Better healthcare

I am taking an interest in how the extra money for the NHS will  be spent. It is most important that NHS England comes up with a proper plan of what they are trying to achieve by way of expansion and service improvements, so they can then test out how many extra staff they may need and what new contracts they should sign to deliver the  better healthcare.

I understand that the Health Secretary is engaged on just such an exercise. I would be interested to hear from people, especially constituents, on what would be sensible requests for spending this additional cash. My priorities include wanting a well staffed GP service locally so that patients can get appointments that are timely and GPs feel they have manageable workloads so they can provide the best possible service. I think we do need some more hospital capacity for the most common procedures to reduce waiting times and provide some  choice and flexibility for patients over when and where they receive treatment.

Local services need to  be expanded to reflect the additional homes and increase in population. I share the government’s wish to see better mental health provision where there are proven protocols and treatments that can make a difference to people in need of help.

The government is considering the role of technology in future medical services and care. How far do patients want to go with digital booking, or even  remote consultations? I am keen that this should  be based on patient preference rather than a mandatory conversion, as healthcare is a private and individual matter where  the patient needs to feel happy with the system. Patients need to  trust the doctor and the way he or she works for it stand most chance of being a success.

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The Commons votes

Yesterday the Commons voted down the Grieve and Cooper amendments to the government’s neutral motion. The Grieve amendment would have given Parliamentary time for a series of debates and votes on indicative approaches to Brexit, seeking to pre-empt  or direct the role of government to propose, amend or pass legislation and pursue policies of its design.  The Cooper amendment would have given Parliamentary time to enact a delay in Brexit, amending the EU Withdrawal Act, against the government’s wishes.  These amendments were rejected by  20 and 23 votes respectively, more than the government’s majority.

The Commons also passed the Spelman amendment by 8 votes. This amendment to the motion expresses the opinion that we should not leave without an agreement, but it does not overturn the legislation already passed for us to leave on 29 March. The government opposed it, in part because any suggestion we will not leave without a deal undermines the UK bargaining position.

The Brady amendment also passed requiring the government to go back to Brussels to seek to remove the Irish backstop from the draft Withdrawal Agreement. The government to win over more Conservatives to this measure promised that they will seek a rewrite of the legal text of the agreement on the backstop, when they had previously indicated they would just be seeking a protocol which would have been too weak. The PM also promised she  will strengthen the official negotiating team and will take seriously the Malthouse  compromise about the future negotiations and possible settlement.  As someone who objects to more than just the backstop in the draft Agreement I was unable to support a motion which said I would support the Withdrawal Agreement after changes to the backstop.  I do support the part of the Malthouse approach which seeks a managed no deal Brexit with talks about a comprehensive free trade agreement and use of the Article 24 of the GATT whilst in talks about such a proposal. I do not agree with more delay or payments to the EU after March. It is difficult to see what we might be able to agree after March that we have been. unable to agree over the previous 33 months. If the EU agreed this removes the need for any tariffs or new barriers to UK/EU trade.

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New migration policy causes stress for Labour

The New Immigration Bill before the Commons yesterday carries out one of the promises of the government over Brexit. It takes powers to repeal freedom of movement from the EU into the UK , establishing a migration system for EU countries which will be the same as the system for the rest of the world. This could come into effect shortly after March 29 if we leave then,  but would be delayed for a couple of years were the UK to enter into a Withdrawal Agreement and so called Transition.

The government has not provided many of the details about how the powers will be used. It has stated that it wants to base its common worldwide migration policy on allowing the recruitment of talent from anywhere around the globe. It is likely talent will be defined by a minimum salary or wage for a job the person is coming to accept, but clearly it could be qualification based as well or additionally. Students will be allowed then as now to come to recognised UK institutions to study an approved course, and faculty members allowed to reflect the international nature of much modern scholarship.

Labour decided they could not oppose this measure. After all they had promised to end freedom of movement, and seemed to understand the views of many of their voters on this issue. Some in the Union movement did feel that allowing too many people into low -aid jobs from abroad undercut British workers and tended to help keep pay down. Late in the day Labour under pressure on social media and from some of its own backbench MPs decided to switch course and ask them to vote against it. Apparently Labour changed its mind and felt that the policy would be too restrictive on migration after all.

What criteria would you want the government to use when deciding who can gain entry to work here? This legislation takes back control, but leaves many questions unanswered about how exactly we should use the new powers we gain once we have left the EU.

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The Brady amendment does not allow Brexit

The Brady amendment says MPs should vote for the Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop is amended or withdrawn. It is vague over how to fix the backstop and fails to mention the other many failings of the Withdrawal Agreement. I will not be supporting it. The Conservative Manifesto made clear that the government needed to keep negotiation over the Withdrawal Agreement in line with negotiation of the future partnership to have any bargaining power. The Withdrawal Agreement would lock us in for 21 to 45 more months of talks , placing us back under EU laws and taxes for that period, with no guarantee of a good exit.

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Parliament and the people

Tomorrow Parliament has to decide whether it wishes to serve the people or defy them.

Parliament promised the electorate a referendum. It enacted one. It promised to enact the decision of the UK people. After much huffing and puffing it sent the Article 50 letter to leave the EU. After even more regrets and Parliamentary objections it passed the EU Withdrawal Act to confirm in UK law our departure on the 29 March 2019. If it wishes to serve the people it will now concentrate on making a success of our departure and do everything it can to use the new freedoms, money and controls we gain by exit.

Instead there are determined factions within Parliament who want to stop Brexit altogether, or who seek to delay or undermine it in the name of a having a so called  soft Brexit, partial Brexit, late Brexit or half in half out Brexit.  They have tried before to persuade the Parliament that we should stay in the Customs Union we voted to leave, and lost the votes. They have tried before to say we should stay in the single market or closely aligned to it though we voted to leave it, and again lost the votes.  Both Remain and Leave made crystal clear in the referendum leaving the EU meant leaving both single market and customs union. The UK government sent a leaflet to every household telling us just that. The EU has always said that. The EU says you cannot cherry pick, you can’t stay in the bits some like about the EU without accepting lots of rules, costs and laws you may not like.

The forces of Remain in the Commons now dare to say they are the defenders of Parliamentary democracy, by wanting further debate and more votes. The irony is crushing, as they only want more debates and more votes to stop us regaining control of our laws, our borders and and our money. They refuse to accept that their view has been given more than three years of air time in the referendum and in the endless repetitious debates they have required us to hold. It dominates the airwaves of the conventional media, where the Just Leave cause is given little time, always interrupted, and always bookended by “experts”  saying we are wrong. A group of Remain MPs who spent our years in the EU telling us no one was interested in details of EU policy and did their best to stop Parliament talking about it now want to talk about nothing  else. MPs who told us the EU had no significant powers over us now tell us what the EU does is wide ranging and crucial.

 

The public think it is time Parliament got on with it. The majority do not want Parliament to reverse its Brexit legislation and keep us in. The public have spoken. Parliament promised. Parliament must now let us leave. To do otherwise is to go to war with the people.

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Questions for Remain

I am bored to tears with much of the conventional media, which simply recycle endless old Project Fear stories as if they were true, parades so called experts who always back Remain, and fail to ask any of these people the questions pro Leave would ask. The media interrupts and cross examines Leave supporters aggressively but rarely asks a difficult question of a Remain “expert” or supporter. So here’s the sort of questions they should be asked, in the interests of balance.

 

  1. Why do you want to give £39bn away to rich countries on the continent in return for 21 more months of talks with the EU?
  2. Why do you think the EU will give us a good deal on a future relationship in 21 months of talks after March, when they have failed to offer anything in the 2 years 9 months before March?
  3. Why will it be easier to get a good deal once we have given away the money than it is before we do so?
  4. Why did Remain tell us that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market and customs union if you now say we could negotiate our way back in?
  5. If you want to stay in either the single market or customs union what do you expect the EU to demand on freedom of movement, budget contributions and adherence to EU laws?
  6. Why should there be any delays at UK ports where we import food and drugs, when the UK will be controlling the borders there and when Customs and Excise have already said they can ensure a smooth incoming border?
  7. Why didn’t the UK economy collapse into recession and massive job losses as Remain and the government predicted for the first year after a Leave vote?
  8. How would you afford the tax cuts and spending increases which Brexiteers plan from the big savings on the EU budget? Do you accept a Brexit bonus budget will boost the economy?
  9. Would you like to see lower tariffs or no tariffs on tropical produce from emerging market poorer countries, as the UK can do that once out? Wouldn’t removing all tariffs on imported comp0nents for manufacture be a great idea as well?
  10. Wouldn’t another 21 to 45 months of talks prolong the very  business uncertainty you dislike and worry about?
  11. What would you have said if Leave had refused to accept the 1975 referendum result and demanded a second referendum on the basis that Remain then lied by saying there would be  no loss of sovereignty by joining the EEC/EU?
  12. Why do you have such a low view of our country that you think we cannot govern ourselves?
  13. Is there anything the EU has done that you think is wrong or damaging? If so  why didnt you oppose or try to change it?

 

 

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Let me give a cheer for the Bank of England

Regular readers will know I have been critical of the Bank for its tough squeeze on car loans and mortgages since March 2017. Some of you have written in to support  the Bank, claiming with them that the build up of consumer debt and mortgages  is worrying and they are right to rein it in.

So I was pleased to read the recent speech of the Deputy Governor Broadbent who has offered a more considered position by the Bank of England. They now acknowledge that there has been no worrying increase in consumer debt as reflected in credit card, overdraft and other borrowing. The main increase in consumer borrowing has occurred through an increase in student loans as more people graduate from universities under the loan system. As the Bank recognises, much of this debt will never be repaid, and it is more a state debt than a personal one as repayments are only made above certain income levels. It is more of a graduate tax on success. There has been a more modest rise in car loans, but as the Bank now accepts most of this is a kind of hire contract. There is no risk for the individual who would simply surrender the car. The individual does not own it. The Bank also accepts that the ratios and spread of these car loan hire contracts is sufficiently broad for there to be no great risk to the financing houses responsible.

I hope this more thorough analysis by the Bank will lead to a relaxation of policy on car hire contracts. I hasten to add I have  no personal interest as I do not want one myself. There are however many people who would like to renew their car and buy a more fuel efficient and clean vehicle, currently restrained by the squeeze.

The Bank also points out that mortgage affordability is considerably above the levels that prevailed in the years before the banking crash. Whilst house prices are on average well up and a higher multiple of earnings than in the 1990s, the much lower interest rates means that mortgage outgoings are not up as a proportion of income on normal levels at the end of the last century. Again the Bank rightly confirms my view that there is no excessive mortgage debt problem out there.

Both our housing and our car market have been damaged by high and increased transaction taxes, by changes to other tax arrangements and by a credit squeeze. It is time to relax it a bit. I am glad I can now agree with the Bank’s analysis, which seems thorough and convincing over this issue of debt.

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Parliament and the Executive

For the Tuesday debate in accordance with the EU Withdrawal Act the government has tabled a neutral motion on our exit from the EU. The motion simply says Parliament has considered the matter of our withdrawal.  Parliament after all has debated little else for the entire last two and a half years. It has also legislated twice to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. As I made clear to the Commons when we passed the EU Withdrawal Notification Act, that was the decision point. Parliament’s wish to send the Article 50 letter should have been the end to the debate on the principle of leaving.

Some in Parliament have now decided they would like to move amendments to the government motion to undermine  the legislation Parliament has put through to allow us to leave. It is true that passing a motion next week cannot of itself change the law, so unless the law is amended we will still leave. Some hope that if Parliament expresses a strong view that it has changed its mind it might get the government to think again. That would  be unwise given the solemn promise made by Parliament and government that we would implement the decision of the referendum.

Some opponents of Brexit have therefore decided they wish to rewrite Parliamentary rules to try to legislate to stop Brexit against the wishes of the government. It has long been the practice agreed by all  parties in government that government has three advantages over any other group in the House in order to allow it to govern. The first is that government leads over the choice of business in the Commons to allow it to get its legislative programme through. It still of course needs  a majority for each proposal and may have to allow extensive debate and disagreement, often resulting in compromises. It would not be easy or orderly for any group of MPs to propose a Bill and then to try to get it through against other groups competing for time and support. All governments have readily made time available for private members bills and for Opposition debates as part of the deal over cross party working.

The second is anything that requires taxes to be raised and public money to be spent should need Parliamentary consent based on a resolution put to the House by a Minister. The government has to take responsibility for the whole budget and needs to keep control of spending as best it can.

The third is where a power to be exercised is a so called prerogative or Crown power the PM and the government act for the Crown or seek the Crown’s assent. Other groups of MPs  cannot claim to act in the name of the Crown nor exercise any such powers. Government Ministers negotiate with foreign governments on behalf of the UK.

The wish of some to legislate to delay or prevent our exit from the EU comes up against all of these issues. The Cooper and Grieve amendments wish to alter the idea of government business motions, asserting that their proposed bills would take precedence over anything the government might wish to do, with guaranteed Parliamentary time. They argue wrongly that their bills do not have any financial implications so they do not need a Money resolution. They ignore the involvement of prerogative powers in negotiating and signing international treaties.

The government’s strongest case in pushing back on these revolutionary constitutional proposals is that clearly any decision to extend our membership of the EU has substantial financial implications. Under the EU Withdrawal Act our payments to the EU cease on March 29 2019. The government has no power to authorise payments for contributions and programmes after that date. The so called £39bn of the Withdrawal Agreement would need  new legislation to authorise it. All payments up to 29 March are legal under the European Communities Act, but this Act ceases to be on our Statute book after March 29th. Staying in for longer would doubtless be expensive and should need a government motion to approve the spending, with  Treasury consent that it is affordable within the revised budget.

The government would also be right to warn that moving over to a new system of choosing how to spend Parliamentary time could make government very difficult. If a government cannot be sure of enough time to try to get its programme through it cannot govern effectively. Any government with a small majority will be especially at a disadvantage. Were this to be established as a new precedent then the next government with a decent majority would presumably legislate to stop Parliament having such extensive rights, and might make things less flexible and friendly to backbenchers and opposition than they are today under a settlement that has lasted for many years.

The government can also point out the EU has not offered us a few months delay on Article 50 and that would require negotiation with the EU over the terms. The EU would wish to negotiate with the government, not with a temporary alliance of MPs.

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The Treaty of Aachen and the European army

This week President Macron and Chancellor Merkel signed a Franco German Treaty at Aachen. It sets up a governing committee for a common European army, to  be based on establishing a common culture in the German and French forces and engaging them in more joint operations. There will  be common weapons procurement and an integrated supply industry.

The same Treaty also wishes to erode the distinctions of government and culture in the border areas between the two countries. There will be an overall joint governing structure, encouragement of bilingualism, and joint government programmes.  The Treaty in addition  sets up an economic council of experts to advise on bringing together economic policies. The two countries pledge themselves to even closer governmental working and more convergence of law and action.  France promises to take the common EU line on the Security Council of the UN, and to seek a permanent seat for Germany on that body as well.

They presumably chose Aachen as the resting place of Charlemagne, a great figure in European unification. The Rathaus at Aachen where they met was the setting for the coronation of 31 Holy Roman Emperors, and it houses replicas of the crown jewels of the Emperors. The two leaders wishes to reaffirm their enthusiasm for a political unified Europe.

The Rathaus has also seen other events that remind us of the trials of European history. There was the period of occupation by the French Napoleonic forces, when France tried to unite a large part of Europe by force of arms. There was the 1923 sacking by Rhineland nationalists, and the bombing of the building by the allies seeking to reverse German militarism in the 1940s.

True to form, signing this Treaty to try to unify more, the political forces in France and Germany have included strong criticism from their  oppositions. The German populists are concerned that Germany will be dragged into spending more German money on French economic developments. The French opposition is very concerned about giving Germany a role in the government of French border areas. These are all matters for French and German debate, not for UK opinions.

I highlight this event because during the referendum Leave was told by Remain there was no question of a European army, yet the language of this Treaty develops the idea a long way. It is clear again that the main drivers of European integration do wish to have a joint military capability distinct from NATO. This in turn requires a much higher degree of political integration and joint decision taking.

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The pound rises against the Euro and dollar

Good silence from the anti Brexit commentators over recent rises in the pound as we get closer to the date to leave the EU.

They are none too noisy about the latest IMF forecast either where the IMF  think the UK will grow faster than Germany this year.

That’s the magic of Brexit!

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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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