Posts Tagged ‘elections’

US ambassador: Donald Trump not seeking to ‘buy’ the NHS

LONDON — The U.S. president is not seeking to “buy” the National Health Service in a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, according to the U.S. ambassador to the U.K.

In an interview on LBC on Friday, Woody Johnson repeatedly denied the U.S. would demand access to the NHS in trade talks, stating that Donald Trump would not take it even if it was given to him “on a silver platter.”

“We have got our own issues dealing with health care,” Johnson said. “The president wants to concentrate on … national health issues” such as reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, he said.

The potential privatization of the NHS after Brexit was a major issue in the campaign leading up to the U.K. general election last month.

The Labour Party repeatedly told voters that the NHS would be a key element in Britain’s trade negotiations with the U.S. if the Conservatives formed a government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the NHS is not on the table.

The U.S. ambassador on Friday expressed support for the prime minister’s position. “I think the prime minister has been very clear that he wants to emphasis improving health care and efficiency. And more hospitals and more nurses, which is great,” the ambassador said.

Scotland’s independence road got longer

GLASGOW — Scotland’s nationalists are coming to terms with a longer trudge toward their dream of independence than they had hoped.

The decisive victory of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the U.K. general election has dashed any hopes of an independence referendum this year. Scotland’s nationalist government needs formal permission to hold such a vote from Westminster, which will not be forthcoming, despite the prime minister’s promise to “carefully consider” a request.

But Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, and her troops are steeling themselves for the long game. They are banking on the argument that with Brexit now on track for January 31, Remain-voting Scotland will be wrenched from the EU against its will.

Her Scottish National Party argues that Indyref 2, as it has become known, is warranted because of Scotland’s changed status since the previous “once in a generation” referendum vote in 2014, in which the independence camp lost. If the U.K.’s divorce turns sour, then that argument will likely become more potent.

Right to choose

Scotland’s leader lost no time after the election result in setting out her stall for Indyref 2. Even before Johnson had made it back to the House of Commons despatch box, her government published Scotland’s Right to Choose — a document laying out the case for breaking away.

“We have a situation where the vast majority of people in Scotland do not want Brexit” — Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish first minister

Its reasoning is that Scotland must now, regrettably, reconsider its place in the U.K. due to the untold damage it argues Brexit will cause and the subjugation of the nation’s interests by a dominant England. 

This is a shift from the optimism and promise that characterized the 2014 Yes campaign, but which was undermined by a failure of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) to adequately address key economic questions. 

But if the sell is different, the mechanism is the same — a legal referendum, which must be sanctioned by Johnson’s government. Sturgeon is unwavering in her belief that independence can only be achieved by such a route, and will not consider holding a rogue vote as Catalan separatists did in Spain in 2017. While such a vote might deliver the result Sturgeon wants, London may find it easy to dismiss the vote, as Madrid did with Catalonia. 

But with support for independence bouncing stubbornly between 42 and 45 percent over the last 12 months, the SNP hopes to alchemize a swing in voters outraged at Brexit, and the prospect of untrammeled rule by Johnson’s Tories.

Domestic dangers

At the decade’s inaugural First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon reminded the chamber, which had voted the previous day to withhold consent for the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, that “we have a situation where the vast majority of people in Scotland do not want Brexit.” 

Nicola Sturgeon could well also be tripped up by local scandals involving sub-standard public services | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Still, other factors threaten to spoil Sturgeon’s pitch. The trial of Alex Salmond, former Scottish first minister and SNP leader, for an alleged string of sexual assaults, is due to begin in March.

Salmond remains something of a totemic figure in sections of the party and the wider pro-independence movement, evidenced by the six-figure crowdfund he raised to finance a judicial review of the Scottish government’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations against him. The trial threatens weeks of odious coverage for Sturgeon.

Away from the courts is another pressing concern: Scotland’s budget. The U.K. government’s decision to delay its budget until March 11 led to allegations from Scotland’s Finance Secretary Derek Mackay that the Westminster government was being “disrespectful” to the Edinburgh parliament

Mackay had planned to set out his budget in December but had to hold off because of the snap general election. The delay means a much curtailed time period in which to draw up a budget for Scotland, which Mackay says poses a risk to public services and local government funding. If disruptions to services such as health care or transport do arise, Scottish voters might blame the SNP government, despite its protestations.

Sturgeon could well also be tripped up by local scandals involving sub-standard public services. At a major new hospital in Glasgow, water quality linked by campaigners to poor building standards has been implicated in the deaths of several children. Another new hospital’s opening has been delayed by over a year. Public inquiries into both cases will guarantee unwanted headlines. 

Sturgeon’s best hope of forcing Boris Johnson to agree to granting Indyref 2 lies in the next Scottish parliament election in May 2021.

One upside for Sturgeon is her under par opposition. The Scottish Conservatives remain without a leader, and the race to replace Ruth Davidson is likely to expose fault lines, with the party north of the border less keen on Johnson’s populist brand.

Scottish Labour — until recently the dominant force in the nation’s politics — had another hideous election in December, losing six seats and leaving a foothold of just one MP. Over the festive break, a prominent member of the Scottish parliament argued for a divorce from the U.K. party. Debate over whether the Scottish party is merely a “branch office” with no real autonomy has been rekindled, providing easy material for SNP speechwriters. 

Still, media reports on Thursday suggested a coming executive committee meeting will see major policy changes discussed, including support for an Indyref 2 vote and secession from the U.K. party. 

With Johnson’s position cemented by his 80-seat majority, Sturgeon’s best hope of forcing him to agree to granting Indyref 2 lies in the next Scottish parliament election in May 2021. A big majority for her party in that parliament would bolster her democratic case for holding another vote on separation. That will mean navigating a year of domestic traps for her government.

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Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill passes Commons, moves to Lords

LONDON — Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill was approved by the House of Commons and will now be discussed in the House of Lords.

MPs on Thursday voted 330 to 231 in favor of moving the bill to the upper house of parliament, although the peers are not expected to cause any trouble for Johnson or do anything that might delay the passage of the bill.

Closing a parliamentary debate ahead of the vote, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay urged peers to take into consideration December’s general election result, which gave the Conservatives an 80-seat Commons majority.

“I anticipate constructive scrutiny, as we would expect in the other place [the Lords], but I have no doubt that their lordships will have heard the resounding message from the British people on December 12,” he said.

The bill, which enables the U.K. to leave the EU on January 31 and outlaws extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, was passed despite opposition from the Labour Party. Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield warned the government to approach the next stage of Brexit “with sensitivity and with caution.”

“The decision of the general election isn’t a mandate to bulldoze through a particular version at any cost on all the people of the United Kingdom, and the next few months need to be approached with sensitivity and with caution if we are to stay together as a United Kingdom,” Blomfield said.

On Monday, members of the House of Lords will debate the general outlines of the bill, in what is known as second reading. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have been set aside for what is called committee stage, where line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation takes place.

Parliamentary oversight is expected to be the most important topic for peers, some of whom are concerned about Johnson’s removal from the bill of an entire section on parliament’s role in the negotiations with the EU.

“If this bill goes through in its current form, it will set precedent for how the government might want to regard parliamentary oversight of completely different bills in the future,” said Michael Jay, a former diplomat and crossbench peer. “There is an issue here which is not necessarily related to the withdrawal bill but is potentially important for future bills as well.”

Labour peers will ask the government to reconsider the length of the transition period, according to Dianne Hayter, shadow deputy Labour leader in the Lords. The transition is due to end in December and Johnson says he won’t ask for an extension. “We will be in a way sowing the seed for the realization that this transition period will have to be further extended,” Hayter said at an Institute of Government event Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Labour peer Alf Dubs is preparing to introduce an amendment to allow unaccompanied child refugees to continue to be reunited with their families in the U.K. after Brexit day. The Johnson government re-drafted the bill to remove such a provision.

Dubs, who was a refugee as a child, said he hoped to force Johnson to reconsider the issue, saying “there is a good chance for achieving in the Lords what the opposition couldn’t do in the Commons.”

Speaking in the Commons Thursday morning, Barclay said the government remains committed to helping unaccompanied children. “What the bill is doing is returning to the traditional approach where the government undertakes the negotiations and parliament scrutinizes that, rather than parliament setting the terms in the way that happened under the previous parliament,” he said.

The peers are not expected to delay the passage of the bill. Under the Salisbury Convention, the Lords are not meant to oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in its election manifesto.

“The bill will clearly pass and I don’t think this is an issue where the House of Lords should resist the House of Commons,” Labour peer Andrew Adonis said.

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