The Conservative Party Conference 2018

The Conservative Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

Theresa May swapped her position as Prime Minister for Dancing Queen at her speech to round off the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday. To applause and cheers, the Prime Minister launched into her speech – marking the end of the four day conference which began on Sunday 30th September. The Conference will surely remain in the minds of many members of the Party and of the political community long after its finish. In and amongst all of the conflict regarding Brexit, significant reforms were announced, some of which were potent in May’s speech on the final day.

The Conservative Party Conference 2018

Sunday opened to anger concerning security matters – the Conservative Party Conference (CPC) app had a security glitch which allowed members to access the accounts of their fellows with only their email address. Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party Chairman, was subjected to this anger,at the ‘Challenge the Chairman’ event on the afternoon of the opening day. Other speakers included the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, who announced reforms such as pension scheme changes to former service personnel which fell onto welcoming ears in the conference hall. However, Brexit was never far away, and this dominated the discussion both within the conference and the media covering it.

Monday saw the development of an insult to May,from the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson through the release of an image of Johnson surrounded by what appeared to be wheat (although this was later identified as grass). This nod to the remarks of the PM when questioned as to her naughtiest activities as a child was interpreted by many to be an attack on the Prime Minister, which could forewarn a leadership bid, and which the Chancellor Philip Hammond rebuked with his statement that ‘Johnson will never be PM’. Other than the bad behaviour in fields, Monday saw the Defence Secretary refuse to apologise for his statement to Russia that she should ‘shut up and go away’ – with the consolation that the Defence Secretary had merely been acting in line with his nature. Hammonds’ Speech on Monday was the most significant event of the day with the Chancellor pushing a ‘pro-Chequers’ agenda, although with a very remain emphasis. Hammond emphasized the fact that Europe remained the geographical neighbours of the UK, and that trade links were vital to ensure that British business was able to survive post-Brexit. “Europe remains, by far, our biggest market. And after 45 years of membership, Britain’s economy has shaped itself around that fact” conveyed the Chancellor to the effect as highlighted above. Hammond marked himself out as a member of the Chequers loyalist movement during his speech and pledged his support to the Prime Minister. In terms of economic planning Hammond stated that he was to continue the period of austerity to ‘maintain fiscal firepower’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tuesday saw one of the most contentious events of the conference, a speech given by Boris Johnson. The day opened with Theresa May undermining the statements of the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he referred to the EU in terms of the former Soviet Union. May stated that this was an inappropriate manner for the EU to be thought of amidst of wide-ranging anger from EU diplomats, such as Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council. Prior to the speech given by Johnson, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid gave his speech in the Main Hall, whereby he stated that he was considering the capping of low-skilled workers in favour of higher-skilled professions. Javid stated that he was ‘optimistic’ when challenged by a journalist, the fact that Javid’s father, an immigrant from Pakistan, would have been denied entry to the nation under the regime he had proposed. The Confederation for British Industry (CBI) responded to with “The Minister’s proposals for a new system have taken a wrong turn. By dismissing the importance of low-skilled workers to the UK economy, the government risks harming businesses and living standards now and in the future”. At lunchtime, Boris Johnson walked onto the stage of Hall One. He dispelled any rumours of a leadership bid, referring to Hammond’s remark that he would never be leader as the ‘only true prediction the Treasury has ever made’. Johnson then continued to lay out what many thought of as a manifesto bid- citing the importance of the free market, and gaining applause with his praise of the economic theories of Thatcher which may indicate that his former remark was not entirely true. On Brexit, Johnson delivered a similar rhetoric as before – the idea of Chucking Chequers, and lobbying for the Canada +++ deal; which he had contested in previous Telegraph articles. Various political commentators, such as the Brexit-supporting Iain Dale, stated that there was ‘nothing new’ in what Johnson had to say.

Wednesday was the final day of the speech, and saw May give her final speech to conference. Prior to her entrance, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC was employed as hype-man, a role which he performed spectacularly in the eyes of many. May entered the stage at lunchtime, to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ – a bit of a surprise to say the least. After some quips concerning letters falling off of walls and coughing – a nod to the previous Party Conference in 2017, May launched into her speech. May started with a call for unity and for calm in the political sphere, citing the abuse of Diane Abbott as an example of political emotion taken too far. This was seen by many as an olive branch to the Labour Party to support Chequers in any future parliamentary vote; to bolster the Tory line in the event of defectors on the Brexit wing of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, although was angrily responded to by Abbott, who stated that the Conservatives had been the instigators of much of the insult levied against her. May continued on her defence that her Chequers deal was appropriate to avoid hard borders between Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, in addition to the fact that this enabled the retention of parliamentary sovereignty, and frictionless trade – delivering on the result of the referendum, the lines which she had boasted since the deal was formed in July. Besides the usual defence of Chequers, May announced some significant changes in policy. The ending of the cap on council borrowing for a housing budget, for instance; was welcomed by the Local Government Association as ‘fantastic’; in addition to the fact that May announced that the ‘end of austerity is in sight’ – although this was in contrast somewhat to the words of the Chancellor on Monday. May ended her speech with triumph, when joined by her husband, Philip May.

Conclusion and overall interpretations:

Overall, the Conservative Party conference was the battleground over Brexit, between Boris Johnson, and the acolytes of the ERG, and those who supported Chequers. This battle was decidedly won by May, who dominated headlines with her speech, not least due to the dancing performed at the beginning – which pushed Johnson from the public eye, a key victory for May in the battle for the hearts and minds of MPs, and Tory members. May was roundly congratulated for her speech, as effective and inspiring, which is a crucial conclusion for the Prime Minister. Other than this conflict, the Conference was as to be expected, policy announcements, defences of statements made and a tightened post-Brexit immigration policy. Other policy proposals such as the end of caps on borrowing have incensed many to greater levels of support for the Party, and ensured that Brexit, for once, was not the headline act at the Conference. This has not saved the PM however – rhetoric only goes so far in such a contentious matter, and the real crunch for May will be when parliament votes on the Final Brexit Deal, when May returns for the earmarked Summit with other EU leaders later this year, although the Conference and the support of her cabinet in the public eye, has certainly gained her time. I can’t stop humming ABBA now either.

Oliver Bramley 

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

Articles, Events

On the 5th of October 1968, a conflict known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland, resulting in 30 years of violence between Irish Republicans, Ulster Loyalists and state security forces. 3532 people were killed in Northern Ireland as well as in incidents affecting the Republic of Ireland and England. At the heart of this conflict was the constitutional status of 6 Ulster counties that were under United Kingdom sovereignty, but in the early days of sectarian violence, civil rights and an end to discrimination against the Catholic minority of the North were more prominent issues.

Fifty Years of the Northern Ireland Troubles

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – APRIL 10: Former US President Bill Clinton holds (R) hands with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as they attend an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at Queens university on April 10, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on this agreement and was a major part of the 1990’s peace process. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The 1960s were a decade of great social upheaval in the western world: most notably, Martin Luther King led a civil rights movement in the USA, aimed at ensuring equal rights for black people. Inspired by these events, Catholic-Nationalist groups in Northern Ireland began planning marches to improve their political representation and access to social services. Under the banner of the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association), in August 1968, Catholics led a protest in Dungannon to oppose discrimination, gerrymandering and a housing system in County Tyrone that was unfair (famously, a single Protestant woman was allocated a house ahead of multiple Catholic families).

Two months later, the same group focussed its attentions on the unionist-sympathising Londonderry Company that developed housing policy. Though the Northern Irish government had banned their march, it went ahead in defiance on the 5th of October 1968 in the city of Derry. As their route passed through the Protestant area of Waterside, RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officers began to use batons and water cannons to disperse the protestors. A riot broke out and images of the violence were broadcast by media worldwide.

The fallout from this incident greatly destabilised the North: Prime Minister Terence O’Neill called a snap-election to fight his critics, but this caused the ruling UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) to cede ground to their rivals, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party – a party alleged to collude with the UVF and UDA loyalist paramilitary groups in later years). Eventually, O’Neill was forced to resign the following year.

Subsequent civil rights marches were met with Protestant counter-protests, leading to more riots and the first deaths of the Troubles. In 1969, the Catholic Bogside area of Derry became overrun with violence with the police unable to contain it, eventually causing Stormont to request assistance from the British Army – Operation Banner had begun and would only end in 2007, making it the longest campaign in British military history.

At first welcomed by Catholics, the Army soon came to be seen as biased towards Protestant Loyalists, and soldiers became victims of attacks by the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army). Tit-for-tat violence between Republicans (the IRA, INLA and IPLO) and Loyalists (the UVF, UDA, RHC, UR and LVF) consisted of assassinations, bombings and ambushes; this was further complicated by violent incidents between groups of the same ideology. Bloody Sunday, January 1972, was perhaps the most famous event in the Troubles: 14 unarmed civilians were killed by the British Army and IRA recruitment surged.

No ceasefire between the paramilitaries held until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which involved the British, Irish and Northern Ireland governments as well as the paramilitary groups. Referendums were held on a constitutional basis for the North across the island of Ireland and, excepting the DUP, every major political party was in favour of the terms.

Since 1998, dissident paramilitaries have continued to operate, though the Good Friday Agreement is widely considered to be a success of Tony Blair’s government. 1841 civilians had died before a compromise was agreed, and a violence-weary island seemed ready to decommission their weapons in favour of political negotiation.

In relation to today, the issue of the Irish border is a major obstacle to Brexit negotiations as, under the terms of the GFA, cross-border cooperation and a lack of border checks was implemented. With one country in and the other out of the EU, this arrangement is more difficult to apply though, for the purposes of peace and pragmatism, a sensible solution to this problem should be agreed.

By Matthew Audcent

SNP Conference 2018

SNP Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

For four days on the Saturday of the 7th of October, Glasgow was a brim with hustle and bustle for the annual SNP party conference. Nicola sturgeon gave a meticulously orchestrated speech, the Westminster government was heavily criticized, and praise was given to Scotland’s attempts to tackle period poverty (albeit with acknowledgment that more must be done).

SNP Conference 2018

As expected the talking point of Sturgeon’s speech was primarily on the topic of Brexit, and what it could (or could not) mean for Scotland. As previously announced by the party leader, SNP MPs would get behind a second referendum or ‘peoples vote’. Despite some of the other major parties giving a clear message that this would be a blatant disregard for democracy and that the voters of the referendum would feel betrayed.

Heavy criticism was given to The Conservatives, largely due to their ‘shambolic’ and ‘incompetent’ attempts at negotiating for a trade deal with the EU; pointing out the resignation of Brexit secretary David Davis and Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

Claiming the independence Scotland wants is the ‘very opposite of Brexit’, Nicola gave a message to the party members that although Scotland is largely ignored by the government on the issue of Brexit (The Scottish government’s compromise request to remain in the single market and its demand to have a role in negotiations both dismissed) its members must acquire patience if they want to escape ‘Westminster Control’ as it is ‘not what Scotland deserves’.

The Scottish first minister said that she was ‘more confident than ever’ that Scotland would achieve independence from the UK, but called for members to work harder at convincing no voters from the 2014 independence referendum if they were going to achieve their goal. Additionally, she stated the party must ‘wait for the fog of Brexit to clear’. It’s evident that the SNP is relying on the Brexit negotiations to take a turn for the worse to catalyse a spur of passion for an independent Scotland. In times when the other parties are facing tough publicity, SNP is using this turmoil to present an independent Scotland as a prosperous country and a ‘beacon of progressive values’

On less controversial issues, Climate Change was also on the agenda this year. With the United Nations predicting for Scotland to become one of the first Carbon-Neutral countries, The SNP was keen to take advantage of this fact to paint themselves as a more green SNP. Alongside a rather impressive pledge for a publicly-owned, not for profit energy company to be set up by 2021 (the end of the Scottish Parliamentary term). On top of that, plans for a new low-emissions zone in Glasgow were announced for the end of 2018, which received positive enthusiasm.

With teachers moving closer to strike over pay action in Scotland, John Swiney got the dominoes falling with the announcement of £20,000 bursaries to be made available for professionals in key subjects to go into teacher training. But teacher’s want more pay in Scotland, and many have criticized this as wholly insufficient.

After leaving the most recent general election with heavy losses in terms of parliamentary seats, Ms Sturgeons leadership has been called into question over the last year. But, like last year, the party leader’s speech just was the defining point of the conference by a million miles, the moment everybody was waiting for. Nicola had the audience eating out of her palm, with just enough new-policy and vision to reaffirm her as the obvious leader of the SNP. And with the recent polls showing an increase in support of the party, it’s likely many delegates would have called the conference a success.

Louie wells

Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

One hugely significant thing which happened at Plaid Cymru’s conference at the start of this month was their new leader, Adam Price, making his first major speech. Members greeted him with applause at the conference in Cardigan before he even began to speak, a clear indication that Price is already popular within the party.

 Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018

Just a week prior to the conference, on the 28th of September, Price won the leadership election. The members of Plaid Cymru are entitled to a vote on the leadership every two years, but this was the first time the previous leader, Leanne Woods, who had held her position since 2012, had been challenged. Despite the tension this could have caused, the party put up a united front: Woods attended the conference with a front row seat at the new leader’s speech, even giving a speech herself, and Price accredited and praised her. This was a nice contrast to the divisions within the Labour and Conservative parties we are so used to hearing about.

As party leader, Price’s ultimate vision for Wales is simple: make Wales a more autonomous nation. Using a phrase which echoed Barack Obama in 2008, he strove to convince his audience ‘yes, Wales can’. He called for a ‘new chapter’ in which Wales controlled itself, and made its own decisions, rather than following rules made by the centralised government at Westminster.   

Naturally, Brexit was high on the party’s agenda. Speaking passionately of the historic ties between the Welsh and the Europeans, Price described Brexit for Wales as being ‘on the Titanic, heading for an Iceberg’. His party have vowed to campaign to remain in the European Union. The party have voiced their support for a People’s Vote – a second Brexit referendum – and Price has stressed previously that he would like to see ‘Remain’ on the ballot if that’s what it came down to. The youth branch of the party (Plaid Ifanc) are also campaigning along these lines. Their campaign for votes for 16s ties into this hugely: of course, leaving the EU will have the biggest impact on young people, and for this reason, Plaid Ifanc believe that young people deserve their voices heard. Whether this will be supported by the majority of Welsh people is yet to be discovered: 52.5% of those who voted in Wales opted to leave the European Union in 2016.

Plaid Cymru have also rejected Conservative Secretary of State for Wales Alan Cairns’ plan for a ‘Western Powerhouse’ linking Newport, Cardiff and Bristol, which he said would give the Welsh economy a boost. Instead, if they get into power, Plaid Cymru aim to build their own fast, reliable and modern railway (National Western Rail Line), powered by renewable energy, stretching from Swansea to Bangor. This idea is fitting with the theme that ran throughout Price’s speech; that the Welsh people should be able to shape their country themselves. This will be their ultimate challenge.

Significantly, at the conference, Price assured party members that Plaid Cymru would call an independence referendum if they got into power. His worry is that England and Wales will be tied together indefinitely, and Wales will end up ‘at the mercy of Westminster’, especially in terms of the final Brexit deal. It is unclear at the moment how the Welsh people would feel about this. Polls over the past 5 years have shown that support for complete Welsh independence is very low; however, support for more devolved powers for the assembly is much more popular and this may be a more likely outcome.

All of these ideas are progressive and exciting for Wales, but it’s unclear if and when they will materialise. Wales has traditionally been a Labour heartland, and Welsh Labour are still the biggest party in the Welsh assembly. At the conference, Price spoke passionately about replacing the ‘hundred-year rule’ of Labour in Wales with the government of Plaid Cymru. At the moment, Plaid Cymru is the third biggest party in the Welsh Assembly, but they remain hopeful that they can take over seats in the 2021 elections. In the light of Brexit these are turbulent political days and what will happen next for Plaid Cymru, and for the youth of Wales is anybody’s guess.

Molli Tyldesley

Labour Party Conference 2018

Labour Party Conference 2018

Articles, Current Affairs, Events

 The ACC Liverpool, home to the annual Labour party conference 2018, is located near the well-known Albert dock of Liverpool. On the rather dreary, rainy and windy day of Sunday 23 September 2018, the conference opened for delegates and members of the Labour party across the world. The first day hosted a Youth day for Young Labour members, a growing phenomenon for the party.

Labour Party Conference 2018

It can be said that the election gains made in the 2017 General Election for the Labour party occurred off the backs of young people turning out to vote – for Labour. Promises that the Labour manifesto 2017 made, such as the promise to eliminate university tuition fees, targeted young people specifically and by January 2018, party sources confirmed that the youth wing (14-26 years old) of the party had almost 100,000 members. Comparing this to the 102,000 total members of the Liberal Democrat party at the same time, Young Labour could be a party of its own right.

This Youth Day began with a speech by Jennie Formby, the General Secretary, surrounding the recent growth of the party before plunging into a panel on international human rights. Notably, Grainne Griffin, Co-Director of the Together for Yes campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland, spoke about the history of the fight to win unconditional access to abortion for all women in Ireland. Together for Yes has historically been run by younger women in particular, and the fairly recent success of the Irish referendum on abortion made it a particularly relevant issue, as well as considering that Northern Ireland is yet to legalise abortion. Previously, the numbers of Irish women flying to England for an abortion were very high, and with the Irish border being up for debate in regards to Brexit, the future of women in Northern Ireland is more uncertain than ever.

This speech was possibly most inspiring and thought-provoking in the Labour Youth day. It lacked the typical elements one finds in most speeches by politicians and other campaigners addressing young people, for example, the incessant need to emphasise how old they feel.

Ed Miliband, ex-leader of the Labour party, could be found in a fringe event debating inequality in Britain, which has stayed at a consistent high since the 1980s, and called for a more revolutionary approach to tackling inequality, including the possibility of having a 4-day working week. In a Labour conference, the opinions discussed are usually even further left-wing than shown in the public eye. The 2015 Labour manifesto under Ed Miliband was more centrist than the 2017 manifesto under Corbyn, yet Miliband himself seems to be more supportive of the current Labour politics, though he did not enact this as leader, for fear of not appealing to enough voters. The growth of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has almost entirely thrown away Blair’s New Labour stance and replaced it with a much more socialist following than it did prior to the new century, so Labour politicians are more open to veer further away from the centre now more than ever.

Of course all the real action was happening in the main hall, where delegates from all over the country were voting on party policy. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell proposed Labour’s new policy of nationalising our water system as Scotland already does, with the (however disputable) claim that it would have no extra cost. Even more significantly, Corbyn confirmed that the option of a second EU referendum cannot be ruled out by the Labour party if the members do not wish for it to be so. Many Labour members or Labour voters have been put off by Labour’s pro-Brexit policies in the 2017 manifesto and a significant proportion of the membership support a second referendum. However, this did not stop many from voting Labour as they still gained many seats in the General Election and the Liberal Democrats, the main party pioneering an anti-Brexit position, did not make significant gains. Corbyn also said that Labour would be prepared to back a deal negotiated by Theresa May if they found it suitable. As the opposition party, Labour is able to have a more comfortable position on Brexit, allowing all or most options to stay on the table as they are not having to negotiate it themselves. Brexit is the key contentious issue that is currently splitting the country, in particular the Conservative party as the pressure on Theresa May to make a deal that the majority will accept increases day-by-day. Without this pressure, Corbyn enjoys the ability of satisfying all sides of the Brexit debate by keeping all options open for the Labour party.

Overall the 2018 Labour conference served the purpose of rallying members for the possibility of another General Election which, with the current situation on Brexit, could spring on us unexpectedly. Labour is still on a winning high from gaining so many seats in 2017 and believes that the sooner another election occurs, the higher the possibility of Labour winning in the foreseeable future.

Safa Al-Azami

Liberal Democrats Party Conference

Liberal Democrats Party Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

Katie reports on some of the highlights of the Liberal Democrats Party Conference 2018.

Liberal Democrats Party Conference

Image result for lib dem party conference 2018
Vince-Cable-at-Lib-Dem-conference-in-Southport-photo-courtesy-of-John-Russell

For three days in the middle of September everyone’s favourite summer spot, Brighton, was invaded by the Liberal Democrat’s 2018 party conference. Vince Cable made a less than rousing or inspiring speech, the wish for a second referendum was heard loud and clear and sadly for the Lib Dems nothing was said that will increase their popularity amongst the electorate. Overall the conference was relatively uneventful: a lot of mud was sling at May, Corbyn and Johnson but little was established as an alternative or pointed to as the new hope for British politics. That is apart from a push for a second referendum on the terms and conditions of Brexit.

The Lib Dems’ party conference reaffirmed them as the party that intend to stand firmly against the horror and tragedy that, in their view, is going to be Brexit. Manchester Liberal Democrat Sarah Brown retorted that “The Lib Dems will stand up for our pro-European principles” and MEP Catherine Bearder said of Brexit “its crazy, its mad, it is utter lunacy”. Clearly, there is a consensus amongst the Lib Dem’s and their members that Brexit is to be obstructed, however the important question they need to address is whether this is a sentiment held across the wider electorate. The odds are seemingly stacked against them given that many of the 17.4 million people that voted Leave in 2016 have not changed their view and that some ‘remainers’, including the Labour leader and many of his MPs, fear that a People’s Vote would be a highly undemocratic move.

The most significant moments in the any party’s  conference should be the leader’s noteworthy and exciting speech. The people should be up on their feet, crying out for change, tolerance, stability, anything! Vince Cable was unable to get his audience truly interested in what he had to say. The ‘moderates’ see these are important times and that there is space for more traditional, less divisive politics but Cable is evidently not the man the people are going to get behind. His reminder that he is planning to remain at the helm until Brexit is either stopped or completed was met with a rather lacklustre and unenthusiastic response. We seem to be at a time in politics where the party leaders are not confidently supported by too many of their MPs, party members and voters and the Lib Dem’s are no exception to this new rule.

Even so, at this politically unusual time the Liberal Democrat’s could really be making strides. The Conservative Party is in meltdown around Brexit negotiation, party infighting, resignation of prominent cabinet ministers and the opposition are failing to capitalise on it. The Lib Dems should be leap frogging over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party which has been crippled by varying ideological goals and an anti-Semitism crisis of truly shocking proportions. The two major parties are undeniably failing the British public but our trusty third party seems ineffectual and stuck, with uncharismatic leadership and a response to Brexit that many on the left and right simply can’t get behind. The Lib Dems need to get a new lease of energy, something that they truly stand for and care about rather than just being the party that rattles against Brexit or is somewhere between two parties that have rushed to the extremes. A party wont gain support by pointing out what it isn’t but by establishing loud and clear what it is.  

Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

Articles, Current Affairs, Uncategorized

Bilal explains what is currently happening with Brexit, and includes commentary on Michel Barnier’s latest statements.

Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

picture from BBC.

The European Union Customs Union is one of the key components of the EU, and has been at the centre of British politics recently as Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet struggled to develop a coherent strategy for exiting the European Union and pass two essential bills through the Commons amidst resignations and an onslaught of opposition and rebellions.

The EU Customs Union ensures there are no tariffs on trade between members of the union and requires a common external tariff to be imposed on all goods entering the union from nations that are not members of it. This means that if the EU, for example, imposes a 10% tariff on Japanese cars, the UK must do the same, and cannot negotiate its own trade agreement with Japan. In addition, the Customs Union means that all EU member states are represented by the European Commission in the World Trade Organisation.

This is different from the single market, which allows free movement of not just goods but also capital, services, and people, and involves standardising regulations to create a ‘level playing field’ for firms within the EU.
Given that about 43% of UK exports go to the EU, replacing the Customs Union with some sort of trade deal is a crucial element of Brexit.

Initially, the Prime Minister’s Chequers Plan proposed the UK exiting both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, followed by the formation of a new ‘economic partnership’ between the EU and UK, which would include a ‘frictionless’ free trade area for goods, combined with a ‘common rulebook’ for regulations. A key proposal contained within it is that of a ‘Facilitated Customs Arrangement’ which would involve the UK charging EU Tariffs for goods intended for the EU, and UK tariffs for goods intended for the UK.

Despite the emphasis on ‘new arrangements’ and allowing UK to negotiate its own separate trade deals with non-EU nations, it appeared to preserve much of the status quo with Europe and was seen as a ‘soft Brexit’ by many Eurosceptic Tories.

It prompted the resignation of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, who stated that he could not support a plan he did not believe in.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also resigned, stating in his resignation letter that this proposal was giving up too much and that the UK was “headed for the status of colony”. He ended with the claim that Europe is “a continent which we will never leave”, emphasizing the idea that the Chequers proposal represents a capitulation to Europe rather than an exit, as well as the fact that Boris Johnson doesn’t understand how Geography works.

Based on the Chequers plan, a 98-page white paper entitled “the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union” was released by the government. The paper seemed to be more focused on being palatable to the EU, and echoed much of the language used by European officials. For example, it repeatedly mentions ‘a balance of rights and obligations’, and gives assurances on nearly every page that the UK will take its obligations with regards to the proposed economic partnership with the EU seriously. This suggests that the Prime Minister considers preventing a ‘no deal’ scenario to be a high priority.

In order for any such plan to be implemented, a Trade Bill and Customs Bill, officially known as the ‘Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill’, need to be passed by Parliament, which would lay the foundation for further changes.
The ‘hard Brexit’ wing of the Conservative party, the European Research Group (ERG) currently led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, pressurised the Government into accepting four amendments to the bill which state that:

– The UK cannot collect Tariffs on behalf of the EU unless there is a reciprocal arrangement;
– A customs border in the Irish sea would be illegal;
– The UK would require a separate VAT system from the EU;
– The Government would have to pass legislation through Parliament if it wanted to remain in a customs union with the EU.

The Government insists that these amendments do not contradict the Chequers plan, while the ERG apparently believe that the amendments will cause the EU to reject the Chequers proposal, leading to a hard, no-deal Brexit.
This was followed by backlash on part of the pro-EU wing of the Conservative party, culminating in an attempt to pass an amendment that would have meant that the UK would join a customs union (not the EU Customs Union, but one similar to Turkey’s arrangement with the EU) if a free trade area agreement hadn’t been reached by January 2019. It failed by 307 to 301 votes. However, the Government did face defeat as an amendment that states the UK must remain part of the European Medicines Agency passed.

Both bills have now passed through their third readings in the Commons, and their first readings in the Lords – the next stage will be their second readings in the Lords, which will take place in September.

Despite all the issues and objections that have been raised against the Government’s proposal, it at least deserves credit for being pragmatic in recognising the need for diplomatically addressing the EU’s arguments and concerns if a deal is to be reached. Indeed, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it opened “the way to a constructive discussion”, despite questioning and criticising elements of the plan.

The fact that Barnier did not reject the plan is significant, as it may indicate the ERG’s bid for a no-deal Brexit has failed. The extent to which he ‘dissected’ or ‘dismantled’ it has been exaggerated in recent media reports. However, the Government clearly still has a lot of work left to do, and it is unclear to what extent the ERG’s four amendments will undermine it in the future.

By Bilal Asghar

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Katie looks at the significance of the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, and whether it is enough.

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

picture from Irish Mirror.

On the 25th of May a historic referendum on abortion laws took place in Ireland in which 66.4% of votes were made in favour of legalising abortion. This was a truly landmark decision for a nation in which four out of five people identify as Catholic, a region that stipulates that life begins at the moment of conception and therefore abortion is a kin to murder. The vote demonstrates that the tide has turned in the Republic of Ireland, more women than ever recognise their right to determine the fate of their body and more men than ever recognise the necessity for female choice. But what will this referendum really lead to, how will it impact the lives of Irish women for generations and will it change the nation for good?

To really understand the origins of the debate on abortion one must look back over two thousand years, to Jeremiah 1.5 in which it is revealed the Lord said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. This line from the Bible has been used by Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, people from all denominations of Christianity, to argue that we were mapped out by God before our conception, that any conception is a part of God’s plan and therefore to terminate any pregnancy is to go against the will of God. People have come to conclude that from conception, even from your conception in the eyes of God, one is a life and has the same value as all life outside the womb. It is on this fundamental point that those who have spent years campaigning for repealing of Ireland’s eighth amendment would disagree. Pro choice activists in Ireland and across the globe are not all, though some will be, claiming that the foetus is of no value but believe that the woman’s right to determine what happens to her body is of superior worth. This means that while one woman is free to decide that her life is such that she wants a baby and can take care of one, the woman standing next to her in a queue or at a pro choice rally can choose for herself what suits her, if she is too young, already has too many children, financially unstable or simply does not want to be a mother then she can make that choice, for her own body.

After the referendum women in Ireland are now promised they will have that choice. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has stated that new legislation will be introduced by the end of this year and will permit abortions up to the 12 week mark and up to 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances. While 12 weeks may seem an early stage in a pregnancy 79% of abortions in England and Wales take place in the first 10 weeks. As a result, statistically speaking, this change to Ireland’s laws will have a huge impact on Ireland’s women and now the vast majority seeking abortions will be able to do so within their own country’s health system. This will dramatically reduced the numbers of women, which often exceed 6,500 per year, secretly travelling to the UK to receive an abortion, completely alone and without support. These women will now be able to share their story more freely and seek support from those around them, so that women in the future will be less riddled by the shame and ignominy that has always come with abortion in Ireland. Women in Ireland are now not only free to make choices for their own bodies but free from the pain of stigma and judgment.

However, there are limits to the impact this law change will have. The most important is that women who have no idea they are pregnant, who may not realise until much later than 12 weeks, will not be able to access abortions unless there are mitigating circumstances. In England and Wales the law is different as abortion is allowed up until 24 weeks as this is recognised as the point of liability, after which the woman no longer has the power to make choices for the baby because it would be a viable life separate from her. As a result some women, when their pregnancy is between 12 and 24 weeks, may still travel to the UK to seek an abortion. However, given that only 10% of abortions take place after the 13 week stage far fewer woman will be forced to make this journey than currently are. In addition, we must remember that this it is not a ‘cure all’ result, women in Ireland will likely have to defend their right to choice for decades to come as the pendulum of politics will mean that one day this right may be threatened. However today, for the majority of women, the referendum result will have a transformative impact. Women’s issues are firmly on the political agenda in the Republic of Ireland and this result is a fantastic leap in the right direction. Next stop, change in the North!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

Articles, Current Affairs

Alice explains some of the causes and consequences of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ resignation.

Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

picture from Sky News.

On Sunday night, David Davis threw a proverbial grenade into the Conservative party with the announcement of his resignation, and not even 24 hours later, Boris Johnson followed suit. The mass exodus of minister resignations comes as a response to the Brexit plan agreed at Chequers on Friday, which Boris Johnson tactfully stated that trying to defend would be like ‘polishing a turd’. So how could the plan possibly have elicited such a momentous reaction? Put short, the consensus among many Brexiteer Tory MPs is that the plan presented a Brexit that was unacceptably ‘soft’. Their primary objection was the proposal to ‘maintain a common rulebook’ governing goods in the UK and EU, with David Davis telling LBC that he could not be, ‘the champion of a policy (he) didn’t believe in’. The agreement at Chequers was the closest the Conservative party have come to delivering a clear, united proposal for leaving the EU, but in light of recent events, not only does this progress hang in the balance, but so does the fate of Prime Minister May.

The recent resignations have sparked rampant speculation over the possibility of a vote of no confidence against Theresa May – but how likely is this? While some Eurosceptic MPs have allegedly already begun submitting letters of no confidence to Graham Brady, it will take 48 Tory MPs submitting letters to trigger a leadership contest. The resignation of two leading Brexiteers could draw the support of Eurosceptic Tory MPs further away from May, and Davis’ resignation in particular is likely to inspire fear that the clean break they trusted him to deliver will be replaced by a softer Brexit. This could trigger more Eurosceptics within the party to vote no confidence, in an attempt to redirect the course of our divorce deal with a more pro-Brexit Prime Minister.

However, it would be unwise to begin digging May’s grave just yet. The most obvious obstacle to a vote of no confidence is the fact that there is no clear successor to May, as the divisions within the party mean that it is more difficult to determine a candidate with majority support. Not only that, but the split also makes the job of Prime Minister wholly undesirable; no matter what stance on Brexit one chooses to pursue, one is always going to have a large part of their own party working against them. Thus, Brexiteer MPs are probably aware that even if a leadership contest were triggered, it is likely May would win, as there would probably not be enough support behind one alternative candidate to oust her, and she still has considerable support within the party.

Considering this, at the moment it would be more in the interest of the Eurosceptic faction of the party to hold off on writing their letters of no confidence, and instead turn their attention to Davis’ replacement Dominic Raab, ensuring he sticks to carrying out the ‘full fat Brexit’ he told one interviewer he was in favour of. As long as there is the hope that Raab may do what Davis could not, and there remains no strong alternative candidate for a leadership contest, we can perhaps tentatively conclude that the Prime Minister may be spared from a vote of no confidence – for now.

By Alice Kenny

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Articles, Opinion

Eloise sheds light on proposed changes to Manchester’s Metrolink and discusses how it could affect young people.

Fairer Fares for Manchester Metrolink?

Travel for Greater Manchester are proposing a new ‘four-zone’ based ticketing system, supposedly reducing the number of pricing options from over 8,500 to just 10 zone-based fares in order to create a “system that is simple, convenient and good value for money”. The change could potentially be introduced in early 2019, on approval from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

A public listening exercise is currently taking place, involving a questionnaire exploring public opinions of the proposed system. However, this survey, whilst asking for age during the completion does not mention the impact of this change on the young people of Greater Manchester – an issue which needs serious attention.

Currently, 16-18-year-olds of Manchester are faced with a series of confusing and nonsensical options regarding tram fares. For 16-year-olds, they are only counted within the 11-16 age bracket until the 31st August after they turn 16 – leaving many 16-year olds outside of this age bracket. From then on, 16 and 17-year-olds are no longer counted as ‘children’ despite the legality that disputes this. The introduction of the ‘Get me there’ card was meant to simplify this, with talks of concessionary rates for students. However, this has been entirely ineffective – there are no clear options to select a concessionary or ‘half-price’ option at the stations, and the whole concept has been both poorly advertised and poorly delivered.

16-18-year olds are then forced to paying the full adult fare – despite their compulsory attendance of full-time education severely limiting their income – if any at all. To add insult to injury, many young people use the Metrolink to travel to their place of education – often suddenly having to double this fee to continue making the same journey that had done since the age of 11 – a fare that seems incredibly unjust. This sense of injustice is only heightened when compared to the London system, with Andy Burnham acknowledging just how much further “ahead” they are.

London’s system for under 18s is clear and logical. 5-10-year-olds travel free on all Transport for London (TfL) and most National Rail services in London. 11-15-year-olds can travel free on buses and trams, with half-price on all other TfL services and most National Rail services in London. 16 and 17-year-olds can travel at half-price on all TfL services and most National Rail services in London. If they are residents of London they may also be eligible for free bus and tram travel – and all of these are linked by one card. This highlights the shambolically disjointed nature of Manchester’s trams, buses and rail (which is another issue entirely), as well as the inevitable strain of transport costs that are evidently avoidable.

It seems that once again, Manchester has drawn the short straw. Amongst the current northern rail crisis, it has become apparent that northern transport is not up to an appropriate standard – with young people bearing the brunt of this. A zonal system for trams would undoubtedly make an improvement – major cities all over the world follow this system – but we must not let young people be forgotten whilst making this change. I urge you to make your voice heard by highlighting the necessity of considering student tram pricing through the additional comments section of the following survey.

Feedback closes midnight Sunday 17th June 2018.
Metrolink zonal fares survey

By Eloise Hall