A Tory Said What: January 2021

A new year is underway and while I initially aimed for this month to be the first one back for the ‘A Tory Said What’ series of posts, it is the second since I decided to start doing these posts again.

These posts were originally halted as it was immensely difficult to keep up with the number of lies, misinformation that was spread, especially after the rise of Boris Johnson to Prime Minister [Pictured in the feature image above from Manchester Evening News]. However, I then remember this quote from Joe Biden’s inspirational inauguration speech on January 20th and it reminds me why the amount of lies, misinformation and gaslighting from the Government infuriates me so much, especially while we are stick with ‘Britain Trump’ for the foreseeable…

‘There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility…to defend the truth and defeat the lies’

Joe Biden (US President), 20th January

Joe Biden’s emphasis on the truth highlights that it has never been more important to do my best to expose lies, attempts at misinformation and just the comments that most people would find shocking. For these latter comments where it is not so clear they are telling lies, then the discussion of the comments will leave it open to the reader to interpret.

January was a crazy month. After telling us Schools were safe, Boris Johnson was forced to put the country into a third national lockdown on January 4th and while it looks promising on the vaccine front, there is still question marks surrounding the extension of the gap between doses to 12 weeks. The UK also hit the grim milestone of 100,000 Covid deaths while insisted Boris Johnson his Government did everything they could. Really? January is also the first full month of Brexit in its true form; no transition period and it does feel like problems are brewing; something Government Minister’s have continually insisted is ‘teething prpblems’.

While I do not consider this to be an exhaustive compilation of what has been said in this month, I have a collection of 136 comments from 45 different Conservative MP’s, including one specific Tweet from the Conservative Party Twitter account. 12 of those comments came in the first three days of the year but the average is alarming. 136 comments are by far the most I have ever chronicled in a single post and if you want to know how long it looks on a word documents, it spreads 49 pages! The alarming average of these 136 comments in January is 4.39 PER DAY!!

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, I want to draw attention to Niall O’Brian, the MP for Harlsborough. Not for spreading misinformation but for the continually Tweeting and spreading the message against dangerous conspiracy theories and Covididiots trying to downplay the Pandemic. I also want to bring Jeremy Hunt to attention too as one of the few Tory MPs who have been a reasonable voice this month too in the pandemic.

*All images beside the quotes are provided from the MPs official portrait, sourced from their profile on the Parliament website.

So, let us delve into it then….

I just wish I was 21 again, frankly. Because my goodness what prospects lie ahead of us for young people nw. To be out there buccaneering trading, dominating the world again…

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (MP for Chingford and Woodford Green), 1st January

Iain Duncan Smith was the first entry of 2021 with this comment made on the radio. The former Conservative Party leader was trying to promote the perceived prospects that young people could have to thrive from Brexit even though young people, on the whole, voted overwhelmingly against it nor supported Brexit.

Lets compared a 21-year-old today born in 2000 compared to Iain Duncan Smith, born 1954 at the age of 21. In 1975, the UK had been part of the European Community (what would later be the EU) for two years, he had already studied in Perugia in Italy and was serving in the Scots Guards as a Second Lieutenant. I know the Government have brought in a replacement scheme for Erasmus but at present, it is unclear how successful or how much uptake will change with the scheme so it is unclear if those same opportunities are still there. By being out of the EU, there is less freedom of movement to live and work in other countries which is limited to 90 days out of every 180 as part of the agreement. Those are facts.

However, Duncan Smith seems to be under some sort of nostalgic grandeur over the idea of being able to be ‘dominating the world again’. Harking back to the age of the British Empire. In what world is that possible. Empires are banned under

I’m proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT'

Rishi Sunak (MP for Richmond-Yorks and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 1st January

I’m delighted after years of fighting for it we have axed the hated #TamponTax

Steve Baker (MP for Wycombe), 1st January

On the first full day after the Brexit transition period ended, the Chancellor announced that the Government were making good of their promise to abolish The Tampon Tax. That is a good thing, 100%. Before abolishing the tax, it was sat at 5%, where it had been since the Labour government lowered it from 20% in 2000. 5% was the lowest level allowed in the EU VAT law and any changes would have required the agreement of all member states.

I saw various comments on social media saying they voted against abolishing it in 2015. There was a vote but this was on a Finance Bill amendment that would have committed the Chancellor, George Osborne to ‘lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement on his strategy to negotiate with the European Union institutions an exemption from value added tax for women’s sanitary protection products’. The amendment was voted down in the Commons with both Mr Sunak and Mr Baker voting along Party lines in doing so. That said, Mr Baker is on record in that session expressing his sympathy but the primary aim of the vote were to pass a Finance Bill.

While the vote that day in 2015 would not have abolished the Tampon Tax, it would have allowed the establishment of attempting to abolish it while in the EU. Independent Fact-checkers FullFact concluded that the desire to abolish the tax was still there. Had it passed, there would have been a lot of work to do to get there as the 27 other embers states would have needed to agree and as David Guake admitted in the chamber that day, France decided against lowering their VAT charge from 20% to 5.5%. It would have been extremely difficult but we will never know if it could have been possible to achieve within the EU. After all, at that time the Conservatives had already committed to that in-out referendum on membership and in that vote, the Conservative Government voted not to try and both these men voted in line.

Additionally, does anyone reading remember Steve Baker campaigning against the Tampon Tax as he is implying in his Tweet?

Excellent that [Defra] have banned pulse fishing in UK waters from 11;00pm yesterday. A good example of the environmental, conservation and welfare improvements we can make after leaving the EU’.

David Jones (MP for Clwyd West), 1st January

Prominent Brexiteer and ERG member David Jones made a questionable claim of some sort of Brexit win after the Government banned pulse fishing in UK waters. Pulse fishing is a controversial method as underwater pulses are sent in order to catch fish although arguably safer to the natural habitat in the seas that beam trawling (a net going along the sea bed). The banning of this practice though was part of a PR campaign as the Conservatives official account sent out an image ‘Pulse fishing banned in UK waters. Now possible as we control ur laws’.

However, that is false. While the UK has banned it ahead of the EU who are scheduled to do it this year, it was possible to ban it while inside the EU. Being outside the EU has not automatically allowed the UK to do this as they claim. France (an EU member) banned this practice earlier than the UK, doing so in June last year. So, to claim it is a Brexit win or dividend as the Conservatives are trying to do is false.

There is no ‘Irish Sea Border’. As we have seen today, the important preparations the Govt and businesses have taken to prepare for the end of the Transition Period are keeping goods flowing freely around the country, including between GB and NI’.

Brandon Lewis (MP for Great Yarmouth and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), 1st January

Brandon Lewis was responding to a BBC article reporting on what was happening at the Northern Irish ports on the first day after the Brexit transition period came to an end. The article discussed the first lorries that entered from the UK mainland around 2 pm that have to go new border control posts and ‘through these border posts where they can be inspected by the Department of Agriculture. These products also need health certificates, though some of the new certification processes will be phased in over the next three months.’

The journalist, BBC Northern Ireland and Business Editor John Campbell were at these border checks and his Twitter feed was a running narrative of events. He compiled the report was not impressed with what the Northern Ireland Secretary had to say. For the Northern Ireland secretary, It must be said this was day one of the new systems of doing things and to say it is working well, albeit, on New Year’s Day, a holiday where not every business will be working is perhaps a bit premature for the sort of congratulatory pat on the back.

Who are we going to believe? The journalist who sat there in the cold conditions on New Years Day doing his job, reporting on what he saw and would be in big trouble for falsifying what he reports? Or, the secretary of state who almost certainly was not at the scene?

'Children’s education and wellbeing remains a national priority. Moving further parts of London to remote education really is a last resort and a temporary solution...As infection rates rise across the country, and particularly in London, we must make this move to protect our country and the NHS. We will continue to keep the list of local authorities under review, and reopen classrooms as soon as we possibly can.'

Gavin Williamson (MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Education), 1st January

The comments from the Education Secretary come from the Department of Educations official release with the decision to place all London boroughs into the ‘contingency framework’ and predictably the Government’s first u-turn of 2021. It didn’t even take a day.

Two/three days prior the government announced their already amended plans for the return of schools outlining that all secondary schools would not return until January 18th and primaries would go back as planned week commencing 4th January apart from in areas with high transmission rates. These areas were all in London but not all boroughs. We could probably all have seen this u-turn coming as the original decision made absolutely no sense at all. How could schools in a borough like Haringey, with case rates as high as London boroughs originally allowed to close have their schools open? The move had to be triggered after the threat of legal action from nine local authorities asking to close their schools to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers.

This led to increasing pressure on the Government as think about it. London is in tier 4, just like almost 3.4s of the country but only all schools in London were told to close. I get the infections are higher in London but it leads to questions of if it is not safe for children to be going to school in one tier 4 area (London), what makes it safe in other tier 4 areas like Birmingham, Manchester or Newcastle for example? It just gives off the impression that the strategy seems to be to allow things to get to a point where they have to act. Is that really responsible? Don’t we deserve better, more proactive leadership from our Government than this?

After several high profile fiascos and u-turns, is Gavin Williamson quite possibly the worst Education Secretary in living memory? I am probably not alone in wondering this, but how is he still in the job?

The unique position that Northern Ireland businesses no have, as an integral part of the UK market & able to trade with EU, opens huge opportunity for internal investment, business and job growth. Globally unique opportunities

Brandon Lewis (MP for Great Yarmouth and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), 2nd January

The Northern Ireland secretary was at it again on Twitter as he shared a post from his Office regarding the new rules that apply to Northern Irish businesses. He cannot seem to help himself. Does someone want to tell Brandon Lewis that the ‘unique position’ Northern Ireland finds itself in; being able to trade with the EU with no customs checks while also trading (outwardly anyway) freely with the rest of the UK is exactly the same sort of arrangements that ceased to exist for the rest of the UK from 11 pm two days prior?

Schools are safe, the issue is how can you stop Schools being places where the virus can circulate and spread into all the other households’.

Boris Johnson, (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 3rd January

This was a hard one to just narrow down to just one quote, so I included several. They come from the Prime Minister’s interview with The Marr Show on the BBC, aired live on January 3rd as Andrew Marr set about conducting interviews with the political party leaders.

The point under the microscope here is the issue of schools and reopening them at the start of the new term after the Christmas holidays. One of Marr’s earlier guests, Dr Mark Wulpret, a member of SAGE argued that the new variant is more transmissible and does spread among Schools. He stressed the importance of people keeping apart and doing everything we possibly can to stay as safe as possible.

Then, we have the Prime Minister saying Schools are safe and that parents should send their children to school the next day. He stressed this point at least six times and even issued that message towards councils such as Greenwich, Birmingham and Greater Manchester which were at this point advising Schools not to open. However, while Government Ministers and not exclusively the Prime Minister have maintained the whole time that Schools are safe, then how did the TES report that teachers were in some areas four times as likely to contract Covid than the local average?

What followed the next day was a farce. Schools in some parts of the country opened for one day only to be told in the evening they would have to close for the foreseeable. The advice he may have received from SAGE but even in the face of having a more transmissible virus strain that can spread in schools, information available to the Government from December 22nd, it just did not make sense.

It maybe that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country, I’m fully reconciled to that, I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 3rd January

Slightly later into the Marr interview and there was this puzzling comment from the Prime Minister. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but feel that none of the lessons from 2020 had been learnt. Act fast and hard to suppress the virus, don’t dither and delay. However, it seems he is still going on as if nothing has changed and he’s doing everything right.

To reconcile with something you ‘restore friendly relations’ with something. This is Boris Johnson saying he has had to make friendly relations with the concept that tougher measures will be needed. He also later said, ‘we’re entirely reconciled do whatever it takes to get this virus down’. It begs the question of what have they been doing the past few months in handling the pandemic as it seems they’ve tried to tip tow between handling the virus and the economic impact of it. Have they not been engaged in trying to get it down the whole time?

Given that the next day he was announcing a third national lockdown, you can not help but feel that he was forewarning the inevitable. It also begs the question of why can’t we have proactive leadership. If you’re going to announce something why not just do it instead of dithering and delaying? It seems part of a continuing cycle where they tease they’re going to do something a day or two or three before they actually do it.

'They've already got substantial amounts of money coming back into this country, as a result of leaving the EU'

Boris Johnson, (MP for Uxbridge South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 3rd January

The final question given to the Prime Minister by Marr was what benefits could the Brexit trade agreement bring to an average voter in somewhere like Leigh. This claim and the next two or three from the Prime Minister were all from his answer to this question. The BBC even saw fit to do a ‘Reality Check’ job on his comments and all but one of those claims (the Australian points style immigration policy) were shown to be false.

This one, I hope he was not referring to the £350m to the NHS that was promised in the 2016 referendum because that was admitted within hours of the Leave vote to be false. It does not help to narrow down what he was referring to here that when Reality Check asked the Government to clarify it, they did not respond. What is known, is the Office for Budget responsibility estimate that UK payments to the EU will decrease to £7.2bn from £8.4bn last year while we were still in the EU as part of the transition. That money is still going out for things that the EU committed to while the UK was a member and agreed as part of the Divorce Bill.

The OBR estimate equates to £3m per day but being this vague helps the Prime Minister in helping answer the question or dodge it. He does not commit to what impact that ‘saving’ if you like will benefit the average voter in somewhere like Leigh.

'One of the first things we've done on day one is get rid of pulse trawling'

Boris Johnson, (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 3rd January

The next part of the Prime Minister’s answer was to bring in the decision to ban pulse trawling that was announced just after the transition period ended. As you will notice above from my dissection of Dave Jones comments on January 1st, this is misleading.

The implication is that this is a Brexit win, that we could not ban pulse trawling while we were in the EU which is false. France and Belgium banned the practice last year and they are both EU members. An EU law was passed in June 2019 and comes into force later in 2021 but it is inaccurate to say we could only ban this practice by being outside the bloc.

'...One of the things you can do is have free ports...'

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 3rd January

The final thing the Prime Minister mentioned as part of his response to what Brexit benefits an average may experience was this reference to free ports. It is something Conservatives have been pushing this argument since 2019. It was claims that were looked a by BBC Reality Check and Independent Fact Checkers Full fact at the time.

These Free ports are small economic zones where tax and regulatory rules do not normally apply. They feel these can be beneficial outside the EU but if we gain too much of a competitive advantage through doing this diverging action and they EU can prove this, then that is when tariffs come into play. That is my understanding of the deal anyway.

The implication in this statement is that we can only have these so-called free ports is that they are not possible inside the EU. The EU have 80 such Free Ports and the UK had five of them until the government allowed the legislation to expire in 2012. The implication of allowing that legislation to expire we can assume is that they were not really worth it.

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