With apologies if you’re currently in Scotland or Northern Ireland where it looks a bit wet on the weather map, it is absolutely sweltering for the rest of us - which is lovely when you’re relaxing in the garden - but perhaps it’s had the effect of turning up the heat in Westminster a little.
This week, we’ve looked on in horror as the Government did its best (worst?) to deport a plane of refugees to Rwanda, we felt déjà vu as the Government published its plan to breach international law (again) on the Northern Ireland Protocol, and we’ve been stunned by the dramatic resignation of the PM’s ethics adviser.
So, read on for your weekly wedge of Westminster weirdness:
On Monday evening, a Bill was published <[link removed]> setting out the Government’s intentions to overwrite vast swathes of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The worst fears of international relations nerds (and anyone who cares about the Northern Ireland peace process, the rule of law, etc etc) were confirmed as it became clear the new Bill offers no room for conciliation or negotiation and instead will simply cause further damage to UK/EU trade and the UK’s position on the world stage.
Even the Government accepts that the Bill breaches its international obligations <[link removed]>, and relies on something called the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to justify this. This doctrine in international law (bear with us) permits states to breach international obligations if it is the only way for that state to safeguard its essential interests. According to the UK Government, this new legislation on the Protocol is the only way to safeguard its interests.
We’ve been looking quite closely at the legislation and we’re not convinced. The new Bill grants loads of powers to Government Ministers to just make up laws and regulations concerning the Protocol, without any of these going through the UK Parliament. The Bill makes no provision for negotiations with the EU as a preferable strategy and instead bulldozes the commitments the UK made just a short time ago.
Necessity / Invention
Of course, the situation that they say has caused this necessity is actually the implementation of the Brexit deal that this Government negotiated, signed and trumpeted as the best thing since sliced bread.
It’s hard to escape the thought that this Government is less concerned with being trustworthy, or even with helping businesses and consumers through a difficult period. Instead this Government is concerned with how much longer it can cling to power <[link removed]>.
In short, it’s not looking great - either for our international trade situation or for democratic processes here in the UK.
Time for a challenge
As a result of the UK bringing forward its law-defying Bill on Monday, the EU has resumed <[link removed]> legal action against the UK for reneging on aspects of post-Brexit agreements.
In March last year, the EU brought legal proceedings <[link removed]> against the UK for what it said were the Government’s failures to carry out checks on agri-foods, establish border posts and share data with the European Commission.
This legal action, paused in September 2021 as part of an attempt to encourage cooperation, will now be restarted.
No ethics here!
Boris Johnson has been embarrassed this week by the resignation of his ethics adviser <[link removed]> Christopher Geidt, who claimed that Boris had put him in an ‘odious’ position.
We might have expected this resignation some weeks ago, over partygate, but instead Geidt’s stated reasons for leaving this week centre around a row over steel tariffs <[link removed]>. Basically, the Government wanted to continue with some tariffs on steel in potential contravention of WTO rules. Geidt suggested that when he was asked about what the Government should do regarding this matter, he felt it amounted to the Government deliberately seeking the go-ahead for breaking the ministerial code.
The only thing is, Geidt is no trade adviser and this doesn’t exactly look like the most dishonourable thing the Government has done recently. Could this in fact simply be the straw that broke the camel’s back? Or perhaps Geidt doesn’t want to state his real reasons for departing from the role.
You might remember Geidt’s predecessor as ethics adviser, Alex Allan, also resigned from this role, after Boris Johnson ignored his finding that Priti Patel had bullied civil servants. William Wragg MP, Conservative chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, commented rather pithily: “For the prime minister to lose one adviser on ministers’ interests may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness.”
Our digital team has also been busy making light of the matter:
An unprincipled principle
At the start of this week, the UK Government was pushing ahead <[link removed]> with a plan to deport asylum seekers who had arrived by small boats to UK shores to Rwanda. This controversial policy <[link removed]> was appealed multiple times in the UK High Court, but to no avail.
Even though no injunction was granted to block the deportation flight as a whole, it was widely reported that the flight was unlikely <[link removed]> to take off. Legal action brought on behalf of individual asylum seekers had steadily reduced the number of people <[link removed]> who could fly on Tuesday’s flight.
Finally, just an hour before the flight was due to take off (with only seven asylum seekers <[link removed]> on board), an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) put a halt to the whole thing.
Things aren’t over though for this Government, as they mount a challenge <[link removed]> against the ECHR’s ruling. This is partly because the Government wants to push back on principle, but also because the Government has given £120 million to Rwanda and a non-refundable £500,000 was paid for Tuesday’s flight.
Great to see we have a Government that is both spendthrift and spiteful!
Human rights, what human rights?
The first-hand accounts of the refugees caught up in this Government’s compassionless Rwanda policy are harrowing.
The Independent <[link removed]> reported on detainees being dragged on board the plane by their hair, being placed in hand and leg shackles and the mental and emotional harm caused. Mohammed, who was on the plane, said “It felt like I was going to be executed”.
For anyone questioning the importance of Human Rights, and the purpose of an international independent body that holds Governments to account, this is surely exactly why the European Court of Human Rights exists.
The UK Government wants a new British Bill of Rights and to leave the ECHR so it can do more harm to refugees and water down the rights we all have.
Food for thought
The start of this week was also marked by yet another Government own-goal <[link removed]> after the release of a new food strategy. The strategy, supposedly based on a review conducted last year by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, was immediately lambasted as ‘half-baked’.
Where the review had suggested an expansion of free school meals, an introduction of a salt and sugar tax and the possibility of providing fruit and veg on prescription, the strategy left all this out and instead proposed that people should eat more venison <[link removed]>. Yes, you read that right. Venison.
Henry Dimbleby himself condemned the new strategy <[link removed]>, saying it lacked vision and was ‘not a strategy’. Dimbleby expressed concerns at the potential for the strategy to override original aims for animal welfare commitments and was disappointed by the lack of Government action on healthy eating.
Elections (still) under threat
The Elections Act occupied a huge amount of our time while it was progressing through parliament. Now, Prospect Magazine has spoken to John Pullinger, <[link removed]> Chair of the Commission who agrees with us that the newly passed Act is incompatible with the Commission’s independence.
The Act imposes a duty on the Commission for it to be directed by a Strategy and Policy statement outlined by the Government - essentially subjecting it to the whims of the Government of the day.
The Government of the day is (understandably) likely to want to win the next election, so it follows that if it is enabled to give policy direction to the elections watchdog it may be likely to tilt things in its own favour.
The Act may have passed, but the opposition to it (including from us) will not go away.
A victory of sorts
After the UK Trade and Business Commission’s fact-finding trip to Dover last month, they wrote to Environment Secretary George Eustice and Home Secretary Priti Patel to raise concerns around investment in domestic food production.
Commissioners visited Winterwood Farms in Maidstone, where they were told how the harvest was falling due to a lack of seasonal workers from the EU. As a result, the Commission’s letter alsocalled for the implementation of a scheme for seasonal workers similar to the one the government announced in October 2021 for HGV drivers and poultry workers.
The Government has now introduced 10,000 new farming visas <[link removed]> to combat seasonal worker shortages.
The Commission welcomed this move, but has warned a piecemeal approach cannot be used to tackle seasonal worker shortages, which are affecting a wide range of industries, from hospitality to travel. Commissioners have called for a more considered and comprehensive strategy to address these issues which businesses have experienced since the implementation of the Government’s Brexit deal.
Best for Britain is secretariat to the UK Trade and Business Commission.
Big old blooper
In more humiliating news for Boris Johnson this week, it emerged that his newly appointed cost of living tsar does not think very highly <[link removed]> of him.
David Buttress, the former chief executive of Just Eat, has been appointed to an unpaid role to come up with ways to tackle the cost of living crisis.
However, tweets were unearthed from earlier this year in which Buttress called for Boris Johnson to resign.
Buttress also seems to be rather critical of the Conservatives more generally, and in April this year lambasted the party’s record on Wales (also on twitter).
It’s just a teeny bit awkward for the Government, but perhaps they were struggling to find someone who had any positive thoughts on Boris?
That’s all from us this week. We hope, despite all the chaos, you are able to have a relaxing weekend. Enjoy the sun and we’ll be back next week.
Senior Campaigns and Policy Officer, Best for Britain
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