Dear John

It’s been a beautiful sunny week but we can’t honestly say the world of politics has been quite that tranquil. 

As ever, we’ve been cataloguing the good, the bad and the ugly things that we think you need to know to start your weekend in knowledgable style. So grab a cup of your beverage of choice and have a read of this week’s Weekend Wire. 

NI and mighty

What a difference a week makes…. Last week, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took brinkmanship to the max with overt threats to unilaterally overwrite the Northern Ireland Protocol. This week, though, she adopted an unusually conciliatory tone as she set out plans to ‘reform’ rather than overhaul it.  

Despite last week’s populist posturing, Truss’s statement on Tuesday was remarkably subdued. We learnt that legislation would be put forward in the next few weeks to implement totally ‘legal’ (but unilateral) changes to the Protocol. Truss did make clear, however, that the UK’s preferred position was to continue negotiations with the EU and reach a solution in this way. 

What exactly prompted this climb-down is unclear - though it is likely the UK Government has (finally) recognised the extreme seriousness of the situation we’re confronted with.

The more moderate language from Truss exists in parallel with the very real likelihood that Britain could end up breaking international law. While Truss insisted that any unilateral action taken on the Protocol would be ‘legal’, it’s hard to see how legal the action could be in practice if it’s taken unilaterally against the wishes of the other party to the international treaty. 

B4B makes waves

Of course, all this wrangling over the NI Protocol is classic B4B territory. We’ve long expressed concerns about the UK’s behaviour in its negotiations with Europe - so we’ve been using our expertise to the full. 

In advance of Truss’s speech, the UK Trade and Business Commission* held an
emergency session to assess the potential Northern Ireland-themed fallout. In this session, Commission Co-convenor Hilary Benn spoke with TD for Dublin Rathdown, Neale Richmond and former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary David Gauke to consider what action the Government was likely to take and how this would impact UK trade and future trade deals. 

You can watch the full session

After Truss’s speech in Parliament, several members of the Commission gave their responses to MPs in the chamber of the House of Commons, including Hilary Benn MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Layla Moran MP and Paul Blomfield MP. Caroline Lucas asked Truss why she was setting the stage for a potential trade war with Europe at a time of ‘apocalyptic’ price rises - and asked that Truss meet with the Commission to talk through the issues further. In an unlikely victory, Truss agreed to do this! We’re very excited to see that happen and can’t wait to hear what she has to say. 

Watch Caroline’s speech in Parliament

*Best for Britain acts as the secretariat for the UK Trade & Business Commission, in case we haven’t mentioned that before.

US intervention

The UK’s reckless posturing over the Protocol has already prompted international alarm. Today, a US congressional delegation will land in London for a series of weekend meetings to try to persuade the Johnson government to back off a little from the edge of this particular cliff. 

Joe Biden himself has always been proud of his ancestral connection to Ireland and has made it very clear he puts protecting the Good Friday Agreement above Brexit squabbles. We know the American delegation is meeting Liz Truss this weekend. Whether a meeting with the PM will take place is still up in the air. 

Time to collaborate

This week, Best for Britain released polling which strengthens the calls for a progressive alliance between opposition parties in order to oust this Government at the next election.

Our polling shows that if Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) stands aside for the Tories in the next elections (which it has done previously), then Labour will fall short of an overall majority. However, if Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens engage in a series of tactical stand-asides in a small number of seats, it will be possible for the three parties to form a coalition Government. 

Our ideal scenario would be one where we can bring about electoral reform - but we can’t do this without a change in Government. Our polling has solidified our position - we need to keep encouraging progressive parties to work together. They may have differences but those differences pale in comparison against the need to drive positive change for Britain.

Read more
here, and check out the Observer’s coverage of our polling here

Dover before you know it

This week saw the team at Best for Britain take a whistle-stop tour of Dover, as part of a fact-finding mission on behalf of the UK Trade and Business Commission. 

The Commission’s aim was to establish the impact of Brexit on trade at the port and find out how farms in the area had also been affected by the fallout of the Brexit deal. 

The team, along with Commissioners Hilary Benn MP and Peter Norris (Chair of Virgin Group), were made to feel very welcome, and learned a lot about the impacts affecting those on the frontline of our trading processes. A very successful trip that fortunately took place beneath sunny skies!

More to come on this trip next week so keep your eyes peeled!

Power to…Patel

In yet more unsurprising news, this week, Priti Patel has been pulled up by Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables for (another) attempted power grab

Police leaders claim Patel is seeking to consolidate her power by stealth with updates to the
Policing Protocol. These updates would lower the threshold allowing the Home Secretary to intervene in local policing issues and will increase the extent to which police leaders are subject to directions by the Home Secretary. New requirements for ‘political neutrality’ may prevent senior figures in the police from commenting on policy areas which directly impinge upon police operations. 

All a bit worrying for the independence of the police and their ability to pursue lawbreakers, no matter who they may be.

Also on Patel’s agenda this week are plans to
lift restrictions on stop and search, a tactic for which the evidence is (putting it mildly) mixed. New powers will increase the police’s ability to search people without reasonable suspicion - and it’s fairly easy to infer this will lead to the increased targeting of ethnic minority individuals. Only in April this year, the Independent Office for Police Conduct called for guidelines to be drawn up to protect ethnic minorities from unfair targeting through stop and search. It looks like that advice has been ignored.  

Panel pros

This week was also a busy one for the APPG on Coronavirus*.

On Monday evening the APPG held a
live panel session exploring the impacts of Long Covid, featuring APPG Chair Layla Moran MP, Dr Dan Poulter MP and Debbie Abrahams MP. 

The session highlighted the importance of recognising Long Covid as a disability and delved into the particular occupational and social risk factors for the disease. The session also considered how complacency around Covid has led to a situation where huge swathes of the population don’t realise that Long Covid could affect them.

Watch the full session

*Yes, Best for Britain also provides secretariat for the APPG on Coronavirus.

Trade off for aid

In another disappointing turn for internationalism, it seems the UK government has resolved to redirect its aid strategy in a way that could have devastating consequences for developing countries. 

A new
white paper from Liz Truss’ Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on aid strategy sets out plans for the UK to reduce the amount of funding it contributes to multilateral aid organisations such as the UN and the World Bank. Instead, the paper makes clear that the Government plans to deal directly with other Governments in how it allocates aid money - and it appears to suggest that the provision of aid should be conditional on trade deals or other investment opportunities. 

Some might call that blackmail, at the very least it’s certainly a departure from the idea of international aid as a humanitarian gesture offered to those desperately in need with no strings attached.

The Government claims to want to combat China’s aid strategy - which involves directly offering resources to Governments around the world in exchange for influence in their country - but instead seems to rehash China’s ideas and offer the same authoritarian package to countries that need our help. 

Twitter turnaround

Elon Musk is elusive as ever this week. After announcing a takeover of Twitter, he is appearing to now row back, claiming that Twitter has a problem with the number of bot accounts using it, and suggesting that unless he gets absolute clarity on the number of bot accounts, he won’t be continuing with the acquisition. 

Twitter’s current leadership has said that bots make up
fewer than 5% of total accounts; Musk suggests this may not be the case. Musk is now threatening to walk away from the deal - although he would be liable for a $1 bn break fee - but that’s probably mere pennies to the man. 

There have been huge questions hanging over the future of the social media platform as a result of Musk’s proposed takeover, with large numbers of left-wing users quitting and right-wing accounts
gaining followers in the wake of the deal’s announcement. The future of online political debate still looks like it could be very different. 

Indeed, in responding to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s detailed thread about Twitter bots, Musk simply posted a poo emoji. Doesn’t it just inspire you with confidence?

More similar than we are divided

We thought we’d leave things on a positive note. This week, research published by British Future has found that people’s prejudices are slipping away over time. 

84% of people would be comfortable with the next prime minister being from an ethnic minority background, while three quarters of people feel diversity is a part of British culture, rather than a threat to it. Only in 2011, more than half of people believed that diversity undermined British culture, so this is a real positive change. 

And with that, we’ll leave you to enjoy your weekend ahead! Back next week!

Best wishes,

Maheen Behrana

Senior Campaigns and Policy Officer, Best for Britain

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