How the steady movement of the ship of state can be upset, and in such a short time. Since writing just a couple of weeks ago, we have lost two cabinet members, seen revelations coming out of the Westminster bubble of sexual harassment with names appearing on spreadsheets, many relating to historic indiscretions or wrongly interpreted misadventure. Some accusations are serious and they must be dealt with according to law, but we must have justice after proper investigation, not hype based on finger-pointing. This is not how we do things in Britain but we have descended, worryingly, into a new world of assumed guilt. We have already seen one suicide by a politician. Don’t forget, people in the public eye have families and feelings too.
On to more relevant matters for the future of our country. As a member of the Brexit Select Committee I spent a little under 24 hours in Brussels meeting the key figures negotiating the EU’s position on Brexit. These were Michel Barnier, the EU Commission’s chief negotiator and Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who, as an MEP, will be shepherding the required vote on any deal through the European Parliament. I’d recommend anyone to take a trip to the institutions of the European Union – surreal, bizarre and entirely detached from the real world issues facing citizens is the conclusion you would most obviously draw. The same applies to the EU’s stance on negotiations with the UK. Put aside for one moment that the EU27 benefit from a monumental annual trade surplus of at least £80Bn with the UK, and we are one of their best markets, the Commission refuses to discuss what future trade and any ‘implementation period’ will look like before we’ve agreed Phase One:- the legal position of EU citizens in the UK (the Commission wants the European Court of Justice to be the ultimate arbiter), the Northern Ireland/Eire border (it demands NI stay in the Single Market and Customs Union), and demands an untold sum of cash, upwards of £60Bn (half of the UK’s NHS budget). We are getting to a point where ‘no deal’ looks cheaper, better and allows the UK to re-enter the world as a true global player far more simply.
Locally, the annual Royal British Legion Armistice events have dominated the diary. The Annual Festival of Remembrance at the Winter Gardens featuring the Band of Gurkhas, complete with Kukri knife dance was stunning, the Poppy coffee morning, hosted by the Anchor at Wingham was well supported, and the service of remembrance at Ramsgate on Sunday was hugely attended by the Armed Services, Cadets and the Scouts/Guides/Cubs.
I also supported the local National Citizens Service ‘Dragons Den’ event where I took the part as one of the judges to assess the students’ social action projects. The teams chose Mental Health and Domestic Violence as issues of local concern. I agree with them that these are key issues to be urgently addressed.
This week in Westminster we have Committee stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, and next week the Budget. I have been campaigning, as ever, for Fuel and Beer duty freezes and tax simplification. Busy times.