No more delays – just get on with it

As the EU does not want to do a deal on our future relationship anytime soon the UK must leave in March 2019 without signing the one sided and damaging Withdrawal Agreement they propose. We can then proceed to negotiate a free trade agreement with them if they want to. Many Conservative MPs are making it clear to the government that we will not support legislation seeking to prolong transition, nor will we support 21 months transition and large payments for no good reason. So far there is no sign of any deal better than just leaving. Extending our period under their control would take us into another 7 year spending period where the EU would not doubt want even more money from us.

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The nationalised railway lets us down

I am still getting complaints about late and cancelled trains. I was sorry to see how many people were left stranded by a failure of the overhead power system on Great Western yesterday. Network Rail has decided to spend a lot of money on changing over to overhead electrical current to power the trains, but this leaves the system more vulnerable to accidents and to adverse weather doing damage to the power supply, with knock on effects to many trains.

My own recent experiences reinforces the view that there are problems.

I went to Yorkshire to speak two weeks ago, and to Cornwall last week. All four trains were around half an hour late. Most of the delays seemed to come from Network Rail issues, the fully nationalised part of the railway.

The train to Yorkshire was delayed by half an hour at Kings Cross owing to an unexplained incident to the north of London which delayed all Kings Cross departures. The train from Reading to Cornwall was delayed by a tree on the line. The train back to London from Yorkshire was delayed by slow trains ahead, with Network Rail unable to provide track capacity for a faster train. The train from Cornwall to Reading also fell foul of slower trains as well as service delays owing to quite high winds.

Why can’t Network put in more passing places? Why can’t they accelerate digital signalling to provide more train paths and instant re routing where possible and necessary?

It  is true some of the train companies also have problems. GWR have recently  acquired expensive new Hitachi trains to adapt to an expensive and partial electrification by Network Rail. My recent journey had no reservations on seats. I was told by two staff members that the GWR and Hitachi seat systems don’t work together. The new trains have to have several heavy diesel engines to generate power to run on the lines that are not electrified. This entails a double energy loss, once on power generation and once from the electric motors. This loss is presumably bigger than the double loss on using power station power from electric overheads where available, as the on board generators are likely to be less efficient than a large power station. The need for two forms of energy to turn the electric motors is an added burden on the train operating companies from the actions of Network Rail. As much of the power station power comes from fossil fuels and all the diesel generator power comes from fossil fuel it is difficult to see the environmental win from this development.

GWR also often runs two five car train sets joined together which makes an odd train with no ability to walk from the front five to the back five whilst staying on the train. Passengers complain that the seats are less comfortable than the 125 diesels they are replacing.

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The UK after Brexit

Freedom day is the day we leave the EU. It is one of those curious cul de sacs of history that the UK, a fiercely independent and democratic nation, spent 47 years with increasing shackles over our decisions in the EU. Like Gulliver, the UK found herself bound by more and more rules and regulations from Brussels, tied down by something UK voters were told was just a trading bloc. This so called common or single market was of course nothing less than a political Union in the making. The project of full economic, monetary, social and political integration was fully understood on the continent, but constantly denied by dishonest UK politicians. They were aware that UK voters were unlikely to sign up to the full scheme, so they pretended it was not happening.

Reality kept threatening to break through. Early skirmishes about whether Brussels should settle our labour laws or not were on party lines, with the left once in charge giving these issues away to the EU. The UK had a proud record of leading improvements in employment standards before we joined. Both major parties in the UK grasped that UK voters would not accept the abolition of the pound and the substitution of the Euro, so the UK negotiated an opt out from the biggest push so far for full union. There was an attempt to side step a common migration policy, but the EU found ways to require the UK to join them in a large part of their common borders regulations. Many UK voters disliked intensely the idea that they could no longer decide their money, their borders and their laws through UK elections and by lobbying their Members of Parliament. When they were given the chance to decide, they decided to leave the EU to take back control of their government.

Once we have left the UK can start to exercise her democratic rights again. The country that did so much to spread democracy around the world, provided the Mother of Parliaments, and had some of the earliest struggles to control the executive and create a proper democratic franchise, will need to learn again how to do things for herself through her own democratic institutions. It is true the UK did not distinguish herself by resisting the democratic forces of the Founding fathers of the USA. It is one of those ironies that those early Americans who championed the rights of the settlers did so from English precedents and from English political and philosophical writings. Today, as with the American revolution, the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster has to be taught a lesson in applying her own beliefs. Too many MPs and members of the House of Lords regret the decision of the people, and have sought to deny democracy her rights. They will have to accept that the UK is leaving the EU and will be better off from doing so.

So what we will we do with our freedoms? We will become a keen advocate of free trade globally, signing deals with those who share our vision of the power of free trade to spread and increase prosperity. We will liberate our fishing grounds from the Common Fisheries Policy, which has been unkind to our fish and to our local fishermen and women. We will put in place a migration policy that is fair to all corners of the world, eliminating the European preferences in the current system. We will be able to spend the large annual sum we currently send as tribute to Brussels on our own priorities at home. We will regain control of our tax system, permitting us to amend and change the system the EU has imposed on taxing transactions through a Value Added Tax.

I find the delays in getting out unacceptable and the fears expressed usually ludicrous. What part of “Leave” did the politicians not understand when they asked the people to decide? Why do they not see that spending our own money and making our own laws must be better, and should lead to greater prosperity for the country. The good news in all this is once again the people have proved to be more sensible than the political and administrative establishment who advise them and seek to control them.

Long live freedom. There is nothing to fear, and everything to welcome. I want my country to be self governing once again. Then if the politicians get it wrong, the people can kick them out and try with a new team. All the time we live under Brussels we have to accept the inflexibility and injustice of their laws.

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How not to negotiate with the EU

Too many in the UK government have always wanted to do the EU’s bidding. The preferred style of negotiating in the EU has been to ask the Commission what it is seeking to get through, then to tell Ministers that is what they have to accept or ask for. Labour in office had a fear of disagreeing with the EU, so they railroaded through measure after measure whilst claiming it was of little significance or something they had wanted all along. They fortunately realised they could not do this with the Euro, so they used the opt out the Conservatives had negotiated. Labour went on to sign us up to the Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, with the sacrifice of many vetoes, whilst claiming it was all unimportant and still left us as a powerful independent country. That claim when you pressed revolved only around our right to vote to leave the whole thing, as we could no longer make many changes we wanted to our laws, our budgets and our borders on our own initiative.

The EU itself used the system of rotating Presidencies to push its own vast power grab. When a new member state took over the Presidency of the Council, officials would recommend items from the large EU programme of work that they thought that country or the particular Minister would like to see, and then use them to try to accelerate the passage of those particular items. The UK was always marked down as a member state which under either a Conservative or a Labour government wanted to pursue the single market agenda, so it was brought into play to help put through regulation after directive to control business, stitch up specifications and ways of doing things, and put more and more under the control of the EU and European Court of Justice.

It is therefore not surprising that the civil service defined the Brexit task in a similar way. They forgot or did not worry that they had tried this foolish way of negotiating when Mr Cameron set them the task of negotiating a better deal for the UK to enable the country to stay in. The civil service talked him into flying from capital to capital to ask them what they would be prepared to grant, to avoid the embarrassment as they saw it of asking for things they would not allow. As a result Mr Cameron ended up asking for very little. He then discovered the hard way that that did not mean he would be granted the very little he asked for. The EU saw it as a negotiation and were presumably pleased that the original ask was so modest. The civil service were then ready to tell him he needed to moderate his very modest demands in order to get an agreement! The final deal was an insult of a renegotiation, which led the UK voters to reject the whole thing.

When it came to Brexit Ministers and the civil service were sent full details of how a good Brexit looked by Eurosceptic thinkers and politicians. Ministers and officials accepted the advice that we needed to send a letter to get out in international law, and to enact the Withdrawal legislation to get out in UK law and to create legal continuity under UK control. They then set about watering down or delaying everything else. The Home Office failed to follow through with the recommended new migration policy.The Home Secretary promised an early Migration paper which never emerged. The Environment Department failed to set out an early new fishing and farming policy ready for March 2019. The Treasury not only refused to set out a post 2019 budget to spend the savings but went out of their way to avoid savings, by encouraging more and bigger payments to the EU after we technically leave. The Business Department worked with a few international companies that did not like Brexit, instead of preparing a policy designed to make the most of the new freedoms once we are out.

Too many civil servants defined their role as to ask anyone in business or elsewhere who disagreed with Brexit to give their best scares over what might happen if we left, and then confront Ministers with these as obstacles to a full or early Brexit. They seemed to suspend their critical faculties, as many of the scares were absurd. A whole series related to the UK not being able to import things after Brexit because we would clog our own borders! Why would we do that, and where was the policy to do it, which was certainly never defined nor announced. The task they were set was to identify those things that we could change and resolve for ourselves, and those things that would work more easily if there were agreements with the EU or individual member states. The task became a vast new Project Fear, with many bogus problems and few of the obvious answers.

Worst of all has been the negotiating strategy. Once again there were endless Ministerial visits to countries that disagree with us, to get Ministers to water down the ask. There were also lots of meetings with those parties and interests in the UK who disagree with Brexit, but precious few with all the forces for Leave to provide a balance or refutation of what was learnt from the subverters of leaving. The officials and Ministers swallowed the idea that the Irish border was an issue, that we do have at least a moral obligation to pay lots more money for much longer to the EU though there is no decent legal base for that, that there is something called smooth trade at borders which only EU membership can sustain. Why did they not understand we have very smooth access for Chinese imports for example under WTO rules from a country which was not a member of the EU when I last checked. The UK Ministers accepted advice that put the UK in the position of petitioner or offender, rather than rightly posing as the customer of the EU’s big exporting industries that wants a better deal. The irony was, however, on this occasion officials did not seem to limit the UK’s asks to things which they knew the EU would accept. The Prime Minister of course has to take responsibility for the Chequers plan as she welcomed and supported it , only to find the EU disliked it as much as UK Eurosceptics.

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An MP’s surgery

MPs are receiving copies of a lobby email asking us to sign a pledge not to report illegal migrants if they come to our surgeries.  Let me explain the nature of an MP’s surgery and the legal position to those who send in this email.

The main purposes of an MP’s surgery are to take up cases for constituents where government has let them down, treated them badly or failed to apply its own rules fairly, and to listen to constituents who have advice on how laws and government policies should be changed to make life better.  Constituents often stray beyond their relations with national government into their relations with Councils and sometimes even their contractual relations with private sector suppliers and employers. The MP has most chance of helping with national government, where more direct access to Ministers can sometimes trigger a review of an action or policy which resolves the problem, or where legal change can sometimes  be generated to fix the problem for the future. I work with local Councillors on local matters, as the Councillors have privileged access to local officers that the MP does not have. Just as collectively MPs can change offending national laws, so Councillors collectively can change offending local policies.  Occasionally an MP  letter to a private sector company that is misbehaving can help , but as a general rule contractual disputes between constituents and private companies are best worked out in direct dialogue with the company and through the usual complaints processes available.

Attending an MP’s surgery does not give the constituent sanctuary from the law. Whilst an MP will handle information carefully, in order to process a complaint or resolve a problem with government the MP will usually have to share the information with the government. I wish to repeat that if someone comes to my surgery they should understand I have no special privilege to give them  to protect them from the law, and will normally share their information with the authorities to seek to resolve their issue. If someone is living in Wokingham as an illegal migrant and they wish to seek legal permission to stay then I will assist them if they have a sensible case by contacting  the authorities, but I cannot give them some indemnity or help them cover up their illegal status. Similarly if someone comes to me and tells me they have not paid tax I am happy to take up their case with the authorities if they believe they do not have to pay the tax or if they think their assessment is wrong, but I am not in the business of condoning tax evasion and have no blessings to give to tax law breakers.

Quite often an MP has to explain to a constituent that the law is as it is for a good reason, and they like everyone else will just have to accept it  even though they do not like it. Sometimes  I find advising someone not to pursue a complaint but to accept the world as it is can prove  to be good advice which they accept. You can cause yourself a lot of trouble and distress by pursuing complaints that are not going to result in a  good outcome. Show me a just cause and a clear unfairness from government and I will fight tenaciously to have the injustice remedied.

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Mrs May damages the Union she wants to defend

Here’s an irony. Mrs May says defending the Union of the UK is one of her fundamental principles. Yet in three of her  misjudgements over Brexit she puts its future more at risk.

In Northern Ireland the upholders of the Union are the majority community who vote DUP and similar  parties. Mrs May instead accepts the analysis of Sinn Fein and the Republic of Ireland, used by the EU to damage Brexit. All of  this group  wish to end the union of the UK and  create an island of Ireland  economic area, as a stepping stone to an island of Ireland country. This is proving damaging to Brexit, threatens the end of Mrs May’s coalition  and is incomprehensible to Unionists in Northern Ireland. Mrs May needs to be on the side of the Unionists who want to support her.

Most of the people of the Union live in England. Mrs May ignores us. The word England rarely crosses her lips. No one speaks for England in the endless devolution/Brexit talks. The strong pro Brexit vote in England is never mentioned.It is as if Mrs May is forgetful  of the voting base that gave her the largest Conservative vote since Margaret Thatcher. It is high time she balanced her view of the Union with recognition of England’s needs, to create a more realistic and even union.

The third mistake is in her handling of Scotland. If you want to keep the union together you cannot keep giving concessions to an Independence party called the SNP who do not speak for the majority in Scotland upon the only issue that matters to them. Their understandable habit of turning every issue into one about independence wears thin after they lost a referendum on this very question. The PM has to appeal over the heads of the SNP to the pro Union majority in Scotland, Labour, Conservative and others. She  has  to say No to anti Union demands by the SNP where these are against the spirit of  Brexit. Fortunately the SNP lost two referendums in the right order. They first lost the Scottish independence referendum, so they then had to accept the validity of the  UK wide EU referendum. It’s no good them saying Scotland voted Remain, as the electorate was the whole UK. Their refusal to accept the UK wide result shows how anti democratic they are. They have become the neverendum party wanting to have more referendums on the same topics until they get a result they like.

Mrs May should try disagreeing with the enemies of our Union more, whilst  being more in harmony with its defenders. The defenders of the Union accept Brexit, as that is the will of the majority in the Union referendum. It is central to the future of the Union that Brexit is delivered properly and promptly. England expects. Wales expects. All those Leave voters in Northern Ireland and Scotland expect. We only keep our Union if Union decisions matter and are implemented  by the politicians.

 

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A small win in the battle against waste in the NHS

The Health Minister has announced a welcome drive to get NHS equipment returned after use so it can be used again after cleaning, or recycled. Some NHS Trusts do this, and the Minister is now seeking to extend this to the whole English NHS. Readers of this site will know I have been pressing for this for some time, as an obvious way of saving money and cutting down on waste.

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Tax and spend

I read in one newspaper that we will be offered tax cuts in the budget. Just what we need to stimulate an economy being put through a combined monetary and fiscal squeeze. Then I read in another paper that the Chancellor will tear up the promises to raise Income Tax thresholds, and find some more money for Universal Credit. I read elsewhere that the Treasury  still thinks it needs to raise a tax or two to pay for the increased NHS spending that has been outlined.

Who knows which of these leaks is informed. They could all be right with a government still trying to make up its mind. What is clear is many of us who will have to vote on the budget when they have decided and announced it want to honour the promise to raise tax thresholds , want to cut taxes to provide a stimulus  to enterprise and want to boost spending on crucial public services. We do not however wish to run up excessive debts and do not think there is a magic money tree.

The good news is there is an easy way to do all these things. Make it clear to the EU that we do not owe them money after we leave, and announce we will be leaving on 29 March 2019 with or without agreement to a Free Trade deal. The EU  can decide whether they want  one or not.  It is in their interest to want one and I suspect they would offer one if they were sure we will just leave otherwise.

The government also has the option to review the large spending planned on HS2. There does need to be more spending on better targeted rail investments in the North, but even after allowing for these the cancellation of this vastly expensive project would also free substantial resource to do other things.

The extraordinary thing about current Treasury thinking, as they dither over any increased spending  tax cut, is their persistent wish to give £39 bn to the EU. Why cant they transfer some of the toughness they show about  desirable UK spending and tax cuts into determined resistance to paying so much money to the EU when there is no legal requirement to do so.

I have one simple piece  of advice for the Chancellor. Dig in against more money for the EU and all your money problems for the next three years drop away. Grasp that we will trade just fine on 30 March 2019 if we just leave. That is what we voted for. We want to spend our own money on our own priorities. What part of £39 bn doesn’t the  Treasury understand?

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My speech during the debate on the Agriculture Bill, 10 October 2018

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): There has been a big decline in our self-sufficiency as food producers during the 46 years in which we have been in the common agricultural policy. As a result, we are now net importers from the continent of Europe, to the tune of £20 billion a year—a very large part of our balance of payments deficit—of food, including processed food, that we could rear or grow for ourselves, or process for ourselves if we wished. I hope that, as the Secretary of State works away at the Bill during its passage through the House, he will take on board what is being said by all of us who are urging him to make good production—high-quality food production, and local food production—a central part of his mission and what he is trying to achieve in conjunction with our agricultural businesses and our farmers, because much more can be achieved.

One of my colleagues has already pointed out that we could have new procurement rules that would allow us competitive procurement that also takes into account food miles. A really good green policy is to get the food miles down. We do not need ships and trucks carrying around bulky and quite heavy items of not huge value, when we could be growing them for ourselves and the farmer could be making a profit because transport costs would be lower, so can we please do that?

Will the Secretary of State understand that perhaps the most important thing farmers need to know, from 30 March next year if we leave without an agreement or from 2020 if we leave with an agreement, is what our schedule of tariffs will look like, because Brexit is not a great threat or problem; it is a massive opportunity? Here is an industry that has been wrecked and damaged and pillaged for 46 years, almost as badly as the fishing industry in some cases, which was probably the worst hit, and we have the opportunity to take it back in hand and encourage those who work on our behalf in the industry and to bring a bit of sunshine to the operation to show that there is a huge market opportunity out there.

The great joy is that this Bill rightly takes powers so that the Secretary of State and the Government can do what they need to do with the WTO, which will be running our trade framework whatever we do by way of agreement or no agreement. The WTO also has a pretty important role in this today, but of course we cannot influence it directly because the EU handles the account, and very badly it does so from the UK point of view.

If we look at our tariff schedule, we see at the moment that we have eye-wateringly high tariffs on temperate foods that we can grow or produce for ourselves from outside the EU, but zero tariffs on temperate products we could rear or grow for ourselves from inside the EU, and that competitive onslaught from some of the intense, and often subsidised and highly capitalised, farming on the continent has done enormous damage to our market share and undermined the businesses of many of our farmers over the 46 years we have been in the EU.

The Government should set out urgently for consultation what our tariff schedule will look like if we are leaving on 30 March 2019, because I assume the tariffs will be above zero for the EU as they have got to be the same as for the rest of the world, but I assume that we would want lower overall tariffs than the EU imposes on the rest of the world, and I assume that we would want to flex the tariffs down more on the things we cannot grow and rear for ourselves and would also want to make sure there is protection in there, in the spirit of our current regime, which is heavily protected against non-EU products.

I am not sure what the right balance is; that is something I am sure my right hon. Friend and the International Trade Secretary have either worked out or will work out quite soon, but the sooner we consult on it, the more hope we will give the farming industry. It must feel part of this process, because these will be its tariffs and they offer us this great opportunity to get access to some cheaper food where we are not competing and have uniform protection at a sensible level for both the EU and the non-EU, because it is the EU that is causing the main threat.

May I remind my right hon. Friend that he is our English Agriculture Minister and we want him to speak for England? Who in this Government does speak for England? I come into the Chamber and hear debates about the Scottish problem and the Irish border, but we must not forget England, our home base for most of us on this side of the House. England expects; England wants better; England wants to be able to compete; England wants a policy designed to promote English farms. I find that a really good English farm, with really good farming, looks beautiful and deals with the environment as well as food production.

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The Treasury keeps the UK under the control of EU austerity policies.

The UK solemnly goes on complying with all requirements on a member state of the EU. This year they dutifully filed their “2018 National Reform Programme and their 2018 Convergence programme”. The Treasury has long accepted the EU’s demands that we keep throttling back the deficit and move to getting down the debt as a percentage of GDP. There are times when the EU are right about this, but at issue is who makes such a judgement and who actually runs our economic policy? The EU has overdone the austerity in some cases causing more unemployment and lost output than needed. Mr Osborne turned this into the keystone of his economic policy and claimed it as his own, but it was just the UK version of EU economic policy which we were obliged to follow by being members.

The EU duly marked our homework this year and concluded formally “The Council is of the opinion that the UK needs to stand ready to take further measures as of 2018-19 to comply with the provisions of the Stability and Growth Pact”. Presumably seeing that this would go beyond our membership, they mentioned in the supporting text the possibility that we will stay in for another 21 months transition when they would expect this policy to continue to be binding. The Council has instructed the Treasury to keep the nominal growth rate of public spending down to a maximum of 1.6%. That is a real terms cut at current inflation rates.

I want the UK Treasury to step aside from the long shadows cast by the European Semester and to announce a new budget strategy for the years ahead following our departure on 29 March 2019. We need a policy which is kinder to growth and to public service provision than the EU strategy has proved. The PM has said she is ending austerity. This is incompatible with following EU rules beyond next March, and depends on getting our money from the EU to spend at home.

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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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