Tuesday, June 12, 2018

David Davis writes to MPs.

Dear Colleagues,


On Tuesday the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Commons to take its final steps through our Parliament. It is worth reflecting on the fundamental purpose of this Bill. The Withdrawal Bill is not about influencing the policy choices we make as we leave the EU. It is, instead, simply about ensuring the entire United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave. That is an aim on which I am sure we can all agree. Our constituents – whether they voted leave or remain – will rightly expect the Government to provide continuity, certainty and clarity as we leave the EU. And that is exactly what this Bill will deliver.

We have already had over 250 hours of debate in both Houses and reviewed over 1,000 non-Government amendments, and hundreds of Government amendments.

Throughout, we have listened carefully to those who have sought to test, scrutinise and improve this vital piece of legislation. We have already made a significant number of amendments to address the fair concerns which have been raised. And I firmly believe that the Bill is better for it. So, while the fundamental goal of the Bill has remained unchanged, it now rightly reflects the knowledge and expertise of both Houses in that respect.

As the Bill returns to the Commons, it is worth having at the forefront of our minds the state in which it was sent to the Lords. A clean and correctly focused Bill, aimed solely at ensuring that our laws continue to function seamlessly on the day we leave the EU. The Bill that has been returned to us has, in some aspects, been strengthened. But in others, it has become less focused and, therefore, less clear in the goals which it is trying to achieve.

The amendments from the Lords fall into four broad categories. First, there are those which are constructive and genuinely seek to address concerns about certain aspects of the legislation. Second, there are some which seek to address issues which the Commons has already considered. Third, there are certain amendments, while possibly well intentioned, which may hamper our attempts to provide continuity, certainty and clarity via the Bill. And

fourth, there are some changes which simply risk undermining our approach in our negotiations with the EU altogether.

Let me start with this fourth category. The amendments which seek to force the UK to re-join the European Economic Area (EEA) after we leave would involve continuing the free movement of people with the EU and would mean accepting a huge swathe of EU rules without a say on them. That amounts to less control, not more. We have been clear since day one that such an approach is not the right path for the UK to take after we leave the EU. Pursuing it would fail the fundamental tests we have set for our future relationship with the EU – to return control to the UK over our money, our borders and our laws.

Similarly, amendments which seek to encourage us to stay in a customs union are not compatible with our desire to take the opportunity to build deeper links with old friends and new allies across the globe. Nor are they compatible with the manifesto on which the Government was elected last year. We want to ensure that our new customs arrangements with the EU can allow for trade which is as frictionless as possible, while ensuring we can tap into fast growing markets elsewhere and that there is no hard border around Northern Ireland, either between it and the rest of the United Kingdom or North-South. We recognise however that Parliament will want to be kept updated and as such will give our support to the amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin and supported by colleagues from across the Party including Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers.

Of course, in any case, this Bill is not the right vehicle for debating these policy choices. Such discussions can and will be had during the passage of other bills. This Bill is simply about making sure that our statute book continues to function after we leave.

One of the most important issues raised by the Lords is the process by which the outcome of the negotiations will be considered by Parliament. While we agree with the spirit of parts of the Lords amendment – much of it mirrors commitments we have already given – there are other parts which risk fundamentally undermining our negotiations with the EU. It would be impossible for negotiators to demonstrate the flexibility necessary for an effective negotiation if they are stripped of their authority to make decisions. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for our country. In its current form the amendment would set a range of arbitrary deadlines and milestones after which Parliament may give binding directions to the Government - up to and including an attempt to overturn the referendum result.

Fundamentally, the British people voted to leave the EU and the Government is delivering on that. Since the referendum, there has been a general election in which both of the major parties committed to deliver the result of the referendum. It is simply not right that Parliament could overturn this. That is why we have tabled our own version of the amendment, which respects the commitments we have made, ensures Parliament can have its say on the final deal, but that we also that we respect the result of the referendum.

On the second category - most notably on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and General

Principles of EU law -  the House of Lords has amended the Bill on issues that the Commons has already considered in detail. We have been clear throughout this process that the removal of the Charter from UK law will not substantially affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the Charter was never the source of those rights. And on General Principles, we have now tabled a further amendment to protect the rights of challenge accrued before we have left the EU for 3 years after exit.

There are also amendments which seem purely technical but which risk significantly constraining the Government's ability to deliver a functioning statute. For example, the amendment on 'enhanced protection' will mean the Government is prevented from acting quickly to update environmental regulations. Throughout this process we have listened to concerns regarding the delegated powers in this Bill, not least on the scrutiny of their use, and we tabled further amendments in the Lords to this end. But we cannot allow for the fundamental aim of this Bill to be put at risk.

The final category of amendments are those that the Government can agree or at least agree in principle. For example, the Lords have flagged important issues regarding family reunification. While we agree with the spirit of these amendments, they required further clarification. Therefore, the Government has brought forward its own amendments to make the amendments more accurate and to enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome in a far more effective manner.

The process around this Bill has been thorough, and inclusive. I have always said that I will listen to members of all sides of our House to ensure we get it right. As it re-enters the Commons we must work together to consider the various amendments constructively but we must also work together to ensure its fundamental purpose is not undermined. I look forward to working closely with you all over the coming days to ensure the UK has a functioning legal order on the day we deliver what people voted for in the referendum and leave the European Union.


Monday, June 11, 2018

The Brexit Week to Come, and the Brexit week that was.

I write this column on Monday morning, before driving down to the House of Commons for a very important week, which could have major implications for our Government and our country. Yet again this week the dominating issue will be Brexit, and in particular, the EU Withdrawal Bill. When this article appears, MPs will have voted anything up to 20 times on amendments to this Bill by the House of Lords. At the risk of leaving myself looking silly, I believe the Government will win every vote, sending the EU Withdrawal Bill back to their Lordships to reconsider their position. I’m deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues are telling the media they are considering voting against the Gov’t. I know loyalty is becoming a devalued commodity in today’s politics, but I find it hard to understand what might drive a Conservative MP to so undermine our Prime Minister, and give succour to those sitting opposite her at the negotiating table. 

What has driven and guided me as I’ve considered the future status of the United Kingdom in Europe has been the aim of making a success of Brexit. I realise there are UK citizens who have differing views on our future in Europe. But in the EU Referendum in 2016, 48% of voters favoured remaining in the EU while 52% of voters backed Leave. So the UK will be leaving in March 2019. Sometimes, I think this stark reality is being overlooked. There are some who have not accepted the public vote in the referendum, either wanting it to be ignored by the Government, or another referendum held in an attempt to reverse it. This is not going to happen. The UK is leaving the EU. We must try to arrange our leaving on the best possible terms, which suit the UK and the EU as far as possible. 

But of course, the UK is not ‘leaving Europe’. All that is happening is that the UK is recovering our ability to control who moves to our country to study, work and to live; to control our own laws, and to stop handing over billions of pounds for the European Commission to spend as it chooses. The UK will remain a part of Europe - we will want to work as closely and positively as possible with our neighbouring countries. We will need migrants from across the world including from Europe to work in our NHS and Social Care services. We will want to trade with the EU.

Even though I hope that this week MPs will have reversed all of the House of Lords amendments, there will be more important debates and votes to come over the next 2/3 years. This week has been about giving some legal certainty to the ‘Leaving’ process. It is, in most part a technical bill, which the House of Lords has used as an attempt to overturn the EU Referendum result. Personally, I think their Lordships were out of order. Their job is to put forward reasoned amendments to improve Government legislation, without challenging the primacy of the elected House of Commons. It cannot be otherwise. For that reason alone, I hope all the Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill will have been defeated by the time this column is published.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Disgraceful behaviour at Shropshire Hospitals reform meetings.

Not time to blog for a while. But was so utterly disgusted that two public consultation meeting about hospital reconfiguration in Shropshire had to be abandoned to protect the staff manning the exhibitions that I’m forced from my hibernation. The joint Chief Executives on the Clinical Commissioning Groups have written a public response. I can only imagine how angry they were. The culprits should be ashamed of themselves. I decided to reprint the letter here.

“We write in relation to your letter concerning the proposed Future Fit programme and the current public consultation which commenced on 30 May 2018.
The Future Fit Programme has been developed by over 300 clinicians, endorsed by a wide range of stakeholder organisations through the Future Fit Programme Board, subject to an independent process review by KMPG and endorsed and agreed by the West Midlands Clinical Senate.
It was also agreed unanimously through the two CCG Boards and assured as fit for consultation by NHS England demonstrably offering a sustainable future for health services for Shropshire Telford, Wrekin & Powys providing a long term vision for hospital based services.
Your contention that the capital funding for the scheme will require cuts in services is demonstrably not true.
The £312m of capital to be provided to the health community will be funded in part by de-duplication of services, the ability to better recruit and retain clinical staff and so reduce significant over reliance on costly interim staffing at our two hospitals.
The business case available on the Future Fit website clearly demonstrates that the hospital will not require income over existing tariff to fund the development.
What is more, both options provide for better outcomes for both planned and emergency care over the current configuration of services. Put simply the plan, and this is true for both options being consulted on, provides for a future that is BETTER for patients, BETTER for outcomes, provides BETTER facilities for staff to work and BETTER facilities for patients to be treated in.
If the proposals did not provide those better outcomes it would not be supported by clinicians, who in their day to day work know what better could look like.
As regards the Princess Royal Hospital site in Telford it is true, should the preferred option be selected, that some emergency patients treated formerly at Telford will now be treated at Shrewsbury, but a significant majority of patients under either model will continue to be treated at the site at which they currently attend.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the reverse will be true with some emergency patients having to travel from Shrewsbury to Telford.
As regards the Women & Children’s centre at Princess Royal Hospital, the majority of services currently undertaken there will remain there under the preferred option, only consultant-led obstetrics and in-patient paediatrics will be undertaken at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the Women & Children’s centre at Telford would be unchanged.
The rural maternity units are not part of this consultation, but any recommendation to amend the maternity delivery model will be subject to public consultation in due course.
This is not expected to commence prior to the closure of the Future Fit consultation on 5 September.
You say that you are ‘open to any set of proposals which will improve the level and quality of care for our patients and communities’.
The Future Fit programme evidentially provides just that.
If you believe otherwise then this should form part of a formal consultation response.
There is absolutely no evidence that these procedures place either patients, or staff, at risk and we are concerned that this may be communicated to the public without any clinical or other evidence to support that statement.
As regards capital funding and viability we would comment as follows.
The pre-consultation Business Case was subject to rigorous assurance through NHS England as to affordability.
This is important as CCGs cannot legally consult on options, or service changes, that are not demonstrably affordable.
As with any major capital scheme, the precise funding nature of the £312m will not be finalised until the Final Business Case.
What we are aware of at this time is that up to £200m will come from Public Dividend Capital, the remainder will come from the Trust’s own capital resources, or land sales, and at least one tranche will come from private finance.
Such mixed capital funding solutions are stated NHS and Department of Health policy.
Lastly we have developed these plans over a number of years precisely as the current state of play of split services across the Princess Royal Hospital and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site are neither financially, or clinically sustainable.
Put simply we cannot afford them within allocations, and we cannot staff them.
That is why the Future Fit plan provides for a strategic plan that is funded to meet the needs of all the communities of Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and mid-Wales for now and the future.
We appreciate how much you care for and support the NHS. Its continued existence depends on the backing of people who are passionate about its future.
This is never more so than in the year in which it celebrates its 70th birthday.
Please, though, acknowledge that the NHS clinicians, health experts, managers and staff that have worked so hard on these models for change, care just as passionately as you do.
We do not embark on this difficult case for change because it is easy - it is not - we do so because it is essential.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform health care for the people of Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.
There is a fantastic prize in the hands of the communities we all want the best for.
To run it down now and not seize it, will not just be a matter of an opportunity lost, it will be to condemn local people to a struggling service, in decaying buildings making the recruitment and retention of essential staff all the more difficult.
Objecting to the Future Fit programme thinking something better will turn up is to live more in hope than the reality of what we have before us.
We ask you to re-consider your opposition for the sake of everyone in our county and beyond.
Kind regards.
Yours sincerely
Dr Simon Freeman, Accountable Officer, Shropshire CCG
David Evans, Chief Officer, Telford and Wrekin CCG

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alfie Evans.

Last week, those of us who try to follow the news agenda had a confusing few days. There were the usual mixture of misleading and simply untrue ‘news’ stories about Brexit. We’re used to that, and have learned to largely ignore it. But in Wales, we did have an astonishingly good news Brexit story. It was really big breakthrough news. After predictions of constitutional chaos and multiple headlines about a “Power Grab” by the UK Parliament, and a bizarre ‘Continuity Bill’ passed in the Welsh Parliament, which led to the UK Govt taking the Welsh Government to the Supreme Court, the Wales Office and the Welsh Gov’t agreed post-Brexit arrangements in relation to devolved powers. Just like that! Defied all the predictions. Until now the devolved Governments in Wales and Scotland had worked together. Wales has now left the Scottish National Party to carry on its anti-Brexit campaigning on its own. In Wales, we have agreed a pragmatic way forward, trying to deliver the best way future for Wales, rather than play politics games. And as is usual with very complex issues, the Welsh media largely ignored this most significant news story of the week.

We also had the hugely worrying story about how immigrants who moved to Britain in the 1960s on the Windrush and other ships have been shockingly let down by our immigration system. No-one emerges from this scandal, (because that’s what it is) with any credit. Although it’s impossible to know exactly where ‘blame’ lies, it is clear that managing the UKs immigration system has been a challenge too far for the Home Office. I write this as Amber Rudd resigns over the issue. Personally I am sorry about this. I thought she was the right person to sort out the problem. The position today is just not acceptable. Of course, the UK Government must control ‘illegal’ immigration, but must also do whatever it takes to ensure those immigrants who are today in Britain entirely legally are not in any way disadvantaged. 

But the news story last week which impacted on me most was the circumstances surrounding the death of Alfie Evans, a 23 month old little boy at Alder Hey Hospital who died from an untreatable neurological condition, after his life support was turned off.  Everyone sympathised with Alfie’s parents, who must have gone through the most traumatic of experiences. Its very difficult to disentangle the clinical and ethical issues. Increasingly, developing science means we are going to confront more decisions about when to end a life that is being maintained only by a machine, when there is no hope of recovery. While I do not approve of the behaviour of some of those who protested outside Alder Hey Hospital, I find myself, yet again, conflicted by the proper responsibilities of the family and the state in life and death issues.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

‘Limited, targeted and effective’.

Last week, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council joined forces to conduct coordinated targeted military strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability, and deter their use. The principle partner, delivering about 90% of the bombardment was the US. Britain and France played smaller roles, but their involvement was crucial to reinforce the message the use of chemical weapons is contrary to Chemical Weapons Convention and not acceptable in today’s world. The action was supported by a wide range of countries, including all NATO members plus Australia plus Turkey and others. The military strike was in response to a despicable and barbaric act by the Syrian Regime in Douma, killing innocent people who were seeking shelter from bombardment in underground basements.
There is little doubt that the Syrian Regime led by Bashar al-Ashad was responsible. It has an utterly abhorrent record of using poison gas against its own people. Over recent years there have been numerous examples of chemical weapon use by the forces of the Syrian Dictator, Bashar al-Assad. For a century, use of chemical weapons has been banned as a crime against humanity. Assad is in flagrant breach of international law. The use of Chemical Weapons must be stopped. Every reform in the Security Council has failed, thwarted by the Russian veto. The leaders of the US, France and the UK have done what they had to do.
Before acting, the UK Prime Minister and Cabinet considered advice from the Attorney General, the National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff and received a full intelligence briefing. Theresa May decided to act in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian Regime’s Chemical Weapons capability. There is no desire to intervene in a civil war. There is no desire or intention to deliver regime change. It was a ‘Limited, Targeted and Effective’ strike with clear boundaries designed to avoid escalation and civilian casualties. The aim is to prevent future use of chemical weapons.
In 2013, David Cameron sought support from MPs to launch a military strike against Damascus in response to Assad’s use of poison gas. MPs refused to agree. I thought that a mistake, which led to
President Obama cancelling any action at all.  Last year the US did respond to another poison gas attack with a limited military response. It did not stop Assad. We must hope that last weekend’s military strike will have more effect.
I hope there will also be a new diplomatic effort as well. We cannot allow chemical weapons to become ‘normalised’ as a method of war. Britain has always taken a stance to defend global rules and standards. That’s  what we did last weekend.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

More on Poison Gas issues

Today’s news reports are still focussing on two events involving the use of poison gas, and how we should respond - take action or just wring our hands.
Firstly, there’s the attempted assassination of the Russians, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the streets of Britain. Today the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which so many had called on to make a definitive judgement, backed the conclusions drawn by the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson. I am not sure what we should do about it, except hit the wealthy Russian friends of Putin who operate in the UK. And hit them so hard, they understand the damage that Putin is causing them. I sense that may well happen.
And then we have the use of poison gas against innocent citizens in Douma by Bashar al-Assad. It’s crucial that the response be carefully planned, targeted and effective. Personally, I cannot see any alternative but to strike militarily against Assad and his military capability. He is a monster.
I have been quite shocked by those who seem to take the side of the Russian backed Syrian Dictator. I suppose there always have been a few British citizens who seem to prefer to side with Britain’s enemies. For 100 years Chemical warfare has been unacceptable under international law. Yet there are some who accept that Assad should face no consequence for what he has done. This is normalising the use of chemical weapons in modern warfare. It would be disastrous for our world - a green light to the barbarians to do their worst, if it’s thought the world will just stand by and shake heads disapprovingly when weapons of mass destruction are deployed - and leave it at that.
Normally, we would be arguing for the Security Council to take action, but it cannot because the Russians veto any such action. They are Assad’s protective shield. So the United Nations is rendered impotent.
Many MPs are calling for Parliament to be asked to vote on any decision to join a US led military strike. I am not one of them. Any decision must be based on a careful assessment of intelligence. The Prime Minister cannot share such intelligence publically. She might as well just authorises MI6 to send our intelligence direct to Damascus, the Kremlin and Tehran.
I fully expect the US to launch a military strike against Bashar al-Assad’s forces. I also expect the UK  and France to participate. And even though I would wish it otherwise, I will support our Prime Minister in that action if she and her Cabinet decide it should be. Most other MPs will do the same, all of us with heavy hearts.
I realise there will be many who disagree. There are many who think we should “just let them get on with it”. We should not be dragged in no matter what. As if we can isolate ourselves from what happens overseas. There will be many with pacifist principles. I do not criticise their stance. The stance I do question is that of those who insist that chemical warfare must not become common in modern warfare while refusing to support action to support that position. This is a total cop-out. My job as an MP is to face up to choices. And sometimes those choices are bloody tough. They don’t come any tougher than this one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Syria. What now?

Am inspired to comment on what’s happening in Syria by William Hague’s column in today’s Telegraph. Takes me back to the events of 2013, which was the most shocking of my 8 yrs as an MP. It’s the context in which I have to contemplate the current position.
In 2013, Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people and Prime Minister, David Cameron was considering a military strike against Damascus. He was supported by William Hague. Before that summer recess, MPs had insisted that a vote would be needed to authorise such a strike. Parliament was indeed recalled during summer recess. I returned to London, anticipating voting against my Govt for the first time. I informed my whips that I could not vote for action without more clarity about how it would improve the position. I think other MPs must have taken a similar line because when the motion to be debated was tabled the night before the debate, I was satisfied. The motion supported military action against Assad, but crucially, required the Prime Minister to return to the Parliament with more clarity and to seek another vote before military action could be taken. I thought that was acceptable, and voted for it. But (shamefully in my view) MPs voted this motion down. I felt ashamed that some Conservatives had completely undermined the Prime Minisister. The Labour Leader at the time, Ed Miliband had decided to play politics with an issue that should have been above politics and put forward his alternative motion, which was not far from the Prime Minister’s motion. That was defeated as well. I felt deeply ashamed of Labour. I suspect a few Labour MPs did as well. Anyway, Obama and Putin were watching. The former reneged on his ‘red lines’ and decided to do nothing, while the latter realised that Assad backed by Russia could do whatever he wanted. That’s just what he did. The chemical attacks on innocents over the last few days is an inevitable consequence of 2013.
I know there will be many who think the UK (and everyone else except Russia and Iran) should stay out of it. Several of my constituents informedit was their opinion in 2013. Suspect some might feel the same today. I don’t. Non-action can have terrible consequences, as well as action. We cannot wait for the UN to back action because Russia will veto any military response. We cannot allow chemical warfare to become an accepted form of attack, which it will. Of course we cannot be 100% certain that military action will achieve its objective in the short term. If certainty of victory was a requirement of action, military powers who care not about deaths of casualties would always win.
We know that a President Obama would not act. There would just be empty threats. But I do think
Resident Trump may well act. He may well call the Assad-Putin bluff. This is a very hard sentence for me to write, because I know many of my friends and supporters will disagree. But I believe Britain and France should support action led by the US, and be active participants.