How is Britain’s position in the European Union unique?

Britain joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973. A referendum was held in 1975 over whether Britain should remain. At that point 67.2% of Britons voted to remain in the E.E.C.

Since Britain’s accession into the E.E.C the organisation has changed dramatically. With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 the E.E.C became the European Union which we would somewhat recognise today.

The European Union is not a simplistic organisation. It is incredibly complex. CGP Grey explains some of the complexities of the European Union in this excellent video:

A number of countries currently want to join the European Union. These include Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. In order to join the European Union a candidate state has to meet a number of conditions. Each state:

  • Must be a demonstrably stable democracy. They must respect Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
  • Must have the consent of other EU Members in order to join.
  • Must show they are able to take on all the responsibilites of EU Membership. These include accepting the single currency (the Euro) and committing to free movement of people and goods.
  • Must accept all EU Rules and Regulations as they were at the time of their accession.

What is interesting in the case of Britain’s membership of the European Union is that Britain’s current legal status within the EU would not meet these conditions. This is because Britain has negotiate a number of ‘opt-outs’ from the expected conditions of EU membership:

Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement creates an area in which citizens can travel without having to pass through customs and without having to produce a passport. Of 28 current EU Members 22 are members of the Schengen Area. Britain argued that, as an island, Britain was in a unique position that needed special consideration. Britain therefore opted out of the Schengen Agreement.

Countries in blue are members of the Schengen Area. Switzerland and Norway our members of the Schengen Area despite not being in the European Union.

Economic and Monetary Union

As part of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 it was agreed that a Single Currency would be introduced in the European Union. In 1999 the Euro was introduced and 19 of 28 EU Members currently use the Euro as their currency. The New Labour Government of Tony Blair were keen for Britain to adopt the Euro and promised a referendum on the issue. However, the policy was clearly unpopular and the party backed down over the issue.

Countries in blue use the Euro.

Area of Freedom, Justice and Security

The Area of Freedom, Justice and Security are a set of home and justice policies that all members sign up to implement. For example, members would be required to implement the same border controls and asylum policies. Britain has an opt-out for the full quota of policies, but does participate in some areas.

Countries in blue fully participate in the AFSJ.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights was signed in 2000. It codifies certain political, social and economic rights of citizens across the European Union. It also gives EU Court’s the power to strike down national laws that do not comply with the charter. Britain has an opt-out from the Charter, meaning EU Courts cannot overturn UK Statutes, meaning Parliament remains sovereign in the UK.

Countries in blue are fill signatories to the Charter of Fundamental Rights

In addition to these opt-outs Britain has a rebate that reduces the amount of money that Britain contributes to the EU Budget each year. The rebate was negotiated by the government of Margaret Thatcher in 1985 and sees a net reduction of 66% in the amount that Britain is expected to pay into the EU Budget.

Margaret Thatcher claimed a major political victory by winning a rebate for Britain’s contribution to the EU Budget.

As the Brexit Date of 29th March 2019 approaches an important consideration needs to be taken into account. If Britain in the future decides to rejoin the European Union, it will not be on her current terms. Britain will almost certainly be forced to adopt the Euro, the Schengen Agreement, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Area for Freedom, Justice and Security. In addition, Britain will be expected to pay the full quota of membership fees and would get no rebate on this amount.

If Britain does leave the European Union as planned, it is not something that can be fully reversed in the future. Britain, like the countries currently applying for membership, would have to fully comply with all the normal conditions of membership.

Should the Independent Group’s MPs have abided by the ‘Carswell Convention’?

Since the EU Referendum in June 2016 rumours that a new anti-Brexit centrist political party was soon to emerge have been consistent. Commentators were proved right when on the 18th February 2019 seven Labour MPs resigned and formed the new ‘Independent Group’.

The 11 Independent Group MPs

The founding members were: Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna. They were joined the very next day by Labour MP, Joan Ryan.

Two days later on the 20th February the group was joined by three Conservative MPs: Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen. L

This new Independent Group now has 11 members. This means it is equal in representation to the Liberal Democrats and is the joint fourth largest group of MPs.

One criticism of the new grouping is that they did not resign their seats in Parliament upon their decision to join the Independent Group.

In recent years there has been an emerging convention in the UK Parliament that is known as the Carswell Convention. This dictates that should an MP decide to change political parties, they should resign their seat in Parliament and force a by-election which they can then decide to run in. The logic behind the convention is that if an MP has been elected on the manifesto of a political party then their constituents should be able to confirm their decision to move to a different political party.

MPs ‘crossing the floor’ is not a new phenomena. Winston Churchill left the Conservatives to join the Liberals in 1904 before returning to the Conservatives in 1924.

The Carswell Convention is named after former MP, Douglas Carswell. In August 2014 he left the Conservatives to join UKIP.

He resigned as a Member of Parliament, thereby forcing a by-election in his constituency of Clacton. He then comfortably won this by-election and in doing so became the first member of UKIP to be elected to the UK Parliament.

In September 2014 Conservative MP Mark Reckless followed Carswell’s lead. He joined UKIP and resigned, he then won the the subsequent by-election.

Mark Reckless became the second Conservative MP to defect to UKIP in 2014.

Given the precedent created by these events, members of the Independent Group have been heavily criticised for not abiding with the convention that they should resign their seats. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell said:

“If you splinter of and are going to another political platform have a responsibility to go back to the electorate “

So why haven’t the Independent Group called by-elections to abide by the newly established convention?

  1. They argue that their values haven’t changed, but their parties have.

Members of the Independent Group say that they have made their decision to leave their former parties reluctantly. They say that they have done so because their parties have abandoned the centre-ground of UK Politics. For the ex-Tories, they believe that the party is now being run in the background by the right-wing European Research Group. For those who are ex-Labour, they lament the radical shift to the left that has been bought about since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Leader. They therefore argue that it is their parties who have changed their position, not them, and they are comfortable that they will still represent their constituents as their constituents wanted when they were elected in June 2017.

2. The Independent Group is not a political party

The Independent Groups is not a registered political party. They do not have a leader (although Chuka Umunna has been elected as spokesman). As the MPs who have defected have not join another party, and therefore technically sit as Independents, the Carswell Convention does not apply. Many MPs have resigned to sit as Independents before and there has been no call for them to call a by-election. For example, Ian Austin resigned from the Labour Party to sit as an Independent on the 22nd February 2019. However, as he does not ‘caucus’ with the Independent Group the calls for him to resign as an MP have been virtually non-existent.

3. It would be electoral suicide

Perhaps the most important reason why the Independent Group MPs have not forced by-elections is because it would be electoral suicide. Britain’s First Past the Post system is notoriously brutal for third parties. The chances of even half of the Independent Group retaining their seats if by-elections were called is slim. Some, like Luciana Berger, have extremely healthy majorities (29,466) and may hold on. Others, like Angela Smith (1,322) would be obliterated in a by-election.

It remains to be seen what impact the Independent Group will have in UK Politics. However, it does show a clear lesson about conventions in the UK constitution. As quickly as they emerge, they can be ignored. For many, this adds weight to the arguments that Britain should transition to a fully codified constitution.


What is the Special Prosecutor and why are they important?

A Special Prosecutor is an individual who is appointed to investigate potential wrongdoing within the executive branch of the Government. They are appointed if an investigation is required into the President or another member of the Executive Branch. Federal criminal investigations are usually carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI is ultimately overseen by the Attorney-General and the President. It would therefore be a clear conflict of interests for the FBI to investigate the Executive Branch.

The use of the Special Prosecutor is a clear example of oversight of the Executive.

The term has become an important one in current U.S Politics because in May 2017 former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, was appointed as Special Prosecutor to investigate potential Russian interference into the 2016 US Elections.

Mueller

Former FBI Director, Rober Mueller, is current leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Election.

There have been a number of important investigations carried out by Special Prosecutors in the United States:

The Watergate Affair

In June 1972 five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. It soon became apparent that this was not a normal burglary attempt. Some of the burglars had links to the administration of President Nixon and questions were increasingly raised as to whether people in the administration had known of the break-in.

As a result of this, Archibald Cox was appointed as a Special Prosecutor to look into the Executive Branch’s potential involvement in the Watergate Scandal. Cox had previously been Solicitor-General of the United States and was a well respected figure in Washington.

Archibald Cox was the first Special Prosecutor in the Watergate Scandal

In 1973 Alexander Butterfield, a White House Staffer, told a Senate Committee that the White House has a secret recording system which recorded all conversations held in the Oval Office. As Special Prosecutor, Cox subpoenaed these tapes. President Nixon tried to withhold the tapes, claiming executive privilege. The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled 9-0 in Nixon vs. United States (1974) that Nixon must give up the tapes.

As a result of this, Nixon ordered the Attorney-General to fire the Special Prosecutor. The Attorney-General refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered the Deputy Attorney-General to fire Cox. The deputy also refused and resigned. These events were known as the Saturday Night Massacre and weakened Nixon, as it appeared that he was trying to obstruct justice.

This clip from Oliver Stone’s 1995 Stone biopic shows Richard Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) ordering the firing of Cox, despite the advice of his staff:

Nixon later became the first US President to resign. He resigned on the 9th August 1974, knowing he would almost certainly have been impeached if he stayed in office.

The Whitewater & Lewinsky Scandals

In 1994 a Special Prosecutor named to investigate the Whitewater Scandal. It had been alleged that President Bill Clinton and the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, had been involved in illegal property developments in their home state of Arkansas. Although many questions were asked, there was seemingly little evidence of criminal conduct by the Clinton’s.

However, the Whitewater investigation would soon morph into something that would seriously damage Clinton. For many years Bill Clinton had been accused of sexual misconduct and a number of women had attempted to sue him. In 1998 Clinton was being sued by one of these women, Paula Jones. A White House intern called Monica Lewinsky said in an affidavit that she had not had a sexual relationship with Clinton. However, Lewinsky had previously told a colleague called Linda Tripp that she had been in a sexual relationship with him. Tripp had recorded conversations with Lewinsky in which she admitted this. Tripp forwarded these tapes on to Ken Starr, the Special Prosecutor.

Monica Lewinsky confided in a friend about her affair with President Clinton – unaware that her ‘friend’ was recording everything that she said.

“Clinton initially denied any relationship with Lewinsky. Famously saying “I did not have sexual relations with that women, Miss Lewinsky”:

However, he was subpoenaed to testify in front of a Grand Jury. Lying to the Grand Jury would have been perjury. In the most awkward set of questions ever faced by a US President, he gave legalistic responses when asked about the most intimate details of his sexual activities:

Later, Clinton was impeached. Importantly, he was not impeached for having an affair. He was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury. He was acquitted in the Senate, but the scandal seriously damaged his second term as President.

Clinton did later admit to having an improper affair with Lewinksy:

Although it was not what he was meant to be investigating there is no doubt that without the existence of the Special Prosecutor the Lewinsky Scandal would not have taken place.

The Russia Investigation

After allegations that Russia had attempted to influence and manipulate the US Elections that resulted in Donald Trump becoming President, a Special Prosecutor (called ‘Special Counsel’) was appointed to investigate the issue.

One of the reasons that a Special Counsel was appointed was because of a series of events in 2017 that saw Donald Trump fire the FBI Director, James Comey. The FBI had been investigating potential Russian interference with the election and it appeared, to some, that Trump had been trying to obstruct an investigation that could find negatively against him. This was because it had been reported that Trump had suggested that Comey stop an investigation into the National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. Comey had categorically refused.

The firing of FBI Director, James Comey, was a key catalyst for the appointment of a Special Counsel.

Since then the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, has been conducting an investigation into Russian interface and the Trump Administration. The full report has yet to be released, but there are rumours that it will appear soon.  Yet, already, the investigation has had a huge impact. A number of individuals have already been prosecuted as a result of the Special Counsel investigation. Some of the most prominent are:

George Papadopoulos (Foreign Policy Advisor to the Trump Campaign) – Pled Guilty to one count of giving a false statement to the FBI over Russian involvement in the election. He was sentenced to 14 days in prison.

Rick Gates (Deputy Campaign Manger for the Trump Campaign) – Was charged with multiple financial offences. He was cleared of all charges.

Michael Flynn (Former National Security Advisor under President Trump) – Was charged with one count of giving a false statement to the FBI. He is yet to be sentenced.

Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor having lied to the FBI about his contact with Russian officials during the 2016 Election.

Roger Stone (Political Advisor to Donald Trump) – Was charged with numerous counts of obstruction of justice and witness tampering. His trial is yet to take place.

Michael Cohen (Former personal lawyer to President Trump) – Was charged with giving a false statement to a Senate Committee. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

On 27th February 2019 Michael Cohen gave explosive testimony to Congress in which he called Donald Trump a ‘racist’ and a ‘liar’

After two years Mueller is now due issue his full report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Throughout he has been notoriously quiet about anything in public. No-one truly knows what the result of the investigation will be.

The Special Prosecutor has shown again and again that their scrutiny of the Executive Branch can have a major political impact. A Special Prosecutor was a catalyst for the resignation of Richard Nixon, a Special Prosecutor very nearly bought down President Clinton and a Special Prosecutor may yet have a significant impact on the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

What is the ‘Invisible Primary’ and why is it significant?

As of 25th February 2019 eight candidates have declared that they will be seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. Among them are Bernie Sanders (who finished second in the 2016 Democratic Primary) and Elizabeth Warren, someone who has long been tipped to make a run for the White House. Other prominent candidates may still declare, including former Vice-President Joe Biden.

Even aged 77 is it time to ‘Feel the Bern’ again?

On the Republican side no-one has openly declared that they will challenge the incumbent, President Trump. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a sitting President to face a primary challenge.

The first primary election of the 2020 campaign is the Iowa Caucus on the 3rd February 2020. So why so much activity now? The reason is that America is now well and truly into what is known as the ‘invisible primary’.

The date of the next Presidential Election in the USA is guaranteed in law. It takes place every four years on the first Tuesday that follows November 1st. This is different to the UK. Traditionally, the timing of a General Election was decided by the Prime Minister, as long as it was held within five years of the last one. In 2011 the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was passed, setting the date of the next election as five years after the last. However, the act allows for early elections under two circumstances:

  1. If the Government loses a motion of no confidence in the House of Commons and cannot win back that confidence within fourteen days.
  2. If two-thirds of members of the House of Commons vote in favour of an early General Election.

As Theresa May showed in 2017 (with Parliament voting 522-13 for a fresh election), the Fixed-Term Parliament’s Act is not a significant hurdle to the calling of any early election.

The fact that the date of the next U.S Presidential Election is guaranteed means that the moment a President is sworn in attention turns to the next election cycle. The period before the official primary season starts is known as the ‘invisible primary’. It is also sometimes called the ‘Money Primary’. During this period candidates will do a number of things in order to set themselves up for a presidential run:

1 – Form and Exploratory Committee

One of the first things that a potential candidate will do is form an exploratory committee. This is a committee to explore whether a run for the presidency is viable. Candidates can test their ideas in focus groups and informally test what kind of support they are likely to receive from prominent backers. Forming an exploratory committee also allows a candidate to beginning raising money in line with Federal Election Committee guidelines.

2 – Build a Campaign Team

If a run for the presidency is possible a candidate will then begin to build their campaign team. Presidential Campaigns in the United States are huge machines. At their peak, there are thousands of staff, many who are volunteers. In the early invisible primary, however, a candidate will look to fill out the senior positions in the campaign:

Campaign Manager – This person is responsible for the running of the campaign. They will be ultimately responsible for fundraising, spending and strategy. They will also often become a visible media presence.

Chief Strategist – Most campaigns will have an individual whose goal is to focus on the overall message of the campaign and how to win the support of voters. Unlike the Campaign Manager, who also has to deal with the logistical aspects of the campaign, the role of the Chief Strategist is to focus fully on how their candidate can win the the most votes.

David Axelrod was Chief Strategist for Barack Obama in 2008 and went on to become a Senior Advisor to the President whilst he was in office.

Media Strategist – A campaign will have a media strategist whose main role is to try to best exploit the media in order to get the candidate’s message heard and understood.

Chief Pollster – There are a number of independent polling agencies in the United States, like Gallup or the Marist Institute. However, campaigns will also put their own polls out in order to test their message and look for voter feedback. They may need to refine their polls to look at the impact of their campaign on a certain group of people within a certain area.

Finance Director – The Finance Director is responsible for fundraising and managing the expenditure of the campaign. They also have to ensure that all financial aspects are compliant with Federal Election Commission regulations.

Press Secretary – Behind the candidate themselves the Press Secretary is the most visible person on the campaign. Their job is to deal directly with the press on a daily basis.

3 – Make a formal announcement

When a candidate believes they are capable of mounting a viable campaign for the presidency they will formally announce their candidacy. Candidates will usually do this in a setting that has personal or political significance to them and will almost always make the announcement in their home state. For example, in 1968 Robert F. Kennedy made his announcement for the presidency on the same spot that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had made his announcement in January 1960.

The announcement will usually be part of a formal speech, the first of many in a campaign. It is rare for candidates to make firm policy promises at this stage, but it is a chance for them to introduce themselves as a candidate and talk about their character and temperament.

Excerpt from Barack Obama’s announcement speech:

” All of us know what those challenges are today: a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren’t learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We’ve heard them. We’ve talked about them for years.

What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness — the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America.”

4 – Raise LOTs of money

When a candidate has formally declared for the presidency they need to immediately begin raising money.  One of the reasons for this is the sheer amount of money needed to run for the presidency. In 2016 Hillary Clinton spent $768 million on her failed presidential run. Candidates can raise money in a variety of ways:

Individual Contributions – Individuals will be encouraged to donate to political campaigns. There are limits on these contributions that are set by the Federal Election Committee (FEC). An individual can donate a maximum of $2,800 to a particular campaign in a particular year.

Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2016 was famous for relying heavily on small donations from a large number of supporters. In his primary bid in 2016 he raised $259 Million Dollars. Sanders became the first candidate to reach one million individual donors and, of these, the average donation to his campaign was $27 dollars. This had a political dividend for Sanders too. Sanders had been a long-time critic of the system of US Campaign Finance and had called the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC “absurd”. The fact that Sanders raised so much money from small donations backed up the narrative that his campaign was a grassroots insurgency against the established Washington insiders.

Barack Obama joked to Bernie Sanders that he “looked like a million bucks, or to put it in terms you will understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 dollars each”

PACS – Political Action Committees (PACS) are a key way that presidential campaigns are funded. PACs are organisations that collate money from its members before transferring it to political campaigns. Individuals are limited on how much they can contribute to a PAC. PACs might represent Trade Unions, Industrial Sectors, Individual Companies. There are limits on how much money a PAC can give to a particular campaign. However, they can spend unlimited money independently of a candidate.

Super PACs – A Super Pac is a PAC without its key constraints. There are no limits on the donations that a Super PAC can receive from an individual, business or interest group. The main restraint, however, is that no money can be given directly to a political campaign. However, Super PACs will spend their money in a way that they know will benefit their chosen candidate. For example, in 2015 a Super PAC called ‘Right to Rise’ paid for a television advert featuring former President George W. Bush. At the time, Bush’s younger brother Jeb was running for the Republican nomination. George W. Bush made no mention of his brother, thereby not breaking any rules, however, it was clearly an advert in support of Jeb’s campaign. In total, Right to Rise spent $86 Million supported Jeb Bush’s run for the White House.

The Right to Rise Super Pac did not help Jeb Bush as much as they would have liked. Despite being the early favourite and spending $130 Million Dollars, he won only three delegates and dropped out of the race after the South Carolina Primary.

Dark Money – This refers to money that is untraceable. By its very nature, not much is known about it. However, it is estimated that over $100 Million Dollars of Dark Money was spent in the 2018 Election. Clearly, there is a significant threat to democracy if it is not known who is financing and influencing political candidates.

5 – Maintain or Abandon a Run

The fact that a candidate has completed all of these steps is no guarantee that they will even make it to the first primary or caucus in the election cycle. Before the first primary it is likely that many candidates will drop out. For example, Governor Rick Perry (Governor of Texas) withdrew from the Republican Primary five months before the first primary was held. Despite abandoning his campaign before the first vote, Rick Perry spent $17 Million Dollars!

Governor Rick Perry withdrew from the Republican contest before a single vote was cast.

The Invisible Primary is a result of three key things: the certainty of an upcoming Presidential Election, the importance of being able to finance a campaign and the open way in which party’ choose their candidates to become the President of the United States.

Brexit and Collective Responsibility

A key convention in UK Politics is that of Ministerial Collective Responsibility. This convention dictates that regardless of whether Ministers agree or disagree with government policy in private, in public, they must support it. If they cannot bring themselvesto do this, the convention dictates that they should resign from the government. The doctrine applies to all members of the government and has now even been codified by its inclusion in the Cabinet Manual.

Robin Cook famously resigned from the Government in 2003 over the British Invasion of Iraq

Historically, there have been many examples of the doctrine of Collective Responsibility being invoked. There have also been a number of issues that have saw the doctrine being followed. A good example of this is the Iraq War which saw Robin Cook and Clare Short both resigning from Tony Blair’s Cabinet and citing Collective Responsibility as their reason for doing so.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were key figures in the Leave Campaign

However,  no issue has seen more resignations under the doctrine of Collective Responsibility than Brexit. When he was Prime Minister David Cameron anticipated the divisiveness of the issue and decided to suspend Collective Responsibility during the EU Referendum Campaign. It was this that allowed Ministers like Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union despite David Cameron leading the Remain Campaign.

However, after the referendum result, and the formation of Theresa May’s Cabinets, Collective Responsibility is back in force. Although there were always going to be disagreements in Cabinet over Brexit, Ministers have been expected to sell Theresa May’s vision of the direction it should take.

However, many Ministers have found this extremely difficult to do. As of Sunday 17th November 2018, there were sixteen members of the Government who had resigned from the position over Brexit.

Secretaries of State (Members of the Cabinet)

David Davis – Resigned 8th July 2018

David Davis – David Davis was appointed to the newly founded Cabinet position of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Secretary). During the referendum campaign he had campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union. As Brexit Secretary it was his job to negotiate with the EU about the terms of Britain’s Exit. It quickly became clear that he was being largely sidelined by Theresa May and when she announced her Chequer’s Plan he decided he could no longer stay in post.

Resignation Letter Quote:The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the “common rule book” policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”

Boris Johson – Resigned 9th July 2018

Boris Johnson – Theresa May made Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary when she became Prime Minister. He had campaigned to leave the European Union and was seen my many to have been the most decisive voice in the Leave campaign. In his role as Foreign Secretary Johnson should have been taking a lead role in negotiating Britain’s Exit from the EU. However, it was clear that he never really agreed with the direction Theresa May was pursuing. He had already pushed the boundaries of Collective Responsibility many times before his eventual resignation. For example, he had written  a column for the Daily Telegraph in 2017 in which he laid out a vision of Brexit that seemed different to that of the Prime Minister. Johnson finally resigned on the 9th July 2018 after stating that he could not accept the Prime Minister’s Chequers Plan.

Resignation Letter  Quote:Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy. That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”

Dominic Raab – Resigned 15th November 2018

Dominic Raab – Appointed Brexit Secretary after the resignation of David Davis, Raab was in post for little more than four months. He decided to resign the morning after Theresa May announced her Draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. Raab had always held reservations over the direction of the negotiations and decided not to stay in the Cabinet and support the Prime Minister’s agreement with the EU. 

Resignation Letter  Quote: I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election. This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.”

Esther Mcbey- Resigned 15th November 2018

Esther McVey – McVey became the second Cabinet Member to resign on the morning after Theresa May’s Draft Agreement with the EU was published. McVey is a staunch leaver and had long harboured doubts over the direction the government was taking. Her position was not helped by problems she had in the Department of Work and Pensions after it was perceived that she had lied to the House of Commons over Universial Credit. McVey was clearly not a fan of Theresa May and would not stand by and accept a Brexit deal that she did not agree with.

Resignation Letter  Quote: I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal. I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that. I therefore have no alternative but to resign from the Government.”

Ministers of State

Shailesh Vara – Reisgned 15th November 2018

Shailesh Vara – Vara was one of four resignations the day after the Draft Withdrawal Agreement was published. Vara had been appointed Minsiter of State for Northern Ireland in January 2018. He resigned on the day that the Draft Withdrawal Agreement was published.


Jo Johnson – Resigned 9th November 2018

Jo Johnson – Jo Johnson, the younger broter of Boris, is one of the most interesting resignations from Theresa May’s ministerial team. This is because Johnson was a firm remainer. However, he resigned as a Minister for Transport because he believed negotations had failed and because he wanted to be able to campign for a second refendum.

Guto Bebb – Resigned 16th July 2018


Guto Bebb – Bebb was Minister of Procurment in the MoD until the 16th July 2018 when he resigned following the publication of the Drat Withdrawal Agreement.




Other Members of the Government


Andrea Jenkins – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Resigned 25th May 2018.


Chris Gree – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Transport. Resigned 8th July 2018. 


Steve Baker – Parliamentary Private Secretary to for the Department for Exiting the European Union. Resigned 9th July 2018.


Robert Courts – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Office. Resigned 15th July 2018.


Scott Mann – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Treasury. Resigned 16th July 2018.


Rehman Christi – Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. Resigned 15th November 2018.


Ranil Jayawardena – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions. Resigned 15th November 2018.


Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Parliamentary Private Secretary. Resigned 15th November 2018.

Suella Braverman – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Resigned 15th November 2018.


Is the Recall of MPs Act (2015) really effective?

The Recall of MPs Act was passed in March 2015 under the Coalition Government. It was sold as a way to enhance democracy, by allowing the removal of MPs by their constituents. It is an example of direct democracy being employed in the Units Kingdom. However, it is arguable that the Recall of MPs Act does not do the job for which it was intended and is an ineffective piece of legislation.

When the Coalition Government was formed in May 2010 there was no mechanism by which an MP could be recalled. In fact, MPs could only be removed from Parliament if they had been jailed for more than one year.

The MPs expenses scandal of 2009-2010 bought the discussion of recall into focus. This was because there were MPs who had clearly acted illegally or immorally and yet could not be removed by their constituents. It was clear that in public consciousness, some kind of mechanism for recall of MPs was needed.

As part of the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats it was agreed that putting a recall mechanism into place would be explored. In June 2012 the Constitutional Reform Select Committee published a report which listed a number of reasons why a recall system was not advisable.


https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpolcon/373/37302.htm

The bill eventually bought forward by the Coalition was extremely limited in scope:

  1. The Speaker of the House of Commons will contact a Petition Officer in the relevant area if an MP has:

a) Been convicted of a criminal offence and has received a prison sentence.

b) If they are barred from the House of Commons for 10 sitting days or 14 calender days.

c) If they are found to have provided false expenses claims.

The Petition Officer then opens a petition in the MPs constiuency which last for six weeks. If 10% of constituents sign the petition, the seat is declared vacant and a by-election is held.

Conservative Backbench MP, Zac Goldsmith

Whilst the bill was making its way through Parliament, Conservative backbench MP, Zac Goldsmith, proposed an alternative Prvivate Members Bill, which more than 70 MPs across all parties supported. Goldsmith’s Private Members Bill would require just 5% of constituents to sign a petition of recall before 20% being needed to enforce a by-election. Importantly, in Goldsmith’sbill, it would not be down to Members of Parliament to decide if an MP hadbreached the rules and would therefore be open to recall.

However, Goldsmith’s bill did not get enough support and the Coalition Bill was given Royal Assent on 26th March 2015.

Ian Paisley Jnr was the first MP to have a recall petition opened against him

The Recall of MPs Act had its first chance to be used in 2018. In September 2017 a Daily Telegraph investigation found that Ian Paisley Jr, a DUP MP, had received hospitality from the Sri Lankan Governmentin 2013 and had failed to disclose this to Parliament. As a result, the House of Commons Standards Committee suspended him from the House of Commons for 30 days, the longest suspension since 1949. The Speaker of the House of Commons =confirmed that he would write to his constituency returning officer to initiate the Recall of MPs process.

However, on September 20th 2018 it was announced that the recall petition had fallen 444 votes short of the numberneeded to trigger a by-election and Paisley escaped the dishonour of being the first MP in British history to be recalled by his constituents.


Despite its limitations in Britain, recall elections have been a common electoral device in the United States. In the Federal System (Congress) there is also no mechanism to recall a Congressman or Senator. However, in nineteen states there are recall procedures in place, including California, Calorado and Wisconsin.

The Recall of MPs Act had the chance to increase democracy in Britain and was hailed by the Coalition as a major constitutional reform. However, in reality, it is extremely limited and the power to remove an MP remains with Parliament, not with that MPs constituents. It cannot really be argued to enhance democracy that much.













What is the Freedom of Information Act and why did Tony Blair call it “stupidity”

Blair

  ‘You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.’


Tony Blair on the Freedom of Information Act in his 2010 Autobiography, A Journey.

 

In the 1997 General Election campaign the Labour Party, now rebranded as New Labour, and under the leadership of Tony Blair planned a number of constitutional changes that had the overall aim of modernising the British Constitution. One of these changes was the Freedom of Information Act (2000). So what was this and why did Tony Blair end up calling himself “naive and irresponsible for introducing it”? 

The Freedom of Information Act is sometimes confused with the Data Protection Act, but they are two very different things: 

– The Data Protection Act was a Statute Law passed in 1998. This law was designed to protect information via which a individually was personally identifiable, for instance their GP’s Records. The Act introduced rights for people to request any information held about themselves. 

– The Freedom of Information Act was a Statute Law passed in 2000 and which came into effect on the 1st January 2005. The Freedom of Information Acts gives citizens the right to access information held by public authorities. The principle behind the Act was to try to make Government more transparent and to increase public confidence in political institutions.

GCHQ
GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, are one of the organisations largely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act

 The right to request information extends to most public institutions – for example the Police, Prisons and Government Departments. There are however exceptions expressly written into the Act, for example the security services, like MI5 and MI6, are exempt. In addition, information they could reasonably be believed to risk public safety, is also not disclosable. For instance, a Freedom of Information request that asked how many soldiers were living in a certain barracks would be exempt under this clause. However, there are also numerous other exemptions written into the Act, including:  

  • Any information that is already publicly available- Information contained in Court Records
  • Information relating to an ongoing investigation by a public body.
  • Information that would harm Britain’s diplomatic relations with other countries

 Any citizen can request information under the Freedom of Information Act. The request simply has to be in writing and include a verifiable postal address. Since its inception in 2005 there have been around 120,000 Freedom of Information requests per year. Between April and June 2018 12,169 Freedom of Information requests were received. Of these, 44% wee responded to in full and 37% were withheld in full. 

It is clear that the Freedom of Information Act has had a huge impact on governance in the UK. There are a number of very important things that have even discovered through the Freedom of Information Act. A number of very important issues have come to light because of information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

For example:

 The MPs Expenses Scandal – In 2009 the Daily Telegraph requested to see the details of MPs expenses. What they found turned out to be a journalistic goldmine. It was clear that many MPs were blatantly abusing the expenses system that was meant to help them conduct their parliamentary duties. Some of the things discovered included: 

Duck Island
Sir Peter Viggers claimed £1645 for a Duck Island for the pond at his home. 

Prescott
John Prescott claimed £112 for a toilet seat.    

   

Hogg
Douglas Hogg claimed over £2100 to have his moat cleaned

    

Of particular embarrassment to many MPs was the uncovering of a culture of ‘flipping’. As an acknowledgement that MPs have duties in two different areas (their constituencies and London) MPs were allowed to claim reasonable expenses on one of these properties (their ‘second home’). However, many MPs were using taxpayer money to renovate their properties before changing which property was designated as their ‘second home’, and selling it – often making enormous profits. Some MPs faced criminal prosecutions over this issue.  

Prince Charles ‘Spider Letters’ – In 2010 a Guardian Journalist named Rob Evans made an application under the Freedom of Information Act to see letters that it had emerged that Prince Charles had sent to Government Ministers. The letters were nicknamed the ‘Spider Letters’ due to the Charles’ unique penmanship and presentatitional style.

As Charles will one day become constitutional monarch, and will be expected to politically neutral, Evans and the Guardian believed it was in the public interest for this material to be published. In 2012 the Government refused to release the papers. They argued that the letters had been written by Charles in preparation for him becoming King and were done so under the expectatation that they would be confidential. The Government argued that disclosing the documents may damage Charles’ ability to perform as King in the future. This decision was appealed and in 2014 the case was heared by the Supreme Court in Evans vs Attorney-General. They ruled by 5-2 that the Attorney-General did not have the right to veto the disclosure of the letters under the Freedom of Information Act. In the end, the letters turned out to be pretty mundane and not much of real concern was found in them. However, this case set a very important precedent about the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.  

Spider
An example of on of Prince Charles’ ‘Black Spider’ Letters

 Despite being the person most responsible for its implementation, Tony Blair later said that the Freedom of Information Act had been a mistake. He argued that:

 – For the most part, Freedom of Information was not used ‘by the people’ but by journalists for political purposes. This had not been his intention in pushing for the Act.

 – Government Ministers are no longer able to discuss things with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality. He argues that rather than increasing transparency, this reduces the effectiveness of Government. 

The last point, is a particulary interesting criticism of Freedom of Information. During David Cameron’s premiership members of his team were critcised for conducting Government business via Whatsapp. Their only reason for doing this is to avoid the publication of their thoughts via a Freedom of Information Request. In this respect, it could perhaps be argued that the Freedom of Information Act (2000) has had negative effects on the machinery of government.