My Local Brexit – Cllr Peter Lamb

My Local Brexit – Cllr Peter Lamb

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Peter Lamb (above) is the Leader of Crawley Borough Council, having successfully defended Labour’s slim majority on the Council in May. Peter has been selected as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Crawley at the next General Election.

Peter writes:

Last Summer, the Centre for Cities released a report analysing trade flow and trade barriers data to determine the impact of Brexit on cities, declaring that Crawley will be the 'city' least affected by Brexit. Why then, as leader of the local council, does Brexit fill me with dread? One word: Gatwick.

Gatwick Airport is the single biggest source of employment between London and Brighton, and it's hosted within Crawley's boundaries. Not only do aviation-related industries make up a large part of our economy, but the presence of a leading airport is a major attraction for the many international businesses which have located themselves here. If Brexit negatively impacts aviation, the economic consequences for Crawley will be huge, and unfortunately that's one of many areas for which the report's methodology fails to account.

So, what's the problem? Well, to fly planes outside our national airspace we need agreements with other countries, not only the desired destination but every country along the flight path. Currently the UK is part of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) and we fly to other destinations through deals negotiated by the EU. It's possible to be part of the ECAA and not the EU, but you have to commit to various things including freedom of movement, which really isn't an option under current political circumstances. Alternatively, the UK could negotiate its own deals with each of the countries we currently fly to and through. Yet, that's a huge number of countries, much of the experience of negotiating multilateral agreements at the Foreign Office has atrophied over our years of EU membership and aviation would have to compete for what experience there is with every other area of policy for attention.

For two years since the Referendum I have been asking what the Government's strategy is to enable us to keep flying post-Brexit and for two years there has been silence. Exit Day is only 9 months away, every day which passes the likelihood of grounded aeroplanes keeps getting bigger.

Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Posted by John Howarth
Safer Tourism – by the pool this summer

Safer Tourism – by the pool this summer

Many of us, myself included, are off on our holidays over the next few weeks*. My kids are grown up now but many of you will be going off with your children in tow. Before you go it’s worth checking out the Safer Tourism Foundation’s website. 

The Safer Tourism Foundation was established in 2016 by Sharon Wood, the mother of two children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2006. They are dedicated to preventing accidents, injury and illnesses for Brits travelling abroad. 

This year’s campaign is focusing on unnecessary deaths and accidents in holiday swimming pools. There are 25 drownings in holiday pools each year, and there are also an additional 500 serious pool related incidents annually. 

To help to prevent accidents around the pool from happening, the Safer Tourism Foundation are encouraging us to RELAX. This acrostic is asking parents to first Recce the pool environment to identify any safety features. You must then keep your Eyes on your kids, to make sure they are safe. Then you must make sure you are with someone who knows Livesaving techniques, just in case of any incidences. If children need Armbands, they must be wearing them. Finally, the Safer Tourism Foundation are asking parents to eXplain to children how to use the pool properly.  

The STF teamed up with the Telegraph to make an animated video to illustrate the dangers of swimming pools. Watch it here. 

More broadly, the Safer Tourism Foundation also aims to reduce the general health and safety risks affecting people travelling abroad. 

They have tips for safe travel on all types of holidays, from adventure holidays, to city breaks, to even stag and hen parties.  They also have tips based on what type of traveller you are, including if you are travelling with children, or if you are travelling with a disability, health issue or mental health condition. 

Check them out here.

Stay safe, remember your suncream, and have a great time.

* The European Parliament has a four week summer recess and we have a short recess of about ten days at Christmas. Some of those times I am working in the region. MPs at Westminster have longer recesses though much of that time they work in the constituency. Not complaining at all - just explaining how it works. 

Posted by John Howarth
My Local Brexit – Cllr Laura Price

My Local Brexit – Cllr Laura Price

John says: “This summer I’m featuring a series of guest blogs from Labour councillors around the region who have been kind enough to write short pieces on how they see Brexit affecting the area they represent.”

Laura Price  is an Oxfordshire County Councillor for Whitney South and Central Division. Labour has had some notable successes in David Cameron’s former seat in recent years. Laura is pictured above (holding the right of the banner) at the recent reception committee for the scary orange white supremacist creature at Blenheim Palace.

Laura writes:

On Monday morning Witney and West Oxfordshire woke to the news that MP Robert Courts had resigned from his role at the Foreign Office in order to back Boris and his vision for a hard Brexit.

Any political enjoyment of the chaos within the Conservative Party was fleeting when balanced against my deep concern at our representative in Parliament ignoring the fact that his constituency voted by a clear margin to Remain. Perceived future career prospects have clearly trumped a responsibility to protect residents from the damage that a Boris Brexit would bring. 

A network of rural villages and market towns, West Oxfordshire residents work in and rely on a diverse range of industries, from F1 to publishing, with most of the major players having the current benefits of EU membership woven into their success. We're also lucky to have a rich history of skilled engineering, with employers such as Siemens Magnet Technology providing hundreds of jobs locally, as part of a production pathway for MRI scanners which flows across European countries. 

For me however, one of the most significant threats is our ability to sustain the public sector. As an area of high employment, with an ageing population, recruitment is cited as being as big a challenge as funding in enabling our hospitals and care providers to meet ever increasing demand. Uncertainty over our relationship isn't only leading EU nurses, doctors and care workers to re-think their future here, but it is also jeopardising the ability of the NHS and the County Council to deliver a workable forward plan. 

Politicians like Courts might be comfortable with pretending that the response to the referendum result is as simple as repeating "the will of the people", but for our communities it will be the detail that matters - although today it sadly feels like the interests of his constituents couldn't be further from his mind.

Cllr Laura Price
Witney South and Central - Oxfordshire County Council

Posted by John Howarth
Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

Biomedical Sciences Day 2018

I thought it would be good to mark Biomedical Sciences Day 2018, as I know that Biomedical Sciences contributes a huge amount to our lives.

Biomedical Science investigates how cells, organs and systems work in the body, which then allows scientists to understand and treat human diseases. Most of the tests and treatments you now get via the NHS come from developments in Biomedical Science. These include the heel prick test routinely given to babies and tests for blood, genetics and immunology.

Like other areas of science I have been working to ensure that the possible impact of Brexit doesn’t damage the UK’s Biomedical Sciences community beyond repair. The hard Brexit argued for by the Daily Express and the likes of Farage would certainly do that.  

Research in this area, like many others, depends on cooperation and shared funding that have been working across borders for many years. EU funding and freedom of movement have supported the breakthrough developments. Indeed, a report out last year found that one in five European Research Council funded projects led to a scientific breakthrough, and 6 in 10 led to ‘major scientific breakthrough’. And while it is always the case that some scientific projects don’t work out as hoped, just 1% of EU funded projects made no ‘appreciable’ contribution at all.

Stepping back from participating in cutting-edge research and development would be a massive backwards step for the UK, and could easily lead to a brain-drain of our most talented scientists. 

I’ve been meeting with a range of businesses, research bodies and Universities looking at these issues and giving the uncompromising message to the Government that nobody voted in the referendum to give up on scientific breakthroughs and to go backwards on the developments we have been making in medicine and treatments. It is now widely accepted that Britain needs to participate in the EU’s science programmes and the work that has been done by British diplomats and MEPs has helped keep the door open but we still need a firm commitment from the UK Government before the Good Ship Research sails. 

The theme of this year’s Biomedical Science Day is “At the heart of healthcare”. I know the value of the great education, research and collaboration as well as the EU investment that has been at the heart of our healthcare for decades, let’s hope that the Prime Minister can see that too. 

You can read more about the impact of Brexit on higher education here – Link to report on HE.

Posted by John Howarth
World Youth Skills Day 2018

World Youth Skills Day 2018

John says: Today’s blog is by Izzy Hollingsworth, who recently completed a work experience placement with my UK Office. The team thank her for her efforts and this contribution.

Guest Blog by Izzy Hollingsworth

This Sunday marks World Youth Skills Day, #skillsforall celebrated each July 15th, which is one of the new United Nations International Days of observance and started in 2015.

First proposed by Sri Lanka, the day was created to highlight the need for youth skills development on a global level to fight youth unemployment and under-employment. Whilst the day was designed to raise awareness of the challenges young people face in the developing world which the UK and the EU will be supporting, countries in Europe are facing high levels of youth unemployment too. Greece and Spain have the highest levels, and the UK has a youth unemployment rate of 11.5% against an overall unemployment rate of 4.1%. 

Part of the reason for higher youth unemployment is that older workers are carrying on working for longer as the pensionable age rises, and the inevitable lack of experience that younger people have compared to those who have been of working age for longer.  The UK’s Tory programme of spending cuts has also seen funding to training and development programmes reduced.

One of the key benefits for young people in the EU is being able freely to move around to take advantage of those countries with the lowest unemployment rate such as Germany, Denmark and Holland.

Brexit will curtail those opportunities, as well as risk the economic growth of our country, which is vital for helping companies to invest and grow. When companies are investing and growing they tend to employ more young people and invert in the training they need.      

World Skills UK will be marking the day with events.

Hear John supporting EU funding to fight youth unemployment here.

Posted by John Howarth
England at World Cups – usually pretty average

England at World Cups – usually pretty average

So England aren’t rubbish after all and are going to win the World Cup.

There are some who started saying this as soon as they scraped past Tunisia and others who felt it was certain after they trashed Panama. Doubt crept in after the scratch team struggled against Belgium’s scratch team and grew when Columbia minus James Rodriguez failed to provide a walk-over but were banished after the penalty shoot-out. Having deservedly beaten a dated and ponderous Sweden (who had nonetheless somehow beat Italy and France along the way) the big prize is back on and even for a cynic like me, undeniably a possibility once in the last four.

In football, you can only beat the opposition that are in front of you. In may well be that England have had their share of luck with the draw and the order of group matches but how often have England supporters been able to decry their luck in tournaments? So let’s no begrudge them their breaks. They are, after all, still there when former winners Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Uruguay have caught their planes and Italy didn’t even make the departure lounge.

So for once England aren’t rubbish at the World Cup - because that’s become the notion that is peddled. In fact at the outset of the tournament it was being reported that England hadn’t won their opening game for ever so long and hadn’t won a knockout match for ages. So obviously they have been rubbish, haven’t they?

I was having a conversation in my office about all this. My young Derby supporting researcher put it nicely “the other big European countries win it - we don’t, we’ve not done anything in my lifetime”.

Because I like to challenge conventional wisdom, I thought I would at least try to look at England’s tournament performances objectively.

What should England expect in a World Cup?

Despite the ‘World’ bit, the tournament is, at the business end, a still contest between the football powers of Europe and South America. England is in Europe and is one of the ‘big’ European nations. Fair comparisons are with the other ‘big’ European nations: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Those five big nations, plus the two big South American nations - Brazil and Argentina should usually expect to make up seven of the last eight places at a World Cup. In other words, a quarter final place is an acceptable tournament, to go one step beyond that is to do well.
We should measure expectations against this. The trouble is in England, expectations are measured against that first fully televised World Cup and a June afternoon at Wembley - even if it happened before you were born.
So I looked at the last 14 World Cups - that is since that tournament in 1966 when it really became ‘a thing’. It was also The first (including qualification) since modern professional football happened, with a decent interval since the abolition of the ‘maximum wage’. Arbitrary, yes, but I think fair enough.

Are England poor starters?

No. A quick comparison of opening games over the past 14 tournaments based on three points for a win shows England’s record is far from bad.

England played in 11 of those tournaments and lost their opening game twice. England average 1.7 points from their first game. Better than France who have lost four of their opens from 10 and average 1.4 points and Spain who have six defeats from 12, only two wins and average a mere 0.8 points. Italy, win eight wins and one defeat from 13 openers average 2.3 points while Germany with ten wins and two defeats from 14 averaging 2.3 points. Some of this is self-fulfilling. Germany and Italy as multiple winners have benefitted from top seedings - but, even so, the conventional wisdom of England as poor starters doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.

But England go out earlier don’t they?

Well, again, not so much. In England’s 11 tournaments only once have they flown home after the group stage - in Brazil 2014. Meanwhile both Italy and France have gone out four times at the first hurdle while Spain have failed to make the knockout on six occasions. Germany, of course, had never failed to get out of the group until the ‘cruse of the holders’ hit this time round.

So how do England compare?

The thing is England have been average at the World Cup since 1966 (this bit excludes the current beano). Score the stage which the teams achieved with 1 for the winner, 2 for runner up, 3 for the semis, 4 for the quarters and so on. Eleven tournaments in which England played produce an average of 4.1 - a quarter final place. The rest of the European big five: Spain 4.4, France 3.9, Italy 3.7 and Germany way out in front with 2.7.

I pointed this out to my Derby supporting staffer and his response said it all, “Yes, but wouldn’t you swap going out at the group stage for a couple of wins and a final or two?”.

Because that’s what football supporters want - the dream of the trophy, or at least of being there and there abouts.

England are even worse at the European Championships, aren’t they?

I had always thought so, but I thought I would check out my own prejudices on the same scoring system. Even allowing for the different way in which the ‘Nations’ Cup’, as we used to call it, was played. It is still reasonable to use the same means of scoring.

So having looked at the tournaments from 1968 to 2016 you end up with this: Germany lead with the exact same 2.7, followed by France 3.1, Italy 3.3, Spain 3.4 and England 4.0. But hang on a minute. In this case England’s expectations should reasonably be higher?

Shouldn’t they expect to be in the last four more often, given that it’s just Europe we’re talking about? The answer is an undeniable ‘yes’. However, it is reasonable to argue that the European Championships have been, historically, a tougher tournament than the World Cup. Until 1996 only eight teams made the finals, meaning that the group stages were seriously tough. Even when the World Cup was a 16 team tournament nine or ten European countries qualified. Soft games against the likes of Panama just didn’t happen in the nations cup and qualification was tougher than the World Cup (France failed to make the last eight on four occasions, Italy, Spain and England three times each and even Germany missed out once). Nonetheless, here it is objectively true that England have tended to underperform on the European stage.

So what does all this mean?

Absolutely nothing really. Maybe as well as a tendency to overstate failings the England supporter tends to over-expect from the team. There always seems to be a feeling that ‘we should do better’. But why?

England’s failure, if it is one, at World Cups past is to rise above the average and produce the ‘I was there’ moments for which football supporters yearn.

Here’s a final thought. This England team, a little like that team in 1966, may have benefitted from nobody expecting too much and may also have benefitted from the absence of divas, prodigy’s and a manager with a big reputation. Whatever they achieve from here on in, they deserve credit for exceeding expectations. Enjoy the rest of it.

For the nerds - how all this is worked out

From 1966 to 1978 16 teams qualified for the World Cup finals 9/10 UEFA nations qualified. That rose to 24 from 1982 to 1994 with 13/14 UEFA qualifies. Since 1998, 32 teams have qualified but UEFA qualification has remained at 13/14.

The European Nations’ Cup had a four team final stage and a two-leg last eight until 1980 when the eight team format was introduced. Only in 1996 with 16 teams did qualification for the Euro Finals become slightly easier than World Cup qualification. Euro 2016 hosted 24 teams making qualification considerably easier allowing teams like, er, Iceland to make to the finals for the first time.

The scoring averages are therefore based on: Winner - 1, Runner-up - 2, Semi Final exit - 3, Quarter Final - 4, Round of 16 - 5, Group stage 6. In 16 team tournaments the group stage scored 5.

The third/fourth place play offs are ignored - they are games in which people don’t want to play. I had contemplated giving an extra 0.5 for an exit on penalties - it is arbitrary, but those results are counted as draws in official football records. Arguably, the entertainment/excitement could be recognised, but in the end the differences would be marginal.

I’ll get my coat now.

Posted by John Howarth
70 Years of the NHS – #NHS70

70 Years of the NHS – #NHS70

My parents, who grew up through the 1920s and 30s, were at pains to tell me of the real fear that went with getting ill before the NHS came into being 70 years ago today. It wasn’t a fear of illness itself but of the cost of having to see the doctor.

For my parents’ generation the NHS was freedom from fear of illness. For my generation the NHS was about public health policies that eradicated Small Pox and Polio and provided effective mass healthcare that gave us, quite simply, longer lives. 

70 years on, despite all the difficulties and challenges, the NHS is still delivering for the many. From 1997 onward the Labour governments pumped resources into the NHS increasing the budget of the service in real terms year on year and reversing the decline in wages and conditions of the staff on which the NHS depends. Labour’s clear objectives of improving critical care outcomes, reducing waiting lists, A&E waiting times and creating service standards for GP appointments produced real, measurable improvements in the experience of the vast majority of NHS patients. Importantly, patients were also given influence over how and where they are treated. Within a couple of years of Labour coming to office the term ‘winter crisis’ was no longer heard on the news. When Labour came to office the basis of the service was in question, when we left office the central principle was untouchable - Mr Cameron had no option but to borrow Labour words of commitment to the NHS.

In these days where, since the disastrous Health and Social Care Act of the Tory-Liberal coalition government and Mr Osborne’s funding squeeze we have the staff of the NHS to thank for keeping the service delivering for its patients. The NHS still delivers some of the best acute care you can find anywhere but cuts have undoubtedly damaged the service - longer waiting lists, a crisis in A&E and the difficulty of getting to see a GP are the most obvious outward signs.

But the challenges for the NHS go well beyond that and some of them would exist whoever was in power - though at least with better funding they would be of a lesser degree. The founders of the NHS could never have imagined the mind-blowing advances in clinical care and medical technology that benefit patients in modern hospitals. Neither could they have conceived of the cost. Accordingly, the budget of the acute sector can only head in one direction - its demands are infinite as the possibilities of care technology continue to confound the imagination. Over my time as MEP it has been a genuine privilege to be able to see some of these scientific advances first hand - but very little of it is cheap and every step forward presents a funding challenge - at least at the outset. These are problems of success for the NHS.

Other challenges include the impact of the lifestyles of modern society on public health. While huge positive strands have been made (remember when the NHS kicked off Big Tobacco was still telling people smoking was a healthy thing to do) other problems have arisen. The plague of obesity, increases in diabetes and dementia, the need to treat addiction to name but a few more problems of success. Why success? Simply, the fact is a society in which incomes are, despite increasing inequalities, generally higher than in the 40s, 50s and 60s and the changing profile of work patterns and consumer pricing of processed vs fresh food has an effect on health. Also, and importantly, increasing life expectancy is a great result - but the side effect is that illnesses of aging become more common problems while the changing profile of the tax base affects our ability to fund the NHS and social care. Did I mention mental health services? And there is so much more. 

Then there is Brexit - which will damage medical research, hurt reciprocal care, have a dramatic effect on NHS staffing and potentially create a brain drain of the best and the brightest. You can read about all these things elsewhere on this blog. As Labour MEPs we are constantly raising the issues that will hit the NHS and seeking to limit the damage. We’ve done some good, but a no-deal Brexit will have a drastic impact and negate those small steps of progress

If the NHS is to make it through its first century as the sort of service that can continue to deliver for the many as it has to date then it will require money. But the challenges go beyond money, progressive politicians to do more than simply promise to promise resources and grasp the reality that the negative experiences of patients in non-acute areas of the service require different thinking, that personal responsibility for personal health is a tough nut that’s never been cracked. This is a task for progressives, social democrats and democratic socialists because to leave it to others will see the NHS and its founding principles undermined. It remains at 70, Labour’s greatest lasting achievement.

Posted by John Howarth
The EU Copyright Directive

The EU Copyright Directive

Above: John with songwriters Jim Duguid (Speedway, Paul Nutini, Alex Clare) and Tom Gray (Gomez)

Copyright legislation in the European Union is badly in need of reform. Prevailing copyright legislation is woefully inadequate for modern commerce in the age of the internet. That is one of the few things that everyone, well almost everyone, in the European Parliament and the Commission can agree upon.

The debate over copyright reform is complex, but the current situation is serving the interests of very few other than those of the large internet platforms. This is not in any way a sustainable situation and change is clearly needed. I have received many hundreds of (fairly obviously) robotically generated emails on the changes embodied in Articles 11 and 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive legislation*. In my view that change must address two particular problems and must ensure that several key principles are protected:

It is right that artists and creators are rewarded for their work. This is both a principle and a practical problem with the way the internet has destroyed value in a number of industries. Recording artists in particular but also other creatives have been severely impacted by a ‘sharing economy’ which essentially rips-off their work. In this case the recording companies are also badly affected and the winners are the likes of YouTube. Of course there are also contradictions - recording artists benefit in terms of profile and exposure but ‘profile’ alone does not pay the bills. These concerns are shared by written word publishers and those in other creative fields, though it is also fair to say that I have also had representations taking a different view.

Above: John with Irish singer/songwriter Imelda May at the European Parliament.

Journalism and a free press has to be paid for. Professional journalism, on which a free press depends, is not ‘free’. The decline of newspaper circulation, the changes facing broadcasting organisations and the emergence of news aggregators and search have rendered unviable the business model on which pre-internet media was based. The contradiction is that more people than ever see newspapers in their on-line form, yet again it is the platforms and search organisations that benefit in terms of advertising revenue. If professional journalism is to survive in a sufficiently diverse form to feed a free press (with all its failings) then news organisations need to be able to benefit from their readership. Article 11 would appear to help this situation somewhat.

Free academic enquiry is essential. Academic enquiry necessarily involves the citation of other works. I would be unhappy with any proposition that constrained the ability of academics and researchers to publish and share works and references. Changes have gone some way to assure me that the proposals would not threaten this area, however, their ‘over implementation’ conceivably could. I am concerned that we could exchange one inadequate situation for something even worse.

I have reservations about the notion of policing the internet through the application of algorithm and crude content recognition. Visual content recognition software is flawed and far from perfect, however, it will improve as all other software has done. I would also be unhappy with the notion of ‘link taxes’ applied indiscriminately.

These are the principles around which I will make a judgement, however, it is fair to say that there are a whole range of other issues that impinge upon the digital economy that cut across the debate on modernising copyright law. The interests of consumers are also important, looking after local cultures and languages have depended upon a localised broadcasting framework matter to many people. The current legislation cannot be reduced to a simple choice.

Within this debate there has been a great deal of exaggeration and hyperbole to no particular end. I have worked within the creative and software industries, I have been involved all my life with music and, in the design business, have had to take legal action to protect intellectual property and creative copyright. That experience inevitably colours my view. I do not share the view that the sky will fall if the current legislation is carried - but I do hope it can be improved during its passage through the institutions.

* It is very hard to see how anyone could believe that incessant spamming of my inbox with identical content from email addresses that are clearly not real will persuade me of their case, but no matter, people do what they do.

Posted by John Howarth
Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir

Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir

Conflict within the Indian-administered areas of Kashmir and Jammu between India and Pakistan has been a long standing concern of many constituents in South East England. 

Three or four wars between India and Pakistan have resulted from the long-running dispute. The conflict has now been going, off and on, for over 70 years. A ceasefire brokered in 2003 was in force for around ten years and was broken in 2014. 

Over the past two years the situation has deteriorated further. In 2017, there were 451 killings. 80 journalists were beaten up. There have been bans on internet use and social media. Incidences of torture have been reported. There have also been increasing incidences of the relatively new phenomenon of braid and hair chopping - attacks by unidentified assailants on women, often knocking them unconscious and then chopping off their hair, there are also reports of systematic rapes. 

There is now a whole generation of people who have no other civil experience other than war. Indian diplomats and civil servants of good intent despair of the situation. Any notion of winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people to Indian rule were abandoned to a strategy of meeting terror with terror. Yet both terrorism and state sponsored violence have failed to produce a lasting peace nor the acquiescence of the population, particularly in the Kashmir valley.     

At the root of the problem remains the basis of the original decision by the British when withdrawing their colonial presence to place the future of Kashmir into the gift of the local maharaja rather than placing faith in the people. Now 70 years on, while it remains a UN mandate, the notion of a popular vote being allowed to determine the future of the region any time soon is fanciful. The publication, however, of a report by the UN Human Rights Commissioner on 14 June 2018 provides a focus and an opportunity to make progress. Speaking at the UN in Geneva shortly afterwards John Howarth MEP called for the central proposal, of an independent commission of inquiry to be accepted and for systematic abuse of human rights to end.

John has raised the issue of human rights abuse in Kashmir by the Indian security forces in the European Parliament. He also attend a seminar organised by his European Parliamentary Labour Party colleague, Wajid Khan, to raise awareness and hear about the experiences of Mrs Shameem Shawl, the Chair of the Kashmir Women’s Forum, and a representative of the International Muslim Women’s Union at the UN Human Rights Council. The seminar discussed the violations of international human rights standards through the rampant use of pellet guns by the Indian army and the state police (a report by Amnesty International outlined the cases of 88 people whose eyesight was damaged, some temporarily, some permanently by metal pellets between 2014 and 2017), and the horrific circumstances of the Asifa Bano case. 

What is different now to previous escalations of violence is that smartphones and social media have provided evidence of human rights abuses. A settlement is badly needed and until the situation changes it will continue to damage the reputation of India. If the Indian security services have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear from the independent commission of inquiry the June 2014 proposes. This should be followed by international observer access. Agreement between India and Pakistan is essential, but enabling Kashmiris to reach a position where they can effectively govern themselves should be the eventual aim. This area of extreme natural beauty is at the centre of a geopolitical region where there is much to be gained from enabling trade and normality to develop and where the threat of conflict between nuclear armed powers should not be ignored.

If there is a power capable of acting as intermediary it is potentially the EU as it doesn’t carry historic baggage in the region and it seeks to develop trade agreements with a human rights element. John. Is working with the Friends of Kashmir group in the European Parliament to raise awareness of these horrific crimes and abuses of human rights, to deliver an up-to-date position of the Parliament and to represent the concerns of the 5 million Kashmiris in Europe including the many in South East England.

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit and horse racing in Ascot week

Brexit and horse racing in Ascot week

Aside from all of the twaddle about hats and over-privileged characters in fancy dress, there is top quality horse racing at Ascot this week too. I could be wrong but I fully expect that in years to come the top meetings like Ascot and Cheltenham will carry on unaffected by the UK’s intended exit from the EU. So it will be in elite sport. Brexit, however, is posing a huge day-to-day challenge affecting the horse racing and bloodstock industries. 

The free movement of racehorses between the UK, Ireland and France is governed by the Tripartite Agreement, between the countries on behalf of each national Horse Racing authority. The agreement pre-dated Britain and Ireland’s membership of the EU, but was ‘absorbed’ into EU law and will come to an end when Britain leaves the European Union or at the end of any transition period assuming one is finally signed off.

After that if no special arrangements are agreed for racehorses they the animals simply become ‘livestock’ and will be treat as such with cross-border movements in future requiring veterinary health checks and temporary-admission documentation. Race horses are currently regarded as ‘highly healthy animals’ are exempt from routinely applied checks. These checks are likely to affect the health and welfare of the horse and will impose additional costs on trainers. This along with potential customs delays represent a major logistical problem for the industry.

Horse racing is big business for the South East, especially in Newbury. Recent figures show that more than 3,700 racehorses can be found in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Horse racing and associated industries make a significant contribution to the local economy, providing over 1,370 full time jobs, and the home of 10% of Britain’s trainers. It is also worth mentioning in passing that EU agriculture funding can also have a bearing on racing stables which have land permanently to pasture with likely changes to the subsidy regime.

In November last year, I met with the British Horse Racing Authority and the National Trainers Federation at Stan Moore’s Yard in Lambourn to discuss the movement of thoroughbred horses between the UK, Ireland and France.  In the week of 9 July representatives of the British Horse Racing industry will be visiting the European Parliament to meet MEPs from the UK, Ireland and France to make the case for new post-Brexit arrangements. Arriving at a solution is as much in the interest of French and Irish trainers and their owners as of those in the UK. Hopefully we can make some progress in developing an alliance to protect the best interests of horse racing.

You might have thought that, with all the establishment connections of the racing industry, somebody might have had a word in the Government’s ear. If they did it seems not to have got onto the desk of anyone doing any actual negotiation. They certainly haven’t given any thought to the detail nor made any serious proposals to deal with the problem.

A hard Brexit would be disastrous for the economy in the South East - in this field as well as many others. Nobody voted for a Brexit that damages the much-loved pursuits that are part of our national life.


Posted by John Howarth