John Redwood's Diary
Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today's issues and tomorrow's problems

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Yesterday the Borders Bill passed the Commons

I thought I would reproduce the government’s statement on its Borders bill, as some of you are complaining that the government is not doing enough to stop illegal migration and some are concerned about government intentions.

The Bill will be firm but fair: fair to those in genuine need, but firm to those who break
the rules.
The principles behind the Bill are simple. Access to the UK’s asylum system
should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers; Illegal
immigration should be prevented. Those with no right to be in the UK should
be removed. Those in genuine need will be protected.
The case for change is overwhelming.
The system is broken. We stand by our moral and legal obligations to help
innocent people fleeing cruelty from around the world. But the system must be a fair
one. In 2019, UK asylum applications increased by 21% on the previous year to
almost 36,000 – the highest number since the 2015/16 European ’migration
crisis’. The current appeals system is too slow. As of May 2020, 32% of asylum
appeals lodged in 2019 and 9% of appeals lodged in 2018 did not have a known
outcome. Shockingly, the asylum system now costs over £1 billion a year to run.
The Bill – and the wider New Plan for Immigration – has three key objectives:
1. Make the system fairer and more effective so that we can better protect
and support those in genuine need of asylum. Over the last six years the UK
directly resettled 25,000 people from places of danger – more than any other
country in Europe.
2. Deter illegal entry into the UK breaking the business model of criminal
trafficking networks and saving lives. Small boat arrivals reached record levels this year, with over 3,700 people arriving in the UK this way in the first
five months of 2021. This is more than double the comparable figure for
2020.
3. Removing from the UK those with no right to be here. In 2019, enforced
returns from the UK decreased to just over 7,000 (7,192), 22% lower than the
previous year, and continuing a downward trend since 2013.
To make the system fairer and more effective, we will:
• Continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from places of danger, which
has protected 25,000 people in the last six years
• Continue to offer refugee family reunion, which has seen a further 29,000
people come to the UK over the last six years
• Meet our statutory commitment to lay in report in Parliament on the
outcome of the safe and legal routes review including family reunion for
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (not in legislation but being taken
forward alongside the Bill)
• Improve support for refugees to help them build their life in the UK, integrate
and become self-sufficient members of our society.
• Introduce a new temporary protection status for those who do not come
directly to the UK or claim asylum without delay once here but who have, in
any event, been recognised as requiring protection. This status will afford only
basic entitlements whilst still meeting our international law obligations.
• Introduce reception centres for asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who
require support (to replace hotels) so that they have simple, safe and secure
accommodation to stay in while their claims and returns are being processed.
• Introduce a new and expanded ‘one-stop’ process to ensure that asylum,
human rights claims, and any other protection matters are made and considered
together, ahead of any appeal hearing. This will prevent repeated last-minute
meritless claims that are simply designed to frustrate proper removal. Introduce a
new legal advice offer to support individuals so that all relevant issues can be
raised at one time.
• Strengthen the law to withhold modern slavery protections from serious
criminals and those who pose a threat to national security, set out the
circumstances in which temporary leave to remain should be granted to
confirmed victims of modern slavery and clarify the decision making thresholds
for potential and confirmed victims, in line with our international obligations.
• Reform nationality law to make it fairer and to address historic anomalies.
To deter illegal entry into the UK, we will:
• Introduce new and tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the
UK illegally by raising the penalty for illegal entry from six months’ to four years
imprisonment and introducing life sentences for people smugglers.
• Provide Border Force with additional powers to:
o Search unaccompanied containers located within ports for the presence of
illegal migrants using them to enter the UK;
o Seize and dispose of any vessels intercepted and encountered including
disposal through donation to charity if appropriate;o Stop and divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants to the UK
and, subject to agreement with the relevant country such as France, return
them to where their sea journey to the UK began.
• Increase the penalty for Foreign National Offenders who return to the UK in
breach of a deportation order from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment.
• Implement an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, similar to the
USA ESTA programme, to block the entry of those who present a threat to the
UK.
To remove from the UK those with no right to be here, we will:
• Confirm that the UK may remove people including criminals to a safe third
country and declare as inadmissible those who come here from a country where
they could have claimed asylum, so that they can also be removed to another
safe country
• Introduce expedited processes to allow rapid removal of those with no right to be
here
• Introduce a power to impose visa penalties on countries that do not cooperate
on the removal of its nationals who do not have a right to be in the UK.
• Ensure that compliance with the asylum or removal process without good
reason must be considered in deciding whether to grant immigration bail.
• Increase the length of the window in which Foreign National Offenders can be
removed from prison under the Early Removal Scheme for the purposes of
removal from the UK.
• Place in statute a single, standardised minimum notice period for migrants
to access justice prior to enforced removal, and confirm in statute that a new
notice period does not need to be re-issued following a previous failed removal,
for example where the person has physically disrupted their removal.
We need to act now.

What precautions should people take for covid?

The government’s latest policy is allow us all much more discretion about how we protect ourselves and others from covid 19. Most have accepted the double dose of vaccine or will do so as the second dose becomes available for the youngest adults. This appears to have brought the death rate down massively from the two previous waves of the disease. We can all now decide for ourselves if we wish to go to events and hospitality settings with other people or not, whether we invite people to our homes or not and whether we will wear masks or not.

I would be interested in your response to these restored freedoms. Are you going to avoid busy places and public transport given the prevalence of the delta variant, or not worry as you are vaccinated? Are you going to wear a mask in busy places as a reassurance to others, or not bother as you are sceptical of the value? Are you going to want some distancing from others, or are you happy now to jostle in crowds and prop up a busy bar?

Yesterday the Minister announced he would not be changing the sensitivity of the NHS app. Do you think it is useful? Is it pinging too many healthy people? How many people do now use it all the time?

The state of the employment market

There are plenty of stories about a lack of recruits for hospitality and travel businesses reopening after lockdown, a shortage of truck and van drivers, and even shortages of people to run various types of factory. Meanwhile there are still a substantial number of people on furlough, where we need soon to find out if their jobs are safe and about to be restored or not.If some are not going to be welcomed back into full time employment now would be a good time to have that conversation so they can start to find an alternative amidst all the vacancies or set about the training needed to get into one of the scarcity activities.
Some in business want to blame Brexit for a shortage of people coming from the continent to get jobs here, a model many businesses relied on. The government has had to reveal that instead of there being around 3 to 4 million EU citizens working here as they used to tell us, there are at least 6 million now as they have applied for settled status under the new scheme. Another part of the government has also wondered aloud if there are over 1 million people in the UK from various parts of the world who are not being vaccinated for fear of it triggering an enquiry into their migration status, as they are not registered with GPs. All this implies there are a good number of people from abroad in jobs, and of course the new immigration system allows people to recruit from abroad in specified scarcity areas and for higher skilled higher paid people.
I have raised with the government the need to expand driver training and testing as they say they are now doing, given the big expansion in home deliveries across the pandemic. Wages at the bottom end are picking up a bit to send a clear signal to people already resident here that they are needed in various scarcity occupations. This should also stimulate the application of more machine and computer power to business activities to raise productivity to allow higher wages and fewer employees per unit of output. There has also in the last year or so been a welcome expansion in the numbers of people setting up new businesses or working for themselves, greatly increasing flexibility and innovation in our economy.

Floods in Erftstadt, Germany

I was sorry to read of the serious floods on a couple of tributaries to the Rhine. Erftstadt was among the cluster of badly affected towns and is twinned with Wokingham. Wokingham sends condolences for the loss of lives in this disaster, and sympathy for all whose homes and lives have been disrupted. The pictures reveal the brute force of too much water scouring away roads and foundations, tossing cars into heaps of wreckage and reshaping the landscape in an unwelcome way. We wish the rescue services well and hope early action can be taken to restore essential services and provide homes for those who are suffering.

What Parliament agreed concerning the EU and Northern Ireland

This week the Commons passed unanimously an important motion to sort out the issues with the EU concerning Northern Ireland. Noting that this got very little attention in the media, I need to set out here what was agreed. I assume the BBC ignored it because it did not offer them the usual opportunity to interview a lot of Remain MPs willing to slag off the UK and put the EU case. To the BBC many pro Brexit MPs speaking for the majority view are non persons unless they can be damaged by a story.

The motion stated:

“That this House
supports the primary aims of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which are to uphold the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions and to respect the integrity of the EU and UK internal markets;
recognises that new infrastructure and controls at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic must be avoided to maintain the peace in Northern Ireland and to encourage stability and trade;
notes that the volume of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland far exceeds the trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland;
further notes that significant provisions of the Protocol remain subject to grace periods and have not yet been applied to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and that there is no evidence that this has presented any significant risk to the EU internal market;
regards flexibility in the application of the Protocol as being in the mutual interests of the EU and UK, given the unique constitutional and political circumstances of Northern Ireland;
regrets EU threats of legal action;
notes the EU and UK have made a mutual commitment to adopt measures with a view to avoiding controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland to the extent possible;
is conscious of the need to avoid separating the Unionist community from the rest of the UK, consistent with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement;
and also recognises that Article 13(8) of the Protocol provides for potentially superior arrangements to those currently in place.”

So Parliament agrees with the majority in the country at last over this issue, agrees that there is no need to bring in over the top measures the EU wants which have not yet been brought in, and recommends alternative arrangements to the current EU style Protocol. The government Ministers who replied to the debate welcomed the views of those of us who drafted and backed the motion, and the Opposition parties allowed it go through without too many pro EU complaints.

To some of you the wording will be too soft, but the significance is the wording was accepted by all. More importantly the actions that follow are also clear. The grace periods on further excessive EU intervention in NI trade should be permanent as there is no need for the powers and inspections they threaten. The EU and UK should look for an alternative to the Protocol. Parliament sees that the current EU version is alienating the Loyalist community in NI and is therefore contrary to the Belfast peace Agreement. The UK proposal of mutual enforcement and continuing checks as needed away from the border makes sense. Imposing a disproportionate number of checks at NI ports on GB/NI trade makes no sense and is illegal under the Agreement,

The government was committed to protecting the integrity of the UK internal market, and has reaffirmed its commitment in accepting this motion. If there is no early success in EU/UK talks along these lines then it is clear the UK has to take unilateral action, as it is legally entitled to do as set out in the debate. The EU should stop belaying and obfuscating and see that it has at last united the UK Parliament against its view and actions.

Levelling up

On Thursday the PM gave a speech setting out his vision of levelling up. It rightly concentrated on the differences in lives in different parts of our country, drawing attention to big variations in average life expectancy, in likelihood of getting a degree and obtaining a well paid job, and the differences in ability to buy a decent home. The speech both accepted that governments of all persuasions in the post 1945 world have tried to reduce these inequalities, and that the divergencies have remained.

The new ground in the speech was the understanding that successive governments have in practice reinforced the success of the richer areas, drawing ever more talent into places like central London . This has led to the need to invest heavily in public transport and other public services there to cater for all the extra numbers going to work and living in such places. In a vivid topical analogy he said investment has followed success creating a world where you “hang around the goalmouth rather than being the playmaker”. The draw of London has meant many people facing long, expensive and often vexatious commutes, and relentless pressure for more housing investment and development in the South East. As a result two thirds of the country’s graduates from the top 30 universities end up in London.

He was clear that a socialist egalitarian agenda which entails levelling down as well as levelling up is not the way to go. “We should not want to decapitate the tall poppies. We don’t think you make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts poorer”. What you need is more of the potential playmakers to stay in or move to other cities that can as London does attract talent, investment and new jobs.

The big issue is how we help create these new success stories. The digitalisation of the UK is part of the answer, where the PM tells us 60% now enjoy the benefits of faster broadband, up from 7% two years ago. I will return to these issues and examine the government proposals to help level up. Central to it all, as this speech states, is to help many more people on their personal journeys to success, to home ownership, to business creation or to better skilled and better paid jobs.

My speech during the debate on the Northern Ireland Protocol

As long ago as 2016, the British people voted to take back control. We voted to re-establish our sovereignty. The last Parliament sought to subvert and undermine that view. In 2019, given the opportunity, the British public voted again, by a substantial margin, to take back control. They elected, with a decent majority, a Government of a party pledged to do just that, and this Government moved with speed and purpose to take back control. Unfortunately, we still need to debate this matter today because of the conduct of the European Union. There is outstanding business. We still have not taken back proper control in Northern Ireland or over our fishing grounds. I am glad to take the opportunity provided by this Back-Bench debate to urge the Government to fully implement the mandate of the British people given to them both in the referendum and in the general election to take back that control.

I have been angered, but not surprised, by the conduct of the European Union. There is a long history of the European Union antagonising neighbours and potentially friendly states and attempting to use distorted, twisted or simply wrong legal arguments to force things in its own direction against the interests of its neighbours. The EU, in the long negotiations with the UK, always said that it respected the UK’s wish to restore its sovereignty and did not wish to deny it, and yet here we have a case where the EU is trying to wrestle our sovereignty away from us in an important part of our country. The EU always promised to respect our internal market, as is reflected in the agreements that we are currently discussing, yet now it wishes to hijack it. It wishes to divert a substantial proportion of GB-to-Northern Ireland trade to the EU for its purposes against the spirit and the letter of the agreement.

Above all, the EU promised to respect the peace agreement. It went on and on about an imaginary border that the UK had no intention of making more complicated or more difficult, and denying the actual border that was already there that was necessary for its purposes and the UK’s purposes for taxation, currency and regulatory matters. It has gone out of its way to antagonise the loyalist majority community in Northern Ireland. That is the very opposite of working with us to promote the peace and to reduce the tensions within those important communities.

So what should we do now? Our Government have shown enormous tolerance, restraint and flexibility. I make no secret of the fact that I would not have shown as much flexibility or restraint as they have done, because I am already very angry about the EU’s conduct. But they are right that we need to show that we have tried to negotiate a settlement. I hope they will have one more go at trying to get the EU to agree to a common-sense approach to these border issues whereby proper trade can be sustained and promoted so that GB-NI trade is also restored and not interfered with by the EU, because that was never part of the idea behind the original agreement.

I hope the Government will have success in these matters, but we do need to be ready now, as soon as possible, to make our own decisions and to make our own moves if the EU is not yet ready to negotiate a sensible solution. There are several on offer in this debate and in the discussions that have been held over the years. The agreement makes it clear that we can indeed move unilaterally and assert our sovereignty where our internal market is being violated and trade is being diverted, and where there are other failures by the EU to comply with the agreement, which are now several and manifest.

I say to the Government: do not delay over the whole of this summer. Take action now. The trade is being diverted now. The community sentiments are being disrupted now. The peace agreement is being wobbled now. The sovereignty of the United Kingdom is being deeply infringed now. There is plenty of evidence for that, and a good case can be made in the court of world opinion for those who are interested. But this is, above all, a matter between the Government and the British people—the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. We, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that they are fully part of our single market and country, just as we wish them, with us, to have friendly and good trading relations with the EU.

But if there has to be a choice between peace and our internal matters on the one hand, and our trade with the EU on the other, of course we must put Northern Ireland, peace and the integrity of our country first, whatever threats the EU may make. The EU is the disrupter of trade; the UK is the promoter of free trade worldwide. The EU is the one that is doing harm to the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland. We must be rock-fast in our support for the people of Northern Ireland, for the constitution of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and for a good solution that allows the restoration of our internal market.

The Northern Ireland Protocol

Yesterday a group of MPs held a debate about the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Conservatives who secured the debate topic all argued the same case. The NI Protocol was meant to be a temporary measure. Its clause 16 allows either party to make unilateral changes if the Protocol ceases to work as intended. It is meant to respect both the EU single market and the UK internal market. The Agreement stipulates it should not be used to divert trade, yet the EU is doing exactly that and claiming it is doing that at the moment by seeking to make GB/NI trade very difficult and NI/EU trade easier.

We all believe the government is right to try to negotiate a fix and we support the detailed proposals submitted to allow both sides to proceed by mutual enforcement. The UK would ensure anything that was at risk of moving from GB to the EU via Northern Ireland would be submitted to the correct EU checks. The bulk of GB/NI trade is internal UK trade and that would be subject to UK only supervision, using trusted trader schemes, electronic manifests, checks away from the border and the rest of the techniques we use for trade within GB. The EU would for its part ensure non compliant or tax dodging goods did not find their way from the Republic to NI. There are well established co-operation procedures for tackling smuggling as there was always a goods border to supervise. The NI/Republic border when we were in the EU was an excise, VAT and currency border but that did not require border posts and cash settlements at the border.

We also believe that the EU is not minded to discuss these things in a reasonable and co-operative way. It is therefore time for the UK to make a unilateral move to assert UK control only over internal UK trade, whilst ensuring respect for the EU single market for any exports from Northern Ireland over the land border. This is quite legal under Article 16 of the NIP , let alone under Clause 38 of the Withdrawal Act which allows the assertion of UK sovereignty where needed.

The path to net zero in transport

Yesterday the UK government published its 220 page document on how it wishes to transform the way we and our goods get about. At its heart was a contradiction. The early paragraphs promise us “it’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still drive on improved roads, but only in zero emission cars”. The vision is of keeping the flexibility of personal road transport with that still be the dominant way of getting about. There will also be new planes to offer good value flights with carbon free fuels so no need to rein in the holidays abroad.

Whoever wrote that bit did not bother to order a rewrite of the rest of the document. A bit further on we are told the opposite. “We must make public transport, cycling and walking the natural first choice for all who can take it”. We are offered a world of car sharing, car clubs and much less car use, alongside a target that “half of all journeys in towns and cities” are to be walking or cycling by 2030. The plan confirms their wish to end all new diesel and petrol van and car sales from 2030, all fossil fuel lighter HGVs from 2035 and the rest from 2040.

In some areas under direct government control the plan lacks the same crusading energy. We are only offered a net zero railway by 2050, even though it is already heavily electrified. There will still be diesel trains in 2039. We are promised a railfreight growth target which could relieve our main roads and help a great deal in many ways, but there is no agreed one in this document from the government and the railway , currently effectively nationalised. There is no date yet decided for the phase out of fossil fuel buses, with non fossil fuel fleets still at the demonstration city and project stage.

We are told that “We will continue to support demand for zero emissions vehicles through a a (sic) package of financial and non financial incentives”. Given the millions of vehicles they want replaced that could prove very costly.

I am all in favour of more freight going by rail. That requires work on smaller track bypasses and extensions, new sidings and branch lines into industrial parks, and new depots. I am all in favour of new electric cars and vans once they are seen by more of the public as better than the diesel and petrol versions and are attractively priced by the market so they fly off the shelves. More work is needed on this strategy, with more reassurance about what its aims are. Transport is crucial to our lives, central to our food and goods supply, crucial to services provided to us and vital for many of our jobs. People will want to know the change planned does not make these things worse for us.

My speech during the debate on English Votes for English Laws

England deserves better. England expects better. It is a sad occasion that this Government should wish to dismiss the only modest devolution ever offered to England, with nothing to put in its place. They leave instead Labour’s lopsided and unfair devolution, a devolution proposed and forced through a previous Parliament, on a large majority, by a Labour party that said it would settle the constitution and unite the country behind the Union once and for all. It did nothing of the sort.

Surely this Government can now see that if they carry on, as Labour did, appeasing the forces that would pull the Union asunder, they will not bring the Union together but give those forces greater strength and a better platform. Instead of Scottish electors welcoming their devolved powers and deciding to continue in the traditional mould of two United Kingdom parties contesting power, they chose a party that wishes to pull the Union apart. Some of them chose that party because they thought the Government would give in to it, and so get a better deal for Scotland; and some of them chose that party because they genuinely wanted to pull the Union apart, although they were, of course, in a minority.

The Government and I treasure our United Kingdom. We wish this Union to work for everyone, but it has to be a fair Union. It will not be held together better by appeasing the SNP or by appeasing the EU over Northern Ireland. We above all in this House should be speaking up for all the millions of Unionists in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and throughout England and Wales, who expect better and expect fairness.

One of the crucial values that our United Kingdom shares is that idea of fairness. How is it fair to have these totally different categories of MP, with different powers, different responsibilities and different opportunities to influence how they are governed in their parts of the United Kingdom? Why is it that England, the home of many more millions of Unionists and more loyal to our country than anyone else in our Union, is the one part of the Union that gets no justice and no fairness from this Government or their predecessors?

Labour introduced policies that sought to break the Union in the name of keeping the Union. I want this Government to mend the Union, and that means standing behind all those people throughout the United Kingdom who believe in the Union, and to stop appeasing those who would pull it apart.