The Vote Against Free Meals for Disadvantaged Children Highlights the Failures of Our Political System
We sent a copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to the Cabinet Office for ministers to read - they clearly need reminding!
“Last week our government made the despicable decision to vote against giving disadvantaged children food over the half-term and Christmas holidays. This is demonstrably not a decision that the majority of the country supports.
“The fact that such a decision could be taken highlights the very real problems with the political system in the UK – problems that affect the everyday lives of millions of people in this country.
“MPs were whipped into voting against the free school meals proposal brought forward by the Labour Party. The individuals concerned may have wanted to support the proposal, but they knew to do so would limit their career in the Tory Party. These MPs put their own self-interest and the interests of their Party ahead of the interests of the country and the people they are supposed to represent. They should be ashamed of themselves and they should never be allowed to call themselves the representatives of the people again.
“Renew is calling for an urgent removal of the Whip system to prevent such outrageous and cruel decisions from being possible in the future. We demand a political system where elected officials have the integrity to represent the views and needs of their constituents; a political system where MPs are free from fear or threats from a central party machinery that controls them and consequently the country.”
Parliament Must Vote Against the Proposed Agriculture Bill, Urges Renew’s Spokesperson on Food, Farming & the Environment
With Parliament due to vote this week on the Agriculture Bill, that many consider will destroy, rather than support British farming, Renew’s spokesperson on food, farming & the environment, Draeyk van der Horn, urges MPs to vote against it.
“The proposed demolition of food standards will pave the way for hazardous food imports that will not only endanger the nation's health but unfairly pitch good British farming practices against sub-standard methods overseas.
“The promises made in the last election lay in ruins as this Government simply asks us to trust them, with no written assurances in law. With a track record of u-turns and law breaking, as seen all too often during the pandemic, can we trust this government on anything, let alone our food and farming?
“A million have signed the NFU’s petition, celebrities have spoken up and countless thousands have lobbied their MPs, but are they listening?
“We must Renew our food and farming, not let a short-term ideology reduce it to rubble.”
With HMRC continuing to try to recover vast sums of money from individuals, who believed they were following rules, in the middle of the worst crisis our economy has faced in our lifetimes, Renew’s Business spokesperson, Gary Burke, explains why he believes we need widescale reform of our tax system.
“Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Treasury (HMT) and the present Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman, present a very convincing façade to the outside world; that HMRC collects taxes as effectively as it can and treats everyone fairly in the process,” said Gary.
“In reality, HMRC appears to be more concerned with covering up its failings and inadequacies than focusing on reform of the system. It needs to effectively target the corporations and big businesses that avoid paying tax and stop victimising individuals.
“The Loan Charge legislation is a prime example. This legislation has been universally criticised, including by one of the largest All-Party Parliamentary Groups ever formed, but the government and HMRC refuse to listen. Their only response is: “everyone should pay their fair share of tax”. The vast majority of people impacted by the Loan Charge agree with this; they thought that’s what they were doing.
“They used schemes that were promoted and operated by companies acting perfectly legally. Despite believing they were following the rules, these individuals are now being pursued for life changing, and in many cases impossible, sums of money. No action is being taken against the operators and promoters of the schemes or the authorities that did nothing to prevent them. It is only the individuals who used these schemes, in good faith, who are being penalised.
“Of the three parties involved in the Loan Charge scandal responsibility can be divided up as follows:
- HMRC – allowed tax avoidance schemes to be developed and marketed and didn’t adequately inform people of the possible implications of using such schemes. Even worse, they told people that the schemes were legal - because they were and still are!
- Scheme Promoters – promoted and operated tax avoidance schemes. However, it remains legal to do this and no action has been taken against scheme promoters
- Individuals –used tax avoidance schemes that they were told were legal (they are)
“The only group that is being penalised is the individuals, who were acting in good faith. Indeed, one of the largest tax avoidance scheme providers was recently rewarded by being given a £122m contract to supply PPE by the government.
“There is legal action currently underway that may see HMRC in court over this issue, and the truth about this complicated saga may start to emerge. However, given how deeply HMRC is entrenched in its position, it’s highly likely that they will continue to refute any culpability, and try to maintain that black is white. This is an approach that HMRC has taken before.
“A case recently reported by Will Dunn in the New Statesman, highlighted a VAT avoidance scheme that HMRC were aware of in 1997 but didn’t address until 2011. This was called Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR).
“LVCR was a provision in EU tax law which, put simply, allowed perishable items costing less than £18 to be sold VAT free. Changes to the law introduced in 1996 allowed any item, valued at less than £18 sold in the UK, to be posted from the Channel Islands without VAT being charged (thereby providing an additional margin for the retailer).
“A vast array of products ended up being sent to the Channel Islands from the UK, which were then posted back to customers in the UK – so called “circular shipping”. For example, take a customer buying three CDs at £45. If they did this in a high street store in the UK or via a UK-based online retailer, VAT would be applied to the transaction. However, if they purchased via a retailer with a base in the Channel Islands, the retailer could despatch the order back to the customer in the UK in three separate parcels, from the Channel Islands. As far as the tax man was concerned, this would be three £15 transactions and therefore the retailer would pay no VAT.
“Within a few years, these rules created an industry of tax avoidance which had a significant and negative impact on the British high street. At its peak, the Channel Islands accounted for three quarters of all non-EU post into the UK.
“Concerns with LVCR were first noted in a VAT Assurance Review published in 1997. The following year a businessman, John Biggs, took up the cause, however, he realised that fighting LVCR was going to be a major battle, so he gave up after a number of years.
Major retailers, including Tesco and Amazon, complained to the Treasury about the LVCR loophole in early 2004, but still nothing happened. Within a year, Boots, Asda, WHSmith, Tesco, HMV and Amazon had set up fulfilment centres in the Channel Islands in order to compete on a level playing field.
“This level playing field was anything but level though, as offshoring operations to the Channel Islands wasn’t an option for every high street shop in the UK or every VAT-paying online shop. Over the next ten years more than 1,600 record shops and online stores went under – including Richard Allen’s.
“After the HMV announcement in 2005, Allen secured a meeting with the Treasury. In 2006, armed with evidence proving “circular shipping” was happening, Allen was told by a senior advisor that he didn’t see it as an issue. He was also later told that the EU was to blame, alleging that, to remove the LVCR from goods coming from the Channel Islands would require a wholesale change in European law – this was not correct.
“The loophole remained open and in December 2007, following the collapse of his business, Allen wrote a letter of complaint to the European Commission.
“He received a surprising response in 2008 – the EU wanted to use his case to close the LVCR loophole. They wrote to the UK authorities who replied stating that “circular shipping” simply wasn’t happening.
“Allen showed the EU the evidence he had proving the “circular shipping” was very much happening. He also called HMRC and, after mentioning that his next call would be to a national newspaper, was put through to the very top of the organisation where he was told, “sometimes things get missed”.
“Having claimed that LVCR was imposed on Britain by the EU, civil servants were in a difficult position. Allen's case confronted them with the fact that the UK was failing to uphold competition law by keeping the loophole open, because doing so gave offshore retailers an unfair advantage. For almost 15 years, the complaints of dying British business had fallen on deaf ears, but the threat of infraction proceedings in the European Court was another matter.
“In 2010, after the general election, George Osbourne announced that the government would finally take action. Eight years after he first became aware of the problem, Allen succeeded in closing the loophole that had killed his business. On receiving the news, Allen asked whether he would be compensated for the loss of his business or indeed for saving the UK huge amounts of money. HMRC’s only reply was to warn him that it would vigorously resist any attempt to claim compensation or apply for a reward.
“Annoyed by the dismissive response to his appeal for compensation, Allen launched his own action against HMRC, claiming that the tax authorities had failed in their obligation to protect him from the harm caused by LVCR. The case dragged on for years and eventually, in March 2019, Allen was told that he had lost.
“HMRC was not finished with him though. In June 2020, HMRC presented Allen with a bill for costs totalling £125,000, although after publicity in the national press, this was reduced to £10,000.
“This is not how the UK tax authority should behave. Especially considering that were it not for the suffering and bravery of people like Richard Allen, the public would not even know about this situation.
“Renew believes that an independent challenge and redress system should be established to provide a first step, arbitration-style mechanism to tackle these sorts of issues. Renew also believes the UK's tax system is overly complicated and onerous. Renew would undertake a full-scale review and reform of the UK’s tax system. Corporate and individual taxation should be simpler to understand and easier to administer. Tax loopholes exploited by big business and the super-rich, which deprive the Treasury of desperately needed funds for public services, must be closed.”
The full New Statesman article about LVCR can be found at https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/business-and-finance/2020/09/record-shop-taxman-and-missing-billions
Renew’s man in Europe, Terry Knott, has been working closely with two eminent French lawyers who are trying to win the right for British people living in Europe to retain their EU citizenship. This is an English translation of their case.
Michel Barnier said, last week,that among the thorny issues to be resolved by the negotiators in charge of the future relations after Brexit, between the European Union and the United Kingdom, is that of the status of British citizens residing in the territory of the European Union, the "Brexpats" [Latin: Ex Patria, Out of Country].
Until now, we had hardly heard anything about this subject. The topics invited to the media table were rather [about] fishing, or fair competition between the two economies, confirming [giving] the impression that Europe is definitely more interested in people's wallets than in their hearts.
Anyone who rubs shoulders with the Brexpats knows their dismay. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom is creating all kinds of uncertainties, particularly regarding the right to reside in their [present] country of residence, where they have sometimes been living for several decades, but also regarding their social rights, their tax duties, the visa system, their electoral or property rights which, as Mr Barnier [EU] points out, have not yet been clarified, despite the many rounds of discussions between the Union [EU] and the United Kingdom. The legal proceedings they have initiated have either failed to resolve their great bitterness, or are ongoing.
We can thus be pleased with this return of the human element, to the concerns of negotiators, but on reflection, Michel Barnier's [recent] remark seems curious. Shouldn't the status of Brexpats in the European Union interest the Union [EU] alone? Why on earth should it be a subject for negotiation with the United Kingdom? Because the status of the 1.7 million Brexpats [approx. estimate] is inseparable from that of the 3 million "Brimpats", the citizens of the EU residing in the United Kingdom, in this area, solutions must be reciprocal.
Everyone understands this, but there is one major difference that must be noted: Brimpats have never been British citizens, whereas, like you and me, when the British voted for the Brexit, Brexpats were, often from birth, citizens of the European Union. This raises the question of whether the Brexit has really made [is making] them lose their European citizenship.
In terms of legal appearances, the answer is positive, since the founding treaties of the European Union make citizenship of the Union dependent on the nationality of a Member State. If a State leaves the Union, then its nationals should no longer be citizens of the Union.
However, this appearance [condition] comes up against certain difficulties.
European citizenship connects every European citizen first and foremost to the European Union. Thanks to it, every European citizen voting in the European Parliament, has a right to address petitions to the European Parliament, a right to have recourse to the European Ombudsman, a right to address the European institutions in one of the languages of the Treaties and to receive a reply in the same language.
These rights may seem remote for each, but the right to vote in the European Parliament is essential: half of the rights and obligations of every European citizen emanate from the European Parliament. Who can claim that it is indifferent to him or her to vote, democratically, for who will decide half of what concerns him or her?
To limit ourselves to one example, who can believe that, without the power of the European Union and the vigilance of the Court of Justice, his personal data could have been effectively protected, unlike that of the American, or Chinese citizen, … if he at least made the effort to really want it?
The European Union also has an obligation not only to treat each citizen without discriminating against him or her, on the basis of nationality, gender, origin, convictions, religion, disability or sexual orientation, but also to combat discrimination.
Who can believe [maintain] that this drive for equality is a distant preoccupation?
European citizenship also connects each European citizen to each of the other Member States. Thanks to it, it is possible to move as freely between Paris and Brussels, as between London and Liverpool, between Strasbourg and Copenhagen, as between Liverpool and Scapa Flow, between Luxembourg and Rome, as between Scapa Flow and Portsmouth. We know better now how precious geographical carelessness is, since it has left us all the way to the interior of the borders.
But, if it was only a question of moving around… European citizenship is also the right to settle freely in another Member State. This is how 350,000 French people are Brimpats, just as some 400,000 Brexpats have chosen France. Isn’t it just as wonderful for a young Auvergne man to seek his fortune in London, as it is for a native of Liverpool to live peacefully in the Dordogne, during his retirement?
European citizenship even means the right to vote in municipal elections in the country where you live. French citizens living in Manchester vote to designate local authorities, just as the Brexpats living in Barcelona vote for municipal elections.
Everyone knows the burden of local taxes. Who can deny [refuse] the weight of the corresponding vote?
These few examples, which are by no means exhaustive, illustrate how European citizenship affects almost every aspect of our personal and collective life: the right to vote, freedom [of movement], opportunity, equality, employment and social rights, communication, computing...[etc.]
European citizenship thus belongs intimately to the individual. It is a part of his being and it should not be possible to deny it to him. It is a good for him and it should not be possible to deprive him of it.
Unless he renounces it. And, what makes it possible to consider that the Brexpats, who remained on the territory of the European Union and thus demonstrated their attachment to Europe, in spite of Brexit, would have renounced their European citizenship? Certainly not the sovereign, albeit unthinking, choice of their fellow [British] citizens.
The United Kingdom has just recognised Brimpats' right to vote in local elections. It has thus made a gesture of good will in terms of British citizenship. Let us plead for Brexpats to retain their European citizenship on this side of the Pas-de-Calais. By making this effort, the European Union would be renewing the gesture of its democratic values.
As Cicero said, a people is not just any gathering of men, assembled in a certain way, but the gathering of a multitude, whose association is based on a legal organisation and a community of interests. For the French, there is also the desire to live together. Whether they live in France, Germany, Greece or Estonia, Brexpats are part of a legal organisation, belong to a community of interests, and prove that they want to continue to live with us. By this choice, they have integrated [with] the European people. There is no reason why the European people should not keep them in their midst.
Again and again, let us borrow the conclusion from Winston Churchill: "Having lived in those days, I propose to show to what extent the structures and practices of democratic states, which are not united in larger organisations, are deprived of those elements of persistence and conviction, which alone can guarantee security for the mass of the humble... how necessary it is that many states advance together on a broad path of international action, from year to year, whatever the ebb and flow of national policies."
By voting for Brexit, British people have served us one of those ebbs and flows of national policy, that should encourage us Europeans to resist a very natural reactive temptation and to keep the Brexpats in our [European] union. Between China, which is advancing resolutely in this modern despotism of which it has succeeded, thanks to a viral crisis, in offering us the model, and the United States, which is reacting tensely to this competition that it considers imperfect, they will help us, with their fighting spirit, to guarantee our security and prosperity to all of us. And they will help to protect Brimpats.
Paper and legal text by: Maitre Julien Fouchet, lawyer at the bar of Bordeaux (France)
Where the original text has been written from a legal, French perspective, certain words have been inserted or clarified, by the translator in square brackets [thus] to ensure the bi-lingual meaning is clear.
London has the potential to rival Silicon Valley says Kam Balayev, the Renew Party candidate for Mayor of London. Kam believes there are opportunities to drive social and economic growth in the city by accelerating London's digital economy and championing the fintech sector. He outlines his thoughts here:
“Digital technology is now second nature,” said Kam. “From people in older age groups embracing Zoom to the ubiquity of smartphones, content streaming, websites and apps, digital tech is deeply embedded into our daily lives. The coronavirus pandemic has speeded up this process.
“This is particularly obvious in the health and education sectors. Online consultations have helped keep GP surgeries safe and ensured access to treatment for vulnerable people. Home learning for school children and university students has gone from being a marginal practice to completely commonplace. The potential for these two vital sectors to embrace digital solutions is huge, and London's expanding tech sector can help facilitate this shift further.
“We have the opportunity to use the knowledge and expertise of the tech sector to improve the lives of Londoners in other ways too. A key component in any city offer to residents or new investors is safety. Rising crime, particularly violent crime, is a huge concern for Londoners. In fact, it's the issue of most concern to residents after healthcare. By using the latest digital technologies, divisive stop and search techniques can be replaced, while still ensuring that knives are taken off our streets. What works in London can then be exported to other UK cities and across the world.
“London is at the forefront of the UK's digital economy. For example, it has played a pioneering role in cyber-law. And the English language is a key advantage — overwhelmingly the language of choice for global tech companies. The city also contains huge numbers of highly skilled and ambitious bilingual people. London has the potential to become a global hub where ambitious tech entrepreneurs want to be based. But the competition from other cities is fierce.
“However, I believe there's a gap in the market. Silicon Valley is a place for ambitious start-ups, but thanks to tech giants like Google and Facebook, the market has become more insular. It can be difficult for start-ups to find a foothold, as small and medium-sized businesses are priced out. That's where London comes in: a new 'silicon centre' that incubates the tech giants of the future. Innovative, exciting start-ups, growing businesses and emerging giants could flock to the city if it creates an attractive environment, with the right infrastructure in place to support them.
“But, in order to seize this opportunity and build a really exciting and prosperous future for London, we need an electoral system that works. Participatory budgets, e-petitions and citizen assemblies would all hand real power to citizens.
“We are at the threshold of being able to create something truly amazing for London and Londoners and that is why I have put myself forward as a candidate to become the next Mayor of London. We need the political reform that Renew is working to achieve across the country and we need to listen to the people and deliver what matters to them. I am committed to delivering on my promises and building an exciting future for this incredible city.”
Alex Haida is Co-Chairman of Volt UK. Renew and Volt UK have been working together in recent months as we discuss ideas and opinions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Alex has laid out his thoughts for moving forward in this article.
I would like to take you back to May 2019. I remember it was a rainy month, I was struggling to put my wet leaflets through doors in Ordsall during the local council elections campaign. I stood as an independent but told the people I met that I was a member of Volt UK. My programme focused on cleaning the many waterways in Ordsall and as well as initiatives to strengthen the local community (I was thinking about a new community pub). As I campaigned throughout my neighbourhood, I had many special moments when I knocked on doors and met the people in my community.
In between all the stories that I told and listened to, my encounter with one woman particularly struck me. She lived in one of these houses of typical crimson Salford bricks with a small garden out front. I gave her my usual Volt pitch of working together in Europe and using best practices to improve our local community. After that, she only said one thing to me: She had voted Leave, yet she would vote for me because I was not one of them even though I was firmly pro-EU. This struck me profoundly and I was left speechless, I couldn’t say anything else other than that Volt didn’t align for what you voted for back then, but I thanked her and let her go.
red brick terraced urban streets of moss side, manchester
A Leave voter chose me over the other candidates from the established parties. Even though I was campaigning in the name of the pro-European Party, Volt, she voted for me. She voted for a neighbour, who was born in Germany and had only lived in the UK for a couple of years, but was campaigning for our Ordsall. She needed to know that I cared about local issues and that I was doing something about it. She did not really seem to care about Europe, and she did not really seem to care about Brexit either. It highlighted to me what we must focus on when we try to find balance between prosperity and desire.
Why was she planning to vote for me despite our differenc of opinion when it came to Europe? It was not important to her as a voter ‘how’ I do politics. All that mattered was ‘why’. Unknown to her the way I was doing it brought me to her doorstep. I needed not only her vote, but also her voice as a citizen of the UK to make change happen. People-powered change, regardless of political affiliations, but based on trust and human values.
The 2016 referendum was a disaster. Instead of asking a stupid Yes/No question, the question should have considered the political diversity and opportunities of the UK. The questions never needed to be Yes/No to Europe, the conversation needed to be ‘How do we interact with Europe’.
Brexit is still unsolved. Nevertheless, I think we can find a solution by asking the right questions: How do the British people see themselves in Europe? What do people really care about? What is a British dream for Europe about?
Quo vadis, Britannia?
Firstly, there is a frustration with politics and politicians. This was demonstrated during the last general election. Many could not side with Corbyn’s hard left agenda, while others were dismayed at the failure to create a real remain alliance. Many, as usual, felt that voting was a waste of time. The Brexit referendum offered a change. This change has not happened; all we are left with is division.
The UK is our house, we live in it, we work in it and we want it to thrive in a neighbourhood where, thanks to teamwork and compassion, we can build certainty and a future.
Politics needs a new product. Politicians need to understand democracy as a marketplace. Let us take an example: Imagine a market selling different types of transportation. You can buy horses, bicycles or cars. All the products come with pros and cons, but all the products will help you to move forward. You know a fair and open market should allow you to choose your product and make deals that work best for you. Generally, the best salesmen are the ones that listen and advise you to purchase the product that best suits your needs. Bad salesmen, on the other hand, promise you the option that suits them best, not the option that is best for your needs. Sounds familiar? Ask yourself: Do I really need a Ferrari when I only drive it to Aldi?
If we continue to follow Johnson, we might get ‘true independence’. Britain will sit on a throne made from the legacy of the once proud Empire; Britain will wear a crown again. It will have control back again, as they say. That is true. However, the throne is a cracked and unstable chair, rather a piece for the museum, standing remarkably close to the gates of a much grander castle called Europe. Previously, the UK had helped build this castle, but no more. In Brexit Britain and under a No Deal, we will wear a paper crown as we wave hello to our old friends from the US, India, or Africa, that will flood to our castle gates. But the UK will not be their destination. They will be en-route to Europe.
Johnson dictates for a new era where the British people live poorer and with less freedom and less choice as they go about their lives. They talk about winning the sovereignty of the UK, but what happened to the sovereignty of the people? We don’t have it. We have no proportional representation, we are lacking effective devolution, and we have tribal party politics, personality cults and a lot of old men shouting at each other in an old building on the island that is London, far away from where politics needs to implement the change. This doesn’t sound like sovereignty to me.
The political establishment lost the people; they are assets on balance sheets, without dignity, without care, without hope.
The people of the UK, their families, their businesses, must not lose out to Brexit: open doors and open opportunities in our continental neighbourhood are vital. Was 52% a strong enough mandate to pull 100% of the people 100% away from this neighbourhood? Mathematically this is a majority, but it is a majority of the people who voted not a majority of the people and Britain is more than numbers and figures. It’s not just Yes or No. Britain is diverse and is proud of that, too. We are champions of debate and compromise. No Deal is no compromise.
In the end, we need to draw a new future for the UK and all of its people. Of course, you cry, everybody talks about it. The Government is talking about it, but it still can’t open or even find the next door to replace EU membership. You can argue that we have seen some political change; the Government under the rule of the Conservative Party did a remarkable job breaking their ancient values by introducing the most Socialist manifesto the UK has ever seen. But this only proves that political pragmatism, not political idealism, is leading the way. However, we need a new political product that suits the citizens, not the establishment.
But why is Europe really important for the UK, you may ask yourself? I think the British people are not wrong with their concerns about uncontrolled immigration, security threats, the uncontrollable Commission and missing links between fiscal and monetary policies; the EU gives you a headache rather than a solution. The EU has plans for reform but will it be able to adapt to global challenges? The UK is experienced in tactfulness and finesse and knows how to play a significant role on the global stage. To a level with the USA, China, and India, too.
Nevertheless, the strengths of the UK will be amplified with the help of close relationships with other countries. With Europe, the UK can set improved standards for defence, foreign affairs, green energy, and trade, all of which must be reformed in the EU. Economic freedom can be developed when the UK works with Europe and especially under the Single Market, Thatcher’s legacy to the EU. Does the UK want to leave it to a Franco-German playgroup, which fails to realise the potential of a liberal single market that benefits all market players? A competitive market that really benefits everyone from the grain farmers of Bulgaria to the pub landlord of Anglesea. Over-regulation and complicated bureaucracy can be shown the door, but only with a pragmatic Britain at the helm.
Of course, a future deal with the EU must ensure that the UK can be a global political trend setter. If Europeans want Britain to enter the European castle again and play a part in it, then there have to be special arrangements in regard to currency, social security and taxation that will guarantee the social and moral principles of the British people.
The Brexit debate has brought back the dead: we are reminded with Churchill’s rhetoric when fighting Nazi Germany, leading the UK to glory and unforgettable victory. The EU is a by-product of this victory. The UK helped to build the EU, but Churchill himself was hesitant to further integrate with the Europe that he helped to keep alive. Does that make him a great, modern European? Many would say not. But with all respect, he was certainly a great warrior, and the one Europe needed in its darkest hours. After ‘45, there was no war anymore. Reason took over, however nobody other than Margaret Thatcher moved ahead with the proposal for the Single Market to further shape the European Project. The seeds for two main aspects of the EU, peace and economic power, were planted by Brits.
So, what happened to the reason and courage that characterised Churchill’s and Thatcher’s politics in the fight for a strong and stable European continent when it was needed the most? When we want to play our role at the helm again and help others with good old British pragmatism, we need to implement reforms that solve the people’s frustration. We must address the lack of participation and fight against populism. However, these reforms must happen here first. Firstly, we need to fix the UK, then we can talk about Europe. Do you remember the lady in Ordsall that voted for me? She was interested in why I campaigned, not Europe.
It doesn’t matter how you do it
Thatcher said: “to be free is better than to be unfree – always. Any politician who suggests the opposite should be treated as suspect”. In a way she is addressing the untransparent, unaccountable EU. But what she forgot was the will of the people of Britain. Brexit is pushing Scotland and Wales into a position where political change threatens the United Kingdom as we know it. Don’t forget too that England does not even have its own parliamentary representation. It does not have a voice like the other British nations have. If the British people are so proud of their political pragmatism when it comes to foreign affairs, then the pragmatism in its internal affairs must feel like loss of freedom. So much about sovereignty.
We need to enable citizen power, working locally as neighbours for neighbours, just like I did in Ordsall. As I mentioned before, democracy is a marketplace, a living process, not a single event. A new political product, which includes electoral reform and empowered communities, and will put tolerance and pragmatism over tribal loyalty and faith. It works, the woman in Ordsall is proof of that.
How do we move on with Europe then? Firstly, do not take anything for granted. Britain has been and will probably always be special in Europe. When politicians in the coming months look to preserve Europe’s most valuable aspects, they must remember the British art of making deals again. We need a deal that gives everybody the chance to reach their full potential and ensure the people’s sovereignty is not blocked by politicians more interested in satisfying their own interests.
This brings me back to the British Dream of Europe: Do you remember the song by Madness, “Our House”? The lyrics include the following: “I remember way back then when everything was true and when | We would have such a very good time, such a fine time | Such a happy time | And I remember how we’d play, simply waste the day away | Then we’d say nothing would come between us | Two dreamers”.
Where have those dreamers gone? Johnson can’t open the door that provides hope and a prosperous future. He closed all the doors. No more dreams. But the UK dreams to play a global role. Britain is full of nostalgia for the good old days, “when everything was true”. we must reflect, be honest to ourselves and admit that the EU is also our legacy and whatever it will be able to achieve, it will be thanks to a lot of input from Britain. We must understand that Europe is not only a German or French house; it is also a British house. From a British point of view, our European House is broken and needs to be fixed. But first, we need to take care of ourselves. So let’s not let anything “come in between us, two dreamers”, leavers and remainers let’s make things happen. Let’s fix the UK.
Create an electoral platform for change.
While the opposition works in the parliament, keeping Boris in check, we must seed a new political community to campaign for change. If you want to self-realise your political goals, want to join a movement that stands for change and are not happy with the other parties, then let’s join together and create a new political platform. I am sharing my story to give you a vision for Britain’s role in Europe. For your role in “Our House”. However, two dreamers are not enough. I invite you to be the change you wish to see in the UK. Together, we can create something new and special. You can do it, because you are “not one of them”.
Britain saved the European continent in two World Wars. But there is a new war, a new crisis. It’s a crisis of identification and vision. We forgot what it means to be British: We used to be the guardians for peace and economic prosperity in Europe. The populists pull us back into the past but we have been there before, when we were blind to foresee the future and what is best for us. But we are lucky. We can learn from the past, we can advance. So, I ask you: Do we want to take the same path again?
Who do you want to be in this new, global world: A leader?
Tom Meek, Renew’s lead for Policy and Strategy, finds common cause with John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s new book
You can’t say we haven’t been warned. John Micklethwait, previously editor at The Economist and now Editor-in-Chief at Bloomberg News, and Adrian Wooldridge, the Bagehot columnist at The Economist, have written a new book: The Wake Up Call. Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West – and how to fix it. For a very accessible overview and discussion of some of the implications, read this interview that John Micklethwait gave to Alain Elkann on 6 September.
In this latest offering, the authors pick up the challenge they outlined in a previous book – The Fourth Revolution. The global race to reinvent the state (2015). As veteran observers of the workings and politics of Western states they have long seen the cracks: a persistent lack of trust in politicians, an apparent inability to deliver real reform or large projects, and resignation among voters that they can effect change through the ballot box. The Wake Up Call turns that polite exposition into an urgent shout. They argue that respective reactions to the pandemic have shown up all too clearly how the West is now far behind the East in terms of efficiency and capacity. And this is not at all an argument for centralised control and complete disregard for personal and property rights. Quite the opposite. Pointing out that efficiency, capability and capacity of states have very little indeed to do with levels of liberty guards against Western states seeking to use that excuse.
So what is the real reason for the West having fallen behind in this way? Micklethwait and Wooldridge pull no punches in answering this: the West’s weakness stems ultimately from the people running Western states. And this is certainly the case here in the UK. The brightest now tend to avoid joining the civil service or government. The UK state has taken on more and more over the past 70 years but has not kept pace with technological progress. So the state is overloaded and is not drawing on creators and innovators to help improve efficiency, capacity and capability.
At Renew we would go further than examining the quality of the people running the UK. Behind that, and the issue we are setting out to tackle, is the political culture in the UK. We get the people we get in government because of the way our political system works. Patronage and top-down, centrally-driven parties create toxic environments for anyone wanting to offer themselves up for public service as an MP or in government. And the treatment of the civil service by politicians is enough to put anyone off joining, before you mention the pay. (As an ex-civil servant myself, I feel pretty sure that many still serving endorse this infamous Tweet.)
So fixing the UK state requires fixing our political culture first: opening our politics up, changing where power lies and who controls it – giving it back to voters and even to the MPs themselves – and making every vote count. If we are successful in this we will be well placed to reinvent the wider apparatus of government and turn our attention to working with people to deliver what they need where and when they need it.
We have heard The Wake Up Call loud and clear and we are already taking steps to respond. Will you join us?
With people continuing to be targeted by tax avoidance scheme promoters who have played a part in condemning up to 100,000 people to the nightmare of the Loan Charge, Renew’s business spokesperson Gary Burke, says it is time the government got tough.
With the Finance Act 2020 receiving Royal Ascent in July 2020, the hopes of up to 100,000 people who are subject to the draconian Loan Charge legislation (which retrospectively changes how tax law is applied in the UK) were shattered.
In its original guise the draft Loan Charge legislation allowed HMRC to look-back to 1999 and re-assess how much tax thousands of individuals needed to pay; individuals who used legally promoted tax schemes that HMRC were fully aware of, and who submitted their annual tax returns in full accordance with prevailing requirements i.e. everything was above board and legal.
After almost universal criticism of the Loan Charge legislation, including an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) consisting of more than 230 MPs from all parties, the House of Lords as well as tax and accountancy bodies, an independent review conducted by Sir Amyas Morse was undertaken. This concluded in December 2019 and it made various recommendations to the draft legislation; one of which was to limit the ‘look-back’ period to start from December 2010 when it was asserted that the law became clear.
Ignoring the issues that have subsequently surfaced regarding how independent the review was, it is the ‘law was clear’ point that is deeply contentious.
Many tax experts, including Phil Manley, a former tax inspector who led HMRC’s technical response team for Accelerated Payment Notices, argue that the law was not clear until 2017. This view is further reinforced by changes that were made to legislation over the following years, and court cases that HMRC continued to lose.
The Morse review also found more than 65,000 instances of scheme usage occurred between April 2011 and March 2016; not a great endorsement for a supposedly clear law.
However, the assertion that the law was clear may soon be tested in court as Mr. Manley is leading a challenge on this point, with funding currently being raised through his campaign website https://www.loanchargelegal.com.
A further recommendation from the Morse review, and one long overdue, was that the role of scheme promoters should be looked at. As a result, in August 2020, the government launched two new consultations to deal with tax avoidance:
- Tackling promoters of tax avoidance
- Call for evidence: Tackling Disguised Remuneration tax avoidance
The first of these consultations includes considering how to deter taxpayers from taking up such schemes. The second consultation seeks to understand, amongst other things, what drives the continuing use of these tax avoidance schemes.
Between April 2019 and May 2020, HMRC themselves have identified more than 45 schemes being marketed and aimed at individuals, designed to avoid tax on employment income. As is stands, some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to the NHS to help with the Covid19 pandemic and HMRC has confirmed that unscrupulous promoters are targeting those returning workers with cold calls and emails to try to persuade them to use tax avoidance schemes.
Renew’s message to the Government is very clear:
- Regarding the Loan Charge, HMRC need to recognise that the individuals subject to the Loan Charge were following the rules and the law at the time, and do not deserve to be punitively victimised
- Regarding the tax avoidance scheme promoters (and the still legal promotion of these), MAKE IT ILLEGAL! and, when promoters are caught, impose very heavy fines and prison sentences; and, if you won’t do that then please explain why not!
Renew's David Britten discusses how the exams fiasco this year shows why we need political reform
Turn your mind back to March when we were in deep lockdown. I was talking to my son and he was concerned that he had his A levels coming up and did not know if he would be able to physically sit his exams or if they would be on line or even what he would do next year and his plans for university were just a dream. An article in the Guardian on March 15th was even advising the Government that they should cancel the school year for those students taking GCSE’s and A levels, and they would restart their final year in September 2020. You can imagine his response to a 3 year A level course.
So the Government closed schools on the 18th March, and all exams were cancelled. In his statement the Prime Minister said “I understand their frustrations, we will make sure their progress isn’t impeded and that in time they will get the qualifications needed”. He was advised that he would get his grades based on teachers adjustments. Basically teachers would be asked to give each student a grade, and within that grade rank the students.Ofqual would check to make sure there was no overinflation by schools. Simple and straightforward, and my son was told by his teachers he would have his predicted grades. No mention of algorithms.
Roll on early August, he had been contacted by his university, and his halls have been confirmed. With results day on the 13th August, I felt a slight apprehension with this Government, but surely even this Government after Covid 19, Brexit and numerous other mistakes that have made would not mess up these exams results. I was wrong. Having been involved with Renew since we started, seen up close how this Government, and previous Tory Governments works, I was concerned. The sensible and experienced Conservative politicians like Damian Hinds and Justine Greening (previous education secretaries) had been forced not to stand for reelection as they refused to back Boris Johnson and his disastrous ‘Get Brexit Done’. They had been replaced by Williamson and Gillian Keegan (No 2 at Department of Education) - Gillian Keegan was on holiday in the French Alps tweeting about her holiday on the day of publication of the A level results, you could not make this up.
Having some experience in the ‘algorithm’ world after working in tech start ups for the last 10 years, we would test a new algorithm to see the results and if we could create anomalies. It seemed Williamson aka Cummings didn't even do that, as they would have immediately seen the results and broken the algorithm- an exceptional student in a year group whose expected grades would outperform previous years results, and from an inner metropolitan borough with a high class size would, with the algorithm,have their grades downgraded. The student who attends a high performing school, with small class sizes would have their grades maintained if not upgraded.With competition so intense to be accepted into the top universities, a downgrade from A to B would mean instant rejection.
To allow the results day to go ahead was a dereliction of duty by Williamson, when he knew of the disaster looming. 500,000 students would receive A level results, and saying each child has 1.5 parents who are involved in their education, you have 1,250,000 people of voting age who would be furious by this mismanagement of the A level results. It just shows the arrogance of a party run by Cummings with a majority of 80 seats- they don’t care about public opinion. Fortunately after pressure from public opinion there was another U turn and the predicted grades, or the algorithm grade- whichever was greater- was awarded. It was a disgrace to see the Liberal Democrats silent on this issue.
But we can do something about this. We need to reform the Political system and you can only do that from within. If you are a student contact Alex Gunter email@example.com who is heading our drive to sign up students and young people so Renew can become politically active on campuses. If you are a parent and you are outraged by how your children have been treated contact us firstname.lastname@example.org and help us ensure this never happens again. I was so outraged by the fiasco, I have started a petition for the government to release the working of the algorithm- my petition passed the first hurdle but is now waiting review which due to Covid could take 14 days before I can launch a full petition- again a Cummings ploy to take the steam out of the situation and stop democracy working.
If you follow the political pundits, it appears Williamson offered his resignation but Johnson/Cummings refused to accept it. How can Williamson leave and not Cummings after the Barnard Castle arrogance. Williamson will be moved sidewards or downwards in the Autumn reshuffle- betting companies are refusing to take bets on the Williamson demotion. But it does appear that some people have a conscience as Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, has fallen on her sword and resigned.
So please do something, exercise your responsibility and make a stand against how the 2020 Students were treated. Sign up for the newsletter, join as a member or if you are a student contact Alex. And if you can sign my petition I would be most grateful!
Renew's European Co-ordinator Terry Knott on the reality of Brits living in the EU27.
It’s not generally known that there are some 1.3 million (upper estimate 2.1 million) British passport holders in the other (currently) 27 countries, of the EU. The majority are based, inevitably, in the four big nations: Germany, France, Spain and Italy, but there are still lots elsewhere.
These Brits are often referred to as 'ex-pats', abbreviated from the Latin, ex-patria or out-of-country. This term is technically correct, but misleading, as it conjures up a mental picture of our slightly chubby, slightly balding chaps with hankies on heads, sitting in deckchairs, with a six-pack of beers nearby! Or even worse, the tattooed, frequently drunk, topless and/or mini-dress clad louts and loutesses, on the beaches and bars of Europe.
The reality of Brits abroad is very different. The UK Dept for Work & Pensions records that some 80% are in fact working, studying, researching and exploring other countries and their respective cultures, while enjoying differing climates and scenery. The rest (around 20%) are mainly retired. In doing so, a very large percentage are paying U.K. tax, either on salaries, or pensions, as well as tax in their country of domicile. Those working are often at the sharp end of British marketing and sales, usually earning revenue for the U.K.
As Brexit looms (there, I’ve mentioned the B word), it’s worth pointing out that there are tax reciprocal agreements between most EU nations and the U.K. One must hope this will hold true, after Brexit; but don’t bank on it.
Apart from the ‘hard’ aspects of living in the EU, the Brits abroad are also ambassadors among locals, with most taking a part in local communities and learning local languages, although ironically it’s usually those who voted Remain; while Leavers often insist on speaking English, speaking slowly, in loud voices, as if still running a British empire.
Talking of Empire, Brits abroad do in fact have the advantage of history. In spite of a slightly sniffy attitude in Paris*, to spoken English, I have found a touching regard for our language in many EU countries, (including, speaking personally, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Scandinavia and Italy). English is still the most widely used second language across the world. Allied to this, there is also a sneaking admiration for our military and economic history, while (thanks to Brexit throwing the issue into relief) there is increasingly incredulous regard for the appalling mess that the current Tory Government is making of Brexit: derision and sympathy, in each parts, but still a long term affection.
To integrate in France, I spend about four hours a week learning French and using it in shops, garages and soon helping my daughter to refurbish a local house. Recently I organised 140 French & Brits in a local Boules competition - good fun! I also speak some Spanish and, since I’m married to a Norwegian, I also speak other Scandi languages. I do my best to portray the ‘Best of British’ to my local neighbours, in inverse proportion to the bad manners of our U.K. politicians and the vituperation of most of our U.K. press.
Finally, a word on the rights of Brits abroad to vote in U.K. elections. In spite of three successive Tory Manifestos, promising to rescind the so-called 15 year rule, the Tories have failed to do so; and in fact ‘talked it out’, after the relevant Bill’s Second Reading, in the House of Commons. This legal device prevents U.K. passport holders, who have lived more than 15 years outside the U.K. from voting in U.K. elections; this in spite of continuing to pay taxes in the U.K. Post-Brexit, Brits abroad will also lose their local election vote in their host country; although there is an ECJ legal challenge to allow Brits to retain European Citizenship (status to be clarified).
It is alleged the 15 Year Bill was blocked, by the Tories, who believed (with some justification), that Brits abroad would vote lock, stock and barrel, to block Brexit and its ensuing chaos and reduction in Freedom of Movement. But let us recall, that the English lost the American Colonies, under the battle cry of 'No Taxation, without Representation'!
The new, energetic U.K. Renew Party (www.renewparty.org.uk) is a leader in the UK-wide European movement, which includes helping represent Brits abroad and also reversing the adverse, downstream effects of Brexit, such efforts to be stepped up, as the U.K. moves towards another government election, in 4 years time; but also upcoming elections in Scotland & London. The Renew Party seeks to pursue a fair, honest set of policies, to counter the more extreme swing in politics, that we have seen from both Hard Right and Hard Left, in recent years.
Summary. A considerable number of Brits live and work abroad, estimated at 1.3 to 2.1 million, on the U.K. government’s own figures. Most of these pay some taxes in the U.K. Some 80% of Brits in the EU are working, studying or researching, with an appreciable income stream, to the U.K. Yet those having lived in the EU, for more than 15 years are currently barred from voting in U.K. elections and referenda. There are ongoing efforts to overturn this unfair & unjust situation, including support from the U.K. Renew Party.
European Coordinator, U.K. Renew Party
* For Parisiennes, secure in their superiority, it must be said that most French, outside Paris, regard Parisiennes as étrangers (foreigners)!