Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Storms and floods: Met Office says they'll get worse


New analysis from the Met Office says there is an increased risk of ‘unprecedented’ winter downpours in the UK, perhaps even worse than those that caused the major floods of 2014. Its supercomputers have calculated that for each year over the next decade, there is a one in three chance of record rainfall in an English or Welsh region.

In my book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion 2016), I noted that four of Britain’s five wettest years since records began have happened since 2000. Globally, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which seeks a consensus from the views of thousands of eminent scientists all over the world, predicts fiercer rainstorms ‘over many areas’.

In my previous book Flood (Reaktion 2013) I quoted a United Nations report from 2011 which said the number of natural disasters had quintupled over the previous four decades, and that most of the increase could be attributed to what it called ‘hydro-meteorological’  events, including storms and floods.


I also wrote about a UK government report in 2012 which concluded that climate change would greatly increase the danger of flooding, saying the number of people at risk could more than double to 3.6 million by 2050.    

Monday, 24 July 2017

The real 'Dunkirk'



Just seen Christopher Nolan’s film, Dunkirk. An impressive and gripping account of the evacuation of nearly 200,000 British troops from the beaches in 1940. 140,000 French and Belgian troops were also rescued.

Churchill, though, recognised that the campaign overall had been a ‘colossal military disaster’, with the British Expeditionary Force losing almost all its equipment as well as 66,000 men killed, wounded or captured.

One of the fascinating questions the film does not tackle is why Hitler made his rampaging army call a halt when the enemy appeared to be at his mercy. Was he concerned that in some parts of his force, half the tanks were now out of action?  

Had he been shaken by a British counter-attack near Arras or did he believe that surely at some point, the French – supposedly Europe’s greatest military power – must have a serious counter-attack in them?   Or was he convinced by Göring’s boast that the Luftwaffe could destroy the Allied forces on Dunkirk’s exposed beaches without any help from the army?

Whatever the reason, the result was ‘Dunkirk’.

For the full story see Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters. See also my post of 24 January 2012.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Brexitwatch: the compromise that could unite the UK



Heavily diminished Prime Minister Theresa May keeps saying she wants to unite the UK behind Brexit. This is a tough ask as tens of millions have long ago realised how damaging it will be, but all the same there is a potential strategy she has not yet tried.

The winning margin was very narrow – closer than 52% to 48% - but one thing that was striking was how many top Leave campaigners promised that even if we left the EU, we would remain in the Single Market.

Boris Johnson, Owen Paterson, Daniel Hannan, and the man who bankrolled Brexit, Arron Banks, were among those who took this line. So it is reasonable to assume a fair proportion of the 52% who voted to leave the EU wanted to STAY in the Single Market. Clearly all the 48% who voted Remain wanted this, so if you add to that the Leave voters who also wanted Single Market membership, you end up with a proposal that seems to enjoy considerably more support than the proposition to leave the EU, and could become a compromise around which a substantial majority of the country would rally.

But bizarrely, Theresa May ruled out Single Market membership, saying people had voted against it, even though they plainly had not. Even more bizarrely, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supports Theresa May.

I personally believe the UK should remain in the EU because I cannot find any form of Brexit that will not be worse than what we have now. But if Leavers were prepared to implement their promise of leaving the EU but staying in the Single Market, this is a compromise I, and I suspect most of the country, would accept.


What a shame for the UK then that both Tory and Labour are ruling it out.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

What was the Black Death?


Did bubonic plague really cause the Black Death? This was one of the questions tackled in BBC TV’s Decoding Disaster, which went out under the Timewatch banner.

What is certain is that the epidemic was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, disaster in history, killing perhaps 75 million people in Europe and Asia from 1346 to 1353 – 30 to 40 per cent of the population. The conventional explanation is that it was bubonic plague, carried by the fleas of the black rat, along with pneumonic and septicaemic plague which could be transmitted from person to person.

Sceptics, though, have suggested there were just not enough rats to spread the disease on the scale that happened, so other ideas have been suggested – notably anthrax or some kind of haemorrhagic plague, like Ebola. Others maintain that with a death toll on this scale, a number of different diseases must have been raging at the same time.

At the time, top academics at Paris University came up with their own explanation: a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius on 20 March 1345, but they were humble enough to acknowledge that some things were ‘hidden from even the most highly trained intellects.’


For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World. See also my posts of 19 January and 31 March 2009, 1 September 2011 and 17 December 2013.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Brexitwatch: the Germans have two words for it


Even the most enthusiastic Brexit supporter surely cannot maintain the negotiations are going well. The EU side seems prepared, united and knows what it wants. The UK side appears in crisis: still unprepared, deeply divided, and with no idea of what it wants, let alone how to get it.

Two long German words might help us to do better – Gesinnungsethik and Verantwortungsethik. The first means ‘ethic of conviction’; the second ‘ethic of responsibility’. They reflect a conflict between idealism and pragmatism that came to the fore in the crisis that wracked Germany after the First World War.

Politicians who follow the ‘ethic of conviction’ believe in preserving their moral purity, following the course they ‘know’ to be right whatever the consequences. And if it all goes horribly wrong, that is not their fault.

Increasingly this ‘ethic of conviction’ is the ONLY argument we hear for Brexit: ‘it is the will of the people’. There is no real pretence that leaving the EU will make life better for the British people in any meaningful way. (I have already explained in my post of 15 December 2016 why the ‘will of the people’ argument is bogus.) This is odd in a nation that used to pride itself on its pragmatism.


Those following the ‘ethic of responsibility’ on the other hand, are guided by the likely consequences of their actions and decisions. What will they do to the people affected by them? If Theresa May and her government could switch to this approach, it might help bring them some much needed clarity and avert what is beginning to look more and more like an impending disaster. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

British battleship accidents



On this day…..100 years ago, the Dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard sank in Scapa Flow in Orkney after a series of explosions. Of the 845 men aboard, only two survived.

Although the First World War was still raging, the most likely explanation for the sinking is thought to be an accidental explosion in the ship’s magazine. Certainly it sank almost immediately.

Nor was this an isolated incident. On 26 November 1914, a series of explosions ripped through the battleship HMS Bulwark as it was moored in the Medway (pictured). The ship was lifted out of the water then fell back in a thick cloud of smoke. There were only a dozen survivors from the crew of 750.

It being war-time, not many details emerged, but a court of inquiry heard that shells aboard were not stored according to regulations, and concluded that the probable cause of the disaster was that cordite charges, kept by a boiler room bulkhead, overheated.


For more, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

My new book: 'Secrets of the Centenarians'


On Amazon, first sightings of my new book: 'Secrets of the Centenarians. What is it like to live for a century and which of us will survive to find out?' (Reaktion). Orders being taken now!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secrets-Centenarians-Century-Which-Survive/dp/1780238185/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499241514&sr=1-1&keywords=centenarian

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The world's deadliest tower block fires



A retired judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has been appointed to head the official inquiry into London’s Grenfell Tower fire in which at least 79 people died, while the police say they are investigating any criminal offences that may have been committed.

The deadliest ever fire in a tower block (or blocks) was the result of the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, which cost more than 2,300 lives, but the worst accidental fire was probably the one that raged through the 25-storey Joelma office building in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 1 February 1974. (Grenfell Tower had 24 storeys.)

The blaze happened just a few weeks after the disaster movie, The Towering Inferno, was released, and it became known as ‘the real Towering Inferno’. It was started by an electrical fault on the 11th floor, and spread rapidly thanks to the ready availability of combustible materials such as paper, plastics and wooden walls and furniture.


When the blaze began, there were more than 750 people in the building. More than 170 fled to the roof, but the heat and smoke foiled a helicopter rescue, and about 40 were killed jumping down or trying to get to firemen’s ladders out of reach below them. Altogether up to 189 people died. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Oil tanker crashes + poverty = disaster


When oil tankers crash in poor countries, people often rush to the scene to gather the spilt fuel, often with lethal results. That happened again this week after a tanker crashed on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur in Pakistan on Sunday.

It is reported that the vehicle overturned on a sharp bend after the driver lost control when a tyre blew. A crowd of 500 had gathered to try to collect fuel in bottles, cans and household containers when, about 45 minutes after the crash, the tanker exploded.

It took firefighters two hours to put out the blaze. Twenty children were among the 146 dead, and another 80 people were injured. One local man said he had lost 12 relatives.

Probably the deadliest tanker crash ever happened on 2 July 2010 at Sange village in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The vehicle overturned as it was overtaking a bus on a dirt road. Again local people rushed to collect the spilt fuel, and a lighted cigarette caused an explosion, killing at least 230.


For the story, see my post of 7 July 2010. See also my posts of 1 February and 12 October, 2009, and 13 July 2012.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Forest fires



This month’s forest fires in Portugal, which killed 64 people, were the worst in the country’s history. Most of the deaths happened in Pedrógão Grande in the centre of the country when flames swept across a road filled with people trying to escape in their cars.

More than 1,700 Portuguese firefighters fought the blaze along with others from Spain, Morocco, Italy and Canada. Although most reports point to a thunderstorm as the cause, there have been some claims that it was arson.

Probably the deadliest forest fire ever happened in the USA, in Wisconsin on 8 October 1871. It began in the woods after a long dry spell, but was carried on the wind to Peshtigo and other nearby lumber towns on the banks of Lake Michigan, where the sawdust that always clogged the streets provided convenient fuel for the flames.

Peshtigo was burned to the ground, and more than 1,150 people were killed, but because it happened on the very same night as the Great Chicago Fire, it has tended to be rather forgotten.


For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World. See also my posts of 7 February 2009, 3 July 2013, and 7 May 2016. 

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The two battles of the Medway: two British military disasters



Drawing heavily on my book Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters (The History Press), Forces Network's new account of these two two battles of the Medway can be found at http://www.forces.net/news/money-root-all-evil-and-defeat

The first in AD43 was the decisive battle of the Roman conquest, happening somewhere near where the M2 bridge now crosses the river. It may well also have been one of the two biggest battles ever fought on British soil

After two days of fierce fighting (highly unusual in those days), the Romans managed to force their way across the river. British resistance continued for a time, but soon the Emperor Claudius was able to take the surrender of eleven British kings.

The second in 1667 saw the Dutch sail up the Medway and burn the British fleet. An important factor was a government austerity programme that saw sailors left unpaid, though there seemed to be plenty of money for King Charles II's mistresses.

For the full story, see my book Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters. See also my posts of 14 and 23 November 2011.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Brexit: a game of two halves



I have always seen Brexit as rather like a football match being played while a raging gale blows torrential rain straight along the pitch. In the first half, the Brexiters had the wind at their backs. Until the negotiations began, they could follow the Groucho Marx tactic that had worked so well in the Referendum campaign: ‘these are my principles, but if you don’t like them, I have others.’

So it was: ‘if you want to leave the EU, but keep all its benefits – no problem. In fact, whatever you want, we can get.’ And Leave built up a useful lead, but in added time, the rather robotic team captain, a recent recruit from their Remain opponents, suddenly kicked the ball into her own net.

Monday was half time. Then came the second half, as negotiations began. That, of course, meant a change of ends and now the Brexiters find themselves kicking into the wind and rain. And they conceded another goal right at the start, as their attempt to discuss a trade deal in parallel with divorce negotiations was summarily dismissed.


Will I predict the result? No. But I don’t think there’s any doubt the Leavers are going to find the second half a lot harder than the first. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the Remainers will finally discover a bit of fire in their bellies. Still all to play for.

See also my post of 28 June 2016.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tower block disasters



The fire that raged through 24 storey Grenfell Tower, which has killed 79 people, is the deadliest in London during the 21st century, and the worst ever in a UK tower block. Another fourteen people are in hospital.

Until now, London’s most notorious tower block disaster was Ronan Point in Newham in 1968. The building had 23 storeys and was brand new. Families had been in for only two months when at six o’ clock on a May morning, they were woken by a huge explosion and some found their walls ripped away, leaving them staring at a fearful drop just a few feet away.

The whole of one corner had simply fallen away. On floor after floor, furniture was left perched on the edge of the abyss. Five people were killed and eleven injured.

The cause was a gas explosion on the 18th floor – the result of a substandard brass nut connecting a cooker to the gas supply. The council repaired the block and moved tenants back in, but the explosion was a major blow to the prestige of tower blocks, and in 1986, Ronan Point was demolished.


For the story, see London’s Disasters. From Boudicca to the Banking Crisis.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Storms talk, North London




Thank you to the Friends of Highgate Library for inviting me to give a talk on my latest book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion) last Thursday (May 11).

Very kind and appreciative audience.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Storm-Nature-Culture-John-Withington/dp/1780236611

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Free talk on storms TONIGHT, North London




What were the deadliest storms ever? Which storms changed the course of history?  How have storms been portrayed in literature, art and films? What impact have they had on religions?And are they going to get even stronger?

These are some of the topics I will be tackling in my free talk at Highgate Library Civic and Cultural Centre, Croftdown Road, London NW5 1HB at 1930 tonight.

The talk is based on my book, Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Free talk on storms - a week today, North London




What were the deadliest storms ever? Which storms changed the course of history? What impact have storms had on religions? How have they been portrayed in literature, art and films? And are they going to get even stronger?

These are some of the topics I will be tackling in my free talk at Highgate Library Civic and Cultural Centre, Croftdown Road, London NW5 1HB at 1930 on Thursday 11 May.

The talk is based on my book, Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).


Friday, 21 April 2017

The power of lying. The Popish Plot Part 2


For part one, see my post of yesterday.

When Titus Oates presented his ‘evidence’ to the Privy Council, King Charles II tore it to shreds, but Oates had the support of the London mob, and standing up to him publicly - that was quite another matter. It would have caused an almighty row.

So the king did nothing to save from execution at least 15 people he must have known to be innocent, while Oates was heaped with honours and money.

But gradually people became more and more sceptical about Oates' claims, and in 1681 Charles had him arrested and imprisoned. And when the king was succeeded by his brother, the Catholic James II, who Oates had denounced, the perjurer was imprisoned for life, put in the pillory and whipped through the streets of London.


The story was not quite over, though. When James was deposed by his daughter Mary and his son-in-law, William III, Oates was pardoned, released and given a pension.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The power of lying. The Popish Plot Part 1

Some of the Brexit strategists and bankrollers think they are awfully clever to have conned people into supporting them by a campaign of mendacity and deceit, but actually there’s nothing new about lying in order to achieve a political objective, even in England.

Back in 1678, Titus Oates (pictured)  was in a tight corner. His cv included being expelled from school, failing to get a degree at Cambridge, then falsely claiming he had one to get ordained as a Church of England priest. Next he had lied about a schoolteacher whose job he wanted, accusing him of sodomy.

This time Oates got arrested for perjury, but he escaped and in 1675 managed to get a job as a ship’s chaplain. The following year he was sacked for buggery, and arrested again for perjury, but managed to escape again.

Next he tried his hand at becoming a Catholic priest, but got expelled from three different seminaries. What on earth was he to do? Oates decided to turn to the thing he did best. Lying. In September 1678, he concocted fake news on a heroic scale, claiming there was a huge foreign-backed Roman Catholic plot, involving hundreds of priests and nobles.

They were planning a Catholic takeover of England while the Queen’s doctor and her sister-in-law’s secretary were to assassinate King Charles II.


To be continued…………….

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

North Korean famines



North Korea does not just make the headlines for missile and nuclear bomb tests, it is also well-known for famines. Though there is plenty of money for military hardware, the hardline Communist regime often struggles to feed its own people.

In such a secretive country, it is hard to be sure which was its most disastrous famine, but there were fears that one in the first decade of the 21st century may have killed up to 3.5 million people, with tens of thousands fleeing into China, and women being sold as brides or forced into brothels and illegal sweatshops.

A decade earlier, in 1994, defectors were reporting things had got so bad that old people were going out into the fields to die so their families would not have to feed them. As floods and drought struck in 1995-97, the government had to appeal for international help while it appeared to be channelling what food there was to the army of one million and party activists.

In 1998, a visiting research team from the US State Congress estimated that at least 900,000 had died of starvation over the previous 3 years, though it reckoned the real figure might be as high as 2.4 million. Malnutrition was also widespread.

For more see A Disastrous History of the World. See also my posts of 22 September 2010, 26 May 2011 and 31 January 2016.


Friday, 31 March 2017

Free talk on storms - May 11



A note for your diary. I am booked to give a free talk on storms, based on my book Storm: Nature and Culture at 7.30 pm on May 11 at Highgate Library Civic and Cultural Centre, Croftdown Road, London NW5 1HB.

More details nearer the time.

Friday, 24 March 2017

'Storm: Nature and Culture': new reviews

Here's another review of Storm. This time from the Church Times.


I've also had this review from an Indian environmental website:- http://www.downtoearth.org.in/reviews/storm-front-57277?platform=hootsuite

Friday, 17 March 2017

'Storm: Nature and Culture' review

Here's a review of Storm from the Methodist Recorder





Thursday, 9 March 2017

Brexitwatch - MPs' last chance to get a say on Brexit. Write to yours.


After the House of Commons nodded through the bill to give Theresa May a blank cheque on Brexit with astonishingly little dissent, the House of Lords has tried to give MPs another chance by amending the bill to give Parliament a genuine say.
On Monday, it will go back to the Commons with the UK's increasingly dictatorial unelected Prime Minister ordering that the changes be reversed. If you want to stop Parliament being bypassed, it is crucial you write to your MP NOW to demand that they stand up for the amendment and democracy.
My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, and this is what I have written to him.
Dear Sir Keir,
When Gina Miller gave Labour MPs a chance to have a genuine say over any Brexit terms that Theresa May may negotiate, you ran a mile. 
Now the Lords have courageously given you a second chance (which Labour does not deserve.) It is vital that this time Labour supports the amendment to give Parliament a meaningful voice. 
I trust you are fighting hard for this outcome with Jeremy Corbyn. If he refuses and continues his Brexit coalition with the Tories and UKIP, I trust you will defy him and vote for the amendment, urging your colleagues to do the same.
If Labour are prepared to show some backbone for once, there is every chance of winning over enough Tory rebels to defeat our increasingly dictatorial prime minister. If Labour again refuses to oppose, you can hardly complain if Tory rebels decide there is little point in sticking their necks out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Brexitwatch - another pathetic Labour capitulation



Astonishingly Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, which campaigned to stay in the EU and most of whose supporters want to stay in the EU, ordered its members in the House of Lords, to vote against keeping the UK in the EU's Single Market.

The usual bogus 'will of the people' argument advanced by Labour to justify deserting its supporters does not apply here. Voters in the referendum were given no say on the Single Market, and throughout the campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to promise we would stay in it. Besides, at the last general election, every Tory MP was elected on a promise to keep us in the Single Market.

And the overwhelming majority of businesses and economists think leaving will do terrible damage to Britain. So even by Labour's standards, this is a bizarre decision. Below is the letter I have sent to Labour's chief whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and to my own Labour MP.

Dear Lord Bassam,
I cannot believe that you whipped Labour peers against an amendment to make Theresa May keep us in the European Single Market.
Is Jeremy Corbyn now so terrified of UKIP that he does not realise that most Labour voters throughout the country are pro-EU? Does he not realise that leaving the Single Market will inflict enormous damage on our country, and that those who suffer most will be Labour voters? And does he not realise that his enthusiastic coalition with the Tories and UKIP ensure that when Brexit all goes horribly wrong, Labour will share the blame? What's the plan? To ensure Labour is now as comprehensively wiped out in England as it was in Scotland?
Your usual 'will of the people excuse' can't be used in this case. People were not asked their view on the Single Market in the (advisory) referendum, but virtually every MP at the last general election was elected on a promise to keep us in it, while Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to promise we would stay in it.
Labour's betrayal of its supporters will not be forgotten. For my part, I will not vote in any election for any politician or party that helps drag us out of the EU.
Yours in sorrow and anger,
John Withington 


Friday, 24 February 2017

History's most lethal storms


Doris has just reminded us how lethal storms can be, causing deaths in Wolverhampton, Swindon and London, but mercifully it was much less deadly than other tempests in our history.

As my latest book Storm: Nature and Culture reveals, the worst storm ever to hit the UK was the Great Storm of November 1703 which claimed about 125 lives on land and perhaps 8,000 around our coasts, where many vessels, especially Royal Navy ships, were sunk.

The deadliest storm of all was probably what became known as the Bhola Cyclone which also struck in November, this time in 1970. The world has seen many stronger storms, but this one was particularly lethal because it hit the Bay of Bengal where the land was densely populated and just a few feet above sea level.

Estimates of the number of people killed go as high as a million. The cyclone also played a significant role in history. The land it struck was then East Pakistan, which was already longing for independence. The dilatory response of West Pakistan to the disaster was the final straw, and after a bloody civil war, East Pakistan became the new country of Bangladesh.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a LibDem lord


It's good to write to members of Parliament to complain or cajole, but sometimes it's good just to say 'thank you'.

I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for being the only major party in England to oppose Brexit, so I wrote the letter below to their leader in the House of Lords, Lord Newby. This week the Lords will have probably the last chance to give Parliament a meaningful role in the Brexit negotiations when they consider Theresa May's back-of-an-envelope bill on triggering Article 50.

Dear Lord Newby,
I am grateful for all the Liberal Democrats' efforts in trying to prevent the worst excesses of Brexit. I hope you will keep up the good work in the Lords over the next couple of weeks.
I was deeply disappointed in the performance of the Commons - a point I have made forcefully on a number of occasions to my MP, who happens to be Sir Keir Starmer.
I have also written to the Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith and to Baroness Wheatcroft on the Tory benches. If you have any suggestions about other peers I might write to, I would welcome them.
The points I have made were as follows. The referendum result does not represent the 'will of the people'. The vote was advisory only. If Parliament had wanted to make it binding, it could have done, but it chose not to. Nor is there any moral obligation to obey a result that was won by what the Leave campaign now admits was lies and deception, and yet which was still decided by only a tiny majority among a gerrymandered electorate.
So those members of Parliament who support Brexit are doing so out of choice and they will share in the responsibility for its consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments, and if those amendments cannot be passed, then the Lords should reject the bill. 
MPs talked about three concessions they said they had won from the government:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
In my view, these 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless MPs suddenly discover some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement, which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Conservative MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
 Good luck!
John Withington

Friday, 17 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a Lady


On February 14, I posted a letter I had sent to Labour's leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith, hoping to persuade her to fight for meaningful amendments to the government's bill authorising Theresa May to trigger Article 50.

I have now also written to a Conservative peer, Baroness Wheatcroft, who has spoken eloquently about the need to limit the damage from Brexit. This is my letter:

Dear Baroness Wheatcroft,
I trust we will not see the miserable weak-kneed capitulation we witnessed in the Commons on this measure being repeated in the Lords. Most members of Parliament know Brexti will seriously damage our country, and MP after MP said so. Then most of those same MPs trooped through the lobby to give Theresa May a blank cheque, failing to pass a single amendment to her back-of-an-envelope bill which promises the most extreme form of Brexit.
MPs do not seem to realise what a devastating blow they have delivered to Parliamentary democracy. Gina Miller risked her life to give them a say in the most important decision this country has had to take in decades, because they did not have the courage to demand it for themselves. And then they were too cowardly to grab the lifeline Ms Miller had thrown them.
Even among the Leave campaigners, no one seems any longer to argue that there will be any tangible benefits from Brexit, and the only argument advanced is that it is the 'will of the people'.
I hope you agree with me that this is completely bogus. The referendum was advisory only. If Parliament had wanted to make it binding, it could have done, but it chose not to. Nor is there any moral obligation to obey a result that was won by what the Leave campaign now admits was lies and deception, and yet which was still decided by only a tiny majority among a gerrymandered electorate.
So those members of Parliament who support Brexit are doing so out of choice and they will share in the responsibility for its consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments, and if those amendments cannot be passed, then the Lords should reject the bill. 
MPs talked about three concessions they said they had won from the government:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
In my view, these 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless MPs suddenly discover some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Conservative MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
Even if you accept the 'will of the people' argument, the only thing the 'people' voted for was to leave the EU. Theresa May has NO MANDATE for taking us out of the Single Market, the customs union, ending freedom of movement etc etc. Indeed after a narrowly decided vote, her decision to go for the most extreme form of Brexit and completely ignore the 16 million or more people who voted to remain in the EU is a gross betrayal of the British people.
And it is not just membership of the EU that is at stake, though that is serious enough. Elements among the Brexiters plainly wish to destroy democracy in our country, trying to shout down anyone who disagrees with them as an 'enemy of the people'. For the moment, they can be beaten, but if Parliament keeps on caving in to their bullying, a time will come when they cannot be.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a Lord



With the Labour 'opposition' supporting the Tories and UKIP and nodding Article 50 through in the House of Commons, the action now switches to the House of Lords, who could reject the bill authorising Theresa May to trigger A50, or pass significant amendments. (MPs in the Commons rejected every proposed amendment.)

The pro-EU Liberal Democrats are committed to amending the bill, but will Labour cave in once again?  This is the letter I have written to Labour's leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon.

Dear Baroness Smith,
I trust we will not see the miserable weak-kneed capitulation of Labour members in the Commons repeated in the Lords. I have had considerable correspondence with my MP, who happens to be Sir Keir Starmer, and he is well aware of my dissatisfaction at Labour's performance and that I reject the arguments he has offered in its defence.
In particular, I reject the whole bogus 'will of the people' argument - increasingly the only one made in favour of Brexit. Even the Leave side have virtually given up pretending that leaving the EU will benefit the UK in any tangible way - hardly surprising as there is no evidence of any kind that it will, and reams of evidence that it will do serious damage.
Sir Keir claims that the referendum result is binding. It is not. If Parliament had wanted the result to be binding they would have made it so. They chose not to. So anyone who votes to trigger Article 50 is making a choice, and they will share in the responsibility for the consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, which, as Labour rightly said during the referendum campaign (though the quality and enthusiasm of its saying might well be questioned), will seriously damage the British people. This is the time to put country before party, whatever Jeremy Corbyn may say.
The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments. And please do not repeat Jeremy Corbyn's foolish mistake of unconditionally promising to support the triggering of A50. You should make it clear that without effective amendments, you will not support the bill.
Sir Keir told me of three concessions he believed Labour had won:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
I explained to him that the 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless Labour suddenly discovers some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be a 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Tory MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
Labour's betrayal of the country and its own voters has done it dreadful damage. You now have perhaps the last chance to repair some of this. 
Gina Miller risked her life to give Parliament a say on Brexit. MPs have shamefully let her down. Don't do the same in the Lords.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,

John Withington