By Bev Haigh-Jones
Despite the parliamentary recess there is still plenty to report on, though I have tried to limit it to the less well publicised elements of the news.
We begin this month with Brexit – no benefits – just more downsides, but we also focus on the positivity of the Rejoin movement. Before the referendum Professor Minford, then of the Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, “We have done a simulation of leaving the EU. The first thing that comes out is an 8% drop in the cost of living on Day One… That is really worth having.” I suspect though, that few people have noticed any drop, let alone one of 8%! The truth is, in fact, very different. Writer and politician Edward Lucas suggests in the Sunday Times on 31 July that, “Leaving the EU hit our economy and worse lies ahead — politicians should start discussing it.” Even the New York Times has called it, “a Disaster No One Wants to Talk About” (paywall applies). So, no improvement in the cost of living for individuals, but also significant loss of funding for local authorities, which has also had a knock-on effect on the lifestyles of the population. We always knew that the previous EU Development Funding would not be replaced by our own central government, but an article in the New European provides more detailed information on this. As Jonty Bloom states, “You don’t catch up with the really prosperous parts of the country by spending less on the poorest, so the huge imbalances in the British economy will continue to get worse, not better.”
The disadvantages of Brexit have not just been financial, of course. Brexit has been disastrous for UK democracy, as Ken Clarke made clear in an interview in 2019. In addition, the extra red tape and transport costs have been a death-knell for many businesses. Just over this last month alone we have heard of the closure of a cycle distributor, Fli, who has joined two other cycle distributors, one cycle retailer and two cycle clothing companies in closing down this year; craft breweries that are closing at a faster rate than ever before, with the latest casualty being Bone Machine brewing Co in Hull, and even long-established businesses like La Gavroche, the Michelin-starred restaurant in London which has been trading for fifty-six years planning to close its doors – and they all cite Brexit as the cause. There has also been a great deal of anger within the manufacturing industry over the issues surrounding EU safety and standards markings. With the government having stated that, post-Brexit, the EU standards CE mark would not be accepted after December 2024, many businesses had spent thousands of pounds and a great deal of time in developing procedures for the new UKCA standard, only to have the government announce earlier this month that for many industries the EU CE standard would now be accepted indefinitely. No such luck for the salmon industry, however, where a trial scheme to digitise the necessary health certificates to speed the export process has been ended, but without a replacement, thereby leaving the industry high and dry, and back to long-winded, paper certificates. So our exporters are still struggling with extensive paperwork and high costs whilst the government has just announced that it is delaying the checks on food imports for the fifth time!
On a cheerier, more optimistic note, let us move on to the Rejoin movement. All recent polls, carried out by a range of polling organisations, have returned a large majority in favour of rejoining the EU if this were put to another vote. In addition, more and more people who voted for Brexit now have regrets, as they have experienced the negative results. The person in this article who thought that it would be an easy matter to relocate to Italy being a case in point. We have seen from the response on our street stalls how people feel about Brexit, and nationally the membership of the European Movement has increased by over 30% since Mike Galsworthy became chair earlier this year. Hopefully you agree that the only sensible course for the UK is to rejoin the EU, probably in stages, perhaps by entering the single market first, but, if you need more convincing, Jon Danzig puts forward a good comparison in his article. Another great motivation comes from Femi Oluwole in his video which is advertising the second National Rejoin March in London on 23 September. Cornwall for Europe will be running coaches, as I am sure you have noticed from other features in this newsletter, but get those tickets soon! As a final encouragement, you might like to look at this article from West Country Voices.
Moving on, we look at what is happening in the UK and with our government, much of which is sadly less than inspiring. Let’s begin with Rishi Sunak. After the criticism he received for his habit of travelling by helicopter or private jet, and him being in the spotlight for announcing the one hundred new licences for gas and oil fields in the North Sea, he has made some very suspect, critical remarks about the Labour Party, which apparently breach the Ministerial Code and have not been retracted. The Guardian published a somewhat scathing article commenting on his personal style and suggests that he is at a “self-pitying” stage. His policies also leave a lot to be desired in that they are failing to provide any apparent benefits for the majority of the UK population. In fact, the opposite is true according to The London Economic, “After 13 years of Conservative government, the poorest in society officially have the lowest share of total income since records began, ONS data has shown.” If that wasn’t bad enough, a report in Euronews tells us that the UK has the lowest unemployment benefit rates in northern Europe at only 17% of previous income. However, whilst British people are getting poorer, MPs earned a total of ten million pounds in additional income in the last year for second jobs and freelance work, with some, like Nadine Dorries, favouring her outside activities over her responsibilities as a constituency MP. (Strange given this video of her in HoC from 2014!)
Looking now at how well the government make use of our money, it was quite shocking to see the figures released by the National Audit Office regarding the amount lost to fraud and corruption in 2020-21– up to £58 billion! (Rather makes the quarterly profits announced by Shell and BP of £2bn and £4.9bn respectively sound insignificant.) Imagine, though, how that lost revenue could have helped those struggling with the cost of living. Finally on the subject of the use of public money, James O’Brien highlighted the hypocrisy shown by the government with regard to P&O. When P&O sacked hundreds of their staff via electronic messages with no notice in order to employ much cheaper labour, Grant Schapps condemned the action. It transpires, however, that far from blacklisting P&O for their appalling treatment of their staff, the government have paid out nearly £230 million to them since.
Immigration is never far from the news these days and the government rhetoric is having unpleasant consequences. We recently had the government’s self-announced, small boats week, but whatever they had hoped to achieve, the result was a week worse than most. We also had the embarrassing situation where the small number of asylum seekers who had actually been installed on the Bibby Stockholm barge had to be removed because of legionella bacteria in the water supply. Had the government followed correct procedure and waited for the results of the tests before signing a contract, this unfortunate incident would have been avoided. Robert Jenrick and others are very keen on telling us that the alternative is that the asylum seekers are housed in four star hotels, a fact that James O’Brien attempted to confirm with the Home Office, but without success. The problem, though, is that these comments are believed by those who assume that our government provide true facts and the sad result is people such as the lady on a Nicky Campbell phone in, who I am sorry to say came from Bodmin. Another piece of misinformation that Sunak and others are fond of perpetuating is that of there being safe and legal routes for asylum seekers. Yes, there are a small number of countries from where it is possible to apply for a visa to come to the UK, but this does not constitute asylum, as explained by Full Fact.
To lighten the mood, I will leave this topic with a video by Tom Walker, aka Jonathan Pie.
Climate – another subject impossible to ignore, or escape from. We have all seen the endless news reports of one climate disaster after another – thousands of wildfires in multiple countries, extreme temperatures breaking previous records, torrential flooding, cyclones, hurricanes, drought – it seems that the planet has been visited by the full catalogue of potential climate catastrophes. According to a report in Euronews.green, scientists believe that the extreme heatwaves that are behind much of this would have been virtually impossible without human-caused climate change, and states that, “Europe’s July heatwaves were made 950 times more likely because of human caused climate change, scientists have found“. Meanwhile, with an area of ice roughly the size of Western Australia having disappeared from Antarctica, our own David Frost says, “Rising temperatures (from climate change) are likely to be beneficial.. We can adjust to the perfectly manageable consequences of slowly rising temperatures.” Closer to home, though, fruit is disappearing from Italian orchards, and from those of other EU countries as a result of the weather extremes, which means that food will be in shorter supply. Maybe at long last governments should be listening to people like David Attenborough when he says that we have to take action now.
Amongst the bleak news there are some encouraging signs, though. In Scotland for instance, they have hopes that a subterranean hydro power station will help them hit their net zero target, whilst a Ukrainian woman is at the forefront of a company hoping to get countries to adopt clean, efficient wave power. When it comes to transport, we all know about electric cars, but Turkey is planning a 286km high-speed electric railway which, incidentally, has received a significant loan guarantee from the UK, and in the US, Smart Tire Company are using a NASA design to develop a tyre which has no rubber, will never go flat and should last the life of the vehicle.
As usual, we end with more local news items, usually related to Cornwall or the greater South West. Firstly, we are on the subject of housing – always an emotive subject for those in Cornwall. It seems that Wain Homes have resurrected their planning application for a 275 home development at Dudman Farm near Truro. This has not been well received by locals, however, partly because of the limitations of local infrastructure, partly due to access concerns, and partly because, as is often the case with situations like this, the original inclusion of 40% affordable homes has now been reduced to 25%. A Wain Homes development has also been in the news for another reason, that of the chaos caused by having to relay a road through a new estate at Bodmin because it did not come up to the standard imposed by the council.
Speaking of Cornwall Council, it has also been under criticism of late. Firstly, there is the issue of the holiday park purchased twenty months ago to provide temporary housing for the homeless, which is still empty and unused. Then there is the council’s response to a Freedom of Information Request relating to all the email correspondence between council members during the Mayor for Cornwall Campaign. It seems that the initial search for a trigger word of “referendum” returned 1,700 pages of results, though this was reduced down to 562 after a more focused search, but councillor Tim Dwelly, the person requesting the information, only received seventeen pages, around 3% of the total. And then, of course, there are the car parking charges. The recent increases have not gone down well, with many businesses stating that they are harming their trade, and many locals furious that they now have to pay much higher costs to go about their day-to-day activities. Something of a faux pas on the part of Truro and Falmouth MP, Cherilyn Mackrory though, when she criticised Falmouth Town Council for the increased car park charges, when in fact the responsibility lay with the Tory-controlled Cornwall Council.
On to a couple of more social matters, both of which have elements of sadness associated with them. The first item is a warning to dog owners. Most dogs are curious and many will eat things that they come across whilst out walking and sadly, this is what happened in Newquay recently when a Staffordshire Bull Terrier ingested what is thought to have been a vape. Despite intensive care from a vet the dog could not be saved and was ultimately put to sleep – do please watch your dogs carefully when you are walking in public places. Finally – Boardmasters! I know that there are mixed feelings about the festival with many supporting it, but others irritated by the inconveniences created by the influx of young people to the Newquay area and the excess traffic blocking local roads. I don’t live near Newquay and don’t have a strong view either way, but what I was very disheartened and disappointed by was the mess that was left behind. As an environmentalist, I would really like to think that the majority of young people think the same way, but the reports on the scenes at the end of the festival left me with serious doubts. Very sad!
Stop Press: Just in: George Eustice, MP for Camborne Redruth, (until the next election) and previously DEFRA Secretary where he was involved in the negotiation of an Australian trade deal, which he later admitted was not a good result for the UK, has been granted permission by ACOBA (Advisory Commission on Business Appointments), to set up an environmental consultancy. One of the areas that he is planning to specialise in is water – shame he didn’t focus more on water quality when he was in post! Who’d feature on his client list one wonders…