11pm 29th March 2019

The date of our departure from the EU is determined by the EU Treaty. Under Article 50 we gave notice. We leave at any time when there is Agreement between the UK and the rest of the EU, or at the  two years point if there is no agreement.

It now looks clear that the EU has no wish to reach a mutually beneficial Agreement to get us out of the EU before March 2019. They are still refusing to discuss the future relationship and trade arrangements which the UK thinks it is in our mutual interest to discuss.

The question now comes up for debate in Parliament about when the UK needs to bring into full effect the EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure legal continuity and certainty following our departure. The government is therefore moving an amendment to make the time and date 11pm on 29th March 2019.

This should not be contentious. It is the date and time we will cease to be a member state under the Treaty and Article 50 procedure. The reason it also needs to be written into the Withdrawal Bill is that we need to bring in its provisions at the same time as we cease to belong to the EU in international law. Domestic law has to take over. It is also the likely earliest time when there could be an Agreement.

So why is it a matter of grave concern to some MPs that the government wishes to ensure this legal continuity? For the rest of the Bill they are desperate to ensure anything is debated in Bill Committee and does go through full legislative scrutiny, yet they don’t want to do the same for the important matter of when we leave.

The reason seems to be that they think we might get into the position where we are very close to an Agreement by 29 March 2019 but would somehow be thwarted in concluding shortly afterwards if we had in the meantime left the EU. It is difficult to see why this should occur. We have 16 months prior to departure to try to reach an Agreement. That Agreement could include an implementation period to follow exit if it required changes that are difficult to put in place quickly. The government has already said there will be additional legislation for any Agreement to be implemented in the UK.

I cannot see having a deadline 16 months ahead makes it more difficult to conclude an Agreement. If the EU does want a mutually beneficial Agreement there is plenty of time to get one. If the EU does not really want one or intends to try to squeeze more and more concessions out of the UK, an extension of a week or two after March 2019 is not going to suddenly provide a suitable Agreement after months of failure.

When Parliament legislated to send the Article 50 letter it legislated for us to leave in March 2019. The main reason we want that on the face of the Withdrawal Bill is to provide certainty and continuity of law given it now seems inevitable we will not be leaving by agreement any earlier.

On Tuesday the crucial Clause 1 which repeals the 1972 Act and therefore takes us out of the EU according to UK law passed by 318 to 68. The official Labour party abstained, as they realised voting against would be to vote against Brexit itself. The rest of the Bill is about creating legal certainty by carry over of EU laws.


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Ownership for everyone

I would like the budget to do more to help create a new generation of owners.

Surveys show that many people would like to be able to buy their own home. Many would like to be their own boss and run their own business. In recent years the UK has established a good rate of new business formation, but has struggled more with widening home ownership. The government’s Help to buy schemes have assisted, but the proportion of people owning their own home is still below levels it reached in the past.

One of the issues that government needs to consider is that of planning. Councils who want to help get homes built can find they suffer from ways the development industry can game the system. A Council often wants to concentrate new building in a given location so that the costs of providing decent roads, schools, surgeries and the rest are kept under some control, and the strains imposed on public services and the transport network in the rest of the area are minimised.

Developers who can take advantage of the planning permissions for the new settlement or for the extension of the settlement can decide to build out the permissions at a slow pace. They can then with other  landowners apply for planning applications elsewhere, claiming the Council area is not keeping up with the demands of the local plan to provide more homes. The developer may say they have a good reason to go slow on the main site for commercial reasons. This can lead to the grant of further planning permissions outside the local plan, which then will require further infrastructure and public service investment that has not been in the budget.

In a plan led system this can be difficult for the Council concerned and can impose more disruption from building work around a local community that had signed up to growth in stated locations. The government needs to think how this perverse incentive can be removed in areas where the local plan is allowing a good rate of new build where developers co-operate.

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European defence

The UK is firmly committed to NATO which remains the main way that Europe’s defence is organised. NATO ensures the participation of the USA. It preserves individual country control over when and whether their forces will be committed to NATO missions, whilst also including the important NATO guarantee for members  to assist if any NATO country is threatened.

The EU is now pushing towards more defence integration with an EU role. The aim is to bring together the defence industries of the member states, to enter common procurement programmes, and to move from there to defining more EU  defence operations. The USA is in two minds about this development. On the one hand the USA would like the European countries in NATO to make a bigger contribution to their own mutual defence. On the other hand the USA does not wish to see the NATO system undermined in any way.

There are doubts about whether the EU has in mind spending more and buying more equipment. It is more likely they wish to exercise more control over the  budgets that member states already have. The UK out of the EU should examine each of the main procurement projects and see if it makes sense to join as a co purchaser and contributor to the project, where the EU would like the UK’s purchases and or expertise. The UK can also offer to join EU missions and assist with troops and equipment where that is in our mutual interest and compatible with NATO’s views and role. What we need to avoid is being sucked into a system of defence procurement and mission definition that impedes our role in NATO or leaves us without central capabilities we need as an independent country.

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Brexit will be good for our economy

Despite the best efforts of the Bank of England to slow the economy, the latest figures for manufacturing output were good. In the last three  months to September industrial output rose by 1.1% . It was up by 2.7% on the year. September was a particularly strong month with a gain of 0.7%. the UK is a great base for manufacturing with a competitive exchange rate and a skilled workforce capable of driving industrial success. Inward investment has remained at good levels reflecting this.

We also read last week that Facebook is looking for 700,000 square feet of office accommodation in London to help its big expansion plans here. Google already has 1 m square feet of space at Kings cross. The new US giants of the digital world are growing fast. They  like the UK as a go ahead destination for their plans.

A positive budget for business and for consumers would add to the progress we are making,  as would a pro growth monetary policy. The opportunities for inward investors are considerable  as the UK considers how to use its new freedoms once out of the EU to create stronger industries in areas like fishing, farming and energy where EU policy has acted as a constraint.

I have often drawn attention to the contrast between what is happening and what was forecast by establishment commentators were we to vote for Brexit. Far from costing us jobs and losing us investment, we have witnessed jobs up and investment strong.

There is great scope for investment in import substitution, as we seek to put some more balance into  the large imbalance of trade with the EU which has built up during our membership.

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PESCO and EU defence

As I understand it the UK will not  be signing up to PESCO, the new system promoting more EU defence integration. This is a system under the control of the EU institutions and therefore would not be appropriate for the UK as it leaves. The UK is offering defence collaboration, mainly through NATO. The UK is offering a bilateral Agreement UK/EU where both sides keep a veto.

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The CBI gives bad advice again on the EU

I see the CBI is going to Downing Street to urge delay in leaving the EU and urge that we keep as many of the features of our membership as possible.

We should remember how they lobbied and lobbied to get the UK into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which gave us boom and bust, and a  large recession, which did considerable damage to their member companies.

They then thought the Euro a good idea and claimed we would lose out by not joining it, especially in the City. Instead the City grew and flourished outside the Euro.

Now they want to prolong the period of uncertainty by demanding a Transitional period, and delay making our own trade agreements. Above all they seem to want to cripple the UK economy for longer with large transfers of money to the rest of the EU, with the consequent big drag on our balance of payments.

They could be helpful to their member firms if instead they concentrated on lobbying the EU not to impose any new barriers on their trade with us when we leave. It’s the EU which pretends to want new barriers, not the UK.

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Government stability

Remain, Labour and many in the media are running endless stories about the possible fall of the PM or the government. These stories are false mischief.

Let me remind you of the process to remove a Conservative PM. 15% of the Conservative MPs have to ask for a Confidence vote in the leader.Then more than half the MPs have to vote No Confidence. As most Conservative MPs support the Leader neither of these two events are about to happen.

For there to be an early General election the government would have to lose a Confidence  motion in the Commons. I know of no Conservative. MP who would vote to do that. The DUP are not after an early election either.

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Getting in to Oxbridge

I have read with interest the allegations that Oxford and Cambridge do not admit enough pupils from poorer and non professional backgrounds. From my regular contacts with Oxford I think it is a much more welcoming institution than when I went there, which does much more to reach out to people who do  not come from communities with strong Oxbridge links. The University spends time talking to schools that have no history of sending pupils to the university, time encouraging more students to apply, and provides a range of bursaries and scholarships to help some students with costs. It has made good progress in changing attitudes within the University and in welcoming people from all backgrounds.

I was the first person in my family to go to university. I was surprised when a teacher suggested to me that I put my name in for the Oxford entrance exam at the beginning of my fourth term in the 6th Form. I was just 16, as I had jumped a year at  prinary school. What little I knew about Oxford made me think it was unattainable. They told me at school I would  be in  with a chance, and I am grateful to them for putting opportunity in my way. Everyone with a chance needs an adult in their school or family circle who suggests they try. Governors, Councillors and teachers must ensure all state schools look out for talent to apply to the best universities.

I was  very self critical in the 6th form, struggling to develop a  well informed voice I was happy with. I pitched myself against the great minds I read in books and thought I always fell short. I tried out  various styles of analysis and writing. One essay attracted particular criticism from a teacher which it doubtless deserved. When challenged why I was writing like that, I replied  defensively without thought or good reason that I assumed that was what Oxford would want.

Then came one of those defining moments that teachers sometimes achieve without realising it. He replied, “In that case why do you want to go there?” The sheer irreverence of the quip made me realise Oxford could be for people like me, and was only worth going to if it could further my development. He in a way liberated me from possible  failure, and confirmed a realisation I had often flirted with that  study  was about me, the quality of my enquiry  and the development of my ideas. There are strict limits to how much anyone else can teach you once you have grasped the conventional wisdom of your subject. I was already grappling with what I thought were the imperfections of the contemporary work in my discipline.

I was invited to interview. The system was you went to stay at your first choice College,  but had to stay for longer in case other Colleges in their group – there were 3 groups – also wanted to interview you for a place.

I was staying in a noisy room in an annex building on  a main road. It was cold and the room friendless as the student that usually lived there had had to strip the room for my arrival. I waited and waited until I was finally summonsed to an interview. It was perfunctory. There was no apparent intellectual challenge. I assumed they were going through the motions and had decided against me by the time I got there. I had not researched who was likely to be interviewing me and felt cheated there was no good argument.  I did not understand the significance of the hypothetical question about which year I could turn up if offered a place.  I waited and waited for an interview elsewhere but none came. I was finally told I could go. By this time I was thinking I was glad I would go off to London who had already offered me a place if I got 2 E grade A levels . In London they had engaged with my views at the interview.

I was amazed when a letter came some time later offering me a place and an Open Scholarship. My bad feelings about my sojourn  at Oxford were banished by the offer and by the positive reaction to it of my school. It certainly changed my life. Oxford did not need  me to take any  A levels but I stayed at school to complete them. 2 Es were needed for a local authority  grant. Although that took all the pressure off, for me it did the opposite. I now felt I had to live up to the faith placed in me. I got permission to go to the local university library to work, as I had run out of books to read at school.

In those days we were not to my knowledge invited to any preparatory or introductory discussions. There was no attempt to reach out when you arrived for interview. The Oxford I went to was full of ex public school boys who were better prepared.  They were more used to the College life as it reflected patterns from the richer boarding schools. They had been  tutored for the exams and made conversant with the dons who would interview them.

The modern Oxford I meet has a much  better range of people from a wide range of backgrounds. There are many more women with the strict segregation of old Oxford with just 5 women’s colleges broken down completely.  The student groups I have spoken to do not see their past school or social origins as significant as it was in the Oxford I attended. Oxbridge provides a good home for those with the discipline of self instruction and study. I just hope every school does encourage their brightest and best to apply. One of the best features of  Oxford when I was an undergraduate was the open lecture lists. You could go to any lecture in any subject. I tended to go to the most interesting lectures in some other subjects to provide a more rounded education, rather than to the ones in my subject which did not normally present new material if you had read enough.


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Remembrance Day in Wokingham

This year there was no march to the Church given the disruption to the town centre owing to the building works and the replacement of road surfaces and pavements. Instead Councillors and representatives of the uniformed organisations made their own way to All Saints for a moving Remembrance service.

We returned to the Town Hall to lay wreaths before the list of names of the dead from the World wars and other conflicts. The service and ceremony were well attended.

I would like to thank the organisers and all who joined in to show how the community as whole remembers.

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Today we remember the many who died in the two world wars of the last century and later conflicts. I will lay wreaths in Burghfield in the morning and Wokingham  in the afternoon.

As this year is part of the centenary remembrance of the Great War, there have been plenty  of historical films and books of what happened in that prolonged and devastating conflict.

There have been attempts to defend and explain the actions of those in charge of the armies which  suffered such terrible losses in attack after attack. All too often  the promised impact of preparatory bombardment did not work, leaving the attacking troops to be killed in their thousands  as they stumbled through barbed wire onto machine gun emplacements. There was little understanding and little ability to handle the many medical conditions  brought on by the water, mud and  disease that spread in the trenches, and even less sympathy for  the psychological conditions many soldiers developed after prolonged exposure to shells,  mortars and bombs.

The recruitment of massed citizens armies made politicans and Generals more blase about the extent of the  losses.  Wellington in the Peninsula was careful to protect his troops and avoid battles where losses would be large because he knew he could not easily replace his professional small army. In contrast   the Generals in the First War on both sides just assumed they could recruit many more replacements. The French had to face a mutiny when troops protested about their mistreatment, whilst many  Russians ended up as revolutionaries appalled by the suffering they had experienced in their army.

The bad  political failures included  the Peace Treaty at the end. The terms of this seemed to help set up another gruesome conflict twenty years later. A war is only successful if after victory the victors secure a stable and well founded peace.

The two wars have cast a shadow over the lives of those of us who came after the carnage, as we have sought to understand the suffering of our grandparents and parents and the sacrifices of many in their generations. It cast a far worse cloud over those who lived through the violence. Twice liberty was defended and the allies were  ultimately victorious, but only after herculean effort.

We should  take away from the events of more than one hundred years ago the need to expect more of politics to avoid conflicts becoming so violent. Where armed conflict is unavoidable we should  expect those who do lead or direct troops into battles to take more care of them, working out how to concentrate and use force more effectively than either side managed for much of the First World War. That war is infamous for the deployment of chemical weapons on a large scale, for the cruel dominance of the machine gun and shell, and for the many heroic but  too often futile attempts by infantry to break through massively strong defensive positions.

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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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