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Theresa May’s Diary

Theresa May's Diary

There are key differences between Theresa May and Bridget Jones.

For a start, Jones was single for a long time. And Bridget Jones always tended to look desperate.

The Labour Party is divided on Brexit – but they’re not the only ones, and it’s not Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. My late father used to tell me that there are some people who will love you whatever you do, some people who will hate you whatever you do, and some people who will always remain indifferent. Many parliamentary Labour MPs have criticised Jeremy Corbyn so much, that further criticisms of Corbyn now over Brexit would be completely hollow. To use an analogy, they have already ‘used up their lives’.

Let me pin my nails to the mast. I am in my early 40s, and was opposed to Brexit for the purposes of the June 23rd 2016 referendum. I don’t think this makes me a ‘remoaner’. I was always a bit concerned about the domestic abuse of the UK governments in state aid rules, and this is clearly of concern with the pre-meditated drastic, severe and chronic under-funding of the National Health Service and social care. I was similarly concerned about whether the EU en bloc with the US would become embroiled in TTIP, a transatlantic trade agreement, which would make it much easier for ‘free movement of capital’ ownership of ‘our NHS’. But I am told by various loud voices that what concerned many, stereotypically outside Scotland and London, was a free movement of workers, many unskilled, undercutting ‘home grown produce’. Unfortunately, some of this genuine concern got transformed into outright racism and abuse, as can be clearly seen in some of the vitriol aimed at Gina Miller.

I get the fact that there are some Labour MPs who represent constituencies representing populations who wanted to remain in the European Union. I also get the argument that you wouldn’t want, ideally, to sell your house, and make yourself homeless, and have nowhere to go to. But the idea that we will know much of the detail of the negotiations this early on is pie in the sky on the whole. Clearly, if it were the case that the European Union demanded forced repatriation of British citizens living in Europe, there would be a strong case not to start the chain of events culminating in us leaving the European Union; but this is quite unlikely, if only we don’t have a clear idea of which EU citizens are living in the UK for a start. It is pretty likely that, in the absence of strong free trade agreements elsewhere, our domestic economy would take a big hit if the UK was not included in the EU single market, but at this point this is a prophecy, and coud be right or wrong like every single other economic prediction.

I understand the need for Labour MPs to make it public that they cannot comply with a 3-line whip set by Corbyn, when their ‘conscience’ will not allow it (and nor will their local membership). We are where we are, however. The referendum, we all know by now, was only legally advisory according to the relevant Act of parliament, but unfortunately it is also the case that the non-binding yet forceful words dropped into every letterbox in the land: “that the Government will implement whatever you decide.” The case for re-running the referendum in some form of other on account of the outright lies is weakened by the fact that every single UK election has had a big degree of lying (remember ‘no top reorganisation of the NHS’ by Cameron prior to the 2010 general election?) Whilst a referendum is not the same as an election, it was David Cameron’s decision to put the issue to a referendum in his famous Bloomberg speech to defuse grumblings in his own party. What this inevitably has done has exposed a split opinion in the country at large, and it would be nonsense to believe that the splitting of opinion is simply confined to the Labour Party.

Whatever you dislike about Jeremy Corbyn MP, for example his famous terrorist ‘friends’ remark, his arguably somewhat patronising tone in giving interviews, his dress sense, his purported lack of patriotism when singing the national anthem, Jeremy Corbyn is in no way responsible for the split within the Labour Party on Brexit. Many of his MPs represent constituencies who do not see the ‘benefits’ of immigration. Many of his MPs represent the polar opposite viewpoint. In as much as the only certainties are ‘death’ and ‘taxes’, one thing is pretty certain in that Jeremy Corbyn MP as leader of the Labour Party would be unlikely to make everyone happy on Brexit. This is not the same as the Labour Party appearing ‘confused’ on Brexit, as constantly levelled at Emily Thornberry MP in media interviews. Quite the reverse, the ‘three line whip’, if anything, is Jeremy Corbyn showing the ‘strong leadership’ or ‘real leadership’ demanded of him by Angela Eagle MP and Owen Smith MP in their failed leadership bids.

Now that the Supreme Court had decided that there is insufficient mileage in the argument that the Royal Prerogative is sufficient to trigger Article 50, a Bill predictably has been laid before parliament, longer than the Bill giving women the vote. Labour and the Conservatives, unlike the SNP and Liberal Democrats, have taken national party lines of triggering exiting from the European Union. I feel that the need for MPs to comply with national policy comes less from the convoluted arguments of Edmund Burke on delegates versus representatives, often misquoted inaccurately, but the issue that otherwise MPs would be acting as independents. There are clearly massive problems down the line, if the US Congress decide to do a trade deal with the UK massively to the detriment of the UK for the political convenience of the governing parties of the UK and US. Or, there are issues if, to gain competitive advantage, the UK feels it must lower corporation tax rates even further to stop capital migrating, say, to Ireland, turning the UK effectively into a ‘bargain basement tax haven’ was warned in unison by Keir Starmer QC MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP. It is not immediately obvious what the UK has to sell in a trade deal to the US apart from its genius – but the rich pickings that would made of the NHS is not “scaremongering” but a genuine issue which lies in the national interest.

Exiting the European Union per se is the starting gun. The current Government has previously talked about repealing the Human Rights Act (ideologically consistent with leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice). There’s no guarantee that xenophobia in some parts of the UK ‘heavily hit by immigration’ will be alleviated short of mass deportation of citizens awaiting guarantees of permanent residence, or by a ‘migration transformation fund’ promised by Labour back in 2010. There’s no guarantee that total immigration levels will fall drastically. We do, however, already know that Indian and Australian Doctors do not feel it is their duty to plug the ‘skills gap’ in the NHS, given the torrential negative perception of the NHS given by its longest serving Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. But it would be political suicide if Labour unilaterally came out on the side of the 52% or the 48%. We know that countries of the European Union do not see the four freedoms, in people, capital, goods, and services, as anything other than an unitary package. It’s pretty unlikely that London, even if achieved outright devolution imminently, would be allowed to gain EU passporting rights maintaining a sectoral lifeline for the City.

It’s also pretty unlikely that a small number of revolting Labour MPs, SNP MPs and Liberal Democrat MPs (#seewhatIdidthere) will be sufficient to stop the triggering of Art. 50. Jeremy Corbyn MP, meanwhile, will have to do the best with the deck of cards he’s been handed. Keir Starmer QC MP is right not to get worked up about the semantics of the hard versus soft Brexit. The approach taken by Theresa May MP is substantially one of pragmatism, even if the rhetoric and mood music are more akin sometimes to euphoric Nigel Farage. Many of us reasonably minded like-minded people (or liberal snowflakes) want to reach for the sick bag as soon as we hear about the personal relationship or special chemistry between Theresa May and Donald Trump. Likewise, Jeremy Corbyn can only try to make the best of a bad deal, but, if he is held as being downright obstructive to Brexit, all hell will break loose. I think with import inflation, the skills gap in the UK, and societal discord, Brexit will pan out to be an unmitigated disaster. But it would be wrong to blame Jeremy Corbyn for that too.

And by the way… we know what happened to Bridget Jones in the end.


What's new pussycat? Theresa May needs to do the GDL

These days, a Graduate in Diploma is a worthy course for any non-law graduate wishing to study the basics of English law, including the criminal law, law of torts, land law, the law of equity and trusts, and the law of contract.

Imagine how useful such a Diploma might be especially if your job included some component of understanding constitutional and public law (including judicial review or human rights), or even some working knowledge, you could apply, in European Union law.

Does this Diploma fetter you into a career you don’t wish to pursue? Of course not, ask any of the graduates of the Diploma (or the Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Training Course) who are unable to get a training contract at a firm of solicitors or a set of chambers of barristers.

But imagine if you needed this knowledge to become Home Secretary, having done a degree in geography. You would able to discuss these matters with ‘relevant stakeholders’, as your Human Resources teams will tell you. ‘Relevant stakeholders’ might not be restricted to the Conservative Party or big cash donors, but might include groups campaigning for the application of universal human rights such as Liberty, or even the European Court when discussing how to implement the law giving prisoners a right to vote proportionately. That is of course assuming you wish to obey the Rule of Law.

The gaffe about the pussycat was pretty poor. James Welch in the Guardian puts it hilariously:

“”I’m not making this up,” said the home secretary, as she regaled the Tory faithful with yet another Human Rights Act folly: an “illegal immigrant” could not be deported because he had a cat.

I’ll be charitable and accept this wasn’t a wilful misrepresentation. But if so, someone in her department evidently failed to brief her on one of its own cases (still “not fit for purpose” eh?)

I’ll start with a minor point: the man, a Bolivian, was not an “illegal immigrant”. He came to this country quite legally as a student but stayed beyond the expiration of his visa – perhaps May thought that distinction would be lost on a conference audience.

More significantly, his right to remain in this country had nothing to do with his cat. For four years before his case came before the immigration courts the man lived with a British woman. They did all those coupley things: bought crockery, went out clubbing, got a pet cat. When it came to wanting to regularise the man’s right to stay in this country – and anticipating immigration officials’ inevitable scepticism – the shared cat was one of a number of factors used by the couple as evidence their relationship was genuine.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it by any standards. In an incredible flourish, May at the weekend provided, according to Ben Quinn an equally absurd claim also in the Guardian:

“The home secretary is to ask MPs to pass a motion declaring that the right to a family life – enshrined in Article 8 of the European convention on human rights – is not absolute.”

This is of course completely laughable for most lawyers, and as if it needed confirming it is stated clearly on the relevant page of the Liberty website.  The BBC then repeated the settled stand in our law:

“And civil rights group Liberty said the right to family life was already qualified, allowing “considerable latitude over immigration control and the economic well-being of the nation”.”

I think somebody should put me out-of-my-misery, and we should have a whip-round for Theresa May to do the GDL (see tweet). I know many who would happily contribute.



Mixed messages from Theresa May and the Riot (Damages) Act

Both Theresa May and Yvette Cooper referred to the events of Saturday as “violence”, but this also appeared to encompass the separable offences of assault and battery (offences against the person), aggravated trespass against land (where intention to produce a commotion must be proved), and criminal damage. The issue for the Home Secretary is how to allow the judiciary to punish and deter unlawful and illegal behaviour, and possibly to cause the legislature to enact new measures to deal with these new times of civil unrest at specific focal points.

The discussion led by May and Cooper was wide-ranging, and there was a very interesting aside which the Home Secretary said very quickly in passing. She referred to the Riot (Damages) Act 1896. However, according to a previous BBC article, it’s possible to use the Act the other way, such as Fortnum and Mason could in theory use the Act to recover money themselves for any damages from Saturday. For example, in reference to a previous claim, the BBC wrote,

“The claim is being made under the 1886 Riot Damages Act, which allows companies and individuals to sue the police over damage caused during civil disturbances.”

(BBC website)

The issues about the said Act have never been properly resolved. Police authorities in 2002 had been trying to get the government to repeal the section of the 1886 act after disturbances in the north of England last summer. Bedfordshire Police Authority at that time resisted an attempt to make it pay £38m for the damage caused in the fire at the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, arguing the bill is archaic and can no longer be justified. The original act was designed to charge the local police for failing to prevent people behaving in a “riotous or tumultuous” manner. It was also invoked after riots in Moss Side, Toxteth, London and Bristol in 1981.

The original Riot Act 1714, punishable ultimately by the death penalty, fell into misuse, and was in time superseded by the Public Order Act. It might seem odd that Theresa May is contemplating the enforcement of the Riot (Damages) Act 1896, in reference to the weekend’s events, two days’ ago. I suppose it would be possible in that it has never been repealed, and is in fairness younger than the Offences against the Person Act 1861 which governs assault and battery.

I don’t understand why Theresa May should wish to invoke the Damages Act? Lawyers are very keen at looking behind the purpose of any statutes enacted. The point about this statute is to charge the police for failing to prevent riots. However, Theresa May was (rightly) giving the impression that she fully supported the Metropolitan Police in upholding English justice in difficult circumstances.

The discussion is on the BBC iPlayer. “House of Commons” on the BBC iPlayer.

A brief (unreviewed) history of the Riot Act is here:

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