Mindless Brextruction: £500,000,000 down the drain as a sop to politicians’ vanity – and nobody turns a hair!

Mindless Brextruction: £500,000,000 down the drain as a sop to politicians’ vanity – and nobody turns a hair!

A few days ago, the European Union decided to move the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London to Amsterdam so that it could continue to operate without any damaging interruptions after 29 March 2019 when the UK plans to leave the EU. Britain will be held liable for the relocation costs, estimated at around £500 million. Presumably this counts towards the much bigger Brexit bill, now under negotation,

The future annual income losses will also be very big. The Agency has an annual budget of around £300 million, much of which is spent in the UK. There will be an immediate loss of 900 well-paid EMA jobs and of over 30,000 short-term visitors to London each year to attend events convened by the Agency. It is likely that pharmaceutical companies will also shift their staff who interact with the EMA on a regular basis to Amsterdam.

The EMA was founded in 1995 and, with strong support from the British Conservative government of the time, London was selected for its headquarters.  Its overall responsibility is for ensuring that all human and veterinary medicines available in the EU market are safe, effective and of high quality. It acts as a central point of reference for national regulatory bodies such as the UK’s Medical Health Regulatory Agency.

It seems perverse that the same politicians that have been claiming that leaving the EU would allow the government to increase the effectiveness of the NHS are deliberately leaving an Agency that contributes importantly to better health in Britain. Apart from upholding medicine safety, the EMA’s work brings new medicines to those who need them more quickly, cuts the costs of putting new products on the market, supports pharmaceutical research and promotes innovation especially by small and medium-scale industries. In future Britain may be excluded from EU-wide clinical trials and have to spend more of its already tight health budget on creating and running an expanded national medicines approvals service. British-made medicines will become less competitive if they have to go through separate EU and UK approval processes.

When governments commit large amounts of public money to new projects, they normally weigh up the costs and benefits. In this case, the costs of abandoning the EMA are mind-boggling and there are no tangible benefits whatsoever. The only benefit that Mrs May and her fellow-Brexiteers can claim is that it allows them to continue to crow that “Brexit is Brexit” and that they are acting in line with “the will of the people”. It would be better if they were to commit themselves to act “in the national interest”!

Like so many other aspects of the Brexit process, withdrawing from the EMA is an expensive exercise in national self-harm – in this case damaging not only to the economy but also to people’s health. It is hard to believe that those who voted to leave the EU sought such outcomes.

What is amazing is that, now the damage of the decision to leave the EMA is becoming starkly clear, there has been only muted public criticism. Perhaps the branding of those who criticise the government’s blatantly bad handling of the Brexit process as “mutineers” has created a situation in which opponents fear to raise their voices. It is easier to lie low and not turn a hair.

Hopefully public attitudes will shift, as the material damage caused by our exit from each of the 40 EU specialised decentralised agencies, becomes clear – but, as the EMA process shows, any second thoughts may come too late.

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U-turns should be easy for a lame duck

I often wake up in the middle of the night and become prisoner to a stupid idea that just won’t go away, however much I try to dispose of it. Last night I had the crazy vision of a lame duck, with one leg shorter than the other, finding it easy to make u-turns!

There seems to be growing consensus in all UK political parties that Theresa May is not up to the job of Prime Minister. At the same time there is little appetite, at least in her own party, for her to go, largely because there is no obvious successor in view.  All “possibles” carry high risks. Tories fear that there is a high probability that her departure would trigger another general election and lead to a Labour-led government.

Now, with the leaking of a “secret” letter to her from Johnson and Gove, we can see that she is being blatantly bullied by two of the Ministers that she appointed. They tell her to stick to their hard Brexit line – or else!

If May was to leave office now, she would go down in history as the Prime Minister who, contrary to her own better judgment, deliberately assumed responsibility for leading Britain into a belittling future in order to satisfy her long-held aspirations for high office.

She now has access to a vast amount of information and analysis which shows her that the Brexit process has already caused massive economic damage to the country and peoples’ livelihoods and promises much worse in future. However, by rushing into evoking Article 50 before having an exit strategy in place, she has locked herself into a negotiating process which prevents her from responding rationally to all the emerging signals of impending disaster. She is being forced at gunpoint by the same people who lied to referendum voters about the land of milk and honey that would result from leaving Europe to drive Britain down a road that will leave it poorer, more divided and more isolated.

Now is the moment, when she is most enfeebled – the lamest of ducks – to show her real strength by chucking the bullies out of her cabinet and offering the country a future that puts national interests rather than the personal ambitions of her bullying cabinet ministers first.  She must have the courage to articulate her own interpretation of what is really best for Britain, now that she knows full well the extent of harm being inflicted by a hard Brexit.

She knows that, if Britain leaves the single market and customs union, it will be unable to negotiate as good a future trading deal on our doorstep, and that the Irish border will again become a problem; she knows that Fox is pipe-dreaming about advantageous trade deals with the rest of the world; and she knows that Britain’s fiscal revenue – so necessary for funding better health and education services – will shrink as London loses its role as Europe’s pre-eminent financial services centre. And she must be questioning whether it makes sense to pay £50 or 60 billion simply to be able to claim that we have “taken back control” when – if only for geographic reasons – our future must be deeply bound to the European mainland. Hopefully, she will also have come to see how important Britain’s membership of European institutions is to the nurturing of continued peace in a region that fell into devastating wars twice in our parents’ lifetimes.

By making such a U-turn now, and offering true leadership towards a constructive relationship with Europe, not excluding a “remain” option, May could still redeem her future reputation and be ranked high amongst our prime ministers.

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Letter from Nick Hopkinson (London4Europe) to Sadiq Khan

Future of our Children has enjoyed close links with London4Europe. Thanks to Nick Hopkinson (Chair) and his colleagues, many of our articles have been posted on the L4E website, bringing them to a wider audience.  Now it is our turn to share with our followers this most important letter from Nick to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, inviting him to rally London MPs and peers to call for critical amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill , now before Parliament. His letter (reproduced in full below) can be accessed directly at http://www.london4europe.co.uk/london4europe_chair_calls_on_london_mayor_to_support_referendum_on_brexit_deal_terms 

 

Mr Sadiq Khan                                                                   10 November 2017

Mayor of London

City Hall

The Queen’s Walk

London SE1 2AA

 

e-mail: mayor@london.gov.uk

 

Dear Mayor Khan,

 

WE WANT A REFERENDUM ON THE TERMS OF A BREXIT DEAL

Your active and articulate support for Remain during last year’s EU referendum was appreciated.

I am writing to urge you to build on your appeals for the next Labour Party manifesto to include a referendum on the terms of Brexit. In light of mounting evidence that Brexit is bad for London and growing public opposition to Brexit, it would be appropriate now if you could call on all London MPs and peers to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Specifically, we believe they should be encouraged to support an amendment supporting a referendum on the terms of a Brexit deal with the option to Remain. If the Government decides not to conclude a deal, similarly the people should have a say, including the option to Remain.

Your Rôle is to Represent London’s Remain Vote

Brexit is the biggest challenge facing London. If we go through with it, it will do incalculable harm to our economy, social fabric, public services and the international standing of London and the rest of the UK.

Your stated rôle includes being the elected voice of London and to champion London and Londoners at home and abroad. London voted 60:40 to Remain in the EU. You therefore have a regional mandate to speak for Remain, just as Nicola Sturgeon has in Scotland. However, it appears you have effectively committed Londoners to Labour’s ‘jobs-first’ Brexit, a self-defeating stance which is already contributing to the destruction of jobs in London and elsewhere in the UK.

The Need for a Referendum on the Terms

Yes of course the 2016 referendum is politically binding as regards next steps. However, the Government after 16 months has yet to come up with concrete Brexit options, let alone a plan.

We – the people – should review the outcome, whether the Government decides there is a deal or no deal. The 2016 vote on an idea does not oblige the country to adopt whatever plan is later cooked up on the hoof.

You have indicated you are open to a referendum on the terms. You expressed that view in the context of designing a winning Labour party manifesto at the next General Election. However, this could be several years away, and probably after we have left the European Union.

As Mayor for all Londoners, the time to act is now, not just in time for the next General Election. As you know, Parliament is debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. This is the best chance to put the referendum on the terms of Brexit into the national political calendar.

You can Persuade MPs and Peers

We therefore call on you now to persuade all London MPs and peers to support the amendments to the Bill which would provide a referendum on the terms, or no deal, with the option to Remain. You may also wish to make common cause with Nicola Sturgeon so that she takes the same approach with Scottish MPs.

 

Yours sincerely

Nicholas Hopkinson

Chair, London4Europe

 

London4Europe is the London section of the non-party European Movement UK 

Website:     http://london4europe.co.uk

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Strange Times

Strange Times

It is extraordinary that a horrific sex scandal in distant Hollywood could perhaps have a much greater impact on the nature of Britain’s future relationship with other European countries than the actions taken by the current British government in their Brexit negotiations.

The revelations about Mr. Weinstein’s alleged predatorial actions towards people who depended on him for their career advancement have emboldened people from outside the world of show-biz who have also faced unwanted sexual attention or harassment to become bolder in denouncing the perpetrators. While this new bravery seems to be bound to surface in many walks of life in the UK, it has taken hold so far most visibly in and around Parliament. Already, the consequences have been far-reaching, with several MPs and ministers resigning or being suspended.

There is a high probability that many more heads will roll in the coming months. Even if, as seems probable, only a small minority of MPs is involved, this could still have very far-reaching political consequences. The government’s credibility, already low, seems bound to sink further, and it would not be surprising if it soon found itself without a majority. The resulting general election would almost certainly usher in a Labour-led government, which would conduct Brexit negotiations in a very different tone, possibly leading eventually to a decision that it would be in the UK’s national interest to remain as an influential member of the EU.

The immediate focus of public attention will be on the individuals accused of misdemeanours and their fate as well as on the measures taken to protect vulnerable people in future. However, the emerging scandal is the product of a cultural environment in Westminster which erodes MPs’ commitment to the standards of integrity that we – perhaps naively – expect politicians to uphold.  It seems to be a natural sequence in a different garb to the “expenses scandal” that emerged in 2009, showing how many seemingly responsible MPs, routinely claimed – and received – allowances for ineligible expenses. This time, however, it is likely to be a prelude to a probe into other aspects of British politicians’ integrity.

My wife has always believed that people who become doctors do so because they want people to be healthier. She also thinks that women and men who enter politics are driven by their desire to create a better nation. Unfortunately, though many doctors and MPs are driven by altruism, this is far from the case for all!

The problem with the current events – and with the earlier MPs’ expenses scandal – is that, though they stem from the improper behaviour of errant individuals, they have the effect of eroding our overall trust in the institutions – whether cabinet, parliament or local councils – in which politicians work on our behalf. We have to ask ourselves whether – as in the Weinstein case – if it is common knowledge throughout the institutions that such offences are quite frequent, why the powers-that-be have not taken timely action to clean the system up. It seems easier for our politicians to throw mud at the “bureaucrats in Brussels” and to blame them for our problems than to admit that much is wrong within their own institutional culture, and to pluck up the courage to address it.

Some anomalies in the political arena are at last receiving belated attention. Formal enquiries are starting on how foreign governments, notably Russia, might have influenced the outcome of the EU referendum. An in-depth examination is also going ahead on possible illegal contributions to campaign expenditures, which, in turn, could have had a decisive impact on the referendum result.

Surely, however, it would be opportune to use the present occasion to address other breaches of integrity in the political world so as to bolster lagging public confidence in our democratic institutions. Some of us have felt deeply disturbed by what appear to be behavioural shifts in the manner of politics that have occurred in the last few years and which, if not curbed in future, will not only further diminish our trust in politicians but also tarnish Britain’s reputation as a fair and tolerant nation, damaging our international standing.

The first and most subtle and sensitive change is in the shaping of attitudes towards foreigners living in Britain. It was necessary for migration issues to loom high in the debate on Britain’s future relationship with Europe, but an unfortunate side-effect is that many immigrants reportedly feel less welcome than before. It may be that British people are simply displaying their true colours, but it would seem that some politicians, aided and abetted by the press, have taken advantage of the situation to amplify the national xenophobic discourse. Around the time of the referendum there was a sharp rise in reported hate crimes in the UK. The leaders of the major political parties need to deal with all individual instances of xenophobic behaviour amongst their members with the same firmness that they are now applying to sexual offenders. Hopefully ministers will also ensure that, in their dealings with foreign residents, their departments act fairly and correctly, fully respecting their rights.

Secondly, it seems wrong that campaigners who have deliberately and collectively lied in order to influence voter behaviour should not be sanctioned for this. Even now, we are seeing a variant of the “big red bus” story in the persistent attempts by the same people, now in government, to conceal from parliament and the general public relevant information on the impacts of various Brexit scenarios on 58 different sectors of the economy.

Thirdly, there is growing disquiet over the possible abuse of social media and artificial intelligence in exerting disproportionate influence on voter behaviour: there is a need to explore the possible requirement for new guidelines on the use of IT in elections and to continually update these in line with emerging technologies.

Fourthly, one feels bound to question the morality of the use of public fiscal resources by a political party to buy the allegiance of another party so that it can achieve and retain a parliamentary majority. While this may now be technically legal, it makes a mockery of the concept that alliances between different parties should be voluntary and based on shared values.  It would be difficult for the present government to address this issue, but, should it fall, its successor should immediately legislate for an end to this dubious practice.

Finally, perhaps the time has come for leaders of the major political parties to recognise that, while the frequent application of 3-line whips on their MPs may give an impression of party unity, it has the effect of suppressing the debate which is so necessary to arrive at truly consensual decisions. It is difficult to see how a party leader can legitimately claim to be championing “the will of the people” while preventing MPs from responding to their own constituents’ positions on the issues under discussion. And, of course, it places concerned MPs in an extreme integrity dilemma in which they have to choose between loyalty to their party or to the people who elected them.

The danger is that hints of threats to their political careers will induce them to act against their better judgment in resolving this dilemma. Cameron, however, gave his party members the freedom to follow their own beliefs in the referendum campaign. In contrast to his liberal approach Tory MPs are now constrained to toe a line towards Brexit implementation that is dictated by the right wing of the party whose members, in their fanaticism, are prone to bully those who dare to question their stance.

Wouldn’t it be very interesting to learn how, if left to their own devices, MPs of all parties would now vote on whether Britain should leave or remain within Europe?

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