A Tory Said What: March 2021

We have got one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world for stopping people coming into this country who may have variants of concern

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 1st March

The Government started March on the defensive after it was announced that six cases of the Brazilian ‘variant of concern’ had been identified in the UK but one had not been identified. Boris Johnson insisted the UK has ‘one of the toughest border regimes’ in regards to Covid as he defended his Governments record.

Since February 15th, arrivals from 33 so-called ‘red list’ countries are required to stay in a two-week quarantine in a hotel. It was announced on January 27th after weeks of discussion and then delayed by an additional week to February 15th. That delay proved crucial. The individuals with the Brazilian ‘variant of concern’ including the individual they could not trace would have arrived in the UK during that period of delay and it was unknown at the time just how many people this person could have passed it on.

As much as the Prime Minister would not want to admit it, if it had not been for that delay the person would otherwise have been in a government-mandated hotel and there would have been no need for such a public hunt.

…what we are asking through your programme and others, if you have had a test on the 12th or 13th February and haven’t had a result yet because you didn’t fill in the test card details, then please come forward and call 119

Nadhim Zahawi, (MP for Stratford-on-Avon and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment) 1st March

One of the 6 completed a test but did not successfully complete contact details. We are therefore asking anyone who took a test on the 12 or 13 February but hasn’t received the result back, to please get in touch by calling 119 in England, Wales or Northern Ireland – and 0300 303 2713 in Scotland.

Matt Hancock, (MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care), 1st March

With news that six cases of the Brazilian ‘variant of concern’ being identified in the UK but one was unidentified, this was a message being pushed by the Government. If you had a test on these dates but did not fill in the form correctly, please get in touch. The first was Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi on the morning media run while the second was Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a Downing Street briefing that evening.

Just think about this for a moment. The UK has spent billions of pounds on track and trace system, developing an app etc and all it takes is someone to not fully fill in a form to effectively make such an expensive service redundant.

'On this particular variant, the P1 Brazilian variant is very similar to the South African variant which we have been dealing with for several weeks now and the way we have been dealing with it is that we have genome sequenced more than any other country pretty much in the world, we surge test as we are about to do in the South Gloucester case, and of course isolate'

Nadhim Zahawi, (MP for Stratford-on-Avon and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment) 1st March

Still discussing the Brazilian ‘variant of concern’ of P1 as it is being referred to here, the Vaccines Minister insisted we were well equipped to handle it. Mr Zahawi pointed towards how we have been managing the South African variant citing the surge testing wherever there are cases and genome sequencing which the UK does ‘more than any other country pretty much in the world’.

It may be the cynic in me that is not impressed by that claim given it feels very similar to the claims from last year we were testing more than anywhere else in the world. It comes across as like that nationalist bile that we have to be leading the world at something

Also, what does genome testing do to protect the UK people? It helps identify the new variants which if vaccines are going to be effective against new variants then it is important. That said, it is more a tool for when the variants are here. Knowing they are here will feed into the surge testing but genome testing is not a tool for preventing them from entering the country.

‘Errr perhaps because the Republic hasn’t left the EU?'

Simon Hoare (MP for North Dorset), 1st March

It is still surprising to see a Conservative MP being critical about Brexit in any way given all of them were elected on a ticket with the vague commitment of ‘Get Brexit Done’ and then voted through the Withdrawal Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with little debate or scrutiny. So, yes, it is surprising. It comes as he responded to a Unionist Party tweet asking the question asking if Northern Ireland have the best of both worlds then why has Dublin not followed their example.

a year ago I was preparing for my first ever Budget. A lot has happened since then but the promises that underpin our plan remain unchanged

Rishi Sunak (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer) 1st March

Ok, this may look like a nothing statement from the chancellor. He is preparing for the budget he is to deliver in under 48 hours and is stating that. What is there to criticise or nitpick at? Point taken. It is included though because of the video that accompanied this Tweet.

The tweet contained an almost five-minute promotional video…

It must have been expensive to put together. A question arises on who paid for it; the Conservative Party or the Treasury and by extension the taxpayer? This was the same day that some of the tabloids were angry with Labour leader Angela Rayner for spending £250 on a pair of Apple pod earphones. Yet, here was the Chancellor spending more than that (around £400 in fact) on using a single song in the video.

We have just signed a trade deal with Ghana, building on a trade relationship worth £1.2bn. The agreement secures certainty for business, supports jobs in both nations, and sets the stage for closer trading ties in the years to come. Trade=Jobs

Liz Truss (MP for South West Norfolk, Minister for Women and Equalities and Secretary of State for International Trade) 2nd March

The International Trade Secretary was marking yet another trade deal that she had agreed on behalf of the UK with this Tweet. This time, it was an agreement with Ghana. I am not sure how this is ‘building on a trade relationship as building implies it improves what was there before unless of course this is meant to be just a building stone. The UK, while members of the EU were party to the EU-Ghana Economic Partnership Programme and it turns out that this was just another continuity deal. That is the impression Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall got after asking the Department for International Trade if the deal delivered any extra benefits. The answer was no.

'Yesterday, I attended the high-level pledging conference for the United Nations humanitarian appeal for Yemen. I announced that the UK will provide at least—I repeat, at least—£87 million in aid to Yemen over the course of financial year 2021-22. Our total aid contribution since the conflict began was already over £1 billion.'

James Cleverly (MP for Braintree and The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa), 2nd March

It had been announced the day before when the Minister attended the United Nation Humanitarian appeal for Yemen, but this was the confirmation in the House of Commons from James Cleverly that the UK contribution to the situation in Yemen would be cut. The £87million commitment to Yemen for the 2021/22 financial year represents only 54% of the £160m that was promised for the previous financial year. The UK eventually committed £214m.

During this debate, the Minister was keen to point out that the UK has exceeded its stated announced contribution in the past two years, stressing that this £87m was not a ceiling. That said, it was still a reduction in what the UK was contributing to alleviate what Care International chief executive Laurie Lee described as ‘the worst humanitarian disaster in the world’ and had the potential to ‘take aid away from hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.

Abandoning a forgotten country and people is inconsistent with our values, weakens our moral authority and reduces our influence. We should be increasing the scale of our support in the face of such suffering; to cut it at this moment of extreme peril is incomprehensible.'

Jeremy Hunt (MP for South West Surrey), 1st March

'Any cut, let alone one of nearly 50%, will mean that four million Yemenis - mainly children - will continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death.'

Andrew Mitchell (MP for Sutton Coldfield), 1st March

The decision by the Government to cut aid to Yemen did not prove popular on their own benches as two prominent backbenchers spoke out on the issue. Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was right to argue the decision is ‘inconsistent with our values’ and ‘weakens our moral authority‘. That criticism could not be much starker. That said, former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell also argued that any cut would have horrific consequences.

The Government would not allow a vote on the issue of whether to cut foreign aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. With the economy contracting so much due to the pandemic, even staying at 0.7% would be a cut compared to the previous year.

'One minute he is backing us on the road map; the next week he is turning his back on us. He cannot even address a question on the issues of the hour. He could have asked anything about the coronavirus pandemic; instead, he has consecrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen.'

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

In the first Prime Ministers Questions of the month, the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer was perhaps always going to ask about the funding announcement regarding the crisis in Yemen. The Prime Minister though appeared to take exception to the fact that all six questions were focused on Yemen and attacked Starmer for it. You would have thought that what the UN has described as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with nearly 80% or more than 24 million of its people needing humanitarian assistance and protection and more than 13 million in danger of starving to death‘ does not count as one of the so-called ‘issues of the hour’. That is nothing to be dismissed.

He was clearly trying to imply that Starmer’s and Labours attentions are elsewhere and not on the British people who elected them to sit in Parliament. In Starmer’s defence, the Chancellor was delivering the budget within an hour or so of this exchange and the concerns of the British people, so many of whom rely on what was going to be said by Sunak would have been all ears will have known his response then.

'Disappointing that in the midst of a pandemic, with huge health and economic shocks, Labour leader Sir Keir does not ask a single question on these matters during #PMQs and concentrates on Yemen. Does he have nothing to say on the UK economy or Covid? What is the point of Labour?'

Alexander Stafford (MP for Rother Valley), 3rd March

The MP for Rother Valley was one to jump and join in with the Prime Minister’s attack on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen during PMQs. The economy was going to be discussed when the Chancellor delivered the budget later on that afternoon and last time I checked, it is Prime Minister’s Questions for a reason and last time I checked it is Keir Starmer who decides what questions he asks, not Alexander Stafford. It is almost as if they are totally dismissive of what is going on in Yemen.

Oh, and just to appear like a grammarista, the above quote is correct so yes he did fail to spell disappointing right.

The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed. We are making sure that we underscore that with some temporary operational easings in order to protect the market in some areas, such as food supplies, pending further discussions with the EU…

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

The Prime Minister was responding to a question from DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson concerning the grace periods within the Northern Ireland Protocol that are due to come to an end soon. The Prime Minister’s response is that Northern Ireland is secure within the UK internal market and that they will act when needed. However, as pointed out by lawyer Peter Stefanovic in the video below, that was not the basis on which the Prime Minister sold the Brexit deal to the electorate at the last General Election…

'The NHS, deserving of immense praise, has had extraordinary success in vaccinating more than 20 million people across the United Kingdom.'

Rishi Sunak, (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 3rd March

We come to the Budget statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is nothing inherently wrong with the above statement. The NHS absolutely deserves praise for what everything the service has managed to contend with during the past year with the pandemic. However, the statement s selected to highlight this fact; the Chancellor was on his feet for approximately 50 minutes and despite everything going on, this was the only mention of the NHS. Yes, you can turn around and say this is a budget so money and the economy should take precedent but given this was the only mention of the NHS, that means there no mention of money going into the NHS; no mention of its funding and no mention regarding pay for those in the service during a pandemic.

'The Government are providing businesses with over £100 billion of support to get through this pandemic, so it is fair and necessary to ask them to contribute to our recovery. So the second step I am taking today is that in 2023 the rate of corporation tax paid on company profits will increase to 25%. Even after this change, the United Kingdom will still have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, lower than that of the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany and France.'

Rishi Sunak, (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 3rd March

This was the moment in the Budget statement from the Chancellor where he announced the first rise in Corporation Tax since 1974. It also represented a break from the policies of George Osbourne’s policy of having Corporation Tax at the current level of 19%.

As someone who supported Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, I did find it ironic. At the last election, Labour proposed increasing Corporation tax to 26% and it was feared it would destroy the economy with Boris Johnson falsely claiming, ‘The alternative is Jeremy Corbyn — who would whack it straight back up to the highest levels in Europe‘. Granted, a lot has changed since then and businesses who have thrived during this time should help pay back more on profits. However, here is a Conservative Chancellor increasing it to just under that level that only two years ago was deemed crazy and using the exact same justifications used in 2019. Incredible!

'Another alternative would be to try and find all the savings we need from public spending. But when we said at the last election that we were the party of public services, people believed us—and they were right to believe us.'

Rishi Sunak, (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 3rd March

This was a welcome statement from the Chancellor during his budget statement. It cemented at least in rhetoric, a break from the era of austerity that the Conservatives brought in at the start of the last decade following the financial crash. It also seems to indicate a break from a smaller state sort of mentality that is more or less traditional for a Conservative.

If the rhetoric is matched by what actually follows then that is certainly on the face of it, a welcome break.

…and a policy that we can only pursue now that we are out of the European Union: freeports.

Rishi Sunak, (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 3rd March

One of the key policies outlined in the budget was the creation of eight freeports. These would be located at East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.

However, the Chancellor insisted that these freeports could only be created because the UK is out of the EU. That is false and has been pointed out several times before. The EU has 80 freeports so it would have been possible to bring freeports back while part of the EU. The UK indeed had five freeports until 2012 when the government allowed the legislation that facilitated them to expire.

'The formula for the grant payments for the new fund to give them some capacity funding to bid for projects is based on an index of economic need which is transparently published I think actually by MHCLG.'

Rishi Sunak, (MP for Richmond-Yorkshire-and Chancellor of the Exchequer), 3rd March

In a rather rare move for a Chancellor on budget day, Rishi Sunak headed up a Downing Street press conference. In the press question and answers part, he was asked by George Parker of the Financial Times for assurances the government had used fair criteria for the selection of which areas could apply for funding under the Governments levelling up find. The Chancellor insisted that it had all been ‘transparently published’.

Independent fact-checkers Full Fact researched this claim and concluded that was not completely the case. The index he referred to, the listing of areas into different priority groups had been published but there was no sign of detail on how the formula to put which area into which group was calculated. So, it would appear not to be as transparent as the Chancellor would want you to believe.

'Watching Keir Starmer’s “joke” filled speech today was like watching an episode of Friends without the laugh track.'

James Cleverly (MP for Braintree and The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa), 3rd March

James Cleverly took to Twitter to mock the response that Sir Keir Starmer gave in the House of Commons to the budget delivered by the Chancellor; Rishi Sunak. The Minister appeared to be trying to make jokes about it.

To be honest, I had wondered why it was Starmer responding to the budget and not Annaleise Dodds. A look back at past budgets through to 2014 and it does seem to be a convention that it is responded to be the leader of the opposition and not the shadow chancellor. So, my assumption appears incorrect.

'...The reason we need this fund is because of the failings of socialism—socialist councils and socialist MPs, letting down their constituents—and this Government are putting things right. They are levelling up, and many of the areas that are receiving the money still have socialist councils but, in their wisdom, they elected Conservative MPs to get over decades of socialist mismanagement. That is why the areas in most need now have Conservative MPs. Let us hope that Hull has Conservative MPs, too, and then it will be managed better.

Jacob Rees Mogg (MP for North East Somerset and Leader of the House of Commons), 4th March

Business of the House time in Westminister and that is Jacob Rees Moggs time to shine. He was asked by two MPs in this session just why 40 of the 45 areas allowed to apply for funding under the levelling up fund had Tory MPs. His responses were fairly similar but the above quote is from the latter; asked by Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, Dame Diane Johnson asking for a debate into the criteria for how places were selected for the levelling up fund. 

The implications of the final two questions are more serious. Areas most in need have Tory MPs and hopefully, Hull will have Tory MPs soon. Political Parties in a healthy democracy will always stress that they are the best party. The difference here is the message seems to be if you want to level up funding to improve your areas and be ‘managed better’, you have to vote Tory. In other words, if your area does not use your voice to vote for ‘the right party’, we will not support you as well. It is almost as if governing for the country has gone out of the window and the most support is not by areas that need it most but by areas that have voted in the ‘right way’ i.e. for the governing party.

That is not right. It is blatant corruption. The problem is how do you keep a democracy fair when such messages are being thrown around by politicians as the message will sink into the minds of some voters. It is something even I have witnessed in conversations in the past few years with subtle questions, why would you expect them to help some areas if they don’t vote for them?

'You and everybody else coming through right now will not have the benefits that I had through Erasmus, work, study abroad. What I would say is we are introducing the Turing Scheme, we are hoping very much in the near future to allow students from this country to be able to study and enjoy life abroad, but am I going to sit here and say that Brexit is perfect and your generation is going to reap the benefits? No I’m not. Because you’re not frankly at the minute. And I can see that.'

Andrew Bowie (MP for Aberdeenshire and Kincardine), 4th March

Andrew Bowie was appearing on BBC Scotland’s Debate Night when he made these comments that were described as a ‘stunning admission’ in The National. It came as they were discussing the issue of independence and came as a student member of the audience; Callum linked the clamour of it to Brexit. He told the panel that because he studies French and Italian at University he cannot get the best experience he otherwise would have had through the Erasmus scheme as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

The MP responded that young people such as him will not have the benefits of Brexit. He gave an honest answer. That in itself should not be staggering but it is. Let us put some context into this. While the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, Scotland voted 62% in favour of remaining. They look at Northern Ireland which voted to remain 55% getting access to the EU and I can sympathise with them. Callum, now a student would almost certainly not have been allowed to vote in the 2016 Referendum. He had no say in whether the UK should stay or not yet he is paying for it in lack of opportunities.

Bowie pointed towards the UK Government’s planned replacement for the Erasmus scheme in The Turing Scheme. He stressed his hope in the future that it would allow students to study abroad. That is because it had not been fleshed out yet. That would come the following week when the funding was released and it was disappointing. The support available to students travelling abroad was far less generous….

Even with that scheme, if Callum is coming from a working-class background or background where money is scarce, is he going to be able to afford to study abroad on what is being offered by the Government?

I think it’s just worth mentioning as well that in the private sector, many people are actually losing their jobs and have been on very much reduced incomes over the past year. No one else, no other public sector employee is receiving a pay rise and so it’s against that backdrop that the government has decided that all we can afford is the one percent but nurses and healthcare workers will be the only employees the only workers receiving a pay rise this year. Many public sector workers will receive northing, many people in the private sector have either lost their jobs or are on reduced incomes.'

Nadine Dorries (MP for Mid Bedfordshire and Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety) 5th March

The morning after it had been revealed that the Government was recommending a 1% pay rise for NHS, it was left to Nadine Dorries, a former nurse and currently a Minister for Mental Health to undertake the media rounds. It seems the narrative the Government want to be pushing is that NHS nurses and staff are fortunate to get any pay rise at all even if it does not keep up with inflation.

'My reaction was I was actually surprised because I know that we have frozen public sector pay that no one in the private sector is receiving a pay rise so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer. I obviously know that, many people I know as an MP - my constituents as well as a Minister that many people have lost their jobs over the past year, that unemployment has increased'

Nadine Dorries (MP for Mid Bedfordshire and Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety) 5th March

In the same BBC breakfast interview, the Minister was asked again by Naga Munchetty as to what her reaction to the 1% pay rise was. Apparently, the Minister was ‘pleasantly surprised‘. If I were an NHS staff member watching that and hear her say she was ‘pleasantly surprised’, I’d be furious. It gives the impression that the NHS staff, who have been there for so many people during the pandemic; some have even given their lives doing their job, should be thankful to get even that.

I see the comments in their entirety and I can understand the point the Minister is making when you compare NHS staff getting a pay rise (even if they won’t admit it is a real-terms pay cut after inflation is factored in) compared to people who have lost their jobs. At the same time though, for everything NHS staff have had to endure for the past twelve months with the pandemic, they deserve more. If anyone must know, at the time of writing, I have not lost my job (I have been fortunate to have been furloughed) but even if I had lost my job, my view would still have been the same. They deserve more than that.

Great news that the US has suspended tariffs on Scotch Whiskey, cashmere, UK cheeses and other items, imposed as part of the dispute with the EU over aircraft. The UK’s policy of providing global free trade has brought an early and unexpected gain for important UK exports

John Redwood (MP for Wokingham), 5th March

The Brexiteer John Redwood was celebrating the latest trade deal struck by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss that saw tariffs on items such as scotch whisky being suspended in the United States. Evidently, the MP and the Government wanted to present this as a ‘Brexit win’ as being outside the EU meant they could do this. The US and the EU had been in a dispute which had introduced these tariffs in the first place after a dispute over Boeing and Airbus subsidies. However, the ‘Brexit win’ did not last for long. The EU also came to a similar agreement with the US not long after, in fact with the New York Times reporting they came to an agreement on the same date as this tweet so that gain did not last long…

'Lying to Parliament and breaking the Ministerial Code is a straight red, even in the most lenient referee’s book.'

Douglas Ross, (MP for Moray and Scottish Conservative Party Leader) 5th March

Douglas Ross was highly vocal against Nicola Sturgeon in the opening week of the month as she presented her evidence to the inquiry engulfing Scottish politics. The Scottish Conservative leader wrote an article for The Express and he shared it with the above football analogy referring to the fact that he is also a professional football referee.

Traditionally, the MP is right here. Lying to Parliament and breaking the Ministerial Code are usually resigning matters or if not, a sacking issue. Anyone who does that should without exception.

The problem for Ross and any other Conservatives throwing these attack lines is that they do not have any moral authority on this. They have a Home Secretary found to have been bullying staff and in breach of the Ministerial code still in post, you have a Health Secretary found to have acted unlawfully in court over the procurement of PPE contracts, you have a Prime Minister who routinely tells falsehoods in Parliament and was even censured by the Court for misleading Parliament. Has he called on any of them to resign?

'This week the First Minister said it was ‘utterly irresponsible’ to try to remove her during a pandemic, despite all she’s done wrong. What do you call this? Pushing for indyref2 as early as this year? It doesn’t get more irresponsible than this.'

Douglas Ross, (MP for Moray and Scottish Conservative Party Leader) 5th March

The Scottish Conservative leader continued his online criticisms of the SNP the next day, this time sharing an STV article of Iain Blackford claiming that a second independence referendum could take place later this year. Sharing the article, Ross points out that Nicola Sturgeon argued removing her and the instability that could cause during a pandemic would be irresponsible. He is presenting a case of whataboutery here but the point is an understandable one. Why argue now is not the right time for a change when pushing for a referendum and a yes vote now would have the same effect of big change at a dangerous time.

I do have sympathy and agree with him. However, with elections happening in May then there will be a case study if you like informing them if such a national poll could take place safely in times of Covid. The other point being, if the SNP do secure a majority in Holyrood in those elections on a manifesto commitment to secure a second independence referendum, as much as anyone might want to oppose it (I am sympathetic to their views but not a supporter of Scottish independence) then they at the very least will have received a mandate to push for one.

One of the challenges we’ve faced as a country is in terms of the financial consequences of the pandemic. We’ve proposed what we thin is an affordable to make sure the NHS people do get a payrise

Matt Hancock (MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care), 5th March

The Health Secretary was next to defend the Governments recommended pay rise of 1% for NHS staff for the 2021/22 financial year. He did so during a Downing Street press conference where he too stressed the line that it is about affordability for the Government.

There is no denying that the pandemic has hit the UK hard. The UK has experienced one of the worst death rates in the world and one of the worst economic performances in the G7. It has been the worst of both worlds. However, given everything that has gone on in the past twelve months, it is a kick in the teeth for the NHS workers. They have experienced the worst of the pandemic, they have been there when people have needed care when they have died and often unable to say goodbye to their families. Some have had to do with inadequate PPE and have been close to breaking point over the past 12 months. All they get offered is a 1% payrise which when they expected inflation to be 1.5%, is in real terms a pay cut.

The Conservatives want to get back to normal. They are anxious about national debt but I have a feeling they misread the mood on this particular issue.

The EU’s leisurely approach to addressing the outstanding issues with the operation of the protocol meant we needed to act now to reflect the practical reality that businesses need more time to adapt to new requirements'

Brandon Lewis (MP for Weymouth and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), 6th March

Brandon Lewis announced on Twitter the decision by the UK government to unilaterally extend the grace periods for importing products under the Northern Ireland protocol for six months until 1st October. The accompanying article which he penned indicated that they were doing this because they considered that the EU were not appearing to be concerned enough with what was going on in Northern Ireland. He also pointed towards the Article 16 debacle in January when the EU invoked int temporarily over vaccine supplies and he also stressed that this decision does not change their legal obligations under the agreement.

James O’Brien, I think summed it up quite well on Twitter. It is either one of three things we are seeing here. First; the government had little understanding of what it is they agreed to which is entirely plausible given they voted it through Parliament in one day, the biggest trade deal we would likely do for a generation with so little scrutiny and some Government ministers hadn’t even read yet. The second; were they so confident that the EU would forget what their obligations are under this agreement or are they confident of keeping the charade and the lies of the EU being harsh on us when they’re merely following their rules and they did not force us to leave. The UK chose that.

Watching the interview with João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK on ITV’s Peston a few days later, it was clear that the EU would respond to this. By response, I mean in the form of legal action. This, in their eyes, is the UK breaching its international obligations to follow a treaty they only so recently agreed to and there is the feeling from the EU side, that we have not even properly implemented it. By extending the grace periods, it is clear that the government have not got to that stage.

It also begs the question, if they were not ready for it, why not ask for the extension in June of last year when that option was still on the table?

Brussels has to shake off any remaining ill-will and treat Brexit Britain as an equal

Sir David Frost (Minister of State at the Cabinet Office), 7th March

The UK’s newly appointed Cabinet Minister (unelected) wrote an article in the Sunday Daily Telegraph in which he appeared to accuse the EU of having an ill-will towards Britain. The above quote was the headline. That is harsh given I suspect it unlikely that he was the one who chose that headline (I would say more likely an editor).

Looking at it though, why would there be ill-will from the EU? Did the EU force the UK to leave? No. Did the EU force the UK to accept the Brexit we got with the Northern Ireland protocol? There were only two practical options; a border down the Irish sea or one on the island of Ireland. Nobody wanted the latter but by choosing to Brexit their had to be a choice. It’s almost as if he forgets that the other side have concerns and interests of their own that they want to protect but they should all bow to what the UK demands.

The article prompted an extraordinary response from the German Ambassador to the UK; Andreas Michaelis. He was dismissive of the argument saying there being no ill-will ‘should be obvious’. I just cannot help but think that Lord Frost is looking for an argument, trying to paint the so-called people he wants to be friends with as the bad guys. It isn’t sustainable if you want good relations.

On a factual point of note too, I would question how Brexit Britain could be treated as equals to the EU. The UK is one sovereign nation-state, the EU is now made up of a collective of 27 equally sovereign nation-states. On what scale is 1 opposed to 27 ever going to be equal? That is what we have left.

'What we all recognise is this is a period where we have restraints right across the public sector.'

Gavin Williamson (MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Education), 7th March

On the day before Schools returned, the Education Secretary had the media round and made the above comments in his interview with Sky News Sophy Ridge. The discussion initially focused on the proposed 1% pay rise offered to nurses and Ms Ridge asked, ‘is it a good look for nurses to face a pay restraint, but the Prime Minister is considering splashing out some money refurbishing his Downing Street flat?’

She was referring to the reports that the Prime Minister’s fiancé Carrie Symonds had spent around £200,000 renovating the flat at No 11 Downing Street at taxpayer expense. The Minister did not directly answer that question insisting there needs to be ‘restraints right across the public sector’. Ok, so is that what the Prime Minister is doing there? Is that what the Prime Minister doing putting a restraint on public finances when he seeks to implement HS2 or build a tunnel to connect Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK? Is that what the Health Secretary did when he gave contracts worth millions out to friends for PPE even though they were not necessarily well equipped for it?

The problem with what they have done over the last year with public spending is that they have shown the willpower to spend is there. It then appears insulting to hard-working NHS staff across the board to suggest their needs to be restrained when they have shown none, especially when it has been reported that staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are in line for a 13% pay rise. I’ll leave the rest to lawyer Peter Stefanovic to dismantle Williamson in this video below…

'What we saw in September, we asked all children to be wearing facemasks in communal areas where there are national restrictions. And what we saw during that period was an incredibly large number of publics followed the rules and it worked very well. I think pupils recognise the importance in doing whatever they can do not just to protect themselves but to protect their friends and the whole school community, as well as their family and the wider community.'

Gavin Williamson (MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Education), 7th March

With Schools returning the next day, this interview was inevitably going to come to the topic of schools. Sophy Ridge asked about how the rules surrounding pupils and staff wearing facemasks for much of the school day and just how would it be enforced?

The Education Secretary did not offer much of a response as to how these rules would be enforced, instead of imploring students and staff wanting to do their part would be sufficient. Was it successful before Christmas? Cases were rising after Schools returned in September; a trend that was only halted before Christmas temporarily during the October half term. There were whole year group bubbles that had to self-isolate every other week and it was very disruptive to pupils and their families. A friend of mine, his niece was forced to study from home three times between September and December; she was barely back a full week between November and Christmas. I don’t get what he means but it working ‘very well.

What happened in the week after Schools returned? I can only really speak of what coverage I noticed in the North East. Nine schools had positive cases in the first five days, is that a sign of a policy ‘working well’?

'Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable. She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this.'

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister) 7th March

The Prime Minister responded to news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who has been incarcerated in Iran for the past five years had had her ankle tag removed. However, despite hopes of her being allowed to return home, she not allowed to leave the country and would be in court again on separate charges seven days later.

It wasn’t lost looking on some of the responses to this Tweet what people thought of the Prime Minister commenting. In his role as Foreign Secretary, it was Boris Johnson himself who perhaps did more harm than good for Ms Ratcliffe. While he was Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson made the remarks to a Commons committee that she had been there ‘teaching people journalism’ which Iran picked up on and cited it as evidence that she was engaged in ‘propaganda against the regime’.

Ironically, it was the same charge was the reason for her still not being allowed to leave Iran.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *