Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Brexitwatch: BBC fails to address my complaint


In my post for April 19, I put up the letter I sent to the BBC complaining about its failure to challenge the constant lies trotted out by pro-Brexit speakers. I particulary wanted to know why BBC interviewers never ask:

1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?

I received a reply which did not address any of these points: 

Dear Mr Withington

Thank you for contacting the BBC.
I understand you feel BBC News has shown a consistent bias in favour of Brexit and failed to properly question the assertions of those who are in favour of Brexit.
Naturally we regret when any member of our audience is unhappy with any aspect of what we do. We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story across our news programmes and bulletins. Keeping in mind pressures on licence fee resources, this response seeks to address the key points raised. That said, we apologise in advance if your complaint has not been specifically addressed here.
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 approach the story with the required level of impartiality, with input from various commentators and experts. 'Feedback' on BBC Radio 4 has addressed the issue of complaints about how we cover the story. Our Chief Political Adviser and the controller of the BBC's daily news programming joined Today presenter Nick Robinson, to discuss the common complaints from all sides. You may be interested in the sections at 3mins and 13mins especially:
As with any story we cover, BBC News 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.
We appreciate your concerns and hope this helps to explain how we approach our reporting of this subject. Nonetheless, I understand this is something you feel strongly about and I’ve included your points on our audience feedback report that is sent to senior management and programme makers each morning and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future output.
We appreciate you taking the time to register your views on this matter as it is greatly helpful in informing future decisions at the BBC.
Thanks again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
John Hamill
BBC Complaints Team
I have now complained about this response as follows:
I made a very specific complaint about how interviews with Brexit supporters are conducted on BBC programmes, and about how interviewers appear to constantly suppress crucial facts. I asked you whether this was because they were ignorant or because they were instructed not to raise certain issues inconvenient for the Brexit case. I also asked you if there was an instruction, from whom did it come.
You did not address any of these points, and instead delivered a standard, generic response claiming: 'we try to be fair'. The key points are below. I would be grateful if this time you address them.
Day after day, Brexit supporters are allowed to spout that the UK has to leave the EU because 'people voted for it'. (Most of them have by now given up any pretence that Brexit has any benefits.)
I used to work for the BBC as well as other broadcasting organisations, and I would have been asking these interviewees:
1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?
I have heard many, many Brexiters being interviewed on your programmes, but I have NEVER heard one of your interviewers putting these points. Why is that? Is it because they are ignorant of the facts or is it because an edict has come from on high forbidding them from raising these inconvenient facts. If it is the latter, from whom does it come?


Saturday, 4 May 2019

Brexitwatch: inter-Remain party co-operation - a reply from the Greens' Caroline Lucas


Well done the LibDems and the Greens in the local elections! The outstanding results they achieved makes it all the more disappointing that there is no plan for pro-Remain parties to work together at the European elections on May 23.

As you can see from my posts of April 12 and 18, I wrote to the parties on this issue, and received a disappointing response from the Greens. I have now received a further reply from Caroline Lucas, the party's sole MP, which you can see below. I hope she has not underestimated the danger that splitting the Remain vote may lead to more of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party being elected as MEPs - a development that might make the EU less willing to grant any further delays to the UK's departure date.

Dear John,

Thank you for your email about the possibility of an electoral alliance of Remain parties in the forthcoming European Parliament election.

As someone who strongly believes that the UK’s future would be brighter, fairer and greener if we remained in the EU, and having been a co-founder of the cross-party campaign for a People’s Vote with the option to remain, I very much understand your desire to see the pro-Remain parties working together to maximise the pro-Remain vote in the European Parliament (EP) election. Unfortunately, however, the particular form of proportional representation that the UK uses for EP elections (the d’Hondt system) presents very significant practical barriers to the formation of a formal or even an informal electoral alliance.

In terms of a formal electoral alliance – that is, with the alliance’s name and logo appearing on the ballot paper – such an alliance would need to be approved and registered by the Electoral Commission. The deadline for seeking such approval by, and registration with, the Electoral Commission was in early February, long before the EU Council meeting on 10 April which granted the Article 50 extension to 31 October that makes it possible to hold the EP election on 23 May.

As for an informal arrangement – that is, with candidates standing under the banner of their own party, but some parties standing down in each region to give one pro-Remain party a free-run – the d’Hondt system, and in particular the division of the UK into electoral regions of varying size, makes it very difficult to predict with any certainty which party is best placed to maximise the benefit of being given a free-run in each region.

Furthermore, it is not at all clear how such an informal alliance could have ensured compliance with the Electoral Commission’s rules on campaign spending (and there would be little point parties standing their candidates down to give another party a free-run, unless they then campaigned jointly for that party’s candidates). These practical and legal difficulties would have made any negotiations between the various parties extremely complex. What’s more, although in principle I was open to exploring the possibility of working together, it quickly became clear that Change UK were unwilling to consider such an informal arrangement. And, contrary to some media reports, the Liberal Democrats did not make any approach to the Green Party on this issue.

In short, as attractive as an electoral alliance might have been, it was simply not a viable option (and the deadline for registering candidates has now passed).

I realise that this is disappointing, but can assure you that the Green Party, the Party’s excellent MEP candidates and I will all be campaigning hard over the next four weeks to maximise the pro-Remain vote and resist the opportunistic populism of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the far-right extremism of UKIP.  The Greens are well placed to build on the strong track record of our existing three MEPs on delivering not just a People’s Vote, but bold action on climate change too. We understand why many people voted for Leave in June 2016: the status quo is intolerable and we are pushing for the reforms necessary in both the UK and the EU to make a transition away from the current system – one which fails us all so badly, and hits the most vulnerable hardest.  

We have to redefine what success looks like in this EP election, and ensuring a majority of pro-Remain votes on 23 May is key – whether that translates into more MEPs, or not. If more than 50% of the voting public express a preference for Remain candidates, that massively strengthens the case for a People’s Vote, whereas alliances could in fact suppress the pro-Remain numbers (if traditional voters of one party felt unable to support a candidate from a different one, because although they agree on Remain, they have almost nothing else in common at all). Alliances might also not result in a pro-Remain MEP majority and strategically would not move us any closer to a ratification referendum. Even if the Brexit Party secures a majority of MEP seats, that will count for much less if the country has voted Remain overall and the pressure for a People’s Vote really builds.

I  hope that makes my position clear. I understand how worried and concerned you are, and hope that you will use your vote on 23 May to send a strong clear message in support of Remain.

Best wishes,

Caroline

Friday, 26 April 2019

Brexitwatch: Write to Labour


It's being reported that Labour has omitted any mention of a referendum on any Brexit terms - a 'People's Vote' - from its European elections leaflets, because it got 'forgotten'. (It's the second time Labour has used this excuse).

I've written to Labour's Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, (team@tom-watson.com) to protest and to say that I will not vote for Labour unless it stops helping the Tory government to drag us out of the EU.

Dear Mr Watson
I am bitterly disappointed to learn that the Labour Party's election leaflet for the European elections contains no mention of a People's Vote.. This is deeply foolish as well as duplicitous. After the 2017 General Election, Labour betrayed its voters by claiming that voting Labour meant they backed Brexit. Many will not be fooled again. I will believe the party is committed to a referendum on any Brexit terms, including an option to remain, only when I hear it unequivocally from the mouth of Jeremy Corbyn himself.
And when I hear alleged Labour MPs like Caroline Flint singing the praises of Theresa May's blind Brexit when even Nigel Farage admits it is worse than staying in the EU, words fail me.
If we leave the EU, I will not forgive Labour.
There is no longer any justification for Brexit:
1. Any Brexit will damage the UK and particularly the people Labour is supposed to care most about.
2. The referendum result is null and void as it was won by lies, cheating and criminality. (I have taken this up with my MP, Sir Keir Starmer on a number of occasions and I am bitterly disappointed that Labour has tried to sweep it under the carpet - an act of foolishness and cowardice that will haunt the party for a very long time.)
3. The Brexit that was promised is not being and cannot be delivered, and there is no mandate for either of the available Brexits - Theresa May's blind Brexit or 'no deal'.
Labour's half-hearted opposition to the right wing Brexit coup has been a dreadful stain on the party's reputation, and if we are now dragged out of the EU, I will regard Labour as being as much to blame as the Tories. I trust you will now do whatever is necessary to stop it.
If we do leave, I will not forget, and I will do everything I can to help defeat Labour in all subsequent elections.
There is still time to do the right thing, but it is fast running out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington


Monday, 22 April 2019

History corner - for Manchester United fans


Yesterday Manchester United suffered a very disappointing 4-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park. I remember another 4-0 defeat at Goodison and its aftermath

It came on the first day of the 1963-4 season in the Charity Shield. United had finished the previous season on a high, winning the FA Cup, their first trophy since the Munich disaster. Matt Busby's response to the Goodison debacle was to drop four of the cup-winning team: David Gaskell, Johnny Giles, David Quixall and David Herd. Giles never kicked another ball for the club, though he had a distinguished career with Leeds, while Herd went on to win two championship medals. 

A fortnight later, United beat Everton 5-1 at Old Trafford. As for the new players who came in, Harry Gregg was a returning veteran, David Sadler went on to win a number of medals, including European Cup Winner, while Ian Moir played a total of only 45 games and Phil Chisnall 47, before being transfered to Liverpool, where he had only limited success.


Busby's tough approach seemed to work. At the end of the season United finished second in what was then the First Division, up from 19th the previous year.



Friday, 19 April 2019

Brexitwatch: another complaint to the BBC


The BBC's performance has been so lamentable that I could complain every day about the way pro-Brexit interviewees are allowed to spout their lies on programme after programme without even a token challenge.

But I've finally lost patience, and written to them again:


Last night a journalist was killed in N Ireland as Brexit undermines the peace process, and unfortunately the BBC has played its part in this sorry state of affairs by failing to expose systematic lying by pro-Brexit speakers on its news and current affairs programmes.
Day after day, they are allowed to spout that the UK has to leave the EU because 'people voted for it'. (Most of them have by now given up any pretence that Brexit has any benefits.)
I used to work for the BBC as well as other broadcasting organisations, and I would have been asking these interviewees:
1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?
I have heard many, many Brexiters being interviewed on your programmes, but I have NEVER heard one of your interviewers putting these points. Why is that? Is it because they are ignorant of the facts or is it because an edict has come from on high forbidding them from raising these inconvenient facts. If it is the latter, from whom does it come?

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Brexitwatch: working together to beat Brexit - a disappointing response from the Greens


Last week I wrote to the three main pro-Remain parties in England: the LibDems, Greens and Independent Group to ask how they would be co-operating in the local and European elections (see my post of April 12).

The only response I've had so far has been from the Greens. It was disappointing (and suggested a lack of understanding of how the voting system works): 

Hi John, 

Thank you for getting in touch. 

We released this statement on the matter yesterday: 

"The Green Party has no plans to field joint ‘remain’ lists in the upcoming European Elections. The Green Party has a long and proud history within the European Parliament - from being a strong and unwavering voice for Remain, to fighting climate change and standing up for workers’ rights. 

"The European Parliament election is conducted by proportional representation, which means every vote counts and every vote can make a difference. In the last European Elections the Green Party came ahead of the Liberal Democrats, with three MEPs elected. We would also resist any calls for us to stand alongside parties with whom we have fundamental ideological differences on austerity, economic policy and beyond." 

Kind regards, 
Culann 
Membership Team 
Green Party of England and Wales 


I have replied to the Green MP Caroline Lucas  caroline.lucas.mp@parliament.uk and to the party's leadership - leader@greenparty.org.uk

Dear Caroline Lucas & Green Party,
I am bitterly disappointed by the reply I have received to my question about how pro-Remain parties are going to co-operate in the local and European elections. 
You do not even mention the local elections, and your reply on the European elections reflects a tribalism that would fit perfectly in the Tory and Labour parties. It also suggests an ignorance of how the electoral system in the Euro elections works. Except in N Ireland, it is not a properly proportional system. A threshold has to be passed before a party can get any MEPs. The more pro-Remain parties fight each other, the fewer pro-Remain MEPs there will be.
If the election is handed to Nigel Farage or the Tory party, it will be a terrible blow for the Remain cause, and anyone in the pro-Remain parties who helps facilitate it will not be forgiven.
Please thing again.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 12 April 2019

Brexitwatch: let's get pro-Remain parties to work together


If we're going to stop Brexit, it's really important that pro-Remain parties do very well in the local elections on May 2, and the European elections on May 23 (assuming they happen), so I've written to the LibDems, the Independent Group and the Greens to ask them what they're doing to work together.

Here's what I sent to the Independent Group:


It is very important that pro-Remain candidates do very well in the local elections and the European elections (assuming they take place).  So I would like to know what you are doing to co-operate with other pro-EU parties such as the LibDems, the Greens, the SNP etc. I am writing to the other parties asking the same question.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Brexitwatch: People's Vote - write to the Labour Party chairman


One of the most painful aspects of Brexit is listening to unscrupulous Labour Party spokespeople tying themselves in knots of bewildering complexity as they try to avoid answering the simple question: 'Does Labour back a referendum on any Brexit terms that are agreed?'

It is being reported that one of the main opponents of a People's Vote is Labour chairman Ian Lavery, the MP for Wansbeck. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/06/labour-chairman-attacks-corbyn-over-second-referendum-plan


If you want a referendum, write to him at ian.lavery.mp@parliament.uk.


This is what I have sent him. Feel free to borrow, adapt, etc



Dear Mr Lavery,
I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Labour Party. I read that you are doing everything you can to prevent the British people being allowed to vote on the terms under which they are dragged out of the EU. 
Well, if we leave the EU, I will not forgive Labour.
There is no longer any justification for Brexit:
1. Any Brexit will damage the UK and particularly the people Labour is supposed to care most about.
2. The referendum result is null and void as it was won by lies, cheating and criminality. (I am bitterly disappointed that Labour has tried to sweep this under the carpet - an act of foolishness and cowardice that will haunt the party for a very long time.)
3. The Brexit that people voted for is not being and cannot be delivered. 
Labour's half-hearted opposition to the right wing Brexit coup has been a dreadful stain on the party's reputation, and if we are now dragged out of the EU, I will regard Labour as being as much to blame as the Tories. I trust the party will now do whatever is necessary to stop it.
If we do leave, I will not forget, and I will do everything I can to help defeat Labour in all subsequent elections.
There is still time to do the right thing, but it is fast running out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington


Friday, 29 March 2019

Brexitwatch: ask the Speaker to rule out MV3


By a piece of transparent chicanery, Theresa May seems to have persuaded the Speaker that she should be given a third chance to get her disastrous double-blind Brexit through this afternoon, even though the rules of the House of Commons say that once it has been rejected, it should not be put again. May's deal has been overwhelmingly rejected twice.

If you agree with me that this brings parliament into disrepute, please join me in writing to John Bercow at  speakersoffice@parliament.uk and asking him to reconsider. This is what I have sent him:

Dear Mr Speaker,
As you know, I have great regard for you, but I am very disappointed that you have decided to rule it is in order for Theresa May to bring her blind Brexit deal before the House of Commons for a third time. If we the people are not allowed to have second thoughts about our decisions, it is very hard to see how the government can be allowed to keep on bringing the same measure forward again and again until it finally gets the answer it wants.
Theresa May herself has made it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration have to be considered as a single entity, so how can it be right that she now tells MPs to consider them separately?
I urge you, in the interests of parliamentary democaracy, to think again.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday, 25 March 2019

Brexitwatch: write to the speaker to stop May putting her disastrous 'deal' again


One of the few parliamentarians to emerge with real credit from the Brexit fiasco so far is the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. Last week he courageously ruled against Theresa May bringing her dreadful blindfold Brexit 'deal' back before MPs for a third time.

But May, who plainly has no respect for democracy, is just waiting for the chance to do exactly that. Allowing her to keep putting such a deeply unpopular plan until she gets the answer she wants is plainly unacceptable and makes parliament a laughing stock. So join me in writing to the Speaker again, asking him to stand firm. This is what I have sent:

Dear Mr Speaker,
Thank you for all you have done to fight for our democracy against a dangerously dictatorial prime minister and government.
I hear disturbing rumours that she is planning to bring her totally discredited blindfold Brexit 'deal' back to parliament. I trust you will not allow it to be put before MPs again without substantial and significant changes.
This browbeating and bullying of parliament while she denies the people the chance to change their minds is utterly unacceptable.
Please help us again.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington 

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Brexitwatch: MPs determine our fate. Write to yours



It's great that two million marched in London and that nearly five million have signed the petition to revoke Article 50, but don't forget that MPs have already ignored another huge march for a 'People's Vote' on the Brexit terms and the four million plus people who signed a petition for a second referendum.

I have always believed that Brexit will be defeated only when MPs begin to think supporting it will damage their careers. So if your MP has not done everything in his/her power to fight Brexit so far, write to them NOW and say that if the UK leaves the EU you will hold them and their party responsible, and you will work to ensure their defeat at all future elections. If they are entrenched Brexiters, write anyway. They can still count.

My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, and this is what I have written to him: 

Dear Sir Keir,
I was bitterly disappointed to see the Labour Party trying to sabotage the People's Vote march. This is deeply foolish as well as duplicitous. As for hearing Caroline Flint singing the praises of Theresa May's blind Brexit when even Nigel Farage admits it is worse than staying in the EU, words fail me.
If we now leave the EU, I will not forgive Labour.
There is no longer any justification for Brexit:
1. Any Brexit will damage the UK and particularly the people Labour is supposed to care most about.
2. The referendum result is null and void as it was won by lies, cheating and criminality. (I am bitterly disappointed that Labour has tried to sweep this under the carpet - an act of foolishness and cowardice that will haunt the party for a very long time.)
3. The Brexit that was promised is not being and cannot be delivered, and there is no mandate for either of the available Brexits - Theresa May's blind Brexit or 'no deal'.
Labour's half-hearted opposition to the right wing Brexit coup has been a dreadful stain on the party's reputation, and if we are now dragged out of the EU, I will regard Labour as being as much to blame as the Tories. I trust you will now do whatever is necessary to stop it.
If we do leave, I will not forget, and I will do everything I can to help defeat Labour in all subsequent elections.
There is still time to do the right thing, but it is fast running out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 22 March 2019

Brexitwatch: how revoking Article 50 could unite the UK


On December 19, I blogged about how revoking Article 50 could unite the country on Brexit. With a petition demanding revocation now having attracted more than 3 million signatures, it seems a good idea to restate my plan:

The government should immediately revoke Article 50 because no sensible Brexit can be negotiated by Theresa May's foolishly self-imposed deadlines. Revoking Article 50 allows us to take back control as we can do it unilaterally without any time limits.

Parliament should then set up a grand committee of all MPs who support Brexit. (This might simply be self-selected or it might be limited to those MPs who have spoken in the Commons in favour of it.)

That committee would then have the task of deciding what the Brexiters want, and devising a plan to be put to parliament. Once MPs had agreed the plan was credible, did not damage the UK, and had a good chance of being accepted by the EU, it would then be put to the government. 

The government would then consider the proposals, and report to parliament on its suggestion as to how to proceed. I urgently recommend this as the best way out of the Brexit mess before it turns into a disaster.


Here's the petition. Please sign - https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Brexitwatch: if Jeremy Corbyn was Noah.....

Thanks to the New European for publishing my letter.


And sign the petition to revoke Article 50 and stop the whole sorry Brexit saga. A million signatures in 24 hours and counting - fast https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Brexitwatch: Tell her again! No to Theresa May's blind Brexit, and tell your MP again




Write to you MP and tell them to tell her again. No to Theresa May's blindfold Brexit. My MP is Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer:
Dear Sir Keir,
It will take a long time, maybe forever, for Labour to live down the image that tells us everything. The party sits idly by, too cowardly to take a view, so ensuring that the best opportunity so far for ordinary folk like us to be given a vote on our future is lost. Brexit is the biggest crisis this country has faced in my lifetime, but time and time again, Labour fails those who depend on it. As for the 17 of your UKIP 5th columnists who voted with Theresa May, what action will be taken against them? None at all, I suppose, as usual.
And now, emboldened by the leadership's spineless response, are those same Labour Kippers, plus maybe a few others, going to ensure that Theresa May's disastrous Tory blindfold Brexit gets through at the third time of asking, while we the great unwashed are told that we must never be allowed to change our minds?
Labour needs to swing wholeheartedly behind stopping Brexit and to expel the UKIP 5th columnists. This may be painful for a time, but it will give the party the chance of having a future. If you go on colluding with the Far Right Brexit project, you will never be forgiven.
Here's an alternative to Labour's hopeless prevarication and obfuscation. Why not now immediately revoke Article 50 because nothing sensible can be achieved by Theresa May's foolishly self-imposed deadline of March 29? Parliament should then set up a grand committee of all MPs who support Brexit. (This might simply be self-selected or it might be limited to those MPs who have spoken in the Commons in favour of it.)

That committee would then be given the task of deciding what the Brexiters want, and devising a plan to be put to parliament. Once MPs had agreed the plan was credible, and had a good chance of being accepted by the EU, it would then be put to the government. Parliament, hopefully, would also consider it against other criteria such as, for example, how much damage it would do to our country.

The government would then consider the proposals, and report to parliament on its suggestion as to how to proceed.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Brexitwatch: write to the Speaker to stop Theresa May forcing through her blind Brexit


Theresa May's disastrous blindfold Brexit has twice been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs, but she's planning to bring it back a third or even a fourth and a fifth time. Surely that's outrageous especially when she denies the British people a second vote after a very close, highly dubious referendum? Shouldn't there be a law against it?

Well, there is. According to House of Commons' rules, once MPs have rejected something, it should not be put again during that session of parliament https://news.sky.com/story/an-ancient-rule-means-bercow-could-take-drastic-action-on-brexit-11664555

So the Speaker, John Bercow, could rule it out. He has already shown himself a courageous defender of democracy, and I have written to him again to ask him to save us from having a Brexit no one wants foisted on us by the increasingly dictatorial Theresa May. If you agree with me, please write to him too:

Dear Mr Speaker,
I have already thanked you for your sterling work defending the rights of parliament against an executive that seems to have been driven mad by Brexit, but I am now very disturbed at actions by the prime minister that seem calculated to bring parliament into disrepute.
Obviously you know far more about this than I do, but I had understood that if a measure was rejected by parliament, a government was not allowed to put it to MPs again in that parliamentary session. Theresa May has already had two goes with her blindfold Brexit, and MPs have overwhelmingly rejected it twice, but she appears to be determined to try a third, and even a fourth or fifth time. Surely this should not be allowed, especially when Mrs May has decreed that voters should never be allowed to change their minds about Brexit!
Even worse, she seems to be using taxpayers' money to bribe Labour and DUP MPs to support her. In addition to the damning reaction of MPs, it seems clear from polling evidence that her 'deal' is also extraordinarily unpopular in the country with both Leave and Remain voters. So if by some chicanery, she does manage to force it through, far from 'healing divisions' in the UK, it is likely to only make people more angry than ever, and that anger will probably be directed against a parliament that is behaving in a way most people cannot understand.
Please help us.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington




Saturday, 16 March 2019

Brexitwatch: write to Labour's UKIP tendency MPs


Labour supports a 'People's Vote' - a referendum on the terms of Brexit - apparently. The party demonstrated its support this week by refusing to vote in favour of an amendment in parliament to secure, er, a People's Vote!

Most Labour MPs abstained, but 17 of the party's UKIP 5th column actually voted with Theresa May's Tories aginst the motion. They included former shadow ministers Yvonne Fovargue, Emma Lewell-Buck, and Justin Madders, plus former party whip Stephanie Peacock, and Stoke-on-Trent North MP, Ruth Smeeth, former parliamentary aide to deputy leader Tom Watson.

Ms Smeeth said: 'I have a duty to support the will of my constituents. We need to leave, and leave with a deal that works for the Potteries,' thus illustrating her ignorance of both an MP's duty and of the effect Brexit will have on her constituents.

This is what I have written to her:


Dear Ms Smeeth,
There is no Brexit that 'works for the Potteries'. Indeed, the West Midlands will be the hardest hit region in the whole UK, except for the North-East. https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/uktpo/2018/03/26/brexit-will-negatively-affect-all-regions-of-the-uk-but-the-north-east-is-most-vulnerable/
As an MP, your duty is not to 'support the will' of your constituents but to do 1) the best thing for your country then 2) the best thing for your constituents. So it is your duty to now tell your constituents the truth and fight with all your might against the Far Right Brexit coup, which will cause terrible damage to them and the UK. 
Anyway, you have no idea what 'the will' of your consituents is, because the Brexit they voted for is not being, and cannot be delivered. The referendum was advisory. It was won by gerrymandering the electorate, lying, cheating and criminality. It is profoundly undemocratic to 'respect' the result, which is in any case completely irrelevant to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
If Labour betrays our young people and the future of our country, it will never be forgiven. If you tell the truth, some of your constituents may be cross, but it is your duty. If you are not prepared to discharge that duty, you must resign.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 8 March 2019

What's it like to live to 100 and which of us will survive to find out? FREE talk


I'm giving a free talk based on my book 'Secrets of the Centenarians' at Shoe Lane Library, London EC4 at 1300 on April 3.

I'll be examining:


Why are there 90 times as many centenarians as there were 100 years ago?

Why do women centenarians outnumber men by about 5 to 1?

What determines who will make it to 100 and who will fall by the wayside?

Can we go on expanding human lifespan or have we reached our limit?

I'll also be telling the stories of the oldest people who have ever lived and the famous people who lived to 100 – the celebrity centenarians.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Brexitwatch: Theresa May's blindfold Brexit breaks a key promise


By next week, perhaps sooner, Theresa May will have made another attempt to steamroller her blindfold Brexit through parliament. Although it was heavily defeated last time, MPs, unlike the British people, are to be given a chance to change their minds.  

I fear it may get through as the all-mouth-and-no-trousers Tory Brexit fanatics of the  laughingly named 'European Research Group' (found out where Calais is yet, lads?) cave in and join in an unholy alliance with Labour's UKIP tendency - MPs like Kate Hoey, Caroline Flint, Sir Keith Barron, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer - who usually betray their party on Brexit issues and support Theresa May.

If the blindfold Brexit does go through, it breaks an undertaking given on a number of occasions by Theresa May who promised MPs they would have 'sufficient detail about all aspects of the future relationship' with the EU BEFORE they would have to decide whether it was a good idea to leave.

In fact, MPs will have no idea about our future relationship when they vote. Is it going to be the as-distant-as-possible one favoured by the Brexit fanatics? Official analysis - from a pro-Brexit government, remember - says such a deal sometimes refered to as 'Canada-style' and sometimes favoured by the ERG, would make us 6.7% poorer than staying in the EU over the next 15 years, and it doesn't solve the Irish border problem. Even the least damaging Brexit - staying in the single market and the customs union - sees us 1.4% poorer. 

A no-deal Brexit would, of course, be a disaster - leaving us an unsustainable 10.7% worse off. No wonder Theresa May admits it might mean martial law. If MPs have any concept of their duty to our country, they will refuse to back any Brexit until they know exactly what the government is trying to achieve.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/nov/28/economic-forecasts-strike-blow-to-theresa-mays-brexit-deal

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Brexitwatch: a reply from Labour's UKIP tendency


In this blog on 1 February, I posted the email I sent to the 14 Labour MPs who voted for Theresa May and against their own party on the Yvette Cooper amendment to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit. They obviously feel it's important we should face the dangers of food and medicine shortages, martial law etc (I wonder if any of them would like to apologise now Theresa May has double-crossed parliament again?)

Here's the reply I got from perhaps the most fanatically pro-UKIP Labour MP, Kate Hoey (London Vauxhall), and below it are my replies to her reply:


Thanks John I was pleased to join with 13 of my Labour  colleagues to help vote down the Cooper amendment which was designed to help thwart Brexit.  The country were told explicitly that there [sic] vote mattered and the result would be implemented. Indeed 8 million pounds spent on a Gov leaflet to every household saying exactly that. Parliament voted for the decision of the referendum to be honoured and also voted overwhelmingly to invoke Articke 50.It was also in our election manifesto that we would implement the referendum
I disagree with your dire warnings about the future outside the EU and look forward to being an independent  country co-operating with the rest of the world including our near neighbours in the EU.
Leave means Leave 
Best wishes 
Kate

'Leave means leave' eh, Kate? especially Honda and all the other companies who are quitting. Are you satisfied yet, or do you want to see more jobs lost and more closures?

I'm not sure how 'Sorry you lost your job and your public services, but it was the will of the people' is going to play. But you'll be pleased your old mate Theresa May has double-crossed parliament again. Expect you'll be supporting her as usual. 

Dear Ms Hoey,
Why is it that when you put arguments to Brexiters, instead of engaging with those arguments, they just respond with the same empty slogans they've been trotting out for years? I suppose it's because they don't have any arguments.
1. You say Yvette Cooper's amendment was designed to 'thwart Brexit'. No. It was designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Something that anyone who cares about the UK should have been supporting.
2. It doesn't matter how much David Cameron spent on a leaflet. You Brexiters are dragging us out of the EU under the pretext of strengthening 'parliamentary sovereignty'. So you will know that parliament makes the law in this country, not a Tory Prime Minister. The 2016 referendum was explicitly advisory and non-binding on MPs. It offered bad advice, and it is the duty of all MPs to act in the national interest and reject it.
3. As I said in my email, the referendum result cannot be 'implemented' because the Brexit that you and your UKIP and Tory colleagues promised is not being and cannot be delivered. So the referendum result is of no relevance to the decisions MPs now have to make.
4. They are not my warnings. Virtually everyone who has examined Brexit seriously has concluded that it will make the UK poorer and, disgracefully, rob young people of the opportunities that people of our generation took for granted. Far from being more 'independent' outside the EU, the UK will be weaker and more dependent.
I note you decided to ignore the other points I made. I assume this is because you have no answers to them.
But if you intend to carry on helping Theresa May inflict her Far Right Brexit coup on the UK, I do not see how you can continue as a member of the Labour party.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Brexitwatch: a Labour pro-Brexit MP writes


Earlier this month I wrote to 14 Labour MPs who decided to support Theresa May and oppose Yvette Cooper's amendment designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit - you can find a sample of my letter in my post of 1 February.

I have had a reply from Laura Smith, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, which I attach below my reply to her reply:


Dear Ms Smith,
So are you satisfied now Honda is moving out, along with the EMA, EBA, Flybmi, Sony, Unilever, 'Brexit will be wonderful' Dyson and dozens of others? Or do you want to see Brexit destroy more jobs and investment? Just how much damage would it require for you to decide Brexit should be stopped, or do the British people have to put up with any amount of damage so you can say you 'respected' the 'referendum result'?
You should not confuse 'respect' with 'obey'. I respected President Obama, but I did not feel bound to obey him. MPs should indeed have respected the referendum result. Immediately after it happened, you should have conducted an exhaustive inquiry into how you were going to respond to the electorate's advice. To parliament's everlasting shame, you failed to do that, which is one of the reasons we are now in this dreadful mess. Once, of course, evidence emerged of the cheating and law-breaking by the Leave side, MPs should have put on hold the Brexit process until this has been thoroughly investigated. Again, shamefully, MPs failed the country.
As I explained in my previous email, the referendum result cannot be 'implemented' or 'honoured' because the Brexit the Leave side promised cannot be delivered.
I note you are worried that the EU might refuse an extension to Article 50, so a better approach would be for the UK to revoke Article 50. Then pro-Brexit MPs like yourself could all get together in a grand committee to finally agree what exactly it is that you want. Then once you have decided, that could be put to parliament and if necessary the people, before the government approached the EU (which, of course, is what should have happened in the first place).
Labour is at present on a self-destruction course. 'I'm sorry you lost your job and that we've no money for your public services, but it was the will of the people' is not going to save you. There is no 'Brexit for jobs'.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
Dear Mr Withington 

This email is sent in response to your correspondence to me on the votes that took place on the 29th January 2019. Please be assured that as the mother of two young children I always do what I feel is best for the future of Crewe and Nantwich and the country as a whole. I take no decision lightly and I spend a great amount of time considering all the different options. 

I supported the spirit of the ‘Cooper’ amendment in seeking to avoid a no deal. That is why I voted for a separate amendment, which was passed, declaring that the House of Commons does not support leaving the EU without a deal. I also voted for the Labour front-bench amendment, which also rejected a ‘no deal’ Brexit. A cursory glance at my voting record in that single evening clearly rebuffs any suggestion that I am aligned to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg on this issue. 

However, I did conclude that the ‘Cooper’ amendment would not have prevented a ‘no deal’ Brexit. 
It would have suspended the standing orders of the House of Commons to give priority to a Private Members Bill, which in turn sought to create a rather contrived and awkward series of parliamentary procedures. 
Had the amendment passed, we would have had just one day to debate and pass that Bill which would not legislate to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Instead, it would have set a new deadline by which a deal had to be achieved. 

If the government then failed to secure a deal, this would have triggered another debate on a motion, which would compel the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the Article 50 process. 
The Article 50 process cannot be unilaterally extended, and the EU has indicated that it would only consider such an extension under certain circumstances. 

In a best-case scenario, we would have been no further forward. Three years after the vote to leave, we’d have been asking voters to elect MEPs whilst telling them that we respect the referendum result. 
In a worst-case scenario, we might still have come face-to-face with the cliff edge of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, either due to losing a vote in the House of Commons or due to the EU refusing to agree an extension without any clear way forward or change in circumstance. 

I believe that, had the ‘Cooper’ amendment passed, the pressure on both parties and their respective leaders not to compromise would have grown immeasurably. 
The ERG would have continued to reject any deal put forward, blaming the intransigence of the EU and advocating for a ‘managed no deal’ Brexit. On the other hand, those that wish to overturn the referendum result would have applied maximum pressure on Labour to also reject any deal. 
This brinkmanship could have led to several outcomes, but I feel that it is bad for British politics and would have been bad for the Labour Party. 

The only real way of avoiding a ‘no deal’ Brexit is to get a Parliamentary majority for a deal and I felt that this amendment would have actually made that less likely. 
At the same time, I knew that many saw it as just another attempt to frustrate or block Brexit and I don’t think that we should be blasé about the dangers posed to our society by failing to respect the referendum. I voted to remain and reform the EU during the 2016 referendum, however Crewe & Nantwich voted to Leave by a majority of more than 60% and I was elected a year later, having promised to respect the referendum result. I promised to do everything that I could to secure a Brexit that works for ordinary people and gives businesses the guarantees to move forward. 

The vast majority of people that I have spoken to since my election haven’t changed their minds at all. Some have even hardened their respective positions. For every Leave voter who regrets their decision, I have also met a Remain voter who just wants the government to get on with it. 

To reassure you, I haven’t shied away from the tough conversations. Many people have told me recently that they want to exit without a deal. I’ve explained to those people exactly why I couldn’t support that. 

We can’t allow this divisive debate to polarise any further. We need a serious effort to bring people together and this can’t be done without the Labour Party. I believe that our Brexit policy is the answer to breaking this deadlock. The only reason it hasn’t been taken into negotiations is because of the Prime Minister’s red lines. 
By calling for the backstop to be replaced with unspecified “alternative arrangements” (but not a customs union), the Conservative Party has set the Prime Minister an impossible task. The EU has already made clear that without a customs union, the backstop isn’t up for discussion. 

When this latest charade is done, the Prime Minister will have run out of road. Parliament has already rejected her deal with a backstop and it rejected a ‘no deal’ Brexit last week. 
She will then have to decide whether to join Labour in delivering a common-sense deal to protect jobs and living standards, or to allow for a general election so that the people can make that decision for themselves. 

I think it is right to leave all options on the table in these turbulent and unpredictable times. In fact, one of the amendments that I voted for would have required the government to secure time for Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit, including the option to legislate to hold a public vote. 
I have spent this last week meeting with colleagues to work together to ensure that this toxic debate can move forward.   

I understand that ultimately you wish to remain in the EU and will probably never understand why any MP would be working towards any Brexit. I am working hard to get a deal, avoid no deal and if that cannot be achieved all options should be on the table. 
  
Kind regards 
Laura Smith MP