Orkambi could help thousands of people who suffer from cystic fibrosis and it must be available on the NHS

I have been greatly affected by the plight of one of my constituents, who has a child recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It is a debilitating and life threatening genetic disease which affects approximately 1 in 2500 babies born in the UK each year.  Having a child is a blessing and a wonderful, life-affirming event; no-one expects their baby to be born with a lifelong illness and the news that such a diagnosis can bring is devastating and can be very stressful.

 Those with cystic fibrosis have thick mucus secretions which can clog their lungs, making a sufferer prone to breathing difficulties, lung infections and eventually, severe lung damage. They may also have digestive and growth problems. Those who suffer with cystic fibrosis face regular doctor appointments to monitor their condition and sometimes they will even require treatment in hospital. Sadly they must also consume a multitude of medications (tablets, liquids and inhalers) every day. They must also do physiotherapy exercises which helps to loosen any mucus and makes breathing easier.

Sadly, to date, there is no cure for this disease and the life expectancy for a person with cystic fibrosis is just 36 – 47 years old, with the main cause of death being restricted lung function. That statistic hit me quite personally; I’m 37 years old. When I was a child, I met and spent time with other children of my age who suffered from cystic fibrosis; knowing that I’m within that life expectancy was quite a sobering thought.

But medical research advances all the time. A new drug called Orkambi has been developed and has passed testing in the USA. The trial of this drug has had astonishing results. It does not help all sufferers, just those with a specific genetic mutation – roughly half of all sufferers. For those it helps, it is proven to slow down the decline of lung function by up to 42%. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has conducted a study which shows that some 2834 people in the UK could benefit from this new drug. Other new medications are in the process of clinical trials.

So what’s the problem? Sadly, it’s the age-old story: Orkambi is an expensive drug and it is not currently available on the NHS. This excuse, however, is unacceptable. Even the National Institute for Clinical Excellence admits that it is ‘clinically effective and important for managing cystic fibrosis’, whilst refusing to fund it. As a consequence medications such as Orkambi are not available to sufferers and in turn they are denied a longer and more comfortable life.

Politicians may clash when it comes issues regarding the NHS. Indeed, it is often because of political interference just as much as due to underfunding that the NHS has found itself in difficult times: constant restructuring, new management, new contracts, to name but a few. Many times in the past I have argued that the NHS needs to prioritise the patient and spend taxpayers’ money more effectively, and to stop wasting precious funds on private finance initiatives.

I would like to highlight the amazing work done by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and their Stopping The Clock campaign. A petition to make Orkambi available on the NHS has quietly attracted over 100,000 signatures and will be debated in Parliament on March 19th. Can public pressure actually make a difference? I’d like to think so.

If the murder, enslavement, torture, beating, execution and imprisonment of Christians worldwide is ever to stop, then a necessary first step is that we must be aware of it.

Last week I had a meeting with Open Doors, a charity which works with Christians worldwide who face persecution for their beliefs. It was, to say the least, an eye-opener for me. I was aware that Christians in various countries around the world are being persecuted for their beliefs. Indeed, I’ve tried to raise some of those cases to the best of my ability with the (limited) power that a Member of the European Parliament actually has (less than you might think, the EU system being designed to keep power in the hands of the unelected). When something is happening, but not right on your doorstep, it’s easy to miss something very serious.

I should point out that Christians are not the only religious group that is persecuted: talking about the persecution of Christians does not preclude the existence of persecution of other groups (and indeed, I also speak out about those matters) In the 2017 reporting period, around 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith. By the 2018 reporting period, the number had grown to 3,000. These figures do not reflect the true situation, because there are many killings that cannot be included. If a Christian is killed for their faith in North Korea, how do we find out about it? Instances across the world may not be reported, for a variety of reasons. The figures I’ve given may just be the tip of the iceberg: more than 200 million Christians face ‘high’ levels of persecution because of their faith.

In North Korea, children are urged to ‘report’ their parents if they suspect them of being Christians; those who do are unlikely to ever see their family again. Afghanistan, perhaps unsurprisingly after the events of recent years, is almost as bad – with anyone converting to Christianity facing a death sentence for ‘apostasy’. Open Doors also claims that Hindu nationalism in India has “embedded the culture of impunity for those who persecute Christians”. With so much hatred in the world, in some cases persecution is the result of a consistent blind eye being turned by authorities to crimes against those of a faith ‘different’ to the majority. It is not organised by a government, but through inaction they permit such things to continue.

In that meeting, one of the people delivering a presentation sat for most of the meeting with her head in her hands, looking downwards and averting her eyes from the rest of the room. She was terrified of being photographed, fearing that she would be unable to continue her work with Christians overseas if she were recognised. I knew of such things in the past, of course: Christians who smuggled Bibles into the old Soviet Union, fearing beatings or being sent to a remote gulag in Siberia from which they might never return. That the same could be the case today, relating to a country I would not have expected (and which I won’t name here), says so much. That’s what is most shocking: beyond the figures and statistics, beyond the stories of lives changed, destroyed or ended by persecution: today – in the 21st century – persecution of Christians (and possibly other religions but I don’t have the figures for this) is increasing rather than decreasing. We feel we live in a civilised world, one in which basic truths of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actually mean something. Four years ago, North Korea was the only country where ‘extreme’ persecution of Christians was commonplace. Today, 11 countries meet that description.

Those 11 countries don’t share much in common: in practice, if not constitutionally, they are atheist, Islamic, and Hindu, but they do share one thing: a mindset of exclusivity. To me, it’s a poignant reminder of what loving your nation, or religious beliefs, should be all about. I am a Christian myself, but I don’t hate atheists or Muslims. I care about the persecution of Christians, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about persecution of Yazidis or the Rohingya for example. I love my country, but I don’t hate anybody else’s. I’m proudly pro-Brexit, but if you disagree, we should do so amicably. And as a Northerner, I don’t hate Southerners. That kind of yah-boo dislike of the ‘other side’ should be confined to the football pitch where it belongs, where people can yell at the referee and the opposition to their hearts’ content without any actual harm being done to anyone.

If the murder, enslavement, torture, beating, execution and imprisonment of Christians worldwide is ever to stop, then a necessary first step is that we must be aware of it.

Theresa May has put herself in the worst negotiating position in history

It’s reported that Theresa May has agreed to pay the European Union €45-€55 billion as a ‘divorce bill’ when we leave the European Union. To put it into perspective, that’s around £1,000 for every adult in the UK.

I desperately want Britain to leave the EU. It’s not just about the economic benefits that we could reap if we were to do it properly, but also about regaining our freedom to make our own laws, having full control of our borders, abandoning failed EU policies in agriculture & fisheries, and rejecting any form of EU Army (I wonder whether Nick Clegg is now going to apologise for claiming that was a fantasy, like he had to apologise over tuition fees?).

If we were to leave the European Union with no deal, the World Bank claims our trade with the EU could drop by 2%. That’s 2% of 12.6% of our GDP, or potentially 0.25% of our national income. We currently spend 0.7% on overseas aid alone. Even if the overly-gloomy World Bank prediction were true (and it isn’t), the 0.25% drop could be offset by no longer paying our EU membership fee (gross 1%, and net 0.4%, of our national income). It would be mitigated by an uptick in the 70%+ or so of our economy that is internal – British businesses trading with each other would no longer have to be subject to clunky EU legislation. It would be mitigated by an uptick in our trade with the rest of the world once we regain our ability to sign trade deals (a less spineless government would be opening negotiations right now, ready to sign on Brexit Day and steal a match on the EU), which is already slightly more than our trade with the European Union.

That ‘no deal’ prospect isn’t what UKIP wants. It’s not even what Labour or Conservatives want. It’s not what the European Union wants, it’s not what business wants – and certainly not what the German car industry wants. Nobody wants a ‘no-deal’ scenario. What we do want, however, is the final deal to be better than a no-deal scenario. Protecting that 0.25% of GDP is worthwhile, laudable even, but not absolutely paramount.

But for all of her talk that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, she’s agreed to hand over £1,000 of your money just to open talks. That money comes with no guarantee of anything tangible in return. That strikes me as the worst negotiating position in history. May started out holding most of the aces: as net importers from the EU, a ‘no-deal’ scenario would mean more money coming to the UK exchequer in tariffs than going to the EU. The UK’s global place in academia, research, security and intelligence should be another ace. The ability to walk away without paying a penny, leaving the EU budget over-subscribed if we give them nothing? Another ace.

Instead, the EU has been allowed to dictate the pace. In any negotiation, you have to come to the table confidently as equals. You have to be prepared to walk away, temporarily or permanently. Want the best deal on a new car? Try walking towards the showroom’s exit door and the impossible suddenly becomes possible.

Theresa May has been bullied, allowing the EU to set out the process for withdrawal and present the British government with a series of hoops to jump through. Instead of resisting, May has complied just like a seal jumping through a hoop. Instead of playing her high cards, using them as leverage to obtain what the UK wants from the EU, she’s meekly surrendered every single one of them. She’s not been helped, admittedly, by a Labour Party that has consistently been little more than a mouthpiece for the European Union’s negotiating position. It’s almost as though they want negotiations to go badly to give them an excuse to criticise the government. Oppositions should oppose, of course, but they shouldn’t conspire against the interests of the British people.

Theresa May has just undertook the biggest sellout of British taxpayers in my lifetime, goaded into it by those who haven’t fully got to grips with the referendum result. Some of them would still, even now, have us remain in the European Union despite the way they’ve treated us. In any divorce, surely, if your ex-partner becomes nastier, that isn’t a good sign to suggest that you ought to get back together. Brexit: right decision, appalling negotiation from the Tories.

With the European Union, even when you win the battle you’re still losing the war

I’m writing this with an oddly surreal sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the universe. Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but something happened today that is a historical first.

As a UKIP member of the European Parliament, I’ve actually managed to get one (technically three along similar lines) of my amendments to the EU budget passed by the Parliament. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen: having previously submitted many hundreds of proposals to save taxpayers’ money, I’ve always watched them voted down by huge majorities.

When I was a young teenager I was taken on a school exchange visit to Northern Spain. Part of the visit included going to a bullfight, and I won’t ever forget either the stench of blood mixed with sand on a hot summer day or the cheering of the crowd at an animal’s suffering.

Even if you consider bullfighting to be acceptable (and I certainly don’t), this is not what our taxes should be going towards.

I’ve been pushing my opposition to the use of EU money (and, therefore, your taxes) to subsidise bullfighting for the past three years. The last time the issue came up, the European Parliament complained about the practice – only to be told by the European Commission that EU regulations didn’t allow the Commission to do anything about it.

As it seemed like the issue had been quietly dropped, I had another go. I drafted an amendment suggesting that as the Commission are responsible for drafting EU Regulations, they might do well to actually fix the offending Regulation rather than adopt a ‘not me, guv’ approach.

I did all the usual things – a quiet word here and there with those who might support me, and I emailed my entire Committee to ask for their support. When the vote was lost in Committee, I thought that was likely to be the final result – but together with some Italian colleagues, we persuaded others in my Group to allow us to retable the amendments to the full Parliament.

We won, making it the first ever UKIP amendment to the EU Budget to be passed by the European Parliament. It honestly came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought we’d need the Committee’s backing to get the vote through the Parliament.

I would now be busy with a self-congratulatory slap on the back, if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, the Commission may again try to weasel their way out of dealing with the problem. Secondly – and far more importantly – I tabled over 300 other amendments on different subjects with the aim of saving taxpayers’ money, and from the EU’s perspective they really should be preparing for the hole in their budget that Brexit will cause. Others were calling for more transparency about the activities of the unelected European Commission. Those other amendments were all rejected out of hand, though surprisingly one demanding transparency failed by just thirty votes – one win, one near-miss, and hundreds of losses.

I find it incredibly frustrating that as a UKIP MEP, I’m often accused of doing nothing or not trying to minimise the problems caused by the EU: the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s just that we’re usually outvoted by those who want (and most of them admit it) a United States of Europe.

Many people used to claim that the EU can be reformed. At one time they would have cited this one victory as evidence that reform is possible, but the EU’s intransigence over Brexit negotiations must surely now show what a pipe dream that was.

A victory is still encouraging, even when every victory is accompanied by over a hundred defeats. But with the European Union, even when you win the battle you’re still losing the war. Roll on Brexit!

My Column – £350 milion per week for Brexit? The lowdown

Discuss Brexit, and I’ll bet you a euro to a cent that sooner or later someone will mention Vote Leave’s bus which claimed post-Brexit we’d have an extra £350 million per week which could be spent on our NHS. Boris Johnson has repeated the phrase again, and reignited the whole row. Thanks a million, Boris. Or three hundred and fifty million, I suppose. I’m pro-Brexit, naturally, but I don’t have a dog in the fight defending Vote Leave: I always put the figure in context as a gross one, and explained that the rebate and EU funding should be taken off. And to be fair to Vote Leave, they did put that figure into context elsewhere in their spending plans – but they weren’t as widely circulated.

The Vote Leave figure is widely criticised (and up to a point, rightly so) – but I recall George Osborne’s predictions (23/05/16) that a vote for Brexit would lower GDP and cost 800,000 jobs by 2018. In fact, GDP has grown and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. When it comes to lies told in the referendum campaign, Remain certainly have a few whoppers of their own. The EU Council President said Brexit could end ‘Western political civilisation’ and David Cameron threatened that Brexit could lead to war in Europe. When continuity Remainers criticise the £350 million per week figure, they develop an instant selective amnesia: Biblical phrases about hypocrisy, and taking the plank out of your own eye before complaining about the speck in someone else’s, spring to mind.

But what actually is the truth over £350 million per week? The picture fluctuates from year to year, with changes to each economy, the EU budget, and exchange rates. No figure will ever be perfect. The latest accurate data available is the Pink Book 2016 produced by the Office of National Statistics; the most impeccable source because it looks at what’s actually been paid in the past, not estimates or projections in the future. It puts the EU contribution for the previous year at £19.593 billion (gross), which is roughly £376 million per week.

Out of that, though, the UK gets the famous ‘rebate’ (technically, Fontainebleau abatement) won by Thatcher: a recognition that the way the EU budget is calculated leaves the UK out of pocket. Our £4.913 billion rebate comes to around £94 million per week. Think of that as being instant cashback. Leave the EU, and we can’t spend that money because we lose the cashback.

Out of that, the EU gives us some of our own money back in ‘EU funding’. We’ve paid for it; indeed, some £9.24 billion is shown as credited to the UK’s account (but nearly £5 billion of that is the rebate we’ve already accounted for).

We’re almost done, I promise! The EU does, however, give some money directly to UK businesses et al – bypassing the UK account altogether. So, cross-referencing with the Commission’s own figures and applying the average pound-euro exchange rate from 2015, we get a figure of about £102 million per week for EU money coming back to the UK.

So take a deep breath, and the picture for 2015 is actually very simple: we paid £376 million a week, which became £282 million a week after cashback. After all the ‘benefits’ of EU funding, there was £180 million left. Personally, I’d have preferred Vote Leave to just stick £180 million per week on the side of the bus. It wouldn’t have altered the referendum result in the slightest, and we wouldn’t be still having this discussion 15 months after the referendum. But what’s done is done; as the tart-tongued Lady Olenna Tyrell famously said in Game of Thrones “Once the cow’s been milked, there’s no squirting the milk back up her udder so here we are”.

There’s a sting in the tail though. Whilst I’d have preferred a figure of £180 million per week, the £282 million per week ‘post-cashback’ figure is easily defended if put into context. And the Office for Budget Responsibility projects that figure will rise to £335 million per week by the end of this Parliament.

Would I have made the same claim as Vote Leave, in the same way? Would I have repeated it, as Boris Johnson did? No. Is it absolutely 100% watertight? No.

But on a dishonesty scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is honest Abe’s ‘I cannot tell a lie’ and 10 is David Cameron’s threat that Brexit could lead to war, I’d rate the Boris Johnson claim as somewhere around a 3.

If you wanted to set up a new political Party to oppose democracy, what would you call it?

Back in the early 1900s the temperance movement tried setting up a political party, the Scottish Prohibition Party. They didn’t call it the Alcohol Party, because alcohol was the very thing they were trying to oppose.

The Labour Party was called the Labour Party because [back then it at least professed] it supported workers. They didn’t call themselves the Upper Class Toffs Party.

The Conservative and Unionist Party wanted to conserve things, oppose radicalism and generally support the Union. They didn’t call themselves the Dismantle and Disintegrate Party.

UKIP, set up to fight for our Independence, wasn’t called the ‘British Subservience Party’. No, independence is our middle name! We stand for exactly what it says on the tin.

Only in George Orwell’s 1984 would things be named as the exact opposite of what they’re trying to achieve. Orwell explained it as follows:

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

Powerful stuff. When Big Brother wanted to pull the wool over people’s eyes he called things the opposite of what they actually were. It’s the nature of propaganda to do so.

James Chapman is setting up a new Party, with the intention of subverting democracy and overturning Brexit. Remember, Brexit is the epitome of British democracy: never in the history of this United Kingdom have more people voted for anything than voted for Brexit.

So, if you wanted to set up a new political party to oppose democracy, what would you call it?

Think for a moment…

The Democrats!

I kid you not. He is actually naming his Party after the very thing he’s campaigning against. Orwell would be spinning in his grave: he intended 1984 as a warning, not as an instruction manual.

 

Statement on the UKIP leadership election

I have given considerable thought to the UKIP Leadership election in recent weeks, and indeed I strongly considered not supporting any candidate at all.

My criteria for making my own personal decision are simple – I will choose the strongest available candidate subject to three conditions. I cannot back:

a) Any candidate who is likely to cause embarrassment to the Party in the media, however unfairly: at this critical stage with our Party’s survival at stake we simply cannot afford to have a future leader who will be overshadowed by baggage.

b) Any candidate who overly fixates on a single non-Brexit issue (depending on perspective there are between 2 and 5 different ‘single issues’) almost to the exclusion of all else.

c) Any candidate whose values and principles don’t align with the UKIP that I joined and was proud to represent. I believe fundamentally in low taxes, more democracy, less state interference, toughness on crime and a fair, robust, colour-blind immigration system designed to end the oversupply of unskilled workers but welcoming those who can genuinely help to make the UK a better place.

From the field of candidates, by process of elimination I am left therefore with two choices: Ben Walker and Marion Mason. (Arguably Henry Bolton but I know far too little about him)

By pure coincidence – and it is coincidence – they are also the only two candidates who have gone out of their way to contact me and ask for my support. Neither of them has got involved in the vicious negative campaigning which has sadly started to infest our Party in recent years.

Both of them have backgrounds in helping people, in very different ways – Ben Walker in the Royal Navy, and Marion Mason in the NHS.

Politically I am broadly aligned with both of them.

Of the two, Ben Walker is the more powerful communicator. He has engaged people with his campaign, organised events and worked hard touring the country to speak to branches and members. He has the requisite determination to believe that he can turn this Party around.

If push comes to shove, which of the two would I rather see represent the Party in a televised debate? Who would be more likely to enthuse and motivate people to join us?

On balance, I have therefore decided that I’ll be voting for Ben Walker in the UKIP leadership election. I don’t agree with him on everything, and I have made that clear to him in private (I don’t agree with banning halal meat for example).

As a candidate, I think he shares my assessment of the situation and accepts what I’ve been saying repeatedly since the election: that we are in last-chance saloon; that the Party needs to change dramatically if it is to survive in any meaningful form.

We’ve seen leadership candidates use phrases like ‘professionalising the Party’, ‘changing the Party Constitution’, ‘reforming the internal structures’ and ‘engaging with the membership’ before. All of them need to happen, and quickly.

Finally, we can’t afford to keep shooting ourselves in the foot as we have been doing for far too long. As far as I can tell, Ben Walker would be immune from attack in the media because he hasn’t said anything stupid in public (or indeed, privately, as far as I know). That is worth a lot. It means we might be able to focus on a positive message rather than firefighting.

I don’t normally do this but I’m going on a rant

I went to university at the age of 15, hold a Masters Degree in Mathematics and proudly campaigned to Leave. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going on a rant. I’m sick of this elitist drivel that comes from continuity Remainers intent on disparaging everyone who disagrees with them.

This notion that if only more people went to university we’d have voted to Remain is pretentious nonsense from those who think that working class people should crawl back into their slums, crack open a high-strength battery-acid-taste cider, play Jeremy Kyle on loud, and bow down to their intellectual superiors who hold a piece of paper saying that they have a degree.

Because that’s what their stereotypical bilge would imply, and it’s every bit as bigoted as they try to imply anyone who disagrees with the concept of a ‘safe space’ must be.

Even if their results are accurate, they say less about Leave voters and more about a modern liberal-left university education system which often indoctrinates rather than encouraging free thought and a wealth of ideas, popular and unpopular, conventional or radical, pro- or anti-Brexit.

How many of our young people are being failed by a system which pushes them into the wrong courses at university and a spiral of debt, getting a degree only to find there aren’t enough graduate-level jobs to go around? It’s time to fix our broken university system, not incessantly whine about democracy in action.

 

 

Support Sunderland’s industry with Spartans’ steadfast spirit

It seems we’ve been here so many times before: another scare story about the threat of Nissan leaving the UK and jobs being lost in Sunderland post-Brexit. This time, it’s all about the proposed trade deal between European Union and Japan. The argument is basically as follows: If the EU and Japan were to conclude a trade deal before the UK has one with Japan, it would put the UK at a competitive disadvantage and drive Nissan out of the UK.

 

I’m reminded of Philip of Macedon, who famously sent a message to Sparta: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans replied with a single word: “If.” If our government is to make a success of Brexit, then it needs a bit of the old Spartan spirit. It needs to stop focusing on excuses, and develop a single-minded determination to achieve the best that it possibly can for Britain.Claim: If the EU negotiates a trade deal with Japan before the UK does, then it’ll be bad for British businesses. Quite probably so. How about, then, a solution? Let’s get on and make absolutely sure that we get there first.

 

The European Union claims that under Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union, we can’t do it. That gives us a duty of ‘sincere co-operation’ with the European Union whilst we’re members of it. It’s a great argument with just one small flaw: it’s utter baloney. My apologies for getting technical for a moment,  but whatever ‘sincere co-operation’ means, it cuts both ways. The EU isn’t ‘sincerely co-operating’ with us if they deliberately try to make it harder for us to succeed post-Brexit. They’re not meeting their obligations to their neighbours (ie. us) under Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty either. And ‘sincere co-operation’ is poorly defined: it couldn’t possibly take precedence over better-defined parts of the Treaty on European Union – like for example Article 21(2)(e) which speaks of “progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade”. A European Union telling us we can’t talk to other countries about the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade is a European Union ignoring its own rules, which to be honest is one of the main reasons we’re leaving in the first place. The European Union is supposed to respect the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, of which Article 24(4) says that a Customs Union is to facilitate trade and not “to raise barriers to the trade of other contracting parties with such territories”. Which is precisely what the EU is doing – not because of the UK, but because they’re making it harder for Japan to negotiate a free trade deal with us by putting barriers in their way.

 

So the British government needs to get on with it, rather than playing into the EU’s hands. We know the EU takes a decade or more, on average, to negotiate trade deals (and if the EU suddenly develops uncharacteristic speed and negotiates the deal before Brexit, grandfathering arrangements will then apply to the UK). It’s a hugely bureaucratic process – not least because they need to get 28 countries to all agree a common negotiating position to be able to start negotiations with the other side. At every stage those 28 countries need to accept the deal, and any concessions made will disproportionately harm certain countries.  But we can do better than a decade. If our government has the bottle, we can get there first. If the Philippines can negotiate a deal with EFTA in just one year, surely the UK can negotiate deals quickly too.

 

What’s needed is the political will to make it happen. And that, with this Conservative government, is the biggest weakness in the whole Brexit process. Get Brexit right, and the benefits will be pretty much instant. Get it wrong, and it could take years. Courage seems to be in short supply at present: our government needs to develop a backbone – not just for the sake of workers in Sunderland, but for the many jobs that could be created if only it lost its self of self-deprecation and remembered that we’re a world leader in research, intelligence, science and technology, that we speak a global language and that we’re one of the world’s largest economies.

 

We’re an attractive catch for any nation to trade with; it’s high time we started acting like it.

 

Believing four contradictory things before Brexit

After Theresa May’s bungled election miscalculation and continued Conservative infighting with members of the cabinet actively briefing against one another, you’d be mistaken for thinking Mr Corbyn’s position is looking healthier than ever. However figures released from a poll of Labour party members expose the disjoint on Brexit between membership and leadership and the growing dislocation from their traditional support base. It’s not just Rebecca Long Bailey literally claiming that Labour wants to “have our cake and eat it”, but that Labour MEPs are openly criticising Brexit and trying to reverse it, whilst their Party leadership supports it.

The scale of the gap between Labour’s leadership and their own members is shown in research from the Party Members Project:

  • 49% of members think there should “definitely” be a vote on the final Brexit deal, with a further 29.4% answering “more yes than no” to the question, and only 8.8% definitely opposing it.
  • 66% of members think Britain should definitely stay in the single market with a further 20.7% saying “more yes than no” to the question. Only 4.2% of Labour members said they definitely believed Britain should leave the grouping.
  • There were similar levels of support on the customs union with 63.1% saying Britain should definitely stay within the group, 22.2% leaning towards the same position, and only 2.4% saying the UK should definitely leave it.
  • Of those members polled 87% voted said they remain in the 2016 referendum.

There is then a second disconnect, between the working-class Labour vote – particularly in the North – and the views of the Labour Party’s membership, so it’s totally unsurprising that there’s some muddled thinking going on as Labour try to please all of the people all of the time. As the White Queen said to Alice, “sometimes I’ve managed to believe six impossible things before breakfast”. That’s okay for a fairy tale, but not so good for a Labour Party intent on simultaneously believing four contradictory things before Brexit.

The 2017 Labour Manifesto Brexit position had promised to try to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union but the leadership was clear: the UK could not remain in the Single Market and Freedom of movement would end. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary said “As it currently stands membership of the single market is incompatible with our clarity about the fact that freedom of movement rules have to change…freedom of movement will have to end”. Likewise John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, admitted staying in the single market would be seen by voters as “not respecting” the referendum vote.

Even since the election we’ve seen nearly 50 Labour MPs snubbing the Party whip and the sacking of three Shadow Cabinet members – in a Shadow Cabinet which has seen more reshuffles than a magician practicing his latest illusion. Could the current appearance of stability, of Corbyn’s belated honeymoon, be merely a passing ‘eye of the storm’ with future turmoil close on the horizon? Jeremy Corbyn currently enjoys the paradoxical position of the most favourable leadership ratings of his career, whilst holding crucial policies that only 2-4% of his membership support.

Part of Labour’s success on June 8th was generated by its sometimes ambiguous stance on Brexit. Pro-EU MPs warn Mr Corbyn’s “studied ambiguity” is unsustainable with amendments on the repeal bill likely to solidify the party stance in one way or another. Professor Tim Bale (of the Party Members Project) said Labour would eventually be forced to “show its true colours on this – and it can either go with the membership and probably the feeling of most MPs, or it can carry on with what is effectively a hard Brexit”.

With Theresa May’s authority repeatedly being called into question, rebellious Labour MPs are only likely to be emboldened in the knowledge that their arguments on issues like the single market have overwhelming support from the membership. Mr Corbyn on Monday night told Labour MPs he wants to actively engage with the party’s 560,000 members this summer. With time running out on ambiguous stances perhaps Mr Corbyn’s summer ‘homework’ is deciding which half of his voters he’s going to disappoint.

More than ever, we need to be vigilant. If the Labour Party were to move against Brexit, that could be an even bigger threat to the process than the Conservatives’ recent sell-out on immigration. I find myself in an odd position: I despise almost everything that Corbyn stands for including his fantasy economics (and Labour’s dishonesty over students has just been brought into sharp focus), but in terms of Brexit any other Labour leader would be far worse.