Tuesday 31 January 2017

Brexitwatch: Free speech for Jeremy Corbyn (and every other MP)

Over the next two days, the UK's Parliament is debating the government's triggering of Article 50 to give notice we are leaving the EU. The EU referendum, of course, was advisory only, so no MP is required to obey its result, but Jeremy Corbyn and most others are choosing to pretend they are, so let's indulge them.

Most MPs know leaving the EU will severely damage our country, so here is the speech that every MP should be making: 

"I have no wish to frustrate the wishes of the British people as demonstrated in last June's referendum. But if we leave the EU on unsatisfactory terms, that will do terrible damage to our country.

After pressure from Parliament, the Prime Minister has finally agreed that she will produce a White Paper setting out how the government intends to secure a satisfactory agreement with our EU partners.

It is clearly premature to trigger Article 50 before Parliament has had a proper opportunity to examine those plans so I will be voting against triggering Article 50 until the government has demonstrated that it has a credible plan for life outside the EU."

Why is it so hard to say that?

Friday 27 January 2017

Brexitwatch: Article 50 - another letter to my MP

I try not to pester my MP with too many letters, but Labour's astonishing capitulation over Article 50 - roughly translated as: 'We demand a White Paper but we're quite happy to approve A50 without bothering to look what's in it' - I felt left me no alternative but to write again.

To recap, my MP is Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be Labour's spokesperson on Brexit.

Dear Sir Keir,
I wrote to you a few days ago about Labour's bizarre support for Brexit, but I am afraid the party's incomprehensible behaviour of the last few days compels me to write again.
Did you hear Neil Kinnock on Tam Dalyell this morning? 'He had a razor-like ability to identify absurdity and then denounce it.'
A couple of days ago Jeremy Corbyn scored a rare success when Theresa May announced that she would, after all, produce a White Paper on how the government proposes us to extract us from the EU.
How utterly absurd then for Labour to commit itself to supporting the Tories and UKIP on triggering Article 50 when it has not even seen the White Paper and has no idea whether the Prime Minister's plans make any sense.
NO responsible MP should be supporting the triggering of A50 until they have had a proper chance to examine the White Paper, and if that means Theresa May is unable to meet her plan to trigger it by the end of March too bad. She has had eight months to set out her ideas. If she chooses to leave it until the last minute, that's her problem.
Can't Labour see that it's more important to try to minimise the damage to the country from Brexit than to facilitate the Tories' meeting a completely artificial, self-imposed deadline?
And what about the government's contempt of Parliament exhibited by its production of an A50 'bill' that would fit on the back of a fag packet with room to spare? Are Labour not even going to resist that?
You know my view. I will not support any party or politician who votes to take us out of the EU. But I assume you care about the future of the Labour party, and I cannot believe you are going along with this nonsense. I fear that many Labour voters will never forgive you.
Yours in sorrow and anger,
John Withington

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Gorden Kaye and the Burns' Day Storm

Yesterday the death was announced of the actor Gorden Kaye, aged 75, star of the tv series 'Allo, 'Allo, while tomorrow sees the 27th anniversary of the Burns' Day storm of 25 January 1990.

The connection between these two events is that Kaye was injured in the storm when a plank of wood from an advertising hoarding crashed through the windscreen of his car near his home at Hounslow, causing him serious head injuries.

Gusts of 87 miles an hour were recorded in London. Many buildings had their roofs torn off, and cars were crushed by fallen trees. Docklands, then a major building site, was particularly badly hit as construction materials were flung about.

Although the winds were not as strong as they had been during the Great Storm of 1987, the death toll of 47 was much higher because the tempest struck during the day when people were out and about, while the Great Storm did its work at night. For more, see London's Disasters: from Boudicca to the Banking Crisis (Reaktion).

*19 January 2017 saw the 100th anniversary of London's Silvertown explosion, which killed 73 people. This article on the blast draws heavily on London's Disasters.  https://wcclibraries.wordpress.com/

Monday 23 January 2017

Brexitwatch: to keep Britain in the EU write to your MP NOW

The moment of truth is approaching. Once Theresa May activates Article 50, it will become much more difficult to keep Britain in the EU. So if you want to prevent Brexit, it is important to write to your MP NOW. It is generally believed that MPs are more impressed by letters than emails.

My MP is Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be Labour's spokesperson on Brexit, but what I have written to him could be used as the basis for a letter to any MP. I reproduce it below:-

Sir Keir Starmer, MP,
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA

23 January 2017

Dear Sir Keir,

I call on you and your Labour Party colleagues to oppose the government’s plan to activate Article 50 and give notice that we will leave the EU.

You and your colleagues are behaving as though they are compelled to go along with Brexit, but you are not.

Throughout the campaign, one of the leading demands of the Brexit side was that the UK Parliament should be sovereign. Well, the UK Parliament decided that the referendum on EU membership should be advisory only. There is, therefore, no legal requirement to take us out of the EU.

Nor is there any moral requirement. The Leave side won by a very narrow majority (which, judging from by-election results since the vote, has already evaporated) in a referendum in which almost 30 per cent of people abstained.

The Leave victory was secured by a systematic campaign of lies and deception (as has been admitted by a number of the Brexit leaders) and its leadership offered no coherent alternative to EU membership.

So if you and your Labour colleagues vote to support the triggering of Article 50, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of your constituents and of Labour voters support staying in the EU, that is a CHOICE that you are making.

And I find it difficult to understand how any MP who cares about the future of our country could make such a choice. There is no evidence of any kind that leaving the EU will benefit us, and a huge volume of evidence that we will be harmed by quitting.

In those circumstances you and your colleagues have a duty to do everything in your power to prevent this disastrous step. This is the most crucial decision Parliament has had to make in decades, and your duty to your country and your constituents outweighs any considerations of party loyalty.

As an intelligent man, you must know that once you allow the government to trigger Article 50, leaving the EU will be inevitable. Even if you can persuade Theresa May to seek Parliamentary approval for the deal she has been able to negotiate with 27 other countries, the European Parliament etc (good luck with that one, Theresa!) you will be faced with a fait accompli.

You will either have to accept the terms she comes back with, however bad they may be, or leave with no agreement at all, which would be a complete disaster.

No. Labour cannot sit on the fence any longer. This is the last chance to keep us in the EU. It is fight or flight time, put up or shut up. And if Labour continues its present policy of chasing the UKIP vote, I fear the wipe out in Scotland will be repeated in many other parts of the country.

Theresa May has no coherent plan for a viable alternative to EU membership. She does not even appear to know whether, once activated, Article 50 can be revoked if negotiations show that the Brexit the British people have been promised cannot be delivered.

For my part, I will not be voting for any politician or political party that supports leaving the EU.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Monday 9 January 2017

Are storms getting worse?

Most scientists now believe the world is warming up, with 15 of the hottest 16 years on record all happening since 2001; 2014 and 2015 both setting records as the hottest ever, and 2016 likely to surpass them both. Global warming would be expected to bring more powerful storms because it means more water evaporates into the air, and warmer air can hold more vapour so when it does rain, the downpours are heavier.

My new book, Storm: Nature and Culture describes how the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which seeks a consensus from the views of thousands of scientists all over the world, predicts that downpours and tropical storms will indeed get more powerful.
Global warming makes sea levels rise, so when storms whip up the oceans, they become even more devastating. And every day, there are 200,000 more humans – more people to be hurt, and more property to be damaged. Britain’s worst ever storm was the Great Storm of 1703, which killed about 8,000 on land and sea. A study found that if it happened again today, 18 million homes would be at risk.

The IPCC has warned that rising seas and more powerful storms could make a number of major cities, such as Mumbai, uninhabitable.

Storm: Nature and Culture also explores the role of storms in religion, art, films and literature, examines how storms have changed the course of history, and tells the story of the worst storms of all time.

Sunday 8 January 2017

Brexitwatch: the 'will of the people' myth - part 2

On December 15, I noted that these days you rarely hear any real argument for Brexit except that it is 'what people voted for', and I explained the flaws in this 'will of the people' justification and why it did not bind Theresa May's government to leave the EU.

But now Mrs May is going much further, claiming that the referendum result not only binds her government to leave the EU, but also the Single Market. That it means we have to end Freedom of Movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

It did no such thing. Voters were asked only if they wished to leave the EU. They were not asked their views on membership of the Single Market, the customs union, the EEA, Freedom of Movement, the ECJ etc etc, and any claim that the electorate gave a view on any of these issues is complete fabrication.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about the views of those who voted for Brexit is that they are deeply divided, and that there is no majority in the country for any particular form of Brexit. No 'will of the people' supports any of the extrapolations Mrs May is making from the referendum result, and if our MPs had any guts they would halt her in her tracks immediately.

Monday 2 January 2017

Brexitwatch: New Year musings. Is Theresa May engineering a UK break-up?

1. The possibility that Brexit might break up the United Kingdom has generally been seen as unfortunate collateral damage if Theresa May is foolish enough to take us out of the EU, but perhaps detaching England (and possibly Wales) from the troublesome Scots and Northern Irish who do not vote Conservative, is the real Tory project?

Labour would find it very hard to win a majority in the resulting rump state of Little England, so however bad a UK break-up might be for the rest of us, it would be good for the Tories.

2. Michael ‘back-stabber’ Gove has partially backed down on his ‘I’ve had enough of experts’ stance. Even Gove seems to have realised that getting a randomly selected passenger to fly the aircraft instead of the pilot isn’t a great idea.

So now he’s retreated to: ‘we’ve had enough of economists’. Presumably because none of them has a good word for Brexit. Apparently we should all do a detailed examination of the hundreds of pages of complex evidence on which the economists' conclusions are based, and then make up our own minds. So what percentage of Brexit voters have assured you they are prepared to do that, Michael?