This isn’t politics. It’s a three-year temper tantrum, cynical and brutal to democracy

In medieval times, so the mythology goes, Princes and other noble young boys would not be subject to the same beatings or other corporal punishments as commoners: too undignified for a future King, soon-to-be ruler of the nation. Instead, an identical punishment would be inflicted upon a commoner. The notion seems somewhat ill-conceived. Teaching future leaders that they themselves have impunity, and others bear the consequences, seems a little odd even for the Middle Ages.

Whether it’s true, or a story embellished by John Donne, Mark Twain and others, I don’t know. But the phrase ‘whipping-boy’ came to enter the English language to describe some unfortunate person or idea, punished for the misdeeds of another. It was a tough call whether to use ‘whipping-boy’ or ‘scapegoat’ for this article; the etymology of the goat in Leviticus would have been of similar interest.

No whipping-boy has ever been flogged quite so mercilessly as Brexit. Pound goes up? The economy’s going well. Pound goes down? Send for the whipping-boy. Someone makes a racist comment? Where has that whipping-boy gone? Jobs created? That’s the industry and hard work of business. When jobs are lost, would any business in the history of the planet admit it’s their own fault? No – they’ll blame Brexit. It has become the ready-made, catch-all excuse.

More than that, even when a business doesn’t make that excuse because it’s self-evident arrant nonsense and they have sufficient professional integrity not to do so, it seems that politicians default back to the whipping-boy anyway.

The EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement recently came into force. Japanese car manufacturers used to have to pay a 10% tariff if they built cars in Japan, so they built them in Europe to avoid the tax. Cancel the tax, cancel the incentive to build in Europe, it becomes cheaper to build in Japan.

Labour voted for that Agreement. Conservatives voted for that Agreement. The natural consequence of that is that jobs in the car industry, which faces high tariffs, are going to be lost because they’ve just made it cheaper for Japan to produce cars in Japan. As Honda says, that would have happened anyway. It’s the same reason they’re also shifting production from Turkey to Japan.

The honest sales pitch for Labour and Tories would be to say ‘this trade deal will create more jobs than it costs, and cuts prices for consumers’. They can’t do that though: they’d tacitly be accepting that they voted for job losses. Fetch the whipping-boy!

When EU emissions targets make diesel less competitive, reducing the demand for diesel cars do those same politicians have the courage of their convictions and say ‘we don’t mind Nissan job losses to fight climate change’? That’s a tough sell. There must be an easier way; this time (as they’ve consistently done since the UK didn’t join the euro), Nissan joined the politicians in calling for the whipping-boy!

With all the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that unemployment has skyrocketed since the referendum. It hasn’t. Britain has record numbers of people in work. When Rolls Royce gained a contract last week to make billions of pounds worth of aeroplane engines, news outlets barely noticed.

Every scare story about Brexit is great news for big business profit margins. A Labour politician brought out the whipping-boy to claim food prices would go up after Brexit. Up? When we could remove tariffs from imports of things we can’t grow or make ourselves? Seriously? Suddenly, the big companies think they can get away with price increases.

Those politicians who backed Remain in the referendum pledged on June 24th 2016 to accept the Leave vote. My respect for them grew; they respected democracy. Then I saw them deny their own words by working tirelessly to frustrate and undermine Brexit. My respect evaporated.

The culmination of that was Corbyn’s betrayal this week of the Manifesto upon which Labour MPs were elected. If you’ve bought defective goods in a shop, you’re entitled to a refund. But if you bought Labour’s General Election claim that they’d respect the referendum result, you’re stuck with a broken product and broken promises.

This isn’t politics. It’s a three-year temper tantrum, cynical and brutal to democracy. They continue to mercilessly flog the whipping-boy for invented slights and fake misdemeanours, hoping that if they whip hard enough they might yet kill him completely. Make no mistake about it: if they kill him, they will also kill off a nation’s waning faith in our democratic process.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people claim that old people are the cause of Brexit

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people claim that old people are the cause of Brexit. It’s become a favourite mantra of those who would like to re-introduce ageism into our society and consign anyone over the age of 60 to the scrapheap.

I believe in equality. I believe that an 18-year-old’s voice is neither more nor less important than an 81-year-old’s voice. It is the nature of democracy that we don’t suggest that different people have different worth: all have an equal say. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, posits that one person’s view is more important than another’s. Look back at any social ill from centuries ago – government by the aristocracy, the denial of suffrage to women, even slavery – and they all have one thing in common: they abandoned a class or group of people in society.

When I see the most appalling, horrible, remarks being made about older people in society, suggesting that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I shudder. When I see adverts by Remain campaigners on social media talking about older people dying as though it were an argument against Brexit, I despair about what our world has become.

Being in my mid-to-late 30s myself, and a former schoolteacher, I believe that the voices of our young people are important. Far too often, young people’s views are forgotten or marginalised. I believe that any adult’s voice should be just as powerful as anybody else’s. The recourse to that is to encourage young people to get more involved, not to treat older people as social pariahs.

If you must blame older people for Brexit, why not try to imagine things from the perspective of an older person who voted for Brexit?

Those over the age of 60 have a memory that the rest of us lack: they recall the referendum in 1975 on Britain remaining part of a Common Market. They remember the promises that it would be nothing more than a trading organisation, to permit the UK to trade freely with its European neighbours.

Young people in 1975 voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the Common Market. They believed in friendship, neighbourliness and co-operation with those in countries near our own. They trusted their government and their politicians.

My dad was one of those. Fast-forward a couple of decades. Suddenly, under the Maastricht Treaty, he had – without his knowledge or consent – become a ‘citizen of the European Union’ and ‘subject to the duties imposed thereby’. The country had been pushed into an Exchange Rate Mechanism with the intention of changing our currency to the proposed euro. Leading business organisations recommended the change. It proved a disaster; more businesses went bankrupt within a two-year period than at any time in history. He saw businesses claim they’d leave the UK if we didn’t join the euro. We didn’t join the euro, and those same businesses expanded.

My family come from an agricultural background pre-World War 2, and watched in horror as our agricultural and fisheries were ravaged because of our EU membership. He saw us lose control of our immigration policy, business policy, even some taxation policy, and wondered how the government could possibly have lied to him so brazenly about the Common Market he voted for. When I speak to pro-Brexit campaigners, it’s remarkable just how many of them were pro-Remain in 1975. Experience has changed their minds.

Do I blame them for their Remain vote in 1975? No, because they didn’t have the full information: they couldn’t know what the European Union would become. They didn’t know then what they know now. They believed, naively, that their government was being honest about the intentions of the organisation they were voting on.

That journey from Remain to Leave has been a consistent one, gradual yet inexorable. Far too often, the characterisation of older people is one which imputes negative motives: after all, they’re no longer in the workforce. The truth, though, is very different. Opposition to the European Union has been built over decades of watching the European Union develop, and seeing how people’s daily lives have been inhibited.

They hold their hands up about the mistake they made in 1975; at the 2016 referendum, they were determined to put that mistake right.

For the last three years, one thing has dominated the news

For the last three years, one thing has dominated the news. Many people, whichever way they voted, are sick of hearing the word Brexit. They’re bored. They want to move on. And here I am, writing another article about it. Whenever I write on important issues from sexual abuse to charity,  from religious freedom to antisemitism, the number one comment I get back from people (even editors) is ‘I expected an article on Brexit’. Well, I am a member of the European Parliament, so that’s not too surprising. It’s my job.

We had a referendum in June 2016; at the time the government had promised to trigger Article 50 immediately, which would mean we’d have been out in June 2018 and back to the business of our daily lives already.

Instead, we had 9 months of waiting for Article 50 to be triggered. Then incompetence on the UK’s part and intransigence on the EU’s conspired to cause delays. We’re now 92 days from Brexit, and still neither the Westminster Parliament nor the EU Parliament has approved this shambles of a deal which doesn’t even try to deliver on anything (other than immigration) that Brexit voters wanted, whilst simultaneously annoying Remainers. This Brexit deal is the ‘best deal possible’ according to European Union negotiators; they mean it’s the best deal possible for them.

We won’t get our money’s worth for the £39 billion divorce bill. Theresa May used to tell us that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. She’s delivered on a bad deal…and gambles on three things to ramrod her deal through Parliament. Firstly, she’s relying on your boredom. She’s assuming that the public are so sick of hearing about Brexit that we’ll all say ‘yeah it’s a bad deal, but the EU won’t let us have anything better and at least we’ll be able to finally talk about something else’. Secondly, by holding the first Parliamentary vote in mid-January, two months before Brexit, she hopes to run down the clock to bounce Parliament into approving it. Thirdly, she’s relying upon Opposition incompetence. Their “will they, won’t they?” motion of no confidence, followed by the “did Jeremy Corbyn call Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’ or ‘stupid people’?” distraction, added to their confusion over Brexit, hardly inspires confidence.

Remember the Trump – Clinton election (the most unpopular candidate in American Presidential history versus the second-most unpopular candidate ever)? Both May and Corbyn would be 15 points behind in the opinion polls if they were facing someone competent on the other side. They’re not; they’re facing each other.

A consequence of Theresa May’s running down the clock is that the UK’s best option – to agree a simple Canada-style free trade deal with the European Union (as the EU itself said was on the table when Council President Donald Tusk proposed it) – is looking less feasible.

Many Brexiteers think May’s deal is even worse than Remain, fearing that we could be trapped indefinitely. We’re down to three choices: Remain (with all the attendant civil strife that would cause), May’s deal (which offends both sides in equal measure), or No Deal (short-term pain for long-term gain).

The European Commission has (as predicted) produced contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit which include areas such as aviation, financial services, customs checks, emissions trading schemes and the legal status of Brits living in the EU. This isn’t what I want, but what else can I back? I can’t support May’s deal, and I certainly can’t support Remain: millions of people voted four times (2014 European elections, 2015 General Election, 2016 referendum, 2017 General Election) to cause Brexit.

As a democracy, if the nation votes for the same thing four times and then it’s not delivered, or actively torpedoed, those people will believe that democracy is dead. I’ll just say this: of the 17.4 million Leave voters, I’d guess between 4 and 8 million of them aren’t bored; the ones who’d feel utterly and irrevocably betrayed. If between 10% and 20% of the adult population of our nation were to lose trust in our democracy to such an extent, the social breakdown would still be felt two generations from now.

I hate to say it, but No Deal now seems the least-worst option; perhaps from that starting point, we’ll finally be able to negotiate a reasonable trading relationship with the EU.

It’s time we had an open, frank and honest discussion in society about sexual abuse

It’s time we had an open, frank and honest discussion in society about sexual abuse. We see chasms in British politics, in global politics, as though abuse were a Left/Right issue not a humanity issue. Not so long ago, I’d have been able to say things like ‘all sexual abuse is bad’, ‘people are innocent until proven guilty’, ‘false accusations are bad’, ‘sex abusers should be locked away for the protection of the public’, ‘an oops-my-hand-slipped consent violation is very bad, though still lower on the scale of seriousness than a stranger raping someone at knifepoint’, ‘whether someone’s guilty doesn’t depend upon their political beliefs but their actions’ and so on, without batting an eyelid. To paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence, those truths really should be self-evident. Yet, in our increasingly-polarised society, they don’t seem to be.

This isn’t a theoretical discussion. This isn’t something rare, happening to people you’ve never met. In my (largely people from outside politics) circle of friends and acquaintances I know several
women and a couple of men who’ve been seriously sexually assaulted; others who’ve experienced harassment; people whose lives have been torn apart by false allegations, and situations where a manipulative thankfully-now-ex partner has threatened to make false reports of sexual abuse as a means of exerting control over the relationship. When I was teaching, I thankfully never personally knew a case of abuse – but friends of colleagues and colleagues of friends did. Many teachers live in constant fear of false accusations being made by someone not yet fully cognisant of the gravity of the accusation they’d be making. Careers ruined, families torn apart, yet child protection must rightly always be paramount.

We should all be on the same side. There cannot surely be more than one person in a thousand who could possibly disagree that we should render the innocent blameless and punish the guilty; society should be united. Yet it isn’t. Nor is everything quite black and white; take the Ched Evans case for example: found guilty of rape, but overturned and acquitted on appeal. His actions deeply immoral, but legally did not meet the requisite standard for a conviction on the offence of rape. Is the law wrong? Is it outdated?

Conviction rates for rape are appallingly and terrifyingly low; recent cases show the dangers of trying to artificially increase them. When documents demonstrating innocence fail to find their way into the hands of the defence, it shows something wrong with the system. Jimmy Saville never had to live with the consequences of his serial sexual offences; Cliff Richard must forever live with the consequences of false accusation and trial by media, reputation forever unfairly tarnished.

In America, battle lines were drawn on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. The Left condemned him guilty as charged; the Right claimed evidence exonerated him. Rewind 20 years for the converse: remember the Right condemning Bill Clinton; the Left defending him? Should your views on the behaviour of Trudeau or Trump really depend upon political allegiance rather than facts? Shouldn’t the outrage be proportionate to the offensive behaviour, not to the colour of the rosette? Power corrupts; positions of power create potential abuse of that power. They attract potential abusers. Genuine – serious – abuse by MPs and MEPs goes unpunished; yet, colleagues who’ve tried to dismiss an underperforming or disloyal staff member frequently find themselves instant subjects of retaliatory accusations.

What should be legal, and what should be illegal? How to react to those behaviours which aren’t illegal per se, but are socially unacceptable? For anyone who struggles with the concept of this immoral/illegal distinction, imagine a serial liar: immoral, but hardly a criminal. How can we balance protection against false accusations with condemnation of true ones? How do we deal with the fear of coming forward when convictions are so difficult, yet maintain our proud national tradition of innocence until proven guilty? How do we stop innocent people like Cliff Richard being condemned in the court of public opinion, whilst the guilty all too often fail to face a court of law?

Worse still, we can’t consider any of these questions in a vacuum. They’re all intertwined with each other. How do we cut the Gordian knot and make sure we only condemn the people who deserve it, without ruining innocent lives in the process? I don’t have all the answers but one thing I do know: this matters. A lot. And the way we’re going about it is only going to make matters worse, not better.

I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims

I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims. Yes, I’m a Christian, and yes, I stuff things up from time to time like we all do. I’d never claim otherwise.

Are Christians being persecuted in many Muslim countries at the moment? Yes. They’re also being persecuted in India (Hindu), China and North Korea (atheist) and many other countries too.

If you’re truly a Christian, what actually is your response to such persecution? Last night, I happened to watch a harrowing hour-long film about the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian citizen who had dared to preach Christianity during Communist rule. His 14 years in prison included medieval-style torture and beatings, burning and branding, being locked in an ice box, years of solitary confinement and threats to his family; his wife suffered broken ribs when she was thrown into a freezing winter canal by prison guards. After his release from prison, he could never again walk normally due to the brutal beatings to his feet. Others were killed or died in prison. When testifying to the U.S. Senate, he lifted his shirt to show scars from his torture.

Yet throughout, he professed nothing but love for his Communist captors and torturers. Why? Because, as he said, he was “looking at men… not as they are, but as they will be…I could also see in our persecutors…a future Apostle Paul..the jailer in Philippi who became a convert.”

You see, his actions reflected what Christianity actually is: when the Bible says ‘bless those who persecute you’, it means something profound to those who’ve been tortured for their faith. It’s just words to those who wish to use the word ‘Christian’ tribally as though it were ‘us versus them’, the religious equivalent of a Newcastle-Sunderland football match.

Early this month, I happened to meet again with some Christian pastors from Algeria, a majority-Muslim country. I’ve done some work along these lines in the European Parliament, trying to raise awareness of how Christians in that country are being harassed by their government. Churches are being banned or de-registered; licences required to import Christian materials aren’t granted. Some are thrown in jail for daring to insist upon freedom to practice their faith. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi faces the death penalty for a trumped-up charge of insulting Islam.

These are the people actually facing persecution. If you’d expect anyone to be bitter or angry towards Muslims, it’d be them. Thing is, they’re not. I asked the Algerian pastors what more people in churches in the UK could do. Their answer was surprising: they said we should engage more with Muslims, to talk to them, to break down barriers and to show them by example that Christianity means something to us. Perhaps that’s why so many Muslims in Algeria are converting to Christianity; Christians there are so abundantly welcoming of them.

You’d think that Muslims converting to Christianity would be something that those seeking a ‘Christian country’ would applaud, but I’ll tell you now that it won’t be achieved through hatred.

Now, I’m not by any means blind to the serious issues we have as a society. You’ll find no greater advocate than me of serious punishments being handed down by courts to those who commit acts of terror or violence, to those evildoers in grooming gangs who abused our children. Whilst as individuals the hardest thing to do is to forgive, that task is made easier when we have justice and sentences which fit the crime. Far too often it doesn’t; that’s where society often breaks down. Hiding from tough questions (although the majority of child abusers are white British, a disproportionate number of grooming gangs are from mainly-Muslim backgrounds) won’t make matters any better either; society needs to act.

But whilst it’s fair and reasonable and right and true and just to demand that society protects us from injustice, it’s immoral and counterproductive to go in for hatred of a whole religion. If you’re not prepared to love your neighbour as yourself, whether your neighbour is white British or Muslim, then you’ve got no business describing yourself as Christian. Please stop culturally appropriating the word ‘Christianity’ for your own ends.

We live in an Alice-in-Wonderland, topsy-turvy world where those seeking to overturn the result of the biggest vote of the people in our history brand themselves as the ‘People’s Vote’

In our Alice-in-Wonderland, topsy-turvy world where those seeking to overturn the result of the biggest vote of the people in our history ironically brand themselves as ‘People’s Vote’, the traditional response of Brexit supporters has been incredulity. The actual proposal – for a second referendum on our EU membership – has escaped scrutiny. Let’s set the ball rolling.

Would a Remain vote in a second referendum even result in Remain? There’s a court case going to the European Court of Justice at present, asking it to rule whether it’s even legal for the UK to unilaterally change its mind about invoking Article 50 and leaving the EU. There’s certainly nothing in the Treaties authorising that. What if the EU didn’t allow the UK to change its mind? What if it sought to impose punitive conditions on the UK for doing so?

How do they propose that everything should be done in time? At present, pro-Remain campaigners are spending vast unregulated sums of money seeking to shift public opinion. The Electoral Commission requires 6 months between calling a referendum and it taking place, to ensure a semblance of balance. In a referendum, campaign rules regulate spending. TV airtime was required to cover both sides equally. (Remain and Leave each had minor quibbles about the other side’s spending and co-ordination, though the big picture was that Remain outspent Leave by 3 to 2; the minutae will be argued for years, each side claiming victories as appeals go to higher and higher courts). How could legislation possibly have time to go through Parliament and a referendum be held fairly long before March 29th giving time for the European Parliament to sign off on any deal.

Extending the Article 50 deadline doesn’t help much either. That requires all 27 EU countries to agree to an extension. There are European Parliament elections in May. Those elections are planned based upon the UK having left, with all the seats re-allocated. The EU won’t allow their own elections to be utterly ruined by Brexit uncertainty. They might agree to a 4-6 week extension, but that’s about all.

Let’s suppose that a vote were held, with inconclusive results. Suppose they overruled the Electoral Commission, ignored balance requirements, and secured a tiny Remain majority on a low turnout on a snowy day in February, with far fewer people voting than in 2016. Would that legitimately overturn the biggest vote in our history?

What is the position in the event that Leave wins a second referendum? Will the European Parliament vote for a deal in the run-up to a UK referendum? Knowing my MEP colleagues, I seriously doubt it. In all likelihood the European Parliament wouldn’t vote until after a UK referendum. What if a UK referendum approves the deal, but the European Parliament rejects it? Would campaigners then call for a third referendum? How? When?

What if the second referendum were not based upon a clear, agreed deal? In that case, we’d have a carbon copy of 2016. ‘We don’t know exactly what Brexit will look like’ was their argument last time. It didn’t work, but they’d re-hash the same. Indeed, the mere potential of a second referendum is already emboldening the EU to offer a poor deal.

Finally, what of the social consequences of their actions? People’s Vote campaigners claim the original referendum campaign was based upon lies (I should probably avoid churlishly pointing out that they should know, because they told most of them). If the referendum in 2016 was acrimonious, what do they suppose a further referendum now would be? Do they not think it would be far, far worse?

Would they accept the result if Leave won again? Many of them claimed during the last campaign that they would, then accepted it publicly, but have since reverse-ferreted. Even if they did somehow pull off a Remain victory, at what price? 10 million or more committed, unwavering, Brexit voters would never trust democracy again.

Those campaigning for a second referendum should think very carefully: they propose a recipe for constitutional chaos. In the meantime, they’re torpedoing negotiations. The more traction they gain, the stronger the EU’s side of negotiations, and the worse deal we’ll get. If the UK is browbeaten into a poor deal, they need only look in the mirror to find out why.

The few Labour politicians that have dared to brave the abuse and speak out on anti-Semitism within Labour have done a great service to their Party and country

In one of Aesop’s fables, a man is considering a purchase of a donkey. The owner allows him to take it for a trial. As soon as the donkey enters the stable, it went straight up to the laziest and greediest donkey there. The man immediately rejected the donkey. The owner protested that he hadn’t even tried it out yet. The purchaser replied ‘I could see the kind of beast he was by the kind of companion he chose for himself’.

Back in 2014, a Labour politician closed his speech by quoting the fable. “By their company shall you know them”, he finished, attacking my own former party after providing a list of examples of people who had made unsavoury comments. It was easy to respond: we kicked them out. We did not tolerate such behaviour; we didn’t stand for such company. Sadly, my former party changed: it now courts the types it used to expel; sadly, I had no choice but to go Independent. Recently, his words have become poignant and keep coming back to mind.

Last week, I had occasion to participate in an event at a Jewish community centre in London. The security levels: bag searches, metal-detecting wands, counting people in and out of the building – is this what our society has become? Is this how concerned our Jewish communities have had to become about their future? Hatred of the Jewish people has been a hallmark of far-Left and far-Right for generations. That of the Nazis is well-known; that of the Communists, less so. Jewish people were persecuted under the Bolsheviks and then under Stalin. The Soviets denounced anti-Semitism publicly, then used the term ‘anti-Zionist’ as cover for anti-Semitic activities and persecution of Jews. The so-called ‘Doctors’ plot’, where Stalin ordered the arrest and torture of Jewish doctors on false charges of conspiracy to kill high-ranking Soviet officials, was planned as cover for the mass deportation of Jews to forced-labour camps in Siberia. Soviets and Nazis both believed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that  Jewish agents secretly control Western governments.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we see ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ used as proxies for anti-Semitism. This is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is so important. It catches those anti-Semites who use a ‘bait-and-switch’ approach. It delineates reasonable democratic debate about the policies of Israel’s government from anti-Semitism. When Jeremy Corbyn refuses to adopt that definition, I worry.

When Jeremy Corbyn was present at a wreath-laying event for the Munich terrorists, even accepting his claim that he did not personally lay a wreath, the company he keeps is cause for concern. When Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Qatar in 2012 for a conference with a convicted terrorist, Husam Badran, alarm bells ring. When Jeremy Corbyn praised the release of Hamas terrorists on Iranian State TV, should we not be worried? When he is pictured next to Maher Al-Taher, a senior figure in a proscribed terror group (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) are we supposed to not bat an eyelid? When he writes in the Morning Star (originally set up by the Communist Party of Great Britain) of a ‘long meeting’ and takeaway dinner with Holocaust-denier leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, what then? Then, a video emerged of him saying “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony.” Endorsements from Nick Griffin (ex-leader of the BNP) and David Duke (ex-leader of the Ku Klux Klan) don’t help him much either.

Left-wingers often (and not always unfairly) accuse Donald Trump of two things: firstly, of engaging in whataboutery – diverting attention from one issue by asking ‘what about’ a different, often unrelated one. Secondly, they claim there’s so much material that the public become desensitized to the latest gaffe. Such criticisms apply equally to Corbyn. When asked to condemn, for example, IRA violence, Corbyn’s choice of words is telling: he condemns ‘all violence’ – refusing to single out the terrorist activity. When he responds to questions about anti-Israel terrorism by diverting attention to Israel, it’s classic whataboutery.

A few Labour politicians, like Anna Turley, have dared to brave the abuse and speak out on anti-Semitism within Labour. I may disagree with them profoundly on other political issues but they have done a great service to their Party and country. From personal experience, I know there comes a time when a party can move so far away from what it used to believe that you can no longer remain in it. Until that time, please continue to speak up – loud and clear. What must not happen, is for this to be swept under the carpet yet again. By their company shall you know them.

Mainstream politicians of all sides have made a dog’s breakfast of Brexit

On June 23rd 2016, the British people took the historic and momentous decision to leave the European Union. Here in the North East, over 58% of those who voted chose to Leave. That decision wasn’t taken in a vacuum: it came after the 2014 European elections were won by a Leave-supporting party, and the 2015 General Election was won by a party promising a referendum on EU membership. During the campaign, Remain outspent Leave by a 3:2 ratio. On top of all that, the government spent over £9 million on a propaganda campaign promoting a Remain vote. It had an impact: those who read it were more likely to vote Remain. At the General Election in 2017, over 84% voted for parties pledging to implement the referendum result.

The priorities were, to me, pretty clear during the referendum campaign: regain full control of our ability to negotiate trade deals with other countries, end EU law and EU courts overruling our own, stop sending the EU vast sums of money, regain control over EU immigration, and regain our sovereignty. The mandate from the referendum was, in my view, pretty clear: the government should seek to negotiate a deal with the European Union for the closest possible neighbourly arrangement which respected the freedoms we’d voted to regain.

The Conservative-led government was hopeless from the start in negotiations. It allowed itself to be bullied by the European Union rather than standing up for itself, paralysed by fear. The European Union is negotiating fiercely; the United Kingdom is not.

The Labour Party, as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, has one main job: to point out to the government when it’s being stupid. When the government agreed a £35+ billion ‘divorce bill’, despite no legal obligation, gaining nothing concrete in return, Labour didn’t demand we go back to the negotiating table. In the European Parliament, Labour even voted with the EU’s side of negotiations against the UK’s.

We’re stuck with an incompetent Government and an incompetent Opposition. A further General Election would cause chaos, but resolve nothing. Conservatives (beset by infighting over Brexit) are opposed by Labour (beset by infighting over anti-Semitism and Brexit). Against this backdrop came Theresa May’s Chequers fudge. Even arch-Remainer Nick Clegg summed that up as ‘whatever Brexit means, it cannot be this’. The government’s opening salvo in negotiations concedes far more than you’d expect to concede in a final deal. The European Union, sensing weakness on the UK’s part, even poured scorn on that offer.

When challenged about Remain politicians attempting to undermine Brexit, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that the EU’s position hasn’t changed throughout negotiations. What a remarkable admission: in over 2 years, they’ve made no single meaningful concession. Would that have been possible without UK remain politicians egging the EU on at every stage, providing support and encouragement for the EU’s stance against the UK’s?

Now, we have a new problem: the so-called ‘People’s Vote’ campaign – the bizarre notion that an issue decided by a European Election, a referendum, and two General Elections, requires another referendum to see whether we want to overturn our original decision. Even if they succeeded, they’d lead to unrest, national disunity, and demands to make it ‘best of three’ to settle a 1-1 tie.

The EU wants us to Remain; such campaigns encourage them only to concede nothing in negotiation. The very people who dislike referendum results now, ironically, demand another referendum to re-ask the same question.

Mainstream politicians of all sides have made a dog’s breakfast of Brexit, lacking reasoned opposition since UKIP went over to the dark side, to borrow a Star Wars metaphor.Right at the start of the process, Theresa May said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. We can’t have a referendum asking the same Leave/Remain question that’s been repeatedly answered ad nauseam. Apart from anything else, the Electoral Commission now expects 6 months’ notice to be given of a referendum. With Parliament entering its summer recess, a referendum couldn’t realistically be called until a couple of weeks before Brexit anyway. This mess is, broadly speaking, the result of Remainers negotiating Brexit. But we are where we are.

Perhaps there’s one solution: why not ask a new question of the British people, putting whatever awful deal the government negotiates to the test? Brexit is a settled question democratically; the type of Brexit is not. ‘Do you accept the government’s proposed Brexit deal, or would you prefer to leave the European Union without a deal?’ – would at least ask the public something new. As a bonus, it’d finally give the EU a reason to negotiate in good faith. They wouldn’t make concessions unless they think there’s a genuine chance of a no-deal scenario.

Benefits of Brexit

I’ve recently been challenged by a constituent to name one clear, tangible benefit to local people of leaving the European Union. It reminded me of the need to write this article: to talk not just about implementing the referendum result, or sovereignty, or democracy – but also about practical benefits to local people and businesses. I’ve split these benefits up into different categories.

This is a ‘work in progress’ – lots to add later.

A: Benefits of not having to fully comply with European Union legislation

 

1. The EU Procurement Directive won’t be able to force us to give State contracts to overseas businesses

At present, we have to put contracts out to tender – often awarded on the basis of price. This means that local businesses often lose out on getting contracts, and creating jobs.

Of course, there may be times when it’s actually in our best interests to award a contract to an overseas firm. But in a lot of marginal cases, the advantages to jobs and the local economy will far outweigh the disadvantage of an additional (say) 1-2% on cost.

2. We won’t have to comply with the VATMOSS legislation, boosting jobs

I’ve had various businesses in my constituency contact me, explaining that the legislation makes it very difficult for them to trade with other European Union countries. This requires businesses (even if they’re below the VAT threshold) to charge VAT at the applicable rate in the country they’re selling to within the European Union.

One North East business owner, who sells low-cost technology (e.g. mobile phone apps) told me they were likely to have to stop selling to the EU because compliance costs outweighed the benefit of low-volume sales to other EU countries. Instead, they now trade more with America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (English-speaking nations make it easier to sell their products).

Another North East business, below the UK VAT threshold in the UK, told me that by the time they’d added 25% Swedish VAT to their products and postage, they could no longer sell to other EU countries competitively. They had to downsize as a result.

These examples aren’t unusual; I received quite a number of letters and emails from businesses in the North East about the same issue.

Even the EU’s biggest fan, Guy Verhofstadt, has criticised VATMOSS.

3. Compliance costs will be lower outside the European Union…

…and I’m not referring to workers’ rights, etc.

Take,  for example, the new GDPR legislation. I spoke recently to the principal of an accountancy firm which has had to spend substantial amounts of money on consultancy, take employees out of the office for training on the new legislation, and make substantial changes to the way they deal with clients. None of this has made the slightest tangible difference, but the overall cost of compliance is a substantial portion of the annual turnover of the business.

4. We won’t have threats like the Copyright Directive to the free functioning of the Internet

….and no, I’m not against copyright enforcement.

However, requiring ISPs, search engines, and social media platforms to use automated crawlers to delete content suspected of being copyrighted will result in the removal of substantial amounts of legitimate content as well.

5. We won’t have to comply with EU State Aid regulations…

Sometimes it’s necessary to take rapid action to protect local businesses. When SSI in Redcar closed, there were many reasons: the strong pound (at the time), China dumping steel below cost price on world markets, high energy prices, etc.

In such situations, it’s often appropriate to give State Aid to allow a business which should be profitable to survive a tough time (and when the State Aid is less than the redundancy/unemployment payments the State would have to make if it didn’t).

However, Articles 107 and 108 of the TFEU prevent the UK from giving such State Aid without the EU Commission’s approval. The UK government could hide behind that, didn’t ask for Commission approval, and SSI went under – costing thousands of jobs both directly and in the supply chain.

The blame here should be attached both to the UK government, and to the EU institutions.

With Brexit, the UK will also regain the power to enforce its own trade defence mechanisms, which would have avoided the delay whilst 28 countries all negotiate what to do. Different countries took different approaches; the result was paralysis at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

6. Brexit should finally end the madness of double-testing products

I visited a business in the North East which lost a significant proportion of its turnover once the EU’s Biocidal Products Regulation had kicked in. The problem: products which had already been fully tested to some of the highest standards in the world required re-testing because of new EU legislation requiring testing to take place at EU level. This led to the disappearance of some products from the market which could not justify huge fees being paid. This was exacerbated by an inability to receive the supposed ‘discounted’ rates.

Jobs were lost as a result in the North East.

This is nothing new; the REACH Directive had a similar impact on chemicals. Products which had already been tested to British standards required re-testing to EU standards, even when the EU standards were lower than the UK ones. This led to products disappearing from the market (Cutlass, for example).

7. Brexit means we don’t have to comply with rules restricting ‘natural monopolies’

There are certain ‘natural monopolies’ in the country – the postal system, for example: it’s inefficient to have competitors duplicating the same work. In these situations, privatisation basically doesn’t work well and national ownership makes sense.

EU legislation has watered this down. There are many examples of this, for example:

i) Postal Services Directives 97/67/EC and 2002/39/EC leading to Post Office closures

ii) Directive 2002/77/EC required the splitting up of the Directory Enquiries service, which has led to consumers being ripped off for £11+ for a 90-second phone call

iii) Directive 91/440/EC impacts upon the UK’s ability to organise the railways, leading to the current mess of a system. (With this benefit of Brexit, there are caveats: it’s very much also the UK’s fault through underinvestment and mismanagement)

B: Areas where the UK will be free to act differently

 

1. The North East is a strong fishing region. Outside the EU, our fisheries will recover through reclaiming our 200-mile limit

Since joining the EU, our fisheries have been decimated. EU quotas have proven to be completely ineffective, leading to the ‘discards problem’ amongst other issues – where dead fish are thrown back into the sea to avoid breaching quotas. The various attempts at EU level to resolve this problem have failed.

In the meantime, EU-flagged vessels have the right to a majority of the value of fish in UK waters. Furthermore, the system of sales means that much of the ‘British’ quota in our own waters still goes to foreign vessels.

Outside the European Union, conservation can be managed more effectively (Australia, for example, does this much better than the EU) – for example limiting time at sea rather than type of catch – whilst also giving North East fishermen more work because EU nations won’t be allowed to overfish our waters.

Defenders of the EU point out that fish don’t respect national boundaries. This is a red herring; they don’t respect EU boundaries either, and much of our boundaries are with non-EU nations (Norway, Iceland).

2. We can negotiate our own bespoke trade deals with third countries

This should be an obvious benefit, but one question often asked by people who are pro-EU is this:

Why would we get better deals as one nation than the whole EU27 put together?

The answer is that the issue isn’t about ‘better’ deals but ‘more appropriate’ deals for the UK. Let’s remember that:

i) The EU27 economy is the world’s second-largest; the UK economy (treating the EU as one) is the world’s fifth-largest

ii) The EU27 economy is only around 5 times the size of the UK economy

iii) Therefore, there aren’t many bigger trading opportunities available for third countries; the ‘bulk buy’ argument rarely applies

iv) The EU27 is incredibly slow at negotiating trade deals; getting in there first provides huge opportunities

v) The EU27 has to negotiate its own negotiating position with the Member States; therefore, individual national interests often conflict – the negotiating position itself is often a compromise

vi) The UK would be able to negotiate far quicker and realise the benefits of trade deals before the EU27 does (noting that the European Union is likely to be only the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050 according to Commission figures)

3. The net EU membership fee

The UK will, ultimately, save the net (not gross) membership fee paid to the European Union. The ‘Boris bus’ £350 million per week figure should not have been used (as I pointed out during the referendum campaign). The £180 million per week (or so) net fee is a genuine saving once any ‘divorce bill’ has been paid for the first couple of years.

Pro-EU advocates in the North East claim that the North East is a ‘net beneficiary’ of EU funds. Whilst this is not actually true, even if it were true, it would be irrelevant: the UK could replace every penny of EU funds and still have the £180 million left over.

This is actual cash; whether GDP rises (as I believe) or falls (as Remain adherents suggest) the £180 million per week would still be there.

I also believe that EU funding could be better spent directly by the UK rather than on EU-determined projects, as I argued in more detail in Britain Beyond Brexit.

4. VAT

The EU-mandated VAT is one of the most inefficient forms of indirect taxation on the planet, costing billions every year to businesses and the Treasury through costs of compliance, fraud, etc.

Outside the European Union, the UK will be free to choose a fairer and simpler form of indirect taxation.

 

C: I disagree with the premise that immigration control isn’t a benefit of Brexit

 

One of the key problems with uncontrolled immigration from the EU is that an oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour drives down wages. Even if there existed a reasonable mechanism by which the UK might enforce the permitted restrictions on those who do not find work in the UK, uncontrolled immigration does lead to lower wages (hence, why it tends to be supported by big business).

By prioritising skilled immigration over unskilled, this downward pressure on wages will be reversed – whilst developing the skills base within the economy.

 

Freedom of religion threatened in the UK – why it matters

This morning, I’m at a cross-party conference in the European Parliament on freedom of religion in Europe. Hearing this morning first from Hendrik Storm, the CEO of the Barnabas Fund. Other speakers include representatives of the office of the Bishop in Europe (Church of England), evangelical street preachers and the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Christians do indeed face intolerance and intrusion for religious beliefs; I don’t decry the more-documented struggles faced by adherents to other religions – but issues relating to Christians are often ignored, and it’s absolutely right that these issues should be raised.

The problem is that nobody is really talking about (for example) arrests of street preachers, or the hostile level of questioning aimed at Christian politicians in the UK where a similar level of scrutiny isn’t applied to other faiths (or even to atheists).

Tertullian, in the year 189, said “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that every man should worship according to his own convictions”.

The very first article in Magna Carta relates to freedom of religion. The Act of Toleration (1689) further guarantees the freedom of worship and the freedom to choose or to change one’s beliefs.

There’s a strong overlap between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Neither permits the commission of crimes, or to interfere with other people’s actions.

Freedom of speech does not, for example, entitle you to:

• Incite violence, terrorism, rioting, or murder
• Commit perjury in court
• Shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre
• Commit treason by giving national secrets to an enemy
• Demand that someone else must assist you by publishing your ‘free speech’
• Verbally abuse medical professionals, police officers, or others merely doing their jobs in the service of the public

That’s why we have legislation such as the Official Secrets Act: to clarify what freedom of speech means in practice. It is not an absolute, inalienable right – but rather, something which is permitted to the maximum extent possible without interfering with other people’s quiet enjoyment of their own lives.

George Orwell, incorrectly, said in 1984 that ‘freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4’. He was wrong; it entails the freedom to be wrong – to say that 2+2=5. The argument ‘you’re wrong; therefore you must be silenced’ is far more pernicious because it requires someone – usually the speaker, or even the State – to become the arbiter of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Conversely, the European Convention on Human Rights does not stick to the appropriate limits for ensuring that one person’s freedoms do not impact upon others. Article 9(2) states: “2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Those limits including vague phrases such as ‘public morals’ provides for a coach and horses to be driven through this supposed protection. The protection is so watered down as to be worthless.

I’m reminded that, for example, in 2004 the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee rejected the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione because of his theological belief. The same ‘European’ machinations which had underpinned the setting up of the EU, now excluded those who hold to a clearly-held religious belief. By that standard, they would have excluded also Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

If someone’s personal religious beliefs do not prevent them from doing a job, they should not be excluded from that job for the same reason. That is the definition, surely, of religious discrimination.

Nor is it applied equally: I have not heard such questions asked of other religions. Here, though, I differ from the alt-right view: I would rather protect the freedom of belief of Christians than seek to utilise this as a stick with which to beat others. I don’t ask ‘why don’t you also attack other faiths?’; I ask ‘why do you single out Christians?’.

There is a substantive difference between the two: one seeks to meet a wrong by implicitly proposing a second wrong; the other speaks of fundamental freedom.

There appears to be little in the way of protection of conscientious objection. Belgian and Swiss medical professionals have been, effectively, told that they must perform assisted suicide. Midwives in Sweden have been told they cannot hold to their religious beliefs preventing them from carrying out abortions; in March this year Sweden’s social democrats sought to ban all religious schools.

In France, legislation is effectively making criticism of abortion illegal. German and Austrian churches and religious sites have been attacked, like in Rome in 2016. In Spain, the criticism of modern ‘gender ideology’ landed even cardinals in trouble.

Now, as regards some of the above, I don’t necessarily hold to all of the principles described.

That doesn’t matter: people should be entitled to hold to their religious views and to live their lives free from discrimination! I don’t have to agree with your conscience to support your freedom of conscience.

This isn’t a political football with which to beat left-wingers, or those who hold to other faiths. It is about the defence of the freedom of religion of Christians, even those who interpret their faith differently to I.

So here’s the test: is the response one of love, or is it one of hatred?

I worry – a LOT – when people utilise the word ‘Christianity’ in the tribal way that someone might support a football club; the labels ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ having been used in the past (e.g. in Northern Ireland) to justify actions antithetical to Christianity.

As Jesus said (John 13v34-35), the appropriate response is one of love not hatred: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Likewise, in the letter to the Romans, Christians are commanded to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Those whose actions are born out of such love, such care for humanity, have my unequivocal support. Those who see it as a proxy war for something else do not.