Tag Archives: commentary

It’s contempt, then: Government failure to provide legal advice on Brexit to Parliament triggers proceedings

Geoffrey Cox: The Attorney General deliberately refused to provide Parliament with the documents it had demanded, making it impossible to judge either that advice or Theresa May’s Brexit agreement.

The Conservative government is facing contempt of Parliament proceedings after publishing a 43-page – redacted – summary of the legal advice provided to it about its Brexit agreement with the EU, rather than providing all the advice it was given to MPs.

As the Humble Motion approved by Parliament unanimously on November 13 was for the full advice and not a summary that has been edited to remove anything critical of the government, Mrs May’s administration may face contempt proceedings as early as this evening (December 3).

There was a possibility that the Tories could fend off such proceedings, if Attorney General Geoffrey Cox were to announce a u-turn by the government during his oral statement on the matter this afternoon.

But he did not.

Instead, he simply commended his 43-page summary – he called it a “commentary” – to the Commons.

He said: “The matters of law can only inform the political decision” and that, in the time available “it is impossible to cover each and every matter of law that arises over 585 pages” of the withdrawal agreement.

It seems to This Writer that if the government’s top lawyer hasn’t had time to consider all the implications of an international agreement of such seismic importance as this, he should have demanded an extension until he had been able to do the job properly. Anything else is incompetence and he admitted as much at around 4.30pm today.

Failure to bring the full legal advice before Parliament is therefore also failure to show what information was not provided to the Tory government. Without that, it would be impossible for Parliament to support Mrs May’s deal.

Without it, the advice provided on the customs union, the Northern Ireland border backstop, Gibraltar or whatever else is meaningless and Labour is right to launch contempt proceedings.

Mr Cox said MPs only had to ask him for information and they would receive it – but this assumes that he is in possession of such information and he had already admitted that he had not had time to consider all the angles.

Not only is the government failing in its duty to agree a reasonable deal that is the best possible for the United Kingdom, it is holding Parliament in contempt by refusing to allow other MPs the means to analyse the deal that has been agreed – alongside the legal advice provided by Mr Cox – and identify failings that must be corrected for the protection of us all.

We should be grateful to Mr Cox for making it clear that Mrs May’s Brexit agreement must not be passed by Parliament under any circumstance.

But his behaviour towards MPs is utterly unacceptable and the government must be held to account for it.

Contempt of Parliament should not be a trivial offence. If it is proved, then the guilty party could face expulsion from the House of Commons. So it will be interesting to see who will face Labour’s proceedings.

Mr Cox would seem the obvious target – but he has been constrained by the choices of others. Most notable among these is Theresa May, who has recklessly pushed her lumbering, clumsy Brexit juggernaut through Parliament and the EU at breakneck speed.

Shadow Solicitor-General Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Attorney General’s statement was entirely unacceptable.

He said there were differences between the legal positions leaked to the press over the weekend – and why did that happen? – and the political decisions of which Mr Cox spoke.

And he pointed out that the Humble Motion passed on November 13 demanded the final legal advice to cabinet, not a commentary.

“Isn’t the reality of the situation that the government does not want MPs to see the full advice for fear of the political consequences?” he asked.

That certainly seems to be the case.

Not only has Mrs May’s government deliberately committed a serious Parliamentary offence; it has torpedoed its own deal.

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New play explores what makes us ‘Switch’ against those who exploit us

The cast of Switch. No, that is not Llandrindod Wells behind them.

Drama has huge power to prompt social change and it is astonishing that the outrages heaped on the people of the UK by the Conservatives since 2010 have not led to an enormous upsurge of social comment in the theatre.

Today I saw a new play that takes a step towards rectifying that omission.

Switch takes its title from a slang term referring to people who turn on others after suffering severe provocation. They “switch”, usually from passive tolerance to extreme violence.

The play examines how people were provoked into such violence in two historical cases: The Rebecca Riots in rural Mid Wales during the 1830s and 40s, and the Hackney riot of summer 2011.

I had to look up the Rebecca Riots. They were prompted because farmers who were suffering extreme poverty because of poor harvests were being subjected to high rents, rates, tithes and tolls, which were increased to an extorionate degree by the trusts running them – which had been created to maintain the roads but allowed them to go to ruin instead, diverting the money to other uses.

The 2011 riots are still fresh in my memory. The spark that triggered the violence was the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in London, but the city had become a tinderbox because of the grotesquely repressive decisions of the Coalition (Conservative and Liberal Democrat) government. Perhaps it is because this play is a collaboration between two youth theatre groups (Mid Powys Youth Theatre and Immediate Theatre, of Hackney) that the emphasis was placed on the closure of youth centres, cuts to EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) and rises in university tuition fees, along with the introduction of the Bedroom Tax that threatened to pitch poor families out of their homes, and unemployment following the international financial crisis of 2008 that meant people were finding it impossible to make ends meet.

One scene plays out the frustrations of young people whose youth centre had been closed without warning and who, left on the street with nowhere to go, were preyed on by police looking for easy arrests.

In both cases, the players argue, it was desperation – the sheer impossibility of a situation forced on them by an uncaring elite – that led the impoverished to violence.

And in both cases it was put down harshly. In the 1840s, the troops moved in and rioters were faced with the threat of transportation to Australia, among other harsh penalties. Seven years ago, more than 1,000 arrests were made and courts dealt out harsh punishments – one person was sentenced to 16 months in prison for stealing a single ice cream.

Did the riots lead to social change for the better? That is debatable. After Rebecca, some rent reductions were achieved and toll rates improved, but that was about it. Hackney had no discernible effect on the decisions of the government. EMA was never restored; tuition fees are still high; youth centres are still closed. The Tories would argue that employment has improved, but we all know that in-work poverty has skyrocketed because the new jobs pay starvation wages.

Rebecca is better-known as the inspiration for later Welsh protests, which raises an important question about Hackney. Are we all sitting on a time-bomb that is waiting to blow – an explosion that is only being delayed by the anaesthetic pronouncements of a complicit right-wing press that keeps telling us, in the face of the facts, that we’ve never had it so good?

Of course, the riots weren’t just about frustration with oppressive social conditions. Some people took advantage of them for their own gain and Switch does not skirt over this uncomfortable fact. The Rebecca riots petered out because groups had started masquerading as Rebecca to carry out criminal acts. And Hackney saw its fair share of looters. Switch stages a TV interview with rioters who boast about the items they lifted – even though, in real terms, the money they expect to make from them is negligible.

But the causes of a riot should not be downplayed because of opportunist criminals. They simply took their chance under cover of a genuine expression of anguish by a downtrodden peasantry who rose up – leaderless – against their oppressors.

The lack of a leader is the reason such expressions fail to yield results, in my opinion. If I had been involved in 2011, I would have wanted to cut off the ability of the police and the armed forces to react, and then I would have targeted the mechanisms of government and the headquarters of those who either supported the government in its activities or benefited from its decisions (let us not forget that the UK’s richest have seen their income multiply massively while the rest of us have suffered.

But I suppose that would mark the difference between a riot and a revolution.

Switch isn’t perfect. It doesn’t really address the difference between those with a genuine grievance and those who took advantage, and it doesn’t make a strong enough point of the fact that nothing got better after 2011.

But it is a muscular piece from a committed group of young performers, that raises serious questions and asks the audience to find their own answers.

As attempts to revive social and political commentary in drama go, it’s a good start.

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Leader debate leaves public divided

The leader debate in a nutshell [Image: Lizzie Harvey on Twitter.]

The leader debate in a nutshell [Image: Lizzie Harvey on Twitter.]

What did people want from the televised political leaders’ debate?

It’s a question that has troubled this writer ever since it ended and the reactions started coming in.

The spin doctors and the hacks in the right-wing press claimed victory for the parties they support – of course. That’s why the front pages of The Sun and the Daily Torygraph proclaimed victory for David Cameron. They had been prepared before the debate had even finished because those rags were always going to make that claim.

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A significant number came out in support of Nigel Farage – the UKIP party faithful and those who believed his anti-immigration, anti-Europe spiel. Of course, they might have felt differently, had they known he only plans to reduce immigration by around 28,000 a year, but it’s easy to deceive someone who doesn’t want to know the facts.

Extreme: The signed version of the debate provided this interpretation of a Nigel Farage comment.

Extreme: The signed version of the debate provided this interpretation of a Nigel Farage comment.

There seemed to be a swell of support for the three female leaders. A knee-jerk reaction might be to suggest that this was simply because they weren’t men; this writer does not subscribe to that view. It is far more likely that people warmed to Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and especially Nicola Sturgeon because this was their first mass exposure to the British viewing (and voting) public. They head the so-called ‘minority’ parties and are often excluded from the national conversation by reason of their size.

Not only that, but they had a message that people wanted to hear: No More Austerity. It was pleasantly surprising to see all three pounding the message home against a defensive David Cameron – and it is in this context that we should measure the public’s reaction to them. This blog has stated previously that the larger parties cannot hope to gain popular support if they are offering only what they want, rather than what the people want. Now the people have found organisations that are offering what they want. This Writer feared that they would take votes from Labour, rather than the Conservatives; now that outcome seems less likely.

Nicola Sturgeon, in particular, is to be congratulated for her performance which has eased, somewhat, This Writer’s concerns about her party gaining influence in Westminster. She came across very well and seemed to be offering an olive branch to Ed Miliband in her opening statement, which included support for at least three Labour policies. However, there remains the question of how far she may be trusted; she repeated the lie that Labour had voted to support £30 billion of Tory austerity cuts when Labour did nothing of the sort (Miliband put her straight but the accusation always receives more attention than the rebuttal). And what of the rumour that the SNP is planning a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Scotland – whether the majority of its people want it or not – after the election?

That leaves the three ‘main’ parties. Nick Clegg was a joke. Nobody agreed with Nick this time.

David Cameron also lost traction. He did manage to crowbar into the debate the messages this blog reported yesterday but nobody seemed impressed by them; Ed Miliband debunked the claims about Labour pretty sharpish and the public wanted to believe the ladies when it came to the economy. He scraped the bottom of the barrel several times – yet again quoting Liam Byrne’s ill-advised note about there being no money in 2010 as the reason austerity cuts had to happen (in fact, the UK was never in danger of bankruptcy but Cameron likes to make that claim, even though he knows better); and once more using his late son Ivan as his ‘human shield’ against attacks about the state of the NHS. The audience didn’t groan, but the country did. Asked where the £12 billion of ‘welfare’ cuts would be made, he again refused to answer, meaning the Tories are planning something extremely unpleasant for you, if they win. And – amazingly – he thinks ‘Free’ (in fact they are exorbitantly expensive) schools are a good idea!

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That leaves Ed Miliband. whose confident, fact-filled performance ensured he won the ‘snap’ poll conducted online immediately after the debate – if only by a whisker. He had plans; he described them. He apologised for the mistakes Labour has previously acknowledged; he didn’t apologise for the party’s current plans. He stared down Cameron when the Tory leader tried to accuse him of financial irresponsibility, and he had the country on his side when he did so, because Cameron’s party has doubled the national debt and failed to balance the books while inflicting a huge human cost on their fellow citizens. His narrow victory this week followed a narrow defeat last week, meaning his stature amongst the public is growing. People are starting to like this man. The more he mentions what he would do “if I am Prime Minister”, the easier it is for them to see him in that role.

So we return to the question at the top of this piece: What did people want from this debate?

Judging from the reactions as they developed, it seems people wanted something fresh and new-looking, that corresponded with their own desire – not just for an end to the oppression of the last five years, but for a reversal of it.

That’s all very well, but those aren’t the qualities that are needed to run a country successfully. A national leader needs a cool head and the stamina to see long-term matters to their conclusion, for the sake of the whole nation.

The evidence on display yesterday suggests that Ed Miliband has what it takes. Slow and steady may win the race after all.

But will the public be too dazzled by the others to realise this?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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