It has been a week to forget for Theresa May. The pro-Brexit newspapers might portray the agreement reached with the EU this week as a great victory. But the reality is that the Government has shown itself to be weaker and more clueless than ever.
Held to ransom by the DUP
A deal was all but announced on Monday, only for the rug to be pulled from under the PM’s feet by the DUP, highlighting just what a vulnerable position she is in. Held to ransom by a party that wants the impossible and represents less than 1% of our population.
Non-existent impact assessments
Then we had the extraordinary scene on Tuesday when David Davis was finally forced to admit that all those Brexit impact assessments – setting things out in ‘excruciating detail’ - have never existed! In the middle of all this, it was easy to miss the admission by Philip Hammond that the Cabinet hasn’t yet even discussed the final outcome that they want when we leave the EU. So they don’t know what they want and have no idea how it will affect us if they get it.
In ordinary times any one of these events would have led to resignations and sackings. But we are not living in ordinary times.
Concessions to the EU
Finally, in the early hours of Friday, an agreement was announced on the issues of the exit bill, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland. This means that they can begin to talk about the really difficult bit: future trade. There’s no getting away from the fact that, despite all the posturing and rhetoric, the Government has had to make huge concessions on the exit bill and EU citizens. The conundrum surrounding Northern Ireland has to a large extent been kicked into the long grass but is not going to go away.
A glimmer of hope
Yet there is a glimmer of hope. There are signs that the Government is backing down on their decision to plough on with a self-harming hard Brexit. One line of the 15-page agreement with the EU says that, “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with the rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.” That sounds rather like staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union. There’s a long way to go, but it might just be a move in the right direction.
One other event that should not go unnoticed this week was the vote by Parliamentarians for their book of the year. Their choice? ‘How to Stop Brexit’. Perhaps they are trying to send us a message. They know it is bad for the country and now more than ever our representatives across all parties should follow the example of Lib Dem MPs and peers and stand up for what they believe in. As the reality of Brexit becomes clearer it is only right that the people should have a say on the final deal with the chance to vote on whether this is what we really want.
The Liberal Democrats won all four of the council by-elections that were held last night, gaining seats from the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP.
New studies show that the UK economy has stalled under the Conservatives.
This Conservative crash will wipe £49bn off the UK economy by 2021. That’s £687 for every person in the UK. Or enough to recruit 69,000 new police officers or 66,000 teachers.
The Conservatives are also putting £3bn aside for ‘problems’ with Brexit.
Despite a combined £52billion black hole the Conservative Government have still found money for extra new tax cuts for the richest.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Flick Rea said, “These are the wrong priorities. Tax cuts for the very richest are not the most important thing when our NHS and schools are in such valuable need of investment and the economy is a mess.”
“The government needs to get a grip on the economy and change its priorities to help normal people in our country”.
After more than a decade of action, Lib Dem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon's campaign to secure a "one hour bus ticket" for Londoners has finally been rewarded, with news that an unlimited number of trips will finally be allowed from next year.
Commenting on today’s announcement Caroline said: "For a decade I have campaigned for a 1-hour bus ticket so the introduction at long last of this policy is incredibly welcome.
"People who need to switch buses simply to get from one place to another should not be penalised. The 1-hour bus ticket is just what London needs.”
Also reacting to news of the introduction of a weekly cap on Oyster sometime in 2018, Caroline Pidgeon said:
“It is grossly unfair that there is a weekly cap on contactless payment but not on Oyster. Boris Johnson even promised that a cap would be introduced by 2015. This major anomaly should have been addressed many years ago.”
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, has today congratulated the London Overground on its 10th birthday.
In the last 10 years over one billion customer journeys have been made on London Overground and it has proven to be one of the most reliable train operators in the country.
Commenting on its 10 years of existence Caroline Pidgeon said:
“The London Overground is one of London’s success stories. Passengers numbers have soared from 33 million in 2008/09 to more than 189 million in 2016/17.
“Its popularity is based on providing a far better train service than most other train operators.
“One very distinctive service it provides is that every station is staffed from the first to very last train every day. That makes stations safer places for passengers and ensures that a ‘turn up and go’ service can exist for disabled people.
“Yet while today is a day to celebrate we should also recognise that the success of the London Overground could benefit hundreds of thousands more train users. Devolving more London metro lines to TfL would expand London Overground to the capital and benefit thousands of more passengers.”
A huge thank you to everyone who voted in the Gospel Oak by-election.
Lib Dem candidate Jill Fraser received a fantastic result, and has shown that the Lib Dems are the real opposition to Labour in Camden.
The full results are:
Labour: 1144, 57.5% (+10.5)
Liberal Democrat: 510, 25.7% (+18.7)
Conservative: 303, 15.3% (-2.4)
English Democrats: 31, 1.6% (+1.6)
Jill said, “Thank you so much to everyone who supported my campaign, knocked on doors, and delivered leaflets. Our result shows that there is demand for a hard-working local champion.”
Last Friday Lord Kerr gave a powerful speech confirming that the UK’s notification of the intention to leave the EU can be withdrawn at any time before 29th March 2019. This intervention was a firm challenge to the Brexiteers’ narrative that the decision to leave the EU is irreversible now that Article 50 has been triggered.
If anyone knows the intentions of those that drafted Article 50 then it is Lord Kerr. Why? Because he wrote it. He told the audience that, “The Article is about voluntary withdrawal. It is not about expulsion. We don’t have to go if at any stage within the two years we decide that we don’t want to go.”
Brexit is not a foregone conclusion
He is not alone in this interpretation which is shared by lawyers and politicians alike. Indeed, in recent weeks the government has come under pressure to publish legal advice that it has been given on this precise point. Some may argue that the status of Article 50 is a purely legal concern, yet the question of whether the UK can undo its decision to leave is really a matter of politics. If there is the political will for the UK to remain it can and will happen.
Significantly, a number of EU leaders have made clear that, if the UK wants to change its mind, they will not block us from remaining. Brexit is not a foregone conclusion.
On the same day that Lord Kerr gave his speech, Theresa May published an article saying that she intends to fix in law the date and time that the UK will leave the EU. Another attempt to give the impression that the decision cannot be undone. Yet the reality is that Parliament is, and always has been, sovereign. Whatever is passed into law today can be repealed in the future. So enshrining a leaving date in law counts for little. It does not make leaving any more inevitable.
EU Withdrawal Bill puts our rights at risk
The next significant event in the Brexit process is Parliament’s debate of the EU Withdrawal Bill. Contrary to statements from some members of the Conservative Party, seeking to amend this Bill is not an attempt to circumvent ‘the will of the people’. Those that took part in the referendum voted, by a small majority, to leave the EU. But there was nothing on the ballot paper about how this should happen. How can it legitimately be argued that the vote to leave the EU was a vote to give the government the power to take away many of our rights and protections without proper scrutiny and debate by our elected representatives? It can’t, but that is ultimately what will happen if the Bill passes unamended.
A re-think is needed
Every day we hear more news reports of how the economy is being affected by the decision to leave the EU and how our international reputation is being damaged. Despite a binding vote in Parliament, the government has so far refused to publish the 58 impact studies we had been assured existed. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that negotiations with the EU are going well. A re-think is required as it becomes increasingly apparent that the promises made by Brexiteers during the referendum campaign cannot possibly be delivered.
It is crucial that in the coming weeks and months MPs argue and vote for what they know to be in the best interests of the country, not what is in the short-term interests of their own party. That is certainly what our Lib Dem MPs will be doing.
Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP and former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, paid a visit to Camden to support Jill Frasers campaign in Gospel Oak.
Ed said, "I've known Jill for many years. I know what a great councillor she was in the past, and she will be again if she gets elected."
"She won't walk away, or turn her back on Gospel Oak."
"If you want an opposition to this huge Labour majority, only the Lib Dems can beat Labour."
Click here to read Ed's interview with the Ham & High.
More and more residents are backing Jill Fraser to be their local champion in the council by-election on Thursday.
Lib Dem candidate Jill is a former Mayor of Camden, and she has the clout and credibility that is needed to get Gospel Oak back on the map. Jill has deep roots in the local community having lived here for 30 years and working in the chip shop on Queen’s Crescent Market.
Jill has a track record of representing council tenants and leaseholders and fighting for better services for young people.
People are fed up of Labour taking Gospel Oak for granted. Two of the councillors have walked away in the last few months and it seems that the Council are neglecting the area.
Jill says, “One more Labour councillor won’t make any difference. I promise to hold the Labour Council to account and get a better deal for Gospel Oak. I hope you will give me the chance to be your voice at Camden Town Hall. I will not let you down.”
Everyone knows that London is facing a housing crisis.
Here in Camden Labour promised 6,000 new homes in Camden between 2014 and 2018, but so far only 1,680 have been built – and only 40 were built by the council.
Local resident and Lib Dem by-election candidate Jill Fraser said, “Two of my three children have already had to move away from London because they cannot afford to live here, the third is planning to leave shortly.”
“Labour’s record on housing in Camden is a disgrace – they promise a lot, but don’t deliver”.