Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Estimates of the Put it to the People march on Saturday vary, with between one and two million people taking to London’s streets to protest ever so politely that Brexit has failed, Parliament is gridlocked and thus the question should return to the people from whence it came.

Over the year the organisers of marches in the capital have provided the highest estimate of numbers. This time, as with the last two People’s Vote demonstrations, the police provided a higher estimate, stating officially that around two million people attended, making it officially the biggest protest march the UK has ever seen. Behind that figure there are countless stories of people who felt they simply had to be there despite having been in hospital only a few days before. Good on all of them. Some spent four or five hours going nowhere as the throng struggled to leave Hyde Park, others, overwhelmed by the volume of people, drifted into spill over marches down The Mall and through the surrounding side streets and stopping in the unforecast sunshine to picnic in one park or other. Many heard no speeches but nonetheless felt their point was well made, especially by the now five million and rising ‘Revoke’ petition.

Much of the media comment was entirely predicable, though even some hostile journalists had to recognise the scale of the event and, more remarkably how each of the three ‘historically large’ marches for a final say have grown larger amid the usual stuff seeking to undermine the numbers. One particular comment did catch my eye, that of Sarah Vine who, I’m told, is a columnist of some kind (not one I bother with). Her contention on this occasion, that the march was a ‘mob’ who would have “lynched” any leave voters who dared to show their faces, is so hopelessly wrong. For what it’s worth at Hyde Park I saw a man walking through the demonstration on his own with a placard bearing a ‘better off out’ message. As my knee was hurting (it does that these days) I sat on a bench and watched him for around twenty minutes while he was just being ignored. Talking to some police officers it was clear that their extra preparation for the day ahead amounted to nothing more than buying extra rounds of sandwiches. The whole thing was entirely genteel and an exhibition of the real British values of reasonableness. Elsewhere things are not so relaxed. The implied and not so implied threats from assorted Brexiteers of ‘other means’ should the failure that is Brexit be again put to the test are intended to alarm. Unfortunately with some who should know better this stuff has an effect - but it can and must be resisted.

Sceptical as I and many others are about what protests such as this achieve, let’s be in no doubt that this was a moment of significance. The immediate effect on the national catastrophe facing the UK remains to be seen. It may be that the Government ploughs on despite all the evidence that calls into doubt the whole process and In particular the claim that Brexit is still somehow ‘the will of the people’ It may be that the UK leaves the EU, but political movements of this size don’t simply melt away; if ignored the resentment merely grows.

The demonstration prior to the second Gulf War that was surpassed in numbers at the weekend was an indication, at a time when option polls showed the public in support of removing Saddam by force, that the action would prove fatally divisive. Brexit, already socially toxic, is not just going away any time soon.


Above: John joins Oxford for Europe at the London demonstration on Saturday 23 March 2019

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Politicians at some time in their careers pass a point of no return. It happens in many different levels in many different ways but the consequences are the same for everyone - you’re done. For those in the highest office it can happen in a very public, very brutal way. This week is almost certainly one such time. 

Theresa May is done - for the remainder of her time in office she’s a dead Prime Minister walking. At whatever point the Brexit fantasy that has dragged the country into its greatest humiliation since the loss of the American colonies under Lord North is finally over, then the Conservative Party will lead Mrs May off to her seat in the House of Lords. This week was a new low. A Prime Minister on national television blaming Parliament for the nation’s plight, attempting to set the people against their MPs - including her own. In what world does that kind of nonesense win people over? What kind of advisor gives that kind of advice? What kind of person wants the top job but won’t own the responsibility?

We shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen it before. There was a General Election, with a manifesto and everything, a shoo in for the Tories - but it all fell apart, Mrs May fell apart and proved not to be up to leading. In the aftermath she sacked her advisors - who may have been culpable, but to hide behind your staff, in business or in politics is a low and cowardly act. Mrs May was allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour because nobody else seriously wanted the poison chalice and, even had they, the Conservative Party just didn’t want another leadership contest. 

So we stumble through crisis after crisis to arrive at this week when the blame game that started some time back bubbles to some kind of climax and the Prime Minister decides that the buck doesn’t stop with her.

So just to remind ourselves:

  • The Prime Minister signs off the Government’s approach to leaving the EU Brexit devised by a close circle in Number 10. 
  • The Prime Minister tells us ‘Brexit mean Brexit’ - a searingly stupid slogan.
  • The Prime Minister declares Article 50, though it there is no plan - the signature on the letter is the Prime Minister’s.
  • The Prime Minister calls a General Election with a double digit poll lead.
  • The Prime Minister loses the plot and her majority with it.
  • The Prime Minister, despite the indecisive election, presses ahead with a ‘hard Brexit’ approach setting out ‘red lines’ that conflict with other objectives, particularly on trade.
  • The Prime Minister say the UK will leave the Euratom treaty - but hasn’t thought it through.
  • The Prime Minister declares ‘citizens of the world’ are ‘citizens of nowhere’ - further alienating people who see themselves as European.
  • The Prime Minister says it would be a mistake to disclose the UK’s position. Negotiations start - for many months the EU27 asks ‘what does Britain want?’
  • The Prime Minister fights a court case over Parliamentary sovereignty and loses.
  • The Prime Minister nonetheless refuses to involve Parliament in oversight of the negotiations.
  • The Prime Minister eventually gets an agreement in December - she delays the vote for a month.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 230.
  • The Prime Minister ignores Parliament and brings back the same plan.
  • The Prime Minister says she won’t play for time.
  • The Prime Minister delays the vote for two months.
  • The Prime Minister fails to get any changes to the deal.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 149.
  • The Prime Minister delays again.
  • The Prime Minister says it’s not her fault.

Spot the common words in the above sentences. My case rests.

Theresa May bought herself a degree of respect from the public for ‘sticking to the task’, of appearing to be the constant while Ministers resigned around her. However, it has become very clear indeed that Mrs May stopped is more concerned with how things look for her than what is in the best interests of the country. Nothing could make this clearer than that trantrum of a speech on Wednesday evening. 

And here’s the problem. How can Mrs May fail to know that she is the walking dead? Surely she cannot believe her time is not up. The Conservatives will not fight the General Election that will come if and when Britain finally leaves the EU with Mrs May in charge. She has nothing to lose. People with nothing to lose are frequently damaging to those around them. Politicians with nothing to lose often take others down with them. A Prime Minister with nothing to lose - you certainly don’t want one of them on the lose, no sir-ree.

Theresa May is now centrally concerned about her legacy, for what she will be remembered. She has divided the country, dissembled, repeatedly lied about her intentions and has proved incapable of the task. She casts herself as Margaret Thatcher but the comparison is absurd - like her or loathe her (and I’m firmly in the latter camp) she was definitely a leader. Theresa May is anything but. 

History will judge her harshly a public inquiry may well do so too.

Posted by John Howarth
An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

Transformative technology, markets and society

Contribution to a debate of the European Forum for Manufacturing - 6 March 2019 

We are told, and it happens to be true, that we stand at a time of vast technological change that will transform human lives in a future beyond our imaginations. It is true because it has always been true - at any time in the past 300 years we could have said much the same thing with confidence. The industrial and technological revolutions have been a time of permanent and most frequently accelerating revolution. And while war has from time to time slowed down development it has also been the dark catalyst of technological progress.
The question is not whether humanity chooses digital transformation but how we can learn from previous transformations in the sure and certain knowledge that the likely pattern is one that we have seen before. It is just another change: every technological leap has produced vast swathes of wealth but with greatly unequal distribution and unequal markets prove unsustainable; every process automation has removed turgid tasks from the workplace but has also removed human skills from processes.
Technology always drives change faster than legislators and social policy makers can regulate the parameters and consequences. We know that the greatest innovations will drive markets in particular directions. The challenges are: how do we retain sustainability, how do we ensure that markets retain humanity, how do we ensure that people genuinely benefit from these great leaps forward.
Robotics and automation have overwhelmingly replaced tasks that required low to no skills but as robotic automation becomes more sophisticated tasks requiring greater dexterity have been replaced. Artificial intelligence, most fundamentally, introduces decision making to automation. Decision making applies certain criteria to processes - and they can be quite complex, considering intricate conditionalities and building in judgements that can be seen as protecting the individual consumer as well as the provider corporation. Experience of the pseudo-judicial functions of public administration would, however, suggest that some judgements and not best handled by binary systems because in the end they are not always binary.
So assuming we acknowledge as policy makers both the productive bonus of automation and its dystopian tendencies and how these deliver change in a market economy we can being to provide answers to the direction in which society needs to travel for the social element of our economy to deliver societies at ease with themselves.

The ability to engage in a digital world

The real danger is of a digital world in which substantial minorities within otherwise wealthy societies are excluded from the productive economy. This divide is not about class, background or income in the first instance but about the education and skills that enable individuals to engage. An economy that is fully able to take advantage of the wealth creating opportunities of the digital world will rely as never before on a technologically literate workforce. Likewise, our public sphere, depending as it does for its legitimacy on participation and democratic engagement, requires a broadly based, representative, digitally enabled population. Both require different thinking on the outputs of education. The nature of the evolving economy will require an education and skills system that thinks (metaphorically) in terms of maintenance as well as manufacture. We need no longer to think of re-skilling for transition on an industry-by-industry basis but in terms of constant and ongoing skills development across the workforce. This should become a central element in EU and Member State funding of programmes for ‘Just Transition’ during the 2021-27 MFF and beyond.

Algorithms are not neutral

Few, after the Cambridge Analytica affair would contend that an algorithm can never reflect bias. However the industry that produces algorithms - and therefore develops core aspects of artificial intelligence - leans heavily toward a particular type. The technologist caricatured in popular culture only chimes comedically because they are true to the experiences of the audience. The software engineering sector was white, male, middle class, college educated and overwhelmingly 25-40 years of age. This is less true than it once was, or at least the first of those, however the point is this. If algorithms reflect the societal biases of their authors then they will produce outcomes that reflect those biases. Data sets with inbuilt bias will also produce skewed outcomes. In the automation of HR/recruitment, student applications and insurance processing the implications are obvious, though even in mechanical automation there is early research to suggest that being treat equally by the machine cannot be taken for granted. Further research will be needed to determine if the early suggestion that a black woman is more likely to be involved in a collision with a driverless vehicle than a white man (according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology). These fears may prove to be false - but how will we know unless outcomes are critically examined and unless access to the data being used by automated processes is available to independent researchers?

Where the greatest gains will lie

The more productive wealth generation will take place in the areas of technology that make possible the things that before were impossible or limited by the physical and political world. They will create the next billionaires and produce the next social exclusions. It will happen because these areas are always the most difficult for legislators to keep up - and some may prove to be out of political reach. Blockchain technology is receiving all sorts of attention for exactly this reason. This is not to say that the automation of existing processes will not be productive, just not exponentially so.

What does this mean?

Digitisation is happening. It cannot, should not and will not be stopped or regulated out of existence because markets will find a way. Luddism doesn’t work - it will only increase the digital divide. Just as the challenge of China cannot be successfully addressed by protectionism but only by Europe becoming an effective inward investor and stakeholder in Chinese domestic, international and digital markets so digitisation will only become socially inclusive by social and public actors working with digital innovators.
The long term success of Europe’s digital/AI economy requires the broadest possible section of consumers who can afford to buy the products of that economy. It requires an economy producing products to meet the needs of a diverse society. It requires a digital economy not confined to a monoculture, even a monoculture of the majority but which enhances cultural diversity and harnesses that diversity to create better products for more sustainable markets.

John Howarth MEP

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit Update: Bluff, Blame and Contingency

Brexit Update: Bluff, Blame and Contingency

I’ve been pointing out for months to anyone who asked or cared to listen, that it would not be until the European Parliaments first session in March (this coming week) that Theresa May would face the decisive votes on her unloved Brexit deal. And so it has turned out.

While I am writing this update different pundits espouse different views of the likely outcome in the House of Commons. Again, as I have said before, nobody truly knows how this will end and anyone who tells you they do is lying. Im certainly not going to make any predictions most of the time thats a very good way to look very silly very quickly and especially right now.

It is now nearly six weeks since essentially the same deal, consisting of a precise 500+ page Withdrawal Agreement governing the immediate matters of the UKs intended exit and a vague 20-odd page Political Declaration, was voted down at Westminster by a record 230 vote majority. In that time very little has happened to merit writing an update. Theresa May immediately said she would not play for time then proceeded to play for nothing else. When she said her cricket hero was Geoffrey Boycott she gave away more than she imagined simply occupying the crease will do and playing for yourself rather than the team is the style, survival is everything and dont think twice about running out your partner.


Meanwhile the game of attempting to scare people at the prospect of a no dealexit has continued in the hope it will be more successful than it was in December or January. Of course the consequences of a no deal exit are entirely scary, as everyone from the National FarmersUnion through BMW to the NHS Confederation have pointed out. Or rather no dealwould be scary if it was anything other than a bluff its only purpose is to scare people into voting for any old bad deal. Those within the Conservative Party who have retained any sense of rationality understand all too well that a party which allowed a no deal exit to happen would almost certainly not be forgiven for doing so.

There also seems to have been some kind of realisation within the Labour leadership that to be seen to support Brexit in any form will cause significant and lasting damage to Labour’s support - not least because of the damage to jobs and livelihoods that any kind of Brexit will cause. The overwhelming evidence that the great majority of Labour supporters, including those in much quoted ‘Leave voting seats in the North’ would prefer the opportunity to think again has also hastened the shift toward through the logic of the policy agreed by last Autumn’s Party Conference.


So on both sides of the aisle of Westminster the knowledge that ‘no deal’ is a catastrophe and that any realisable deal either takes Britain off of the EU Customs Union and Single Market and inflicts economic damage or maintains a close relationship with both but relinquishes any say over either is now much more widely understood. Fundermentally, this is why there is no such thing as a good Brexit and why the preoccupation of Westminster politicians is in avoiding the blame. The Conservatives want to blame the EU - their default campaign manual position of the last 30 years, Labour wants to blame the Conservatives but the real problem of what sort of future the country faces still remains. The fact staring our politicians in the face is the best deal Britain could possibly have is the one it already has - the big influence of a big country, outside the Eurozone and the Schengen travel area, so with control of monetary and border policy yet with unlimited access to the single market, employment and civil rights protection and the big vote of a big country with big influence. The alternative, should 29th March turn sour, is the same status of Uzbeckistan.


This week (11-14 March) the European Parliament will approve a raft of legislation that everyone hopes will never be used. Even though the threat of a ‘no deal’ exit is understood by many as a bluff, the EU nonetheless is preparing for the worst.

The dire consequences of ‘no deal’; planes unable to fly, trains unable to run, lorries stuck in service areas and students thrown out of courses to name but a few, would be consequences of the UK leaving with no deal and thus no transition period under existing EU law. To make sure life, trade, travel, fishing and funding can continue for 2019 at least the Parliament plenary will approve emergency laws that will roll out in the event of ‘no deal’. I was rapporteur on one such set of rules concerning transport to and in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Of course it is to be expected that extreme Brexiteers would use this reality to say, “you see, we told you none of these things would happen” and while some might say letting people see the consequences in their full awfulness would be ‘fair enough’, responsible politicians cannot take such an approach. In any case, the EU must act to minimise the impact on its own citizens and businesses. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of customs checks and the resulting delays at the Channel ports will still hit the UK hard. NHS hospitals in Kent are making provision for clinical staff to stay on site because of anticipate travel disruption.


The deadlock at Westminster has produced much talk of an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period and/or a delay in the UK’s exit. What happens and why depends on the outcome of the votes at Westminster.

Any extension is a matter for the Member States and unanimity is required. Were Mrs May’s deal to be approved at Westminster then an extension of up to three months would be granted without question to allow ‘technicalities’ to be smoothly dealt with. In no deal is approved, however, the EU27 might justifiably ask why and to what end? It cannot just be to ask the same questions. Here, once again, nobody really knows how this will end - though at least three months is likely to be granted as it is in the EU27’s interests even if the result is another cliff edge at the beginning of July.

Longer extensions produce all sorts of complications. While nobody in the EU27 particularly wants the UK to leave there are many who now believe the process continuing is corrosive for the EU and would wish to get the worst over with - that said the only party threatening to shoot itself in the head if it doesn’t get its own way is the UK Government.

To be continued ...


Posted by John Howarth
Pulse Trawling: Complete EU Waters Ban from Mid-2021

Pulse Trawling: Complete EU Waters Ban from Mid-2021

John Howarth, Labour MEP for South East England has welcomed the outcome of negotiations between the European parliament and the EU Council (the member states) which will see the practice known as ‘Pulse Fishing’ completely banned in EU waters from 30 June 2021.

‘Pulse Fishing’ as the name suggests, works by sending electricity through the water, killing the fish and most other marine wildlife in the area which is then trawled by factory-scale vessels. The technique is indiscriminate and banned in fishing grounds over much of the planet.

Welcoming the ban John Howarth MEP said,

“I’m delighted that the clear will of Parliament has been accepted in the negotiations with the Commission and the Council. A ban on pulse fishing has been hard fought for by environmental NGOs and artisanal fishermen and recreational Anglers. The practice is environmentally and commercially damaging but has been allowed to continue on spurious ‘experimental’ grounds and has had heavy investment from large scale fishing interests, particularly in the Netherlands.

“Money talks, so I was pessimistic at the prospect of the ban making it through negotiations, but the big majority we won in Parliament clearly counted. Overall it is a small step forward but it comprehensively demonstrates how the more powerful Parliament has made it possible to win changes against both the Commission and Commercial interests. Sadly, Britain will have no say and no influence but will still be affected by these decisions if we leave the EU with Theresa May’s awful deal.”

Fishermen in Kent had been part of the coalition of industry and non-governmental organisations. Whitstable Fishermen Association, Thanet Fishermen's Association and Queenborough Fishermen's Association all backed the campaign to ban Pulse Fishing as did the Angling Trust, WWF UK and many others.

John added, “The Angling Trust raised this issue with me in early meetings during my terms as MEP along with Sea Bass fishing quotas which I am also pleased to say we were also able to influence for the better. Informed science-based NGOs like WWF-UK and trade associations play an invaluable role in counterbalancing the major commercial interests who seek to influence MEPs”.

In his letter to stakeholder organisation John  set out the process for the decision as follows:

Last January the European Parliament voted to ban pulse fishing as part of a broad-ranging technical report on fishing gear and fishing methods. The new rules are there to protect fish stocks and small-scale fishing communities by banning a practice that is damaging to marine ecology. Following its approval in Parliament, the legislation then went to ‘trilogues’ - the inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council (made up of member states) and the Commission in order for there to be agreement amongst the institutions.

On 13 February the European trilogue agreed to a complete ban on pulse fishing in EU waters as part of the new technical regulations on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems. This is a win for the work of the Parliament and recognises the substantial majorities in the House in support of a complete ban.

The practice will be banned from July 2021 onwards, which is slow but member states may choose to implement the ban earlier if they wish. This time frame is slow but allows the part of the industry reliant on the practice to adjust. The Netherlands did manage to negotiate an allowance, so that 5% of its fleet may continue to use pulse fishing, for research and scientific purposes until July 2021 when the full ban will be implemented. This relatively small concession enabled the ban to be agreed.

Posted by John Howarth
Chope – a suitable case for reform

Chope – a suitable case for reform

John writes:

It seems that most people were as horrified as I was at the malign actions of Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch which is in Dorset, last Friday in blocking the Private Member’s Bill seeking to tighten the laws against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

I generally avoid the term ‘most people’ as there is an increasing tendency to assume without evidence that the view of ‘most people’ accords with one’s own However, this time I’m pretty sure of my ground. It isn’t often that the comments sections on the web, politicians of all stripes and Her Majesty’s Press are united in their disdain for a political act. It was hard to find a single comment in support of him in the natural homes of Tories of similar views on many other issues.

Only on Thursday, the Twitter account of Chope’s party leader, Prime Minister and former Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May, told us how her Government was committed to stamping out the practice, but on Friday Chope used an arcane Commons process to block the Bill’s progress. Famously Chope also used the same process to block Private Member’s legislation intended to criminalise ‘upskirting’ Although Chope contends that his regular Friday ego trip is nothing to do with the issues at hand, nor to do with politics as such but a general objection to the process of debate for Private Members’ Bills. Even if this were true there are many other ways of continuing to make his point. He could for example have raised a spurious point of order of the sort we all raise at one time or other stating how, though he found the whole process unsatisfactory in this case he would make an exception and not raise an objection. After all, Mr Chope has conveniently been absent silent or quite possibly both when his mates have been promoting Private Members’ Bills and has not been averse to using the procedure itself.

Given these facts it is hard not to conclude that Chope’s actions were, consciously or otherwise, a hateful act of misogyny. His party leader’s silence since has been deafening. As bad, if that’s possible, as the act itself, if how this looks for politics, public life in general and Parliament in particular. Here is a single MP - that is 0.15% of the House of Commons blocking a measure that I dare say would have the support of 80% of the population and even more MPs. Over recent weeks and months we have seen Parliamentary process used and abused to ensure that the will of Parliament cannot prevail against the Government or cannot find expression. We’ve seen the Prime Minister clearly seeking to frustrate and side step Parliament by blatantly running down the clock on Brexit and the instructions of the House to the Government to conduct meaningful votes, to return and present new plans and, twice, to rule out a ‘no deal’ exit entirely ignored.

Aside from the immediate issues at hand, none of this is good for public confidence, but it is also corrosive for Parliament itself. Over the years and under successive governments the UK Parliament became increasingly a rubber stamp for the Government’s will. To some extent, through reforms that removed from the Whips the power over Select Committee Chairs, the independent thinking of the current Speaker and long overdue changes to the House of Lords, Parliament has pushed back somewhat. However the UK backbench MP remains, essentially, voting fodder (by the absurdly outdated practice of walking through doors) without significant influence over legislation or events. Of course there are some individuals who carve out their own niche but the opportunities are limited. This is why Chope’s Friday ego trips are so corrosive. Whatever the political views of the voters they want representatives who turn up, represent people and try at least to make a difference. For these reasons it is time the House of Commons reformed its own processes to achieve three things: removing discredited and outdated procedures such as that abused by Chope, ensuring that all backbenchers have the ability to influence the Parliamentary process and ensuring that Parliament is able more effectively to hold the Government of the day to account.

Ah, I hear some of you saying, what business of an MEP is this? Well, I have criticisms of the institution in which I sit too - different, but just as important. For example at the Brussels plenary session at the end of January we witnessed the ludicrous spectacle of a vote on the issue of ‘transparency’ off the Parliament being held by secret ballot - as our clever little voting machines allow - at the request of the largest group, the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP). For the record, I voted for the improved transparency proposals - though I obviously cannot prove it. The proposal was, however, passed - the numbers would suggest the EPP voted against though there were clearly some honourable exceptions. This kind of thing doesn’t make politics look good either.

Institutions should evolve with the times. The very idea that a Parliament should work by the rules decided 150 years ago just because it has always been that way is ridiculous. The point of the whole Brexit thing for some is that Parliament in the UK should be sovereign. Well it is. It always was. If the institution is to have the respect and democracy is to have popular confidence then Parliament needs to behave in a way that inspires confidence rather than acting like the relic of the public school tradition.

Posted by John Howarth
Paranoid Android – no iPhone App for EU Citizens in UK

Paranoid Android – no iPhone App for EU Citizens in UK

While huffing and puffing about deals and non deal continues and the government spends money on ludicrous ‘no deal’ preparations that ought to be entirely unnecessary, those most closely caught up in all of this, the 3.5 million or so EU citizens in the UK and the 1.5 million or so UK citizens in the EU, continue to be an afterthought four those in power.

The Home Office, an organisation that has done nothing to shed the ‘disfunctional’ tag that former Labour’s John Reid gave it in 2006, announced months ago that it would make the facility for EU citizens to apply for ‘settled status’ in the UK would be a convenient mobile phone App - a snip at £65 a head. In the event even this government eventually caved at the notion that people who have settled in the UK and paid tax sometimes for twenty years or more should have to pay to apply to continue living their lives here and scrapped the fee. The mobile app, however, is now available for phones running the Android operating system - and only Android. The Home Office advice to EU citizens is online here.

Now at first glance this might seem logical, three out of four phones worldwide run Android - so it is most important to make the App available on Android phones first? Well not really. In Europe Android has a lower share of the market but it is still the leader by some distance with 70%+. However in the UK, where the people who will actually use the App are, the market is different, with 48% of phones running Android while iPhones (iOS) account for 51%*.

However, either way the Home Office thinking is badly deficient. There is no good reason, technical or otherwise, why Apps could not have been made available simultaneously on both operating systems and on the gov.uk website. The only reason for doing it this way it to save a little bit of money, however, the additional cost of such development ought to be marginal.

Meanwhile little expense is spared organising fake traffic jams, putting out tenders for ferry contracts that don’t even require firms to own actual ships or ‘gaming’ plans to put the military on the streets or to scuttle the royals out of London should rioting break out.

It is really not good enough to treat people this way. I, along with other MEPs and MPs, signed a letter to Home Secretary Javid telling him that this is just shoddy. The Government needs to get its act together and start serving people rather than deepening the 'hostile environment' to serve the short-term interests of the Conservative Party. 


Posted by John Howarth
Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

The story in this morning’s Guardian/Observer that around one in twenty (5% if you prefer) of British adults doubt the undeniable truth of the Holocaust* is an uncomfortable finding that makes the remembrance of the truth all the more vital.

At least six million Jews and millions more Roma, Poles, Slavs, homosexuals, trade unionists, academics, disabled, people with learning difficulties and others who failed the warped criteria of Hitler and his white supremacist racial ideology were dispossessed, enslaved, experimented upon and murdered by the Nazis in death camps and ditches all over Central and Eastern Europe.

The ‘greatest generation’ and their children were sufficiently close to events to have understood the horrors bearing witness the accounts of their contemporaries who survived, liberated the camps and read the detailed bureaucratic documenting of systematic murder, pseudo-scientific papers and business plans of murder on an industrial scale created by the Nazis themselves. Nobody doubted the reality and few voiced their denial thereby revealing their own Nazi sympathies.

My school, progressive in such matters, found ways of teaching the reality of the Holocaust though not through the formal history curriculum. In later years the UK came to teach the history formally to all children. This approach was strongly backed by Susan Pollack MBE, a survivor of Auchwitz and Bergen-Belsen, now 88 years young and living in London, she still shares her testimony with school children around the UK. Soon, however, there will no survivors to tell first hand of these horrors. Soon we will rely on history of events becoming a distant memory as the hatreds and ideological lies that brought catastrophe to Europe re-surface, emboldened by distance.

Susan Pollack told the European Parliament’s commemoration event on Wednesday last** (above) that the approach of compulsory education was vital to ensuring the understanding of the Holocaust, its origins and consequences and advocated its rolling out across the rest of Europe while Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and former Israeli Labor Party Leader, Isaac Herzog, warned of the recent rise of anti-Semitic activities across Europe. In the keynote address, Timothy Snyder, a History Professor at Yale, set out the parallel conditions in today’s economic and social affairs that reduce humanity to numbers and are but a few steps removed from the business plans of genocide pursued by the Nazis.

There is nothing inevitable in today’s events, there was nothing inevitable in the 1930s. We cannot afford that the Holocaust becomes lost in the mists of time. We cannot allow truth to be forgotten. We cannot afford to allow the truth to be disputed. Today the truth of the Holocaust must be defended and constantly re-told.

* This disturbing finding is part of research carried out by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It is in line with findings of similar research around Europe. Cynics, or rather in this instance Anti-Semite apologists, would doubtless say that this is simply the Trust justifying its own existence. I prefer to see it as a fact of the research that demonstrates exactly why the educative work of the Trust is essential.

** The Parliament calendar means that Holocaust commemoration takes place in the week in which Holocaust Memorial Day falls - the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945.

Posted by John Howarth
Meet the new plan, the same as the old plan

Meet the new plan, the same as the old plan

It is as if last week never happened. Despite the largest Government in history defeat on anything remotely serious, Theresa May returned to the Commons with essentially the same plan as before.   It is an astounding act of arrogance from a Government already rightly found in contempt of Parliament. Choosing to ignore the House of Commons, Mrs May is now doing exactly what she said last week she would not do - seek to run down the clock toward 29 March.

Since the ‘deal’ Mrs May’s announced in November fell apart within a few hours and it became increasingly clear that the House of Commons wasn’t going to buy it her sole objective has been to waste time. Her objective is to get her own way by denying Parliament the means to find an alternative solution. She hopes that given the choice between catastrophe and anything else MPs will be panicked into choosing the latter. Theresa May is playing chicken with the future of the country, it is up to the House of Commons to make sure she doesn’t get away with it.

In the month wasted between pulling the vote in December to her 230 vote defeat in January the Government spun out stories to hype up the panic. We saw Mr Javid and others making a great fuss about cross channel migration because it suited their agenda. We saw the staggeringly incompetent Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, failing to organise a traffic jam in Kent, we had idiotic nonsense from the Defense Secretary about friable paintball guns at Spanish boats at Gibraltar, we are told the Army is on standby and we heard more stories of medicines running short and discussions on Mumsnet about how to stockpile food. While the consequences of crashing out should be understanded much of this is rubbish designed only to aid Mrs May’s narrative. In the event none of it helped her case.

The trouble here is when the fog clears there are real people in impossible situations. The 4.5 million real people who are EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU face the uncertainty of becoming ‘third country’ national with no deal in place or an inadequate Withdrawal Agreement that sees only limited protections that would unravel over the years to come. With my EPLP colleagues I continue to press the case that @the3million and @BritishinEurope have made in their excellent campaign (above with my Labour MEP colleagues Clare Moody, Jude Kirton-Darling, Seb Dance, Julie Ward, LibDem MEP Catherine Bearder and Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato (out of shot) at the Petiitons Committee last night - 21 Jan 2019). I urged them n to to give up (which I know they won’t) as legal challenges and judgements on the rights of citizens are inevitable following Britain’s exit, should it happen.

The likes of ‘Leave means Leave’ who, despite all the evidence, peddle the fiction that ‘no deal’ would be just fine have mixed motivation. Some, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and his hedge fund chums, genuinely wish for it because they believe they can profit from chaos. Some, like the extremes of UKIP and their far right associates long for the social chaos of no deal to persue their ambitions. Most, however, are bluffing in the hope and expectation that no responsible government could allow the UK to crash out allowing them to spin their betrayal narrative and continue their takeover of the Tory party.

Meanwhile the Brexiteer fantasists have their own tall tales to tell. The pointless Mr Fox admits that only 5 of the 40 projected ‘trade deals’ he talked up could be ready for immediate implementation after a 29 March hard Brexit. The reality is that there are exactly none. Boris Johnson, still stoking the fires of his ambition, tells us that despite all evidence, if the EU is just asked in a louder voice they will come up with a different backstop deal for Ireland (never mind what the Irish think) and Mr Rabb, who didn’t understand the importance of Dover, tells us that if the UK becomes a third country it will “hold all the cards” - spookily like something Mr Gove once said about voting to leave that turned out not to be true. Then, to put a cherry on top of this political Eton Mess, Number 10 spins that Mrs May intends to “rewrite the Good Friday Agreement” - an international agreement lodged with the UN that simply cannot be re-written unilaterally.

Labour has rightly now moved an amendment to rule out ‘no deal’. We will see what the Commons makes of it, but whatever happens Labour has a choice to make between the only two kinds of Brexit on offer:

  • Leave the EU and pull away from the EU structures, either with ‘no deal’ or with some kind of minimal free trade deal outside the Customs Union and the Single Market and accept the economic damage that entails, or
  • Stay close to the EU stuctures, minimise the economic damage, accept the rules and loss of any say over those rules and structures.

There is nothing else. That’s how it is. Unless, of course, we scrap Brexit.

In terms of its own support Labour also has a choice. Here the demographics are very clear indeed. For more than two years Labour has been more concerned with the third of the Labour vote which backed ‘leave’ in the referendum than the two-thirds that voted to remain in the EU. This is partly because of the distribution of that vote toward Labour’s northern seats and the failure to understand that a leave vote in a constituency doesn’t translate to an electoral majority against Labour. 30 months on all the polling evidence suggests that Labour voters have switched from leave to remain in greate proportions than any other segment. This is why, aside from avoiding aiding a catastrophic national act of self harm, it would be a massive mistake for Labour to assist any kind of Brexit.

Posted by John Howarth
Combating late payments, helping small business

Combating late payments, helping small business

This week in Strasbourg I gave a speech in plenary welcoming the European Parliament’s recommendations for strengthening EU rules on commercial transactions. The report was approved providing the basis for further work to strengthen the late payment directive. Combatting late payments in the UK and across the EU is essential if we are to protect small businesses owners and the millions of people who work for them.

How do late payments damage small businesses?

Small businesses often operate with limited resources and narrow margins, meaning that late payments can be crippling. As a former small business owner myself, I know that it isn’t lack of profitability that sends businesses under, it’s lack of cash. A lack of cash leaves small businesses reliant on credit cards or other means of credit to make ends meet, with over a third of small firms running into cash flow difficulties while they wait for their invoices to be paid. These late payments routinely force business owners into a difficult choice, between not taking a salary from their business and having to lay people off. It gets worse; late payments are so commonplace in the UK that they lead to the closure of an estimated 50,000 businesses a year in the UK alone, at a cost to the British economy of £2.5 billion annually. That is the livelihood of 50,000 business owners and many more members of staff destroyed each year because corporations and public bodies fail to pay invoices on time.

In the private sector, supply chain bullying is all too common. A power imbalance between small businesses and their often much larger customers allows these larger customers to leverage their power to make unreasonable demands and requests for discounts in return for prompt payment.

Late payment plagues the public sector too, with the Federation of Small Businesses estimating that nine out of 10 public sector suppliers have been paid late. The failure of the public sector to lead by example was highlighted by the recent collapse of facilities management and construction giant Carillion. Carillion was known as a chronic late payer, yet despite efforts in the UK to link procurement rules with payment performance, it was awarded 420 central and local government contracts worth over £5.7bn. Its collapse exposed 30,000 suppliers and sub-contractors to extreme financial risk.

With Tory spending cuts strangling the public sector on the one hand and uncertainty over Brexit depressing investment into the country on the other, small businesses are facing unprecedented business costs. They could do without the stress, time and money required to chase overdue payments from corporate clients.
It is worth remembering that with the trend to outsourcing and contracting ‘self employment’ and ‘small businesses’ now play the roles of formerly employed Labour. We could debate the cultural niceties here, but when we talk about ‘small businesses’ we are really talking about ordinary working folk much of the time.

It is clear that ending late payment practices would alleviate the burden on small businesses and protect jobs. It would also increase tax revenue by boosting business profits and productivity and slashing the number of small businesses forced to the wall.

What is the EU doing?

People are starting to wake up to the damage late payments can have on small businesses and there have been positive steps taken in recent years. The EU continues to lead the way in this respect, and the adoption of the 2011 Late Payment Directive introduced a number of important changes such as new requirements that business payment terms should never exceed 60 calendar days, unless expressly agreed by both parties and provided that it is not ‘grossly unfair’ to the creditor.
Despite this, poor payment practice continues to affect millions of businesses across Europe. And so this week the European Parliament issued a report into the implementation of the Late Payments Directive. The report makes a number of recommendations that seek to strengthening EU rules on commercial transactions. These include:

  • Linking procurement rules with payment performance. A year on from the disastrous collapse of Carillion, this is exactly the kind of initiative that should be pursued to prevent this kind of corporate disaster from ever happened again.
  • Automatic accrual of interest for the public sector. The public sector should lead by example and should pay on time.
  • Mandatory reporting requirements for larger firms. This is a positive step that has already been taken in the UK and other EU countries should look to replicate this.

It is essential that these recommendations are taken forward to strengthen the EU rules currently in place.

What is the UK doing?

The UK implemented the Late Payment Directive into national law in 2013, adopting the requirement that business payment terms should never exceed 60 calendar days, unless expressly agreed by both parties and provided that it is not ‘grossly unfair’ to the creditor, and setting out that public authorities must pay invoices within 30 days.

The UK also has a voluntary ‘Prompt Payment Code’, under which organisations are invited to sign up to the code in return for which they can publish the PPC logo on their documentation and website and benefit from the reputational boost this brings.
Since 2017, large companies have also been under a statutory duty to publish their payment practices, which includes information on standard payment terms; the average time taken to pay invoices; and the percentage of invoices paid outside of the payment terms. Parliament also created the Small Business Commissioner, to tackle late payments.

Despite these requirements being in place, it is clear that a culture of paying late has become the norm. Large companies continue to employ damaging late payment practices well in excess of the 30 and 60 day requirements, while small businesses feel like they are forced to choose between a bad business relationship with a large supplier or no relationship at all. They often accept punitive payment terms as the price they have to pay for securing a big customer.
It is early days for the Small Business Commissioner, but it is clear that his work is cut out for him. Charged with bringing about a change of culture, his office must be equipped with the necessary powers and the resources to hold large companies to account.

What have I been doing?

I have worked closely with the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK to raise this issue in the European Parliament. In September 2018, I hosted an event that brought together small businesses, business federations, policy experts and MEPs to discuss ways to tackle the late payment culture (pictured at the top of the article and below with Maria Grapini MEP). This week, I gave a speech (above) in plenary welcoming the European Parliament’s recommendations and calling on the European Commission to launch a new public consultation as the next step to strengthening EU rules on commercial transactions. If and when the UK leaves the EU, the EU will continue to be British small businesses’ biggest export market and their biggest source of non-domestic customers, so whatever happens it is and will remain in everyone’s interest that a culture of prompt payment is developed.


Posted by John Howarth