County Council leader rightly lashes out at Government’s miserable funding offer to SW – but Devon Tories’ failure to speak out over Brexit has allowed May to take them for granted.
All credit to John Hart for his forthright comments on the insulting offer to the region. But it’s difficult not to say I told you so – I and other opposition councillors have been urging him to speak out for the last two years, but time and again – even last month – he and his Cabinet have (like Theresa May) put Tory party unity before the interests of Devon.
What John says now is right – but it is too little and too late, unless coupled with real pressure on Devon Tory MPs to stop the looming Brexit disaster.
Tory MP complains that Government isn’t giving Brexit bribes to South West MPs – because the region voted Conservative!
The Government has announced its bribes to towns in order to persuade MPs, mainly Labour, to vote for its miserable Brexit deal. Although it claims to have used a “need-based formula,” the South West is to receive the second-lowest allocation of cash (£33 million) despite being among England’s most deprived regions. Coincidentally, it also has very few Labour MPs — and Sheryll Murray, the Tory MP for South East Cornwall, appears to have spotted the discrepancy. “The fact this money appears to be directly routed to Labour-voting areas smacks of pork-barrel politics, and the public will know that,” Murray complains to The Times. “It would be a crying shame if Conservative-voting communities were being disadvantaged because of the way they voted.”
Devon’s food supply, NHS, farming, etc. are dangerously exposed to No Deal Brexit – the County Council must tell Theresa May on Thursday to stop this irresponsible course of action
There are mounting fears that if Theresa May allows a ‘No Deal’ Brexit to happen on 29th March, Devon will suffer serious harm including:
- shortages of imported foods, especially as Devon is near the end of many supply lines
- escalating staff shortages in the NHS and social care as European nurses and care workers are deterred from coming to take up jobs
- shortage of workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors – and care workers migrating to these jobs because of higher pay
- thousands of tons of animal feed blocked from coming in through Plymouth
- lamb exports to Europe prevented by Brexit red tape
- exporting businesses unprepared for the extra bureaucracy
- more business failures over the next year or so (Brexit has already been implicated in the Flybe, Barden, Ambrosia and Appledore crises).
After Devon County Council leader John Hart said in January that the council ‘hadn’t got a clue yet‘ about planning for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, its chief executive was appointed by the Government – with barely 6 weeks to go before the UK crashed out of the EU – to coordinate local government responses in the South West. But whatever councils do at this late stage, they can only mitigate, not prevent, the likely harms.
Even if No Deal is averted, Brexit has already led to an economic slowdown and job losses, as well as discrimination against Europeans living in Devon. Exit on the terms agreed by May will be less bad than No Deal, but far worse than the bespoke membership of the EU which the UK currently has. When County Councillors consider the situation on Thursday, they have a duty to tell May to take urgent steps to prevent No Deal – and allow the public to vote on whether they want her Brexit or her remain in the EU.
At yesterday’s DCC Cabinet meeting, Leader John Hart answered three questions I had put in writing about estimated risks from Theresa May’s Brexit and No Deal, about help to businesses for No Deal, and emergency planning for disruption to fuel, food and medical supplies in Devon as a result of No Deal.
Cllr Hart did not answer any of my questions. When I asked when he would answer them, he said ‘We haven’t got a clue yet’ about what is going to happen, and that there would be a meeting next week, with just 10 weeks left to when the UK will crash out of the EU with No Deal if no change is made.
It can be seen that there are no protections in place to protect Devon from the effects of a No Deal. Economy Cabinet member Cllr Rufus Gilbert said ‘we can’t plan for a hypothetical’. Yet No Deal is the default scenario for 29th March.
This is why Devon and Dorset MPs like Ben Bradshaw, Sarah Wollaston and Oliver Letwin are absolutely right to try to block No Deal. I told Cabinet it was irresponsible of them not to support these moves.
Finance (No. 3) Bill – Minor amendments in consequence of EU withdrawal (8 Jan 2019)
Voted (no) against preventing the Government implementing the “no
deal” provisions of Clause 89 without the explicit consent of
Parliament for such an outcome. (division #287; result was 303 aye, 296
Devon NHS agrees to pay EU Settlement Scheme fees for NHS employees, in bid to keep key EU doctors and nurses – a welcome move, but the Government’s toxic anti-immigrant policies are working in the opposite direction
The Devon NHS’s Sustainability and Transformation Partnership has agreed to pay EU Settlement Scheme fees for NHS employees. More than 1,200 people from the European Union work in the NHS in Devon, in essential roles such as doctors, nurses, domestics, health care assistants, and catering, administration and estates workers.
- ‘We want to make it is as easy as possible for our European Union colleagues to stay in the UK so all NHS organisations in Devon will cover the cost of the EU Settlement Scheme application for their employees and their employees’ close family members,’ says the STP.
Their key message is, ‘Whatever the outcome of the Brexit process, the 1,200 people from the European Union who work in Devon’s NHS are hugely valued and we want them to stay.’ If only the Government weren’t sending out the opposite message, with Theresa May trying to stop anyone earning less than £30,000 a year (as many NHS workers do) from coming to the UK, and propagating toxic attitudes to Europe which are driving people out.
While Kent County Council publishes alarming report on Brexit threat, the complacent Tory majority on Devon County Council blocks discussion of my urgent motion on the crisis
Kent County Council, which has a huge Tory majority, yesterday published an alarming report on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for its county. At Devon County Council however, the Conservatives ganged up to prevent my urgent motion (below) being discussed. Despite impassioned and reasoned speeches from Devon for Europe supporters in the public session, Tory councillors voted to block a debate, meaning that the motion will not come back to the Council until February – by which time it will be too late. They also voted not to record votes on the procedural motion, so that no one would know for certain that they had voted to prevent debate. I had support from Labour, Lib Dem, Independent and Green councillors. Devon, of course, has no serious plans for no-deal, and at the last Council, showed that it didn’t even understand how it might arise.
At yesterday’s County Council, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, Cabinet member for Economy and Skills, reported on the Council’s efforts to support Flybe’s operations at Exeter Airport after the company was forced to put itself up for sale (Virgin has shown interest but nothing has yet been agreed). I think that DCC and other local councils have done what they should in the crisis, including an offer to explore additional projects for the company’s Training Academy.
However the fact remains that the last two-and-a-half years of Brexit uncertainty and the plummeting pound it has caused have helped undermine the airline. As Sky’s City editor reported, ‘Sources said a combination of Brexit-related uncertainty, the weaker pound and soaring fuel costs had led Flybe’s directors to conclude that a takeover was likely to be required to preserve its future.’
I asked Cllr Gilbert if he agreed that it was shocking that the Government’s policies had led to this threat to Devon’s air services and our regional airport. But he was having none of it. “Brexit had nothing to do with it’, was all he could say.
@HugoSwire lends himself to a meaningless and doomed manoeuvre to try to save the day for Theresa May
From Politico this morning: ‘Last night three Tory MPs (Hugo Swire, Richard Graham and Bob Neill) laid down an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Act giving parliament a greater role in decision-making around the Northern Irish backstop. The amendment looks suspiciously like it could have had a government hand in it. Nikki da Costa, a former director of legislative affairs at No. 10, agrees.‘
However this is not a real choice. Parliament can only choose whether to extend the transition period after 2020 (in which case the backstop will not be needed, as UK will still be in the EU to all intents and purposes) or to move on to a new agreement including the backstop (as the withdrawal agreement suggests). Swire is lending himself to a thin manoeuvre to try to sway a few more Tories to May’s side, and the signs are it won’t take many people in.
Parliament is taking back control, but without Neil Parish and Hugo Swire (they backed Theresa May’s crumbling administration as it went down to defeat)
Our MP Neil Parish, together with Hugo Swire, supported Theresa May’s crumbling administration in trying to defeat the crucial amendment which will allow Parliament control of the Brexit situation after May’s deal is (as seems almost certain) voted down. This amendment makes a ‘No Deal’ disaster less likely, but both MPs opposed it all the same. They also opposed the motion to indict the Government for its contempt of Parliament over its failure to disclose its legal advice. Parliament is ‘taking back control’, but without Parish and Swire.