not made much of a case against the terms of the so called Withdrawal Agreement. We saw the kind of votes we could expect in such circumstances on the vote about the latest delay to our exit. Delay won by 400 to 120, with only 133 Conservatives voting for the delay despite a three line whip to do so.

Instead Mr Corbyn has concentrated on criticising the attached Political declaration. Understandably he has argued that signing the Withdrawal terms does not place the UK in a good position to secure the kind of eventual exit from the EU that he and others would like. He has placed considerable emphasis on his wish to see the UK stay in a customs union with the EU, though he has also hinted that he would still like some independent trade policy. It is difficult to see how these two usually incompatible positions could be negotiated with the EU. He has also made it official Labour policy in certain circumstances to have a second referendum to endorse any Agreement, though he seems more flexible about this than the Blairite wing of his followers.

Mr Corbyn now has to recognise that Mrs May could end up conceding the customs union. If she has her way and puts indicative votes to the Commons again, the customs union proposal without a Conservative whip on to oppose might get through. It has been voted down several times before because it was Conservative policy in the last election to oppose it, and because 3 line whips were placed against it. It would only take a handful of Conservative rebels against the Manifesto to tip over the vote, assuming all opposition parties coalesced around the proposal. Mrs May would probably then change her own mind and recommend the customs union.

This could place Mr Corbyn in a more difficult position. Why would he wish to take responsibility for the Withdrawal Treaty and for rescuing Mrs May’s government? Why would he hand her a big win, finally vindicating her tenacious support for a Treaty which is opposed by a big majority of the public? More Labour than Conservatives might end up voting for the legislation it needed. He still has a couple more options. He can argue that he dislikes other features of the proposal as well as the absence of the customs union to avoid commitment. He could help her win the first vote but then find detail in the legislation he could not support, creating subsequent chaos amidst allegations of bad faith.

The way out appeared to be to rewrite the Political declaration, as the EU used to say there was some flexibility about that document. That seems to be closed off by the tough terms of the recent extension, where they categorically rule out any further discussions of the future partnership until the Withdrawal Treaty is adopted in UK law.

Mr Corbyn’s safest course is to find another reason why he cannot bring himself to back this Treaty, He has been talking about worries over who the next leader of the Conservatives might be, what kind of future partnership the Conservatives would want to negotiate, what trade deals they might do elsewhere and other related matters. He could even start to expose some of the undesirable features of the Agreement. Were he to give the government support not just for the first vote but to get through a very contentious and important piece of constitutional legislation to enforce the new Treaty he might unleash uncontrollable forces amongst his own voters and members.The curse of the Agreement might gravely damage his party. This is a draft Treaty which unites many Leave and Remain voters in opposition to it. Labour MPs in Leave voting seats would be particularly uncomfortable, whilst the left would make unusual supporters of Mrs May.

The worst outcone for Labour would be securing a second referendum. The party would then become a pro Remain party and lose most of its Leave voters. It would be scorned by at least half the electorate as anti democratic for going back on its word to accept the result of the original referendum. It would need to defend its new found enthusiasm for all things EU including its austerity economics.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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