Parliament cannot govern

Our constitutional settlement combines the executive with the legislature. Government Ministers have to be Members of Parliament or peers in the Lords. The government executive puts proposals for laws, budgets and treaties to Parliament, and needs to secure a majority for each measure.

The role of Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament is to expose government proposals to criticism, seeking to amend and improve them or seeking to vote them down if they are thought to be unacceptable. A wise Opposition also puts forward a constructive alternative, to appear as a government in waiting, a group of politicians capable of governing after an election.

Oppositions usually accept the government’s right to govern, and its right  to secure its major Manifesto proposals approved by the electorate in the last election. Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition does not usually do deals with opponents of our nation, does not undermine the government in an international organisation and does not bad mouth the UK when representing us abroad.

It is particularly important that governments have the power to negotiate treaties and international agreements. It is not something Parliament can do. There are too many different views. Foreign countries would be reluctant to accept an envoy from Parliament other than the government, concerned about the extent to which they could claim to speak for the UK.

It is always the case that Parliament has the ultimate power to vote down a Treaty or international agreement it dislikes. This does not usually arise because the government  normally has a majority it can rely on, or has taken sufficient  soundings to know it speaks for a majority.

It is particularly important when negotiating with the EU that Parliament does not undermine the government’s negotiation. Ruling out leaving without signing the Withdrawal Agreement does undermine the government position, and is particularly bizarre given Parliament’s justified dislike of the Withdrawal Agreement as drafted.

When opposition forces in Parliament say they do not trust the government to conduct the negotiation they do our country harm. Parliament has the power to remove the government if it really does lack confidence in it to negotiate well. It is a clear case of put up or shut up – either sack the government or allow it to conduct the negotiation as it wishes, with Parliament judging the results.

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What should a young person do with an inheritance or lottery win?

Let us now turn to wealth held by a few younger people. Let’s consider the limited number of cases of someone who comes into a substantial sum by inheritance, or gift from a rich relative, or from a lottery win or some such. I am not going to consider in this article the profits of successful entrepreneurship by the young person.

Let’s say they receive £500,000. Let’s suppose they have no professional qualifications but did get a first degree in humanities or were educated to A level and now have an office job. Should they

Buy a good quality home with all the money?

Buy a home with part of the money and do something else with the rest?

Should they invest some or all of the cash in developing their own business?

Should they invest the money in shares and build a portfolio? Should they put some of the money into a pension fund?

Should they spend some of the money on training/education?

Tax may play a role in the decision. Putting as much money as possible into an ISA for share investing would provide freedom from income tax and CGT on the investment. Putting money into a pension fund also offers full tax shelter, but it locks the money up for years and a future government might change the rules against you before you can reclaim the cash. Investing in your own business can get you entrepreneurs relief from CGT. Buying a home exposes you to Stamp Duty but frees you from CGT.

The way to increase the young person’s financial position the most would probably be to invest in a successful business for themselves. Given the risks what do you think would be the best course of action? How big a distortion is tax? What kind of a society do we want to be – more lawyers, more landlords or more entrepreneurs? Part of the purpose of these articles is as background to the budget, which presents a good opportunity to change the UK tax system in ways which reward effort, enterprise and saving, and drive faster growth as a result.

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The EU and empires

Mr Verhofstadt  (EU Liberal) warns us that the world is coalescing into empires. He thinks the UK has to join the EU empire as a counter to the Russian, Indian,  Chinese and US empires .

This is not a very liberal outlook. He does not specify why the USA or India is any kind of threat to us, nor why the EU will always get on fine with Russia or China. It leaves out of account the many smaller countries worldwide that do not belong to any of these blocs or major countries and seem to prosper. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and many others seem to flourish outside the EU.

I also take issue with him over what is an empire. If empire is based on size and power, let us begin by comparing the UK with Russia. The UK’s economic size is about a third larger than Russia’s. If we look at naval power both countries have one aircraft carrier. Russia has 12 destroyers to the UK’s 6, but only 10 frigates to the UK’s 13. It is true Russia has many more submarines. The UK of course has her potential power greatly augmented by membership of NATO.

An empire is usually  supposed to be a common government system with a single foreign policy and armed forces. It controls a wide range of different territories and former countries or governing units with varying degrees of devolved or delegated authority.  There was the Roman empire covering much of southern and western Europe, the British empire with India at its heart, and the USSR empire stretching through much of eastern Europe and parts of Asia. The UK willingly renounced empire after the second world war, allowing the peaceful establishment of a number of independent nations. The USSR empire was troubled by internal revolts and too passed when the centre allowed free expression. The USA has always opposed the idea of conquest followed by occupation, though it has intervened militarily in support of regime change in various countries. India was created as a separate governing  area from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on independence.

I find it worrying that a leading exponent of more European integration uses the word “Empire” to explain what they are trying to do. Most of us want no more empires. We believe in the free determination of peoples. Recent votes and campaigns tells us that if people want anything they want smaller governing units, as with the independence movement in Catalonia, the Brexit vote in the UK, the movements for separation in many parts of the world.

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Walls in a troubled world

In the 1980s the West rejoiced at helping pull down the Berlin Wall. That wall which divided a German city was constructed by the USSR to keep people in. Knowing how far their living standards and freedoms had fallen below the West, the USSR denied most of their people any access to western media or to the West itself. People were shot if they tried to cross into another part of their city.

It was the visible evidence of the lengths communists went to to detain their citizens that turned me against communism in my youth. My first political and economic writings were about the failures of the communist system, and the cruelties communist states imposed on people.

In recent years countries on both sides of the Atlantic have put up walls and fences to keep people out. Mr Trump’s wall added to Mr Clinton’s. The Anglo French fence in Calais is a small example of border fences that are common along the miles of EU border, especially to the south and east. The aim is to deter illegal migrants, drawn by the relative prosperity, the freedoms, jobs and benefits of living in an advanced western society.

There are signs of a cyber curtain coming down across the world. As the USA challenges China over alleged theft of Intellectual property, and seeks reassurances that its own systems will be safe from cyber attack, the world moves towards two systems and two alliance patterns. Countries are having to answer the US question, are you with us or against us? It will prove increasingly difficult to mix Chinese and US components and services within technology products and services.

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The EEC,EU and the economy

The Remain case for staying in the EU is always based on the unproven economic advantages. These are said to be important and are often argued around alleged problems which would hit us if we dared to leave. One of the ironies is those who claim to hold the highest regard for the EU usually suggest the EU will behave particularly badly if we just leave, ignoring the EU Treaties which require friendly pro trade relations with neighbours.

When we first entered the EEC the sudden shock of removing all tariff protection for our industry helped weaken key sectors badly. In the first ten years of our membership car output halved. The steel industry suffered bad declines, leading to closures of large modern plants. Textiles also suffered closures and bad job losses. There was no offsetting liberalisation of services where the UK was a strong competitor.

In the second decade of our membership the UK accepted the need to enter the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. This policy had the predictable effect of ending in a major recession for the UK, with huge losses on enforced foreign exchange trading. This accelerated damaging decline in UK industry.

In the fourth decade of our membership the UK suffered from the western banking crisis, making similar policy errors to the ECB and Fed. On the EU side of the Atlantic recovery was much slower thanks to the Maastricht debt and deficit guidelines which the UK included in policy as well as the Eurozone and to other features of shared economic and business policy. Our greater involvement with the poorly performing Eurozone also slowed our recovery.

The UK has run a large trade deficit with the EU for most of our time in it. Meanwhile we have a good surplus with the rest of the world, in spite of EU tariffs and by trading with no free trade agreements with the main countries.

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The sovereignty of the people, and the battle of government and the Judges

It would  be completely unacceptable if the UK’s decision to stay for longer in the EU or to leave on the due date of October 31st fell to be decided by a few Judges. The people are sovereign. We exercised our sovereign right to decide  between Leave and Remain. We accepted the promises of the main parties in Parliament that they would implement our decision. The ballot paper did not qualify leave, or suggest we could only leave if there was a deal the Establishment liked. Electors followed up the referendum by electing a Parliament dominated by two parties promising to implement the vote. The public put the Lib Dems in a weak third pace on their proposal of a second referendum because they did not like the result of the first.

The sovereign people delegate their sovereignty to an elected government and Parliament to exercise for them between elections. The power of the people is restored at election time when we can change as many MPs as displease. Between elections the force of public opinion seeks to keep the MPs and government honest , loyal to its promises and keen to serve the public.

The relative power of Parliament and government has long been fought over in the courts and in Parliament. The law courts have usually accepted that matters of  high policy and politics are matters for Parliament alone. They have also respected Parliamentary privilege which allows Parliament to talk freely about all matters, save the details of an individual’s actions which are the subject of a live court case. Parliament  respects the sole right of the courts to determine the guilt or innocence of people under the criminal law, and their  right  to determine civil cases without Ministerial interference. Ministers may of course intervene or undertake an action  in a civil case by submitting a government view to the Judge for decision.

Government has been given powers to  negotiate treaties, propose budgets and submit draft laws to Parliament for approval. Government controls the timetable of Parliament but by convention allows regular days for the Opposition to specify the subjects that most concern  to them and to debate them. It does not provide Opposition legislation time. It is based on the assumption that government commands a majority of the House. If government no longer commands such a majority then  there must be a General election so the public can choose a government who can.

There are currently some MPs who are determined to break this constitutional settlement. They wish to assert Parliament above the government so that government can no longer function. They want to strip government of its powers to control the timetable, propose the budgets and the laws. They wish to irresponsibly spend money the government has not provided and pass laws the government does not accept, without themselves having the votes or ability to take the responsibilities of government on themselves.  Worse still, when the government challenges them to an election so the sovereign people can decide whether they want the government’s approach or do want to change to that of the Opposition, they block any such move.

The final irony is that an anti government alliance in the Commons uses its temporary power to propose a law to  put through an Act of Parliament to make the PM do what he does not want to do, placing all these huge issues under the courts. So far from making Parliament sovereign as they claim, by usurping the power of the people in  the referendum and denying an election, they   want to submit Parliament to the power of the law courts. How can they seriously suggest that through this Act of Parliament our departure from the EU should fall to be decided by Judges, who will be invited to slap down the Prime Minister to do so? What Judge would want to overrule the decision of the people in a referendum?



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Last of the summer whine

Some Remain advocates are using David Cameron’s memoirs as an opportunity for another whine about the referendum.

I write to praise David Cameron. His decision to hold a referendum and to let the people  decide was a good one. I am glad to read that he defends it in his new book. He should be proud that he decided to trust the people to make this important decision.

I must now give David some advice. He should also be proud of the decision the voters made. He and the government he led was unequivocal. They told us they would implement whatever we decided. That implied he rightly though the UK could have a good future either way. I am very proud of the UK people voting as we did. We showed confidence in ourselves and our country. We saw that things can be better if we leave. As a man who led our country and studied public opinion closely for six years, he should welcome the clarity the voters gave him on this troubling issue.

I don’t like to think of David still worrying about the consequences of what he put in train. He should remember that the Lib Dems called for a referendum on In or Out of Europe . Labour supported the legislation he put forward to give us a referendum.  544 MPs voted for the actual referendum we held. The main parties at one time or another have all favoured a referendum, understanding that the mighty Treaties we have signed between our original membership and today did need to be put to the UK electorate directly.

I would also argue that we show ourselves to be good Europeans by voting to leave. The EU project today is to seek the full political union  that the large currency, economic and monetary union requires to make it successful. As the UK under governments of all three main  parties has refused to join the Euro, we need to get out of the way to let all those who do want a much fuller union to complete their construction. Out of the EU we can spend our own money, make our own laws and be truly global in our outlook and reach. The sooner we do so the better.

David tells us he would like the country to pull together more. He can help it do so by using his book launch to urge all his friends to get behind Brexit and help us make it a success.

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Parliament, government and the courts

We live in a relatively free society with some separation of powers. The common law evolves through court decisions by Judges. Parliament can at any stage seek to change the law by an Act of Parliament. Statute law commands respect from the courts and can override common law but the courts do not always “obey” it. They interpret it. Sometimes they interpret it in ways that Parliament dislikes and regards as a distortion. In such cases Parliament can legislate again to give a clearer instruction to the courts.

All our current domestic law and all the powers of government, Parliament and courts are subordinate to the EU Treaties, EU regulations and directives and to judgements of the European Court of Justice. An EU law can override or strike down an Act of Parliament or a judgement of our Supreme Court if appealed to the ECJ. That was the kernel of the referendum debate for many people, with many Leave voters wishing to restore our domestic rule of law without EU supremacy.

The courts reserve the right to query or even ignore Statute law if they think an Act of Parliament is unclear, or violates human rights or some other superior law or legal principle. A law has to be clear, fair to all and enforceable. An Act of Parliament saying the sun must shine tomorrow, or saying 20 year olds must get up at 6 am or saying people whose surnames begin with an A cannot be allowed a driving licence would all likely to be void for good reasons.

The courts traditionally have not interfered in matters of Crown or government prerogative or high politics. They have tended to take the view if asked that Parliament has the necessary power to curb or remove a Prime Minister who uses Crown prerogative in ways that annoy MPs, who in turn will be influenced by public opinion on these issues. If a PM ceases to please Parliament can remove him or her by a No Confidence vote.

The courts have also taken the view that where an issue is hotly contested between parties and factions within the public, it is best to let politics and Parliament sort out the disagreement. It would be unacceptable if the UK’s departure or staying in the EU fell in the end to be decided by a judgement in the Supreme Court. Of course the Supreme Court needs from time to time to find against the government in judicial review cases where litigants are challenging the way government has made a decision or enforced a policy. That is not the same as the Supreme Court presuming to itself the unique power to settle the biggest political question of the decade. However big a mess Parliament has made of it, this needs to resolved by Parliament. If Parliament finds a way to get us to remain in the EU after October 31, then it will fall to the electorate to remove from office those who have failed to implement the will of the people.

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Yellowhammer – is that it?

The Yellowhammer document when released turned out to be thin and poorly researched.

A lot of it which went largely unreported was grudgingly reassuring. Our water supply will be fine. We will still have normal services for electricity and gas.  Demand for energy will be met. There will of course be no overall shortage of food. There is a “low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside of (sic) Kent”.

Perhaps the worst warning was that a large number of foreign vessels might  still be fishing in our waters, and doubt is expressed about our ability to enforce the return of our fishery to UK control immediately. I think I have higher expectations of our coastal patrols and of the conduct of our neighbours than that, who should want to obey the new law.

The two worries the Remain press have concentrated on are the unproven suggestions that there could be shortages of some imported medicines and some imported foods owing to delays and congestion at Calais. At no point does the document suggest we will create delays at Dover, and the paper accepts that the UK is not going to impose delay inducing barriers and extensive checks at our border. Their worry about Calais, denied by the port authorities there, is that the new checks at Calais will defeat UK truckers seeking entry to France and will create queues. This in turn I suppose they think might delay the lorries going from Kent to the continent to pick up continental products to come back causing knock on effects on the Kent side. As many of our lorries go out empty this seems unlikely. Most of the full ones are run by large logistics companies or directly by large exporting companies who will I am sure be able to complete the electronic documentation in advance of travel to meet the requirements. That is what they are paid to do, and what they do for non EU trade today.

I was talking to a food importer this week who is looking at taking more product for the  north via Immingham, discovering it is quicker and cheaper than the Dover/Calais route. Some will do this, and more would do so if problems did start to emerge at Calais.

This worst case wrongly assumes markets stop functioning. Logistics is very competitive. There are many options. During our years in the EU the Calais/Dover route has sometimes been troubled by strikes, ferry and train delays or cancellations, crashes and congestion on the  motorway networks either side of the channel,  but we  have never run out of food or   medicines. If   a complex supply chain is disrupted by French strikes you choose a new sea route or  resort to air freight to see you through . Yellowhammer implies Dover is fine, subject only to too many Calais delays caused by UK trucks not complying with standard customs and shipment filings. It is difficult to see why this should happen, as it would be bad logistics business to do that. There would also  be plenty of other options for frustrated customers  if they tried it.

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A big political upheaval in Parliament as MPs realign

This Parliament has been characterised by a record number of Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial resignations, and by a large number of MPs deciding to resign from the party they belonged to during the election. Many of these resignations have been over differing approaches to leaving the EU, with a trend for MPs elected on platforms to leave moving over to stances and parties that wish to remain. It appears that UK politics is currently realigning on the basis of Leave or Remain, with the SNP and Liberal Democrats standing for Remain, the Conservatives for Leave, and Labour caught trying to straddle the two positions. The Deputy Leader has now declared for Remain, against his Leader who wants to be ambiguous.

The Conservative party has currently lost the most MPs, with 29 now resigning the whip or having the whip removed. Most have become independent MPs. Four left to join Change UK alongside 7 Labour founders of that brief movement. 3 have now joined the Liberal Democrats. Nick Boles resigned the whip to become an Independent Progressive Conservative.

Labour has lost 15 MPs. The issue of Mr Corbyn’s style of leadership has been an important factor, as well as the party’s changing and vague stance on the EU. Several have gone citing the party’s lacklustre response to antisemitism charges. Some are now Labour Independents, whilst others are in the Lib Dems or joined Change UK when it was first set up.

The Lib Dems as the most pro EU national party has picked up 5 seats, whilst losing one of its original MPs to independent status. He had promised in the 2017 election to honour the referendum result and rightly thinks his party no longer offers that.

This unusually high turnover has occurred with none of them thinking they should test their new views and new party loyalty in a by election. Electors are understandably angry where their MP has switched from say Labour to Lib Dems from a party that claimed to support Brexit to one that fundamentally opposes it, without asking for electoral endorsement. An MP moving from his or her party to be an independent, if they say they are doing so while still sticking with their policy promises at the last election have a good case for saying no to a by election, in contrast to those shifting from a Leave party to a Remain party in order to support Remain.

Conservative 288 minus 29
Labour 247 minus 15
Lib Dem 17 plus 5
Change UK 5 plus 5
The Independents 3 plus 3

Independent 32 plus 31

Posted in Uncategorized | 203 Responses
  • 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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