Brexit: Government suffers huge defeats as top Tories join attacks on ‘ridiculous and immoral’ bill | Politics News

The House of Lords has voted to remove parts of the government’s Brexit legislation that ministers have admitted will allow them to break international law.

In two votes, peers voted overwhelmingly (433 votes to 165, majority 268, and 407 votes to 148, majority 259) to strip out the controversial clauses in the UK Internal Market Bill.

The government has already vowed to reinstate them when the legislation returns to the Commons.

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Brexit: UK open to ‘2-3 year’ fishing deal

Reacting to the defeats, a government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the House of Lords has voted to remove clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill, which was backed in the House of Commons by 340 votes to 256 and delivers on a clear Conservative manifesto commitment.

“We will retable these clauses when the bill returns to the Commons.

“We’ve been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market and the huge gains of the peace process.”

The bill, which has been condemned by critics both in Westminster and abroad, seeks to allow ministers to override the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU.

Former prime minister Sir John Major said the legislation had “damaged our reputation around the world”.

“Lawyers everywhere are incredulous that the UK – often seen as the very cradle of the Rule of Law – could give themselves the power to break the law,” he added.

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Will Biden’s presidency affect Brexit talks?

Speaking in the chamber earlier, former Tory leader Lord Howard said the UK would be setting a “lamentable example” if it breaks international law.

Lord Clarke, a former chancellor, said the legislation was “immoral”, describing it as “intrinsically ridiculous and deeply damaging”.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Fox joined the criticism, telling the Lords: “A law-breaking government might have impressed President Trump.

“But when there is an Irish-American president in waiting, this bill is not a good look.”

Lord Falconer, a Labour peer and former lord chancellor, also warned over the impact of the US election result.

He said: “If these clauses were ever used they would be guaranteeing, as president-elect Biden has said, that the UK would go to the bottom of the pecking order with the US in Europe.

“Popular UK to Billy no-mates, all in 10 weeks from the 8th of September.”

Lord Newby, leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords, said the upper chamber was “within its constitutional right” to remove the clauses.

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“If we can’t take a view on a matter of deliberate law-breaking by the government we may as well pack up our bags now.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said a “primary function” of the Lords is to “defend the rule of law and to protect the balances of power and peace in our Union”.

As a result, he said the move by peers would have his “unqualified support”.

The fresh parliamentary row over the legislation is likely to again be closely watched in the US, where president-elect Joe Biden has previously warned about Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement becoming a “casualty” of Brexit.

The Financial Times has reported Mr Biden will stress this point during his first call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the coming days.

Speaking to Sky News earlier, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government would stand firmly behind its legislation.

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Bagehot – The Tories launch a culture war | Britain

IN THE LONG-FORGOTTEN days of Cool Britannia, Downing Street was packed with left-leaning intellectuals scoffing prime ministerial canapés as Tony Blair sought to dominate not just the country’s politics but also its culture. David Cameron, like most Tories, was more interested in economics: he focused on squeezing public expenditure while hugging hoodies and huskies to blur the cultural distinction between Conservative and Labour parties.

Now the parties’ positions are reversed. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is copying the Tories’ cultural attitudes, not fighting them. His recent address to his party conference was a paean to flag and family. The Conservatives, meanwhile, acknowledge that ceding culture to the left was a mistake: in the arts, broadcasting and higher education, Toryism is not just dead but damned.

Downing Street has let it be known that it is thinking of appointing two right-of-centre journalists, Lord (Charles) Moore and Sir Paul Dacre, to the most powerful cultural thrones in the land: chairman of the BBC and head of the media regulator, Ofcom. Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, has told museums and galleries that they could lose grants if they take down controversial statues and artefacts. The Department for Education is banning teaching materials provided by “anti-capitalist groups”. This is part of a broader push from the right. Andrew Neil, a fearsome political interviewer, is helping found a new television channel, GB News, featuring American-style TV anchors “with a bit of edge”. Laurence Fox, a rare anti-woke actor, is founding a new political party, Reclaim, which he hopes will do for culture what UKIP did for Brexit.

Leadership is one reason for the new approach. The people who now run the Tory party are more interested in culture than economics: Boris Johnson, a former Daily Telegraph journalist (and underling of Lord Moore) who specialised in tweaking liberal tails, Michael Gove, a journalist influenced by America’s neo-conservative movement, and Dominic Cummings, a combative aide consumed by hatred of the metropolitan elite. Another is the shift in economic strategy, which started with the mantra of “levelling up” poorer areas of the country and has been completed by coronavirus. The Tories, like Labour, are now a party of the big state, so economics no longer divides the parties so clearly.

Fighting on the cultural battlefield has not, in the past, served the Tories well. Margaret Thatcher preached “Victorian values” only to be embarrassed when one of her favourite ministers, Cecil Parkinson, fathered a child by his mistress. John Major called for a return to basics only to see a succession of his colleagues, and eventually himself, damaged by sex scandals. “Family values” were a problem for the Tories not only because adulterers lived in fear that they would be exposed but also because closeted gays, of whom the party had many, bridled at their enforced hypocrisy.

As the father of at least six children by three different women, Mr Johnson does not look like the ideal leader to rally conservative troops in a culture war. But the issues are different today. Marriage is a minority pursuit. Gays are no longer closeted. Identity politics has united the party against a cultural left that treats the term “white” as an accusation rather than a description and regards Britain’s past as one of unrelieved villainy. The Conservatives are much better prepared this time around, too. The parliamentary party is diverse enough to rebut the charge that it is just a bunch of reactionary white men: the likes of Kemi Badenoch and Kwasi Kwarteng would no doubt welcome the chance to go toe-to-toe with Black Lives Matter (BLM) spokesmen. Many backbenchers are fired up. “Johnson should instruct a team of ministers to wage war on woke,” says Neil O’Brien, a cerebral MP for Harborough. And right-of-centre think-tanks are ready to roll out materials on everything from the statue wars to BBC bias.

This points to the biggest reason for the Tories’ confidence: the left’s over-reach. It is partly a matter of taking reasonable ideas too far. Acknowledging Britain’s role in the slave trade should not stretch to removing the name of David Hume, a colossus of the Enlightenment, from a building in Edinburgh University—a demand to which the university, to its shame, acceded. It is also a matter of style. The harassment of J.K. Rowling by trans-rights activists is an abomination. De-platforming has no role in universities.

Yet launching a culture war may do the Tories less good than they think. The sure-footed Sir Keir has sidestepped traps they have laid for him, such as over the singing of patriotic songs, and some Tories worry that it will unleash the “crazies” on their side. America’s experience suggests Britain may not benefit either.

America the angry

A louder Conservative voice in cultural debates is all to the good. Cultural institutions decay if they are nothing more than echo chambers. Pressure groups such as BLM drift into self-indulgent extremism unless subjected to rigorous debate. Taxpayers grow rebellious if they are forced to support institutions that know more about New York than old York. But America’s experience offers a warning. The booing and bellowing of its culture warriors has coarsened discourse and divided the polity so that Republicans and Democrats can no longer work together on practical matters such as combating covid-19 or fixing the infrastructure.

Britain has defences against such developments. Parliamentary government is less prone to paralysis. Broadcasting laws make it more difficult to create highly partisan TV stations. But the Tories’ urge to fight on this new front will test these defences.

Culture is a legitimate area for political argument, but if it is to be constructive the government needs to bear two principles in mind. It should try to broaden the debate, not to disrupt it. The decision to ban literature created by anti-capitalist groups from being taught in schools is, thus, wrong. And the aim of reforming great cultural institutions should be to strengthen them, not to punish them for past misdeeds, imagined or real.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “We shall fight them on the airwaves”

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Tories call on WE to release documents requested by parliamentary committee

The federal Conservatives are calling on WE Charity to release a series of documents the Toronto-based youth organization promised to hand over to a House of Commons committee before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament.

The request is contained in a letter sent Sunday from Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre and ethics critic Michael Barrett to Craig and Marc Kielburger, the brothers who co-founded WE more than 20 years ago.

It represents the Tories’ latest effort to continue digging into the decision to have WE run a multimillion-dollar student-volunteer program, after Trudeau temporarily shuttered several Commons committee investigations by proroguing Parliament on Aug. 18.

In their letter, Poilievre and Barrett note the Kielburgers and other WE officials committed to provide members of Parliament with answers to several questions they were unable to answer while appearing before the finance committee.

Those unanswered questions are outlined in two annexes prepared by the Library of Parliament and attached to the Conservatives’ letter, and include details on WE’s discussions with the Liberal government about the Canada Student Services Grant.

Seeking documents before Parliament’s return

The finance committee also asked the charity to provide more information about two trips that WE hosted for then-finance minister Bill Morneau and his family to Kenya and Ecuador.

“That additional information had not been provided to the committee at the time that Justin Trudeau shut down Parliament,” Poilievre and Barrett wrote to the Kielburgers.

“However, given you both expressed your desire to provide members of Parliament with the information required, we urge you to not wait for the House of Commons to return in September.”

The Kielburgers spoke to the finance committee via videolink on July 28, at which time they insisted WE was not chosen to run the Canada Student Services Grant because of the organization’s ties to Trudeau and other members of the Liberal government.

Marc Kielburger, left, and Craig Kielburger, right, are pictured as they appear as witnesses via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee meeting in late July. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

WE executives Dalal Al Waheidi, Scott Baker and Sofia Marquez appeared two weeks later, when they were grilled over dozens of communications with public office holders despite not being registered with the federal lobbyist registry.

WE could not be immediately reached for comment on Sunday.

Poilievre and Barrett warned that the committee would “aggressively” follow up on any outstanding information after Parliament resumes on Sept. 23, “but we are certain that in the spirit of co-operation you will want to proactively respond now.”

Student grant mired in controversy

The Canada Student Services Grant was announced by Trudeau on June 25 and billed as a way for students to earn money towards their post-secondary education by volunteering for charities and non-profit groups fighting COVID-19.

But the government’s decision to have WE run the program, which had an announced budget of $912 million, drew immediate allegations of a conflict of interest due to Trudeau’s ties to the charity, including appearances at several of its WE Day rallies.

WE eventually backed out of the agreement, citing political controversy, and the grant program has since been abandoned. The ethics commissioner is now investigating Trudeau, whose family was paid to appear at several WE events, as well as Morneau.

Barrett wrote last week to Speaker’s Spotlight, the agency through which WE paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother for those events, to hand over all documents about the arrangements.

Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from cabinet’s discussions about the agreement to have WE run the grant program, but insisted it was public servants who recommended the organization.

Thousands of government documents released by Trudeau when he prorogued Parliament appear to back up that assertion, but also suggest bureaucrats may have been encouraged to work with WE by their political masters.

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Government to set out travel quarantine plans despite opposition from Tories and businesses

Travellers arriving in the UK under the new quarantine rules will be allowed to leave isolation in order to shop for food and other essential supplies.

Boris Johnson announced in May that all arrivals in Britain will be forced to quarantine for a fortnight in a bid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

But the quarantine order has been met with criticism by businesses and has led to unease in the Tory ranks with concerns the quarantine will be “unenforceable”.

The new rules are expected to be set out by Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday.

The restrictions, which are due to come into force on June 8, will be similar to those imposed during the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I think there will be a limited set of exemptions, just as there was during the nationwide lockdown.

“For example, I would expect people only to be able to leave the property in which they are quarantining if they need urgent medical treatment, support from social services, food or medicine which they cannot get delivered or get anybody else to bring to them, an emergency in the place they are staying – such as a fire – or to attend a funeral of a close relative.”

Priti Patel is due to set out the new quarantine travel rules on Wednesday (10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty)

Travellers will also be able to board public transport from the port or airport to where they will quarantine, although they will be encouraged to use private vehicles instead.

The guidance “suggests that people should take private vehicles wherever possible”, the spokesman said.

The Government is still looking at the prospect of “air bridges” between the UK and other countries which would be exempt from the quarantine rules, with Boris Johnson reported to be in favour of the plan.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There is no change on air bridges, we have said it’s something which the Government is looking at.”

The new rules will require UK arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days (REUTERS)

But the spokesman added that the policy was focused on stopping “imported cases of this virus” and “one of the most devastating things which could happen to the economy is to have a second spike”.

Former transport minister Stephen Hammond called for the plan to quarantine all people arriving from outside the UK to be scrapped.

The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that air bridges would be a “sensible, targeted response” between low-risk countries.

“I think the idea of air bridges are the right way forward,” he added.

“I think, as we’ve seen across the world, people are taking measures out of the lockdown and this targeted approach would be a much more sensible way to behave.”

George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah, said: “By pursuing its quarantine plans without due regard for the economic consequences, the Government is choosing to ignore the devastation it will cause to companies, to employment and to the lives of all those whose jobs will be lost.

“The quarantine measures are a blunt weapon which will bring only economic disaster.”

Professor John Newton, the national testing coordinator, said contact tracing for travellers arriving in the UK could be used instead of quarantine measures.

He told the Downing Street briefing that the 14-day self-isolation for arrivals would not be necessary if the risk of the traveller having coronavirus is sufficiently low, or if a case can be quickly responded to with a test and trace programme.

“If travellers are able to be tested and self-isolate in response to contact tracing – just like a domestic new case – then that would also be a way of dealing with it.”

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