Sunday, June 18, 2017

Influencing Government Policy

Taken a break from writing my blog while I've been engaged in campaigning for the right to represent Montgomeryshire in the House of Commons for another five years (or however long the current Parliament lasts). Personally, I reckon it will last much longer than some seem to think. Anyway a friend of mine asked me tonight to start blogging again. So here goes with what I was just thinking about.
It was an unusual election, in that I've not before seen so much rubbish doing the rounds on the Internet. Generally it was stuff intended to cause me electoral damage. My policy is that it's best just to totally ignore it, letting the 'keyboard warriors' talk amongst themselves. Whatever, it doesn't seem to had much negative impact!

Now there's no point in trying to justify in the face of this stuff, unless there's a purpose - such as trying to explain how Westminster works. It can be a bit of a mystery. Anyway, this stemmed from a casual comment by me that I was, in general, quite devolutionary. The keyboard warriors went to town, listing all the occasions I've voted against devolving more powers to the Welsh Parliament. I also pointed out that because further devolution is not that popular, these accusatory posters, intended to damage me, were more like.y to have the opposite effect. But on to the point I want to make about process.
Over the last year or so, as PPS in the Wales Office, I've been involved in taking the Wales Bill through Parliament. In general the Wales Act, passed earlier this year devolves more powers to the Welsh Parliament. What happened (as always happens) is that other parties during the various Parliamentary stages put down amendments to amend, or strengthen the Bill. They don't expect these amendments to carry, usually just putting down markers or making points. Government accepts some of them, puts on some itself, while other amendments are withdrawn. A few are pushed to a division, where Government invariably votes them down. It how legislation is debated and developed. The Wales Bill, very unusually, became an Act without and amendment succeeding in either the Commons or the Lords.
But this process means there are many amendments I vote against, giving 'keyboard warriors' who have time on their hands to trawl the Internet, putting together 'evidence' that I am anti devolutionary. So happens, I usually have far more politically damaging criticism that I am too devolutionary - which is why in this instance the 'keyboard warriors' were inadvertently being helpful. I particularly enjoyed that! But this post is to explain one aspect of how a bill makes its way to the statute book.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conservative Manifesto on Funding of Care for the Elderly.

There has been quite a bit of negative publicity about proposed changes to support of the elderly in the Conservative manifesto. Personally, I think it unjustified. But let's  consider it in more detail - starting with the background policy context. We have a Prime Minister who is committed to governing in the interests of everyone. I share her commitment. I also have a long standing personal interest to supporting the frail elderly, the number of whom is increasing very quickly indeed. We cannot carry on as we have been doing over recent decades. The system of care will collapse. The voice of the frail elderly is not being heard. The challenge is to create a care system that is both fair and sustainable. 

There are three changes in future policy written into our manifesto which affect the elderly. Let's consider them in turn. Firstly, we want to introduce a system of financing domiciliary care similar to the current rules on financing residential care - only fairer. For my constituents in Montgomeryshire, its important to note that no change is proposed in Wales, where social care is devolved to the Welsh Government. As the changes affect England, two crucial points are being ignored. Firstly care will be free to anyone worth £100,000 or less. And no matter what value assets anyone has, there will be a maximum total payment (suggested in recent years as likely to be about £70,000).

Secondly, it is proposed that what is known as the 'triple lock' on state pension increases is being replaced by 'a double lock'. The state pension will not automatically increase by 2.5% if inflation is lower. So while inflation is 2.5% or above, which it currently is, the change has no effect whatsoever because it will rise by inflation anyway. In future, there will be a 'double lock' which guarantees that the state pension will increase by inflation or increased level of earnings, whichever is the higher. The problem to be addressed was that following the long period of very low inflation, a degree of inter generational unfairness developed, creating unacceptable pressure on young families and support payments. The 'triple lock' has the potential to divert too much of the welfare budget into the state pension at the expense of everything else. Adopting a 'double lock' is a small change which will deliver more fairness in the long term.

The third change relates to the Winter Fuel Allowance, which will in future be means tested and will continue unchanged for those who need it. Over recent years I've received many emails calling for this change, usually from people who have given their allowance to charity because they felt they had no need of it.

I simply cannot agree that the Prime Minister is being unfair. She, and I are both focussed on fairness, creating a sustainable affordable system of welfare payments and a manifesto which is open and honest about future policy.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Should farmers grow trees post Brexit.

Two articles of interest to me in today's Telegraph. Firstly, an article about challenges facing farming post-Brexit. And secondly, a report, of dubious provenance that UK is to scrap EU renewable energy targets. Let's consider the future economics of farming first. Its all conjecture at this stage of course. We have no real idea of what the position will be.

There are two main concerns facing the farming industry. Firstly there is the annual subsidy payments, guaranteed up to 2020, but not afterwards. The background to this policy of subsidy was the then Govt's 'cheap food policy' after the Second World War. Over recent years it's become an essential support to farming. Many farms would not be viable without the subsidy payment. It's not a healthy position for any industry to be dependent on subsidy into the far distance but a cliff-edge cut off in 2020 would be devastating. Let me take a guess at what might happen post Brexit. Subsidy will gradually move from being universal to being paid for a specific 'public benefit' - principally environment enhancing payments. It's moving that way already. Perhaps this could involve planting up land, currently used for arable or livestock, with trees. I've long thought a forestry expansion programme to make sense, economically and environmentally. Support guarantees would have to be long term, include for public access for recreation - walking, biking activities etc.. Whatever, most switched on farmers are already looking at diversification of one sort or another.

The second concern for farmers, especially sheep farmers in Wales is access to EU markets at nil or manageably low tariffs. Wales is particularly dependent on lamb exports. All the current talk by the NFU about 'food security' doesn't apply here. Hopefully, there will be a UK/EU deal which covers lamb exports, but in the longer run, we could see development of other markets or a gradual move from sheep farming to forestry perhaps.

Now for the possible link with the other Telegraph story - about the UK abandoning EU 'renewable energy' targets. We are legally obliged to access 15% of our energy from 'renewable sources' by 2020. I've always thought trans-EU targets as a nonsense. This 15% target doesn't include energy efficiency, carbon capture or nuclear power. That's makes no sense. While I think the UK will be well rid of EU targets post Brexit, we will need low carbon targets of our own. We need to think laterally. From a global perspective, we would acheive more cost benefit by investing in solar energy in a hot African country than ploughing money into solar in the UK. Such a policy could be linked with our foreign aid commitments. Let us use our UK resources to develop battery technology, carbon capture or hydrogen/electric cars rather than ploughing resources into second rate established technologies which put up the bills of energy customers.  Or maybe more biomass from the millions of acres of extra trees we might grow, rather than import timber great distances from faraway countries, as if carbon emissions are not a global issue. We could have a UK renewables policy suited to our own circumstances.

This is all very early consideration of how we might change policy to cope with Brexit. I expect to return to these issues from time to time - and don't rule out having an entirely different perspective next time. We live in uncertain times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hospitals row is built on misunderstanding.

Its many years since I concluded that the NHS hospitals structure that most Montgomeryshire patients depend on, (located in Shropshire) is unsustainable. For years it's been clear that two major hospitals providing all NHS services is unsustainable. It leads to a poorer standard of service, costs more to manage and delivers less satisfying outcomes for patients. It's been clear for years that one hospital should be 'hot' and the other hospital should be 'cold' - one hospital should deal with 'emergency' care and the other hospital should cover 'planned' care.

For some unthought through reason a pubic battle, complete with campaigns, shouting matches, public marches and political manoeuvrings has focussed on 'winning' the 'hot' services. All I care about is putting in place the best service - for my constituents and for Shropshire and Mid Wales as a whole. A few years ago I wasn't certain whether Montgomeryshire patients would benefit more from 'hot' or 'cold'. Unfortunately, a chief executive named Adam Cairns arrived in Shropshire and made a total pigs ear of things (before clearing off to Cardiff and then the Middle East) . To an extent we are still clearing up the ill-considered mess he left. From a Montgomeryshire perspective I asked people whether they wanted 'emergency' care (hot) or 'planned' care (cold) in the nearer hospital at Shrewsbury, or at Telford. Telford would be 20 minutes further away for emergencies ((under blue light) and more like 45 minutes further for planned care. They all wanted emergency care at Shrewsbury. Fair enough, but I always thought it was a marginal call. Illogically, the NHS care commissioners based at Telford and Wrekin wanted the 'hot' site in Telford. Deeply regrettably, the Council has become involved and made it a 'political' issue rather that a 'patient benefit' issue. The people of Telford have been misled (in my opinion) about what the planned care option means.

Firstly, the Princess Royal at Telford will continue to be an A&E for about 60% of the people who pitch up at at A&E now. It will perform 28,000 day case and inpatient procedures per year. Cancelled appointments would largely disappear as the priority given to emergency cases would cease (since they would be taken to a new emergency unit at Shrewsbury. It will provide several specialist services and, most importantly, there would be more specialist consultants on site. There would be the same no of beds as now. Most children's and women's services would remain in the Princess Royal, included most maternity, (Though not the most complex cases). Majority of orthopaedics would be in Telford and a new purpose built Edoscopy facility. There would be Centres of Excellence in Bariatric and Breast Services and chemotherapy services would be in the Princess Royal as well. The proposed new NHS Structure to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales would be based on two sustainable complemtary major hospitals, capable of attracting new services and consultants to our area. It can only go ahead with investment of around £200million in the two hospitals. We have a very short period to commit to this new arrangement. If we don't commit very soon, the investment will be lost to compelling cases elsewhere. It will be an absolute tragedy for Shropshire and Mid Wales and the patients living in the area if the bickering, the dithering  and political posturing prevents it going ahead.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

'Avoidable Deaths' in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals.

The dominant UK story today of interest to me has concerned 'avoidable deaths' of babies at or soon after birth, under the care of doctors and midwifes based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. The BBC have given this issue a very high profile - a bit  surprising to me because there was nothing I didn't know already. It's a very emotive issue. Every death of a baby at birth is a personal tragedy for the affected family. It must seem much worse if it's concluded that the death was 'avoidable'. I find it difficult to grasp just how sad and tragic losing a baby in such circumstances must be.

When first contacted by the media to comment on this story yesterday, I was very reluctant to become involved. Certainly did not wish to comment on any individual case. That would be for the family involved. Initially, the media was unsure what this story had to do with Wales. I had to explain that there are no consultant led maternity services in Montgomeryshire, and the majority of mums cross the border into Shropshire for hospital based births. Any births expected to carry extra 'risk' will take place at the new Women's and Children's Hospital at Telford. Today, I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Wales, by Newyddion and by Post Prynhawn on Radio Wales. I believe both TV channels also interviewed a Newtown family who lost a child.

Over the last 15 years, I've taken a very keen interest in the delivery of secondary care services in Shropshire. Montgomeryshire depends on them. The reason I was not surprised by today's news story was that I was involved in detailed discussions with the Chief Executive of the SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust) last month. We all welcomed the decision taken in January by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt to ask NHS England and NHS Improvement to investigate each case over recent years where the death of a baby was judged to be 'avoidable'. SaTH has also asked the Royal College of Obstreticians to review its entire maternity service, and return six months later to assess progress against any targets set. It's so important to SaTH that it's maternity services is top standard and known to be top standard.

A real worry to me arising out of today's publicity is the negative impact it may have on the thinking of consultants who might think about coming to work in Shropshire. There is already serious pressure on some services arising from an inability to attract consultants to Shropshire. Inevitably, insufficient consultant cover means clinically unsafe services and then the migration of services out of Shropshire altogether and further away from Mid Wales. That's why a proper response to the 'avoidable baby deaths' issue is so crucial. Over the last few months, I have developed a growing respect for the current SaTH management, and expect a response based on fulsome apologies to every family affected, an intense investigation into every case and total transparency. It's the only response that will be acceptable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dithering over Shropshire NHS Reform.

This week it's my turn to write the 'Politically Speaking' column for the County Times. So I've decided to get a few things off my chest. As follows;

Not for the first time, my 'Politically Speaking' column concerns the Shropshire NHS services available to patients in mid Wales. The current position is deeply worrying.  In 2014 all management groups in Shropshire and Mid Wales agreed reform of A&E service provision has to be reformed to remain clinically safe and sustainable. Both Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust, and Powys agreed to set up an organisation called 'Future Fit' (a weird confusing title) to recommend how reform should be taken forward. They decisively recommended that there should be one Emergency Centre, located at Shrewsbury, which would handle about 20% of those currently turning up at A&E - the 20% that are life-threatening emergencies. It would also handle complex births and paediatrics. 'Future Fit' took 3 years and investment of £2 million pounds to arrive at its recommendation - only for Telford and Wrekin CCG to reject it last Christmas. This was a stunning blow to those of us who want to see thriving hospitals at both Shrewsbury and Telford, serving Shropshire and Mid Wales patients.

For a few days the two CCGs and 'Future Fit' were like rabbits in headlights. Eventually it was decided the only way forward was to commission a report to establish the credibility and soundness of the 'Future Fit' report which had been rejected. This should have been produced many weeks ago, in order that the next stage of public consultation could begin. We are still waiting! I become increasingly fearful that the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' is not capable of delivering this report in time. The current dithering and delay is simply not acceptable. Unless there is real progress in the next week or two, the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' should be replaced. The NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales is too important to be left floundering because of a failure to deliver. We have waited long enough. Patience has been exhausted.

And another important change is needed. The two CCGs who could not reach agreement should both be scrapped, and replaced by one Shropshire CCG. It seems that this change is on the agenda, but it should happen now. It's clear that the territorial instincts inherent in the current CCG structure is incapable of making decisions for the overall benefit of Shropshire and Mid Wales patients. If it's accepted that merger is the only way forward, and I think it is, why not get on with it and sort it now. While all this dithering and posturing continues, it is the patients who suffer.

In situations like this, it's easy to just let things drift. But 'drift' has serious implication for the NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales. The refusal to commit to reform which all the clinicians, (and those not seeking to pursue political interests) know are crucial to a safe and sustainable future, make both Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals look unsustainable to the rest of the UK (even the world, where quality consultants often come from). They will not come to work in Shropshire. We know that two weeks ago, neurological services for all new patients were transferred with immediate effect to Wolverhampton. I'm president of both the local branches of Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's so appreciate the implications of this. The reason is inability to attract suitable skilled consultants. More and more services will be transferred to Stoke, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. It’s happening now. 

And finally there's the availability of Government money to finance the reform of emergency services. It will need around £200 million. Currently, we have a small window of opportunity to access the money. Further delay will see this window close, see reform stifled for the long term, and Shropshire hospitals lose services to further afield. And it's the injured, the seriously ill and the frail who will pay the price for dithering. It's utterly shameful.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

World Parkinson's Disease Day

Despite having no family history of Parkinson's Disease or Motor Neurone Disease, I'm president of local Montgomeryshire branches of both. So called today by a PD lunch at the Royal Oak where members were enjoying a lunch to mark the 200th anniversary of an essay written by Dr James Parkinson on The Shaking Palsy, the first recognition of the condition Peter to be named after him. He observed that if a patient placed a trembling arm on a table and it stopped shaking, the patient did not have PD, or what he called The Shaking Palsy. If it continued to shake, the patient did suffer from the condition. I'm sure Dr Parkinson would be disappointed if he were alive today to observe that there is not a total cure for the condition. There have certainly been improvements in treatment, and better controls enabling many who live with PD to enjoy much more full and active lives. April 11th is still designated World Parkinson's Disease Day because it was Dr Parkinson's birthday.

The cause of Parkinson's was not established until the 1950s, when it became understood that the cause is cell damage in the mid-brain leading to a decrease in the amount of dopamine produced. This causes neurones to fire uncontrollably which leads to the patients loss of control. Since then drugs have been developed to correct the dopamine difficiency, and later a procedure known as 'deep brain stimulation' further improved treatment. Dr Parkinson might have hoped for more in 200 yrs.

Through my involvement with people living with neurological diseases, I've learned quite a bit about them. Many have become good friends. I'm sure there will someday be a complete treatment which reverses the progression of PD and not just controls it. Coincidentally, there is discussion in today's news about promising research which may deliver progress. I've read this sort of report before. We will have to wait and see.

And finally, I never fail to be emotionally effected by just how accepting of the condition those living with PD are. Invariably they just get on with life and make the best of it. When I accepted the wonderful Ann Smedley's invitation to be president of the Montgomeryshire branch of PD, I had not realised how rewarding it would be.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Defence Budget.

Not been near my blog site for a while and how I would like to write about the turbulence involving the Welsh Conservative (and Independent) Group in the Welsh Assembly. But serving as PPS in the Wales Office tells me that I should hold my tongue. Refused more media interviews in the last few days than I have since being elected an MP seven years ago. My time will come though.

So tonight I will write about the UK's commitment to defence. Read an article by Roger Bootle in today's Telegraph which linked well with reflection on the Trump military strike on Homs Airport and Boris pulling out of his trip to Moscow. Since I've been an MP, I've thought the UK does not spend enough on defence. I've been very much a member of the 2% club - those MPs demanding that the UK Government spends 2% of GDP on defence. I accept this is more 'symbolic' percentage than a carefully worked out demand-led figure. But it makes the point. Every Government, since states identified defined territories, has a first duty towards the protection of its citizens from external threats.

Over recent decades, there has grown a view by many that external threats have lessened, largely because there have been no major wars between European countries. This is true. The reasons are disputed. Some think it's a consequence of the establishment of the European Union, while others point to the development of nuclear weapons and Mutually Assured Destruction. It doesn't really make much difference. The external threat today is not from other European countries, but from well armed states like Russia and Korea. And China is investing mega-money in defence. Others are upping defence spending as well.

I suspect I'm in a minority. Most public demand for increased spending is for health and social care, the welfare state and education (even when our debt and deficit are at eye-watering levels). The UK is the world's 5th largest economy, with significant global interests, likely to become more global, post Brexit. And defence spending underpins technology development in the UK, career development, soft power across the world and a strong British element in European defence. I think I may have talked myself into joining the 2.5% club.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Council Election Candidates - Montgomeryshire

Heulwen Hulne - Independent
Ann Jones - Plaid Cymru
Ann Lewis - Welsh Conservatives

Michael Jones - Independent - Elected.

Angharad Mair Butler - Plaid Cymru
Diane Jones-Poston - Welsh Conservatives
Dai Jones - Independent.

John Wilkinson - Welsh Conservative - Elected

Gareth Pugh - Welsh Conservative
Leon Karl Shearer - Independent.

Peter Lewis - Welsh Conservative
Richard Chaloner - Welsh Greens.

Phil Bettley - Welsh Conservative
Alan Roger Burch - Welsh Lib Dem.
Dai Davies - Independent.

Graham Frederick Brand - Welsh Greens
Graham McArthur - Independent
Gareth Morgan - Welsh Lib Dem
Pam Smith - Welsh Conservative.

Calum Davies - Welsh Conservative
Elwyn Vaughan - Plaid Cymru.

Simon Baynes - Welsh Conservative.
Bryan Peryddon Davies - Plaid Cymru
Jenny Mathews - Welsh Greens
Darren Mayor - Independent.

Aled Davies - Welsh Conservative
Steve Jones - Welsh Greens.

David John Collington - Welsh Lib Dems
Les George - Welsh Conservatives
Pippa Pemberton - Welsh Greens.

Berwyn Davies - Independent
Christopher Richards- Welsh Lib Dems
Gwynfor Thomas - Welsh Conservatives.

Michael Williams - Independent - Elected

Stephen Hayes - Independent
Jeremy Thorp - Welsh Greens.

Gwyneth Bird - Welsh Conservatives
Linda Corfield - Independent.

Roy Norris - Plaid Cymru
Derry Quinlan - Welsh Lib Dems
Dan Rowlands - Welsh Conservatives

David Selby - Welsh Lib Dems
Rupert Taylor - Welsh Conservatives.

Sion Conlin - Independent
Richard Edwards- Plaid Cymru
Sharon Evans - Independent
Neil Morrison - Welsh Conservatives.

Ian Harrison - Welsh Conservatives
David Jones - Independent
Jennifer Susan Pratt - Welsh Lib Dems.

Paul Martin - Welsh Conservatives
Kath Roberts-Jones - Independent.

Graham Breeze - Independent
Folkert Veenstra - Welsh Lib Dem.

Myfanwy Alexander - Independent
Dafydd Morgan Lewis - Plaid Cymru.

Mike Harris - Indepenent
Karl Lewis - Welsh Conservatives
William Alistair McAllister-Lovett - Plaid Cymru
David Christopher Williams - Welsh Greens

Mark Barnes - Welsh Conservatives
Peter Hough - Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Emyr Sean Poole- Plaid Cymru
Richard White - Independent.

Dave Edwards - Welsh Liberal Democrats
Lucy Roberts- Welsh Conservatives.

Mat Edwards - Welsh Conservatives
Arwel Jones - Independent.

Gareth Jones - Independent
Jennifer Margaret Elizabeth Trythall - Welsh Greens.

Pamela Jane James - Independent
Emyr Jones - Independent
Gary Northeast - Plaid Cymru
Nick Powell - Welsh Conservatives.

Joy Jones - Independent - Elected

Marion Brench - Welsh Lib Dems
Andrew Capel - Independent
Phyl Davies - Welsh Conservatives
Pam Williams - Welsh Greens

Jessica Bradley - Independent
Amanda Fenner - Welsh Conservatives.

Richard Church - Welsh Lib Dems
Des Parkinson - Welsh Conservatives
Phil Pritchard - Independent.

Ruth Canning - Welsh Conservatives
Francesca Jump - Welsh Lib Dems
Steve Kaye - Undeclared
David Senior -Plaid Cymru.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Nuclear Power in the UK.

To begin. If you are just reading this, looking to criticise and make some **** comment, don't bother. Comments are so miserable, (and almost always anonymous) that I'm no longer going to publish them. If you have no wish to engage in constructive debate, go read someone else's blog. I don't write it for you. I write it for me, to help me think through issues of concern.

And today's issue is nuclear power. The future of nuclear power in the UK looks very uncertain. For years we've watched the twists and turns at the Hinckley Point development in Somerset, not entirely certain it would ever get off the ground. The French Govt has been hugely committed though, and through EDF, has shown great commitment to the UK. Often through history, France has been a friend to the UK, never more so than during the Falklands crisis. Any supposed 'enmity' twixt the UK and France is usually fictitious.

But what's triggered this post is the proposed Nugen power plant at Moorside in Cumbria. I'd thought this would be the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations to begin operations in the UK. Looking a bit unlikely today, with the US based developer, Westinghouse, declaring bankruptcy - all stemming from financial problems for Japanese conglomerate Toshiba. The big question now is where is the risk money going to come from. Inevitably, there will be calls for the UK Gov't to step in, borrowing the money at comparatively low rates. And if the Govt does agree to stand part of the financial risk, how long will it be until the Horizon project at Wylfa is making the same demand? Big important decisions on the Govt's desk.

Inevitably there will plenty calling for the abandonment of new nuclear altogether. I might have been with them 15 yrs ago, until I signed up to a carbon emissions reduction agenda. Moorside will generate 7% of the UK's energy needs - stable, consistent and carbon emissions free. Eventually, wecan hope that Small Modular Reactors become a reality. But that is all at the pilot stage. One for the future. No doubt, there will be more uncertainties ahead, but I expect the UK Govt to be resolute and deliver on new nuclear power.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Trouble in Gibraltar

I first went to Gibraltar 47 yrs ago. For 10 days in July/Aug. It was hot. In those days I was a keen runner,  and the staff in our hotel thought I was some sort of leading athlete. At the time I was playing rugby around Shropshire and Lancashire/Midlands area and a fitness fanatic. I just loved running. One of my biggest disappointments today is that because of back/knee problems I can no longer run. Liked the local macaques and the underground caves. Couldn't afford to stay in the Rock Hotel, and always hankered on returning to do so.

But back to the matter of Gibraltar currently being in the news. It all seems a bit odd to me. An unnecessary row that shouldn't have happened. There are some things we know. Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht about 300 yrs ago. Gibraltar is British. Polls tell us that around 99% of Gibraltarians consider themselves British. Coincidentally when I was there in 1969 there was a General Election taking place. Robert Peliza, leader of the Integration With Britain Party (IWBP) took over as Prime Minister from the long dominant Joshua Hassan. The aim was to elect MPs to Westminster. It was that British. It still is.

We also know that Spain claims Gibraltar as Spanish. No grounds at all. Spain just wants it - in the way a child might want another child's doll or toy tractor. We know Gibratarians voted Remain (96%)   in the EU referendum and are not happy with the UK leaving. But they are still British. They leave with us. I really cannot comprehend why the EU has decided to become involved, suggesting that Spain should have a veto over whether Gibraltar should be part of any UK trade deal with the EU. It's not that a Spanish veto is unacceptable. It's beyond my understanding how anyone would think anything else. I suppose it's thrown casually into the negotiation pot as something that can be traded. Anyway, in my view that is no way a Spanish veto is going to happen.

I went back to Gibraltar a few months back for its National Day. Memories of good times. But we didn't stay in The Rock Hotel. I'm feeling a desire to go back again - to show solidarity with fellow British citizens. And I will make sure I do stay in the Rock Hotel next time.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Tusk Response

There has been an apocalyptic tone to the media response to today speech in Malta by President Tusk, where he was outlining the EU's response to Theresa May's letter of Tuesday last. The British Prime Minister's letter notified him, officially, that she was invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and that the UK is leaving the European Union. Apart from the comment about the future status of Gibraltar, I didn't think it was anything like as problematic as I was expecting.

The main media coverage has been about the unwillingness of the EU to enter into any discussion about a future relationship until a 'divorce settlement' is agreed. Personally I see little problem, mainly because (and perhaps I'm unusual here) I think a payment should be made. There will have to be a credible method of calculating the total sum of course, but the UK will pay what is properly due. We pay our debts. I would expect the Uk negotiation  team to accept that, and agree to negotiate a figure. President Tusk did not mention a figure or timetable for payment. There's clearly plenty of wriggle-room for negotiation.

The exact wording used (and you can bet this had been redrafted a few times) was "An overall understanding on the framework for the future UK-EU could be identified during a second phase of the negotiation under Article 50. The EU and it's member states stand ready to engage in preliminary and preparatory discussions as soon as sufficient progress has been made in the first phase on reaching a satisfactory agreement on the arrangements for an orderly withdrawal."

And President Tusk was positive about reciprocal guarantees for migrants who reside outside of their home country - as I always knew would be the case.

But there were two big No-Nos. One is a continued role for the ECJ. "No! No! No! And the other was his totally unacceptable reference to Gibraltar - and Spain holding a veto over future arrangements. That's not acceptable either. Negotiators always throw in difficulties, which can be negotiated out in the search for concessions. But all in all, better than I expected.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The letter to Donald Tusk.

And here is the letter delivered to Donald Tusk today on behalf of the UK Prime Minister, informing him that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is being invoked and the UK is leaving the European Union.

Dear President Tusk,
On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europea The ns. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 13 March and it received Royal Assent from Her Majesty The Queen and became an Act of Parliament on 16 March.
Today, therefore, I am writing to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom. I hereby notify the European Council in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. In addition, in accordance with the same Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, I hereby notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community. References in this letter to the European Union should therefore be taken to include a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.
This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave. We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.

It is in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side. We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals. We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.
The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible.
I would like to propose some principles that may help to shape our coming discussions, but before I do so, I should update you on the process we will be undertaking at home, in the United Kingdom.
The process in the United Kingdom
As I have announced already, the Government will bring forward legislation that will repeal the Act of Parliament – the European Communities Act 1972 – that gives effect to EU law in our country. This legislation will, wherever practical and appropriate, in effect convert the body of existing European Union law (the “acquis”) into UK law. This means there will be certainty for UK citizens and for anybody from the European Union who does business in the United Kingdom. The Government will consult on how we design and implement this legislation, and we will publish a White Paper tomorrow. We also intend to bring forward several other pieces of legislation that address specific issues relating to our departure from the European Union, also with a view to ensuring continuity and certainty, in particular for businesses. We will of course continue to fulfil our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave.
From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so. When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.

Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union
The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.
It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.

Proposed principles for our discussions
Looking ahead to the discussions which we will soon begin, I would like to suggest some principles that we might agree to help make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible.
i. We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation
Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”. We also understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies will, as they trade within the EU, have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets.
ii. We should always put our citizens first
There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens. There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.
iii. We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement
We want to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom’s continuing partnership with the EU. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
iv. We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible
Investors, businesses and citizens in both the UK and across the remaining 27 member states – and those from third countries around the world – want to be able to plan. In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.
v. In particular, we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom. We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.
vi. We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges
Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match. We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes. On the scope of the partnership between us – on both economic and security matters – my officials will put forward detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation.
vii. We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values
Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.
The task before us
As I have said, the Government of the United Kingdom wants to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens. Likewise, Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake. The United Kingdom’s objectives for our future partnership remain those set out in my Lancaster House speech of 17 January and the subsequent White Paper published on 2 February.
We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. It is for these reasons, and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is of such importance to both sides, that I am sure it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.
The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us. After all, the institutions and the leaders of the European Union have succeeded in bringing together a continent blighted by war into a union of peaceful nations, and supported the transition of dictatorships to democracy. Together, I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent.
Yours sincerely,
Theresa May

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Prime Minister's historic Article 50 Statement

Today, the Prime Minister made a Statement about the invoking of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The chamber was packed. I sat on a step at the back. None of us wanted to miss what has been a historic day in Parliament. The Prime Minister rose to the ocassion, speaking with dignity and seriousness. Regrettable others didn't. Anyway, here is her statement.

Today the Government acts on the democratic will of the British People. And it acts, too, on the clear and convincing position of this House.

A few minutes ago in Brussels, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the EU handed a letter to the President of the European Council on my behalf, confirming the Government’s decision to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.   

The Article 50 process is now underway. And in accordance with the wishes of the British People, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.

This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. 

That is our ambition and our opportunity.

That is what this Government is determined to do.

Mr Speaker,

At moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.

We can choose to say the task ahead is too great. We can choose to turn our face to the past and believe it can’t be done.

Or we can look forward with optimism and hope – and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit.

Mr Speaker,

I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead.

And I do so because I am confident that we have the vision and the plan to use this moment to build a better Britain.

For, leaving the European Union presents us with a unique opportunity. It is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country. A chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

My answer is clear.

I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.

I want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.

That is why I have set out a clear and ambitious plan for the negotiations ahead.

It is a plan for a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union. A partnership of values. A partnership of interests. A partnership based on cooperation in areas such as security and economic affairs.

And a partnership that works in the best interests of the United Kingdom, the European Union and the wider world.

Because perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe – values that this United Kingdom shares. And that is why, while we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. We will remain a close friend and ally. We will be a committed partner. We will play our part to ensure that Europe is able to project its values and defend itself from security threats. And we will do all that we can to help the European Union prosper and succeed.

So Mr Speaker, in the letter that has been delivered to President Tusk today – copies of which I have placed in the library of the House – I have been clear that the deep and special partnership we seek is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union too.

I have been clear that we will work constructively – in a spirit of sincere cooperation – to bring this partnership into being.

And I have been clear that we should seek to agree the terms of this future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal, within the next two years.

I am ambitious for Britain. And the objectives I have set out for these negotiations remain.

We will deliver certainty wherever possible so that business, the public sector and everybody else has as much clarity as we can provide as we move through the process. It is why, tomorrow, we will publish a White Paper confirming our plans to convert the ‘acquis’ into British law, so that everyone will know where they stand. And it is why I have been clear that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.

We will take control of our own laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg, but in courts across this country.

We will strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom. We will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK. When it comes to the powers that we will take back from Europe, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be passed on to the Devolved Administrations.

But Mr Speaker, no decisions currently taken by the Devolved Administrations will be removed from them. And it is the expectation of the Government that the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see a significant increase in their decision-making power as a result of this process.

We want to maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland. There should be no return to the borders of the past.

We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. 

We seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states as early as we can. This is set out very clearly in the letter as an early priority for the talks ahead.

We will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained. Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers, we will build on them.

We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain.

Because European Leaders have said many times that we cannot ‘cherry pick’ and remain members of the Single Market without accepting the four freedoms that are indivisible. We respect that position. And as accepting those freedoms is incompatible with the democratically expressed will of the British People, we will no longer be members of the Single Market.

We are going to make sure that we can strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union too. Because important though our trade with the EU is and will remain, it is clear that the UK needs to increase significantly its trade with the fastest growing export markets in the world.

We hope to continue to collaborate with our European partners in the areas of science, education, research and technology, so that the UK is one of the best places for science and innovation.

We seek continued cooperation with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs.

And it is our aim to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit – reaching an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded, then moving into a phased process of implementation in which Britain, the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.

Mr Speaker,

We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that.  

However, we approach these talks constructively, respectfully, and in a spirit of sincere cooperation.

For it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use this process to deliver our objectives in a fair and orderly manner. It is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that there should be as little disruption as possible. And it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that Europe should remain strong, prosperous and capable of projecting its values in the world.

At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interests of all our citizens. 

With Europe’s security more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War, weakening our cooperation and failing to stand up for European values would be a costly mistake.

Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share as fellow Europeans.

As a European country, we will continue to play our part in promoting and supporting those values – during the negotiations and once they are done.

We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to continue to buy goods and services from the EU, and sell them ours. We want to trade with them as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship. Indeed, in an increasingly unstable world, we must continue to forge the closest possible security co-operation to keep our people safe. We face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism. That message was only reinforced by the abhorrent attack on Westminster Bridge and this Place last week.

So there should be no reason why we should not agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all.

Mr Speaker,

I know that this is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others. The referendum last June was divisive at times. Not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way. The arguments on both side were passionate.

But, Mr Speaker, when I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between.

And yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.

It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.

For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can - and must - bring us together.

We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed.

We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world. 

These are the ambitions of this Government’s Plan for Britain. Ambitions that unite us, so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast, but by our determination to make a success of the result.

We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.

And now that the decision to leave has been made – and the process is underway – it is time to come together.

For this great national moment needs a great national effort. An effort to shape a brighter future for Britain.

So let us do so together.

Let us come together and work together.

And let us together choose to believe in Britain with optimism and hope.

For if we do, we can together make the most of the opportunities ahead.

We can together make a success of this moment.

And we can together build a stronger, fairer, better Britain – a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.

And I commend this statement to the House.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Chronicle Column - Terrorism in Westminster

Last week's 'terrorist incident' at Westminster was a surreal experience for Members of Parliament. After driving his vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, a terrorist sought to enter the House of Commons armed with a large blade, intent on murder. For PC Keith Palmer, guarding the entrance to Parliament, and for 3 pedestrians on Westminster Bridge it was a deadly terrifying experience which ended their lives. For the families of those killed or severely injured it was a tragic event which will impact on their lives for as long as they live. 

It was absolutely right that MPs continued their work next morning, as scheduled. Terror cannot be seen to win. It’s crucial that we do not over-react, or equate protection from terrorists as increased separation from the people we represent. So we have to be cautious in how we MPs react and in what we say.

Inevitably there will be some changes in security procedures. Actually, consideration of security is ongoing, and not just in and around Westminster, as terrorist attacks evolve to take different forms. While all of us should await results of formal inquires, we can reflect on what we think might be sensible and proportionate changes.

Personally, I would not want to see the policemen protecting the entrances to Parliament to be armed. Parliament must be 'of the people' and lethal weaponry on display increases separation - even if we would become used to it. But while the policemen on guard should continue to chat amiably with visitors, I do think there's a case for a position where an armed observer is always ready to act. I also think that pavements and bike lines should be made less accessible to vehicles being used as killing machines by judicial placing of security safety posts.

Every aspect of the way we all live, as well as how our Parliament functions should be considered for sensible potential change. For example, while I believe strongly in a free press (as far as possible), I cannot help but reflect that the wall-to-wall media coverage of this terrorist outrage is exactly what the terrorist wanted. The main purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, and the most effective mechanism to achieve this is publicity. This is why parliamentarians have to be cautious in how we react and what we say.

The worst culprits of all are internet giants such as Google and Facebook, who hide behind the facade that they don't control content, just providing the platform for the content, no matter how vile. Whether it's content promoting terrorism or paedophilia, this attitude is becoming unsustainable. We must not over-react, but there are some changes that any civilised society should act on. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

This is not the time for a Scottish Referendum.

Wrote an article for this week's Oswestry and Borders Chronicle, only to discover it was the wrong week! So it will only be published here.

  Another big week on the constitutional front. On Friday, Her Majesty the Queen granted Royal Assent to the European Referendum (Notification of Withdrawal) Act. The Prime Minister is now able to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the actual process by which the UK will leave the European Union. Theresa May has said that she will invoke Article 50 this coming Thursday. HMS Freedom is setting sail and We are entering uncharted and uncertain waters.

Much the worst aspect of the discussion since the referendum on June 23rd last year has been the uncertainty created in the minds of non-British citizens legally living in the UK. I've said every time I'm asked, and sometimes when I'm not, that in my opinion there isn't the remotest chance that these much valued people will be asked to leave. It's an irony that the fuss and campaigning done to pressurise the UK Government into unilaterally giving a future residence guarantee has actually caused much of the concern. In fact the UK Government has wanted to sign up to a EU wide 'Declaration of Intent', but we're told just one EU country refused. That’s the EU all over! 

As if the uncertainty involved in leaving the EU isn't enough, the Scottish First Minister has announced her decision to ask the Prime Minister to give permission for another referendum on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom to become an independent country. The Scottish First Minister's contention is that her referendum is linked to our leaving the EU. It looks very much like opportunism to me, hoping the Scottish voters will support independence in a climate of uncertainty which they would not following sober and detailed consideration.

Personally, I've always thought that if a majority of those living in Scotland want to become an independent country, so be it. Like most of us south of Hadrian's Wall, I would be desperately sad to see this happen. I do not think it would be good for Scotland or for the Scottish people. But neither do I think that the Prime Minister should agree to a referendum until the UK has left the EU, and we have at least some idea of what the future holds - particularly what it would hold for Scotland. This time, I do think Scotland's First Minister has made the wrong call. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

PM Statement about the Terrorist Outrage in Westminster

I thought you might like to read the Statement that the Prime Minister delivered to us in the House of Commons this morning.

"Mr Speaker, yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy.

"But today we meet as normal - as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do - to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid. And our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.

"And we meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy - and the values it entails - will always prevail.

"Those values - free speech, liberty, human rights and the rule of law - are embodied here in this place, but they are shared by free people around the world.

"A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather to celebrate what it means to be free. And he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children.

"Mr Speaker, this was an attack on free people everywhere - and on behalf of the British people, I would like to thank our friends and allies around the world who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.

"What happened on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon sickened us all.

"While there is an ongoing police investigation, the House will understand that there are limits to what I can say.

"But, having been updated by police and security officials, let me set out what at this stage I can tell the House.

"At approximately 2.40pm yesterday, a single attacker drove his vehicle at speed into innocent pedestrians who were crossing Westminster Bridge, killing two people and injuring around 40 more.

"In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know that the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks.

"And we are in close contact with the governments of the countries of all those affected.

"The injured also included three police officers who were returning from an event to recognise their bravery. Two of those three remain in a serious condition.

"Mr Speaker, the attacker then left the vehicle and approached a police officer at Carriage Gates, attacking that officer with a large knife, before he was shot dead by an armed police officer.

"Tragically, as the House will know, 48-year-old Pc Keith Palmer was killed.

"Pc Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country. He had been a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that.

"He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved.

"He was every inch a hero. And his actions will never be forgotten.

"I know the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family - and to the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in yesterday's awful attacks.

"I know also that the House will wish to thank all those who acted with such speed and 
professionalism yesterday to secure this place and ensure we are able to meet as we are doing today.

"Mr Speaker, at 7.30 last night, I chaired a meeting of the Government's emergency committee COBR and will have further briefings and meetings with security officials today.

"The threat level to the UK has been set at 'severe' - meaning an attack is highly likely - for some time.

"This is the second highest threat level. The highest level - 'critical' - means there is specific intelligence that an attack is imminent.

"As there is no such intelligence, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has decided that the threat level will not change in the light of yesterday's attack.

"Mr Speaker, the whole country will want to know who was responsible for this atrocity and the measures that we are taking to strengthen our security, including here in Westminster.
"A full counter-terrorism investigation is already under way.

"Hundreds of our police and security officers have been working through the night to establish everything possible about this attack - including its preparation, motivation and whether there were any associates involved in its planning.

"And while there remain limits on what I can say at this stage, I can confirm that overnight the police have searched six addresses and made eight arrests in Birmingham and London.

"Mr Speaker, it is still believed that this attacker acted alone, and the police have no reason to believe there are imminent further attacks on the public.

"His identity is known to the police and MI5 and, when operational considerations allow, he will be publicly identified.

"What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that - some years ago - he was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure.

"The case is historic - he was not part of the current intelligence picture.

There was no prior intelligence of his intent - or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue.
"And, as Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley confirmed last night, our working assumption is that the attacker was inspired by Islamist ideology.

"Mr Speaker, we know the threat from Islamist terrorism is very real. But while the public should remain utterly vigilant, they should not - and will not - be cowed by this threat.

"As Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley has made clear, we are stepping up policing to protect communities across the country and to reassure the public.

"And, as a precautionary measure, this will mean increasing the number of patrols in cities across the country with more police and more armed police on the streets.

"Since June 2013, our police, security and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted 13 separate terrorist plots in Britain.

"Following the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, we protected the police budgets for counter-terrorism and committed to increase cross-government spending on counter-terrorism by 30% in real terms over the course of this Parliament.

"And over the next five years we will invest an extra £2.5 billion in building our global security and intelligence network, employing over 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and more than doubling our global network of counter-terrorism experts working with priority countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

"Mr Speaker, in terms of security here in Westminster, we should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into Parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gates.
"If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed.
"The police heroically did their job.

"But, as is routine, the police together with the House authorities are reviewing the security of the Parliamentary estate, co-ordinated with the Cabinet Office, who have responsibility for the security measures in place around the Government secure zone.

"All of us in this House have a responsibility for the security and safety of our staff and advice is available for Members who need it.

"Mr Speaker, yesterday we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best.

"We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer, including those by my Right Honourable Friend the Member for Bournemouth East.

"And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.

"On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city.

"That they have lost one of their own in yesterday's attack only makes their calmness and professionalism all the more remarkable.

"Mr Speaker, a lot has been said since terror struck London yesterday. Much more will be said in the coming days.

"But the greatest response lies not in the words of politicians, but in the everyday actions of ordinary people.

"For beyond these walls today - in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country - millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives.

"The streets are as busy as ever. The offices full. The coffee shops and cafes bustling.
"As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and aeroplanes to travel to London, and to see for themselves the greatest city on Earth.

"It is in these actions - millions of acts of normality - that we find the best response to terrorism.
"A response that denies our enemies their victory. That refuses to let them win. That shows we will never give in.

"A response driven by that same spirit that drove a husband and father to put himself between us and our attacker, and to pay the ultimate price.

"A response that says to the men and women who propagate this hate and evil: you will not defeat us.
"Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today: our values will prevail.

"And I commend this statement to the House."