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It’s not impossible that the Conservatives will need to fight both a general election and a referendum in the next year. It was therefore vital that the Party picked a candidate with a record of successful campaigning – and who believes in the Brexit cause. Jeremy Hunt ran a decent campaign and deserves a serious job, but Party members have chosen the right candidate.
While I’ve been making the case for Boris Johnson’s appointment on these pages for two years, his arrival in Number Ten complicates the Conservatives’ electoral strategy – and the Party must be considering how best to adapt it. They should be exploring full, Clinton-style triangulation.
I stress “explore” because the truth is, we don’t have a clue about where public opinion is at the moment. It would be an understatement to say the polls are a mess. We only know a few things: that the public remains completely divided on Brexit; that the broad Conservative base (activists plus regular voters) has fractured since the Government missed its own self-imposed Brexit deadlines; that there is a risk this broad base will remain fractured if the Government doesn’t deliver Brexit “on time” (although this timetable is probably more flexible than people have said), and that, until recently, the Party has been polling strongly amongst working class and lower middle class Leave voters in the Midlands and North – more so than amongst Remain voters in large cities and across the South.
Everything else is clouded in doubt. As Johnson arrives with his Eurosceptic reputation, we don’t know, for example, if the Southern and urban Remainers who have reluctantly stuck with the Conservatives will now peel off in great numbers to the Lib Dems; we don’t know if Johnson’s record will be enough to keep Midlands and Northern working class and lower middle class Leavers onside, or whether they will be watching the antics of Hammond, Gauke etc and now proclaim “they’re all the same”; we don’t know if there are particular, non-Brexit policies that will appeal to these Remainers or Leavers, and we don’t know if middle class Labour voters are getting sick of the failure of Labour to deal with anti-semitism within the Party ranks. We don’t know any of this and it is hard to say when we will. Not, presumably, until Christmas when Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a while (itself an assumption).
But while there is great uncertainty, the Conservatives cannot just sit patiently on the sidelines and watch the action unfold before coming to a decision on their broad governing and campaigning strategy. They have to deliver Brexit – but they also have to prepare and execute a programme that is going to be good for the country and, yes, let’s be realistic, for their own electoral prospects.
So what should they do? With the polls so messed up, all anyone can do at this point is to sketch out a governing and campaigning hypothesis on the basis of careful thought – and put it to the test.
For five years at least, I have been advocating a strategy that focuses hard on working class and lower middle class voters in provincial England. I emphatically would not junk this approach; these voters will likely form the basis of the Conservatives broad base for the foreseeable future.
However, for positive and negative reasons, under Boris Johnson, this needs adapting. Positively speaking, these working class and lower middle class voters are, assuming that the Conservatives deliver Brexit (or are seen to die trying), temperamentally more positive towards Johnson than Theresa May.
And not just on Brexit; Johnson instinctively understands the importance of the NHS and schools, he understands public concerns about rising crime, he is unembarrassed about being English or about English history (something that has not been sufficiently explored) and he doesn’t obsess about political correctness. These voters aren’t “locked down” – far from it – but Johnson starts in a good place with them. More needs to be done to keep this voters onside, and I will be setting out some ideas on how in the coming weeks.
Negatively speaking, there’s no denying that Johnson starts in a terrible place with Remain voters full stop – and particularly those from urban, liberal-minded, middle class backgrounds. These are the people that associate – wrongly, but there we are – the Brexit cause with racism and intolerance. He is in a more difficult place than May with these voters, and it would be a disaster for the Party if vast numbers of them peeled away. Johnson needs a high-impact, high-visibility, immediate strategy for these voters – showing that he is the same person that ran London in an inclusive, centrist way.
Which brings us back to Clinton’s triangulating strategy of the mid-1990s. Back in those days, Clinton created a campaigning and governing strategy designed to appeal both to partisan Democrats and to floating voters that leaned Republican. Early Blair did the same, and this is what Johnson’s team should be considering. The Conservatives should deliver Brexit whatever happens, develop a longer-term strategy to turn the Midlands and the North blue, but also launch an assault for liberal-minded Remainers.
What might this entail? The Government is going to have to look again at increasing NHS spending – given the side of that bus, further NHS spending (with reform) is going to be hard to walk away from. It should look to develop a suite of environmental policies that incentivise good behaviour and that wrestle the issue away from the very hard left. The Government should also launch, along the lines of the GREAT campaign, a global PR campaign to encourage the best qualified workers to move to a modern, tolerant, post-Brexit Britain. And the Government should look at making it easier for new parents, at a time when they’re financially stretched, to secure loans for childcare. There will be many other alternatives, but you get the point.
The Conservatives must continue their transition towards becoming the provincial workers party, but the creative energy in the short-term should be directed South.
As soon as we read claims that Harvey Proctor had tried to cut off a teenager’s penis but that Edward Heath had stopped him, we knew that they were lies. We said that they were lies. And we added that they would be proved to be lies. So it has come to pass.
We knew they were lies for the simple reason that, as anyone who knew the two men can confirm, Heath and Proctor were incapable of co-operating on anything, let alone such an act: they hated each other.
The policemen investigating the allegations won’t have been experts in Conservative Party history. But they were capable of interviewing the wife of “Nick” – Carl Beech – who himself invented the claims; of quizzing witnesses in a timely way; if checking to see whether children that Beech claimed had been murdered were none the less still alive.
They did none of these things: indeed, an inquiry into “Operation Midland”, the police investigation into Beech’s claims, found no fewer 43 separate mistakes by the Metropolitan Police. Yet Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald declared that he and other “experienced officers from the child abuse team” believed that “what Nick is saying is credible and true”.
Who were these “experienced officers”? Are they still members of the force’s “child abuse team”? How can the taxpayer, or anyone else, have confidence in them? This is a dire week for our institutions. First, though not for the first time, the Electoral Commission. Now, and not for the first time either, the Met.
But the force can at least claim not to have been aware of the political background. The same cannot be true of Tom Watson. Two years earlier, he had told the Commons that he had “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No.10”. Where is the evidence for this claim?
Why did he later declare that Beech “not delusional”, after only one brief meeting with him? Who was the “survivor” of child abuse who he quoted, saying that Leon Brittan was “as close to evil as a human being could get”? Was it Beech? On what basis did Watson urge the police to “continue their investigations”?
None, it seems – since he had little option eventually, while giving evidence to a Select Committee, but to “regret” the description of Brittan. Readers will spot at once that this form of words is not an apology. It would clearly be futile to ask for one. But there are three lessons from this shaming episode, or should be.
First, that it is not, repeat not, always right to “believe the victim” – precisely because, as in this case, the victim is sometimes not a victim at all.
Second, that the damage inflicted on Proctor, Brittan and his family and Field Marshall Lord Bramall – reputational and psychological – cannot, by its nature, be measured. But what is certain is that Proctor and Bramall will be marked by Beech’s lies for the rest of their lives.
Finally, Watson will doubtless continue to flourish. But most Labour MPs – and this Conservative site has no hesitation in saying it – are knowing and acute. They will have clocked the Beech scandal, and Watson’s part in it. His room for manoeuvre, as the internal push against Jeremy Corbyn goes on, will be just a bit more cramped than it was before.
Johnson 1) He will urge unity in order to secure Brexit and defeat Corbyn
‘Boris Johnson will today appeal to his warring party to unite behind him after an extraordinary attempt by one of his own MPs to prevent him becoming Prime Minister. Barring a last-minute shock, Mr Johnson is set to be named as the Conservative Party’s new leader this morning following a six-week contest that has been dominated by Brexit… He has planned a short acceptance speech in which he will repeat his campaign pledge to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, with or without a deal, and urge his party to turn its guns on Jeremy Corbyn. But he is also expected to make an appeal for party unity following a fractious campaign which has seen Tory Remainers vow to bring down his government if he tries to pursue a No Deal exit.’ – Daily Mail
We should learn the result at about 11.40am – The Sun
Expect a reshuffle on Wednesday and Thursday, before a major speech on Friday – FT
And an immediate raft of domestic policies beyond Brexit – The Sun
Johnson 2) The expected new leader is in favour of ‘fiscal loosening’
‘The former foreign secretary is in favour of a policy of “fiscal loosening” that would reverse the tight controls on public spending imposed by Philip Hammond. He is determined to honour promises to give tax breaks to everyone who earns less than £80,000, and is ready to pause the current policy of bringing down the deficit… Mr Johnson has made more than £26 billion of spending pledges so far, with several other uncosted promises likely to add billions more, but he has not set out exactly how he would foot the bill. He has said that money saved when Britain leaves the EU will cover part of the cost, but the news that he is prepared to borrow more appears to answer the question of where the remainder might be found. Sources close to Mr Johnson said he believes that increased borrowing in the short-term is a sensible policy to “get the economy moving” by cutting tax and putting more money in people’s pockets.’ – Daily Telegraph
He has held secret meetings to try to woo Hammond, Gauke and Stewart – The Times
May’s departure 1) New public health proposals published despite Hancock’s reluctance
‘Theresa May has published various health proposals, including a ban on smoking by 2030 and a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children, despite her own health secretary trying to block the green paper. The prime minister had hoped to announce new “sin taxes” on the food and tobacco industries several weeks ago and finally published the paper — on Monday evening — after weeks of Whitehall tussles… One ally of Mr Hancock said he still wanted to pursue the ideas in the green paper. “Last week everyone got a letter saying we shouldn’t announce anything which could tie the hands of an incoming administration,” he said. He argued that the policies were not time-sensitive and thus could be re-examined at leisure by the next prime minister. “There was always the chance that, because it is put out as part of this administration, then the next administration might dump the whole thing.”’ – FT
May’s departure 2) She offers Scruton his job back
‘Theresa May has offered to reinstate philosopher Sir Roger Scruton as a Government adviser after he was sacked over false claims he made anti-Semitic and Islamophobic remarks. In one of her last acts as Prime Minister, she invited Sir Roger to return to his job advising ministers on how to build better homes. The dramatic U-turn comes after the Government apologised for firing him during what Sir Roger, 75, called a ‘witch-hunt of people on the Right’. The Conservative intellectual and writer was dismissed from his post with the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission by Housing Minister James Brokenshire in April…The New Statesman was forced to apologise after a leaked tape recording of the interview showed how his comments had been taken out of context. The magazine admitted its coverage ‘did not accurately represent Sir Roger’s views’. Mr Eaton has reportedly been demoted.’ – Daily Mail
Awkward Downing Street leaving drinks with the DUP and leading Brexiteers – Daily Mail
Hunt condemns Iranian ‘piracy’ and launches new European force to guard ships
‘Jeremy Hunt accused Iran of ‘state piracy’ today as tensions escalated over the tanker standoff. The Foreign Secretary condemned the Tehran regime as he unveiled a new plan for a European-led force to protect shipping in the Gulf. The government has been accused of ‘dropping the ball’ by failing to protect UK-flagged shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, after a tanker was seized by Iranian forces. In a blunt message today US secretary of state said it was down to Britain to ‘take care of their own ships’…Mr Hunt said the European protection effort would complement measures being put in place by the US. ‘We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,’ Mr Hunt said. After the seizure of the Stena Impero on Friday, Britain will now ask all UK-flagged ships to notify the government they intend to pass through the Strait of Hormuz.’ – Daily Mail
‘Nick’ – paedophile false accuser of Bramall, Heath, Brittan and Proctor – convicted
‘Within days of receiving Beech’s allegations, it should have been clear they were the work of an attention-seeking fantasist. But detectives on Operation Midland took 370 witness statements, launched 1,700 ‘actions’ and produced 1,860 documents. The inquiry involved a minimum of 20 police officers full time… In October 2014, Beech provided Detective Sergeant James Townly with a list of 12 alleged abusers, including Lord Bramall, Sir Edward Heath, Lord Brittan, Mr Proctor, Labour peer Lord (Greville) Janner, ex-MI5 boss Sir Michael Hanley and ex-MI6 chief Sir Maurice Oldfield. Police should not have taken such a list seriously… But they did take him seriously, almost certainly as a consequence of a new policy directive issued in November 2014, when Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor stated that ‘the presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised’… The basic detective’s rule of ‘assume nothing, check everything’ was thrown out of the window in December 2014 when Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald held a press conference at Scotland Yard to describe allegations made by ‘Nick’ as ‘credible and true’. At that point officers hadn’t interviewed a single suspect.’ – Daily Mail
‘The Government has been blasted over plans for a swathe of pay rises for public sector workers today that critics claim could strip £2billion from frontline services. Teachers, doctors and soldiers are among a million public sector workers handed above-inflation raises today by Chancellor Philip Hammond in what is probably one of final acts in the role. But the raise was criticised over plans to use existing budgets to find the increases rather than the Treasury stumping up more cash. Peter Dowd, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘Today’s announcements do little to make up for nine years of attacks on public sector workers’ pay.’ – Daily Mail
Employers have cut training under apprentice levy – FT
‘Charlie Elphicke, 49, was charged today in relation to the allegations, one of which dates from 2007 and the other two, from a second complainant, allegedly took place in 2016. He will appear in court this autumn. Mr Elphicke, MP for Dover since 2010, was suspended from the Conservative party in November 2017 and was interviewed under caution by police in March 2018 after allegations of sex offences. But in December ahead of the no-confidence vote in Theresa May, he and Andrew Griffiths the prime minister’s former chief of staff were both registered as eligible voters despite being suspended over allegations of sexual misconduct, to howls of criticism. Labour MP for Yardley Jess Phillips said at the time the decision to restore the whip to the men who were still under formal investigation was ‘totally despicable’. Mr Elphicke has vehemently denied claims of any ‘criminal wrongdoing’.’ – Daily Mail
Swinson wins Lib Dem leadership – and opens the door to defectors (as well as coalition)
‘Swinson issued a “come and join us” plea to Tory and Labour MPs yesterday after being unveiled as the first ever female leader of the Lib Dems. She romped to victory over rival Sir Ed Davey – winning nearly two thirds of the members’ votes in the race to replace outgoing boss Sir Vince Cable…And the new chief immediately declared: “As your leader, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit.” Ms Swinson used her victory speech to make a direct appeal to disaffected Tory MPs who want to stop Brexit and also to Labour moderates who despair at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. She wants more to follow Chuka Umunna in joining the party. Ms Swinson also hinted she would be prepared to take the Lib Dems back into coalition, saying: “This is the time for working together, not the time for tribalism.”’ – The Sun
She pitches herself as ‘a candidate for Prime Minister’ – FT
Few politicians are introverts – let alone senior ones; let alone Prime Ministers. But such is the disposition of Theresa May – or at least, if not precisely an introvert, she is unusually at ease with silence, as a mass of accounts of dealing with her verify. This sense of solitude, modulated by a happy marriage, almost defines her. Who can pin down what shaped it? But part of the answer must surely lies in her upbringing as an only child, with a clergyman father driven by an persistent commitment to public service.
But despite this clear-cut character, there have been not so much one, but three Theresa Mays, as far as her political career has been concerned. The first was a cautious moderniser: an industrious, capable woman on the Conservative benches at a time when these were rarer than they are now. Given the lack of competition, and her own clear sense of duty, she rose fast – becoming the Tory Chairman who warned activists that theirs was seen as “the Nasty Party”.
The second May saw her find an adviser and gain a department. The former was Nick Timothy, whose Conservative profile was unusual and distinctive – left-leaning on the economy, right-looking on social policy (when it comes to immigration control, anyway). The latter was the Home Office, whose culture of command, wariness and control reinforced her own instincts. She began to make leadership pitches, the first to a conference held by this site, with a distinctly interventionist flavour.
In the aftermath of the EU referendum, she become literally the last woman standing, after the withdrawal from a 2016 leadership contest of Andrea Leadsom. To many Party members, she looked more than capable of resolving its post-plebiscite tensions. She had been a Remainer, but had deliberately distanched herself from George Osborne’s “Project Fear”. Her Home Office record was mixed, but she had fought the former Chancellor, and others, over migration control. She appeared to offer grown-up government after a decade or so of Blair-light spin.
This site was enthusastic about the possibilities a May premiership offered and, at first, our optimism was more than justified, as she announced a Brexit commitment to take Britain out of the EU’s insitutions altogether – the most natural way of intepreting the referendum result. Then came the 2017 election gamble and Timothy’s manifesto over-reach. May’s majority vanished. So did Timothy. Enter her third and final manifestion. During it, the social conservatism, such as it was, seemed to vanish, leaving a Government leaning left both socially and econimally.
The Conservative Party is still picking up the pieces, as this leadership election has demonstrated – dispossessed as the party is of the economic thinking that ran through Thatcherism all the way to “austerity”. But it was on EU policy that May Mark Three – in so many ways a reversion to type – became most evident. In retrospect, it is evident that she was hostile to No Deal; even at the time, it was clear that she was incapable or unwilling of seeing Brexit as an opportunity rather than a problem; and the Timothy-era clarity of purpose was replaced by the splitting of differences.
May’s supporters claim that she had no choice but to do so, given the depth of division within the Party over alignment and diversion, and deal or no deal (if necessary). There is force in the argument, but also strength in the counter-case – principally, that her Government treated Ireland with a chacteristically English complacency; failed to spot the constitutional and political traps in the original backstop, and would have stood a good chance, had it not folded early on the proposal and fought instead for a compromise, of getting a deal through Parliament.
Instead, May gradually ceded ground to the point where she lost the trust of both sides of her Parliamentay Party simultaneously – on transition migration, transition extension, a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, even on the Customs Union, at least as far as the revised, all-UK backstop was concerned. And as the referendum receded over time, the Remain-sympathetic Commons grew bolder – with the Grieve-Cooper-Letwin push for indicative votes and extension. The more centralised her decision-making became, the less control over events she actually had.
Perhaps we all eventually turn into caricatures of ourselves. As time went on, May certainly appeared to. That childhood-learned sense of duty seemed to narrow to a resolve to cling on in office; the commitment to others, a conviction that the country needed her. The game was clearly up by mid-March, when MPs crushed the Withdrawal Agreement for the second time and a vote on extension was announced. The Conservatives’ poll ratings began to fold that week. These have not reached 40 per cent since.
If you promise over 100 times that Britain will leave the EU on March 29, and it doesn’t; then say that you are not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June, but do; announce that it would be “unacceptable” for European elections to take place, but they happen; and if you denounce Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to the country, but then seek to work with him over Brexit, you will poison the well not only for yourself, but also for your party. Conservative MPs opted for Boris Johnson for simple, sole reason that they think he has the best chance of cleansing the waters.
May joined the Conservative Party as a teenager. She married it, so to speak: Philip May was also a young Tory activist, and could well have become an MP himself. There is a terrible irony in this long-time Party member, a former Conservative councillor who is “one of us”, having presided over an attempt to work with a hard-left Marxist. You may say that she had no choice, given what the “Spartans” did to her deal, third time round. And that she could not have ultimately have prevented extension, at least if her government was not to fall.
To which the response must be: if that last claim is true – and we suspect it is – she should have quit mid-March, telling the voters that, since the Commons was thwarting her Brexit promises, she would go. Yet she hung on – though doing so didn’t save her in the end, as was evident at the time. Perhaps the best explanation is that she really was set on staying in Downing Street longer than Gordon Brown. Or, more straightforwardly, that it is a rare Prime Minister who leaves voluntarily – only Harold Wilson in modern times, and he was ill.
Having been so enthusiastic about May during the Timothy era, we would like something to salvage from the wreckage. There are floating chunks of woodwork – the small business rates cut; parental bereavement leave; the push against modern slavery. But the loss of even a small majority left her Ministers all at sea. And the centrepiece of May’s legacy bid is an emissions commitment that won her pleasing headlines, but leaves her successors a delivery headache. The loner has ended all but isolated, and maybe the key to the second is in the first.
As ConservativeHome readers may recall, I backed the Withdrawal Agreement, not because it was perfect, but because I was convinced it offered the surest way to deliver Brexit on time. I wouldn’t have started from there but – as you often hear on Whitehall – “we are where we are”. I also felt that some critics of the deal exaggerated its negatives, while ignoring some of its advantages. Others seemed unrealistic about the actual alternatives available after nearly three years of negotiations.
Leading Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Norman Lamont, Michael Howard, and Iain Duncan-Smith all ultimately reached the conclusion that the Withdrawal Agreement was the least bad option and backed it. Yet, as everyone knows, the deal failed to pass on its third and final attempt.
It’s overwhelmingly likely that later today Johnson will secure the Conservative leadership. And in my judgement, although both candidates have strengths, he stands a better chance of successfully delivering Brexit than Jeremy Hunt. He will however face an extraordinarily difficult inheritance – a party bitterly divided, where opinions have polarised over the past three years; an extremely weak Parliamentary position, made still worse by defections; and a Party with two factions both threatening to bring down a Government which pursues a Brexit policy with which they disagree. He is likely to have one of the shortest honeymoons of any recent leader.
Johnson’s premiership will be defined – do or die – by what happens in his first 100 days, in the run up to 31st October. There are four broad possibilities, only two of which would mark a success for him.
First, extend Article 50 again. This would require unanimous agreement by all EU member states and the UK. Although Jeremy Hunt left open the possibility of extension, Boris Johnson has categorically ruled it out. So an extension is only likely if the Executive is forced by Parliament. Without an extension there is not enough time to run a second referendum.
Second, revoke Article 50. This is the nuclear option – opposed by almost all Conservative MPs. Most MPs opposing Brexit instead argue for a second referendum, which could ultimately lead to revocation. That of course would entail a further extension. However, it remains possible that in a forced choice between No Deal and Revoke shortly prior to 31 October, a majority of MPs might choose to revoke.
Third, agree a deal. The current deal will not pass the Commons. So the only possibility is a revised deal that has changed enough to allow MPs to reconsider their position.
Fourth, leave the EU without a deal. This remains the legal default in the absence of any other option being agreed. A No Deal exit would mean significant short-term disruption for both the EU and UK, but over the medium-term the economic effects would be limited, as previous Open Europe research has explored. However, a No Deal is opposed by a majority of MPs who will try every parliamentary trick going to block it from happening.
The surest path to Brexit would be a new deal with the EU. There is still a desire in European capitals to reach agreement with the UK. But there’s also profound frustration with the UK. Over the last three years patience and trust – in both directions – has worn thin. Reaching agreement will require compromise on both sides. Johnson will need to charm and reassure not just Berlin and Paris, but above all Dublin.
There is little chance of Brussels junking all the existing Withdrawal Agreement, and starting from scratch. Anyway, the majority of the text is broadly acceptable, as the ‘Brady amendment’ demonstrated. Some in Westminster appear to believe the EU could agree to things that Brussels has shown almost no inclination towards. EU member states won’t agree to replace the withdrawal agreement with just a bare bones deal under Article 24 of the GATT. They also won’t sign off on a standstill transition, outside the jurisdiction of the European Court, which isn’t associated with the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Commission’s negotiating team are, however, quietly considering the possibility of surgical changes. But agreeing to any changes will depend on how negotiations with the new Prime Minister proceed, and would require a revised mandate from the European Council. There’s a desire from some key EU capitals to find a way through, but there’s a limit to how much Brussels will move at this late stage. It’s not just the UK side of the negotiation table which has politics to address, pride to preserve, and interests to defend.
Some MPs may balk at the idea of only securing surgical changes to the legal texts. But surgical changes could entail more of a heart transplant than an appendix removal. What matters ought to be the extent to which changes affect the fundamental substance of the deal. That’s why I was so surprised to hear both leadership contenders carelessly telling Tom Newton-Dunn they would reject the idea of a Brexit deal with an exit from the backstop. In fact, if they secured anything like that it would be a huge victory. The litmus test ought to be whether the Attorney General’s legal advice can be changed.
The prime concern of most Brexiteers was a fear that the Withdrawal Agreement could create – via the backstop – an essentially permanent arrangement where the UK would lose the ability to develop an independent trade policy, and would be subject to EU rules and the jurisdiction of the European court. If that concern can be addressed, many of the worst fears of the Withdrawal Agreement should fall away.
The excellent work of Prosperity UK’s Alternative Arrangements Commission reveal the sort of solutions which both sides could adopt to replace the backstop.
At the same time, the EU are open to a significant re-write of the Political Declaration. A new prime minister should secure agreement that the UK and EU will negotiate a new relationship modelled on a Canada-style free trade deal, rather than Chequers. The document could also provide further reassurance that the UK will secure an independent trade policy, as well as autonomy on foreign policy, security and defence matters.
Now, nearly four months after the UK was supposed to Leave, Brexit seems more uncertain than ever, precisely as I feared earlier this year. There is a path through to securing Brexit, but it’s a narrow one. Either side lie dangers: a general election before Brexit, or a second referendum. In just a hundred days, we will know whether Boris Johnson has succeeded.
As if the Brexit crisis wasn’t enough for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, he now has an international crisis in the Gulf too; one that, if handled badly, may lead to conflict. As Harold MacMillan said, when asked what throws a Government off course: events, dear boy, events.
On Friday, a UK-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, was seized by Iran, one of a series on incidents in the past three months between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. Iran, under pressure from US sanctions, is readying to cause chaos in the Gulf.
Here are some immediate thoughts:
The UK is caught between rock and a hard place. The Iran crisis is stretching the already strained alliance between the US and Europe – and we are feeling it more than most. On the Iranian Nuclear Deal – which is at the heart of this crisis – we are diplomatically aligned with the EU in supporting the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), whilst we remain deeply embedded in the US military alliance which, regardless of who is president, retains remarkable importance for us.
Second, we are paying the price for not paying for defence. Our emaciated presence in the Gulf is due to two decades of under-funding of the Navy and the Armed Forces more generally. We reaped the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War but refused to reinvest in the mid-2000s when the world became a more dangerous place. The Conservative-Liberal Coalition was a particularly shameful low-point in absolute cuts made to defence.
In the 1980s, the Royal Navy’s Armilla patrol in the Gulf had up to four destroyers or frigates (small destroyers). Then, the Navy had over 40 frigates or destroyers. We have 19 now. Whilst technology has made these vessels more powerful, we no longer have mass.
At the same time potential adversaries, be in Iran or Russia, have invested in many varieties of power, including hard power, whilst some military technology, such as drones, have become much cheaper and more widespread.
Despite this changing balance, our strategic responsibilities have stayed the same. We are trying to do the same with less as our rivals have more. Our only legally binding expenditure is on aid, which has gone up to £13 billion. Politically, in the last decade we have prioritised virtue signalling over protecting our national interests. This needs to change.
Third, warfare and conflict has changed and will continue to evolve. Two decades ago we entered the era of full spectrum warfare, sometimes known as hybrid or asymmetric warfare. This is where nations and non-state actors (think ISIS, Hezbollah, etc.) chose to use non-traditional methods to achieve their aims, either because they cannot match US technology, or because non-conventional methods of conflict are more effective in the era we live in. Iran, alone with China and Russia, are the major proponents of full-spectrum warfare. The seizure of the Stena Impero was an example of this.
Iran’s full spectrum tools also include influence or control over religious, political or paramilitary groups across the Middle East: the Houthi in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Alawite regime in Syria, proxies in Iraq and religious groups in the Gulf states. In case of further conflict, Iran will very likely initially seek to damage UK, US, Saudi Arabian or UAE targets in the Middle East, through its proxies, overtly or covertly. Lobbing a UK missile at a no-doubt empty target in Iran will achieve nothing except threaten British lives and interests across the Middle East.
Fourth, Iran wants to internationalise this crisis. It is suffering under new US sanctions since they were imposed when President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. US sanctions have been surprisingly successful. However, as a result moderates in Iran have been weakened, and anti-Western and illiberal elements strengthened. The thinking from those who know Iran is that, if Iran is going to suffer, it will make the rest of the Middle East suffer too. That could mean a mix of destabilising attacks on shipping, paramilitary attacks or assassinations in the Middle East.
So what’s the answer?
In the short term in the Gulf, the UK needs to renew international and regional alliances and find convoy partners. We should additionally put in place what deterrence forces we can in local bases in Bahrain and elsewhere; another destroyer or two if we can muster it, swift boats, helicopters and drones.
In the longer term, we need to work with the US, the EU and Iran to find a way out from the ongoing crisis. In practice, that means finding a realistic set of proposals acceptable to the US and Iran that gets the JCPOA back on track. Mike Pompeo has outlined 12 demands. These are seen to be unrealistic, but there is some chance for a more modest set of US proposals being put forward that Iran could sign up to, or at least use as the basis for negotiation.
Finally, and more broadly, we need to plan for the decades ahead. We are not doing so.
In February I launched a Global Britain study with the Henry Jackson Society. In that report, I outlined some key aims: reinvest in hard power whilst ensuring that we are capable of understanding and countering full spectrum warfare; integrate overseas policy and possibly even departments; redefine aid to allow DfID funds to fund peacekeeping options; and provide for a significant uplift to the BBC World Service Radio and TV. Most importantly, the UK should develop a global strategy for the next decade and two, driven by a UK Strategy Council.
The UK has benefitted from the international order constructed after the Second World War. We need to invest to defend it. That doesn’t mean, as the predictable line of questioning on the BBC in the last couple of days put it, wanting to be the world’s policeman or boss others about, but it does mean delivering an overseas policy which allows the UK to remain a leading player in the global order, and by so doing, defend our just interests.
Chris Philp is has served as PPS in the Treasury and MHCLG, and on the Treasury Select Committee. He is MP for Croydon South.
One of the signal achievements of the Thatcher Government was the home ownership revolution. Millions of people were able to buy their own home for the first time – through right-to-buy and a more dynamic housing market generally. Sadly, much of that good work has been undone in the years since.
Home ownership rates have fallen from a high of 71 per cent in 2005 down to 63 per cent today. The falls are especially acute amongst those in their 20s and 30s, where home ownership rates have almost halved since the early 1990s. No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote Conservative.
Home ownership is an inherently beneficial thing. Those who own their own home enjoy secure tenure and lower housing costs than those renting. Over the long term, it is financially better to own rather than rent – even if house prices do not rise faster than inflation. And owning a property gives people a real sense of a place they can call home. It is no surprise, then, that 86 per cent of the public aspire to own their homes. Given only 63 per cent actually do, around a quarter of our fellow citizens wish to own their own home but do not. We should help them.
Stamp duty is a major barrier to buying a home. It is a cash cost that cannot be mortgage-funded. Given that up-front cash costs are the biggest impediment to buying, this is serious. Stamp duty acts as a barrier for buyers of all kinds, which means housing stock is not freed up by downsizers and there are negative effects on labour mobility.
It should be a legitimate – and popular – objective of public policy to help prospective home buyers. In the last ten years, owner occupiers have been crowded out by financial investors and second home buyers, often from overseas, who have superior financial firepower. They currently make up around a quarter of all residential sales, and even more of new build sales. The Government has already recognised this by abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers purchasing properties under £300,000 and cut it by £5,000 for those buying at under £500,000.
Abolish stamp duty entirely for all purchases of a main home under £500,000.
Halve current rates of stamp duty for purchases of a main home over £500,000.
This would abolish stamp duty for nine out of ten owner-occupiers and save a family buying an average priced London home £13,000, or half of a five per cent deposit. The cost of this policy is £3.3 billion. But it would help more people buy their first home, and make moving house – for a new job, to downsize or to upsize – much easier. For the most expensive properties, where stamp duty is currently charged at a marginal rate of 12 per cent, it is likely that transaction volumes are being suppressed. Halving stamp duty for those properties should result in a positive Laffer effect, due to an increase in transaction levels.
But any new policy should be fiscally responsible. To fund the £3.3 per year billion cost, I propose a number of smaller tax changes, where there is broad public support for taxation and a clear case for action:
Introduce a one per cent annual tax on the value of homes left empty for more than 6 months in a year, raising £645 million.
Increase the current three per cent stamp duty surcharge on second homes and investment properties to 5 per cent, raising £790 million.
Introduce a further three per cent stamp duty surcharge of non-UK resident buyers of residential property, raising £540 million.
Introduce an extra higher band of council tax at a £1,700 per year council tax premium for the 0.4 per cent most expensive properties, raising £173 million.
End all council tax reliefs for vacant and second home property, raising £75 million.
Create a new eight per cent (up from five per cent) stamp duty band for the portion of commercial property purchases over £1 million, raising £682 million.
Levy stamp duty on residential properties transferred by selling the company that owns them via transparent ownership rules (which would also help combat money laundering), raising £175 million.
Double the Annual Taxation on Enveloped Dwellings, raising £140 million.
These measures taken together will help first time buyers, down sizers, upsizers and people moving home to help their job. It will tax overseas investors (usually from the far east) who are treating UK homes as a financial asset and crowding out first time buyers with their superior financial firepower.
Tilting the playing field back towards UK-resident first time buyers and owner-occupiers is the right thig to do. The new Government should use the coming autumn budget to do exactly that.
Katy Bourne is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex.
In May 2020 we will have elections in England and Wales for the third term of Police and Crime Commissioners. That means that we will have had eight years since one of the biggest changes to police governance so it’s a timely moment for me to reflect.
I’m proud of: raising awareness of hidden crimes like stalking; I’ve helped our younger and older citizens engage with police; I’ve saved police time through technology; and I’m currently reducing anti-social behaviour and diverting young people from criminal and violent behaviour.
Lifting the stone on hidden and under-reported crimes was one of my first priorities. When I took office in 2012, the handling of domestic abuse left a lot to be desired – a “domestic” was something that took place behind closed doors and was best left alone.
That was not acceptable to me. I made it a priority in my police and crime plan and a year later Sussex Police became the first to be granted White Ribbon status in recognition of their commitment to deal with domestic abuse.
When I heard that young girls were being flown in and out of Gatwick for Female Genital Mutilation, I funded training for 16 police officers to become specialist investigators in harmful traditional practices.
Stalking was an under-reported crime. My own experience over six years made me realise just how little police and prosecutors knew about it. It was dismissed as a nuisance not a crime and the tragic murder of stalking victim Shana Grice in Brighton and other cases showed that the police needed to look at the wider picture from victims reporting stalking.
I campaigned through the media to raise awareness and, over the past three years, there has been a 540 per cent increase in reports of stalking in Sussex.
I funded the first local specialist stalking service for victims in Sussex which now gets an average of two high risk victims referred to it every day.
Working with Sussex Police and the College of Policing, we have introduced my acronym FOUR to remind people that, if a person’s behaviour is Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted and Repeated, it is stalking.
I commissioned the first HMICFRS inspection on stalking and, in April, I convened a cross-party roundtable of PCCs in Parliament to share good practice and agree on next steps, and I will be discussing these with the Victims Minister in July.
I spend a lot of my time talking to the public in Sussex but we were not hearing enough from young people. I established the Sussex Youth Commission of 25 young people to conduct a “big conversation” with their peers.
They produced two uncompromising reports with recommendations for police. Following one of their recommendations, they were invited to establish a Youth Independent Advisory Group to steer officers on effective child-centred policing. They also challenged and redesigned the force’s Stop and Search educational material.
From 2015, we repeated the “big conversation” through my Sussex Elders Commission volunteers. They collated 6,000 responses into a report launched in the Palace of Westminster in 2016 with suggestions for tackling fraud and cybercrime in particular. This led me to fund two fraud caseworkers to support fraud victims and target-harden them against further attacks. Last year they supported 638 elderly victims who lost a staggering total of £11.8million.
With a responsibility to ensure efficient and effective policing, I wanted to exploit technology to free up police time. Working with the Chief Constable, we’ve provided mobile data handsets to keep officers out in the community and body-worn video to provide evidence of their interactions.
In 2017, I secured £11.5million from the Police Transformation Fund to scale up the use of video across the South East for providing evidence to reduce the time police spend travelling to court and waiting to give evidence. So far in Sussex, 14 video endpoints have enabled 406 officers to give evidence, saving 2,000 officer hours or the equivalent of 241 shifts. That is an investment that is already paying dividends.
The most satisfying work that my office has co-ordinated and funded recently is an early youth intervention programme we call REBOOT. I secured nearly £900k from the Home Office to address their Serious Violence Strategy and encourage young people to make positive choices instead of becoming involved in crime.
REBOOT is built around the pan-Sussex Early Intervention Protocol, an agreement between Sussex Police, Youth Offending Services and the NHS. It provides a five-stage pathway for young people with early indicators of serious violence, with an enforcement element at its final stage.
Instead of demonising young people, REBOOT focuses on developing their positive attributes and ambitions. Personal coaches identify suitable activities that are available (and funded) to divert them from following the wrong path.
Since April, over 300 young people have been referred to REBOOT and only one has reached the enforcement level.
I know that, as PCC for Sussex, I have been part of many significant changes and improvements for local communities, for police officers and for victims of crime.
At a local level, PCCs have dramatically transformed engagement with the public and are helping to rebuild trust with police and, nationally, PCCs are challenging the status quo in policing to make it work better.