Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen
The Commons Brexit committee has just published on its website (pdf) material from the government’s Brexit impact assessment. This is the confidential document the government only released to the committee after the Commons passed a motion demanding this in January.
In a statement Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said:
The results of this analysis, undertaken by the government with the aim of quantifying the potential impact of leaving the EU on the British economy, are already largely in the public domain in one form or another. Allowing this information to be considered in its full context, rather than selectively quoted, will help properly to inform public debate about how the figures were arrived at and what the economic effects of Brexit might be.
The analysis suggests that there will be an adverse effect on the economy of the UK and all its regions, and that the degree of impact will depend on the outcome achieved in the negotiations. Last week the prime minister said that as a result of Brexit “our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now.
In a Commons written statement Nusrat Ghani, a transport minister, has signalled that the government will change the law to enable bus drivers to remove passengers who refuse to make space for wheelchair users. She says measures will be introduced later this year, and that “in principle” the government accepts a recommendation saying the relevant bus regulations need to change. The government set up a group to look into this after a supreme court ruling in January last year saying that the current system, where bus drivers are not required to remove passengers refusing to make space for a wheelchair user, was discriminatory.
Since we’re on the subject, this is probably a good moment to flag up something a reader asked me to publicise – a handbook (pdf) showing how political parties can ensure disability access and comply with the Equality Act 2010. It was drawn up for Labour CLPs by Deal (Disability Equality Act Labour) but the advice applies equally to other parties.
Former army officer and Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat has called for action against Russia over the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal.
“As the first duty of government is to protect the British people I think using nerve agents on British streets really does demand a response,” he told the Spectator’s Coffee House Shots podcast.
I think it is unlikely we will ever have 100% proof, but this will build up towards a pattern where it makes any other answer extremely unlikely. As we start to see a former Russian intelligence officer who was spy swapped back into the UK after he was arrested in Moscow. We see threats in 2010 made by President Putin himself on Russian television, we then see a modus operandi that looks remarkably similar to the murder of Litvinenko and the attempted murder of the Montenegro prime minister and indeed others around Europe. We are beginning to see not only a very strong pattern, but also a very strong centre to that pattern and that centre appears very strongly to be the Kremlin.
President Putin, if it is indeed he who ordered it, is trying to make sure that those who betray him know that there is a cost to betrayal.
All ageing dictators have a problem which is that as they age, people begin to think about the future. Young men with ambitions and dreams start to wonder whether they could take his place … and so this is one way possibly of stating very clearly that disloyalty however historic will be punished and will be punished very obviously. It wasn’t just Colonel Skripal that was [attempted to be] murdered it looks likely that his wife was murdered a year or so ago, his son was also murdered in 2017 and now his daughter too.
In environment questions there were several more attempts to clarify the government’s position on fishing. Mostly they did not take us much further than what George Eustice, the farming minister, said earlier. (See 9.50am.) But near the end of the session Eustice did firm up his line. He was responding to a question from David Duguid, the Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, who asked him to confirm that the EU’s position on fishing (that “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained”) was unacceptable. Eustice replied:
Yes. I simply say this is an EU position. They currently benefit considerably from access to UK waters. At the moment the UK fleet access around 100,000 tonnes of fish in EU waters. The EU access 700,000 tonnes of fish from UK waters. So, they would say that, wouldn’t they? But it is not a position that the UK government shares.
We will want to continue to work together to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters and a fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.
In her Today interview Amber Rudd, the home secretary, was also asked about plans to stop housing benefit being used to fund women’s refuges. There is a Guardian story explaining the proposals here, and a briefing on the subject from the charity Refuge here. The government says it will make up for this change with grants to councils, but refuges fear that the money will not be passed on and there are claims that 40% of refuges could close if the plans go ahead.
Rudd said that she was determined that the number of refuge beds would not fall.
I have engaged with the women’s organisations and charities that have these concerns and I’m very alive to them. I’m proud of the fact that since 2010 we’ve seen a 10% increase in the number of beds available for women fleeing domestic abuse and I will not oversee a reduction in the number of beds. But we will look at the best way to fund those refuges. I want to make sure that his country has the best available support for women who need it.
I want what [the charities] want, which is the best protection and support for victims of domestic abuse.
Yesterday the draft EU guidelines for the UK-EU Brexit trade talks were published and they said that “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.” The fishing industry reacted angrily. And fishermen were even more alarmed when Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said the government would be willing to let EU fishermen continue to use British waters. In a Q&A after his speech he said:
Fishing is an iconically important British industry and we are very clear that we are taking control of our waters.
But of course we would be open to discussing with our EU partners about the appropriate arrangements for reciprocal access for our fishermen to EU waters and for EU fishermen to our waters.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, is not in the Commons for environment questions. George Eustice, one of his junior minister, tolds MPs at the start of the session that Gove was in the US on departmental business.
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, has been giving interview this morning. It is International Women’s Day and she was booked to appear not just as home secretary but as minister for women and equalities, and she was promoting the new government plans to tackle domestic abuse.
But inevitably she was also asked about the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning attack. On the Today programme she said that, if Russia was deemed responsible, the government would respond. But it would act with a “cool head”, she said
When we have all the evidence of what took place, we will – if it is appropriate – attribute it to somebody.
If that is the case then we will have a plan in place. We need to be very methodical, keep a cool head and be based on the facts, not rumour.
Let me be clear, we are absolutely robust about any crimes committed on these streets of the UK. There is nothing soft about the UK’s response to any sort of state activity in this country. You may not hear about it all, but when we do see that there is action to be taken, we will take it.