Bus to tell Brexiteers that we’ve now left the EU, nation hopes they fall for it again

A message on the side of a bus will inform Brexiteers that Britain has now left the EU while the rest of the country hopes they fall for it again.

The original Brexit bus claimed that Britain sent £350 million a week to the EU, money we would be able to spend on the NHS instead. While that message was a load of old…

Labour party’s general secretary diagnosed with breast cancer

Jennie Formby

The Labour party’s general secretary has told colleagues she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will start treatment this week.

Jennie Formby said she would continue to work as much as possible. Labour added that she would be taking “a realistic approach towards her treatment” and taking time off where necessary.

Formby said: “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be starting my treatment this week. Although this news has come as a shock to me and my family, I feel so grateful that I have the access and support from our wonderful NHS.”

Formby, 58, is close to the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and was appointed in March last year to succeed Iain McNicol. Before that she was a long-serving union official with Unite and its predecessor the TGWU.

“Breast cancer has had so much investment that outcomes are really positive, but I know that other cancers have less funding for research and treatment and that access…

‘Absurd’: Thatcher’s private papers reveal fury over Lawson’s exit

Margaret Thatcher (left) with Nigel Lawson in 1989

Nigel Lawson may claim that Brexit is finishing the job that Margaret Thatcher started but the prime minister was infuriated by his 1989 resignation, her newly released personal papers reveal.

For the Conservatives, it was a year which had uncanny parallels with today – a prime minister facing questions about her leadership, a party split over Europe and the threat of cabinet resignations over the issue.

Thatcher would survive the year but the resignation of Lawson in October, over the influence of her economic adviser Alan Walters, came, in hindsight, to be seen as the beginning of the end for the Iron Lady.

Lawson was at loggerheads with Thatcher and Walters over the exchange rate mechanism (ERM). The then chancellor was – ironically given his current status as a staunch Brexiter – the only one of the trio who wanted the country to join the ERM, although he was motivated by a desire to control inflation rather than strengthening bonds with Britain’s European partners.

Thatcher recorded his departure in a private memo in terse terms: “Early Thursday morning – hair set 8-8.30 Andrew [Turnbull] came up to say Nigel Lawson wanted to see me. Went down 8.50 …

“The reason for his visit – which he had considered very carefully – was that unless I agreed to sack Alan Walters, he would hand in his resignation as chancellor. This seemed to me an absurd, indeed reprehensible proposition … in my view no one could possibly resign on the basis of such a flimsy and unworthy proposal.”

She said she urged him to think again, concluding: “I then put the matter out of my mind.”

The papers reveal that the following month she told the Sun’s editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, in an off-the-record interview, that after taking a comforting “we love you” call from her children on the day of the resignation, in characteristic no-nonsense fashion she then prepared supper for her and her husband, Denis:…

We need a political party that is tough on the causes of Brexit. The Independent Group isn’t

The Independent Group hold their inaugural meeting at Institute of civil engineers on February 25, 2019 in London,
The Independent Group hold their inaugural meeting at Institute of civil engineers on February 25, 2019 in London,

I fully share the anguish of so many people over the madness of Brexit. All the evidence points to not leaving the EU, and the reasons given for leaving are generally vague or false. The vote on which this crazy policy is based was deeply flawed. As an economist I can clearly see the damage Brexit is doing, and will do.

While I could see the rationale for Labour’s triangulation strategy over Brexit before and immediately after the 2017 election, it stopped making sense in electoral terms as public opinion began to move during 2018. This is not to mention that its policy often appeared unicorn-lite or, more realistically, close to a policy of Brexit in name only, which only gives away control. Should the new party that will surely follow the formation of the Independent Group, continues to promote a “people’s vote”, it will likely be quite attractive to people like me.

But I’m in the more uncommon position of having been in the similar place twice before in the last decade. The reason is very simple. I have been all my life a macroeconomist, and for the last 20-odd years an academic. That gave me a perspective on 2010 austerity and the 2015 election that was largely absent from the popular debate. As a result, I can see that Brexit was not an isolated event, the result of one bad decision by Cameron, but part of a pattern suggesting deep problems with how UK politics works.

Understandably, most people are against austerity because of the impact it has had on those in need who depend on the NHS, local authority care and the welfare state. They are also now beginning to see its impact on schools, on our justice system and on much more. But that still leaves open the idea that somehow austerity was necessary for the good of the economy as a whole. As Conservative politicians never tire of saying, they came into office in 2010 with the country on the edge of a crisis created by the previous Labour government. As an academic macroeconomist, I know that is completely false.

Pretty much every first year undergraduate textbook tells students why in a recession you need an expansionary monetary and/or fiscal policy and you should ignore the deficit. When interest rates run out of road, as they had in the UK by 2009, then fiscal expansion is vital. One of my own specialist fields is fiscal policy, so I also know that state of the art models also suggest exactly the same thing as the textbooks. The insights of Keynes that have been accepted by most academics ever since remain valid today. It is this received wisdom that the UK followed in 2009 before the Coalition government came into power.

Just as many feel that Brexit makes no sense, I felt that austerity, which started in 2010, went against all our knowledge and evidence. The one doubt I had was that an irrational financial market might suddenly stop buying UK government debt, but this was dispelled when I realised the Bank of England’s unconventional monetary policy of buying government debt to keep interest rates low (Quantitative Easing) would quickly kill any panic. That analysis begins my book based on the blog I started as a result of austerity.

Just as both main political parties now support some sort of Brexit, so both at the time supported austerity. The argument was over how much, how quickly. Neither the Coalition nor the opposition argued for the right policy, which was to delay fiscal consolidation until the recovery was underway and the Bank started raising interest rates. Experts on trade or the EU Brexit negotiations…

Gavin Williamson at centre of row over chancellor’s cancelled China trip

Gavin Williamson delivers a speech during the 55th Munich Security Conference

The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, was at the centre of a growing cabinet row on Saturday night as senior government sources blamed him for offending the Chinese and causing the cancellation of a crucial trade visit to Beijing by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

Senior Conservatives said it was time to rein in Williamson, who has earned the nickname Private Pike in Whitehall after a series of gaffes. Treasury insiders said comments the defence secretary had made in a speech last week about sending the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific had caused such “clear irritation” in Beijing that the trip scheduled for this weekend could not take place.

The Treasury issued an official comment saying “the chancellor is not travelling to China at this time” and adding that “no trip was ever announced or confirmed”. But sources confirmed that Williamson’s clumsy and undiplomatic language had caused real upset that had been relayed back to London by the Chinese authorities.

The result was that a visit that been planned for many weeks – and that would have focused on opening up Chinese markets to UK exports – has been put off until the diplomatic damage is repaired.

Williamson said in the speech last Monday that the aircraft carrier would be sent to an area where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea. The remarks incensed the Chinese just…

Labour youth tell Corbyn: come off the fence on Brexit

Leeds student Aisling O’Connel signs a message to Jeremy Corbyn urging him to back a people’s vote.

Much has been made of the need for Jeremy Corbyn to listen to pro-Brexit voters in Labour’s northern heartlands. But it is becoming apparent that his other major support base – young people in metropolitan areas – can no longer be taken for granted.

Several of Labour’s gains in the 2017 election were in university towns and cities where students turned out in droves to support the leftwing leader. On Saturday, however, many of those same young people were demonstrating to show that Corbyn may not be able to count on their support if he doesn’t oppose Brexit. They have a new message for him: “If you’re with us, we’re with you” – the implication being that, if you’re not, we’re not.

The slogan was emblazoned across an enormous red banner in Leeds city centre, where young campaigners gathered to collect signatures for a petition asking Corbyn to back a public vote. Wrapped up in gloves and scarves, with 70s and 80s hits blasting from their portable speaker, they set out to approach the shoppers going about their day.

Among the activists was Ryan Simms, 26, who works in procurement for the NHS in Leeds and has been a Labour supporter for six years – but only joined the party after Corbyn became leader. “I liked him because he wasn’t afraid to be different to the Tories,” Simms said. “Unlike other politicians, he has always stuck to his beliefs, even when they were unpopular. But if he keeps sitting on the fence on this issue, it’ll make me wonder whether he’s not so principled after all.”

Charlie Roberts, 21, and Catherine Fairbairn, 19, who are both students at Leeds, said they would vote Green next time unless Labour backed a public vote. “Corbyn wants an election, but it’ll be one where we have the choice between a Tory Brexit deal and some magical…

NHS troubleshooting team set up for no-deal Brexit disruption

Hospital corridor

The government has set up a team of troubleshooters to tackle problems in the NHS in the event of a no-deal Brexit, including drug shortages and the loss of key staff.

Ministers have admitted there will be disruption in the NHS if Britain leaves the EU on 29 March without a deal, and the team’s job will be to try to minimise that.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, disclosed this week that he was arranging for special flights to bring medicines from the Netherlands to beat anticipated shortages, and he urged NHS bodies in England to buy fridges in which to stockpile drugs.

The troubleshooting team started work this month, before the government stepped up its no-deal preparations as a result of the political deadlock over Theresa May’s Brexit deal and the approaching 29 March deadline.

It is made up of civil servants from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and officials from NHS…

Medical colleges criticise charging migrants upfront for NHS care

Hospital ward

Representatives of more than 70,000 doctors have urged ministers to suspend regulations that force hospitals to charge overseas visitors upfront for NHS care.

Three royal medical colleges and one faculty say the charging regime is harming people’s health by deterring them from seeking NHS help when they fall ill. Payments in advance are “a concerning barrier to care”, they say.

They have voiced particular concern about pregnant women being denied care and children missing out on treatment for life or death illnesses.

Their plea is the strongest opposition yet from the medical community to hospitals in England being compelled to charge migrants up to tens of thousands of pounds before they treat them.

The statement has been signed by the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Faculty of Public Health.

They want Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, to suspend regulations brought in in 2015 and 2017 that specify when overseas visitors should be charged for receiving NHS care. Charges should not be enforced until a full independent review is undertaken of how they are affecting migrants’ access to healthcare, the four groups say.

Brexit means a return to the isolationist politics of the 1930s

Carl Sagan, the astronomer and writer, was absolutely right when he said that to understand the present, you must first understand the past. So whilst Brexit seems in so many respects to be a very modern phenomenon – with the widespread use cutting edge information technology, algorithms and data harvesting – it is taking us down a path that is all-too-well trodden.

The legacy of the financial crash of 2008 is not very different from the that of 1929, and certainly the reactions that followed it were much the same: pulling up the drawbridges, ring-fencing money and resources, and repelling outsiders, instead of responsible, intelligent progressive reform, across national borders where necessary, for the common good.

What has been set in train by the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers is the dismantling of liberal democracy and open international borders. In a decade when we needed to see the rise of responsible bankers, regulators, politicians and economists, we have seen the rise of Trump, Brexit and populism. The world has certainly changed, but not in an ordered, structured or positive way.

Right wing populism took hold across the western world after the crash of almost a century ago, and it is something of an under-statement to say that it did not end well. The victims of it were then the poorest and most oppressed in our society. A lot of them – by dint of their religious faith, sexual orientation or whatever – were obviously different. Nobody but perhaps a small handful of individuals – arms manufacturers among them – came out of that experience any richer and it left entire nations impoverished and broken.

The message, “You are hard done by and you deserve better” is an easy one for politicians to deliver. Eminently harder is to say, “We got it wrong, now this is how we can fix it”. It is a mistake to disassociate Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency from Brexit – indeed, Trump himself saw his ascendency as “Brexit plus plus plus” – and, for that matter, the rise of populist right wing movements on mainland Europe. It is part of a…

How ‘hyperliberalism’ is undermining progressive politics

Former prime minister Tony Blair speaking at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit.

Afua Hirsch (Celebrate the NHS at 70. But don’t forget what inspired it, 27 June) hints at the deterioration of progressive politics over the past 70 years when she writes that in 1948 “rights” meant access to decent living standards for all not just the protection of minorities. The progressives of 1948 built an NHS benefiting everyone, whose public support even Theresa May and the Tory press cannot overcome. The identity-politics obsessed progressives of 2018, with their hyperliberal dislike of traditional social structures, their hostility to democratic control over immigration from the EU and to enforcement of the law on immigration from outside the EU, and their obsession with “unconscious bias”, have achieved only a national vote to leave…