Monday, December 11, 2017

When is an agreement not an agreement?

Answer: when it's signed off  by David Davis. His suggestion yesterday that the UK could go back on the agreement drawn up last week and, contrary to what the Chancellor has announced, we abandon our obligations to pay our bills, signal that he can't be trusted. The UK is in serious danger of being regarded by our friends abroad as one of the members of that exclusive club of international basket cases (other members include Greece and Venezuela). And yet again, we have divisions in the cabinet there for all to see: the extreme Brexiteers in the David/Johnson/Gove wing versus the more sane (on Europe) wing of Hammond with May caught right in the middle. The really big and unbridgeable issue however is still to be settled by the government - alignment with the EU or hard Brexit. No wonder the Tories have put this debate off!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Red lines disappearing down a sink hole

The red lines of the Brexiteers: control of our borders, no money to Brussels, control of our own laws, British courts supreme. What have we got: our only land border to remain open; £40 billion to go to Brussels; the UK will align itself with EU laws, rules and regulations; the ECJ to continue to have jurisdiction over the UK. It seems the Brexit extremists drew red lines on the ground and have just seen them swallowed up by a sink hole.

Months of unnecessary wrangling by the government achieved nothing. The delay they unnecessarily caused by their posturing has given the UK and EU greatly reduced time to negotiate the future relationship, particularly on trade. It turns out ministers don't even have a vision yet of what our future should be.

I read the divorce agreement document this morning. I was struck by the announcement that, in the absence of a free trade agreement, the UK will be aligned with the single market and customs union. So, we are paying £40 billion to leave but will agree to abide by the rules we were told we were leaving behind. The big difference between now and Brexit Britain is that we won't have any say over the rules in the future. This is not a case of "taking back control". It is a case of handing over control.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Marley Hill School house building plans

Marley Hill School Nov 17

Constituents have been asking me recently about what's happening at the former Marley Hill School site. Work recently took place to demolish the brick-built extensions to the original stone-built school building. Planning permission has been granted for 22 houses on the site. When we were first consulted about the sale of the site by Gateshead Council, Councillors Marilynn Ord (pictured above with me outside Marley Hill School), John McClurey and I stipulated that we wanted the stone building to be retained as it is one of the oldest buildings in the village. This formed part of the subsequent planning application which was submitted by the developer who bought the site. The old school building, minus the more recent brick extensions, will be converted into two houses and a further 20 houses will be build on the rest of the site. Work is now on-going.

Crushed by a celebrity quiz

Last night, the Sunniside History Society, of which I am the chairman, held its Christmas buffet at Sunniside Social Club. About 80 people were there and a good time has had by all. Alas, the quiz was my downfall. 32 celebrities had to be named. They were all film stars from the 1940s and 50s. I managed 4 and came last! And as chairman, there was no way I could hide my performance. The winner managed to name 25.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 2nd January at 7.30pm.

Paper chase for nonexistent reports

Just what does the Department for Exiting the European Union do? Led by Brexit cheerleader David Davis, he has bungled the Brexit negotiations and miserably failed to ensure his own governmental prop - the DUP - were on board when the divorce settlement seemed close to being signed in Brussels earlier this week. Now, we are told, his own department has not produced the impact assessments on the various different sectors of the economy which the government, and Mr Davis, had led everyone to believe were being written. The government therefore has no analysis on how Brexit, in whatever form it comes, will impact on the economy. What an utter shambles and waste of taxpayers' money this person and department are.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Shambolic surprises

When the hints in the media yesterday morning were all pointing towards a deal with the EU which included "regulatory alignment" of Northern Ireland with the EU, I began to think that Theresa May had pulled off the impossible - she had actually got the DUP to change its mind and back plans which they had previously implacably opposed. In all the media coverage last week, the DUP had made its position clear: no deal that meant a status for Northern Ireland different from the rest of the UK.

So when the deal fell apart yesterday, I was a bit surprised that everyone was surprised with the DUP's position. What they should really have been surprised about was the failure of Theresa May to get the DUP's support before going to Brussels to agree the deal that she thought was in the bag. This is an utterly shambolic approach to government.

Also shambolic is the government's blurring of its red lines. We were told Brexit means control of our borders but our only land border is to be open. Brexit was meant to let the UK make its own rules but part of the nation has been offered up as a place where the Single Market and the Customs Union will continue. Brexit promises also included £350 million a week for the NHS, not handing over £40 billion to the EU. The reality is that the leaders of Brexit have put forward impossible and unrealistic claims, drew red lines in the sand, and then spent the last year redrawing them while the government caved in to every EU requirement.

I have consistently argued that the national interest lies in being in the EU, arguing our case and shaping it to our needs. The alternative is to be a small nation bobbing along in the wake of the EU superpower. The past year has shown that we are slipping into this alternative role. Welcome to Brexit Britain.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Let the state visit go ahead

I have listened to the calls by many, including from within the Liberal Democrats, that the Trump  state visit should be cancelled. Personally, I don't think the offer should ever have been made. The haste with which Theresa May offered the visit to Trump, within days of his inauguration, was a national embarrassment. Nevertheless, the offer was made and the visit will go ahead. Public bodies in the UK will need to decide whether or not to participate. I suggest they don't. But I don't think the offer should be withdrawn. I want Trump to be aware that he will return to the USA knowing that he was the cause of the biggest protest this country has ever seen. So let him come here, and let us show what we think of him.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

With friends like that....

He's done it again! Trump's trigger finger has fired off a series of retweets and comments of an offensive divisive nature. And this time he has given a tiny extreme right group a massive dose of publicity. Quite how the leader of the world's most powerful nation has time to trawl through the digital output of tiny extremist organisations is beyond me. Quite what he was thinking of in retweeting them is another point that needs answers. From applying his fingers to write his tweet, he then raised two fingers to the PM and the special relationship with his suggestion the UK is not doing enough to tackle terrorism.

Yet again, we have another example of the problems Brexit Britain faces. No longer part of the European alliance, we face the danger of drifting into a a state in which we are shackled to the USA and Trump (assuming he is elected for a 2nd term.)

But with friends like Trump, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Photos from the Whickham Christmas switch on

Whickham Christmas lights switch on November 2017

Switching on the Christmas lights in Whickham took place yesterday. I was the official photographer and you can see the photos on the above link.

Who is whistling now?

Brexit was the promised land of milk and honey. We were going to control immigration (despite the needs of the economy), we were going to take control of our borders, we were going to divert all that money going to the EU to the NHS instead. The Brexiteers tell us that Europe needs us more than we need them. Brexit would be a walk in the park.

And then reality kicked in. We are told that our only land border, with the Irish Republic, far from being under our "control", is to be open. The NHS is not to get a penny extra of diverted cash as we have a £40 billion plus divorce bill to pay, something the Brexiteers failed to tell anyone about during the referendum. Remember Boris Johnson telling the EU to "go whistle"? Who is whistling now Johnson? And of course we haven't yet heard what the new immigration system will look like but the chances are that the arrival of people to the UK to work being in "tens of thousands" will only be achieved if we strangle the economy and make all of us poorer. Now we are hearing rumours that the European Court of Justice is to have a role in policing the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK. In other words, another Brexit red line has been ignored.

Given that the UK now looks set to agree all the EU demands on divorce, we can expect negotiations to start on trade. If the last few months are anything to go by, the negotiations will be a case of the dominant EU setting out its terms and the relatively weak UK agreeing to them. And as time goes by, the EU will take decisions on trade, the UK will have no say on them (after all we will no longer be a member of the club) but the UK will adopt them anyway to retain access to the Single Market. Quite what we have achieved as a nation from Brexit is unclear.