Thursday, 30 March 2017

Topsy-turvy stuff on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yesterday a young friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

 "On bloody Brexit day, I feel more European than ever: I'm in Malta taking part in a Mediterranean-wide conference with my Polish colleague Agata Mrowiec and Italian colleague, speaking English, French and Spanish."

 I think he's fairly representative of many of the young people I taught French and Spanish to, young people who went on to study languages at a higher level, took advantage of the Erasmus scholarship opportunities offered by the EU to spend a year in another country and often ended up, like him, working in some other part of Europe.

At the other end of the scale is a 68 year old fisherman I read about in Hastings, getting all enthusiastic about article 50 finally being triggered. Yes, I am aware that many fishermen feel aggrieved about EU fishing quotas and so on. He proudly tells of how his family goes back all the way to Hastings in the 11th century. “The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body,” he says.

Now, isn't there something a little wrong there. Did they have elected kings in the 11th century? I'm pretty sure that William the Conqueror, and good old Harold before the invasion, didn't give the people a lot of say in what went on in government. And we don't really seem to have a lot of say nowadays for that matter, despite our right to vote and express our opinion. And we seem pretty much divided about what we actually want. And the divisions are not just generational.

Here is an article by Clive Lewis in the Independent:

"The last twelve months have been deeply divisive for Britain. Our divisions have allowed Theresa May’s Government – with a small majority – to ride roughshod over parliament. A great irony of the EU referendum is that a cause which eulogised the sovereignty of our parliament has done more than nearly any other event in recent history to endanger that very sovereignty.

Today, Theresa May will trigger Article 50. Parliament has allowed the Prime Minister powers almost unprecedented in peacetime to negotiate what happens next. Unless MPs across all parties start taking their role more seriously, our constitution will be re-written without accountability to the people. We face a battle for our democracy and our rights, one that will define our country for decades to come.

Last month I resigned from the opposition frontbench. I did that not because I wanted to reverse the referendum result, but because in a democratic country, parliament makes laws and parliament holds the government to account. By allowing the government to trigger Article 50 without any expectations, any guidance or any effective veto over what they decide, we have allowed them carte blanche over a huge range of policies that will affect every individual in this country.

This is dangerous. At times of constitutional uncertainty and social division, parliament needs a greater, not a lesser role, in defining our future. We have our work cut out, because once Article 50 is triggered, the Government will announce a raft of legislation to reform our environmental and farming protections, our migration, trade and taxation systems.

At the heart of this will be the so-called Great Repeal Bill, which aims to transfer EU law into UK law. The purpose of the Great Repeal Bill is sensible enough – but the devil is in the detail. It seems almost certain that, in order to process thousands of pieces of legislation, the government will try to give itself unprecedented power.

Under 'Henry VIII clauses' – named after statutes passed in the English Reformation, and set aside after Henry's death – government ministers would get powers to repeal legislation without the approval of parliament. Given the quantity of EU law, this could easily include rights, protections and standards that all of us take for granted in our everyday lives.

That means equality legislation, workers’ rights, environmental protection being decided by the Government without proper votes or debates in the House of Commons. In most countries with a written constitution, such procedures would violate the basic principles of parliament. We have no such advantage. In fact, the way the Great Repeal Bill is debated and concluded will establish precedents which will far outlast this Government, and affect the powers of parliaments for decades. Today campaign groups Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now are calling on MPs to wake up to this threat to our rights. They are calling on the Government to release clear detailed bills as soon as possible, to guarantee decent time for public consultation and parliamentary debate, to curtail Henry VIII powers and impose strict sunset clauses when extraordinary powers cease, and to guarantee that nothing which could reduce human rights or equalities legislation will be delegated by parliament.

Parliament must do a better job at holding the Government to account than it managed in the Article 50 debates. This isn't just for the benefit of those who voted remain in the referendum – it's for everyone who cares about building a better country.

Today I call on fellow MPs of all parties, to stand up for the democratic rights the people of this country have  historically fought for and defended. If we fail, and allow Theresa May to assume the powers of a renaissance monarch, our divisions will grow and our future will look bleak. But if we succeed, we can emerge from this period of uncertainty and division, to make this country more democratic and fairer and to better protect and empower its citizens."

And here is Jonathan Freedland's take on it in the Guardian.

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Trump seems dead set on undoing as much Obama legislation as possible. He has signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era rules aimed at tackling global warming. The order seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. He doesn't seem to believe in protecting the environment.

Neither does he believe in interent privacy by all accounts as he was expected to sign legislation on Wednesday allowing internet service providers to sell the browsing habits of their customers. More Obama-era rules going by the wayside. I particularly liked this comment from congressman Mike Capuano: “Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?”

What more can you say?

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