This week I have joined a working group to find solutions to issues around the Irish border and ‘backstop’ provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement proposed for our exit from the EU. It’s significant as a real step towards moving past the old ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ battles and the ideas of a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. This is about a constructive departure, allowing us to seize new opportunities as they arise whilst minimising the disruption caused to our citizens and businesses.
It’s no secret that I and others have been frustrated by the Government’s lack of engagement with practical solutions to the border and the EU’s refusal to even discuss the issue. The proposals we are working with do not rely on new or untested technology but rather existing methods of checks away from the border and simplified declarations and inland clearance procedures which would ease any concerns over the Dover to Calais route too.
Crucially the group includes people like Nicky Morgan who voted Remain but now wishes to contribute to respecting the Referendum result whilst getting the best set of arrangements possible for the country. I helped put together the ‘Better Deal’ proposals which set out an alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement and it’s good to see elements of these practical suggestions being useful in winning people over and sometimes it does take a deadline to focus minds. Having said that, on Tuesday the Liberal Democrat Tom Brake asked for an emergency debate on leaving the EU; I’m not sure what he might have to say that he has not already said repeatedly over the past two years about wanting to overturn the democratic choice in 2016 and it may just be that he has not got over the result.
The BBC is currently running a consultation on potential changes to the licence fee and I would encourage anyone interested in the issue to take part. It’s available online at https://www.bbc.com/yoursay and runs until the 12th February. Next year a Government funded scheme which currently pays for free-licences for the over 75s comes to an end. It was the original intention that the BBC would absorb this funding reduction but it is now possible that the 75 age threshold could change or means testing could be introduced.
I am not a fan of the licence fee in its current form although I am also aware of a great deal of support and affection for the BBC in Somerset and nationwide and people are worried that any changes will dilute its virtues. The BBC reasonably say they have they have cut their number of executives and stopped paying for Jeremy Clarkson, but £315,000 a year for failed Labour MP James Purnell seems a lot of licence fees. I will oppose changes to the fee for over 75s but also encourage proper reform of the fee. Why not means test it for everyone so that those with the least money to spare pay less regardless of age?
Do get in touch if you would like to let me know what you think about this, if I can help with anything else or to book an appointment at one of my advice surgeries, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01935314321