Saturday, 16 January 2021

Tell Jacob Rees-Mogg to let parliament scrutinise Brexit

Thanks to the European Movement UK for forwarding this:

The most significant trade deal in recent history was rushed through parliament in less than a dayIt has never been more important for the Brexit deal and its impact to be examined.

Yet the government is denying MPs any chance to scrutinise Boris Johnson’s deal. This is a threat to democratic accountability.

Brexit will affect the everyday lives of people and businesses across the UK. As a representative of the people, Parliament should have the right to scrutinise this deal.

Sign this petition and tell Jacob Rees-Mogg to reverse this decision and to keep the committee that will scrutinise Brexit.

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It seems to me that even if you voted last winter for a government intent on Brexit, you would want the process to be monitored and scrutinised by our representatives in Parliament. There was not a clean break on New Year's Day, in spite of the promises given by Johnson, Gove and others. There are still ambiguities to be removed, areas (like financial services) which are still open to negotiate and procedures which can be made more efficient. No doubt the committee would be on the whole critical, but it would be constructive too. Johnson himself has admitted to "teething problems"

To suppress this particular committee is undemocratic. 

Friday, 15 January 2021

Spooks' crime licence attenuated, but not enough

The local party website recently reported that Lib Dem peers were intent on removing the worst aspects of the government Bill which would give our spooks licence to commit crime. Mark Pack now confirms that 

Liberal Democrat peers have helped to pass cross-party amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, as the number of Government defeats on the controversial new law rose to four.

A cross-party amendment (Amendment 15), co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick, places limits on the types of crimes that can be authorised under the Bill – ruling out murder, torture and sexual assault. It was passed by 299 votes to 284.

No mention is made of drug offences. One can see incentive for under-cover officers to get involved in handling illegal narcotics etc. when investigating drug gangs, but as a recent documentary shows, there are dangers in allying with drug barons for other reasons. The United States made this mistake twice, in Sicily in 1944 and during her campaigns in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, resulting in the drug pandemic which gripped the States thereafter. 

We have bad trouble with illegal drugs already. If the UK electorate is not yet ready to accept decriminalisation, then nothing should be done to make trafficking easier.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Put pharmacies in the front line against the virus

 The English NHS is mismanaging the roll-out of the two vaccines available to combat SARS/CoV2. It is not listening to the GP practices which are able to inoculate their patients expeditiously while targeting for delivery vaccination hubs and even some large clinics which are not as ready. However, the Westminster government is dipping its toe in the water of distribution by high street pharmacy. So far, only six large pharmacies are involved.

Unless there is some clause in the devolution settlement which prevents such an initiative, I believe the Welsh government should go further. They should heed the pleas of the Natonal Pharmacy Association:

At present, pharmacies have to be able to deliver 1,000 vaccines a week, have enough fridge space to store all the doses, and be able to open seven days a week.

Andrew Lane, of the National Pharmacy Association, said now that the Oxford vaccine had been approved, community pharmacies could store and administer it in the same way as they deliver the flu jab.

The Oxford vaccine only needs to be stored at fridge temperature, as opposed to the freezer temperatures of -70C required by Pfizer.

"We're here, we're trained, we will deliver," said Mr Lane

Pharmacies are probably as in touch with local communities as GPs. They are more likely to be within walking distance for people in Wales, thus reducing the dependence on public transport. Permitting all those pharmacies which already administer the 'flu jab to vaccinate against the new virus will take pressure off GPs who were already stretched even before the pandemic.

They do not make any profit from work they do for the NHS, so in some cases the Welsh government may have to extend the support it already gives to small businesses, but surely that is a small price to pay for a more effective vaccination programme.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Help for small businesses in the emergency

 Liberal Democrats in Westminster continue to fight for support for the small businesses which have fallen through the cracks in government support during the pandemic. However, the latest initiative, to help with posting costs, may prove marginal given the current performance of Royal Mail.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Lucy Hale, composer

 Lucy Hale, a young British composer liberated from a disability by IT and with a promising future, has died. I am indebted to Elaine Fine's Musical Assumptions blog for passing on the sad news - indeed, for introducing me to Lucy Hale at all. I cannot recall her bring featured on Radio 3 at all, but the string of commissions listed here attest to her standing in the musical world. 

There is more here, including a link to ten of her haunting compositions.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

EU and protectionism

 Continuing yesterday's theme of what the UK can do outside the restrictions of the European customs union, there is at least one useful thing which we can do for poorer countries. While the EU is better than most at allowing in basic foodstuffs, there are barriers to finished products. An example is chocolate. The Netherlands agency for promoting imports to the EU has identified semi-finished products such as cocoa butter, which are allowed, as a growth area. We could go further in helping cocoa-growing countries in accepting packaged chocolate bars etc. on which there is a greater profit margin.

We have at least rolled over 60 of the 70 EU trade agreements which were in force at the time of Brexit, many of which help the third world. From a European Parliament fact sheet of November 2019:

The EBA [Everything but arms] initiative grants duty-free and quota-free access for an unlimited period for all products, except arms and ammunition, imported from 48 LDCs [Least Developed Countries]. Of these, 34 are African countries, eight are Asian countries, five are Pacific countries and one is in the Caribbean (Haiti).

It would help if Brexiteers refrained from distorting the facts. Daniel Kawcynski MP for instance has been caught out in a lie about EU tariffs on non-EU producers.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Andrew RT Davies misspeaks

 I would not go as far as Labour in calling for the former Tory leader in the Senedd to be suspended. However, his likening peaceable and constitutional Remain supporters to the violent insurrectionists on Capitol Hill this week needs an official rebuttal and quickly. There is a danger that "Remainer" is going to go the same way as "Liberal" in the States as a pejorative with bad overtones. 

And what is it with Brexiteers? There was the case only last week of John Redwood's warming over some economic arguments against the EU using carefully selected statistics. They won, and should get over it. Are they trying to distract attention from the already broken promises of Gove, Johnson and Cummings by raking up old arguments and new lies about the Remain campaign?

I am prepared to look for the (admittedly scant) positives of leaving the Union and move forward. Why do the Brexiteers not move on too?

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Washington DC, twinned with Bangul

 In an election widely seen as the most democratic in the republic's history, in spite of intimidation leading to violence at a few polling stations, a presidential challenger wins by a narrow majority. Almost immediately after the declaration, there is an insurrection believed to have been fomented by the ousted president with the aim of regaining power by force. This is the scenario in many a third-world nation in recent years, the latest example being in the Central African Republic. Conservatives in the West viewing the footage of the riots might typically use such words as "savages" or more kindly "immature", "children".

One would not expect to see almost identical footage streamed from the capital of the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. Most shocking of all was the image of guns being drawn in the chamber of the Capitol building. One shudders to think what might have occurred if Washington DC did not have the strictest gun control laws in the States. 

Questions are already being asked about the lack of preparedness by the authorities. There is a contrast between the show of force by the administration in response to peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the laissez-faire attitude to security when it was known that President Trump was encouraging civil disobedience and that his fans were going further on social media. In spite of denials by the Department of Defense, the Mayor of Washington is adamant that his request to deploy the National Guard was rejected by the administration.

Order has now been restored and the formal procedures for anointing the new president have resumed, but the world will have been looking on in astonishment. The US claim to be a beacon of democracy, to justify her military adventures on the grounds of bringing freedom and order to less fortunate parts of the globe, already shaky, will hardly be believed any more.

And what of other Western democracies which have fallen under the spell of populist leaders whose ineptitude has been exposed by the hard realities of government? Will these now go quietly when they are rejected by their people at the next election? Would London's under-funded police be able to withstand a rabble roused by the likes of Farage and Cummings?