Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Brexitwatch: a meaningful vote for MPs - my letter to Sir Keir Starmer


Thanks to the courage of the House of Lords, this week MPs get another chance, which arguably they do not deserve, to ensure they get a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal. 

Last week no fewer than 324 MPs voted that they should NOT be allowed a meaningful vote. What, you might ask, are such people doing in Parliament? Even more shocking, five of them were Labour members who sided with Theresa May to deny MPs a vote. This should not be allowed to happen again. This week's vote may represent the last chance to give MPs a meaningful say on our future.

So if you agree with me, you need to write to your MP to urge them to back the Lords' amendment. I am in a rather special position as my MP is Labour Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. This is the email I have sent him:

Dear Sir Keir, 
I was astonished and mortified to see five Labour MPs vote with Theresa May to deny Parliament a meaningful vote on any Brexit terms last week.
I cannot understand how ANY MP from any party could oppose this measure, and to see Labour members doing so was beyond belief.
As you yourself admitted, there are NO benefits to Brexit. It is vital, therefore, that Parliament gets a final say on any terms. I trust that any Labour MP who votes with Theresa May this time will be stripped of the Labour whip, and expelled from the party. I trust that this will be explained to them in no uncertain terms before the vote.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington


Sunday, 17 June 2018

Brexitwatch: write to true patriot Dominic Grieve


Hundreds of MPs seem determined to vote themselves out of a job by demanding they be given no say on Brexit.

So well done Dominic Grieve! The Conservative former Attorney General has a rather better grasp of the law than the many foolish MPs who inhabit Westminster these days. Last week he did his best to ensure Theresa May could not bypass Parliament, but she stabbed him in the back. This week Mr Grieve and his colleagues get another chance. Why not encourage him, by emailing him and showing your support at dominic.grieve.mp@parliament.uk?

This is the second of my emails to him:

Dear Mr Grieve, sorry, but not surprised, the Prime Minister double-crossed you last week. The fact is that you can't believe a word she says on Brexit (look at this nonsense this weekend about pretending it will release more money for the NHS). Unfortunately, she is completely in the pocket of the Brexit extremists, who just want to fulfil their anti-EU fantasies and couldn't care less about what it does to the country.
This time, stand firm and don't accept anything that isn't crystal clear and in writing.
And don't give in to any blackmail. The 5 year parliament rule means that any threat that by refusing to have Parliament sidelined you'll bring down the government is also hogwash.
Thanks for all your efforts, and good luck,
John Withington

Monday, 11 June 2018

Brexitwatch; get your MP to support the Lords' amendments


Tomorrow (June 12) the EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons. The Lords suggested a number of wise amendments, all of which would improve the bill. MPs should support all of them. This is what I have written to mine, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer.
Dear Sir Keir,
This may be the last chance MPs have to make some amends for their so far lamentable spinelessness over Brexit and the damage it will do to our country.
All of the House of Lords' amendments will improve the bill, and I trust Labour will support them all.
The following I consider to be of especial importance:
  • Amendments 1 & 2 allowing the UK to continue in a customs union with the EU. Without this, Labour's 'Brexit for jobs' cannot be achieved.
  • Amendment 19 allowing for a proper and meaningful vote in Parliament on any Brexit deal. If MPs reject this, it will be another disgraceful abrogation of their duty, and I fear parliamentary democracy may never recover.
  • Amendment 51 allowing the UK to participate in the EEA - again essential for Labour's 'Brexit for jobs'.
I trust Labour MPs will be whipped to support all amendments and that they will be warned that any who abstain or vote with the most reactionary Tory government in my lifetime will face the severest disciplinary action.
Come on Labour. This time, do the right thing. Put the UK first.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 10 June 2018

How to live to 100: my television interview with Maxine Mawhinney


I really enjoyed being interviewed by former BBC News presenter Maxine Mawhinney for her new series, 'The Moment', about my new book, Secrets of the Centenarians.

We talked about what it's like to live to 100, why 100 year olds are the fastest growing section of the population, why there are about 5 centenarian women for every one man, which of us are most likely to survive to our 100th birthday, and whether there are any ways of making sure you get there. 

Do have a look. Here's the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzCgRcn1oUs

Monday, 28 May 2018

Brexitwatch: A promise from Labour's Brexit spokesperson

On April 20, I blogged about Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' Barry Gardiner who had been rubbishing Labour's 6 tests, which are supposed to be the basis for how it will take a decision on any Brexit deal, and dismissing fears about the threat Brexit poses to the Good Friday Agreement. 

I posted the email I had sent to Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be my MP. I have now received a reply from him:


John
I’m very sorry for the slow reply - my apologies
I was quick to criticise Barry G’s comments, which he has retracted
I agree with you about N Ireland and the six tests 
To reiterate: if the PM’s final A50 deal fails the six tests, Labour will vote against
Best wishes
Keir 

The promise to oppose the deal is very significant. From what we have seen so far, it seems likely that any deal might fail all six tests, but two in particular would seem impossible to pass:

1 That the deal should deliver 'the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union'

2. That it must 'deliver for all regions and nations of the UK'

I felt I needed to clarify Sir Keir's promise a little, so I have sent him this reply:


Dear Sir Keir,
Thank you for this. Just to be clear. I take it to mean that if the final deal fails ANY of the six tests, then Labour will vote against it?


Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Irish Potato Famine



Part of my book Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues, and other Catastrophes (Skyhorse) covering the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, is quoted on this ‘History of Donegal’ blog - https://historyofdonegal.com/

The failure of the potato crop through a microscopic fungus brought dreadful suffering, and the response of the British government, which then ruled all of Ireland, was grotesquely inadequate. The ruling political party were free market fanatics, and were afraid that if the authorities handed out food to the starving, it would create a dangerous distortion.

In the end, theories were modified in the face of facts, and by mid-1847, soup kitchens were providing food for more than 3 million people a day. But by the time the blight was over, one and a half million people had perished from starvation and disease.

Another million had fled the country, but many never reached their destination. Of 100,000 sailing to the US in 1847, a fifth died from disease or malnutrition. Those who arrived often faced hostility and discrimination, but a ‘greater Ireland across the sea’ was created by the likes of John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather who fled County Wexford in 1849.

https://www.amazon.com/Disaster-History-Earthquakes-Plagues-Catastrophes/dp/1620871815/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1527441876&sr=1-2&keywords=disaster+withington&dpID=51eNCWPg6HL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch


Friday, 25 May 2018

Brexitwatch: BBC pro-Brexit bias - the BBC's response to my complaint


In my post of March 30, I put up a complaint I had sent to the BBC about pro-Brexit bias.

Below is the BBC's reply:

Dear Mr Withington
Thank you for contacting us in relation to the BBC Radio 4 broadcast of 'Today' on 30 March.
I understand you have concerns of pro-Brexit bias relating to a number of segments during this broadcast. I have reviewed these sections of the programme for you.
I understand that you feel that Nick Robinson's piece in the lead up to 8:00am contained inaccuracies and implied those who wished to remain were trying to undermine the EU Referendum. It is important to note that this was part of a day of programming on 29 March which saw Radio 4, with one year to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, broadcast a number of specialist programmes under the theme UK at the crossroads.
Nick Robinson had provided an analytical piece, exploring the question of 'What happens if the government fails at the Westminster Parliamentary hurdle.' In this report he discusses that "there is; as of yet, no agreement amongst Remainers on how to maximise their chance of beating the government, some favour a vote on a customs union, others on a second referendum or as they prefer to present it, a people's vote on a deal the Prime Minister does".
All staff; including Nick Robinson, working for the BBC, though clearly entitled to hold personal opinions and beliefs, are acutely aware that their views should never in any way influence their work for the BBC, nor should they be apparent to our audience. It is important to recognise however that a fundamental part of the role of our correspondents is to offer analysis, using their experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias.
I also note your concerns relating to an interview which took place later that morning with Dr Liam Fox. On this date a range of contributors including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Tony Blair were invited on to the programme to discuss numerous topics relating to Brexit over the next 365 days.
During this interview Mishal asks Liam Fox a range on questions looking ahead to 30th March 2019 and what trade will look like for the UK and also explores how this will impact citizens living in the UK. They also explore the subject of a deal between the UK and the EU and what would happen if Parliament failed to vote in it's favour. As the interview wraps up Mishal questions Liam Fox on the subject of employment in places such as Nifco and whether the UK could compete outside of the EU.
In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we're sorry this spoiled the interview for you. We always seek to ensure that the interviewer's particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost.
The key point here is that we aim to cover the ongoing Brexit negotiations with due impartiality. This means we carry a wide range of views about the European Union from across the political spectrum on our output. We regularly hear from those who are in favour of leaving the EU and those who wished to remain. As with any story we cover, the BBC does not have an opinion on the European Union, or on the UK’s position within it. Instead we try to explain the different and sometimes complex issues affecting our audience during Brexit. Our aim is to give them the information they need in order to follow the process clearly.
Due impartiality isn’t necessarily always achieved in one single report or programme, so we would ask that you take account of how we cover a topic over time.
We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and the team at Today and I’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
Donal Rainey
BBC Complaints Team