Barnier/Davis press conference after first substantial round of Brexit talks.

Speaking after four days of negotiations, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, today said there had been some areas of agreement about how British citizens living abroad and EU nationals living in the UK should be treated after Brexit. However, he said the EU believes citizens’ rights should be backed by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Mr Barnier said a clarification of the UK’s position on settling its outstanding debts to the EU when it leaves was also needed.

He said: “A clarification of the UK position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier, which is inseparable from the other withdrawal dossiers…We know that agreement will not be achieved through incremental steps. As soon as the UK is ready to clarify the nature of its commitments, we will be prepared to discuss this with the British negotiators.”

On the pressing issue of the island of Ireland, there was a first discussion on the impact of Brexit on two key subjects: the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area. Mr Barnier said there was agreement that the Good Friday Agreement, “in all its dimensions, requires more detailed discussions.” In particular, “more work needs to be done to protect North-South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

There was also agreement that the UK should clarify in the next session how it intends on maintaining the Common Travel Area after leaving the EU.

Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, said talks had been “robust” but there was a lot to be “positive” about in terms of the overall negotiations.

The takeaway: there was scant evidence of progress in a press conference to mark the end of the first substantive round of Brexit talks. Both sides looked – and sounded- as far apart as ever on key issues, most particularly on EU citizens’ rights and the divorce bill. Michel Barnier said there was a “fundamental divergence” with the British negotiating team over the way that the rights of EU citizens in the UK would be guaranteed, adding that he needed clarity on the UK’s position on the Brexit bill. Brexit However, David Davis said “We shouldn’t expect incremental progress in every round [of talks].”

Three rounds of Brexit talks were scheduled in June: for August, September, and October. There will be an EU summit in late October, where EU leaders will decide on whether the UK has made sufficient progress on financial issues – the so-called ‘divorce bill’. Only then can the UK progress to trade talks with the EU.

The press conference came today after Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, confirmed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be debated in the Commons on Thursday 7th and Monday 11th September.

The UK Parliament is now in recess, and will return on 5th September.

House of Commons – Select Committee Chair Elections – The Results.

Eleven select committees held elections for the position of Chair on Wednesday 12 July, including the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

There were also seventeen select committees where the position of Chair was uncontested. If there was only one candidate for a position, the MP was deemed elected unopposed.

Results are as follows:

Departmental committees
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Rachel Reeves (Labour; Leeds West)
Communities and Local Government – Clive Betts (Labour; Sheffield South East.)
Culture, Media and Sport – Damian Collins (Conservative;  Folkestone and Hythe – unopposed)
Defence – Dr Julian Lewis (Conservative; New Forest East)
Education – Robert Halfon (Conservative; Harlow)
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Neil Parish (Conservative; Tiverton and Honiton)
Exiting the European Union – Hilary Benn (Labour; Leeds Central – unopposed)
Foreign Affairs – Tom Tugendhat (Conservative; Tonbridge and Malling)
Health –  Dr Sarah Wollaston (Conservative; Totnes – unopposed)
Home Affairs – Yvette Cooper (Labour; Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford – unopposed)
International Development – Stephen Twigg (Labour; Liverpool West Derby – unopposed)
International Trade – Angus MacNeil (Scottish National Party; Na h-Eileanan an Iar – unopposed)
Justice – Robert Neill (Conservative; Bromley and Chislehurst – unopposed)
Northern Ireland Affairs – Dr Andrew Murrison (Conservative; South West Wiltshire)
Science and Technology – Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat; North Norfolk)
Scottish Affairs – Pete Wishart (Scottish National Party; Perth and North Perthshire – unopposed)
Transport – Lilian Greenwood (Labour; Nottingham South)
Treasury – Nicky Morgan (Conservative; Loughborough)
Welsh Affairs –David T C Davies (Conservative; Monmouth – unopposed)
Women and Equalities – Maria Miller (Conservative; Basingstoke – unopposed)
Work and Pensions – Frank Field (Labour; Birkenhead – unopposed)

Other specified select committees:
Backbench Business Committee – Ian Mearns (Labour; Gateshead)
Environmental Audit – Mary Creagh (Labour; Wakefield – unopposed)
Petitions – Helen Jones (Labour; Warrington North – unopposed)
Procedure –  Charles Walker (Conservative; Broxbourne – unopposed)
Public Accounts – Meg Hillier (Labour; Hackney South and Shoreditch – unopposed)
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs – Bernard Jenkin (Conservative; Harwich and North Essex – unopposed)
Standards – Sir Kevin Barron (Labour; Rother Valley – unopposed)

No doubt there will be interesting times ahead with Nicky Morgan as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee. A pro-Remainer, she saw off the arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to position herself as a thorn in the side of the UK Government’s plans for leaving the EU. The former Treasury minister and Education Secretary was elected by MPs across all parties, but with particular support from those on the Labour benches who want to stop Mrs May’s hardline Brexit plan to leave the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Another one to watch is the new Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Dr Andrew Murrison is a proponent of the Military Covenant’s extension to Northern Ireland. The mainstream unionist parties support the extension, but the nationalist parties do not. Indeed, it was a thorny issue during the long-running talks process at Stormont to restore a power-sharing Executive.

The Repeal Bill Cometh.

The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ promised by the Prime Minister in October 2016 will be published today, Thursday 13th July.

It will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, and repatriate EU law into British law, thereby ending the general supremacy of EU law.

The Bill, described by the Prime Minister as an “essential step” to EU withdrawal, was the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech.

When published, its short title will be different as value-laden terms such as ‘great’ are not permitted in legislative titles. It is expected to be titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Once it is introduced to the UK Parliament, it will be scrutinised through debates in the Houses of Commons and Lords, and more detailed line-by-line scrutiny in select committees. Amendments can be made to the bill. Both the Commons and the Lords will need to approve the bill, with any amendments, before it can be passed.

Even if the Bill is relatively short, the scrutiny process may take some time if previous examples of EU bills are any guide – remember the legislation to ratify the Maastricht Treaty?
This follows on from the white paper published by the Department for Exiting the European Union on 30 March 2017 which set out the objectives for the proposed Great Repeal Bill:

  • Repeal the European Communities Act (1972) on the day the UK leaves the EU,
  • Replicate some 20,000 pieces of EU law onto the UK statute book,
  • Convert directly-applicable EU law (EU regulations) into UK law,
  • Preserve all the laws that have been made in the UK to implement EU obligations,
  • Ensure the rights in EU treaties that are relied on directly in court by an individual will continue to be available in UK law,
  • Historic European Court of Justice case law will be given the same binding, or precedent, status in UK courts as Supreme Court decisions, and
  • Create powers to make secondary legislation under statutory instrument procedures.

The White Paper commits to ending the supremacy of EU law in UK law. It will no longer be the case that every law passed in Westminster has to be compatible with those passed in Brussels.

It also says that past judgements of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will be downgraded in status after Brexit. ECJ judgements will have no role in the interpretation of laws passed by Parliament after the UK has left the EU. Pre-Brexit ECJ judgements will continue to have some role in interpreting pre-Brexit EU law, but the UK Supreme Court will be able to overrule these decisions in some cases.

The role of post-Brexit ECJ judgements on pre-Brexit laws is still unclear.

Issues might arise with the two ‘D’s: delegated powers and devolution (remember the devolved states in all of this Brexit mess?)

Regarding delegated powers, the White Paper submitted that a “prohibitively large amount of primary legislation” would be required to make all the necessary changes to the body of EU law. Therefore, it will “provide a power to correct the statute book, where necessary, to rectify problems occurring as a consequence of leaving the EU”.

The UK Government has acknowledged there will need to be some constraints on how ministers can use secondary legislation to change the law. The problem is that the White Paper is vague about what these constraints will be. For instance, the White Paper acknowledges that ministers’ new powers will have to be time limited, but does not actually discuss what these time limits will be.

The UK Government therefore is seeking a “discussion between Government and Parliament as to the most pragmatic and effective approach to take” on powers.

The issue of devolution poses another headache. The White Paper committed to “intensive discussions with the devolved administrations” about how policy powers repatriated to the UK from the EU will be distributed between the various states which comprise the UK.

Per the Queen’s Speech, the Bill committed to “maintaining the scope of devolved decision making powers immediately after EU-exit” and “having intensive discussion and consultation with devolved administrations on where lasting common frameworks are needed”.

Following the Speech, Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to admit that the consent via Sewel motions of the devolved parliaments may need to be sought before the passage of the Bill. Indeed, the Scottish Secretary David Mundell has recently echoed his previous assurances that a Legislative Consent Motion would be required for some parts of the Bill which are relevant to devolved competences. Other Brexit may also require Legislative Consent Motions.

Confused? You are in good company. For all this has raised the prospect that one or more of the devolved administrations could block the Bill if it does not propose that repatriated powers do not flow directly to them. And even better, there is uncertainty over the extent to which this vote could derail the Bill.

Why bother with such a Bill, it might be asked. Well, EU law covers areas such as environmental regulation, workers’ rights, and the regulation of financial services. Without the Repeal Bill, when the UK withdrawals from the EU, all these rules and regulations would no longer have legal standing in the UK, creating a ‘black hole’ in the UK statute book and leading to uncertainty and confusion. By carrying EU laws over into UK law, the UK Government plans to provide for what David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, calls ‘a calm and orderly exit’ from the EU, while giving the UK Government and UK Parliament time to review, amend or scrap these laws in future.

Essentially, The purpose of the Bill is to provide certainty and continuity, ensuring the same rules and laws apply immediately after Brexit wherever possible, and supporting a smooth transition.

MPs will not have an opportunity to vote on the Bill until the autumn. This is perhaps good news for the Conservative government, which knows it will face stiff opposition to the bill. Indeed, it feels as though all parties in the Commons (sans the DUP, who have pledged to support the UK Government in all matters Brexit as part of their confidence and supply agreement) will unite in some form to make the Bill’s progress through Parliament hell for the Prime Minister.

The Labour Party, for example, has vowed to try to wreck the Brexit process by voting against the flagship “Repeal Bill”, unless Theresa May makes dramatic changes.

The Opposition usually gives the Government opportunity to change a Bill between its second and third reading, which would have postponed a Commons flashpoint until next year.

Yet Labour is arguing that government ministers have plenty of time to make those changes before second reading in October.

Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, said recently Labour would attempt to defeat the legislation in just three months’ time. Labour disagrees with most of the Bill’s contents, and is demanding the Bill includes full protection of rights for British workers and consumers, of environmental standards and the devolution of powers across the country. It is also determined to prevent a Government power grab through the use of delegated ‘Henry VIII powers’, allowing future changes without proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

Labour does accept it will not be able to defeat the Bill at its second reading, anticipated to be in October, without a revolt by some Conservative MPs, given Ms May’s working Commons majority of 12. However, it is hoping to play a game of ‘divide and conquer’ – the party believes it will be very difficult for the ten Scottish Conservative MPs to support the Repeal Bill without strong guarantees on devolution.

And it is not just Labour who is promising a difficult path for the UK Government. The Liberal Democrats, who after all fought the general election on a pledge to stage a second referendum on Brexit, also said they would make the passage of the Bill “hell”.

The publication of the Bill today is merely the first step in a long and complex journey for the Conservative Government. The real Parliamentary showdown will not be today. It will be come the autumn.

EU versus UK: pre-negotiations

Last Saturday, the leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states quickly agreed to a negotiating path towards a quick divorce deal with the UK. It is now up to the UK to agree to the guidelines so that the talks can begin. The main delay appears to be the UK election.

Despite the unpromising lead-up to Saturday’s summit in Brussels, including an awkward dinner between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and mutterings about the UK blocking EU budget talks ahead of their elections, the EU27 held out clear prospects of compromise.

However, EU leaders did not appear wholly confident, with concerns mounting that the British Prime Minister still does not grasp how long, complex and difficult the path to agreement will be. The main fear seems to be that even if the Conservatives record a strong victory in next month’s General Election, Mrs May will not be willing to moderate her negotiating positions. Indeed, the converse might be true: bolstered with a strong showing, Mrs May might be more inclined to refuse to engage in compromise efforts.

The European Council’s guidelines  define the framework for negotiations under Art 50 TEU, and set out the overall positions and principles that the Union will pursue throughout the negotiation. The European Council is settling itself down for a bumpy ride, and it is not pulling its punches. In the Core Principles section of the guidelines, it writes:

It reiterates its wish to have the United Kingdom as a close partner in the future. It further reiterates that any agreement with the United Kingdom will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations, and ensure a level playing field. Preserving the integrity of the Single Market excludes participation based on a sector-by-sector approach. A non-member of the Union, that does not live up to the same obligations as a member, cannot have the same rights and enjoy the same benefits as a member. In this context, the European Council welcomes the recognition by the British Government that the four freedoms of the Single Market are indivisible and that there can be no “cherry picking”. The Union will preserve its autonomy as regards its decision-making as well as the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Basically: the UK cannot boast about a hard Brexit, seek to withdraw itself financially from the EU, but still expect to benefit. After all, you cannot have the benefits of club membership without paying your membership fees.

Under Agreement on arrangements for an orderly withdrawal, the European Council  strongly reiterates citizen’s rights:

The right for every EU citizen, and of his or her family members, to live, to work or to study in any EU Member State is a fundamental aspect of the European Union. Along with other rights provided under EU law, it has shaped the lives and choices of millions of people. Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union will be the first priority for the negotiations. Such guarantees must be effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.

The European Council also recognised the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland quandary, and seeks to limit any potential damage:

The Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance. In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order. In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law.

Whilst EU law must be recognised and upheld, the EU is willing to be flexible in any final agreement in order to prevent the imposition of a hard border.

Developing the guidelines was the relatively easy part, highlighting as they do the elements all member state agree on: the need to negotiate withdrawal terms before agreement on future relations, and prioritising citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and border concerns — particularly for Ireland.

However, there is always going to be differences under the surface of the guidelines. And the risk of disagreement among the EU 27 on detailed aspects of the Brexit negotiations is high, largely because the interests of individual countries in the Brexit talks diverge as much as they do on any other issue. A key priority which is subject to different interpretations and interests is citizens’ rights. On the one hand, countries such as Poland and Lithuania are concerned about their own citizens now living and working in the UK. On the other hand, countries such as Spain and Malta have a primary interest in the fate of British retirees who live in those countries, and the related costs for health care and other services.

The European Council has prepped its hand. It put on a strong, unified showing in its swift agreement on the guidelines. But for how long will it stay unified?

Fast forward to this week, and it is the turn of the European Commission to lay down its cards in advance of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, presenting the European Commission’s proposed negotiating directives today, said it was wrong to try to make people believe the separation will be a painless process with no impact on people’s lives. He added that it was not the European Commission’s intention to “punish” the UK for leaving the bloc.

He hinted the talks process will be long and complicated, and warned no one should expect a quick deal:

“Some have created the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly. This is not the case.

“We need sound solutions, we need legal precision and this will take time.”

Barnier said in order to ensure the talks succeed and agreement is reached, the UK “must put a great deal of energy and effort” into reaching agreement on key three areas: borders (especially between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), the rights of EU citizens, and the process for calculating a financial settlement.

It was said that the so-called divorce bill – now estimated at €100bn (£84.5bn) -was not a punishment for the UK leaving, but rather a “settling of accounts”.

Barnier made sure to highlight the remaining 27 member states’ show of unity at last weekend’s summit.

It is evident that the looming negotiations will not be straightforward – perhaps much to the displeasure of the British government, especially if time is spent wrangling over the divorce bill. ‘Take Back Control’ must seem like a distant memory, now.

I for one welcome the stance taken by the EU institutions pertaining to the island of Ireland. It is great to see the EU confirm it will attempt to be as flexible as possible when considering the imposition of a border. It certainly makes a change from the endless refrain of “no return to the borders of the past” from the British government…

Conservatives and European Convention on Human Rights… Again

Whenever the Conservatives are not falling out over Europe in the form of the European Union, they are falling out over human rights. Merge these two traditional battlegrounds together, and you are left with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). And after the Prime Minster’s sudden announcement of a snap General Election, it should come as no surprise that the ongoing ECHR issue will inevitably feature in some form.

Yes, the Conservatives have a habit of expressing their desire to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, the legislation which enshrines the Convention into domestic law. They also have a fondness for expressing their deep-rooted hope to see the creation of a British Bill of Rights in place of the 1998 Act. The more daring and extreme will speak too of the UK withdrawing from the European Convention itself.

I have written about all this before, but this once again is of topical relevance since the announcement we shall return to the polls on the 8th June.

Since becoming Prime Minister – back when she kept vowing she would never call an early election – it was reported Mrs May planned to fight the 2020 General Election on a platform of leaving the ECHR. Apparently, the Prime Minister sought to “lift and shift” rights protections so people in the UK could only seek rights protections in UK courts, not the ECtHR.

It was also reported Mrs May “has decided that she cannot start that fight with the prospect of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union set to dominate Parliament over the next few years.” Therefore, Conservative plans to replace the 1998 Act with a British Bill of Rights were seemingly put on hold, albeit temporarily, because of the Brexit result. And recall that during her leadership bid, Mrs May said pulling out of the ECHR was not something she could pursue in this Parliamentary mandate because of the Conservative’s slim majority.

So the question becomes this: if Mrs May intended to fight the 2020 General Election on a manifesto pledge to see the withdrawal of the UK from the ECHR, might it feature now, during this snap campaign? Moreover, if Mrs May is calling this early election on the basis of her slim majority and the need for a greater mandate, should she acquire a comfortable majority, would she venture forth and take the UK out of the ECHR?

It would appear I am not the only one querying what might unfold. Theresa May has apparently been urged to commit to staying in the ECHR in the next Parliamentary term, dude to concerns she could try to get a mandate at the election for taking the UK out of the treaty after Brexit. And this comes from within her own party, as some in the liberal wing of the party (yes, such a wing apparently exists in the Conservative party) are worried that Mrs May will be tempted to include leaving the convention in her election manifesto.

After all, her predecessor David Cameron at the last election submitted plans for a British Bill of Rights to restore some sovereignty over human rights whilst remaining within the ECHR. Thus Mrs May now finds herself having to decide whether to proceed with those plans after Brexit, or go even further and withdraw the UK . This was advocated last year by Nick Timothy, her co-chief of staff – who just happens to be heavily involved in drafting the Conservative’s manifesto.

I wrote only a few months ago:

Yet, it was suggested the drafting and implementation of a British Bill of Rights is now unlikely to happen at all due to concerns that Mrs May would face a rebellion by Conservative MPs. And as previously outlined, all it would take is a small band of backbench Conservative rebels to cause trouble, given Mrs May’s slim majority in the Commons.

Of course, the Prime Minister could call for a snap election in an attempt to boost her majority. Whilst this is unlikely, it is not completely so: British Labour is struggling in the polls, and as the UK Supreme Court recently ruled the UK Parliament must be granted a vote on Art 50, Mrs May might think it better to increase her majority now for an easier life in the long run.

At this point, after so many ups and downs in politics and a never-ending stream of elections, I will say this: never say never. I would not be surprised if Mrs May, intent on pursuing a hard Brexit, might go further and not only oversee the UK withdrawing from the EU, but perhaps the ECHR as well.

From snap press conference, to snap General Election.

And so it came to pass, the Tuesday after Easter weekend, that the British Prime Minister did announce her intention to call an early General Election.

What started out as a sudden announcement of a press conference outside Downing Street quickly descended into rampant speculation. Had Queen died? Is Theresa May resigning? Are we going to war with North Korea? Had Theresa May set off Trident? Is Jeremy Corbyn going to organise an Official Opposition? (Then again, maybe not. I did say it was all mere speculation.) And then, because Northern Ireland is that political thorn in the side of the British government these days (we still do not have an Executive, just so you know) there was some murmurings that perhaps the Prime Minister was about to deliver a statement on the political impasse here, and potentially announce the introduction of direct rule.

I thought the chat about the Prime Minister announcing a resignation on health grounds was unlikely. And, I also considered that despite some questionable decisions since last summer, Theresa May was unlikely to have accidently fired Trident. Firing metaphorical shots about Gibraltar is where it stops with this Prime Minister.

On the speculation about the suspension of Stormont, well, I did not think it to be entirely impossible. The British government is keen for resolution here; it has to present a united front of sorts during the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Moreover, no British government has ever enjoyed dealing with the political crises Northern Ireland throws up. However, I ruled this out because any announcement on Northern Ireland, whether to impose direct rule or call yet another snap election, would surely come from the Secretary of State. James Brokenshire has taken the lead on Northern Ireland since the Executive’s collapse over the RHI controversy in early January. Theresa May has taken a back seat, especially over the recent negotiations and their subsequent collapse and re-formation. James Brokenshire had said he would come to a decision after the Easter weekend, and the political parties do seem to be stuck in stalemate. But I doubted the Prime Minister would summon the UK-wide media to a sudden press conference just for Northern Ireland.

That left speculation over an early General Election. This seemed possible to me, with Labour polling in dire straits, with the Conservatives polling strongly in marked contrast. And after all, Theresa May needs a mandate, and urgently. She found herself anointed as Conservative Party leader and thus Prime Minister last summer; she was never elected to be Prime Minister. Attempting to oversee the most divisive operation in Brexit, she needs to say she has the support of the people – at least, the support of the majority of those who vote. Moreover, she does not wish to be simply the Prime Minister who heralded Brexit. As we have seen with her stance on education, particularly around grammar schools, there is a whole domestic policy agenda she wishes to pursue.

The scene is set. The Prime Minister settles down at her podium, ten minutes before she was expected. Truly, we all should have picked up the theme was ‘early’ from that alone.

And so she duly announced she had spoken with her Cabinet, and all had agreed an early election was the most suitable course. It shall be held on the 8th June, and essentially contested on Brexit.

In her statement, May said her government was trying to deliver on last year’s referendum result by making sure Britain regained control and struck new trade deals.

“After the country voted to leave the EU, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership. Since I became prime minister the government has delivered precisely that,” she said, but claimed that other political parties had opposed her efforts.

“The country is coming together but Westminster is not. Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach. The Lib Dems have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”

Now, Theresa May has been quite clear in the past about wanting the next general election to be in 2020, so she stunned many in Westminster by announcing that it would actually be held this year.  The Prime Minister claimed she had changed her mind “reluctantly”, although the spate of polls putting the Tories as much as 21 points ahead of Labour may have made it easier. You know, 21 points ahead means 21 points ahead. And all this, despite a recent policy blitz by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Evidently, the Prime Minister was tempted to capitalise on the poor ratings in an effort to boost her slim working majority in order to pass both Brexit and domestic legislation. (This, of course, will render her current reliance on the support of the DUP in the Commons null and void…)

The Prime Minister will first have to win a vote by MPs today to hold an early election thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, she cannot call an election directly, but must laydown a motion in the House of Commons. This will require two-thirds of MPs to back it. The Commons vote will follow a 90-minute debate on Wednesday, after Prime Minister’s Questions and any urgent questions or ministerial statements.

That shouldn’t be too hard for her to win given that Labour has welcomed the move, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats would find it hard to vote against it as they would be effectively voting to keep the Tories in power.

Currently, the Commons composition looks like this: the Conservatives have 330 MPs, giving the party its working majority of 16. Labour has 229, the SNP 54, and the Lib Dems 8. The DUP hold 8, Sinn Féin 4, the SDLP 3, and the UUP 2, with one Independent. Plaid Cymru have 3 seats, the Greens 1, and there are four other independents. (Note that UKIP recently lost their only MP, when Douglas Carswell announced his resignation from the party. If he votes with his old party, the Conservatives, he gives the government a majority of 17.) Based on current polling, Labour could lose around 70 seats.

The Conservative leader said the vote would give “certainty and stability” to the country for the Brexit process. As nothing promises stability and certainty quite like an early General Election on the most divisive issue of our times in Brexit.

Moreover, Theresa May might have hurt her public image slightly by calling this election. After vowing for months that she would not seek a snap election, insisting she would see the government through to the next statutory General Election in 2020, she now appears to have gone back on her word for the sake of her party, and party seats. The Independent has rather helpfully complied a list of her statements on the issue of an early election. It is worth highlighting that the most recent comment on the issue came just under a month ago.

This will be the second General Election in as many years, and the third UK-wide vote in two years. But spare a thought for my fellow citizens in Northern Ireland. We have had two Assembly elections in less than a year, and now have to return to the polls in a few months. And it gets better: if there is no agreement reached between the main political parties, we face the prospect of a third Assembly election in a few months, too.

Of course, one could argue that the decision of the Cabinet to support the Prime Minister in calling for an early General Election, during a time of political instability in Northern Ireland, is evidence of their (dis)regard for the peace process here. One could argue this. But as for myself, I’m digging around for my canvassing shoes. It is going to be a long few weeks.

Child tax credit limit reform.

In March, a controversial proposal became law without any debate or vote in the UK Parliament. It requests new mothers who are rape survivors for verification if they wish to claim tax credits for more than two children.

The 6th of April marked an important, albeit shameful date in the political and social calendar. It marked the date when the new change to child tax credit policy came into effect. What change? The one which says any child, the third in the family, born after the 6th April 2017, will not eligible for child tax credit for that family. It also saw the coming into effect of the ‘rape clause’.

The regulations, announced in the 2015 Budget by the then-Chancellor, George Osborne, were put into law through a statutory instrument, a form of legislation that allows laws to be amended without parliament’s approval. The policy implemented on 6 April restricts tax credit entitlement for new claimants to a maximum of two children, with exceptions for multiple births – and for women who could show that their third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape.

Those seeking to claim the exemption for rape must be assessed by what the British government has described in a consultation as a “professional third party”, which could include health workers, police, social workers or rape charities.

The Department for Work and Pensions has described the changes to tax credits as “a key part of controlling public spending”, and has pledged to implement the exemptions in “the most effective, compassionate way”.

Controlling public spending. This is an ideological battle of finance, a promulgation of the lazy stereotype that the poor claim hard-earned taxpayers’ money. It is not about consideration of all citizens. This is not about compassion.Moreover

It is wrong that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit target women and families from socio-deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds.

How many families might be thrust into poverty because of this? Policy in Practice recently published a paper which estimates child poverty could be driven up by 10% by 2020. You see, families receiving child tax credit are using it to bring up their children, to assist them in times of ever-increasing cost of living. It is not, and never has been, about receiving ‘freebies’. It is not, and never has been, about incentives to keep giving birth and claim state handouts.

Try as I might, I cannot forget the week beginning 3rd April, and the implementation of these reforms. These reforms are essentially an attack on women and single mothers. If you oversee a family of more than two children, and you struggle to make ends meet, this government will punish you for having that third child. If you are a woman with a struggling family, or a single mother with a struggling family, the government is telling you it shall not assist you with your children, because you dared to have three. You are too poor to have more than two children, whereas your middle class peer is welcome to have three children.

A man might have multiple children with multiple partners, and he shall not suffer the consequence of these reforms. Women, who comprise the majority of primary -givers, will feel the repercussions of this policy.

This is punishing poorer women. This is punishing children. Child poverty could increase by 10% within three years as a consequence of these reforms, but the government does not care. It does not want to assist the less well-off in society, despite evidence illustrating that investing in early years and children pays off. Lifting children and families out of poverty increases their future prospects – health, education, self-esteem, well-being, mental health. This government talks abut looking after the JAMs, the Just About Managing, but apparently only so far as they do not have more than two children.

Moreover…It is reprehensible that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit include making women prove their third child was the result of rape.

It is degrading and wrong to expect rape survivors to recount their ordeal. It is heartbreaking that such a callous policy was ever mentioned, let alone implemented by the British government. This ‘rape  clause’ might open women to re-traumatisation; it takes no account of their dignity and humanity but cares only about finances.

Imagine being a survivor of rape. Imagine discovering you are pregnant. Imagine making that difficult decision to keep the baby. Imagine opening a form, just to see you are expected to sign a little box which says your third child was the result of ‘non-consensual conception’ – a jumble of policy-speak, lacking empathy and understanding of your painful circumstances.

But then again, this is just an exercise in curtailing excessive public spending. The British government is going about this exercise in the most compassionate way.

Really.