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,


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

Friday 13 April 2018

Should our MPs have a say on World War Three?

So Theresa May wants to go to war against Syria and, by implication, its ally Russia. One false move and it could be World War Three, but what could possibly go wrong with Donald Trump in the White House and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary?

President Assad is plainly a very bad man, but what is an attack on him designed to achieve? Help the Islamic extremists who are among those opposing him, so it will be easier for them to attack people in British streets? Get our forces involved in a complex, murderous civil war, with no end in sight? Set off a war against Russia?

Our MPs should be debating these questions NOW. Theresa May plainly wants to delay any discussion until AFTER she has taken military action. That is not good enough. MPs should not be waiting for an invitation, they should be at Westminster demanding their voices are heard.

This is what I have written to my MP, Labour's Sir Keir Starmer.

Dear Sir Keir,
Why aren't you and your fellow MPs in the House of Commons? The survival of our country could be at stake. One false move and we could be into World War Three. (Just remind me - who is our Foreign Secretary?)
You should not be waiting for a summons from the Prime Minister. You should be in the chamber debating what to do about this crisis even if the government doesn't want you there. If you can't get into the chamber, I'm sure there are plenty of other places to hold a debate.
MPs scandalously failed us over Brexit. You wanted to be an irrelevance on that great question. Now Theresa May plainly thinks she can ignore you when it comes to starting a war too.
What are you going to do about it?
I look forward to hearing from you.
John Withington

Sunday 8 April 2018

Brexitwatch: a letter to local councillors

If you want to stop Brexit, but you have a Labour or Conservative MP and/or local council, what can you do? This is a letter I have sent to my local councillors and the local council leader - with a similar one to my MP - in the run-up to the local elections. Feel free to use, adapt etc
Dear Councillors,
I am wondering who to vote for in the local elections.
Brexit will mean continuing austerity and the crippling of public services because of the way it will depress our economy and the government's tax take.
The evidence is now clear that any kind of Brexit will leave people poorer than if we stay in the EU. It is also plain that the Brexit people were conned into voting for cannot be delivered. The referendum vote was advisory and not binding on MPs. There is, therefore, no longer any excuse for proceeding with Brexit.
So I need to know what Labour is going to do to stop it.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Brexitwatch: a lesson from history - the Great Chinese Famine

From 1959 to 1961, tens of millions died in a terrible famine in Chairman Mao’s China. There was bad weather, but foolish government policies, such as ordering peasants to abandon their fields and concentrate on making steel instead, were also to blame.

Anyone watching the mainstream media or listening to politicians would have had no idea that millions were starving to death. The State Statistical Bureau had been shut down and replaced by ‘good news reporting stations’, and there was fierce competition between local activists to be the most Maoist by announcing the best news.

So the smaller the real harvests became, the bigger the phantom ones reported. The New China News Agency said peasants were growing pumpkins weighing 10 stones, cows were supposed to have been successfully crossed with pigs. There seemed to be more than enough food to go round, so Mao cut imports and increased exports.

He refused to hand out food from the official granaries, and party activists tortured peasants they believed were hoarding non-existent grain. This was perhaps the first famine in history that devastated the whole of China, but the areas that suffered most were those run by the most fanatical Maoists.

*For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.