Reflections on the Cambridge debate

There were meant to be four lead speakers on each side. Those proposing belief in the United States of Europe did have four senior people. Two were former UK MEPs, one was the founder and co-President of a pan European party, and one was a fellow in European Politics at LSE.

The Opposition had myself and a Professor  who was sceptical about the feasibility and desirability of the USE. Two able students joined us. I was the only one of the four who thought Brexit a good idea though I had no plans to raise that. The others all wanted to raise Brexit, so that was 7 against 1.

Whilst it was an improvement on the referendum debates that the pro EU side did not deny a United States of Europe is a possible and desirable outcome, I was struck by their lack of detail. There was no blueprint for how the remaining tasks to build ¬†the bigger ¬†budget and larger tax base might ¬†work, how big the army need be, how and ¬†when the EU/USE would take responsibility for its own defence and how and when it would create peace in Europe. There was no exploration of how and when the EU growth plan would work and whether it was impeded at all by member state differences. ¬†There was plenty of hatred for Putin’s ¬†Russia and of a Trump led USA but no diplomatic path for better relations with these powers. The advocates clearly want a USE in Cold war with Russia and with the USA if they do not approve of its President.

Much of the tone of the debate was very narrow in attitude, repeating well known general platitudes about unity, democracy, solidarity with no understanding of how far the current structure is from delivering this.

There was no attempt to respond to the facts and figures I gave them on the huge gap between the US and the EU over growth, per capita  GPD and for the growth of great companies. When I highlighted  the importance of the great US digital corporations it led to hostility to capitalism though all these people do depend on Microsoft, Apple, Meta, Alphabet ,Amazon Web and Nividia to lead their own lives and to get their degrees.  Their approach like the EU is to rely on US companies whilst  condemning them.

Will the new intelligentsia wake up to reality? Europe has a lot of catching up to do. The world does not owe it a living. There is a huge gap between the high ideals they assert and  the reality of what the EU is doing.

The Cambridge Union debates a United States of Europe

I offer below a speech similar to the one I  made on Thursday night at the Cambridge Union. I spoke spontaneously and was not given enough time to say what I wanted. This recreation captures some of what I said then and adds a bit.

 

This House should not  believe in a United States of Europe

It is good to see that some eight years after we had our great debate about whether to stay in the EU on its journey to ever closer union Cambridge wakes up to what the argument is all about

It would be quite a turn round for Remainers in the UK to believe in a United States of Europe.

They spent the last 50 years telling us the EU had no such plans.

It is just a single market they told us.

We will not lose more sovereignty they said .

Successive federalising Treaties were tidying up exercises. Nothing to see here

 

It is true I never believed them.

It was always clear to me the aim was a United States of Europe.

I could hear it in the speeches of many on the continent who were more honest about their direction.

I could read it in the Treaties themselves as they set out on their course of ever closer union.

 

We went from common market to single market

We went from European Economic Community to European Union

We went from the Treaty of Rome to the Treaty of European Union via Maastricht, Lisbon and Amsterdam.

The aim was always to create a United States of Europe

Many wanted to rival or outshine the United States of America

 

Today I can tell you there is still a gap between plan and reality.

I know both the USA and the EU fairly well.

I have travelled and worked in both.

I can assure you that for all its federalising and centralising

The EU is no United States of Europe in the way the USA is the United States of America.

 

 

Let us look at some of the differences

 

The USA has a powerful President elected by the voters of the whole nation

The EU has five Presidents jostling for authority. Not one of them is elected by a pan European electorate.

 

If any government in the world wants to  talk to the USA, they ring the President in the White House.

Who are they meant to ring if they want to talk to the European Union?

 

If the USA wishes to meet a foreign country at senior level the President meets the Head of the other state.

If the EU wants to meet they often send a couple of their Presidents who argue over who is senior

 

The USA backs its foreign policy with the world’s¬† most powerful army, navy and airforce.

The EU’s small forces cluster under the NATO umbrella and rely on US protection

 

The EU says it promotes peace

So what went wrong with its interventions in the Balkans?

How is it promoting peace in Ukraine?

 

The EU claims to be democratic

In Poland the new government is busy locking up Ministers from the government of 2007 despite a Presidential pardon

Germany has put the AFD Opposition under surveillance

The EU backed Spain in sending Catalan nationalist politicians to prison

The EU seems happy with stopping critics of its scheme from standing for election

The European Parliament has no organised Opposition saying the EU’s policies are wrong and offering an alternative

 

The EU says it promotes free trade

Yet it is slow to reach agreements with other countries

And quick to impose protections at home

 

The EU’s idea of a single market is

Laws telling everyone what they can make and how they can make them

No wonder innovation withers

All they needed was the simple rule that if you sold a product in your home country

Then you could also offer it for sale in any member state

 

The EU claims to foster a digital revolution

So how come all the world’s main technology companies are in  China and the  USA?

 

The EU claims to be good for growth

So how is it that the fifteen largest quoted companies in the world are all American ‚Äď yes 15

How come the USA has outgrown the EU so much in recent years?

 

US GDP has now hit $80,000  a head

That almost double the EU’s $41,000

Time to ask who has the better model for growth?

 

Where the USA gives us great digital innovations and services

The EU taxes and fines US companies for daring to supply what the public and business want

 

The USA creates an exciting 21st century of opportunity and investment

The EU is stuck in the last century worrying that innovation brings threats

 

The EU wants many to buy battery cars

Pity they will largely be imported as China corners production of batteries

 

The EU poses as kind to migrants and asylum seekers

Yet it and its member states have been in recent years busy building more border wall and fence than Donald Trump

 

The EU promotes trans European networks.

All the time we were in the EU no trans European train turned up at Wokingham station

Whilst HS 2 was ground down by cost overruns and extreme delays

 

The EU’s energy policy has left it short of energy and facing high bills

Germany’s bad decision to close all her nuclear stations did not help

The worse decision to build pipelines to make themselves dependent on Russian gas followed

 

The EU has a great idea to put in more solar and wind energy

Such a pity China will supply much of the kit

Meanwhile the EU has not worked out how to store renewable power when plentiful

Or how to use electricity in planes and trucks

The USA under Biden as well as Trump carries on drilling for more oil and gas

So they can send gas to Europe to keep the lights on

 

The EU’s farming policy became so hostile to producing food

That a Dutch government fell because of it

 

The EU fishing policy is great at allowing supertrawlers to hoover up far too much fish

Damaging fishing grounds and sea bed

 

The Euro is the jewel in the federal crown

The chosen means to complete the Union

It has been a currency in search of a country to love it

Now the EU  is making progress with the common budget, common taxes and common borrowing a USE needs

 

The Germans agreed to the Euro on grounds that it would take a tough anti inflation stance

They wanted no return to currency printing and debasement that so damaged Germany 100 years ago

In recent years the ECB did turn to money printing and ended up with high inflation

 

Germany agreed to monetary union on the basis that all states would need to keep their debts and deficits down.

Those rules are now suspended and most countries are way over the borrowing limits

 

One of the main constraints on fast progress to complete the United States of Europe is the huge costs it will impose

The EU itself is trying to overcome the cash shortage by its own huge borrowing spree

It aims to add a short trillion euros to EU debts

Which will fall to be guaranteed by the member states

 

The EU is a long way off commanding the mighty resources of the USA

The Euro is still no match for the dollar

 

As the EU worries about its defence and security, worries about its long and exposed borders, worries about its cash need, worries about where to find extra tax revenue from highly taxed people the US storms ahead with the digital revolution

 

I warn you

Do not be a small business in the EU ‚Äď they will regulate and tax you too much

Do not be an entrepreneur in the EU ‚Äď they will make innovation difficult and impose high taxes

Do not be a believer in freedom in the EU as they have a law for everything

Do not believe the emerging United States of Europe will outshine the USA

 

History tells us the attempts at European unions fail

The Holy Roman Empire broke up

The Scandinavian union broke up

The USSR broke up

To say nothing of the forced unions some European countries sought to impose on others that caused so much harm and loss of life

 

So EU

You do want to be the USE

But you are nothing like the USA

Why would anyone believe in this lopsided underfunded over regulated legal structure?

That is no new successful country

It is the comfortable well paid  redoubt of an elite that is fast losing it with many voters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours sincerely

 

My answer to the emails I received on the Gaza votes

Thank you for your email concerning the Hamas/Israel war. I was in Parliament for the proceedings and was frustrated that we were not allowed to vote on the motion and amendments. This was owing to an error by the Speaker, who wanted to put the Labour amendment first which ran the danger that no vote would then be possible on the original SNP motion. He apologised after the event for his mistake. As   a result no recorded votes were undertaken on the issues. The chair said the House passed the Labour amendment  unanimously. Many MPs in practice cried No to this amendment and objected to the procedure. No division lobby vote was allowed to demonstrate it was not unanimous.

 

         What matters is what happens in Gaza. A vote in the House of Commons is not going to change the conduct of Hamas and Israel. I have throughout said I would like to see a ceasefire and pointed out this can only occur if the two sides in the conflict negotiate the terms of one, whether temporary or permanent. The UK government is speaking for the whole country when it uses its diplomatic powers to support Qatar and Egypt as they seek to bring the two sides together. It is good news to hear from the US Secretary of State that he  thinks progress has been made in crucial talks  to try to bring the two sides to a ceasefire.

 

 

 

        

The issues over the vote on Gaza

At the heart of the row in the Commons over the Gaza vote was a bitter feud between the SNP and Labour.

For many years the Standing Orders have been followed which state that on an Opposition Day the Opposition party that is given that day can table  a motion for debate and require a vote on it. This was done to prevent the government tabling an amendment, voting through the amendment and thereby preventing a vote on the Opposition party motion. It is an exception  to normal procedure on an amendment where we vote on it first then vote on the motion as amended or unamended depending on the outcome of the amendment vote.

Labour gets many more Opposition days than the SNP as allocation depends on number of MPs in the party. They chose not to use recent days to debate and vote a Labour motion on Gaza. The SNP motion went too far in criticising Israel  for the Labour leadership. They were worried about Labour MPs voting for the SNP motion, and concerned Front benchers would resign to do so.

Seeing the SNP Motion the government as it is entitled to do tabled its policy as an amendment to the SNP motion expecting Parliament to first vote on the SNP motion followed by a vote on the government amendment when the SNP motion was defeated. Labour also tabled an amendment.

The Speaker wanted all 3 positions to be heard but his decision to allow priority to voting the Labour amendment meant the SNP motion would not be voted if the Labour amendment passed. The government then said they would withdraw their amendment expecting the  Speaker  to restore Standing Orders by requiring  a prior vote on the SNP motion followed by a vote on the Labour amendment. Instead the Speaker determined to continue with priority for the Labour amendment. It also meant in the debate the Shadow Foreign Secretary took priority in responding to the SNP over the government.

Conservative backbenchers used up the remaining time so the Labour amendment had not been put to the vote by 7 pm when following the resolution of the House proceedings should have ended. Instead the chair put the Labour amendment after 7. There were howls  of protest against putting it and cries of No against the amendment. The chair declared the amendment passed  unanimously.

This was a bad day for Parliament. Meanwhile the Israeli Parliament voted against a two state solution for Gaza and Palestine. That was a vote that matters. It should  remind UK MPs that what matters  in Gaza is the views of Hamas and Israel.

Conservative Home article on mutualising parts of the public sector

Everyone an owner. There’s a popular Conservative policy that reaches out across the divide. An owner can be a self employed person setting up and running their own business. They¬† can be a shareholder in a company they work for. It can be a left of centre idea in the form of a co-operative or mutual where workers and or customers own the concern. It can be home ownership, as attractive to many Labour voters as to Conservative.
         Time was when past Conservative governments made great strides in extending ownership. As a Minister  I helped the miners of Tower Colliery  take on the ownership of their mine against a reluctant Coal Board.  I freed parts of the Property Services Agency from within government so the managers could take it on and sell their skills more widely than the public sector. As an adviser I helped the lorry drivers of National Freight take over their old nationalised industry and transform it into a successful transport business.
          The work I did for Margaret Thatcher led to the option of self invested pension funds instead of having to join a multi member  big fund. It beefed up company share ownership schemes,  and launched popular issues of discounted and free shares in the big privatisations. Incentives and help to own your own home were improved. Schemes to allow self build and homesteading, taking on and improving a run down public sector property were extended. We made it easier to be self employed and to set up a business. We raised the VAT threshold so small businesses did not have to wrestle with that extra cost and complexity.
          Today we could find new  ways to extend ownership. The public sector has become bloated and it has a deep productivity problem. It would be a good idea to explore ways in which employees in nationalised businesses, in independent public bodies and in parts of the administration of state departments could have a stake in  what they do and more reward for improved performance.
          The Post Office shows just how much can go wrong when the people running it do not have a stake in it. They have presided over the dreadful treatment of the sub postmasters for many years. Less remarked is that they also have accumulated a massive £1390 million loss for taxpayers. They have wiped out all the money taxpayers put in and left an effectively  bankrupt business . It  can only trade because it has guaranteed subsidy and cash made available by the government to meet all the losses.
         HS 2 Ltd shows how overpaid senior executives there spent ever larger sums given freely by taxpayers with a much delayed  result and with a huge cost overrun. Again they had no incentive from success and no downside if they got it wrong. If people want private sector large company levels of pay and bonus they should be expected to deliver good results for taxpayers, or should lose their ,jobs and or not get a bonus if they fail.
         The railways are largely now nationalised. They have all the symptoms of nationalisation. Poor service, too many strikes, bad labour relations, huge losses to be paid by taxpayers are constant. There is no energetic business plan to win back lost passengers and provide new purpose for a system running high on overheads . Staff are often  not treated well and do not benefit from success in attracting more passengers and earning more revenue.  As the contracts to run train services end the state should reorganise. It should reconnect track with train services. It should offer shares in the new regional businesses to employees and to new providers of capital. It should allow other companies access to the tracks of the regional companies, with a competition regulator adjudicating if the regional company does not want to offer track capacity to others.
        Much of the work of the Agencies, Councils  and departments takes the form of contracts with providers. A Council sets a refuse or street cleaning or grounds maintenance policy and then sub contracts to a private provider. Quite often poor supervision of contract or poor policy choices lead to bad work or inefficiencies. More of the work done by the staff of the department, Council or Agency could be done by an external specialist concern, which could emerge from giving current staff teams contracts to do the work and the right to offer their services elsewhere. Once more is subject to competitive challenge so there will be more progress in raising productivity and quality and using innovations and new technology to improve service. The Minister or Council Committee should set the objectives and the budget.
        The government needs a more generous policy towards self employment. The self employed provide so much of the crucial flexible personal service people need. They are prepared to work at week ends and evenings, come to your home to work, allow you to get in touch by phone or email without all the aggressive protective noise from larger companies. We have lost far too many of them since 2020. The government should scrap its changes to IR 35 which make it more difficult for self employed to win company business. Councils need to offer them a better deal on van access and parking to help the rest of us. Government should assist Councils to be  business friendly in the interests of more and better services for their residents.
         The government should improve its schemes to help service personnel and other key worker groups to own their own homes. Housing on public sector land, and created from modernising and adapting other public property would help. Mortgage contributions could be part of the salary package, with private capital brought in from building societies and banks. Where the state wants to keep the property when the person wishes to leave public employ, then it should buy back the home at a market adjusted price so the person has money to help with the purchase of a property for their new lives.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†There are plenty of ways for government to help people own something. More of the public sector can be mutualised. More public property can be used to help create homes and businesses for people to own. This could give the state a new sense of purpose, raise quality and productivity, and help improve relations with the workforce. Let’s have a nation of owners, where the interests of workers, executives and owners are aligned because many more can directly participate in success.

My Intervention on employment in the Urgent Question on the UK Economy

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):

It is good news that unemployment has stayed low by European standards, and the economy is still generating plenty of job vacancies. Will the Government take more steps to help more people into those jobs, so that we can get faster growth, bring down the benefit bill and boost their incomes?

Bim Afolami:

The whole House knows that my right hon. Friend is somewhat of an expert on matters relating to the economy. To answer his point specifically, the national insurance tax cut was scored at the last fiscal event‚ÄĒthe autumn statement‚ÄĒas significantly increasing the number of people in work. Although I will not speculate on fiscal events, that point has been very much noted by me and the whole Treasury.

My question on the Post Office Governance and Horizon Compensation Schemes – UKGI governance

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):

Will the Secretary of State review the governance of UKGI? How did it manage to preside over the Post Office with its dreadful treatment of sub-postmasters? How did UKGI allow senior Post Office managers to rack up and accumulate losses of £1,390 million, effectively bankrupting the Post Office so that it can now trade only if it has the reassurance of massive cash infusions from the Treasury on a continuing basis? Surely this body has done very badly, and we need a better answer.

Kemi Badenoch (The Secretary of State for Business and Trade):

That is one of the reasons why we have been making personnel changes in this area. It goes back to the point I was making in the statement: Post Office needs an effective chair. Until the day I had the conversation dismissing him, I never had any correspondence from Mr Staunton about difficulties that he was having with UKGI. If he was having difficulties, he should have told me, rather than give an interview to The Sunday Times effectively stating that he had no control over the organisation that he had been appointed to run.

Supporting British farmers

Dear John,

Sticking to our plan to back British farmers

I am writing to update you on the next steps to deliver the Government’s plan for farmers, which the Prime Minister has announced today at the NFU Conference.

We committed to spend £2.4 billion in the farming sector on average every year of this Parliament and we will deliver. In your constituency alone, we have invested £1484212.75 in farming since 1 April 2023.

We are moving away from the EU‚Äôs bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy, which saw 50% of the budget reach the largest 10% of landowners. The Government‚Äôs new schemes are investing in the foundations of food security, environmental sustainability and profitable farm businesses. In January this year, we announced the biggest update to farming schemes since the start of the agricultural transition, which included an average 10% increase to payment rates, and up to 50 new actions. This ensures we have something for every type of farmer in England to choose what works best for their business ‚Äď from uplands to lowlands and beyond. Unique within the UK, we have a policy that puts farmers in control. Choosing how to engage with our schemes in a way that works best for their farm.

Building on the update to our schemes announced in January, we have today announced further steps to back our farmers. Firstly, we will be taking further action to invest in sustainable, resilient farm businesses. In September 2023 we introduced the Management Payment to cover the administrative costs of entering our schemes. This has helped an increased number of small farmers to sign up. We will be doubling that payment to up to £2,000 in the first year of agreements entered into by March 2025 and extending it to Countryside Stewardship mid-tier. This means that the 11,000 farmers in England already in Sustainable Farming Incentive will receive that top up this Spring.

We are also launching the largest ever grant offer totalling £427 million. This invests £220 million in productivity and innovation in farming, £116 milli in slurry infrastructure, and £91 million in improving the health and welfare of our farmed animals. The first of these schemes is an enhanced £70 million round of the successful Farming Equipment and Technology Fund and we will also be increasing the currently open Improving Farming Productivity Fund from £30 million to £50 million Рwhich covers robotics, automation and rooftop solar to build on-farm energy security.

Next, we will improve the service and support being offered to farmers and cut planning red tape which currently stands in the way of farm diversification. We will lay the legislation to deliver those permitted development rights in April so that more farms in England can introduce farm shops or outside sports venues. We will continue to improve Government services with better digital infrastructure, that is easier and faster to use. We will introduce more rolling application windows and make payments on time. Further, in recent years there has been a growing awareness of the importance of farming mental health and we will be making up to £500,000 available to three charity partners to deliver projects that support mental health in the farming sector.

Third, we are also strengthening our food security, which is a vital part of our national security. We remain committed to our target to maintain food production at least at current levels ‚Äď which is around 60% of what we consume. However, in recent years global shocks from the illegal invasion of Ukraine and extreme weather have made clear that we must step up our monitoring. We will therefore introduce a yearly Food Security Index to underpin the Government‚Äôs three-yearly food security report. This will be made statutory when Parliamentary time allows. The index will present the key data and analysis needed to monitor how we are maintaining our current levels of self-sufficiency and overall food security. We expect this to be UK-wide and will work to achieve this, strengthening accountability across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. We will publish the first draft during the second UK Farm to Fork Summit this Spring, which will be an annual event.

We are also supporting farmers to utilise more of their produce. We will be launching a £15 million fund available directly to farmers or the redistribution sector working with farmers, to redistribute surplus food at the farm gate which cannot currently be used commercially. We are also committed to building fairness in the supply chain. We will be laying the regulations for the dairy sector this week, and have today confirmed that the next review will be in the poultry sector.

Supporting farmers, improving our approach, and strengthening food security ‚Äď this is our plan. We are sticking to it, to deliver a resilient and profitable farming sector which continues to produce some of the best food in the world.

Yours sincerely,

 

RT HON STEVE BARCLAY MP

UK Government Investments Ltd piles high the losses

UK Government Investments Ltd is another of these 100% government owned arms length bodies. It is meant to supervise and manage the governments substantial holdings in nationalised businesses and its stakes in private sector companies. Last year to March it ran up costs of £23.4 m paying its CEO over £260,000 and its staff a media salary  of  £91,000 each. The Treasury made £24 m available to it to pay the bills. The auditor agreed it is a going concern because the Treasury will make cash available to pay the losses.

So what magic did we get for this expenditure? Why not rely on ¬†departmental ¬†supervision of these bodies which happens as well, with Ministers being more involved? Just look at what has been happening under UK GI’s¬† stewardship.

Post Office. PO has accumulated losses of £1390 million. It has presided over the calamity of the sub postmaster accounting system. Recent stories suggest senior management is still not resolving the issues rapidly enough despite ministerial policy to do so.

Network Rail. Despite owning all the track and stations with a monopoly the remaining net asset value of Network Rail is just £15 bn. £ 55 bn has been expensively borrowed against its network assets. It lost £1140 million last year.

The British Infrastructure Bank  . A relatively new venture, this lost £21.4 m last year with costs of £35.8 m. It is planning to commit £22 bn to investments, with £10 bn of that being guarantees and the rest debt and equity underwritten by taxpayers. The Bank does not expect to be profitable anytime soon. I expect it will be able to deliver that forecast.

Sheffield Forgemasters is a government owned defence supplier. It lost £5 m pre tax last year but does have positive assets and provides some important products.

Nat West. UK Government Investments says it engaged with Nat West as  shareholder over culture and values . It was very quiet over the leaks from Nat West and the resignation  of the Chief Executive. Clearly its engagement did not prevent serious problems.

OneWeb   This investment is now sitting on big losses. It has been rolled into EUtelsat as a UK minority holding, only for those shares to fall more. Difficult to see why the UK taxpayer should be losing money in a 10 % holding of a European business like this that it is not currently making us  money.

 

Sizewell C   Much delayed and over original budget.

The government should get rid of this body and go back to more detailed supervision by ministers advised  by their departmental official who currently help supervise these businesses . This track record is very poor and not worth £24 m a year.