James Clarke, Leader of Renew, said:
"The Calais/Dover migrant issue has been largely confected to distract from the UK's growing crisis in governance. Refugees are seeking asylum in many dozens of countries and the number settling in the UK is relatively modest by European standards.
"We have a proud history of welcoming those fleeing warfare and recent headlines do little to burnish our reputation as a compassionate nation.
"Our concern should be focussed on why our health outcomes and economic performance have been so much worse than those of our neighbours during the pandemic crisis and how we can address this."
Renew Member and Prospective Candidate, Jamie Hirst, examines local lockdowns
Governments and their departments love blanket policies. Left, right or centre they all love a cheeky blanket policy. They are easier, cheaper and quicker to implement. The fact that the Courts repeatedly find blanket policies illegal is just a minor inconvenience.
That’s not to say blanket policies can’t be useful. As mentioned, they can be quick to implement, but they need to be updated, just like the early Coronavirus regulations, which were implemented with set review dates.
A case-by-case approach is only used willingly when it is advantageous to the individual. Put another way, how often has an official used the phrase “We’re looking into this on a case-by-case basis” and you have thought, “they’re stalling”.
This is why we need to worry when the government announced that local lockdown measures will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Not only does it give the government far too much leeway, it means that people across the country have no way of planning. If the government is serious about restarting the economy, the ability for businesses to be closed on short notice is hugely problematic. On a more general term, the ability for the government to lockdown areas of the country at will, with no notice or consultation with local councils, is extremely worrying.
Yes, we know they are trying their best. We know these are unprecedented times. But let’s be honest, we are well past the initial peak when decisions needed to be made on the hoof. Surely things have settled down enough for us to gather our thoughts and have proper measures in place for dealing with localised outbreaks. There are alternatives to Johnson and Hancock having free reign on deciding how, where, and when to lockdown individual areas of the country.
What seems like a lifetime ago, Johnson unveiled the UK alert levels, alongside the first steps of easing lockdown. At the time I commented to some of my fellow Renewers that there was no discernible link between the alert level and the lockdown measures. A clearer link provides certainty, but also offers flexibility.
The government can define specific lockdown measures dependent on the local alert level. Local authorities could then use them to meet local requirements. How can central government decide on effective measures on a local level? Additionally, if I know the alert level for my area, I have a better idea of what may happen next week and be able to prepare appropriately. It would also ensure people were more aware of how their actions directly affected local restrictions. The current, “behave or else!” approach isn’t working.
The beauty of aligning lockdown to the alert level is it also allows for exemption on, yes you got it, a case-by-case basis. When non-essential shops were able to reopen, we all knew that some would find it easier than others to implement Covid-19 secure measures. If non-essential shops are allowed to open at level 2 (for example), some individual shops could be granted permission to remain open at level 3 if they were deemed to have implemented more stringent protective measures than other premises. Not only does this provide flexibility, but it would help to drive up the quality of the safety measures being adopted. This same approach could be applied to pretty much every sector of the economy.
Lockdowns and restrictions are going to be part of our life for the foreseeable future. We are out of the crisis mode we had at the beginning of the pandemic and making it up as we go is no longer acceptable. We need a clear, coherent strategy for handling local outbreaks. Unfortunately, clarity and consistency are not this governments’ strong points.
Renew member and candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 general election, Haseeb Ur-Rehman, argues that the Russia Report damningly reveals just how influential a part Russia has played within UK politics.
The Russia Report is a peculiar document, which obfuscates, skirts, insinuates and in some places almost sarcastically detracts from the Brexit issue; the latter of which nevertheless is central to the Report’s very existence.
It seems that this version of the Report is not the same as that from nine months ago, as it is not explicitly or directly as damaging to the Johnson’s Government, as his initial reluctance to release it, would suggest. Many things are left unsaid or implied and have to be garnered or pieced to together by the reader, suggesting that the Report was intended to be read in conjunction with other information in the public domain dealing with Russian influence over and interference with, the 2016 Brexit Referendum, yet still not providing a full and clear picture. For instance, the two threads more specifically dealing with the 2016 Brexit Referendum; “Case study: the EU referendum” and the political influence of “Russian Expatriates”, are not explicitly linked together, although when considered together, do more clearly indicate the nature of the relationship between Russia and Brexit. The Russia Report, unto itself, almost confirms the very issue that it is trying to address; the weakness and inability of the UK security and intelligence agencies to protect the UK from Brexit and is almost a testament to the extent of party-political control over the security agencies, particularly where they are almost tasked with protecting the UK from the very political party, forming the government they report to.
The Russia Report deals with Brexit indirectly in its various parts and has to be read in its entirety to draw conclusions. The portion “Disinformation and Influence” begins to touch upon Brexit and states in Paragraph 28 that “Russia’s promotion of disinformation and its attempts at broader political influence overseas have been widely reported” with the example of “Kremlin-linked entities hav(ing) made ‘soft loans’ to the (then) Front National in France, seemingly at least in part as a reward for the party having supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea”. The source for this statement is redacted. Without admitting to anything untoward on the part of any UK political party, pressure-group or “think-tank”, the suggestion here is that Russian funding for Far-Right movements across the EU is a documented fact, indicating that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament is fully aware of such funding being received by such groups.
In the following Paragraph 29, the Report states, “Russia may spread disinformation or seek to influence political events for a wide range of purposes, but all in support of its underlying foreign policy objectives” with the example of “direct support of Russia’s preferred outcome in relation to an overseas election or political issue; and (the) general poisoning of the political narrative in the West by fomenting political extremism and ‘wedge issues’”. The Report states that ‘wedge issues’ refers to “highly divisive subjects which bifurcate a country’s population, often (but not always) into socially liberal and socially conservative camps, and which often to at least some degree transcend traditional political party boundaries. Examples of wedge issues include abortion and gun control in the US and Brexit in the UK.” ]
Paragraph 29, is therefore very laterally confirming that Brexit is a Russian foreign policy objective and is subject to Russian disinformation campaigns and “astroturfing”: “a propaganda technique whereby a viewpoint is falsely presented as belonging to a certain group”.
Confirming both Paragraphs 28 and 29, Paragraph 31 states that “(t)he UK is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts.” noting that “that the formal HMG assessment categorises the UK as a “REDACTED” target for political influence operations.” Paragraph 31 goes on to further state that “(t)he Agencies have emphasised that they see their role in this as providing secret intelligence as context for other organisations… and do not see themselves holding primary responsibility for the active defence of the UK’s democratic processes from hostile foreign interference, and indeed… appeared determined to distance themselves from any suggestion that they might have a prominent role in relation to the democratic process itself, noting the caution which had to be applied in relation to intrusive powers in the context of a democratic process.”
This is followed in Paragraph 32, with “Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.” Paragraph 33 and 34, then proceed to discuss issues of scale, capability and access of the various organisations who would ordinarily be tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, with various recommendations from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
Paragraph 31 and 32, in essence, state that Russia targets the UK with its disinformation campaigns and political influence operations, yet for largely unstated reasons including “nervousness around… intelligence and security Agencies (being) involved in democratic processes” (as stated in Paragraph 33), the various organisations, who would ordinarily be tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, are not prepared to do so, as doing so evidently in their view, is a task for Government.
Paragraphs 39 and 40 specifically begin to deal with the “Case study: the EU referendum”, in the context of that above, stating that the impact of attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU “would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so” and that yet “it is important to establish whether a hostile state took deliberate action with the aim of influencing a UK democratic process…”. Paragraph 40 states that the brevity (“six lines of text”) of secret intelligence provided by MI5 at the outset of the Inquiry, is also indicative of the “nervousness” described in Paragraph 33. This “nervousness” is described in relation to an issue “as contentious as the EU referendum” as “illogical; this (being) about the protection of the process and mechanism from hostile state interference, which should fall to our intelligence and security Agencies.”
Paragraphs 39 and 40, in effect, admit that Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum occurred, although no attempts have been made by Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to ascertain the impact of such influence, for perceived difficulties in doing so. Paragraphs 39 and 40 further state that the failure of organisations tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, vis-à-vis such Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, occurred as a result of an illogical reluctance of these agencies to be involved in, or be seen to be involved in, democratic processes and a lack of ownership of such responsibilities by any one agency.
Continuing to deal with the 2016 Brexit Referendum, as part of Section (i) of “Case study: the EU referendum”: “Failure to prepare”, Paragraph 41, refers to “credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014” particularly referencing “Ben Nimmo – #ElectionWatch: Scottish Vote, Pro-Kremlin Trolls, 12 December 2017”. This Paragraph concludes with “We note that – almost five years on – “REDACTED””; presumably referring to the United Kingdom General Election held on 12 December 2019.
Paragraph 42, states that it was only following the conclusion of the 2016 Brexit Referendum did “the Government belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area” and admitting that such levels of threat were a “game changer” and that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.
Paragraph 42, referring to two redacted conclusions of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) as of May 2017, states that “(h)ad the relevant parts of the Intelligence Community conducted a similar threat assessment prior to the (Brexit) referendum, it is inconceivable that they would not have reached the same conclusion as to Russian intent, which might then have led them to take action to protect the process.”
In Paragraph 41, the reference to Russian influence, specifically concerning the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, seems to be a party-political throw-away and the “credibility” of the “open source commentary” by which this particular instance of electoral interference is substantiated, seems primarily to be the pro-Atlanticist and ideological credentials, of the originator of the said commentary, more than anything else. Notably, the same commentator has previously, at least partially, acknowledged Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum and has variously and conspicuously tended to focus on the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, as subject to such influence. By merits of acknowledged Russian influence in the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, and presumably in the United Kingdom General Election in 2019, as well as the acknowledgement of the severity of such interference only becoming apparent to the intelligence services, subsequent to the 2016 Brexit Referendum, Paragraphs 41 and 42 again confirm the high likelihood of Russian influence on the 2016 Brexit Referendum, particularly as the Report admits that this conclusion would have been reached had the Intelligence Community, assessed such risks prior to the 2016 Brexit Referendum.
Still dealing with the 2016 Brexit Referendum, as part of Section (ii) “Narrow coverage”, Paragraph 44, states that “HMG had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes or any activity that has had a material impact on an election…” and proceeds to reiterate the innocence of Arron Banks. Paragraphs 45 and 46 deal with the failures of the government, intelligence and security agencies; to even have been able to detect Russian influence on the 2016 Brexit Referendum, from “open source materials”, which given that the Intelligence and Security Committee’s belief “that open source material is now fully represented in the Government’s understanding of the threat picture” was “surprising”.
Paragraphs 47 and 48 conclude the Report’s analysis of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum in Section (iii) ”Lack of retrospective assessment”, stating that, given the issues at stake for Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum are not as “clear-cut”, as for Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, “where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote with an unclassified summary being made public”, the Committee’s view is that a similar assessment of Russian interference in 2016 Brexit Referendum should be conducted and published. Paragraph 48 states that the discovery of minimal Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum would “represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”.
The next portion of the Report deals with Russian Expatriates, resident in the UK, stating in Paragraph 50 that “Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, with “a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin…well integrated into the UK business and social scene”. Paragraph 50 further states that “that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”
Paragraph 51, addresses the “(g)rowth industry of enablers” “who manage and lobby for the Russian elite in the UK” including “(l)awyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals” who “played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence…” “…linked to promoting the nefarious interests of the Russian state.” In Paragraph 53, the Report states that “it is widely recognised that Russian intelligence and business are completely intertwined”. Paragraph 54 states that “several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with…political organisations… having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations”. This Paragraph follows on, stating that “it is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state…” which should be scrutinised, “…given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them”. References are made to “the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament requires that MPs register individual payments of more than £100 which they receive for any employment outside the House”, which is recommended to be introduced at the Lords.
The portion of the Report dealing with Russian Expatriates admits the extent of political influence Russia has over politics in the UK, including discussing the direct involvement of persons close to Vladimir Putin in making donations to political parties. For the purposes of Brexit, aside from undisclosed funding to other pro-Brexit organisations and parties, such donations would specifically be relevant to donation receipts by the Conservative Party. In the discussion involving “enablers”, the Report does not specifically focus on but presumably includes, such enablers who demonstrably had and have, a specific interest in promulgating the pro-Brexit narrative, particularly the various “55 Tufton Street” pro-Brexit think-tanks and especially the “Conservative Friends of Russia” (now re-labelled as the “Westminster Russia Forum”). For the purposes of Brexit, the participation in these organisations, by various Conservative Party MPs, almost certainly constitutes “Russian Influence” on politicians and is therefore within the scope of the consideration of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Although the business interests of the Lords are explicitly referred to, such relationships amongst others, of various Conservative Party MPs with compromising Russian interests, are not. This is also particular in the case of persons close to Number 10 and simultaneously close to the promulgating the pro-Brexit narrative, who have questionable relationships with the Russian State and Russian actors and enablers in the UK and Russia.
The Russia Report very apprehensively and indirectly confirms that Brexit is a Russian foreign policy objective and was, and is, subject to Russian disinformation campaigns, with a view to destructively divide the British public into diametrically and ideologically opposed camps. The Report also indirectly suggests that Russian funding likely reached Far-Right pro-Brexit groups before the 2016 Brexit Referendum. Russian influence over British politicians and the political establishment is almost ubiquitous and the ability of Russia to facilitate Brexit as a foreign policy objective vis-à-vis the UK is an issue the British government were unable, or more likely unwilling, to take steps and measures to contain or prevent. The Report confirms that the intelligence and security apparatus of the UK were not able to contain, anticipate and did not even seek to anticipate Brexit as a Russian foreign policy objective and are almost entirely subservient to the Government on a party-political basis. The Intelligence and Security Committee finds some solace in celebrating the unlikelihood of Russian inference in the physical “paper-based” electoral processes of the UK, but are very unfortunately unable to even adequately discuss how Russian influence can actively and successfully manipulate the very national narrative of the UK that lead up to the 2016 Brexit Referendum.
Chris Lovejoy poses the question: how can we help the UK resolve this crisis before its too late?
400 million people in highly developed countries don’t know why they have suffered so badly from the coronavirus. The failure to publish relevant data in the USA and UK made it difficult for opposition parties, and the media, to rigorously scrutinise decisions the government has taken on critical issues affecting their country. Various checks and balances found in mature democracies should have required governments to publish relevant data. We don’t know why opposition parties haven’t demanded relevant data, why investigative journalism and research by academic bodies didn’t create a demand that this tragedy was rigorously investigated, or, even why capitalist lobby groups failed to prevent themselves suffering incredible losses. But a failure to scrutinise decisions on critical issues resulted in the government becoming the de-facto sovereign body. This degraded democratic processes in the USA and UK, increasing the possibility that decisions taken to end the lockdown will not be implemented smoothly, which might cause a second wave of the epidemic.
After external authorities had published critical facts that affected the USA or the UK, some government decisions need to be justified. For instance:
· WHO report cases of coronavirus infections and deaths, which reveal the UK has one of the world’s highest rates of infections and deaths (per million citizens), yet the UK government claimed, without providing relevant facts, it had successfully dealt with the virus.
· WHO revealed the crisis is rapidly growing in the USA and a surge in infections in the USA could occur before the presidential election. The USA government also claims it has successfully dealt with the virus without providing relevant facts.
Some government decisions may need to be justified by other facts. For instance, it is known that infectious viruses shouldn’t be ignored and restrictions are necessary on planes, for example, as passengers sit in a confined space, creating an ideal incubation area for the virus and the flight enables the virus to quickly move into new areas. The risk of spreading the virus is reduced if passengers with high temperatures are quarantined until it is proved they were not infected by the virus. Other decisions also may need to be justified as:
· Governments normally stockpile essential medical equipment and, if more is needed, they rapidly obtained additional equipment (as the EU did).
· Some Governments warned their citizens a crisis was imminent and explained how citizens can minimise the risks of being infected.
· Most Governments didn’t believe in herd immunity and, when they couldn’t stop the virus, they quickly enforced a lockdown (to save lives and reduced the economic damage).
Therefore, in the USA and the UK, some decisions may need to be justified.
People are naturally worried about being infected by the virus and suffering economic damage, as some politicians who accentuated the crisis remain in power. While the globe is recovering from the economic costs of the lockdowns, the UK will find it difficult to recover from this crisis. This is because the UK has not yet made a treaty with the EU or with any of its major trading partners. The difficulty in finding new export markets will be increased (because the UK weakened its political relationship with the EU; is currently opposing China on several fronts; claims Russia has interfered with the UK elections etc.) and it is challenging to persuade countries the UK is a desirable business partner after UK ended a 40-year commercial agreement in a manner that causes considerable costs to the EU.
There are weaknesses in the USA and UK’s political systems (and, if either system failed, it would have major global consequences). Yet the greatest impact a political failure would have is on its citizens and, therefore, the UK must consider how the UK’s political system could be improved as the virus might re-emerge in the winter.
The problem will be to identify changes in the UK’s political system that weren't divisive and would reduce the risk of another lockdown.
Therefore, can Renew members help? For instance:
· Tax havens reduce the amount of taxes collected and this reduces government services or requires the government to increase the taxes that other taxpayers have to pay. Therefore, can recovery be partially financed if tax havens were restricted?
· Could members evaluate if constitutional changes can prevent the UK Government from implementing contradictory policies? For instance, the government argued people over 70 were vulnerable to the virus and required them to stay in their homes and not see their relatives or friends. Yet the government also instructed the NHS that elderly patients, who had ceased to require intensive care, should recover from the virus in old people care homes in which neither staff nor patients had adequate PPE. Tragically, about a quarter of all vires deaths occurred in care homes.
· Could Members evaluate if constitutional changes may enable Parliament to scrutinise decisions made by the government, or make Parliament the de-facto sovereign authority in a crisis?
Therefore, can you help the UK resolve this crisis before it is too late?
James Clarke, Leader of Renew, said: “I can confirm that Renew has been fined by the Electoral Commission (EC) for a number of very minor administrative breaches of electoral law. I would like to make it clear that Renew takes such matters very seriously. The EC fulfils a vital role in ensuring the rules of our democracy are adhered to and everyone at Renew supports the work they do.
“Renew made mistakes, there is no getting away from that, and we are extremely sorry for that. We will learn from this experience and promise to do better in the future.
“We do not dispute the judgement of the EC; the breaches they have accused us of did take place. However, I would like to make it very clear that the breaches were as a result of an overworked and perhaps disorganised largely volunteer workforce at Renew. We were guilty of filing documents late, more often than not by just a few hours.
“Renew does not have the resources of the big political parties. We are essentially a grassroots organisation that relies on the donations of party members, rather than large corporations, trades unions or others, to operate. Unfortunately, the level of the fine we have received from the EC is a significant blow to us and as a proportion of our funding is enormous.
“Yes, we made some mistakes and we are sorry for that. However, our mistakes were unintentional and are nothing compared to the allegations that have been levelled against other political parties in recent years. I don’t recall them being fined the same proportion of their funds as we have been for committing minor administrative breaches.
“Renew believes in open, honest politics and that is why we accept this fine and apologise for our mistakes. Mistakes will happen from time to time and we believe it is important that politicians admit when they are wrong, take responsibility and endeavour to do better in the future.
“However, we also believe that all political parties should be treated equally, so we urge the EC to continue to scrutinise the accusations of wrongdoing that abound around the Brexit Party, the Conservative Party and the leave campaign, which are far more serious than missed deadlines to file documents.”
With calls to overhaul the Government’s controversial Loan Charge growing amid disappointment at the lack of debate on the new Finance Bill in Parliament recently, the Renew Party’s Business spokesperson, Gary Burke, calls for an urgent end to this unjust and unfair attack on ordinary working people.
“The size of the UK’s tax code has more than trebled since 1997 and runs to more than 17,000 pages” said Gary. “Tax law has been created, often in haste and with little scrutiny, and without understanding the impact of changes. The Loan Charge is one such piece of legislation. It is widely regarded as one of the biggest injustices of recent times, with the government and HMRC pressurising MPs to drive it through parliament.
“The origins go back to 2000 when the then Labour government introduced IR35; legislation intended to stop individuals who would otherwise be regarded as employees from operating through a limited company to gain a more tax-efficient way of being paid. IR35 was another hastily introduced piece of legislation and was heavily criticised at the time, as its impact was wider than anticipated. As a consequence, a number of tax advisors and umbrella companies started offering alternative payment schemes enabling freelancers and contractors to avoid being incorrectly caught by IR35.
“By the mid-noughties the use of schemes within the freelance and contractor community was widespread. They were legally advertised and promoted, within the law and often QC and tax specialist validated. They were also often branded as being HMRC compliant or HMRC approved. HMRC were fully aware of the existence of these schemes and scheme users fully complied with disclosure rules when submitting their annual tax returns.
“Normally, after a tax return is filed, HMRC has 12 months to open an inquiry into your tax affairs. It can then go back up to four years if it finds anything unusual. In cases of tax evasion or fraud, they can investigate up to 20 years after a filed return. Yet, tax avoidance is not the same thing as tax evasion. Avoidance is legal (although considered not within the spirit of the law) whereas tax evasion is illegal.
“However, the Loan Charge legislation effectively removes the time protections taxpayers would normally be entitled to and rides roughshod over one of the fundamental principles of a good tax system, ‘certainty’.
“The number of scheme providers and their use continued to proliferate, being increasingly used by teachers, nurses and government workers, as well as contractors. Although HMRC took some cases to court they consistently lost. However, they made no attempt to change the law or outlaw schemes from being promoted.
“Could this be explained by the fact that wealthy Conservative Party donors such as Doug Barrowman of AML are promoters of such schemes?
“A financial bombshell was dropped in the 2016 Budget when George Osborne promised to ‘shut down disguised remuneration schemes’. The Loan Charge legislation was introduced with no scrutiny (it bypassed normal parliamentary process, so MPs did not get the chance to debate it and understand its full implications). Crucially, this piece of legislation allows HMRC to ignore the normal judicial process of chasing individual taxpayers for disputed tax. It also includes years when HMRC did not even open an inquiry.
“After almost two decades of inaction, HMRC have effectively said that, although these schemes are legal, they shouldn’t have been. They are now aggressively pursuing individuals for what the HMRC claims to be unpaid tax, and there is no right of appeal.
“To make matters worse, schemes are still being promoted, because it is legal to do so. Thousands have signed up in 2020, including people returning to the NHS to help with the Covid-19 crisis. Without urgent changes to the legislation these people could be future victims of an unfair and unjust law.
“An APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) was formed to try to get the legislation amended to remove the retrospective aspect. This APPG gained support from an almost unprecedented 235 MPs from all parties, including established MPs such as David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith.
“After much pressure from the APPG, and other bodies, an independent review was granted, conducted by Sir Amyas Morse, which reported in December 2019. Many now believe that the review was anything but independent with HM Treasury and HMRC thought to have sought to influence its conclusions.
“A last-ditch attempt was made on July 1, 2020, to introduce an amendment to the Finance Bill (New Clause 31) that would remove HMRC’s draconian powers and restore the right of an individual to challenge any tax demand from HMRC. However, the Tory whips were out in force and the Treasury issued a misleading briefing note. This, along with pressure from the government meant the amendment was never actually voted on, with the Labour front bench failing to push for the amendment to be debated.
“As I write, thousands of hard-working people claim they are suffering from serious mental health issues caused by the Loan Charge and are about to face financial ruin. Tragically, seven people are believed to have committed suicide because of the Loan Charge, and it is entirely possible that further lives will be lost.
“The Renew Party agrees that everyone should pay their fair share of tax. However, the way the Loan Charge is being implemented is wholly unjust and unreasonable. It sets a dangerous precedent by retrospectively changing the rules, removing tax certainty and targeting individuals who can’t defend themselves in the same way that global companies and the super-rich can. It even removes the right of appeal and the opportunity for cases to be heard in a court of law.
“We, at Renew, urge the government to rethink this draconian legislation before further harm is done.”
Draeyk van der Horn, Renew's spokesperson on Food and Farming, delves into some of the concerns surrounding gene editing.
New genetic modification techniques (NGMTs) such as “gene editing” present ethical concerns as well as economic and environmental ones. There are a number of unresolved questions and concerns.
There is an overwhelming flaw in the claim that gene editing of food crops and animals is similar to accelerated breeding or natural mutations as this is wholly unprovable.
At the moment we have a regulatory approach to our food and farming standards that rests in the precautionary principle. If we give way to a laissez-faire deregulation model, where the onus is put on consumers or “those harmed” to come up with “proof of harm” we are in very different waters. Rigorous independent scientific research must be commissioned and the proponents of NGMTs must show no proof of harm is evident before wider consultations can begin. The UK’s shift and potential acceptance of a deregulated approach is perhaps due to this governments haste in submitting to new trade agreements that potentially lower food standards, most notably with the USA.
The bar to gene editing acceptability must be robust and high, given it allows for outcomes that may be unprecedented in human experience. Familiar species and breeds may become unrecognisable over time through gene editing, through the ongoing manipulation of genetic code. Gene editing also raises concern around “ownership” of these new varieties and breeds, profoundly impacting food security by concentrating ownership of our food, though patents, into the hands of a few.
From a strictly scientific and technical perspective, NGMTs are clearly genetic modification procedures that result in the production of GMOs and as such must remain within the remit of existing GMO legislation.
The challenges for future food production are not simply based in the lab, but in the fundamental need to create food that works in harmony with the planet rather than a short term sell that does not tackle the underlying issues. Our planet is capable of feeding us. If we focus on reducing waste, build resilient food networks that serve local communities and embrace sound agricultural principles we nurture more than just our food and land but our well being.
Food and Farming needs to be recognised in terms of its stewardship and in terms of creating and maintaining traditions that support all life, working in harmony with natural systems. Supporting our farming communities means focusing on a path that supports a sustainable future, rather than rushing towards the irreversible direction of gene editing, that is quite simply dicing with our future.
Draeyk van der Horn
Spokesperson on Food and Farming
The Renew Party
Renew's Terrance Knot investigates the demise of democracy in the UK.
The term "democracy" first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from demos, "common people" and kratos, "strength". Led by Cleisthenes, Athenians established what is generally considered the first democracy in 508–507 BC.
Since then, many countries have claimed to be democracies, but none more so than the United Kingdom. Indeed those who still profess to be British, and who identify, more or less, as English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, have often taken pride in a supra-national United Kingdom: renowned worldwide for its sense of honesty, fairness and democratic decision making and rule, although in some cases harshly, but with “tough love” over countries comprising a quarter of the globe.
Nowhere was the sense of a thriving democracy more portrayed than in the coming together to support the “mother country” in the two World Wars, with thousands laying down their lives, for a concept founded on a common ideal, principle, or faith. Meanwhile one of the modern bodies of democracy was - at the same time as women got the vote - a health system, created for all. We also battled with the consequences of the national sale of assets to fund the defence of democracy – still living, believe it or not, with the abolition of the Slave Trade. Many will find it hard to come to terms with the fact that, although the UK connection with this trade officially happened in 1833-1840, throughout the British Empire, we were still paying off the money borrowed for the Slave Abolition Act in 2015!
On a lesser scale, the UK took steps to abolish child labour, to improve schooling (although the battle between so-called private and state-run schooling continues to this day) and workers were striking and marching against poverty and unemployment (Yarrow march 1936 et al.). On the back of this poverty and the feeling of frustration about the condition of the country, trade unions gained in power, especially in the fields of mining, textiles and transportation. An even-minded person would perhaps admit that the people of the country were fighting back in the only way they knew how: by denying their labour. Indeed they were “voting with their feet”, a democratic exercise of their human rights.
Before readers assume that this is a rant about human rights, let me assure you that it is not: it is simply a portrayal of some of the major steps along the way, as the British people, led by the English in 1215, gradually threw off the yoke imposed by royalty, later the “robber barons” and finally the affluent upper classes. This development of the “rights of man” (Thomas Paine in 1791, published a book, in which he linked the French Revolution with the idea that popular political revolution is permissible “when a government does not safeguard the natural rights of its people”) was a gradual process, over several centuries, but sped up as modern communications allowed ideas to be spread over the internet and similar systems.
Meanwhile the other major component countries, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, in no particular order, also showed a strong and understandable tendency to rebel and "do their own thing".
It is of note that, impoverished though she was after the Second World War, Britain (readers will forgive if I shorten Great Britain and Northern Ireland to “Britain, or the UK), played a major role, in international deliberations, post WW2. This applied, amongst other activities, to help to rebuild Europe, much of which was in ruins, both financially and in terms of assets and infrastructure. Of course, anyone with a grasp of basic history knows that this included the initial building blocks of a Free Trade Area, or Market, which grew in time, into the European Union.
This one short paragraph above disguises an enormous development, which in time has proved enormously popular, no matter how some may try to gainsay it, encompassing an amazing mixture of long-term civilisations, including a rather unsteady Greece, the so-called cradle of democracy, and many younger and smaller countries, some of which did not exist, at the end of WW2.
Again, despite sniping and protestations to the contrary, this union, as opposed to the British one, developed a democratic system of elected members from each country, a council and a mechanism for enabling each countries’ own elected senior ministers to exercise the right to contribute to - and vote for – its further development. It would be a surprise only to the most naïve, that this development, enabling seventy-five years of relative peace in Europe, has not been without its problems along the way, but try to point to a similar union which has not? Indeed compare the UK’s chequered history of sometimes vicious infighting between Irish, Scots, Welsh and English. Compare also, the “Land of the Free”, in which the American Confederacy fought against its Southern counterpart; and some in Virginia still quarrel to this day!
So, while the Continent of Europe was rebuilding itself, with initial whole-hearted input from the British, what of our own “Home of Democracy”?
We have only to say the word “Brexit”, to recall immediately the appalling schism that has developed in our union, and the negative effect this is having on our immediate international neighbours. One has only to take advantage of the Freedom of Movement that we have enjoyed for the last seventy-five years, to realise the shock and horror, the incredulity and derision, the snigger behind the hand that confronts the British, as they travel, holiday, or read the international press.
To say that we have become an international laughing stock, as the present Tory government wrangles about percentage points of approval or disapproval, is an understatement.
Yet, this wrangle, voiced in every newspaper, TV show and published article, both pre and during the pandemic, seem to make little difference to the small yet vocal group of alt-right politicians, bent on wresting political and financial advantage and lining their own pockets and those of their friends and cronies. Never mind that current polling indicates some 55-65% of the population of the UK would prefer to cancel Brexit. (Professor John Curtice, political guru, asserts that many of the young, who were unable to vote in 2016, are now “twice as likely to vote Remain and puts the Leavers on only 44-47%).
But here is the crux of the matter. Under the current “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, the public vote of 2016 overturned the referendum of 1975 and since then, the 2019 election, by what some regard as devious means, persuaded the great British public to return the Tories with a majority of 80 members in Parliament. This completely ignored the fact that a “proportional representation” (PR) electoral system would return a very, very different result. Yet neither the Tories, nor indeed the Labour Party, would vote for such a change, as their power base depends upon the status quo.
It does not help that the major party, in favour of PR, the Liberal Democrats, were completely out-manoeuvred and beaten, in the 2019 election: hardly a cause for confidence in the future. Other smaller parties also exist, such as the relatively new and centre of the road Renew Party, and the Green party, but again, under FPTP, the “big beasts” of politics are reluctant to switch loyalty, to more centrist policies, which lack a high profile. Except by honest and reasonable people, of which there seem to be fewer and fewer these days, most support tends to go to the headline catching extremists, rather than the outmoded concept that “the government of the people should be by the people, for the people”!
In that respect, the writer and many others, both friends and acquaintances, are amazed at the supine attitude of the average “Brit in the Streets”, compared with, for example, the French and many other significant countries in Europe, who are not slow to voice their views on poor government. Apart from two major marches, which saw not a single person arrested, the British public seems to have rolled on its back to have its tummy tickled! People outside the UK regard this as quite extraordinary and quite at odds with the battles and indeed a Civil War, fought for democratic freedom.
Meanwhile, the UK’s current government takes full example of the impact of the pandemic, to cement its grip on power and to railroad through policies and stratagems, that cannot be queried or fought on the floor of the House of Commons. It might be said that the Tories have a stranglehold on the throat of Democracy.
One other point before I close. From one who lives most of the time now, in Mainland Europe, amongst a thriving, educated, motivated group of 1.3 million British citizens, I must note that two aspects of life are paramount. We view with mounting horror, the downward slide of democratic freedoms in our mother countries of the union; and we feel embarrassed at the pity we encounter, amongst our fellow Europeans.
Is Democracy dead in the United Kingdom? Not yet, maybe, but on its last gasp.
RENEW ANNOUNCES LEADERSHIP CHANGES
Tuesday, July 7th: Renew announces leadership changes at the Renew Party
Leadership Changes at The Renew Party:
Former Deputy Leader, James Clarke, elected Leader
Carla Burns elected Deputy Leader
LONDON, UK, Jul 7, 2020
The polls have closed, and the results are in for the new leadership team of the
James Clarke, one of the original founders of Renew, and its former Deputy Leader, has been elected as Leader and will take over from Interim Leader, former MEP, Julie Girling, who announced her resignation last week.
Julie will remain with the party and will continue to support the Board and Leadership.
James Clarke, Leader of Renew, said: “I am excited and humbled by the opportunity to lead Renew at this time of great turmoil and uncertainty for our country. Renew is entering a new era with a new leadership team and a fresh, focussed set of goals. I want to drive Renew forward as a platform for people who want to get heard, based on the principles of reform, participation and openness.
"Politics in the UK is currently a franchise system dominated by legacy parties that can no longer effectively deliver for the voter. Renew is about bringing people together, not around tribalism or grievance or ideology. It's about rationally, calmly and openly engaging to change our country in a way that seeks to find common ground with people across the board, from all walks of life.
“That's why we started Renew, a grassroots, organic and inclusive organisation, pushing for broad political and electoral reform and renewal.
“On behalf of Renew, I would like to recognise the fantastic work that has been done during the last 12
months by our interim leader Julie Girling. Julie probably didn’t foresee that her tenure at the helm of Renew would encompass our first General Election as a party and that is just one of the ways this has been an eventful year for Renew. Julie’s experience, cool head and wise words have been extremely valuable to us and I am thoroughly delighted that we can continue to count on her input and support.
“We are asking the people of the UK to join up, have your say, and get heard."
46-year-old James lives in London and was one of the original founders of Renew. Before helping to start the Party, he stood as an Independent in Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the 2017 General Election. At Renew he has been Head of Outreach and Party Principal before becoming Deputy Leader in October of 2018. Prior to politics, James has worked as an educator, event manager, insurance underwriter and tech start-up consultant in London, Tokyo, Sydney and Amsterdam. He holds an MSc in The History of International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Renew’s new Deputy Leader is Carla Burns. Carla is from Liverpool where she still lives with her husband and daughter. She works in the NHS, in the fields of Human Resources and Organisational Development, with special interests in equality and sustainability.
Carla joined Renew as it was starting out after finding herself politically homeless after the 2016 referendum. Since then her interest has continued to grow and she stood for Renew in Sefton Central in the 2019 General Election.
Carla Burns, Deputy Leader of Renew, said: “I believe passionately that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential. I also believe that politicians should work to represent the best interests of their constituents, which is clearly not currently the case for so many in power.
“I am thrilled to have been elected as Deputy Leader of Renew and I thank all the members for their support. I am looking forward to working with James and the rest of the Renew Board and management to make Renew as inclusive and representative of people across the UK as possible.”
Renew operates a Digital Democracy platform that is unique across UK political parties. It enables members to vote on policy wherever they are in the UK, without the need to travel to a party conference. In this way it ensures everyone in the Party has an equal opportunity to make their opinions known, from London to Lochaber. It also enables elections to be held quickly and fairly, which is how Renew was able to have a new leadership team in place in less than two weeks from the resignation of its interim leader.
For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:
0203 289 4160
Ross Orchard, who is interning with Renew, argues why the UK has a moral obligation to protect its people in Hong Kong.
It’s no secret that Beijing’s harsh authoritarian regime has cast an increasingly imposing shadow over the liberties of Hong Kong’s citizens in the past year, but is China’s new security law the final nail in the coffin for Hong Kong’s unique freedoms?
Unfortunately, this seems to be the reality for the people of Hong Kong. However, the “One Country, Two Systems” principle laid out in the Sino-British handover agreement in 1997 guarantees semi-independent status to Hong Kong until at least 2047. Therefore, Britain must now uphold its obligations to its former territory and protect the democracy of its institutions.
Protests over Beijing’s increasing interventions into the city have been a recurring theme recently, and yet, for the most part, Britain has stood idly by and allowed tensions to build. It is arguable that the government's excuse for refraining to intervene is seeded in the success of the 2019 protests which forced chief executive, Carrie Lam, to suspend the controversial extradition bill, which would have permitted the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. Yet, as China pushes to pass another controversial security law to crush dissent in Hong Kong and evidently seek a close reunification with mainland ideals, Britain can no longer simply provide empty rhetoric in support of its former colony. This is not to argue that Britain has some sort of duty to uphold democratic policy in all its former imperial territories. However, in the case of Hong Kong, where there has been no desire for swapping British rule for Chinese, the UK should be obliged to act when called upon by its former overseas citizens.
Johnson and Raab have this week publicly condemned China’s new security law stating that "such legislation would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration". At first glance, I, like many others, initially thought Britain would simply continue with its limp strategy toward criticizing China with public condemnation and little else. However, the prime minister has since announced a plan to protect British national (overseas) (BNOs) passport holders if Beijing pushes ahead with its new security law. 350,000 Hong Kong residents are currently BNOs, but the Home Office has since confirmed that anyone eligible to apply for a BNO passport (of which there are an estimated 3 million) is also covered by the visa rights extension. Naturally, this has infuriated China’s Communist party who have warned of retaliation. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has stated, “China reserves the right to take necessary measures”. As ominous as that sounds, it is rather refreshing to see the government stand up and protect foreign nationals on the grounds of morality against what Chris Patton calls an "international bully".
Johnson’s new "bespoke" visa rights extension will undoubtedly provide some protection for those threatened by Beijing’s increasing pressure, while simultaneously challenging Chinese intervention in Hong Kong.
Nonetheless, it raises questions over whether potentially uprooting millions of citizens and providing them with a path to citizenship in the UK is the most effective way of protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. From a moral standpoint, it is admirable that we have offered a way out for many Hong Kong citizens who feel threatened, but surely a better case scenario for all involved is to make sure that maintaining a Hong Kong passport remains an option for those who have a long history on the island. Although this is arguably the UK’s strongest threat to Chinese expansion to date, it has the potential to backfire. If the citizens of Hong Kong eventually feel threatened enough to uproot their lives and take the UK’s visa offer then China will effectively have done enough to ensure the end of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and drawn a close to Hong Kong’s autonomy, an outcome many will not deem favourable.
Britain is right to challenge China, but it must do so in a way that guarantees the autonomy of Hong Kong. The Responsibility to Protect is certainly being upheld with the UK’s plans to offer passports to Hong Kong citizens, but it is imperative that we seek to uphold the future of a secure and independent Hong Kong. Trade sanctions are one possibility the UK could explore to try and curb China’s aggression, however, the nature of the recent economic downturn due to COVID-19 and China’s presence as one of the worlds leading trade partners makes this an extremely precarious route to follow. Nonetheless, many would consider standing up to China, in any form, a bold move. It now comes down to how far the UK government is willing to go on grounds of morality before it is forced to cool its attack on the seemingly unstoppable growth of Chinese hegemony.
In any case, Britain’s recent response to China’s actions symbolises a breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction regarding upholding the rights of our former imperial territories. But it is important that this initial step should not be considered sufficient in relieving the pressure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is our moral obligation to continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong and to ensure the continuity of a safe and autonomous city. We are bound by Treaty to defend the rights of the people. To give up now is to turn our back on our moral duty, something that the UK must always strive to uphold.