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'If Vote Leave has broken any laws regarding overspending in 2016 EU referendum then Article 50 should be immediately withdrawn and full EU membership continued.'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


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

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Brexitwatch: the bent referendum. A letter to the Prime Minister


Most MPs know Brexit will damage the UK. They have been proceeding with it only because of the referendum result. 

But we now know the referendum was won illegally by the Leave side, who broke spending rules. So why isn't Brexit being stopped? That is the question I have asked the Prime Minister:


'In view of the revelation that the Leave campaign won the Brexit referendum illegally, I am surprised you have not already been in touch with the EU to withdraw Article 50.
When do you plan to take this action?'

Monday, 14 May 2018

Brexitwatch; the referendum was won illegally. What is your MP going to do about it?


So the referendum WAS bent. The Leave campaign spent more than was allowed, and have been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission. The police are now also investigating.

So the result is null and void, of course? With that surrealism that has become typical of Brexit, the first reaction of MPs seems to be to ignore this inconvenient fact, and hope it will go away or that no one will notice.

This is not good enough. All the evidence suggests leaving the EU will damage our country, and to continue with it because of an illegally procured referendum result is inexcusable. The only justification advanced for Brexit these days is the so-called 'will of the people' argument (see my post of of 15 December 2016) and that has now been blown out of the water.

Theresa May should by now have withdrawn Article 50. As she has not, MPs should be forcing her to. This is what I have written to mine (Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer):


Dear Sir Keir,
I saw you on television yesterday admitting that there are no benefits to Brexit. I have written to you on a number of occasions urging you and the Labour Party to oppose this act of national self-harm. You have always maintained we have to do it (e.g, in your email of Jan 3, 2017) because people had voted for it.
As you know I have always rejected this, as Parliament itself ruled the referendum was 'consultative' only and not binding on MPs. Now, however, we also know that the referendum was ILLEGALLY won by the Leave side.
So what is Labour going to do about it?
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday, 7 May 2018

Brexitwatch: Labour too cowardly to have an opinion. My letter to the party's Brexit spokesperson


A crucial vote comes up in the House of Lords tomorrow, with a decision on an amendment that would require the UK to Remain in the EEA, meaning we would stay in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

And Labour's view? Incredibly Jeremy Corbyn has ordered Labour peers to have no view - to abstain - just as they did over an amendment to guarantee us all a vote on any deal agreed with the EU. The result was a win for Theresa May's extreme right wing Tories and their extreme Brexit.

My MP is Labour's Brexit spokesperson. This is what I have written to him. Do you know a Labour lord to whom you could write something similar?

Dear Sir Keir,
'Staying in the EEA could preserve our rights to live and work in 27 countries, stop our economy being destroyed, preserve peace in Ireland, and, of course, it wasn't mentioned on the referendum ballot paper, so any 'will of the people' arguments are irrelevant. What does Labour think?'
'Er, we don't really have a view.'
How on earth do you expect to be taken seriously as a potential governing party when you are too cowardly or too clueless to take a position on the biggest questions facing our country?
I was horrified to see Labour sabotaging the chance of a referendum on any Brexit terms by ordering its members in the House of Lords to abstain, so ensuring the most reactionary Tory government I have ever seen would get its way. Now you are planning to do the same on the EEA vote. 
This is inexcusable. I urge you at this late date to change your mind and just for once, put country before party. Every Labour lord should be urged to support the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Brexit Tax: how much are you prepared to pay?




Nobody much now believes the biggest lie in British politics: that leaving the EU would produce an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. It is now clear that ANY arrangement that follows us leaving the EU will make us worse off - apart from a few of the hyper-rich non-elite who may be helped to avoid tax.

An assessment that Theresa May tried to keep secret shows that if we get a Norway-type deal of leaving the EU, but staying in the Single Market (the kind Nigel Farage used to favour but now considers insufficiently extreme) we will all be 2 per cent worse off. 

With a Canada-type free trade deal, we will be 5 per cent worse off, and if we go for the no-deal scenario favoured by the Brexit fanatics, which Theresa May is keen not to rule out, we will all be 8 per cent worse off. So instead of being paid, say, £30,000, you will get £27,600.

But it gets worse. Because we will all have less money, the government will get less from taxes to pay for the NHS and other public services. By 2033, the Norway model will leave a Black Hole in the public finances of £20bn or about £300 for every man, woman and child in the country; the shortfall for a Canada arrangement will be £55bn, or about £850 for every man, woman, and child in the country, while having no deal would cost about £80bn, or £1,230 for each of us.

Interestingly surveys on how much people are to pay for Brexit usually come up with the answer: £0.




Saturday, 21 April 2018

Brexitwatch: Letters to Lords and Ladies - a referendum on any Brexit terms


The House of Lords has already done important work in trying to stop Theresa May from dragging us out of the EU Customs Union, with all the disastrous effects that would have on our economy and on peace in Ireland.

Over the next few days, the Lords will consider another amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill requiring the government to hold a referendum on any terms agreed for leaving the EU, with an option to stay if the leaving terms are not good enough.

This is the letter I have sent to three members of the Lords - Baronesses Browning and Warsi, and Lord Bridges. If you wish to write to members you think are persuadable, please feel free to borrow from it or adapt it.

I am writing to you to ask you to support the amendment “Parliamentary motions on a referendum” to the EU Withdrawal Bill so that there will be a public vote on any final Brexit agreement reached with the EU.
This is essential because it is plain that the Brexit people were persuaded to vote for in June 2016 cannot be delivered. We were promised that we would be able to stay in the Single Market, that we would be able to leave the EU but keep all the benefits of membership, that leaving would have no cost for our economy, that it would be child's play to reach new trade deals to replace those with 70 countries that we tear up when we leave the EU, that the UK government would save money, etc etc. It is plain now that none of this will happen.
It is also essential because the referendum electorate was gerrymandered to exclude huge numbers of people likely to vote Remain - many UK citizens living in the EU, 16-18 year olds, EU citizens with long residence in the UK. In spite of that, and a rabidly anti-EU press, the Leave campaign was able to win by only a tiny majority. (And I haven't even started to discuss the questions of dishonest financing and foreign interference on the Leave side.)
All respectable predictions say leaving the EU will damage our jobs, businesses, savings, public services, standing in the world etc. Before we take such a fundamental and damaging step, it is essential we know that it really is what people want. 
The 2016 referendum was ADVISORY, and not binding on Parliament. This is absolutely clear from the legislation itself and from the pronouncements of government ministers advocating it. If we leave the EU, therefore, the consequences will be the responsibility of Parliament. I do not think historians will be impressed by its performance so far. Supporting this amendment gives Parliament a chance to start to repair the damage it has done.
Please vote for the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 20 April 2018

Brexitwatch; what Labour really thinks about Brexit


Somebody called Barry Gardiner is apparently Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' A couple of weeks ago he was secretly recorded saying worries that peace in Ireland could be threatened by the re-introduction of a border between north and south after Brexit were just a bit of flimflam concocted by the Irish Government and Sinn Fein. 

As for, Labour's Brexit tests, designed to try to prevent the UK being completely destroyed by leaving the EU, they were 'bollocks'. 

When front bench spokesperson Owen Smith said that as the Brexit people had voted for could not be delivered, there should be a referendum on any actual terms negotiated, Jeremy Corbyn sacked him for not following party policy. Barry Gardiner is still in his job.

I don't think he should be, and this is what I wrote to my MP, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir, 
I had to cover the Birmingham pub bombings as a tv reporter. I have lived through a series of IRA bombing campaigns, and I have relatives in Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am horrified that Barry Gardiner is prepared to jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in order to pursue his fantasy of a Brexit that everyone who has given it a moment's thought, knows cannot be achieved. That alone should have been enough to get him sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, as Owen Smith was.
Now I read that he also rejects the key basis of Labour's Brexit policy - the six tests - though he did not have the guts to say so publicly. Why is he still in his job?
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Brexitwatch: fighting Brexit at the local elections on May 3



In my post for April 8, you can see a letter I sent to my (Labour) councillors asking for their advice on who I should vote for in the local elections in view of my belief that Brexit is the worst problem facing local government.

Below is a councillor’s reply, and my reply to him. As you can see, his response has convinced me that it would be wrong to vote for Labour (or any other Brexit-supporting party, e.g. Conservative) at the local elections.

Dear John,

Apologies, but I had to forward this to my personal email as we cannot use council emails for party political purposes. 

I agree that the impacts of Brexit will be signficant. Particularly for our poorest communities in the UK. Ironically, often where the vote for Brexit was the strongest. 

In Camden we have thousands of non-UK EU citizens who live and work here. I’m extremely proud of this fact, and to have a number of non-UK EU citizens as fellow cllrs. Camden has the gateway to Europe, via the Eurostar. And a large number of public services and sectors (like the tech industry) rely on the benefits we have through EU membership. 

Our manifesto which will be published Tuesday will make a strong statement, that Camden Labour will campaign to protect the rights of EU citizens, and to have the strongest possible links with Europe. 

In terms of practical measures, we will produce advice and support to citizens living here, work with the Mayor and continue to lobby and campaign so that no deal can be agreed without it having democratic legitimacy. 

Angela and I voted Remain, and believe strongly in the benefits of EU membership, economical, politically and socially. 

Best wishes,

Danny 

Dear Councillor Beales,
Thank you for your very prompt response. I have thought carefully about what you say, but I will not be voting Labour at the local elections, nor at any other election until the party starts wholeheartedly opposing Brexit.
The measures you outline are essentially designed to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit, but any Brexit of any kind will be less good for the people of the UK (with the possible exception of a small number of the very rich) than remaining in the EU, and, as you yourself, admit, the people who will be most damaged are those Labour is supposed to care most about.
The only way to 'have the strongest possible links with Europe' is to stay in the EU. 
I'm quite old, and UK politicians have made plenty of mistakes in my life time, but Brexit is by far the worst. Labour is making a terrible mistake by not fighting this act of national self-harm. If it does not have a rapid change of heart, historians of the future will treat the party very harshly, and rightly so.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington