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 

'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

Monday 18 February 2019

Secrets of the Centenarians - shared with a 100 year old!

Thank you to Crouch End U3A in North London for inviting me to speak on my book: 'Secrets of the Centenarians: What is it like to live for a century and which of us will survive to find out?' (Reaktion Books) The place was packed out, there were some very intelligent questions, and I had to watch my step because there was a real centenarian in the audience!

Friday 15 February 2019

Brexitwatch: it's not just Theresa May. Are the police also running down the clock?

Last May - yes, 9 months ago, the police were given evidence of widespread law-breaking by the Leave Campaign in the 2016 referendum. In October, I wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking why they had taken no action (see my post of 15 October 2018). The Met replied:

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

Since then another four precious months have elapsed and it is now just six weeks before we are due to leave the EU. A good reason, you might think, for the Met to get its skates on. Instead - silence. So I have written to them again (see my post of 9 Feb). On 9 Feb, I got a reply saying:

Currently The document [sic] are being assessed by specialist investigators, supported with advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, in order to make an informed decision as to whether a criminal investigation is required.

Anyone who didn't know better might conclude the Met had done absolutely nothing and was just waiting for 29 March in the hope that if there was a criminal conspirancy, the criminals concerned would have safely achieved their objective, with their crime having paid, long before any 'investigation' got underway.

Then perhaps somebody at the Met spotted that they might not be creating the right impression, because on 11 February I got another reply, which seems to be a longer-winded way of saying the same thing: after 9 months and with Brexit six weeks away, the police STILL have not decided whether to mount an investigation:

The Electoral Commission has made two referrals to the MPS in relation to the EU Referendum regarding potential criminal offences under section 123(4) Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.  The first referral was received on 11 May 2019 and concerns Leave.EU, the second referral was received on 17 July 2018 and concerns Vote Leave and BeLeave.
A referral from the Electoral Commission does not automatically mean a criminal offence has been committed, it is the role of the MPS to decide whether there is evidence of a criminal offence that requires investigations.

There has been reporting that the MPS enquiries have made no progress, inferring this was due to ‘political sensitivities’.  This is not the case.  Having received over 2,000 documents, it is absolutely imperative we assess the evidential material that is available in order to make an informed decision as to whether there are matters that require a criminal investigation by the MPS.

We will not provide a running commentary of how we are progressing our enquiries however as with previous referrals form the Electoral Commission, the MPS will make public the outcome of our assessment.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Brexitwatch: time to contact the Met again

Could all the brinkmanship about no deal and the unicorn amendments from Tory MPs just be a smokescreen, designed to make us forget that the referendum result, which these days is the only justification offered for Brexit, was procured by lying, cheating and law-breaking?

Back in October (see my post of 15 October 2018) I contacted the Metropolitan Police to find out why they had done nothing about law-breaking by the Leave side, even though the evidence had been submitted to them in May (now 9 months ago). On 16 October, they sent me this reply:

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

If this 'assessment' has made any progress over the last four months, it is a closely guarded secret, so I have just written to the Met again:

It is nine months now since you were presented with clear evidence of widespread illegal activity by the Leave Campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Four months ago I asked why so little progress had been made, and you told me on October 16, 2018: 'The electoral commission has made referrals to the MPS. The special Enquiry Team are assessing a number of documents in order to make an informed decision as to whether a criminal investigation is required.'
So could you now tell me:
1. Have you now finished assessing the documents? If not, why not?
2. Have you now started your criminal investigation? If not, why not? If you have, when will it be concluded?
3. Is it correct that your plan is to spin out any 'investigation' beyond the date when the UK leaves the EU so that if there was a criminal conspiracy, it will have reached a successful conclusion before the police take any meaningful action and that thus you can avoid upsetting the government in view of the 'political sensitivities' you talked about?

I look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency.

Friday 1 February 2019

Brexitwatch: Labour MPs are helping the far right Brexit coup: stop them

This week, 14 Labour MPs could have stopped the disaster of the UK leaving the EU with no deal. But they chose not to. Instead they decided to vote with Theresa May's disgraceful government, and run the risk of food and medicine shortages, crippling of UK industry and maybe martial law. They were

·         Ian Austin, Dudley North
·         Sir Kevin Barron, Rother Valley
·         Ronnie Campbell, Blyth Valley
·         Rosie Cooper, West Lancashire
·         Jim Fitzpatrick, Poplar and Limehouse
·         Caroline Flint, Don Valley
·         Roger Godsiff, Birmingham Hall Green
·         Stephen Hepburn, Jarrow
·         Kate Hoey, Vauxhall
·         John Mann, Bassetlaw
·         Dennis Skinner, Bolsover
·         Laura Smith, Crewe and Nantwich
·         Gareth Snell, Stoke-on-Trent Central
·         Graham Stringer, Blackley and Broughton

I am going to write to each one of them to try to point out the error of their ways. If you think they are wrong, it is important that you do too. 

Below is the email I am sending them (it is easy to find their email addresses via Google or the House of Commons website).

Dear    ,
You seem to have persuaded yourself that making your constituents and the country poorer and robbing young people of their opportunities is somehow your duty. It is not.
Any Brexit makes the country poorer, and will especially damage those Labour is supposed to care most about, and yet you appear to believe you have to 'implement' the result of the 2016 referendum.
Unfortunately, the result of the referendum cannot be 'implemented' because the Brexit that was promised is not being and cannot ever be delivered. The only Brexits on offer are Theresa May's blind Brexit and no deal. Neither of these was offered by the Leave campaign, and it is clear from the way that Brexiters slag each of them off, that if either had been offered, it would have been comprehensively defeated by Remain. 
In addition, the referendum was won by lies, cheating and law-breaking and by gerrymandering the electorate so that millions of people who might be expected to vote Remain were systematically excluded. It is a terrible blot on parliament's reputation that most MPs have deliberately ignored this. If the referendum had been a council by-election, the result would have been declared null and void months ago.
And finally, parliament decided explicitly that the referendum should be advisory and non-binding on MPs. As you know, it is the first duty of all MPs to act in the national interest. The referendum gave bad advice and it is your job to reject it.
I find myself astonished that a Labour MP could somehow believe it's a good idea to rob our young people of their future. Even if you don't care about your country, what about your party? Why make enemies of tomorrow's voters? There is no credible alternative for the UK to membership of the EU. Those of us who can see that, and judging by most opinion polls, that now means the majority of the population, will never forgive the political party or parties that drag us out. 
Brexit is a far right wing coup and no Labour MP has any business helping Theresa May's disgraceful government help to mount it.
If MPs don't have the guts to call off Brexit, the obvious thing is to ask the 'people' in a referendum whether they will accept such Brexit terms that parliament may be able to agree to or whether they want to remain in the EU. Some MPs have been arguing this would be 'divisive'. I disagree, but if you are one of this group, in the spirit of compromise that has been sadly lacking in our politics, I propose the following:
The government should immediately revoke Article 50 because nothing sensible can be achieved by the self-imposed deadline of March 29 that MPs foolishly voted for. 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 Brexiters want, and devising a plan to be put to parliament. Once MPs had agreed the plan was credible, would not damage our country, and had a good chance of being accepted by the EU, it would then be put to the government, which would then report to parliament on how it proposed to proceed.
Of course, if you use your vote in the national interest, some Leave supporters in your constituency will be cross, but that is your job. If you are unable to discharge this duty, you should resign at once, and make way for someone who will.
Don't make Labour the enemy of tomorrow's voters. We're not going away.