Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Saying of the day 15th June 2021

"Two very different mobs attacked free journalism this week. Both contemptible, each in their way a threat to our free press and democracy.

The first was the physical mob who harassed BBC journalist Nicholas Watt

The second, those who tried to stop firms advertising with GBNEWS

The physical mob and the virtual one represent two aspects of the same disease - a wish to suppress sources of unwelcome news or differing opinions.

It is unacceptable wherever it comes from."

(Saying of the day rather than quote of the day as it comes from me.) 

Vaccination now available to all over 21 years old

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tuesday music spot: Karl Jenkins: "Palladio"

Trade deal with Australia signed

A major trade deal with Australis has been signed. This is a big deal. 

  • Today marks a new dawn in our relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values.
  • Our historic new free-trade agreement – the first major trade deal negotiated from scratch since we left the EU – will create fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, removing tariffs on all British goods, opening up new markets for our services providers and tech firms, and making it easier for people to travel and work together.
  • This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and helping ensure every part of our country builds back better from the pandemic.

Our new free trade agreement with Australia will do this by:

  • Eliminating all tariffs on our imports and exports to Australia, boosting jobs and businesses across the country. Iconic British products like cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia, boosting UK industries that employ 3.5 million people across the country. The deal also eliminates tariffs on Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, swimwear and confectionery, boosting choice for British consumers and saving households up to £34 million a year.
  • Making it easier for people to travel between the UK and Australia, strengthening the historic ties between our two countries. Under the agreement, British people under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia more freely, opening up exciting opportunities for young people. 
  • Supporting and protecting British farmers, so they can benefit from new trading opportunities. British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Improving market access and cutting red tape for UK businesses, opening up new opportunities for them. The deal’s commitments on market access for services professionals, cutting-edge digital provisions and reduced barriers to investment will benefit the UK’s services sector. Red tape and bureaucracy will also be torn down for more than 13,000 SMEs across the UK who already export goods to Australia.
  • Delivering for every part of our Union, levelling up and creating opportunity across the country. This includes:

    • Scotland exported £126 million of beverages to Australia in 2020 – this deal will help distillers by removing tariffs of up to 5 per cent on Scotch Whisky.
    • More than 450 businesses in Wales exported to Australia last year – and life science companies and chemicals manufacturers are set to benefit in particular.
    • 90 per cent of all exports from Northern Ireland to Australia are machinery and manufacturing goods – used extensively in Australia’s mining, quarrying and recycling sectors. Under the new FTA tariffs will be removed and customs procedures will be simplified.
  • Agreeing to intensify co-operation between our countries, so we can build back better and stronger together. We have reaffirmed the enduring partnership between the UK and Australia during these negotiations, and have committed to working closely together on defence, technology collaboration and tackling climate change – including through a future Clean Tech Partnership.
  • Negotiating the first major trade deal from scratch since we left the EU, showing the opportunities we now have as a sovereign trading nation. We have already signed almost 70 trade deals worth almost £900 billion into law – but our trade deal with Australia is the first one negotiated from scratch, showing how we can use the new opportunities available to us outside of the EU to deliver for the British people. 

The ten key benefits of our new trade deal with Australia:

  1. Delivering tariff free trade for all British goods. The deal removes tariffs on £4.3 billion of exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic products like cars, Scotch whisky and ceramics into Australia – supporting 3.5 million jobs across the country. Car makers in the Midlands and the North of England will also benefit. 
  2. Making it easier for Brits to travel and work in Australia. British people under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia for up to three years, opening up major opportunities for younger people. Highly skilled professionals will now be able to work in Australia temporarily, and Aussie firms will no longer have to prioritise hiring Australian nationals first. 
  3. Delivering lower prices and more choice for British shoppers. The elimination of tariffs on Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, TimTams and Vegemite will boost choice for British consumers and save British households up to £34 million a year. 
  4. Enhancing access for British tech companies. The deal will create opportunities for the UK’s cutting edge digital and tech sectors, preparing us to lead in industries of the future like AI, space exploration and low emissions technology. 
  5. Making it easier for lawyers and other professionals to work in Australia without re-qualifying. UK lawyers will be able to practice in Australia without having to requalify as an Australian lawyer. The deal will allow for the recognition of UK professional qualifications across many sectors, creating opportunity for our professionals while allowing British companies to attract and retain global talent. 
  6. Boosting UK services industries. The UK exported £5.4 billion worth of services to Australia in 2020 accounting for more for 56 per cent of our total exports to the country. The combined effect of the deal’s cutting-edge provisions, allowing UK and Australian service professionals access to each other’s markets, and reduced barriers to investment will give a substantial lift to the UK’s service sectors.
  7. Slashing red tape for entrepreneurs and small business. Red tape and bureaucracy will be torn down for more than 13,000 small businesses across the length and breadth of the UK who already export goods to Australia. The agreement will deliver quicker export times and ensure small business have access to new intelligence that will better allow them to seize the opportunities created by the deal. 
  8. Creating access to billions of pounds worth of new opportunities for UK firms. British companies will now be able to bid for additional Australian government contracts. It is the most substantial level of access Australia has ever granted in a free trade agreement, including in transport and financial services.  
  9. Strengthening cooperation on shared challenges. Australia is a like-minded democracy that shares our belief in free enterprise, the rule of law, and high standards in areas like labour, animal welfare, gender equality and the environment. The deal will uphold these high standards and foster collaboration on challenges like tackling climate change and unfair trading practices. 
  10. Paving the way to CPTPP. (see below) Australia strongly supports UK membership of CPTPP, which would further open up eleven Pacific markets worth £9 trillion. CPTPP membership will secure British exports superior access to these growing markets, with one third of middle class consumers expected to be in Asia by 2030.

CPTPP stands for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as TPP11, which is a trade agreement among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Britain has applied to join and Australian support for our application is most welcome. 

Modernising NATO

The Prime Minister has addressed NATO leaders in Brussels, emphasising the importance of modernising the alliance so that it can continue to underpin our national security.

  • Britain's commitment to NATO as Europe’s leading contributor remains unwavering, but in order to keep us safe, it needs to continually adapt and evolve to meet new challenges and emerging threats.

  • That is why, the Prime Minister called on our allies to commit to the 2030 NATO modernisation initiative, which alongside strengthening deterrence and security, calls for a focus on shared values, new policies on emerging threats and significant investment in research and development, so that NATO can face down the threats of the future.

  • A strengthened, modernised NATO will be the foundation of a global recovery, providing the safety and security we need to build back better and safer from the pandemic.

Alex Massie on Public Health Scotland

I believe that we need to improve transparency in government in all parts of the United Kingdom and under governments and councils of all political parties. 

This is specifically not a party-political point - we all need to do better at letting the public see what is going on and what is being done in their name, and ensure that the enormous influencing power of government and council PR machines are used to circulate information which the public needs to know in an impartial manner, not to circulate party propaganda and vanity publications for whoever is in power.

Nobody is in a brilliant position to point fingers over this - there have been instances of bad practice which can be laid at the door of people from all of Britain's political parties and by Independents.

As an example, I think that we need to make sure next year's inquiry into the handling of the pandemic looks very carefully at what went wrong with discharges from hospitals into care homes here in Britain and for purposes of comparison in other countries - it certainly went wrong in both England and Scotland and it is my understanding that similar mistakes were made in other countries including the USA and France. We need to learn from this to make sure these mistakes and the terrible cost which went with them are not repeated if or when there is another pandemic.

I am concerned about what Alex Massie has written in The Times here about Public Health Scotland.

He refers to a communications strategy for PHS. approved by the Scottish government, which seeks to restrict PHS from publishing information that might cause “sustained or widespread criticism of the Scottish government” or lead to “ministers being pressed to make a statement to parliament”.    

If a similar document approved by the UK government seeking to control what Public Health England can say which might embarrass the Westminster government fell into the hands of the BBC or most newspapers I suspect we - quite rightly - wouldn't hear the end of it for weeks. Why has the fuss about Holyrood doing it apparently been limited to a couple of articles in the Times?

Massie writes that the document says

"Above all, any material published by PHS should be considered in the context of “Does it challenge — or could it be interpreted as a critique of — Scottish government position or policy?” Well, if it is independent it often will challenge the position. That’s often the way with facts.

It gets worse: “Communications decisions should be holistic, taking account of the wider context, risks, opportunities and possible stakeholder reactions.” 

Since the Scottish government is the key “stakeholder” the meaning is clear: never say anything that might embarrass the government. The framework further asks, “Will we accept a higher level of risk to challenge policy makers?” and it is heavily implied that the ordinary answer to this will be in the negative."

He concludes that the most insidious forms of corruption are those which 

"involve the capturing of independent agencies and the suppression of awkward truths."

Whoever the threat comes from, a democratic society needs to be on the alert against such practices 

Everyone over 23 can now book a vaccination


The route out of lockdown

 Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the decision to pause step four of the Roadmap out of lockdown by four weeks, giving our NHS time to accelerate our vaccine programme and save lives.

  • When the government set out on the roadmap to freedom a few months ago, they made clear that they would be driven by data not dates, and that they are determined to make progress that was cautious but irreversible. 
  • Step by step – thanks to the enormous efforts of the British people and the spectacular vaccine roll-out we now have one of the most open economies and societies in this part of the world. 
  • And while vaccinations greatly reduces transmission – and two doses provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness and death – there are still millions of adults who have not been fully vaccinated. 
  • And that is why the Delta variant is such a cause for concern: it is now spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap – seeing cases grow by 64 per cent per week. 
  • Since Britain is not meeting all four tests for proceeding with step four of the roadmap, it is unfortunately necessary  to right to delay taking Step 4 until 19 July to give our NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them and complete the cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom. 
  • The target is that by the 19 July all adults will have been offered their first dose of the vaccine with around two thirds fully vaccinated. 
  • However, whilst the government does not believe it is safe feel to take the full step we all wanted, the ongoing success of our vaccine rollout means we can take some more cautious steps – including removing the 30 person limit on weddings and wakes, removing the requirement for care home residents to isolate for 14 days after visits out, and allowing major sporting events – including the final four UEFA Euro 2020 matches at Wembley and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships to go ahead with greater capacities. 
  • This wasn't an easy decision to take and there is no way that everyone could have been pleased. There are those who seem to think we should be social distancing and wearing masks for ever, and others who would have scrapped all lockdown measures months ago and almost any policy the government could have adopted would have been seen as dangerous by one of those groups and too restrictive by the other.
  • Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance – in the next four weeks – to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.

Quote of the day 15th June 2021

"It's a good learning experience"

Scotland manager Steve Clarke on his team's defeat by Croatia.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a dig at the Scotland team, I merely think that Mr Clarke has missed his vocation, and if he isn't kept on as a football manager, might join the team of spin doctors for one of the political parties to advise on how to respond to election results about which I wrote last month.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Supporting the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme

The government has announced a £3.4 million investment to expand The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in schools, supporting pupils in deprived schools in England to take part in volunteering and extra-curricular learning as part of the plans to level up across the country.

  • The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is synonymous with service and personal achievement, supporting young people to build resilience, perseverance and discipline.

  • That is why the government is expanding the Award into more schools with more pupils from the most deprived areas of England able to start the Award thanks to this £3.4 million funding boost going to up to 291 more schools, meaning more young people will be able to access volunteering and extra-curricular learning.

  • This fitting tribute to the extraordinary life and achievements of HRH the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is supporting more young people to develop skills and abilities while making a difference to society as we level up opportunity across the country.

The G7 Summit

Following the G7 Summit which finished yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a statement outlining achievements at the Summit, including important work on preventing a global pandemic happening again, addressing climate change, and supporting education around the world – working together to build back better, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic growth.

  • Many of the biggest issues we face as a nation are faced internationally and this G7 Summit, hosted by the UK in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, provided world leaders with the opportunity to take action together. 
  • That is why the G7 leaders and leaders from other guest nations worked on a number of measures to support the future of our planet:
    • Pledging more than one billion coronavirus vaccine doses - either directly or through funding to COVAX – including 100 million from the UK, to the world’s poorest countries – which is another big step towards vaccinating the world.

    • Agreeing to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more reading by the end of primary school in the next five years.

    • Helping the Global Partnership for Education - an organisation working to make sure that every child in the world is given the chance of a proper education – reach half of its five-year fundraising goal, including a £430 million donation from the UK.

    • Agreeing the landmark Carbis Bay Declaration on health, where G7 leaders committed to using all their resources to prevent a global pandemic from ever happening again.

    • And agreeing a shared agenda for global action to build back better together, on crucial issues such as health, climate change, and economic recovery and jobs.

  • As the Prime Minister said, it’s not good enough for us to just rest on our laurels and talk about how important those values are. What we as the G7 need to do is demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights to rest of the world.

  • That is why the UK is committed to leading the way in addressing the global challenges we all face, and this G7 Summit represents a vital step forward as we work together to building back better and greener.

Monday music spot: A Renaissance music sequence

Quote of the day 14th June 2021

"If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time a new variant comes along, we are going to spend a long time huddled away, so we do need to keep a bit of balance to the discussion."

(Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford and an immunologist, quoted in yesterday's Sunday Times leader, "It is time for the country to talk realistically about risk.")

For the avoidance of doubt, putting this quote up is not a coded attack on whatever announcement is made today about whether to delay the end of the remaining restrictions. 

It is meant to be exactly what Sir John was calling for - an appeal for balance. 

The government said they would be driven by data not dates and I hope they will be - and will avoid the mistake of either paying too much attention to those who would drop all restrictions tomorrow no matter how high the risks or those who would keep us all locked up, wearing masks and avoiding contact with one another no matter how low the risks. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Sir Nicholas Winton RIP

Rest in Peace.

The new Boundary review

 A few days ago the Boundary Commission for England published their first set of proposed changes to the parliamentary boundaries for election of MPs to the House of Commons from English constituencies.

I've spent a good part of today and indeed of the last few days poring over the proposals and in discussion with colleagues about them.

Since changes like these can easily result in MPs losing their jobs such proposals will always generate controversy with those MPs who are afraid they might lose out crying "foul" which they may or may not have good grounds to do.

The proposals which were published at midnight on Monday are the first stage of the process, and we are currently in an eight week consultation stage, following which the Boundary Commission will decide whether or not to amend their proposals: there will be further rounds of consultation.

Without making any comment yet on the details of these proposals, I think it is essential that this boundary update proposal, unlike the last three attempts, gets completed.

As I wrote in February, if we are to have fair constituency boundaries and not allow the return of the "rotten boroughs" which made a nonsense of British democracy before the great reform bill of the 1830s, we need to have impartial boundary reviews on a regular basis, and implement the results.

In some other countries such as America state legislatures set electoral boundaries and both the main parties have been - entirely accurately - accused of rigging them. Hence America gave us the word "Gerrymander" to mean rigging electoral boundaries to manipulate the result of the elections.

We had a system which worked very well for decades that an impartial boundary commission proposes new parliamentary boundaries at intervals of about a decade, and then there is extensive consultation on them, after which there was a convention that MPs of all parties would vote them through.

Unfortunately that convention was broken by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband ten years ago and since then because of narrow or non-existent government majorities and short parliaments, it has not been possible to complete a boundary review. 

The events of the last decade show how easy it is for unscrupulous politicians of all parties who might lose out from an update of the boundaries to oppose whatever changes are on the table claiming to be fighting against "gerrymandering" when in fact by opposing any attempt to update the boundaries to reflect where people now live they themselves are the people doing the gerrymandering.

Immediately before the Great Reform Act of 1832, the parliamentary boundaries then in use were hundreds of years out of date, with the result that there were massive new towns which had grown up in those centuries but had no representation in parliament, while other areas which had once been populous but no longer were still returned MPs. 

The most notorious examples were Old Sarum, where the seven electors met under an oak tree, and Dunwich, most of which had disappeared beneath the sea. 

But make no mistake - if you let the process of updating electoral boundaries get blocked, and delayed, and blocked, and delayed, you are starting down the slippery slope which led to the "Rotten Boroughs" of 1832.

The present parliamentary boundaries, first used in 2010, are based on demographic data which is nearly 20 years old. It is high time they were updated.

Derek Gadd wrote a good piece on "The Article here a few months ago about the measures then on their way though parliament which have given the impartial boundary commission the power to carry out regular reviews without further reference to politicians now and in the future.

This is a good thing. MPs are interested parties in parliamentary boundary reviews and should not have a veto over them.

As Derek Gadd wrote  of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 which was then nearing the end of its passage through parliament, and is now law:

"It fixes the number of electors in each constituency, except for four island seats, to be within five per cent of a quota calculated by even distribution of electorates. But most important, it removes the need for Parliament to approve them. Once agreed by the commissions, they take force. They are final. Parliament has eventually faced up to its inability to resist the temptation to interfere. It has done the right thing and relinquished control. Parliamentary turkeys no longer have to vote for Christmas." 

Saturday music spot: Klaus Nomi sings Purcell's "The Cold Song" from "King Arthur"

You might not believe it from this presentation, but this song has just turned 330 years old. 

Known variously as "The Cold song," "The Frost song" or "The cold genius" the music was written by Henry Purcell and the libretto by John Dryden and it forms part of the opera "King Arthur," which was first performed in late May or early June 1691.

Quotes of the day 12th June 2021

 "A chauvinist thinks that 'Whether thou goest, I will go' was said by a woman to a man."

(Marcella Markham, line from the book "A chauvinist is ...")

"A male chauvinist, or someone more familiar with Roman history than he is with the Bible, may think that  'Whether thou goest, I will go' was said by a woman to a man.

A female chauvinist, or someone more familiar with the bible than she is with Roman history, may think  that  'Whether thou goest, I will go' was said by one woman to another.

A well-informed person knows that both statements are correct."

(Chris Whiteside)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Britain welcomes POTUS and the other G7 leaders

Individual Presidents and Prime Ministers come and go but the alliance between Britain and the USA  - I'm deliberately avoiding the cliche which is most often used to describe it - goes on and remains our most important single relationship.

Good to see the Prime Minister welcoming President Joe Biden to Britain for the G7 meeting.

Also good to see that, as in 1941, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter to map out post-war recovery.

Today, as the UK chairs leads the G7,  Boris Johnson  and President Biden have signed a new Atlantic Charter to ensure we build back better and greener from the coronavirus pandemic.

Full Fact confirms Boris Johnson was speaking the truth about Foreign Aid

There is more to be said in favour of the positions of both sides in the argument about Foreign Aid than some on each side would allow.

Firstly, what the government is proposing is not, as some have alleged, illegal. 

The legislation requiring the government to aim to spend 0.7% of GDP on Foreign aid covers the possibility that there may be circumstances why in a particular year this does not happen. If the target is missed the government must present a report to parliament explaining why -  a "substantial change" in national income is given as an example of a possible reason - and what it proposes to do to put matters right the following year.

A brief summary on the House of Commons library website of the issue can be found here.

If the worst recession in 300 years combined with one of the largest ever falls in national income does not count as a "substantial change" for the purpose of the act, it is difficult to see what would be. Those who suggest that the government proposes to drop the share spent on aid this year from 0.7% of 0.5% of GDP this year, are, in my humble opinion, in the wrong.

At the same time, I was not impressed when some outriders for the hard right on social media accused those Conservative MPs who want to stick to the 0.7% target of going against the "will of the people."

I really cannot see that wanting to keep the manifesto promises on which you have been elected at three of the last four elections is going against the will of the electorate.

Personally I can reluctantly see why the proposal to drop Britain's Foreign aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP for a temporary period has come forward but nobody will be happier than me if an honourable compromise can be found to prevent this or limit it to as short a time as possible.

The "Full Fact" fact checking site has looked at the comments made by the PM on this subject, to the effect that the present government has spent more on foreign aid than any previous Labour government.  and has concluded that those comments were true.

They wrote:

"On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that this government has spent more on aid than Labour governments did in the past.

He also said that the government was continuing to spend more—even with its planned reduction of the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income.

This is essentially true, with some minor caveats.

UK foreign aid has grown

Since the late 2000s, the UK has spent much more on foreign aid than it used to—both in terms of cash, and as a share of the national income.

So the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have certainly spent more on aid than any previous Labour government, and more than any previous Conservative government too."


You can read the full assessment by Full Fact here.

Thursday music spot: "If ye love me" by Thomas Tallis performed virtually by The King's Singers

Quote of the day 10th June 2021


Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Vaccination update - a million people booked a vaccination appointment yesterday

With the opening of the vaccination system to all people aged 25 and over, over a million people booked a jab yesterday in the UK. That shows phenomenal support for the vaccination programme as our route back to something resembling normal life.

Other latest figures:

69,251,163 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have now been administered in the United Kingdom.

+450,284 doses in the latest 24hr period.

40,710,319 people have received their first dose, with 28,540,844 of those having also had the second dose and being fully vaccinated.

Midweek music spot: Bach's Concerto for two violins in D minor BWV 1043

Quote of the day 9th June 2021


Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Britain's vaccination programme has now been going for six months.

Just six months ago, Margaret Keenan became the world's first person to be vaccinated with a clinically approved vaccine.

Since then thanks to the efforts of the scientists, doctors, nurses volunteers and all those involved 

- 68m doses have been delivered across the UK Flag of United Kingdom

- this has saved saved thousands of lives, almost certainly tens of thousands

- put this country on the road to recovery 

Thank you to everyone involved.

The current totals:

Another version of Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" sung by The Gesualdo Six at Ely Cathedral

Everyone over 25 can now book a vaccination appointment

 Ring 119 between 7am and 11 pm any day of the week or you can book the jab online

Tuesday music spot: Byrd's "Ave Verum Corpus" (Hail true body)

Quote of the day 8th June 2021

"Please don't shout at me 'You're on mute!'"

(Cllr Mel Worth, Chair of Cumbria Pensions Committee, opening this morning's physical meeting of the Cumbria Pensions Committee, which was the first Cumbria County Council meeting to actually take place in a physical location rather than on Zoom or Teams which he, I or most of the other people present would have attended in person for more than a year.)

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Vaccination update


The global digital tax deal

  • The global tax system needs to be fit for the digital age, and as hosts of the G7 Britain has been pushing for a new system that means that the right companies pay the right` tax in the right places. 
  • That is why, working with our G7 partners, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has agreed changes to create a new, fairer tax system fit for the 21st century, with a minimum global corporation tax and new rules to ensure that large global firms and tech giants pay a fair share of profits in the countries where they do business. 
  • This historic agreement will pave the way towards a global economic recovery that works for everyone, with multinationals paying more towards our public services in the UK as we build back better.

We are creating a fairer financial system fit for the 21st century:

  • Global firms will be required to pay tax in the countries where they operate – and not just where they have their headquarters. The rules would apply to the largest and most profitable multinationals with at least a 10 per cent profit margin – and would see 20 per cent of any profit above the 10 per cent margin reallocated and then subjected to tax in the countries they operate. The fairer system will mean the UK will raise more tax revenue from large multinationals and help pay for public services here in the UK.
  • A global minimum corporation tax will tax 15 per cent of multinational’s profits. The G7 leaders agreed to the principle of a global minimum corporation tax of 15 per cent, operated on a country by country basis. That will ensure that multinationals pay at least 15 per cent of tax in each country they operate in and crack down on tax avoidance.
  • Climate change will be embedded into global financial decisions as we transition towards net zero. G7 Partners have followed the UK’s lead by committing to embed climate change and biodiversity loss considerations into economic and financial decision-making, ensuring the global financial system plays its part transition to net zero. The UK was the first country in the world to commit to making climate disclosures mandatory in November 2020.

We are leading the way towards a global recovery:

  • Playing a leading role as hosts of the G7 and COP26 as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic. We are using the UK’s presidency of the G7 and the COP 26 climate change conference to drive international action on global challenges like digital taxation, climate change, pandemic preparedness and girls’ education while promoting Britain’s interests and values abroad.
  • Committing more than £548 million to the global COVAX initiative to ensure a global recovery. We remain committed to supporting the equitable access to vaccines worldwide as one of the largest donors to the COVAX facility with over £500 million already committed - helping to distribute 1.3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine to 127 developing countries so far this year. 
  • Remaining one of the highest aid donors in the G7 – helping us continue to tackle poverty around the world. During a time when we need to prioritise jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people. We will continue to meet our commitment to the world’s poorest, spending the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of GNI on overseas aid in 2021, allocating £10 billion in this Spending Review. Based on OECD data for 2020, the UK will be the third largest donor within the G7 as a percentage of GNI.

Sunday music spot: Bach's Prelude and fugue in C minor (BWV 546)

Quote of the day for 6th June 2021 (77th anniversary of "D-Day")


Saturday, June 05, 2021

40 million people vaccinated

The number of people in the UK who have received at least their first vaccination dose has now passed 40 million.

Remember that it takes 2-4 weeks after the first vaccination before the protection it provides kicks in.

Saturday music spot "The Lightning Tree" sung by the Settlers (Theme from Follyfoot)

Quote of the day 5th June 2021

"That is the law - and a law that my brother wanted - so it must be respected."

(Maria, sister of the murdered Italian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, on the release from prison of the man convicted of her brother's murder after serving 25 years of a 30-year sentence.

He had avoided a life sentence, ironically, under a plea-bargain law which Mr Falcone had himself  promoted to help bring down the mafia, after turning state's evidence and helping to put other mobsters behind bars.

The Economist magazine wrote of her statement that "her brother, one suspects, would have been proud of her.")

Historic G7 deal makes possible fair taxation of Big Tech multinationals

I am in favour of low taxes with as few exemptions as possible - it is fairer and less harmful that everyone pays some tax, and if you have too many loopholes and exemptions it is far often those who can least aford to pay who end up paying the most.

There has been an issue for a long time with "Big tech" online multinationals evading the taxes which SMEs (small and medium size businesses) have to pay by adjusting their internal accounting rates so as to declare profits not in the country where the relevant business was done but in whichever of the countries where they operate has the lowest tax rates.

Getting to the truth of where the work which generated revenue for a multi-national was done can be preposterously complicated, but the problem is real and leads to unfair competition.

The only way to deal with multinational tax avoidance is multinational tax competition, - and that makes today's announcement by UK chancellor Rishi Sunak of a deal at the G7 a really big deal.

Sunak has announced that G7 leaders have struck an “historic agreement” to force internet giants to pay a fairer share of tax, including in the UK.

The agreement will “make sure the right companies pay the right tax in the right places”, the Chancellor promised.

The breakthrough follows years of largely futile attempts to end massive tax avoidance by major tech firms.

Now they will have to pay corporation tax rate of at least 15 per cent. Further rises may be agreed in future: US president Joe Biden originally proposed 21 per cent.

Perhaps even more significantly, 20 per cent of the profits of around 100 of the biggest firms – likely to include Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – would be reallocated to the countries where sales have taken place, if this deal is ratified.

The move is designed to end “offshoring”, where companies set up legal entities in low-tax companies – regardless of where their revenues are actually earned.

Mr Sunak said the agreement would tackle tax havens and tax-dodging digital companies, vowing: “We are going to level the playing field.”

Speaking after a meeting of G7 finance ministers in London, he said it would make the tax system “fit for the global digital age”, adding: “That’s a huge prize for British taxpayers.”

Friday, June 04, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Purcell's evening hymn, sung by Emma Kirkby

International Travel

The government has announced an update to the traffic light list for international travel, which takes a cautious approach to reopening travel abroad which protects public health and the vaccine rollout.

  • We have all always known that travelling abroad would be different this year, and the government continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine rollout.
  • That is why, following a regular review of the traffic light list for international travel, which is updated in line with the latest scientific advice, it has unfortunately been necessary to move Portugal to the amber list to safeguard public health against potential new variants which have been identified there, and moved seven countries onto the red list.
  • Our top priority is protecting the health of the public and while we are making great progress in the UK with the vaccine rollout, it is still important for everyone to play their part in protecting public health by not travelling to destinations outside the green list.
  • This was not an easy decision and will have been a disappointment to many people but we need to balance the wish to travel with the need to minimise the risk of new variants of COVID-19 coming into the country and do not jeopardise plans to further relax social distancing requirements later in June.

Helping key workers and first time buyers to get their first home

flagship First Homes scheme, has been launched today, offering discounted homes for local first-time buyers and key workers, providing an affordable route into home ownership for even more people who want to own their own home.

  • Owning a home in your local area should not be the preserve of a small number of people, but a mainstream, realistic and affordable option for people across the country. 
  • That is why the government has today launched our new First Homes scheme, which will help local first-time buyers and key workers– from front-line doctors and nurses to delivery drivers and supermarket staff - onto the housing ladder by offering homes at a 30 per cent discount, ensuring that homeownership remains an affordable option for local people.
  • This will help more local people and their families buy a home in their local area rather than being forced out due to rising prices – levelling up opportunity across the country.
  • It is important to stress that this is not just an initiative to change the price of the existing housing stock, which would simply replace rationing by price with rationing by who is eligible for the reduced price properties. The First Homes scheme is part of a package which includes building a million new affordable homes during this parliament.

Quote of the day 4th June

"Despite having a resounding mandate from members to introduce more transparency into the party’s finances, I have not received the support or financial information to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer. Regretfully I have resigned with immediate effect."

(Douglas Chapman MP, announcing his resignation as Treasurer of the SNP.

Also this week Joanna Cherry MP resigned from the SNP national executive citing concerns about "transparency & scrutiny" and Marco Biagi resigned as head of the SNP's independence taskforce.)

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Further vaccination update

Yesterday Britain hit the milestone of 75% of UK adults having had at least one jab - today the milestone that 50% have had both.

Congratulations to all the scientists, doctors, nurses, volunteers and other people involved.

Together we can beat the virus.

Thursday evening music spot: "Evening Hymn" by H. Balfour Gardiner

Vaccination update: 75% of UK adults now protected

More than 75 per cent of UK adults have now received their first Covid-19 vaccine dose - protecting them from the virus as we cautiously move along our roadmap to normality.

  • Thanks to the efforts of the British people and our historic vaccine programme - the most successful in our nation’s history - we are making huge progress in emerging from this devastating pandemic.

  • More than three in four adults across the UK have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, and we remain on track to offer all adults a first dose by the end of July. 

  • And yesterday the Health Secretary set out the global efforts we are taking to work more closely with our international friends and partners to identify early warning signs from animals and the environment.

  • Britain remains committed to supporting equitable access to vaccines worldwide as one of the largest donors to the COVAX facility with over £500 million already committed - helping to distribute 1.3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine to 92 developing countries so far this year.
  • The case for getting vaccinated is clear, which is why government, the NHS, and medical professionals are encouraging everyone, when you get the call, get the jab, so together we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
  • If you have any issues about your medical circumstances and whether the jab is best for you or a family member, discuss it with your GP or another appropriately qualified medical professional.

More doctors and nurses in the NHS in England than ever before

We have a record number of doctors working in the NHS in England, the highest-ever recorded level at 124,078. 

We also have a record number of nurses working in the NHS in England, the highest recorded level at 304,542.

Announcing this, Health secretary Matt Hancock said a "Huge thank you to the whole NHS team."

It's worth pointing this out because among the charges that have been made by opponents of the Conservatives at every UK general election since about 1979 and most by elections is that if the Conservatives win we will destroy the NHS, privatise the NHS, sell the NHS to the Americans or at the very least cut the NHS and numbers of doctors and nurses.

The Conservatives have won eight of those general elections and we have not abolished the NHS, sold it to the Americans or cut it - real spending on the NHS has been increased by more than the amount cited in the silly slogan on the side of a certain red bus, though the money has come from taxpayers. As for privatisation, if you mean out-sourcing, the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have increased it more slowly than the last Labour Health Secretary, Andy Burnham (now mayor of Greater Manchester) did.

And on the subject on which I had to put up with the largest single number of unjustified accusations of lying in the comments pages of this blog and my Facebook page during the run up to and aftermath of the 2019 general election, the Conservative manifest commitment to increase the number of nurses, we promised to increase the number of nurses and we are increasing the number of nurses.