Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Brexitwatch: a reply (sort of) from the Met Police


On Monday, I blogged about the complaint I had sent to the Metropolitan Police regarding its apparent dilatoriness in investigating evidence of criminality by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum.

Below is the reply I have received. As with so many things concerned with Brexit, it raises more questions than it answers. Now considering my next move:

The electoral commission has made referrals to the MPS. The special Enquiry Team are assessing a number of documents in order to make an informed decision as to whether a criminal investigation is required.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Brexitwatch: petitions to sign, emails to send


Mind-boggling isn't it? MPs have NEVER bothered to debate whether Brexit will benefit the UK. Sign the petition to demand they remedy this gross dereliction of duty before it's too late:-

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/229636

Yesterday I blogged about contacting the Metropolitan Police to ask why they have not acted on evidence they have received about criminal activity by members of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum of 2016. But it is also worth contacting your MP to ask what they are going to do about the Met's turning a blind eye. This is what I sent to mine:-

I'm sure you are aware that for five months the Metropolitan Police has been sitting on evidence of criminal activity employed by the Leave Campaign to illegally win the EU Referendum. They are apparently refusing to act because of 'political sensitivities.' If you are not aware, you should read this:
If the referendum was won by criminal means, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the crime. It is something that will damage our country for decades, possibly generations.
But the importance of the decision not to act has even wider-reaching implications. If, in future, crimes are not going to be investigated because certain politicians and/or political groups do not want them to be, then the UK has ceased to be a democracy.
I have made my complaint to the Met, but I should like to know what you and the Labour Party are doing about it.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Brexitwatch: the police dog that didn't bark in the night (or day)



In the sound and fury signifying nothing of Theresa May's government's incompetent 'negotiation' of Brexit, it is easy to forget that the only reason the UK is leaving the EU is because of a referendum that was won illegally by the Leave Campaign. And, of course, to forget is precisely what the government and most Tory and Labour MPs want you to do.

Evidence of Leave's criminality was provided to the Metropolitan Police five months ago, but since then it seems they have done absolutely nothing. If, like me, you are not happy about this, you should complain to them at https://www.met.police.uk/contact/contact-us/contact-us-to-discuss-something-else/

This is what I sent:

For five months the Metropolitan Police has been sitting on evidence of widespread criminal activity by the Leave Campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Apparently you are refusing to start a proper investigation because of 'political sensitivities'.
If the referendum was won by criminal means, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the crime. It is something that will damage our country for decades, possibly generations.
But the importance of your decision not to act has even wider-reaching implications. If, in future, crimes are not going to be investigated because certain politicians and/or political groups do not want them to be, then the UK has ceased to be a democracy.
I look forward to your comments on the above, and answers to the following questions:
1. When will you be starting a proper investigation?
2. Are you deliberately trying to delay the process until the UK has left the EU in the hope that this will diminish the pressure on you to investigate?
You should be aware that I will also be contacting my MP and other relevant parties about this.
I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, 16 September 2018

Brexitwatch: London demands a People's Vote



If you wrote to your London Assembly member asking them to back a referendum on the terms of the UK leaving the EU (see my posts of Sept 2 and 3), well done! In spite of the opposition of Conservative and UKIP members, the Assembly decided to back democracy, and today mayor Sadiq Khan has added his voice to the demand for a People's Vote. 

Writing endless letters and emails is often frustrating, but it does work. My own belief is that Brexit will only be stopped when most MPs start to believe their careers will be damaged more by dragging us out of the EU than by letting us stay in it. Every anti-Brexit letter or email they receive helps to bring them to that conclusion.

Regular readers of this blog will know I reject the 'People's Will' argument. The referendum was advisory and explicitly non-binding on MPs. It offered bad advice and it was the duty of MPs to reject it in the national interest (see my post of March 29 etc).

But even if you accept the argument, it is clear the 'People's Will' has changed, with some polls suggesting 59% would now support staying in the EU. The New European has an interesting figure. 

MPs decided to prevent 16 and 17 year olds from voting in the referendum even though they were going to have to live with its consequences longer than the people who were allowed to vote. About 1.5 million of them turn 18 between the referendum in June 2016 and March 29 next year when we are due to leave the EU. More than 80% of them want to stay. Don't give up the fight. Stop Brexit.


Monday, 3 September 2018

Brexitwatch: A modern Conservative writes


On Friday 31 August, I posted an email I had sent to Labour and Conservative members of the London Assembly to urge them to support a People's Vote on the final Brexit terms in Thursday's vote (6 Sept).

So far I have received one reply - from Conservative member, Susan Hall. It is notable for not addressing any of the points I raised, and being based on no evidence except her 'full confidence that all will work out well.' Good to know we have such deep thinkers as our elected representatives.

You can see my original letter in my post of 31 August. Below is her response and my reply to it.

Hello Mr. Withington,

Thank you for your letter. I am afraid I disagree with you. The Government is trying to fulfil the request resulting from the referendum. Thus hopefully we will leave the EU and I have full confidence that all will work out well, and in accordance with the majority of those who voted.

Kind regards,

Susan

Dear Ms Hall, thank you for your prompt response. Is this really the best the modern Conservative Party can do?
You have not dealt with the points I raised, but I have come to expect that from Brexit supporters.
So let me ask you a few quick questions:-
1. We know the Leave campaign cheated in the referendum, but you are plainly not concerned about this. So how much cheating on the part of the Leave campaign would have to be established for you to say the 'result' could not be regarded as valid? Or would any amount of cheating be all right in your view?
2. We also know from your government's own figures, that any Brexit leaves us worse off. How big would the loss have to be for you to say we must not proceed with Brexit? Or would no loss be great enough to bring you to this conclusion?
3. You have 'full confidence that all will work out well', so if it proves that you are wrong and Brexit does make us poorer, do you promise to resign?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Brexitwatch: make UKIP honour its promise


On Thursday (6 Sept), the London Assembly votes on whether to throw its weight behind a People's Vote. On Friday (31 Aug) I posted an email I had written to Labour and Conservative members, but if you are a Londoner, you are also represented by two UKIP members, who are elected as 'Londonwide' members. So don't leave them out!

During the referendum campaign, Nigel Farage said that if the margin of victory was as narrow as 52% to 48% there would need to be a further vote. 

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nigel-farage-52-48_uk_5820dc7ce4b020461a1d5fd9

As we know, it was actually tighter. So let's have that further vote - a People's Vote on the terms of Brexit. This is what I wrote to the two UKIP members, David Kurten and Peter Whittle:

During the Brexit referendum campaign, UKIP promised that in the event of a 52-48% margin there would be another vote, as this would be too narrow to be conclusive.
As you know, the margin was even tighter, and it is also plain that the Brexit that was promised cannot be delivered.
I call on you now, therefore, to throw your weight behind the campaign for a People's Vote and to support it in Thursday's vote.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Brexitwatch: support a People's Vote by writing to your London Assembly members


On Thursday (6 September), the London Assembly will be voting on a motion calling on it to get behind the campaign for a People's Vote on the terms under which we leave the EU, with an option to remain if they are not good enough.

You can find your assembly member here:-

https://www.london.gov.uk/people/assembly

Please note: you will have one member for your constituency, but you should also write to the 11 members who represent the whole of London.

This is what I wrote to Labour and Conservative members:-

On the government’s own calculations, ANY form of Brexit makes the UK poorer, and yet our government is insisting on dragging us out of the EU, a decision that will damage London for years and possibly decades to come.
There is no mandate to do this on the basis of the referendum of 2016, because:
The vote was advisory and explicitly non-binding on MPs, though a large number of MPs have pretended otherwise
The electorate was gerrymandered by systematically excluding groups who would be severely disadvantaged by Brexit and who would be expected to vote against it
The vote was won by law-breaking by the Leave campaign
The Brexit that was promised by the Leave campaign cannot be delivered. Brexit will NOT mean more money for the NHS, getting the exact same benefits we had inside the EU, holding all the cards in negotiations etc
Leave voters voted for many different kinds of Brexit. Some wanted to be in the Single Market; others didn’t. Some wanted to be in the Customs Union; others didn’t. Some wanted more immigration from outside the EU, some wanted less, some wanted none, etc.
In short, Leave voters voted for a fantasy Brexit which would give them all of the often contradictory things they wanted, and some voted for bizarre reasons such as ‘a protest’ and ‘not wanting Remain to win by too many’!
It is vital, therefore, that all of us get a chance to vote for or reject the REAL Brexit – i.e. any agreement the government makes with the EU – with the option of remaining a member if the deal is not good enough.
I urge you, therefore, to vote on Thursday, 6 September for London to get behind the campaign for a People’s Vote.
Tomorrow I will post the email I have sent to UKIP members.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Brexitwatch: Ask Jeremy Corbyn



'Will the UK be better off outside the EU?' Sounds like a fair question, an important one, and simple enough to understand, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to avoid answering it FIVE times on Channel 4 News last week, while Scotland Correspondent Ciaran Jenkins kept at him with commendable doggedness. Here is the clip:

https://www.channel4.com/news/corbyn-quizzed-on-whether-uk-better-off-outside-eu

So I thought I would ask him myself:


Dear Jeremy Corbyn,  Will the UK be better off outside the EU? It is probably the most crucial question about our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren. So why did you keep avoiding it on 'Channel 4 News'?
I would be grateful if you would answer it now. 
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
Jeremy Corbyn's email address is leader@labour.org.uk
I also tweeted the question to @jeremycorbyn. Why don't you do the same?



Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Thomas Cole: painter of storms






The nineteenth century American artist Thomas Cole of the Hudson Valley School is not much known in this country, but now he has an exhibition devoted to his work at the National Gallery in London. 

Cole was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1801, emigrating to the US in 1818. From 1825, he lived in the lovely Catskill Mountains of New York State until shortly before his death in 1848. The Catskills has plenty of wild weather, and that led me to feature his work in my book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).

In 1835, he painted a tornado in the Catskills in a pretty straightforward, naturalistic way (picture 3) but he was also interested in storms as a metaphor, so in the final picture of his series, The Course of Empire (picture 2) a glowering vortex of storm clouds gather over a city as it is destroyed. Cole noted: ‘A savage enemy has entered the city. A fierce tempest is raging.’ In a related (free) exhibition at the National Gallery, the contemporary American artist Ed Ruscha offers his own take on the same theme.

Similarly in Cole's Voyage of Life series from 1842, Childhood and Youth have calm skies, while Manhood is tempestuous (picture 1)

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

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/thomas-cole-eden-to-empire





Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Summer of 76 and the most successful government minister in UK history


This year's glorious summer got me thinking about the best I remember in the UK - 1976, which brought the highest average temperatures since records began. On the hottest day, 3 July, the thermometer climbed to 96.6 deg F (35.9 C), while for the previous 15 days, temperatures reached 90F (32.2C) somewhere in England. 

It was not the driest summer on record - apparently 1955 has that distinction, but there was a drought, so in August, the government appointed a former football referee, Denis Howell, Minister for Drought. (Mr Howell, the Labour MP for Small Heath in Birmingham, also had a day job as Minister for Sport.)

He quickly became dubbed the most successful minister in British history, because everywhere he went, it seemed to rain. I was working as a television reporter for ATV in the Midlands at the time, and I remember covering one of his visits to a drought-stricken area, where, sure enough, he was greeted by a downpour.

Rivers and reservoirs ran dry, there was water rationing and standpipes in some areas, and more people died than usual, but being in a garden or a park or by the sea was glorious.



Sunday, 12 August 2018

Brexitwatch: lies, damned lies and Theresa May's government


Along with 189,491 other people, (that's more than 5 times the number who voted that Theresa May should be elected an MP) I signed a petition to the UK government and parliament saying: 'If Vote Leave has broken any laws regarding overspending in 2016 EU referendum then Article 50 should be immediately withdrawn and full EU membership continued.'

The most striking thing about the government's response, from Brexit fanatic Dominic Raab's 'Department for Exiting the EU', is that it NEVER MENTIONS the Leave Campaign breaking the law, even though this is now clearly established. So the government simply ignores the key point of the petition.

The rest of the reply is packed with the usual Brexit lies: the referendum result is described time and time again as an 'instruction' to MPs, while actually it was advice which, as was made clear in the legislation setting up the referendum, parliament is perfectly entitled to reject. 

It claims that 80% of voters in the General Election of 2016 backed Brexit. Arrant nonsense. Labour and Tory parties each offered dozens of policies. No one knows how many people voted for the parties because of their Brexit 'plans' and how many in spite of them. They were also voting on whether Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn should be running the country. Their answer? Neither.

Then says Raab: 'we are committed to making a success' of Brexit. Yes, and I really want to play centre forward for Manchester United. Unfortunately, just like the government with Brexit, I have no credible plan for achieving my aim.

Perhaps most striking is this sentence: 'There can be no attempt to stay in the EU'. So there you have it. Official government policy: no matter what damage Brexit will do, no matter how many jobs, businesses, public services are destroyed, no matter how much cheating procured the result, the government will continue to drag us out of the EU. 

The full text of the government response is here: 

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/223729

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Brexitwatch: get your MP to support demand for proper investigation of Leave cheating


Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has written to the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency, demanding they mount a 'full and comprehensive' investigation into cheating by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this. Most people now believe Brexit will damage the UK, but Tory and Labour leaderships are insisting we proceed with it because it is the 'will of the people'. Except it isn't, because the referendum was bent, as the Electoral Commission has already demonstrated.

But, as Mr Bradshaw points out, the Commission has limited powers to investigate and none to prosecute. It is, therefore, vital that the police pursue the matter vigorously. Otherwise we will be giving a green light to cheating in all future UK elections.

I am astonished and disappointed that only 31 MPs (plus 19 MEPs and Lords) have signed the letter. They do not appear to include mine - Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. This is what I have written to him:

Dear Sir Keir,
I do not seem to see your name among the list of MPs who have signed your colleague, Ben Bradshaw's demand for the Metropolitan Police and the NCA to investigate law-breaking by the Leave Campaign. I am very disappointed, and I urge you to add your signature  without delay.
You have admitted that Brexit has no benefits and that Labour is continuing to support it only because it is the 'will of the people'. As you know from previous emails, I have always rejected the 'will of the people' argument, but as you continue to accept it, you have an obligation to ensure that we discover to what degree the endorsement of the 'people' for Brexit was secured by a criminal conspiracy.
If Labour fails to do this, it will be giving a green light to cheating in all subsequent UK elections.
I look forward to hearing that you have signed the letter and given your support to Mr Bradshaw's efforts.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Brexitwatch: BAAC-ing mad


What is Theresa May's policy on Brexit? I think you can sum it up as BAAC - Brexit at any cost. 

Long gone is any pretence that Brexit will improve life for anybody, apart from a few of the very rich who will find it easier to avoid tax and benefit from our impoverishment. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg says that after 50 years of misery, with a bit of luck, things might not be too bad. Digby Jones is less optimistic and reckons it will take at least 100. Most other Brexiters confine themselves to declaring that Brexit won't be as bad as some people are saying.

We've known for quite a while that ANY Brexit makes the ordinary Brit poorer, and if Theresa's Brexit fanatics get their way, we'll have to call in the army to stop too many people starving, or dying because they can't get their medicine. And, of course, you won't hear the prime minister talking about how we'll all lose the right to live and work in 27 of the most congenial countries on earth. 

All we hear about now from Mrs May is delivering the 'will of the people', even if it becomes clearer by the day that fewer and fewer of the 'people' actually want her to. All that matters is somehow crawling over that line on 29 March 2019, and getting us out of the EU before her government and the Tory party tear themselves apart.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Brexitwatch: no deal


In my post of July 25, I broke one of my own rules: never underestimate the foolishness, incompetence and cowardice of Theresa May's government.

As Mrs May promised to spell out the consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit so we could all prepare for it, I warned that this might be a softening-up exercise. Presenting critics of Brexit with the apocalyptic results of 'no deal' so they would go along with whatever the prime minister negotiates, even though we know it will be much worse than remaining in the EU.

But now we learn that Mrs May is going to stop us preparing for 'no deal' by hiding the government's plans after reports the army would have to be called in to stop people starving or dying through lack of medicines, and after the businesses charged with implementing her ideas had ridiculed them as completely impracticable. Just like her 'Chequers plan', her 'preparations for no deal' policy had managed to survive for only a couple of days.

The attraction of 'no deal' for Mrs May is that it is the policy that postpones the Tory civil war - the only thing she seems to care about. Any decision she makes about a realistic approach to negotiations with the EU will be the starting gun for her MPs to start tearing lumps out of each other.

So be afraid. Be very afraid. 'No deal' and its consequent chaos could well happen.


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Brexitwatch: no deal. Beware. Are we being played?


'No deal is better than a bad deal' is one of those vacuous slogans that Theresa May and the Brexiters love to trot out again and again until you want to scream. Well, this week the PM gave us some flesh on the bones of what 'no deal' might mean.

Actually, there probably wouldn't be much flesh. The government is planning (a novelty in itself) emergency measures to try to make sure not too many people starve to death or die because they can't get the medicines they need. Makes you wonder just how bad a bad deal would have to be, to be worse than this.

Unless Theresa May has never read a briefing paper, she has known for a long time that this is what 'no deal' would mean. So why has she gone all 'must announce a proper plan' now? To try to intimidate and/or isolate the most demented of the anti-EU headbangers, who have actually been gagging for 'no deal'?

Or is all this actually aimed at those fighting AGAINST Brexit? Here is what I blogged on 9 October 2016:

"Mrs May is engaged in a softening up exercise, conjuring up the most disastrous picture of Brexit imaginable, so that when she comes up with something that damages the country a bit less, Remainers will be pathetically grateful and go along with it, instead of continuing to argue that the referendum was (as indeed is the case) advisory and not binding, unfair, won on the basis of a pack of lies, indecisive etc"

Beware! Every Brexit is a bad Brexit. The only good Brexit is no Brexit.





Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Brexitwatch: demand your MP takes action over Leave campaign cheating


For the second time, the Leave campaign has been found to have cheated in the Brexit referendum. The law lays down spending limits to ensure elections are fair. The official Leave campaign broke the law by spending nearly £500,000 more than it was allowed to.

This is the second time the Leave campaign has been caught cheating. In May, Arron Banks's mysteriously financed Leave.EU group was also fined for spending too much. With a gap of less than 4% between the votes cast for the two sides, surely the referendum result should now be regarded as null and void, but bizarrely the Labour and Tory front benches seem determined to look the other way and pretend none of this has happened. 

This cannot go on. It is the duty of MPs to stop Brexit NOW because 1) it will damage our country. 2) allowing this result to stand will give a green light to cheating in all future UK elections.

My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. I wrote to him twice about Leave.EU's cheating (see my post of May 14), and I have never received a reply.

Now that further law-breaking has been revealed, I have written to him again:

Dear Sir Keir,
I cannot believe that Labour has not called for an immediate halt to Brexit in view of the evidence provided today of yet more law-breaking by the Leave campaign. I have already written to you twice on this issue (see below) but you have ignored me. What is Labour's strategy here? Stick your fingers in your ears, cover your eyes, pretend none of this has happened, and then hopefully it will all go away?
You yourself have admitted that Brexit has no benefits, and that Labour was supporting it only because it was the 'will of the people'. Now it is clear that the referendum was won by serial law-breaking, this excuse will no longer wash.
If Labour fails to act, not only will it impoverish our country, and in particular the people Labour are supposed to care most about, destroying jobs, businesses, public services, savings,people's rights to live and work in Europe etc, it will also give a green light to any party that wants to cheat in future elections in our country. 
Take action to stop Brexit now. I appeal to you and Labour not to continue in this gross dereliction of your duty.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Disaster! audiobook out now


The audiobook of my book Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues, and Other Catastrophes (A Disastrous History of the World in the UK edition) is now out, read by Roger Clark.

It tells the story of the worst disasters to hit mankind from the volcanic eruption that nearly wiped out the human race 74,000 years ago to the catastrophes of the 21st century, like the Boxing Day tsunami. 

The first part of the book chronicles all the major natural calamities – floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, disease, famine, etc. The second half describes the greatest man-made disasters – like invasions, air raids, massacres, riots, terrorism, mass poisonings, stampedes, fires, explosions, shipwrecks, and air and train crashes.

This is what the Independent said about the book: 'The publisher seems to be pushing its luck by describing this haul of the "nastiest things to have afflicted humanity" as "compulsively readable and entertaining". Weirdly enough, this is spot on.'

https://www.scribd.com/audiobook/382306276/Disaster-A-History-of-Earthquakes-Floods-Plagues-and-Other-Catastrophes?host=www.scribd.com&protocol=https




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, 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

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