‘No deal’ planning starts here

Today I started with my preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, in which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and, absent an agreement setting out our future relationship with our continental neighbours, heads off into the wilderness to do its own thing. (Which is known, in the parlance, as ‘taking back control’.) But my preparations didn’t involve stockpiling food or securing a supply of medication. Oh, no. As with most things around here, it was the dogs’ fault. Continue reading

The great funding challenge

The Government is very good at telling us how much funding it is allocating to different services. But it is less good at focusing on how well these services are doing. The Performance Tracker, published by the Institute for Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) bridges this gap. And its findings are far from reassuring. Continue reading

Local government in crisis

With each week that passes, it seems that another local authority joins the list of those whose finances have reached crisis point. First it was Northamptonshire County Council that hit the headlines, but top-tier councils in Sussex, Lancashire, Suffolk, Surrey, Torbay and Oxfordshire also seem to be feeling the heat. And Somerset County Council, down the road from me, has just voted through £28 million of cuts over the next two years, leading opposition councillors to describe the council as on the ‘brink of bankruptcy’. Continue reading

Our greater challenge… and why I’m not entirely optimistic about our chances

A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were out campaigning for the country to be given a say on whatever Brexit deal our Government manages to negotiate with the European Union. As I was blowing up some balloons (never let it be said that I do things half-heartedly), a chap in his early sixties marched past, newspaper in hand.

“Less than a year to go until we get our country back,” he grinned.

“Er, yes. Good luck with that,” I replied.

Needless to say, I didn’t offer him a balloon. Continue reading

We must protect our universities’ freedom

It is rare that governments get to do exactly what they want. Opposition parties, the judiciary and others have traditionally also wielded significant influence, tempering the more extreme ideas of those in power and highlighting the pitfalls of proposed policies.

This era of moderation is, however, coming to a close. Those who once held our governments to account are being systematically declawed. Continue reading

An open letter to the Prime Minister

An open letter to Theresa May
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

On 19th October 2017, we received a letter from Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, ahead of her meeting with the European Council as part of the UK’s Brexit negotiations. Given that she had taken the trouble to write to us, we thought it only polite to reply. This is our response.

Dear Theresa,

Thank you for your letter explaining what you are doing to secure the rights of European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and of UK citizens living in other EU member states. We were relieved to hear that you are taking this issue so seriously. Because your actions and those of your government since the referendum in June 2016 have given a very different impression.

You say that the rights of EU and UK citizens are your first priority. This is reassuring. But it would be slightly more reassuring, we feel, if it had not taken you sixteen months to come to this conclusion. You have left three million EU citizens living in the UK and over a million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU in a state of increasing anxiety. And you have done nothing.

The freedom of European Union citizens to live and work without hindrance in any of the twenty eight member states has been one of the most positive and profound impacts of our collective European endeavour. As a married couple of one British citizen (Simon) and one German national (Natalie), it has formed the bedrock of our shared life together. And of the future plans that now lie in tatters. And we are not alone.

The three million EU citizens living in the UK work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to our society. They are our doctors and our nurses. They are our office workers, our builders and our taxi drivers. They crew our fishing boats, they look after our elderly and, yes, they pick our strawberries. But your inaction has created a climate where they no longer feel welcome. Where they fear for their future.

And it is not just these individuals who are affected, Theresa. You have left their – often British – spouses, their children, their friends and their employers in a state of enduring limbo, too. Punctured with vile threats from various members of your government about complex registration procedures, loss of rights, compulsory fingerprinting, exorbitant fees and more. Oh, and with your Home Office writing to numerous EU citizens demanding that they make immediate preparations to leave the UK.

You could so easily have given reassurance to these people that their rights would be protected. Or at the very least that they were not about to be rounded up by the goon squad. But you chose not to. While our family and our friends have shown nothing but love, kindness and compassion, our government has done nothing. And for that, Theresa, we are afraid that we cannot forgive you.

You complain that your government has been accused of treating EU citizens living in the UK as ‘bargaining chips’ in your negotiations with the European Union. Yet it was Liam Fox, your very own Secretary of State for International Trade (and our constituency MP), who claimed that EU citizens in the UK are ‘one of our main cards’ in negotiating a Brexit deal. So please forgive us if we find your protestations somewhat disingenuous.

You also seem a little optimistic about the current status of the negotiations between the UK and the EU.

You imply in your letter that a formal agreement is almost complete, with only minor issues left to negotiate. But that is patently not true. You must surely recognise this. There is no agreement. And there is no immediate prospect of one.

So you are, in our view, either hopelessly out of touch with your own government or not being entirely straight with us. Or, quite possibly, both.

But let us be honest, Theresa. Your letter is not really aimed at us. You have not given a monkey’s about our rights until now. You have only written to us because the European Union is furious at your lack of action in this area and you are trying desperately to dig yourself out of the colossal Brexit black hole that you, David Davis, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and others have created.

You are not ‘putting people first’, as you claim. You are putting your government first. You are putting yourself first. You are putting your party’s ideological loathing of all things European ahead of the future of your country and of those who have chosen to call it their home.

You are right that we are seeking certainty about the future. But the only certainty here is that you and your government have failed at every turn. And one letter is not going to change that.

Yours sincerely,

Natalie Fey & Simon Perks.

What we think we think

With the general election coming up, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time talking to people about politics. Not just about the various candidates and their parties, but about what these parties stand for and the vision of the future that they are painting for our country. Yet the more people I talk to, the more I become convinced of one simple fact. None of us really know what we think about anything. We just think we do. Continue reading

Marching for science

It’s probably fair to say that I’m a bit of a science nerd. In fact, it’s a little more than that. I think that science is essential to how we develop as a species. It is an ongoing search for truth and understanding. It is how we rise above our own parochial views and engage with the bigger picture of the world around us. So when science comes under attack, I’m not going to just stand idly by. Continue reading

Just asking

The Prime Minister explained yesterday that she will not allow the Scottish people to hold a legally-binding referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. At least, not in the near future. Her rationale was that, until the UK has agreed a Brexit deal with the European Union, the Scottish people would not know what they were voting for or against. Continue reading

It’s not all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…

A lot of people, me included, have spent the past few days, weeks and months worrying about the impact of our Government’s approach to leaving the European Union on the future of our country and of those we love. We’ve recently been presented with a whole load more to worry about with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. And to cap it all, the lovely (if presumably somewhat gloomy) people at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with their Doomsday Clock, have decided that we are now one step closer to global catastrophe. Continue reading