Friday, March 31, 2017

The Tusk Response

There has been an apocalyptic tone to the media response to today speech in Malta by President Tusk, where he was outlining the EU's response to Theresa May's letter of Tuesday last. The British Prime Minister's letter notified him, officially, that she was invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and that the UK is leaving the European Union. Apart from the comment about the future status of Gibraltar, I didn't think it was anything like as problematic as I was expecting.

The main media coverage has been about the unwillingness of the EU to enter into any discussion about a future relationship until a 'divorce settlement' is agreed. Personally I see little problem, mainly because (and perhaps I'm unusual here) I think a payment should be made. There will have to be a credible method of calculating the total sum of course, but the UK will pay what is properly due. We pay our debts. I would expect the Uk negotiation  team to accept that, and agree to negotiate a figure. President Tusk did not mention a figure or timetable for payment. There's clearly plenty of wriggle-room for negotiation.

The exact wording used (and you can bet this had been redrafted a few times) was "An overall understanding on the framework for the future UK-EU could be identified during a second phase of the negotiation under Article 50. The EU and it's member states stand ready to engage in preliminary and preparatory discussions as soon as sufficient progress has been made in the first phase on reaching a satisfactory agreement on the arrangements for an orderly withdrawal."

And President Tusk was positive about reciprocal guarantees for migrants who reside outside of their home country - as I always knew would be the case.

But there were two big No-Nos. One is a continued role for the ECJ. "No! No! No! And the other was his totally unacceptable reference to Gibraltar - and Spain holding a veto over future arrangements. That's not acceptable either. Negotiators always throw in difficulties, which can be negotiated out in the search for concessions. But all in all, better than I expected.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The letter to Donald Tusk.

And here is the letter delivered to Donald Tusk today on behalf of the UK Prime Minister, informing him that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is being invoked and the UK is leaving the European Union.

Dear President Tusk,
On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europea The ns. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 13 March and it received Royal Assent from Her Majesty The Queen and became an Act of Parliament on 16 March.
Today, therefore, I am writing to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom. I hereby notify the European Council in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. In addition, in accordance with the same Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, I hereby notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community. References in this letter to the European Union should therefore be taken to include a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.
This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave. We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.

It is in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side. We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals. We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.
The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible.
I would like to propose some principles that may help to shape our coming discussions, but before I do so, I should update you on the process we will be undertaking at home, in the United Kingdom.
The process in the United Kingdom
As I have announced already, the Government will bring forward legislation that will repeal the Act of Parliament – the European Communities Act 1972 – that gives effect to EU law in our country. This legislation will, wherever practical and appropriate, in effect convert the body of existing European Union law (the “acquis”) into UK law. This means there will be certainty for UK citizens and for anybody from the European Union who does business in the United Kingdom. The Government will consult on how we design and implement this legislation, and we will publish a White Paper tomorrow. We also intend to bring forward several other pieces of legislation that address specific issues relating to our departure from the European Union, also with a view to ensuring continuity and certainty, in particular for businesses. We will of course continue to fulfil our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave.
From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so. When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.

Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union
The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.
It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.

Proposed principles for our discussions
Looking ahead to the discussions which we will soon begin, I would like to suggest some principles that we might agree to help make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible.
i. We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation
Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”. We also understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies will, as they trade within the EU, have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets.
ii. We should always put our citizens first
There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens. There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.
iii. We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement
We want to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom’s continuing partnership with the EU. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
iv. We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible
Investors, businesses and citizens in both the UK and across the remaining 27 member states – and those from third countries around the world – want to be able to plan. In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.
v. In particular, we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom. We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.
vi. We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges
Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match. We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes. On the scope of the partnership between us – on both economic and security matters – my officials will put forward detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation.
vii. We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values
Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.
The task before us
As I have said, the Government of the United Kingdom wants to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens. Likewise, Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake. The United Kingdom’s objectives for our future partnership remain those set out in my Lancaster House speech of 17 January and the subsequent White Paper published on 2 February.
We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. It is for these reasons, and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is of such importance to both sides, that I am sure it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.
The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us. After all, the institutions and the leaders of the European Union have succeeded in bringing together a continent blighted by war into a union of peaceful nations, and supported the transition of dictatorships to democracy. Together, I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent.
Yours sincerely,
Theresa May

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Prime Minister's historic Article 50 Statement

Today, the Prime Minister made a Statement about the invoking of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The chamber was packed. I sat on a step at the back. None of us wanted to miss what has been a historic day in Parliament. The Prime Minister rose to the ocassion, speaking with dignity and seriousness. Regrettable others didn't. Anyway, here is her statement.

Today the Government acts on the democratic will of the British People. And it acts, too, on the clear and convincing position of this House.

A few minutes ago in Brussels, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the EU handed a letter to the President of the European Council on my behalf, confirming the Government’s decision to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.   

The Article 50 process is now underway. And in accordance with the wishes of the British People, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.

This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. 

That is our ambition and our opportunity.

That is what this Government is determined to do.

Mr Speaker,

At moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.

We can choose to say the task ahead is too great. We can choose to turn our face to the past and believe it can’t be done.

Or we can look forward with optimism and hope – and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit.

Mr Speaker,

I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead.

And I do so because I am confident that we have the vision and the plan to use this moment to build a better Britain.

For, leaving the European Union presents us with a unique opportunity. It is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country. A chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

My answer is clear.

I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.

I want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.

That is why I have set out a clear and ambitious plan for the negotiations ahead.

It is a plan for a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union. A partnership of values. A partnership of interests. A partnership based on cooperation in areas such as security and economic affairs.

And a partnership that works in the best interests of the United Kingdom, the European Union and the wider world.

Because perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe – values that this United Kingdom shares. And that is why, while we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. We will remain a close friend and ally. We will be a committed partner. We will play our part to ensure that Europe is able to project its values and defend itself from security threats. And we will do all that we can to help the European Union prosper and succeed.

So Mr Speaker, in the letter that has been delivered to President Tusk today – copies of which I have placed in the library of the House – I have been clear that the deep and special partnership we seek is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union too.

I have been clear that we will work constructively – in a spirit of sincere cooperation – to bring this partnership into being.

And I have been clear that we should seek to agree the terms of this future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal, within the next two years.

I am ambitious for Britain. And the objectives I have set out for these negotiations remain.

We will deliver certainty wherever possible so that business, the public sector and everybody else has as much clarity as we can provide as we move through the process. It is why, tomorrow, we will publish a White Paper confirming our plans to convert the ‘acquis’ into British law, so that everyone will know where they stand. And it is why I have been clear that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.

We will take control of our own laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg, but in courts across this country.

We will strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom. We will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK. When it comes to the powers that we will take back from Europe, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be passed on to the Devolved Administrations.

But Mr Speaker, no decisions currently taken by the Devolved Administrations will be removed from them. And it is the expectation of the Government that the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see a significant increase in their decision-making power as a result of this process.

We want to maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland. There should be no return to the borders of the past.

We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. 

We seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states as early as we can. This is set out very clearly in the letter as an early priority for the talks ahead.

We will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained. Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers, we will build on them.

We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain.

Because European Leaders have said many times that we cannot ‘cherry pick’ and remain members of the Single Market without accepting the four freedoms that are indivisible. We respect that position. And as accepting those freedoms is incompatible with the democratically expressed will of the British People, we will no longer be members of the Single Market.

We are going to make sure that we can strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union too. Because important though our trade with the EU is and will remain, it is clear that the UK needs to increase significantly its trade with the fastest growing export markets in the world.

We hope to continue to collaborate with our European partners in the areas of science, education, research and technology, so that the UK is one of the best places for science and innovation.

We seek continued cooperation with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs.

And it is our aim to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit – reaching an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded, then moving into a phased process of implementation in which Britain, the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.

Mr Speaker,

We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that.  

However, we approach these talks constructively, respectfully, and in a spirit of sincere cooperation.

For it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use this process to deliver our objectives in a fair and orderly manner. It is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that there should be as little disruption as possible. And it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that Europe should remain strong, prosperous and capable of projecting its values in the world.

At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interests of all our citizens. 

With Europe’s security more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War, weakening our cooperation and failing to stand up for European values would be a costly mistake.

Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share as fellow Europeans.

As a European country, we will continue to play our part in promoting and supporting those values – during the negotiations and once they are done.

We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to continue to buy goods and services from the EU, and sell them ours. We want to trade with them as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship. Indeed, in an increasingly unstable world, we must continue to forge the closest possible security co-operation to keep our people safe. We face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism. That message was only reinforced by the abhorrent attack on Westminster Bridge and this Place last week.

So there should be no reason why we should not agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all.

Mr Speaker,

I know that this is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others. The referendum last June was divisive at times. Not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way. The arguments on both side were passionate.

But, Mr Speaker, when I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between.

And yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.

It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.

For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can - and must - bring us together.

We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed.

We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world. 

These are the ambitions of this Government’s Plan for Britain. Ambitions that unite us, so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast, but by our determination to make a success of the result.

We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.

And now that the decision to leave has been made – and the process is underway – it is time to come together.

For this great national moment needs a great national effort. An effort to shape a brighter future for Britain.

So let us do so together.

Let us come together and work together.

And let us together choose to believe in Britain with optimism and hope.

For if we do, we can together make the most of the opportunities ahead.

We can together make a success of this moment.

And we can together build a stronger, fairer, better Britain – a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.

And I commend this statement to the House.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Chronicle Column - Terrorism in Westminster

Last week's 'terrorist incident' at Westminster was a surreal experience for Members of Parliament. After driving his vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, a terrorist sought to enter the House of Commons armed with a large blade, intent on murder. For PC Keith Palmer, guarding the entrance to Parliament, and for 3 pedestrians on Westminster Bridge it was a deadly terrifying experience which ended their lives. For the families of those killed or severely injured it was a tragic event which will impact on their lives for as long as they live. 

It was absolutely right that MPs continued their work next morning, as scheduled. Terror cannot be seen to win. It’s crucial that we do not over-react, or equate protection from terrorists as increased separation from the people we represent. So we have to be cautious in how we MPs react and in what we say.

Inevitably there will be some changes in security procedures. Actually, consideration of security is ongoing, and not just in and around Westminster, as terrorist attacks evolve to take different forms. While all of us should await results of formal inquires, we can reflect on what we think might be sensible and proportionate changes.

Personally, I would not want to see the policemen protecting the entrances to Parliament to be armed. Parliament must be 'of the people' and lethal weaponry on display increases separation - even if we would become used to it. But while the policemen on guard should continue to chat amiably with visitors, I do think there's a case for a position where an armed observer is always ready to act. I also think that pavements and bike lines should be made less accessible to vehicles being used as killing machines by judicial placing of security safety posts.

Every aspect of the way we all live, as well as how our Parliament functions should be considered for sensible potential change. For example, while I believe strongly in a free press (as far as possible), I cannot help but reflect that the wall-to-wall media coverage of this terrorist outrage is exactly what the terrorist wanted. The main purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, and the most effective mechanism to achieve this is publicity. This is why parliamentarians have to be cautious in how we react and what we say.

The worst culprits of all are internet giants such as Google and Facebook, who hide behind the facade that they don't control content, just providing the platform for the content, no matter how vile. Whether it's content promoting terrorism or paedophilia, this attitude is becoming unsustainable. We must not over-react, but there are some changes that any civilised society should act on. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

This is not the time for a Scottish Referendum.

Wrote an article for this week's Oswestry and Borders Chronicle, only to discover it was the wrong week! So it will only be published here.

  Another big week on the constitutional front. On Friday, Her Majesty the Queen granted Royal Assent to the European Referendum (Notification of Withdrawal) Act. The Prime Minister is now able to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the actual process by which the UK will leave the European Union. Theresa May has said that she will invoke Article 50 this coming Thursday. HMS Freedom is setting sail and We are entering uncharted and uncertain waters.

Much the worst aspect of the discussion since the referendum on June 23rd last year has been the uncertainty created in the minds of non-British citizens legally living in the UK. I've said every time I'm asked, and sometimes when I'm not, that in my opinion there isn't the remotest chance that these much valued people will be asked to leave. It's an irony that the fuss and campaigning done to pressurise the UK Government into unilaterally giving a future residence guarantee has actually caused much of the concern. In fact the UK Government has wanted to sign up to a EU wide 'Declaration of Intent', but we're told just one EU country refused. That’s the EU all over! 

As if the uncertainty involved in leaving the EU isn't enough, the Scottish First Minister has announced her decision to ask the Prime Minister to give permission for another referendum on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom to become an independent country. The Scottish First Minister's contention is that her referendum is linked to our leaving the EU. It looks very much like opportunism to me, hoping the Scottish voters will support independence in a climate of uncertainty which they would not following sober and detailed consideration.

Personally, I've always thought that if a majority of those living in Scotland want to become an independent country, so be it. Like most of us south of Hadrian's Wall, I would be desperately sad to see this happen. I do not think it would be good for Scotland or for the Scottish people. But neither do I think that the Prime Minister should agree to a referendum until the UK has left the EU, and we have at least some idea of what the future holds - particularly what it would hold for Scotland. This time, I do think Scotland's First Minister has made the wrong call. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

PM Statement about the Terrorist Outrage in Westminster

I thought you might like to read the Statement that the Prime Minister delivered to us in the House of Commons this morning.

"Mr Speaker, yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy.

"But today we meet as normal - as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do - to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid. And our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism.

"And we meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy - and the values it entails - will always prevail.

"Those values - free speech, liberty, human rights and the rule of law - are embodied here in this place, but they are shared by free people around the world.

"A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather to celebrate what it means to be free. And he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children.

"Mr Speaker, this was an attack on free people everywhere - and on behalf of the British people, I would like to thank our friends and allies around the world who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.

"What happened on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon sickened us all.

"While there is an ongoing police investigation, the House will understand that there are limits to what I can say.

"But, having been updated by police and security officials, let me set out what at this stage I can tell the House.

"At approximately 2.40pm yesterday, a single attacker drove his vehicle at speed into innocent pedestrians who were crossing Westminster Bridge, killing two people and injuring around 40 more.

"In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know that the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks.

"And we are in close contact with the governments of the countries of all those affected.

"The injured also included three police officers who were returning from an event to recognise their bravery. Two of those three remain in a serious condition.

"Mr Speaker, the attacker then left the vehicle and approached a police officer at Carriage Gates, attacking that officer with a large knife, before he was shot dead by an armed police officer.

"Tragically, as the House will know, 48-year-old Pc Keith Palmer was killed.

"Pc Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country. He had been a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that.

"He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved.

"He was every inch a hero. And his actions will never be forgotten.

"I know the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family - and to the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in yesterday's awful attacks.

"I know also that the House will wish to thank all those who acted with such speed and 
professionalism yesterday to secure this place and ensure we are able to meet as we are doing today.

"Mr Speaker, at 7.30 last night, I chaired a meeting of the Government's emergency committee COBR and will have further briefings and meetings with security officials today.

"The threat level to the UK has been set at 'severe' - meaning an attack is highly likely - for some time.

"This is the second highest threat level. The highest level - 'critical' - means there is specific intelligence that an attack is imminent.

"As there is no such intelligence, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has decided that the threat level will not change in the light of yesterday's attack.

"Mr Speaker, the whole country will want to know who was responsible for this atrocity and the measures that we are taking to strengthen our security, including here in Westminster.
"A full counter-terrorism investigation is already under way.

"Hundreds of our police and security officers have been working through the night to establish everything possible about this attack - including its preparation, motivation and whether there were any associates involved in its planning.

"And while there remain limits on what I can say at this stage, I can confirm that overnight the police have searched six addresses and made eight arrests in Birmingham and London.

"Mr Speaker, it is still believed that this attacker acted alone, and the police have no reason to believe there are imminent further attacks on the public.

"His identity is known to the police and MI5 and, when operational considerations allow, he will be publicly identified.

"What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that - some years ago - he was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure.

"The case is historic - he was not part of the current intelligence picture.

There was no prior intelligence of his intent - or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue.
"And, as Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley confirmed last night, our working assumption is that the attacker was inspired by Islamist ideology.

"Mr Speaker, we know the threat from Islamist terrorism is very real. But while the public should remain utterly vigilant, they should not - and will not - be cowed by this threat.

"As Acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley has made clear, we are stepping up policing to protect communities across the country and to reassure the public.

"And, as a precautionary measure, this will mean increasing the number of patrols in cities across the country with more police and more armed police on the streets.

"Since June 2013, our police, security and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted 13 separate terrorist plots in Britain.

"Following the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, we protected the police budgets for counter-terrorism and committed to increase cross-government spending on counter-terrorism by 30% in real terms over the course of this Parliament.

"And over the next five years we will invest an extra £2.5 billion in building our global security and intelligence network, employing over 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and more than doubling our global network of counter-terrorism experts working with priority countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

"Mr Speaker, in terms of security here in Westminster, we should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into Parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gates.
"If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed.
"The police heroically did their job.

"But, as is routine, the police together with the House authorities are reviewing the security of the Parliamentary estate, co-ordinated with the Cabinet Office, who have responsibility for the security measures in place around the Government secure zone.

"All of us in this House have a responsibility for the security and safety of our staff and advice is available for Members who need it.

"Mr Speaker, yesterday we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best.

"We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer, including those by my Right Honourable Friend the Member for Bournemouth East.

"And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.

"On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city.

"That they have lost one of their own in yesterday's attack only makes their calmness and professionalism all the more remarkable.

"Mr Speaker, a lot has been said since terror struck London yesterday. Much more will be said in the coming days.

"But the greatest response lies not in the words of politicians, but in the everyday actions of ordinary people.

"For beyond these walls today - in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country - millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives.

"The streets are as busy as ever. The offices full. The coffee shops and cafes bustling.
"As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and aeroplanes to travel to London, and to see for themselves the greatest city on Earth.

"It is in these actions - millions of acts of normality - that we find the best response to terrorism.
"A response that denies our enemies their victory. That refuses to let them win. That shows we will never give in.

"A response driven by that same spirit that drove a husband and father to put himself between us and our attacker, and to pay the ultimate price.

"A response that says to the men and women who propagate this hate and evil: you will not defeat us.
"Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today: our values will prevail.

"And I commend this statement to the House."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What does Article 50 mean for Welsh Farming?

The Prime Minister announced today that she would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29th. At the time I was discussing the impact of the UK leaving the EU with Welsh farming leaders at Dolgellau. It was a meeting of the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, of which I am a member. Only four of us travelled to Meirionydd, Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville Roberts, Lib Dem Mark Williams and two Tories, David Davies and me. The structure of the meeting was that MPs asked the questions and the panel of farming leaders responded. It's not the only meeting on this issue that we have held. Our aim is to produce a report which will be made public, and hopefully debated in Parliament in a few weeks time.

Agriculture is an important industry in rural Wales, probably more so than in any other part of the UK. It's an industry very reliant on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). While the individual farm payments underpin many farms in rural Wales, it is unfair on those who do not receive the same financial support, and it tends to stifle innovation. Inevitably, those representing the industry will seek vigorously to defend the status quo. Instinctively, I feel the same. After all, am still involved in farming myself!

A major issue to be decided is how EU responsibilities for agriculture policy will be devolved. The devolved governments think everything should be devolved, while I can see all might not agree. It's crucial that we do not create a system where one part of the UK should adopt policies which completely shaft the others. The example I used yesterday was to ask what if the Scottish Govt doubled the suckler cow premium, rendering the keeping of suckler cows unviable in Wales. It was just a theoretical example of "What if".  There will be much discussion of this when the Great Repeal Bill is published.

The issue of greatest concern is the potential imposition of tariffs on UK/EU trade in lamb (and to some extent beef). Wales needs to export our lamb to EU, and we need to protect our beef market from being undercut by beef imported at a lower standard of regulated safety and hygiene than applies to home producers. Another area for important debate. In my view the most important issue for Welsh farming. I was interested to hear both Welsh farming unions see Australian exports of lamb as more of a threat to Wales than those from New Zealand. I hadn't thought of that. For me the discussion, albeit very early in the debate on us leaving the EU was helpful, informative and not as negative as I expected.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Is Remainers Project Fear still bubbling?

The UK leaving the European Union will be a profoundly complex business - underestimated by Leave supporters, and over-cooked by Remain voters. I hear lots of voices (from both sides but mostly Leave) making comment like "We voted Out so just get on with it." Not so easy. I've been an instinctive 'Leaver' since progressing from a 'Not Joiner' in 1973. But even I was deeply conflicted on June 23rd, and might have thought more than twice if the burearocrats who run the EU had offered the prospect of a two-speed Europe as they seem to be doing in response to the Referendum vote. Too late. I've no doubt that if that had been offered to David Cameron, we would not be leaving the EU.

In any case, Theresa May cannot just "get on with it". Too many clever lawyers and politicians still seeking to over-turn the Referendum result are at work. And they will not stop. Yes, leaving is ferociously complex, but I do not believe it's impossible. Despite every conceivable blocking mechanism being rolled out to prevent progress, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked during the next few days. Fortunately, the Act allowing this passed through Parliament unscathed.

There have been two issues debated. Firstly, the rights of non British legally resident in the UK. No-one ever wanted or proposed anything else. Those making this a high profile issue have caused huge concern to those affected. One family contacted my office this week to discuss leaving for Canada because of it. Think I persuaded them to stay. The second issue about what constitutes a "meaningful vote", was to my mind much more serious (though others whose views I respect disagree). What we have now, rightly, is a sound negotiating position. But it does force us to consider facing trading under WTO rules. For some reason this prospect is considered a disaster. But should it? Is this Project Fear again? Must admit to being not entirely sure (no-one is). But I do suspect it will not be as bad as is being portrayed.

Let's consider some of what we know. EU/UK negotiations will be against a background that no further negotiations will take place if it's rejected by Parliament - so negotiations will be for real. It will be against a background of the UK trading on WTO rules if no deal is agreed, which will make both sides search for agreement with more vigour. An agreement will benefit both sides. My understanding, which is likely to increase rapidly, along with that of many others, is that any tariffs are likely to be low on exports to and from the EU. If there is a prospect of real damage to trade, both sides will have an interest is resolving problems. And negotiations will be against certainty, that the UK would be leaving the EU whatever deal is offered. No-one will want a bad deal because we know  'No deal is better than a bad deal.

I do think that as negotiations start, even before they start, the UK should revisit the issue of non British residents. We know no-one is going to be asked to leave. We also know that no legal reciprocal agreement can be finalised until end of the negotiation. But we could make a formal unilateral declaration of intent. I don't suppose we will, but I'd quite like to show up the heartless EU states that won't agree now. Always more comfortable on the high ground, I find.

Whatever, we're off. The starting pistol is about to be fired. For next two years we will be dominated by the intricacies of deliving far and away the most complex negotiations of my time in politics, which is over 40 yrs. Here's wishing all our negotiators a fair wind and good sailing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Thinking aloud about Tories taking over Wales

What should be the Conservative Response to the Wales Bill and Devolution?
I only suggested today's fringe meeting to TRG, the Tory Reform Group, for two reasons, one of them rather selfish. Firstly I believe the Wales Act passed in 2017, is a very significant milestone in the history of Welsh governance. It’s easy to under-rate the significance of a Wales Act, because there have been so many, in a relatively short time. But I do think the Wales Act that has most recently made it onto the Statute Book changes the devolution landscape.

The move to a 'reserved powers' model, and the financial accountability which will come from devolution of responsibility for levying 50% of income tax are transformative. And of course it was a Conservative Secretary of State who took this Wales Act through the parliamentary process without any opposition amendments - both unusual and unexpected. We as a Conservative Party need to build on this achievement.

The rather selfish reason I thought I'd like to make a speech linked to our Spring Conference, is that it helps me develop my own thinking on 'What should be the Conservative response to the Wales Act and devolution. Luckily, I'm sharing a platform with David Melding and Daran Hill, two of the most thoughtful and respected political analysts’ active in Welsh politics.

I do think it’s important for the Conservative Party to look beyond the short-term pressures which impact on any party in Government, and for the Welsh Conservative Party to reflect on how we develop a strategy to win future elections in Wales, challenging and defeating the notion that Wales is a permanent Labour stronghold.

Unusually for me, I have written a speech, again for two reasons. Firstly, I feared that 8.00 on a Saturday morning might fail to attract much of an audience. I needed a speech I could circulate afterwards to stimulate discussion amongst some of those who are just about stirring from beds.  And secondly, a written speech allows for amendment and development of my ideas.

Firstly, I think we need to create a structure within our party which develops Welsh Conservative policy, allowing us to look beyond the short-term pressures of Government, and plan how we can move forward to win power in Wales. We need a strategy to end the assumption that too many hold, that Wales will always be run by Labour.

Inevitably there will be differences of emphasis - driven by political realities. But I do think we need a formal mechanism, meeting regularly, including AMs and MPs, plus a representative from the our Party's Welsh Board and the House of Lords to develop policy and set targets based on what we need to do to become the largest party in Wales.

My speech is divided into brief comments on three aspects of what I think the Welsh Conservative Party should do to take power in Wales, one of which is about party structure, and two of which are about policy.
My view it that the Labour Party in Wales is there for the taking, and it's the Welsh Conservative Party that's best placed to take it. We need to develop a narrative that the people of Wales relate to as Welsh Conservative policy. We should not have an Assembly Group policy or a Westminster based policy.  As far as possible, we should have Welsh Conservative policy.

While there may well be differences of emphasis, our aim should be to develop a distinctive narrative amongst voters about what our party in Wales stands for. We need to think about what we want to come to voter's minds when they think Welsh Conservative. Not everyone will agree with this. In practice, I'm suggesting a new body, acting on behalf of the Welsh Conservative Party Board, charged with developing policy. 

The other two, perhaps more significant aspects of my speech are about policy I believe should underpin our drive to become the largest party in Wales, seeking to change the perception that many, far too many Welsh voters have of what being a Welsh Conservative stands for.  We need the people of Wales to see the Welsh Conservatives as unmistakably Welsh, committed to the interest of Wales, and the unique language and culture of Wales.  

It was the Conservative Party under Mrs Thatcher which established S4C, with hugely generous funding. It was a Conservative Party which passed the Education Act in the early 1990s which transformed prospects for the Welsh Language. And it's the same today.
It's a Conservative Govt which has just agreed to change the practices of the House of Commons to allow the Welsh Language to be used in Welsh Grand Committee debates - an important statement of our continuing commitment to Welshness. I'm looking forward to delivering my first speech in Welsh in Parliament next month.

If we are to become the largest party in Wales we need those natural Tory voters in rural Wales, who vote for Plaid Cymru to see us as their natural home. Across the world, the parties that are strong in rural areas are usually right-of-centre parties. Our aim must be to offer them the 'Welshness' they relate to.

And secondly, we should emphasise our history as the green policy deliverers in Wales. Nothing is more Conservative than looking after our environment. Our declared mission is to hand on to the next generation a country with a cleaner environment that we have inherited.

There was no greater advocate of this principle than Mrs Thatcher. I'm not talking about 'reform' but about a 'return' to Mrs Thatcher's enthusiasm for supporting environmental principles. And I don't mean shouting about an impractical policy position that some green lobby groups tend to do.  

I think is worth repeating a couple of quotes from Mrs Thatcher's speeches. In 1990 she told the Royal Society.
"We must enable all our economies to grow and develop because without growth you cannot generate the wealth to pay for protection of the environment."
Britain's first White Paper on the environment, Our Common Inheritance, was published by the Thatcher Govt. We were the party that pushed for and secured the Climate Change Act. We have pledged to create a Blue Belt of marine reserves around our Overseas Territories - 4 million square kilometres. We are committed to phasing out energy generation from coal by the mid-2020s.

We know from Welsh Govt stats that the energy and environment sector is the biggest employer in Wales, followed by financial services and tourism (which also benefits from environment protection). Any political party serious about power in Wales must be committed to protection of our environment and landscapes. 

In 1989 she said in a keynote speech "As well as the science, we need to get the economics right. That means first we must have economic growth to generate the wealth to pay for the protection of the environment. But it must be growth which does not plunder the planet and leave our children with the consequences tomorrow" 

I want us to be accepted as, and seen as the party that delivers for 'Welshness' and delivers for the Environment. I believe fervently that the Welsh Conservative Party should be perceived to be "Conservative, to be Welsh and to be Green" -  policy areas where we have delivered, but not sought credit for.

It's time we stated shouting from the rooftops about our commitment to the environment.

With a Welsh Conservative commitment to and focus on our 'Welshness' and 'Environmentalism, we can become the biggest political force in Wales.