Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Vulnerable UK MPs to be allowed to vote from home

British MPs have approved plans to allow vulnerable members to vote via proxy due to the coronavirus, two days after MPs voted to reinstate a physical parliament.

The partial climbdown from the government came as Business Secretary Alok Sharma awaited the results of a coronavirus test, having fallen ill while in the chamber on Wednesday. Shortly after Thursday’s vote, Sharma announced he had tested negative for the virus.

The government remains accused of attempting to “silence” some parts of the country since the proxy voting won’t cover all MPs not attending Westminster.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, has been heavily criticized after ending remote voting procedures on Tuesday in favor of an in-person “conga”-style queuing system. Rees-Mogg initially declined to endorse a proxy voting system, instead telling members “there are well-established procedures for people who cannot be here being paired,” to ensure absences don’t affect the outcome of the vote.

Labour leader Keir Starmer told Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, “If any other employer acted like this it would be a clear and obvious case of indirect discrimination under the Equalities Act.”

“I know it is difficult and I apologize to all of those who are shielding or are elderly,” Johnson said.

The motion approved Thursday without opposition allows proxy voting for members “at high risk from coronavirus.” Those MPs will also be allowed to participate in some debates virtually.

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in northern Scotland, will not be able to use the proxy system, since he is not personally at high risk but is at home caring for his wife. Writing for the House Magazine Thursday, Stone said: “They still want to silence me and my constituents.”

“It seems to me desperately unfair that my personal circumstances should preclude me from voting,” he said.

Another Liberal Democrat MP, Alistair Carmichael, told MPs during a debate Thursday that the queuing voting system resembled “exercise hour in a category C prison.”

His request for an emergency debate was granted for Monday morning, setting up the next showdown between MPs and Rees-Mogg over how parliament should sit.

Business cannot prepare for a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a pandemic

Carolyn Fairbairn is director general of the Confederation of British Industry.

Away from this unparalleled health and economic crisis, Brexit talks continue from a distance.

For many firms facing unrelenting stress from COVID-19, these talks have been out of sight, though not quite out of mind. Their total focus is on immediate survival and recovery. But as more businesses take tentative steps to reopen slowly and safely, every decimal point of economic growth is being fought for. They expect that same spirit to be replicated when Brexit talks resume Tuesday.

The signals so far are not encouraging. Both the U.K. and the EU negotiating teams have rigid mandates and are following them to the letter. Negotiation by videoconference doesn’t allow for the kind of side-line conversations that normally help smooth differences in trade talks.

Unless the dynamic shifts, it looks like both sides will stay trapped in a holding pattern, with no trade deal a real possibility at the end of the year, when the transition period is scheduled to end. For businesses, jobs and economic confidence in this most challenging of years, this would be a shocking outcome.

With 40 percent of the economy closed, 8 million people in furlough and not working, the U.K. is already in recession.

For many firms fighting to keep their heads above water through the crisis, the idea of preparing for a chaotic change in EU trading relations in seven months is beyond them. They are not remotely prepared. Faced with the desperate challenges of the pandemic, their resilience and ability to cope is almost zero.

With 40 percent of the economy closed, 8 million people in furlough and not working, the U.K. is already in recession. Stockpiles that were built up in preparation for a no-deal outcome in March, October and December last year have been used to plug supply shortages created by the pandemic, while half of all manufacturers are having difficulty reconnecting their supply chains.

Many businesses, especially smaller ones, have burned through cash reserves they would have otherwise used for rainy days. One logistics firm would need to hire 300 new border officials starting in June to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit, and are asking whether they should do this — and how this can possibly be a sensible use of their stretched resources.

Take one of the country’s beauty companies. Department stores and salons have been closed; sales have disappeared. Without a sensible arrangement on EU-U.K. regulation and tariffs, they face new costs into the millions of doing business in the U.K. Meanwhile the cost of producing shampoos and hair dyes has increased because social distancing — while essential — means lower productivity on the factory floor. For them, the price of a bad EU outcome is that they may no longer have a sustainable business.

Before COVID-19, the U.K. led the world in professional services trade, with the country’s auditors, accountants and architects landing business across the globe. But services trade has collapsed, with company surveys showing the greatest fall in all measures since records began.

Perhaps by the end of the year these companies will be climbing back onto their feet. However, an abrupt introduction of restrictions on trade and movement with the EU at that point would be a hammer blow.

The net impact would be higher unemployment at a time when we will be fighting for every job. We have forgotten what unemployment in the many millions feels like — we thankfully haven’t experienced it since the 1980s. The regions that would be hardest hit are the least resilient and most disadvantaged. When large numbers of people are out of work, every single job matters.

So what is the answer? Negotiators promised progress on fishing and financial services by the end of the month. Delivering on those promises would instill confidence urgently needed by businesses operating within interconnected supply chains.

The desire for no further delay is understandable. After all, the U.K. made its choice in the Brexit referendum nearly four years ago now, and it is not clear extending the transition period would necessarily bring a better deal in the future.

But while it may be tempting for some to down tools and accept that WTO terms are the best either side can hope for, there are many livelihoods and businesses at stake. The current air of resignation surrounding the Brexit talks must be shaken off. This is why a new dynamic and determination on both sides is so essential.

In recent months, political leaders across Europe have shown that what previously may have been thought of as impossible is not. A good deal with the EU will be just one strand of the U.K.’s national recovery from the pandemic, but it will be one of the most important for the future of our economy, jobs and livelihoods.

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UK sets out Hong Kong ‘path to citizenship’ plan

LONDON — The U.K.’s plan to offer a “path to citizenship” for British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong — should China persist with plans to impose a new security law on the territory — could extend to nearly three million people, the Home Office indicated.

Home Secretary Priti Patel reiterated on Friday that if China imposed the national security law, the U.K. would “explore options to allow British Nationals Overseas to apply for leave to stay in the U.K., including a path to citizenship.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Thursday said the U.K. would allow British Nationals Overseas (BNO) passport holders to come to the country for an extendable period of 12 months, lifting the current six month cap.

Passport holders would be able to  “apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months,” Raab said.

The U.K. Home Office estimates there are 349,881 holders of BNO passports, but clarified in a factsheet published Friday that in total there are “around 2.9m BN(O)s currently in Hong Kong” who would be eligible for a BNO passport.

A U.K. government spokesperson also confirmed that the offer extended to the children and dependents of BNO citizens.

China responded angrily to the original offer to passport holders. According to the BBC, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “All such BNO passport holders are Chinese nationals and if the U.K. insists on changing this practice it will not only violate its own stance but also international law.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed Hong Kong in a call with Donald Trump on Friday, Downing Street said.

“The leaders said that China’s plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong goes against their obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and the One Country Two Systems framework,” a spokesperson said.

A YouGov poll on Friday — highlighted by Raab on his Twitter feed — found that the British public support the offer to BNO passport holders, with 42 percent backing the move and 24 percent opposed.

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