Public must have option to reject botched Brexit

Today (Tuesday 11 December) Liberal Democrat MPs will continue to argue for people to be given a final say, including the option to remain in the EU. We have been consistent now for over two years arguing that now we know more about the arrangements which are planned post-Brexit that people should have the chance to have another vote. Mrs May despite her protestations that this is the best deal available she has denied Parliament a vote and time is running out.

In a press release issued at the end of last week North East Somerset Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Nick Coates, has warned that the Tories’ ‘botched Brexit’ will leave people poorer and called for MPs to give the public the final say on the deal.

He said:

The Liberal Democrats have led the campaign for a people’s vote. We know there is no deal better than the deal we have as members of the EU.

Theresa May’s deal, on the other hand, is bad for the NHS, bad for British jobs and leaves the UK a rule taker not a rule maker. It is a deal nobody voted for and nobody wants.

"Can any MP genuinely look their constitutents in the eye and say this botched deal will make them better off."

Mr. Rees-Mogg has played a disruptive role throughout the negotiations and consistently undermined his party leader but neither he nor his ERG have presented any alternative plan. As Mr. Rees-Mogg said in October 2011 "Indeed, we could have two referendums. As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.”

Mr Rees-Mogg should back the Liberal Democrats and vote this deal down.

Nick Coates added:

“Liberal Democrats demand better. The only escape from this Tory mess is to give the people the final say on the deal, including the option to remain in the EU".


Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day takes place annually on the 10 December commemorating the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year marks the anniversary of the declaration’s establishment, a document that establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. The document is available in more than 500 languages making it the most translated document in the world, marking its global importance.

Human Rights Day recognises the success of the document whilst realising that the documents promise is yet to be fully realised. There are countries around the world where these rights are not observed, leaving people at great risk. It is important that we stand up for the rights of those in these countries as well as our own rights. Human Rights Day helps to raise awareness of human rights and their importance, whilst putting pressure on non-abiding countries to make a change.

Antonio Guiterres, Secretary General of the UN, said "human rights are under siege around the world. Universal values are being eroded. The rule of law is being undermined. Now more than ever, our shared duty is clear: Let us stand up for human rights -- for everyone, everywhere."

Nick Coates, parliamentary candidate for North East Somerset, said “I long for the day that the equal dignity and worth of every person is taken for granted, but until then I will play my part in fighting for that to happen.

The Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of the International Declaration of Human Rights and fully support the document, realising its relevance now as much as ever.

The events can be followed through the hashtag #StandUp4HumanRights.

Will Brexit lead to the break up of the UK?

When I was a child I used to collect stamps. It was the delight a child takes in the small; tiny colourful pictures of faraway places and their buildings and kings and queens and dignitaries and wildlife. What has stuck in my mind though, is some of the names, places like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. A child now coming across a stamp with the name of Ceskoslovensko on it would doubtless consult Wikipedia to find out that this was a Central European country from just after WW1 in October 1918 to its – happily relatively peaceful – dissolution in 1992.

There it is; nationalism, borders, politics. Avidly watching some of the tumultuous Brexit coverage yesterday I found myself nodding in agreement with the commentator that said that the current ‘deal’ threatens the integrity of the United Kindgdom, and that indeed Brexit always has had this threat inherently within it, something the Brexiteers choose to ignore and dismiss. Straight after the referendum result, in a flurry of trying to get my head round what was happening and could happen, I read an article on the break-up of Yugoslavia, a change of national identity and status far less happily achieved at around the same time as that of Czechoslovakia, and was reminded of how easily groups of people can peacefully co-exist at one moment and be at loggerheads in the next.

When we signed the Good Friday Agreement we (whoever ‘we’ are) on the British side agreed to the equal validity of both sides right to their national identity. It may have escaped the notice of many in the multiplicity of Brexit strands that just about a year ago Mrs May agreed that Northern Irish citizens would retain their right to an Irish passport after Brexit, which confers upon them EU citizenship. So to repeat that; the people of Northern Ireland retain their rights to EU citizenship after we leave the EU.

I have an elderly neighbour who voted leave; we’ve had some lively conversations about it. She’s not stupid but she didn’t have the kind of education or opportunities that would have made her horizons wider, in fact she’s never been abroad. One thing she’s asked me is why I would want to be ‘ruled’ by ‘them’?

To me of course Europeans are not ‘them’, they’re us. I don’t feel ruled by anything other than fellow Europeans. I will feel personally changed and diminished by leaving the EU and I still hope it won’t happen. But I would not be surprised if our leaving leads to continued fragmentation; the loss of Scotland, Northern Ireland, who knows where it could end? Because there’s no end, only continued shapeshifting.

Will my great-grandchildren have to look up United Kingdom on Wikipedia in order to discover what it used to consist of? And marvel that for a brief span of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, there was relative peace and a marvellous attempt to live within Europe with minimal borders and a sense of co-operation and common aims and values across national identities?

Who could possibly think this loss of community is progress?


Can our Council still usefully get involved with and spend money on environmental matters? Of course!

Despite many years of centralisation and Government control of budgets:

  • Councils, working with their local communities, are well placed to help build a low carbon future.
  • Councils still have reasonable autonomy in the way they organise their own activities.
  • Councils have the capacity and powers to encourage and influence particular forms of behaviour by their residents and businesses.
  • Councils can help to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of climate change in their communities, usually in partnership with community groups.

But what does this mean in practice?

  • securing local renewable energy sources
  • securing local food supplies
  • using the planning mechanisms to encourage sustainable construction and development
  • building low carbon transport networks, and
  • introducing waste management by encouraging re-use, repair and increased and more consistent recycling schemes.

All of these actions can help build new local businesses and create jobs and hence secure economic, as well as environmental, benefits.

What would your priorities be?

Podcast 1 - The budget and related issues

This is the first of a series of podcasts which I am doing with Simon Allen, a politically astute friend from Radstock. The focus is on the budget although inevitably we range widely. 

It was recorded on 17 November so some matters have moved on but the general subject matter still rings true.

Since this is our first one there is some repetition but I hope it will fill the time on your journey to work and provoke some thoughts of your own.

Not caring about the environment is no longer an option

Can we capture the good-natured passion without aggression of Harry Leslie Smith to take time to explain to those we meet that the environment IS about food, shelter and safety. 

A few days ago I heard the news that Harry Leslie Smith has had a fall and is in hospital. He describes himself as ‘the world’s oldest rebel’, with pride and delight. He uses his energy and outspokenness to the full to comment on topics like Brexit, immigration, the NHS, and war.

For most of us that kind of idealism gets modified as we age. We begin to grasp the complexity of human systems and understand that they, of themselves, are not malevolent. We see how change is a long process and that the upending of the status quo is not in and of itself a good thing. Our perception of time changes. We take the longer view. We – hopefully – become more tolerant and accepting and compassionate.

The trouble is we’re now faced with something that isn’t going to yield to long solutions. The urgency with which we should be addressing environmental degradation and climate change messes with our heads and with all we think we know about how to do things.

I’ve just watched a short video, on the Guardian website, of a confrontation in London between a climate change protestor in the Extinction Rebellion group, and a man whose car has been stopped by the protestors blocking the road. Very clearly for the film, although possibly quite unaware he was being filmed at that moment, the furious man says he doesn’t care about the environment. He’s likely to be in a place where it’s really hard to have the time to understand what’s going on because he’s hell-bent on survival, and it’s entirely natural that given the pressures of life he should feel like that.

"We need to take the time and have the patience"

But those of us who know that the environment means food and shelter and safety, the very things he’s pursuing for his family, assuming he has one, we need to take the time and have the patience to sit down endlessly with everyone and explain it, again and again; not caring about the environment is no longer an option on the human table. We need to wed our adolescent passion and drive and hopefulness to our mature patience and acceptance and harness them to an attempt to ‘change the world’; no more and certainly no less.

Who has the patience to engage like this with people on the ‘opposite side’ of whatever divide we’re contemplating, be it Brexit, climate science, immigration or anything else? Harry Leslie Smith always seems so good-natured and capable of arguing with passion but without aggression. A great role-model for all of us.

EU to approve "deal" - but what next?

Today the EU Council of Ministers (the government of the EU) will approve the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Commentators are calling this "the deal" but, in fact, this is just the start of a process for determining our future relationship with the EU.

Boris Johnson urges parliament, in his characteristic simplistic way, "to junk the deal". Indeed this seems to be the dominant view across parliament. But given the EU will not renegotiate the arrangement are we now at a deadlock? Will the Prime Minister realise that an exit from the EU is not possible to deliver and that an Exit from Brexit is now the desirable outcome?

I hope so for the sake of all the people of North East Somerset.

Addressing Environmental Degradation - psychology and urgency

As politically engaged people I’m sure we can agree that change is both necessary and frustratingly slow. As a retired psychotherapist I believe that political and social change is slow because to be meaningful it can’t be a mere tinkering with systems but must be underpinned by the evolution of people’s consciousness and the winning over of hearts and minds. Tempting as it often appears and has appeared through history to many, the oppressive controlling of fellow humans has never proved to be a long-functioning proposition.

However, uniquely in the human story we now face something so dangerous that it’s forcing all thoughtful people to re-evaluate the existing political means and methods. And no, I’m not talking about Brexit, sad as that makes me, but about climate change or more properly and broadly environmental degradation. This of course encompasses everything from the global effects of climate change to the popular cause of plastic sea-pollution to more local issues such as fracking and air quality around schools, and all of the other ills we’ve conjured up in our glee with apparent ‘progress’.

So the dilemma is that true progressive change is slow but environmental degradation is now upon us and will very soon – arguably now – necessitate some actions that are going to appear to be and felt to be draconian and backwards by much of the world’s populace.

For instance; a dramatic reduction in flying. I’ve been, personally, alternately amused and deeply frustrated by the obvious displacement activity of banning plastic straws when some of the same people who advocate this action so enthusiastically will justify to themselves another leisure flight, because after all they’ve been so busy and stressed working to protect the oceans that they now deserve that break, don’t they?

I think we urgently need to redefine what we accept as quality of life in terms that, rather than valuing the material and the exciting things and experiences that our egos crave that prove to be damaging to the environment, we learn anew to value the small and local and harmless. Don’t go on a safari to look at the dying elephants, check out the wildlife in your own garden.

And avoid the stress of the airport while you’re at it!

Read more

The new challenge of Climate Breakdown

Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society

Nick Coates writes: “This is the stark warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the leading global body for assessing the science related to climate change and its impacts.

Global human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach net zero by around 2050. We would need to make changes to the way we use of land and energy. This has important consequences for industry, buildings, cities and transport. This affects all of us and requires all of us to act.

“If we succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC then, for example by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower and instead of losing all our coral reefs they “only” decline by 70-90%. Hardly a big win but these are just illustrations.

And this affects the UK too. An unpublished Environment Agency report estimated that over 7,000 homes on our coast would be “lost to rising seas”.

The IPCC assessment demonstrates that policy makers at all levels must knuckle down and focus on tackling climate change whilst taking account of the local context and people’s needs.

How we react to this new challenge of climate change over the next few years will probably be the most important in our history.

Tories tinker with taxes

The Chancellor announces his budget today. One announcement being trumpeted is that of business rates relief for smaller outlets. This does not address the real issues. As Vince Cable says “hand to mouth support isn’t sustainable … There must be a fundamental change in the system”.

The Liberal Democrats want to abolish business rates and replace it with a tax on land values, the Commercial Landowner Levy. The levy would remove buildings and machinery from calculations and tax only the land value of commercial sites, boosting investment and cutting taxes for businesses in nine out of ten English local authorities.

Vince Cable said “We must create a level playing field between the high street and online retailers.”

Nick Coates agreed adding “the Tories are playing with old solutions while the retail world has changed and is continuing to change. Our solution addresses this with a forward looking solution.”

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