Friday, 13 July 2018

Brexitwatch: People's Vote NOW


Many people are demanding a 'People's Vote' at some point in the future - a referendum on any final terms negotiated with the EU for Brexit, but I am going to argue that we need a referendum now.

There is, apparently, no Parliamentary majority for the approach to Brexit set out in Theresa May's White Paper, nor for the 'no deal' approach supported by the Brexit fanatics, nor for dropping Brexit even though the Leave campaign broke the law and so invalidated the referendum result. 

The problem we have is that in the referendum, people voted to 'leave the EU'. That is all. But many Brexiters, including Theresa May, claim falsely that they have some mystical knowledge that people also voted to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.

MPs appear to have no strategy, and certainly no resolve, for dealing with the present impasse. So I propose we go back to the people, and find out what they want, asking: do you wish to

1) Leave the EU, the Customs Union and the Single Market
2) Leave the EU and the Customs Union
3) Leave the EU and the Single Market
4) Leave the EU but remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market
5) Remain in the EU.

It would be made clear that, unlike the 2016 referendum, this one would be BINDING, with MPs guaranteeing they would implement the result however damaging they believed it would be. (This would also mean that key groups such as 16-18 year olds, UK citizens living abroad, citizens of Gibraltar etc could not be prevented from voting as they were in 2016.)

If any of the five options won more than 50% of the vote, then parliament would implement it. If none achieved this, then the bottom three would be eliminated, and the top two would go forward to a second, final round of voting.

There would obviously need to be better safeguards against cheating than there were in 2016, and newspapers would have to be required to observe the same standards of fairness and accuracy as broadcasters.

Some might complain that having to choose between one of five options is too complicated, but leaving the EU is a highly complicated business, and those who cannot be bothered to understand the detail should not really be voting.




Saturday, 30 June 2018

Brexitwatch: a potentially important promise from Labour


Last month, I received an assurance from Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be my MP. The party has 6 tests, which are supposed to form the criteria against which it will take a decision on any Brexit deal. Worryingly they had been rubbished at a private meeting by Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' Barry Gardiner.

After I raised this with Sir Keir, he reassured me that Mr Gardiner had 'retracted' his comments, and 'reiterated: if the PM's final A50 deal fails the six tests, Labour will vote against.'

This appeared very significant. From what we have seen so far, it looks 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'

But I felt I needed to clarify Sir Keir's promise a little, so I emailed him as follows:

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?

It has taken me a while to get a reply, but now this has come through:

'Yes, all six tests must be satisfied.
Otherwise, we vote against.'

That seems to be crystal clear. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Brexitwatch: deadlock at the latest EU summit


Once upon a time, this week's EU summit was hailed as a key milestone on the road to Brexit. In fact, it was yet another non-event. I have obtained a secret recording of the key moment in the talks:

Theresa May: 'Give me what I want or I'll halt all security co-operation between the UK and the EU.' 


The EU: 'But won't that make life more dangerous for the British people?'

Theresa May: 'F**k the British people!'


The EU. 'I see. So what do you want?'


Theresa May: 'Er.......'


Now we are told the UK government will be producing a White Paper 'in the coming weeks'. 


If ever there was a government in which no MP should have any confidence, it is surely this one, and yet our elected representatives just sit on their hands. No plan for Brexit, bent referendeum, Russian interference? 'Don't ask us, guv.'


What was it Oliver Cromwell said? 'You are no Parliament. I say you are no Parliament. You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!'


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