Cabinet in Crisis

Cabinet in Crisis

Articles, Current Affairs

Theresa May’s conservative government has faced a turbulent two weeks in a series of cabinet resignations that some describe as the cracks in the country’s leadership beginning to open.

Cabinet in Crisis

Priti Patel prior to her resignation – picture from Evening Standard

The saga of bad news for the cabinet began on the 27th October when the Sun reported a WhatsApp group used by tory researchers to warn each other about ‘sex pest’ MPs. In the midst of the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood people were becoming increasingly wary of elitist men taking advantage of their position in society to abuse people without the social platform to stand up to them – this made the public very suspicious and frightened at the concept of these sorts of predators within our government. On the 29th October the floodgates opened as Guido Fawkes published a spreadsheet (with names redacted) of the 36 tory MPs being warned against on the WhatsApp group. The spreadsheet featured such allegations as ‘handsy in taxis’, ‘inappropriate with male researchers’ and ‘paid a female to be quiet’. The impact of this scandal on youth in politics is vast as it begs the question: How can young people safely work in Westminster when it is populated by so many dangerous, sexually exploitative individuals?

It was not long before allegations of sexual misconduct caught up with a member of the cabinet. On the 31st October the front page of the Sun read: FALLON: I FELT RADIO HOST’S KNEE. This was referring to: the defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon; the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer; and an incident that occurred at a party conference dinner in 2002. Mrs Hartley-Brewer insisted that it was merely a ‘misjudged sexual overture’ to which she had responded by saying if he tried it again she would “punch him in the face” and had since encountered no more trouble from the conservative MP. Despite Mrs Hartley-Brewer’s stance that the public should avoid a ‘witch hunt’ and that focussing on her scenario ‘demeans genuine victims of real offences’ on November 1st Michael Fallon stepped down – apparently due to these events. In his resignation letter he said his previous conduct had ‘fallen below the standards required’. Since his resignation allegations have surfaced that he may have made lewd comments to the leader of the house of commons, Andrea Leadsom and that she may have forced his resignation. If losing a cabinet minister to a scandal wasn’t bad enough the government is only further discredited by stories of sexual misconduct within the cabinet itself.

Until this point the public outrage had been primarily centred on those involved in the sex scandal, but the process of appointing a replacement Defence Secretary turned attention to the government. On the 2nd November 41-year-old Gavin Williamson, the former chief whip, was elevated to the post – a move which drew much criticism from within Westminster. Williamson was elected as an MP in 2010 and was quickly elevated to the role of the PM’s Parliamentary Private Secretary before leading Theresa May’s leadership bid and subsequently being promoted to chief whip. He supported remain in the EU referendum. Within Westminster he is seen as an effective whip, he negotiated the DUP deal and conceded few parliamentary defeats despite the government’s small working majority. However, because of Williamson’s close advisory position to May, many in the conservative party saw this as an unwise self-promotion at a time when the party direly required effective whipping. Other critics say May was even setting up the young, remain-supporting Williamson to succeed her at a time when many other factions in the party thought it was their turn to take the reins.

The very next day the pressure on the government continued, with a report from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent that International Development secretary Priti Patel had held meetings in Israel without telling the foreign office. According to the report, Mrs Patel – often described as an outspoken pro-Brexit Thatcherite – held meetings with the Israeli prime minister and deputy prime minister, amongst others, suggesting that the Department for International Development would allocate funds to the controversial field hospitals in the annexed Golan Heights. In an interview on November 4th Patel responded that as far as she knew the foreign office had known all along about these meetings. This was flatly denied by the foreign office and on the 6th Patel issued an apology for operating without the government’s consent. Despite this, on November 8th Mrs May recalled the cabinet minister from her holiday in Kenya and in the evening she resigned citing a ‘breach of ministerial conduct’. The seemingly forced resignation sparked outrage within the conservative party’s right-wing who felt Mrs Patel had been unfairly targeted because of her views and that remainer May was forcing her out. In response to this pressure Mrs May appointed another pro-Brexit MP to replace her – the former Minister of State for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt.

It is clear to see that these resignations have brought to the surface the tension between the Brexiteer and remainer factions in the conservative party. The appointment of a remainer MP and subsequent forced resignation of a Brexiteer MP by a remainer PM have the party’s right wing up in arms. This at a time of budgets, Brexit negotiations and diplomatic gaffes by the most senior Brexiteer in the government may spell a serious problem for the May government.

By George Weir

Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Articles, Current Affairs

The recent Hollywood scandals prompted a wave of revelations within our own government here in the UK with regards to sexual misconduct. In this article, Katie condemns not only those who have taken advantage of their power for their own sexual gratification, but also those who have allowed it to happen, advocating for change in a system that allows acts such as these to be dismissed or simply go unnoticed.

Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Michael Fallon – picture from Business Insider UK

Innocent until proven guilty is an essential corner stone of British democracy and judiciary. Or is it? In recent weeks as allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape have been mounting and the number of men in the public eye whose reputation remains unscathed is rapidly falling: the British public have become the jury that never acquits. Some people find this unforgiving climate suffocating and think the limited room for ‘mistakes’ or ‘misunderstandings’ is creating a spiritless and more politically correct society. On the other hand, many people feel that this has been a long time coming and that to ignore the glaring facts and do nothing now would be a most abhorrent of crimes. It can not be disputed that this is only the beginning of what is a watershed moment for institutional sexism and sexual misconduct, and that unfortunately we have only reached the tip of what is sure to be a very grimy iceberg.

Whilst accusations against American celebrities Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and even Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick have been dominating the international headlines, it is the allegations made against British MPs that will have much greater significance for the British public. The most high-profile of such allegations are those made against Conservative Ex Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, who has admitted to repeatedly touching the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee at a conference dinner. There are other allegations made against Fallon and the Observer even claims that No.10 have been compiling a list of these for some time, suggesting that there could be much more serious accusations still to be revealed. Fallon accepts that in the past he has ‘behaved inappropriately’, though many people have been questioning whether such behaviour is really ancient history.

Alongside accusations against Michael Fallon, there has been another high-profile incident of sexual harassment claims. This is less due to the seniority of the politician involved but more because of his response to the allegations. Carl Sargeant was a Welsh Labour AM who was informed of allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct made against him and subsequently fired from the Welsh Labour Party on the 3rd of November. Four days later he committed suicide. The specifics of the allegations are still unknown and there have been many questions raised regarding the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones’s handling of the situation. This raises another topical issue surrounding what responsibilities organisations should take for the actions of their employees and highlights a reason why so often allegations are swept under the carpet, because those in charge fear repercussions for their own careers. In addition, within organisations it is also common for those who have been sexually assaulted not to report it because they are afraid of the impact it will have on their current jobs and careers. This is undoubtedly not the way things should be. Silence abut sexual harassment and abuse is never the answer and the British public should wait for facts before accusing any whistle-blowers of falsification and organisations should undoubtedly never threaten the jobs of anyone making allegations.

Aside from these better-known cases there are currently seven Conservative MPs and four Labour MPs who been accused of sexual misconduct and will therefore be some of the many MPs under investigation by the new independent body. This body has been set up in an attempt to ‘drain the swamp’ that is the British Parliament in 2017 and therefore it is vital that this body remains impartial. As a result, it can not allow politically motivated corruption to infiltrate any of its members and meanwhile it must swiftly investigate allegations and dismiss any MPs necessary. However, an independent body can only go so far and cooperation from MPs and others involved in government is essential if the investigation is going to be success.

Furthermore, outside the grounds of Westminster it is vital that people become engaged with this pertinent issue. We must not allow ourselves to become victim blamers who can not accept the gravity and importance of allegations, and we certainly must not try to quell the voices of the brave women and men who are standing up. The courage that this takes should never be underplayed, as a society where the person who has violated you appears so powerful and well connected is a very difficult society in which to come forward. We must show people that their experiences will never be ignored and that this is a country that listens to those who are most vulnerable and takes times to give them the respect that they deserve. Unfortunately, sexual harassment, assault and rape are globally significant issues, but alongside this they are national issues and it is becoming increasingly apparent that these are your and my issues too, We have a duty to disinfect the grimy iceberg of Westminster.

By Katie Wharton

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Current Affairs, Uncategorized

Brexit has always divided opinion, but now it looks as though it will be responsible for dividing Ireland in a more literal sense. In this article, Jess explains how leaving the European Union presents a huge dilemma with regards to the Irish border, the only land border that will exist between us and the EU. 

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Irish Border – picture from The Sun

The Irish issue was one of the three main divorce issues that need to be settled in the first phase of talks, and yet it had taken a back seat in recent months, as the UK was arguing that it would be easier to find an agreement on the border issue once the future trading relationship was clear. But Ireland has refused to be ignored any longer. Post Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will become the only land border between Britain and the European Union, which hence begs the consideration of necessary passport and customs checks as well as tariffs. With Ireland holding as strong as ever, there is increasing concern regarding how Brexit negotiations can be continued without first considering the Irish question. Ireland grows in prevalence each day, especially given the newly formed coalition with the DUP, a controversial Northern Irish party.

In the Good Friday Agreement of 1999 between Britain and Ireland, Irish borders became ‘invisible’. The army checkpoints, security barriers and observation posts which were symptomatic of the discord between the two countries are now long gone and the only clue available of the change of jurisdiction is in the form of road side speed-limit signs. The European Union, Britain and Ireland all wish for the borders to remain as they are presently. However, that expectation is looking unrealistic given that under EU law customs checks are required.

If such customs checks are implemented, the economic ramifications would be substantial. Given that over 13,000 commercial vehicles cross the invisible border daily with freight ranging from meat to dairy to Guinness all of which is packaged in the Republic and then returned to Northern Ireland for export to the UK, if customs checks were executed the efficiency of the system would be vastly reduced. This begs the question of whether or not such trade deals would continue between the Republic and Northern Ireland as the economic benefits would be reduced.

For the Republic, the only solution they see is for the UK to remain in the Customs Union, which is a principal component of the EU, placing no tariffs on goods within the customs area and imposes a common external tariff on those goods entering the union. For the UK however, this is not a possibility. In order for the UK to enter the World Trade scene they must leave to begin levying other deals, which for Prime Minister May is an important part of the Brexit narrative.

Without a solution to satisfy all, will Irish borders be a battle won for the EU to the detriment of the UK? Following the most recent discussions, an ultimatum was presented to PM May, giving her until December to come up with a British plan to be negotiated further. Until then however, the trade negotiations hang in the balance awaiting the verdict and decision on how customs law will progress after the divorce.

By Jess Nield