Tony Blair says EU could compromise on freedom of movement

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Media captionTony Blair:"One option...would be Britain staying within a reformed European Union"

Some EU leaders may be prepared to compromise on the free movement of people to help Britain stay in the single market, Tony Blair has said.

He told the Today programme one option was for Britain "staying within a reformed EU".

The ex-PM said he would not disclose conversations he had had in Europe - but insisted he was not speaking "on a whim".

The government insists Brexit will give the UK greater control of its borders.

Labour's shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said Mr Blair "hadn't really listened to the nature of the debate going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates".

"We have to respect the referendum result," Mr McDonnell said, adding that Labour could "negotiate access to the single market".

EU 'circles'

Mr Blair spoke to the BBC after he argued in an article for his own institute that there was room for compromise on free movement of people.

He told Today the situation in Europe was different to when Britain voted to leave the EU - a move Mr Blair described as "the most serious it's taken since the Second World War".

He said France's new president, Emmanuel Macron - whose political party was formed last year - was proposing "far-reaching reforms" for the EU.

"Europe itself is now looking at its own reform programme," Mr Blair said.

"They will have an inner circle in the EU that will be part of the eurozone and an outer circle."

When pressed on what evidence there was to suggest European nations would compromise, Mr Blair said:"I'm not going to disclose conversations I've had within Europe, but I'm not saying this literally on the basis of a whim.

"They will make reforms that I think will make it much more comfortable for Britain to fit itself in that outer circle."

He said "majorities" of people in France, Germany and the UK supported changes around benefits and with regards to those who come to Europe without a job.

"I'm not saying these could be negotiated," Mr Blair said.

"I'm simply saying if we were looking at this from the point of view of the interests of the country, one option within this negotiation would be Britain staying within a reformed European Union."

He said the majority of EU migrants in the UK are "people we want in this country".

EU leaders have previously said the UK must accept free movement of people if it wants to stay inside the single market.

But in his article for the Institute for Global Change[3], Mr Blair said senior figures had told him they were willing to consider changes to one of the key principles of the single market.

"The French and Germans share some of the British worries, notably around immigration, and would compromise on freedom of movement," he wrote.

But last week the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital - the key principles of the single market - were "indivisible".

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to control EU migration and has reiterated her commitment to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

She has said that outside the single market, and without rules on freedom of movement, the UK will be able to make its own decisions on immigration.

Corbyn's position

Mr Blair also said more was known now about the effects of the Brexit process on the UK.

"We know our currency is down significantly, that's a prediction by the international markets as to our future prosperity.We know businesses are already moving jobs out of the country.

"We know last year we were the fastest-growing economy in the G7.We're now the slowest."

Mr Blair accepted Labour was behind its leader Jeremy Corbyn "for now".

But he warned if Brexit was combined with leaving the single market, and "the largest spending programme Labour had ever proposed" the country "would be in a very serious situation."

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn:"I hope he (Tony Blair) has looked very carefully at our manifesto"

Mr Blair said leaving the single market was a "damaging position" shared by Labour and he urged the party's leadership to champion a "radically distinct" position on Europe.

But Jeremy Corbyn said Labour's position on free movement was "very clear", adding:"We would protect EU nationals' rights to remain here, including the rights of family reunion."

Responding to Mr Blair's comments, the party leader said:"I think our economy will do very well under a Labour government.

"It will be an investment-led economy that works for all - so we won't have zero-hour contracts, insecure employment.

"We won't have communities being left behind."

'Out of touch'

Mr Blair has previously said Brexit was an issue he felt so strongly about, that it tempted him to return to politics.

But Labour MP Frank Field, who backed Brexit, said he did not think Mr Blair was "a person to influence public opinion now".

"We're now set on the course of leaving [the EU].We actually need a safe harbour to continue those negotiations when we're out.

"And I wouldn't actually be believing those people who are set on destroying our attempts to leave, who are now appearing as wolves in sheep's clothing."

Richard Tice, of pro-Brexit group Leave Means Leave, said Mr Blair's comments "demonstrate how out of touch he is with British voters".

"The former prime minister believes that freedom of movement is the only issue with the EU, when in reality the British people also voted to leave in order to take back control of our laws and money and no longer be dictated to by the European Court of Justice," he added.

Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman said Mr Blair's assertion that Britain could find a way to remain within a reformed EU was a "dodgy claim, as opposed to a dodgy dossier".

"We've heard this all before.David Cameron was given such assurances and in the end the EU did nothing for him.

"If they do nothing for Cameron, they're not going to do anything for Blair, I'm afraid."...

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Home Office fined £366,900 for breaking pay cap for abuse inquiry chief

Professor Alexis JayImage copyright PA Image caption Professor Jay was a panel member before being named chair

The Home Office has been fined £366,900 for breaching the government's senior salary pay cap when it appointed the head of a child sex abuse inquiry.

It was penalised by the Treasury for failing to get clearance in advance before agreeing to pay Professor Alexis Jay £185,000 a year.

Since 2010, all jobs with salaries of more than £142,500 agreed by ministers have had to be signed off in advance.

The Home Office said it had reviewed procedures to avoid future breaches.

Prof Jay became the fourth chair of the troubled inquiry after replacing Lowell Goddard in August 2016.

The fine also relates to the pay of the inquiry's three panel members one of whom, Drusilla Sharpling, received a basic salary of £152,424 in 2015-6.

On becoming chancellor in 2010, George Osborne ruled that public servants directly appointed by ministers should not be paid more than then Prime Minister David Cameron - who was earning £142,500 at the time - unless they were approved by the Treasury.

It was part of an austerity drive which saw the pay of ministers cut by 5% and then frozen for five years.

Prof Jay was named as chair by Home Secretary Amber Rudd at short notice in August 2016.Her predecessor, a leading New Zealand judge, resigned suddenly following criticism of her conduct of the troubled inquiry.

The inquiry is investigating historical allegations of sex abuse[1] against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions - as well as people in the public eye - spanning decades.

The leading academic and child protection expert was already a panel member, working in that capacity alongside Ms Sharpling, barrister Ivor Frank and academic Professor Malcolm Evans.

'Retrospective approval'

Details of the "exemplary fine" emerged in the Home Office's accounts[2] for the past financial year.

A Home Office spokesman said the department had been punished for having to secure "retrospective approval" for Prof Jay's salary when she became chair as well as the remuneration of other panel members agreed when the inquiry was set up in 2015.

"The Treasury has the power to consider fines for departments who breach agreed spending control processes, including those relating to senior salary approval," it said.

"The Home Office have since reviewed appointment procedures to prevent further such breaches."

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The fine does not relate to Dame Lowell Goddard's remuneration

The Home Office said Prof Jay had been appointed swiftly in order to minimise disruption to the inquiry and this meant getting sign-off for her salary "in parallel" with her appointment - which was subsequently approved.

According to the inquiry's accounts,[3] Prof Jay was paid £118,360 for the period from 18 August 2016 to 31 March 2017.She also received an £27,478 accommodation allowance and expenses of £2,281.

She also received £34,465 for her work as a panel member during the first four months of the financial year before becoming its chair.

The accounts show Ms Sharpling was paid £152,285 in 2015-6, rising to £154,423 in 2016-7.The inquiry has agreed to subsidise 80% of what she was earning in her previous capacity as Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary.

Over the same period, Prof Evans was paid £65,540 while Mr Frank received £96,332,50.In the past financial year, these salaries - which are set at a fixed rate of £565 a day - rose to £76,840 and £138,990 retrospectively.

The Home Office stressed the fine did not relate to Dame Lowell Goddard's remuneration arrangements, which were heavily criticised during her 16 months in the post, but for which officials said "all the necessary approvals" had been granted.

In 2015-6, she was paid £355,000 and received an accommodation and utilities allowance worth £119,207.She also received £29,156 in relocation costs and £75,246 in travel costs including the cost of air fares between the UK and New Zealand.

She was paid £123,871 for the period between 1 April and her resignation on 4 August 2016 while her allowances and expenses for the period totalled more than £80,000.

The inquiry has been beset by problems since its inception with its first two chairs, Lady Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf, stepping down before beginning their work.The inquiry's chief lawyer, Ben Emmerson, resigned last year but Prof Jay has insisted it is continuing with its work....

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Reality Check: Can Scotland and Wales block the repeal bill?

Quote from first ministers saying: The bill... is a naked power-grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, known as the repeal bill, will convert EU laws into UK laws.Some of these will be in areas such as the environment and agriculture, which are normally the responsibility of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, have described the bill as a "naked power-grab" that undermines devolution.But do they have the power to block it?

The UK government says it will negotiate with the devolved governments and attempt to seek consensus.Ultimately, though, the bill could pass even without the agreement of Scotland and Wales, but not without the potential for severe political consequences.

Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland transfers the power to make laws in some policy areas from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly.

But there are times when the UK Parliament still legislates in these areas.The Sewel Convention states that when it does so, it should normally seek the consent of the devolved legislature.

And the convention is just that, a political convention, not a legally enforceable rule.

It is named after Lord Sewel, who first set it out when the Scottish Parliament was established.

A system was established whereby the UK government seeks a "legislative consent motion" from the devolved legislatures when it passes laws on devolved matters.

Image caption Scottish Parliament (left) and Welsh Assembly (right)

The convention was written into a memorandum of understanding between the UK and devolved governments in 2001.

It states:"The UK government will proceed in accordance with the convention that the UK Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters, except with the agreement of the devolved legislature."

The memorandum was intended as a political agreement not a legally binding code.And the word "normally" implies it is not absolutely essential for Westminster to seek consent.

The convention as it applies to Scotland and Wales has recently been written into law.

The Scotland Act 1998 said the power of the Scottish Parliament to make laws "does not affect the power of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland".However, the Scotland Act 2016 inserted an extra clause saying that Westminster:"will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament".

A similar clause for Wales was included in the Wales Act 2017.

There has been no such Act of Parliament for Northern Ireland, but the convention still applies there.

Brexit legal challenge

Despite the new statutory basis, the Sewel Convention does not give the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly an absolute veto.

That was determined by the Supreme Court in its judgement[3] in the case brought by Gina Miller about the triggering of Article 50, which started the Brexit process.

The Supreme Court found that the new clauses do not mean that the Sewel Convention has been converted into a legally enforceable rule.It remains a political convention - albeit one which is recognised as a permanent feature of devolution.

The devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales do not have the legal power to block the repeal bill.But if the UK government were to bulldoze it through without their consent, it could be politically explosive.

It may just be a convention but it is regarded by many as a key aspect of the devolution settlement and an important part of the UK's constitution.


Read more from Reality Check[4]

Follow us on Twitter[5]...


References

  1. ^ What is the repeal bill all about? (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ Brexit:All you need to to know (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ Supreme Court in its judgement (www.supremecourt.uk)
  4. ^ Read more from Reality Check (www.bbc.co.uk)
  5. ^ Follow us on Twitter (twitter.com)

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Brexit Minister urges MSPs to back changes to repeal bill

Mike RussellImage copyright PA Image caption Scotland's Brexit Minister Mike Russell has written to MSPs seeking support

Scotland's Brexit Minister Mike Russell has urged MSPs to back calls for changes to the repeal bill to guarantee protection for devolved powers.

The legislation[1] will convert EU law into British law.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has described it as a "naked power grab" as it does not immediately return EU powers to devolved administrations.

But Scottish Secretary David Mundell has insisted the bill would result in a powers "bonanza" for Holyrood.

Now Mr Russell has written to all MSPs seeking support for the Scottish government's position.

The repeal bill, published earlier this week, is designed to transpose EU law into British law so the same rules apply on the day of Brexit as the day before, while giving parliaments and assemblies in Westminster, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff the power to drop or change them in the future.

Mr Russell said that Scotland "risks having to fight for powers that should rightfully belong to the Scottish Parliament" because the legislation "contains no promise to protect these".

He said:"Scotland will stand the best chance of keeping control of its devolved powers if the Scottish government can act with the full backing of our national Parliament.

"The first minister has already called on Members of the Scottish Parliament to join us now, with no equivocation, to back demands for the democratically elected Scottish government to be at the table in the UK's Brexit negotiating strategy.

"But we also need to make a stand against the UK government retaining powers that rightfully should come to Scotland once repatriated from the EU."


What is the repeal bill?

  • Formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the draft legislation is a key plank of the government's Brexit strategy
  • The first line of the bill says the European Communities Act 1972, which took Britain into the EU, will be "repealed on exit day"
  • This will end the supremacy of EU law and stop the flow of new regulations from Brussels
  • But all existing laws derived from the EU will continue to be in force - they can be changed or scrapped by further legislation
  • The bill does not detail policies line-by-line but transfers all regulations into domestic law
  • It gives the UK two years after Brexit to correct any "deficiencies" arising from the transfer

In his letter, Mr Russell highlighted concerns that the bill enables UK-wide frameworks on devolved matters to be "imposed" by the UK government rather than "agreed" with the devolved administrations.

He added:"We are also concerned that the scheme in the bill for correcting devolved law is unlikely to be workable in its current form.It creates a complex division of decision-making responsibility that does not reflect the reality of devolution.

"In particular, it empowers UK ministers to make changes in devolved policy areas without any involvement of either the Scottish government or the Scottish Parliament.This includes policy areas, such as the Scottish justice system, where the Scottish Parliament has primary responsibility."

The UK government said it expected the outcome of the process to be "a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration".

A spokesman added:"We welcome the Scottish and Welsh governments recognising common frameworks may be needed in some areas.Our aim is to establish common frameworks only where they are needed."

Image copyright PA Image caption MR Russell wants MSPs to back the Scottish government's calls for changes to the repeal bill

In a briefing to journalists following the publication of the repeal bill, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said that the return of powers and responsibilities currently exercised by the EU to the UK was a "transitional arrangement" that would allow for the further onward devolution of powers.

He said:"This is not a power grab, it is a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament because after this bill has been implemented the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it has today."

Scottish Liberal Democrat business manager Mike Rumbles described the bill as a "huge executive power grab" and said his party would work with others to protect devolution.

He added:"It is essential that the Scottish government and the Scottish Parliament have a central role in devolved policy areas and that any powers repatriated from the EU in these areas come to Scotland."

On Thursday, the first minister met Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, in Brussels.

Ms Sturgeon wants membership of the European single market and the customs union to be at the heart of Brexit process, but Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted the UK will be leaving both.

The UK government has also previously rejected Ms Sturgeon's calls for the Scottish government to be involved in the Brexit talks.

It has pledged to "consult" with the UK's devolved administrations during the Brexit process....

References

  1. ^ The legislation (publications.parliament.uk)

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