Thursday, June 30, 2022

Plans for a "Bonfire of the Barriers" to boost trade

Today, the International Trade Secretary announced plans to lift over 100 trade barriers, unlocking export opportunities worth tens of billions of pounds.  

  • Businesses which export pay higher wages and are more productive than businesses who do not, but too often, complex trade rules and practical obstacles prevent them selling overseas. 
  • That is why we have drawn up plans for negotiations to resolve around 100 priority trade barriers, unlocking export opportunities worth more than £20 billion for businesses across our United Kingdom. 
  • This bonfire of barriers will allow world-leading UK goods and services to reach hundreds of millions of new customers around the world, boosting business growth and supporting local jobs.

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

"Every week we remove trade barriers somewhere around the world, helping more and more businesses all over the country.

We know that businesses who export pay higher wages and are more productive than businesses who do not, but too often, complex trade rules and practical obstacles prevent them selling overseas.

This bonfire of the barriers will grow our economy by allowing our brilliant businesses to satisfy the enormous global appetite for their goods and services."

Unlocking new markets and global customers means more opportunities for UK firms to grow their businesses and support local jobs. That is why Britain is working hard on getting rid of barriers, including:

  • Opening the Chinese market for UK lamb for the first time, unlocking markets worth £1.5bn which would help businesses such as Pilgrims Lamb UK.
  • South Korea removing restrictions on UK beef for the first time, opening up markets worth £2.5bn – this is expected to be resolved within the next five years and could benefit businesses such as Northern Ireland based Foyle Food Group.
  • Removing delays in registering new medicines and medical devices in South Africa helping to increase the UK’s exports as well as improving healthcare availability and quality.

The UK gained greater freedom to remove trade barriers, along with the ability to negotiate its own Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), when it left the European Union. FTAs are securing new and substantial opportunities for UK businesses, and the work goes hand in hand with tackling trade barriers facing our firms today.

The Department of Trade has supported the resolution of around 400 barriers, across more than 70 countries, in the last two years. These included:

  • Working with Chinese authorities to remove animal testing requirements for many beauty products in China, opening up a market worth £500m and helping brands such as Unilever’s cruelty-free REN brand to import into China for the first time.
  • Overcoming bureaucratic issues to allow the export of pet supplements to India worth £1.4m to Lancashire-based VetPlus over five years.
  • A simplified process for certifying UK cosmetics to Indonesia.
  • Unblocking difficult processes in Mongolia which prevented the export of UK poultry and fish, opening up a market worth £10m, helping Moy Park, a poultry exporter, to supply chicken to KFC Mongolia.

Britain's contribution to NATO

Yesterday, the Defence Secretary announced an increase in our contribution to NATO, boosting our collective defence in response to Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. 

  • Successive British governments have always been clear that our strength and security comes from our alliances, and NATO is at the heart of that. 
  • That is why the UK government is now making more forces available to NATO to counter future threats, including fighter aircraft, land forces, and maritime vessels.
  • The Prime Minister also met with Sweden and Finland’s leaders at the NATO summit in Madrid yesterday, reiterating Britain's staunch support for their membership aspirations which will permanently strengthen our defensive Alliance.  
  • These additional forces will strengthen NATO’s military command and allow the Alliance to plan for emerging threats. 

More aid to Ukraine

Today, the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion military support package to Ukraine, sustaining Ukraine’s brave resistance to Putin’s invasion. 

  • Putin’s attacks against the Ukrainian people are becoming increasingly barbaric as he fails to make the gains he had anticipated and hoped for. 
  • That is why Britain is are providing another £1 billion of military support to Ukraine – boosting defensive capabilities with sophisticated air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers. 
  • UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught, and we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine. 

Turkey drops opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO

I am glad that Sweden, Finland and Turkey have been able to reach an honourable compromise which enables Turkey to drop its opposition to the two baltic countries becoming NATO members.

As I know from personal experience, Turkey has a genuine problem with some Kurds who have adopted terrorist tactics, though it is equally important not to label every Kurd who disagrees with the Erdogan administration as a terrorist - which Ankara has been accused of doing and not entirely without justice.

On 4th of November 1993 I was having a work discussion over a coffee in the 8th floor restaurant in a BT office block at 2-12 Gresham Street with another BT manager - who had previously been a Fine Gail member of the European Parliament and went on to have a third career as an academic - when the fire alarm went and we had to evacuate the building along with about 800 other employees.

What turned out to have happened is that we nearly became "collateral damage" in a co-ordinated series of terrorist attacks on Turkish targets throughout Europe.

A group of Kurdish terrorists had thrown a couple of improvised Molotov Cocktails through the ground floor windows of the building, almost certainly in the belief that they were attacking the Turkish bank to which part of the ground floor of the ten-story office block was had been leased.

Their escape plan being as incompetent as their selection of target, the wannabee terrorists ran off down the opposite road which took them right past the local police station, and a few minutes later they were guests of Her Majesty.

Had they been as harmless at making improvised explosive devices as they were inept in some other aspects of their attack the whole thing would have been extremely funny, but their bombs proved all too dangerous. Five BT employees were injured and taken to hospital, including a building inspector who was actually hit by one of the IEDs,  covered in burning fuel and quite seriously burned.

This was one of five firebomb attacks in London, clearly co-ordinated with similar terrorist attacks on Turkish targets in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France and Switzerland on the same day which in total caused one death and at least sixteen injuries, some serious.

Most BT buildings have emergency generators to enable the company to maintain telephone service in the event of a power cut, with fuel, and many BT offices in that decade had stationary stores with large stocks of paper forms. It was bad enough that these Molotov Cocktails hurt five human beings: if they had landed in a stationary store or started a conflagration which ignited the fuel for the building's emergency generator, one can easily envisage the possibility of a very serious incident in which I, and hundreds of other people, could have found ourselves on the upper floors of a ten-story blazing building.

The attacks were blamed on the Kurdistan Workers party or PKK: it is beyond doubt that some Kurdish terror cell mounted a wave of potentially lethal attacks on civilian Turkish targets in several of the major financial centres of Europe which did kill one person and could easily have killed scores if not hundreds of innocent people, in which category I put both their Turkish targets and citizens of the the countries where the attacks took place.

It is probably obvious that even now, nearly thirty years later, I still have strong opinions about this attack, and I fully understand why successive Turkish governments argue that they have a genuine security problem with some Kurdish groups.

It is equally true that the Turkish regime has a bad record of accusing any Kurdish person whose views or actions they find inconvenient of being associated with terrorist groups. The fact that there are real terrorists does not make it fair or just to accuse every dissident from the same ethnic group as the real terrorists of being one, and some - not all - such accusations have almost certainly been unjustified. 

It is important to target our indignation and any actions we may agree to take on the real terrorists, and not on peaceful opponents of the Turkish regime - or, for that matter, Kurds in Iraq and Syria who have fought with the West against the terrorists of DA'ESH.

Looking at the Tripartite Agreement which has been signed between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, it is clear that it will strengthen co-operation against the PKK and other real terrorists, but I cannot see anything in the agreement which would oblige the Swedes or Finns to take action against someone who had merely expressed an opinion which Ankara didn't like.

This clears the way to these two countries joining NATO as their populations wish.

Putin and his sycophants in the West may describe this enlargement of NATO as aggression but anyone with a working brain knows that it is nothing of the kind. Sweden and Finland are not joining the alliance because NATO has put pressure on them, but because Putin has. The Russian regime's repeated attacks on peaceful neighbours have proved that as long as Putin or anyone like him runs the Russian Federation it is and will remain a danger to every country in the vicinity whether they do anything to provoke him or not.

Finland and Sweden are joining NATO because that is what their people want and because of Russian aggression, not NATO aggression.

Quote of the day 30th June 2022


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Midweek music spot: Overture from "The Thieving Magpie" by Rossini

Latest news on Digital healthcare

The NHS is a federation rather than a unified body to a far greater extent than is sometimes realised and some trusts have embraced new technology to a greater extent than others.

We are badly behind on some aspects of digital healthcare in Cumbria and I have been making a fuss about this since I was appointed to Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee. 

It would be churlish and unfair to deny that there has been progress  but we STILL have the position where trolley-loads of hard copy patient records are being wheeled round hospitals like West Cumberland hospital, a fortune is spent driving these hard copy records around Cumbria to and from storage and highly-paid medical professionals are spending some of their priceless and scarce time logging them in and out.

So I welcome the fact that the government is still working on their strategy for better use of patient data and making more use of digital solutions to offer better service to patients, as indicated when today the government announced the latest stage of the Plan for Digital Health and Social Care, using technology to free up hospital capacity and bust the Covid backlogs.

  • The government committed to investing £2 billion in the Spending Review to digitise the NHS and social care sector, to drive efficiency and release billions of pounds back to the NHS.
  • Measures taken as part of this plan include improving the NHS App and to provide faster, more personalised treatment. Bringing information into the App will help people to view and manage hospital appointments, have virtual consultations, and see notifications from their GP – supporting an extra 500,000 patients to manage their condition from home.
  • This investment in a health and social system fit for the 21st century will help people across the country to benefit from faster, more personalised healthcare. 

Investing in Britain's railways

The UK government has today confirmed a £1 billion investment to upgrade our railway infrastructure, reducing delays and delivering more regular services for millions of passengers.

  • A week after union leaders brought much of the nation’s railway to a standstill with strikes, we are determined to get on with the job at hand and modernise our railway.
  • That is why the government is upgrading the East Coast Mainline’s signalling infrastructure with a £1 billion investment that will provide train drivers with real-time, continuous information throughout their journey - reducing delays and creating around 5,000 jobs.
  • This investment will allow us to replace unreliable Victorian infrastructure with cutting-edge technology, meaning fewer delays and more regular services for millions of passengers.

Defence Spending

Today the Prime Minister calls on our NATO allies to invest more in defence, helping to protect us all from the evolving threats that we face in the decade ahead.

  • The NATO Alliance keeps our people safe every day, but over the next ten years the threats around us are only going to grow. 
  • That is why, building on the Integrated Review and the biggest increase to UK defence spending since the Cold War, we need all our allies to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defence in the decade ahead. Britain has met the 2 per cent NATO target every year and remain the leading defence spender in Europe.
  • Britain's investment in defence will create and sustain almost 400,000 high paying skilled jobs across the country, and keep our people safe.

(NATO leaders at the Summit today)

Leave Steve Bray alone

Yes, Steve Bray is an annoying berk.

(He's the nutter who dresses up in an EU cape and hat and shouts rude things through megaphones outside parliament and Conservative conferences.)

He's also part of the great British tradition of people who think something is wrong making a nuisance of themselves by shouting about it.

If he started behaving in a threatening way, the police should, and I think would, take action. But I have never seen him do that.

If he started shouting at people's kids outside their houses, or using his megaphone in a residential area in the evening or at night, that would be harassment and it would be right to take action, but to the best of my knowledge he hasn't done that either.

I'm not convinced that taking his amplification equipment off him is proportionate or reasonable or that this was the intention of the Police, Sentencing and the Courts act which came into force yesterday and the vast majority of which, such as mandatory life sentences for those who kill a police officer or emergency services worker, whole life orders for the pre-meditated murder of a child, and ending the early release of those who are still a danger to the public, I welcome.

Let's not make the odious little twerp into a martyr. Leave him alone.

Let the decision of the Scottish people be final

Yesterday's front page headline from "The National" which is a pro-independence newspaper in Scotland:

I agree. The will of the Scotland's people, who voted by 55% to 45% that Scotland should remain part of the UK in what both sides agreed was a once-in-a-generation vote, should prevail.

So should the wishes of the Scottish people about whether there should be another referendum: an opinion poll in the Daily Record suggests that 60% of scots do NOT want another Independence referendum before the end of next year, against just 29% who do.

Dominic Sandbrook on why Britain is not America

As far back as when I was a boy I recall my late mother saying that many of the things which happen in America seem to find their way to Britain sooner or later. I have read or heard the same thing since then many times from many other people.

And sometimes it is true, as with many aspects of the so-called "Culture wars."

But it is not always inevitable, and indeed the differences between ourselves and our cousins over the pond sometimes make it extremely unlikely. Indeed, when we import arguments from the "Culture Wars" of the United States of America to Britain we may find ourselves fighting arguments which are almost entirely irrelevant to the situation here.

Dominic Sandbrook has written on the excellent Unherd website a counterblast to those who keep importing arguments from the United States called

"Stop Pretending Britain is America"

which makes some very important points about the differences between our two countries.

The idea that anything like the overturn of Roe v. Wade could happen in Britain is just daft. Not least because we actually write things we want to be legal or constitutional rights into law rather than have courts create them.

When in the late 60's there was a majority view in Britain that abortion should in many circumstances be legal an MP who was then a backbencher - many people reading this will have heard of him, his name was David Steel -  proposed what became the 1967 Abortion act and parliament passed it. This is how most democratic countries change the law, and although the exact details may be amended from time to time as medical technology and society changes, I confidently predict that this act will not be repealed in my lifetime or my children's lifetime.

But in America both sides of the abortion debate have in turn created and removed constitutional and legal rights through a court which in every other democracy would have been addressed by writing them into the constitution, the national law, or both. 

In the "Roe v. Wade" decision, instead of creating a constitutional right to an abortion by writing it into the constitution, the US created one because the Supreme Court ruled that the "due process" clause of the 14th amendment to the US constitution, which says this ...


... conferred a right to privacy and in turn that this right to privacy over-rode the right of states to make laws imposing extreme restrictions on abortion.

This month, after working towards that end for fifty years, the opponents of that decision finally managed to persuade the present Supreme Court to overturn it.

One of the many ironies of this situation is that both sides appear to be perfectly happy to have an unelected court create or destroy constitutional rights, over-riding the ability of elected legislative bodies to make law in the process, when they like the decision and regard it as an absolute outrage when the same unelected court uses the same power to make an opposite decision which they don't like.

This is very important in the USA, and if I lived there I would probably have a lot more to say about it, but no sudden swing anything like this extreme could happen in Britain where instead of our law on abortion having been created by a court, it was passed by parliament in 1967, and only about 2% of our electorate want to repeal that law and make abortion illegal.

There are many other aspects of the situation in the USA which simply do not translate well on this side of the pond.

As Sandbrook writes in response to those who suggest that the British Conservatives will follow where the US republicans are leading,

"If you’re hoping to win selection for a safe Tory seat by talking about ending abortion, outlawing socialised medicine and encouraging the high-street sales of automatic weapons, then I’ve got a nice padded cell for you." 

He adds, in response to those who are suggesting that the repeal of Roe v. Wade could happen here:

"Well, I suppose it’s just possible that in the next few years we could completely change our political system, radically reshape the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, adopt a version of the US Constitution, develop a deeply religious political culture and set up a fervent anti-abortion movement — all of which would be the cue for our own Supreme Court to hand down a judgement allowing individual counties (Dorset? Wiltshire?) to outlaw abortion. Yes, I suppose it’s possible. It’s certainly no more implausible than a major British political party campaigning to throw out the 1967 Abortion Act — another thing that is clearly never going to happen."

and concludes

"Britain isn’t America. Why would we want to import their hysterical tone? We have plenty of issues of our own, of course; but they’re ours, not theirs. Our race relations aren’t perfect, but they’re among the very best in Europe, not that you’d know it from much of the media. Boris Johnson really, really isn’t a fascist, and the worst thing you can say about Keir Starmer is that he’s incredibly boring. And yes, we do take “the right to abortion, contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage” for granted. But why wouldn’t we? Who’s threatening them? Does anybody seriously think Boris Johnson, of all people, is going to abolish contraception?"

You can read Dominic Sandbrook's piece in full at Stop pretending Britain is America - UnHerd

Protecting the public from crime

This week landmark reforms within the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act come into effect – protecting the public and making our streets safer. 

  • The first job of any government is to keep people safe, and Britain's Conservative government is committed to cutting crime and reforming our justice system so that it serves the law-abiding majority.
  • That is why new powers and sentences from our Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act came into force yesterday, including whole-life orders for the pre-meditated murder of a child, mandatory life sentences for unlawfully killing emergency workers in the line of duty, and ending the automatic early release of offenders deemed to be a danger to the public.
  • These reforms will protect the public by keeping the most dangerous offenders behind bars for longer, while better protecting the brave men and women who keep us safe every day.

Dame Deborah James RIP

The cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James, A.K.A. "Bowel Babe" has died at the age of 49 from her bowel cancer, leaving a widower and two children.

She had spent the last five years of her life raising money and awareness of cancer, spreading messages like "Check your poo" - the sort of thing people didn't say in the past because it sounds a bit rude but the sooner you detect things like bowel cancer the better your chance of a less damaging outcome.

There have been many tributes including this one from the Prime Minister: 

"I’m terribly saddened to hear that Dame Deborah James has died. What an inspiration she was to so many.

The awareness she brought to bowel cancer and the research her campaigning has funded will be her enduring legacy.

Because of her, many many lives will be saved."

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 29th June 2022

Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote that "Nothing that goes on in anyone else's mind can harm you."

This is true, but I would add the words "unless you allow it to do so."


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Improving Building safety

The tragedy at Grenfell shows how much we need to improve Britain's building safety regime and that this is a long standing problem for which governments and councils of all parties have to take responsibility.

But it is now being addressed and from today reforms within the Building Safety Act come into effect – protecting leaseholders from unfair bills as we remove dangerous cladding from buildings. 

  • Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure in their own home, but in the past it was too easy for developers to get away with substandard construction while leaving leaseholders footing the bill.
  • That is why today new laws come into effect from our Building Safety Act which will legally protect leaseholders from unfair bills as they make their homes safer, while ensuring that those responsible for historical safety defects, and those who own buildings, fund essential repairs.
  • Hundreds of thousands of innocent leaseholders now have the legal protection they rightly deserve, freeing them from a financial burden they should never have faced.

Support for Ukrainian scientists and researchers

Today the British government has announced new measures to support Ukrainian scientists and researchers, helping the best and brightest to continue their work in the UK as we stand up against Putin’s barbaric invasion. 

  • People across the UK have opened their hearts and homes to support those fleeing violence in Ukraine, and our world-leading universities, research institutions and tech businesses are no different.
  • That is why Britain has announced an additional £9.8 million in funding for the Researchers at Risk Scheme, which will help more than 130 Ukrainian academics come to the UK, as well as funding to increase links between UK and Ukrainian universities, and support for science and tech business leaders in temporarily relocating from Ukraine.
  • These measures will not only strengthen UK and Ukrainian industries, but will build on our support to those seeking refuge from Putin’s illegal invasion. 

Quote of the day 28th June 2022


Monday, June 27, 2022

Boris at the G7 continued - War in Ukraine must not leave the world hungry


At the G7 summit (above), the Prime Minister called on world leaders to take vital and urgent action to get essential goods and supplies out of Ukraine – ending Putin’s stranglehold on food prices and making life easier for households across the world.

  • Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe but 25 million tonnes of corn and wheat cannot be exported and Russia’s blockade has put 47 million people around the world on the brink of disaster. 
  • So in addressing the G7, the Prime Minister emphasised the need for an internationally coordinated solution to support Ukraine’s efforts to develop safe passage for commercial vessels out of the country. To aid this, Britain is contributing up to £10 million in materials to repair Ukrainian railways and get grain out of the country by rail. 
  • Only Putin can end this needless and futile war – but we must come together to help Ukraine, restore international order and make life easier for households across the world.

Preparing for any future pandemics

The UK government has announced £25 million of UK aid to help prevent and prepare for future pandemics, using the lessons of Covid to protect future generations in years to come.

  • Pandemics such as Covid are rare – and thanks to our historic vaccine roll-out we were able to restore freedoms across the country – but we cannot be complacent over future threats.
  • That is why Britain has announced £25 million of UK aid backing to the new World Bank fund to prevent, prepare and respond to future devastating pandemics that not only have a devastating toll on human life, but economies around the world. 
  • We must ensure we learn the lessons of Covid, helping us to mitigate any future threats and protect our populations.

More action to de-fund Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine

At the G7 meeting it was announced that there will be a ban on all new Russian gold imports, as we ratchet up the pressure on Putin’s war machine.

  • Putin is squandering his dwindling resources on this pointless and barbaric war, and alongside our allies, we need to starve his regime of its funding.
  • That is why today we announced a ban on all imports of Russian gold to the UK which will cover over £13.5 billion of our imports from Russia, alongside bans by the USA, Canada and Japan that will isolate Russia from the global gold market.
  • By taking these measure alongside our allies, we are maximising the impact that we can have on Putin and his cronies and striking at the heart of his barbaric war machine.

Quote of the day 27th June 2022

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Net Zero flights as a new era of airships take off

In the 20th century there were repeated attempts to use lighter-than-air flight, which were not entirely without success, but the technology of the early and middle years of that century was not up to operating lighter-than-air vehicles larger than a blimp to the safety standards civil society would demand, while there were few military applications as airships proved hideously vulnerable to fixed-wing aircraft. 

Over the last forty years, the excellent safety record of more recent airships and blimps have demonstrated that the original safety problems have been overcome, but the huge energy advantage enjoyed by lighter-than-air vessels - the fact that they do not have to use vast amounts of energy and generate a huge carbon footprint just to stay in the air - was not enough to offset the greater speed and flexibility of fixed-wing and rotary-wing heavier-than-air planes and helicopters. Hence airships and blimps have accounted only for a very small part of the aircraft we use.

However, with the increased price of fuel and the need to dramatically reduce carbon footprints, that equation is changing. And Britain may be at the forefront of a new era of lighter-than-air freight and travel.

The Airlander 10, built by Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), has already landed a first-of-its-kind contract with Spanish airline Air Nostrum for 10 airships, which will be manufactured in South Yorkshire. These are expected to be in service providing regional air transport in Spain by 2026. The contract will bring with it 1,800 jobs and is supported as part of the Government's Northern Powerhouse strategy.

Designers say the Airlander's low-carbon output and ability to land on any stretch of relatively flat land will give it some very considerable advantages over conventional airliners.

Measuring 300ft in length, it will be the world's largest aircraft, and will be able to accommodate 100 passengers in a cabin much more spacious and less cramped than those of conventional airliners.

But HAV's real selling point is the Airlander's carbon footprint - as I understand it, this aircraft is expected to emit only 10 per cent of the greenhouse gas output per passenger mile of heavier conventional aircraft, at about 4.5kg per passenger per flight, compared with about 53kg per passenger on a jet plane.

By 2030, it is planned that the Airlander will use only electric engines and its operating carbon footprint will be zero provided it is using clean electricity.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said at the weekend: 

"Our aerospace sector is one of the crown jewels of the British economy and our well-earned reputation as a global centre of excellence for design and production has meant the world has come to us for the most innovative technology.

"Hybrid Air Vehicles ' airship will create high-skilled jobs as we build on our powerhouse export economy to showcase the UK's talented workforce globally."

Higher safety standards for medical equipment

The UK government has today announced some of the strongest safety measures in the world for medical devices, protecting patients and letting them access new treatments more quickly.

Whichever way you voted in the EU membership referendum, the majority of those who voted opted to leave, and Britain having done so, it would be stupid not to take advantage of the positive opportunities that gives us to set standards tailored to Britain's needs,

Setting our own standards does not have to mean a race to the bottom: it can and sometimes should mean setting higher standards than the EU.

An example is medical equipment safety standards, which can and should be set even higher as we learn lessons from the pandemic and from other recent events and learning in the field of medicine.

  • Now we have left the EU, Britain can set our own standards and use this power to improve how medical devices like hearing aids, x-ray machines and insulin pumps are regulated by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
  • The UK government will use that flexibility and has today announced new changes that will strengthen the MHRA’s powers and create a new, UKCA stamp of certification to replace the EU’s CE mark – alongside a new regulatory framework that will encourage responsible innovation to develop the latest technologies.
  • These changes will save lives by protecting patients and the public while making it easier and quicker for patients to access the medical devices and treatments they need.

Education for all girls and boys

The UK government has announced a further £217 million for three major education projects across the Commonwealth, as we lead the way on championing girl’s education.

  • By giving all children the chance to get at least 12 years of good schooling, we create more stable, prosperous and happy societies.
  • That is why the Prime Minister yesterday announced a further £217 million to support teacher training in Rwanda, programmes to get girls and vulnerable children into school in Pakistan and global education data gathering so that every child can get the education they deserve.
  • The UK is a world leader in championing girl’s education and the funding announced today will help end education inequality and give millions more children the chance of a better life.

Sunday music spot: "Lord, if I have only you" by Buxtehude

The lyrics of this motet, composed by Deiterich Buxtehude in about 1668 and sung here by Laura Heimes,  are inspired by Psalm 73 (verses 25 and 26) and are as follows:

Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab, 
so frag ich nichts nach Himmel und Erden, 
wenn mir gleich Leib und Seele verschmacht. 
So bist du doch Gott allezeit meines Herzens Trost und mein Heil. 

The first line is sometimes translated from the German as "Lord, if I have only you," hence the title of this post, but I prefer to refer back to the original psalm. 

Here are those verses as they were translated from the original Hebrew to English in the King James Bible:

"Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."

Boris at the G7

Today, the Prime Minister is attending the first in-person G7 summit since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and calling on our allies to keep up their resolve on support for Ukraine.

  • Ukraine can and will win, but they need our backing to do so. Any fatigue or wavering in Western support would play directly into Putin’s hands.
  • The Prime Minister at the first in-person G7 summit since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine today, is encouraging our allies to keep up their support for Ukraine and build on their previous pledges with even more financial, humanitarian and military support.
  • The UK is continuing to step up with a further £429 million in guarantees for World Bank loans to Ukraine, because we know that their security is our security, and their freedom is our freedom.

Help to build

This week the government moved forward on helping people to own their own home, lauching the latest phase of the Help to Build scheme, creating new jobs, supporting the construction industry, and giving thousands of families the opportunity to build their own home. 

  • More people should be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home - and building your own home should not be the sole preserve of those with sky-high budgets.
  • That is why the government is  launching the lastest phase of the Help to Build scheme, backed by £150 million of Government funding. Under the scheme, people will be helped to build the home they need, with just a 5 per cent deposit towards land and building costs. This builds on the success of other schemes, including Help to Buy and Right to Buy, which have helped more than 765,000 people buy their own homes.
  • Help to Build will help level up communities across the UK by supporting more people and families into homeownership in the places where they want to live.

Quote of the day 26th June 2022


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Working with partners around the world

This week the Prime Minister met with the President of Nigeria, setting out our plans to boost economic ties and cooperation between the UK and Nigeria on energy supplies and clean technology.

  • Our friends and partners across the world are facing huge challenges, and African countries are seeing particular difficulties caused by rising global commodity prices fuelled by Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine.
  • That is why the Prime Minister met with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria in Kigali yesterday to outline plans to boost economic and energy ties with Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, as well as discussing national security and Nigeria’s leadership on environmental issues. 
  • Britain is showing global leadership, not only by supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but also by boosting links with developing nations and promoting progress on our environmental targets.

Two disappointing by-election results

The results in the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections were disappointing, and nobody in the Conservative party is pretending otherwise. I went to Wakefield twice and also took part in telephone canvassing. We had excellent candidates in both seats  but there was clearly a lot of discontent, particularly in respect of the cost of living but about a number of other issues too, and we clearly need to learn from this.

  • The Conservatives are determined to listen to what we have been told on the doorstep, learn the lessons, and then unite and focus on delivering for people across the UK. 
  • Midterm by-elections are always very challenging for incumbent governments, especially after 12 years in office, and both these by-elections were called following the resignation of sitting Conservative MPs, in one case in criminal circumstances.
  • It appeared that that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were effectively co-operating in an undeclared manner, with each party effectively giving the other a clear run at one seat. Sometimes in politics you do have to work with people in another party but in my book when you do that you should make very clear and transparent what each party is agreeing to. Informal pacts agreed behind closed doors or by a nudge and a wink usually end very badly both for the parties concerned and for the electorate they are supposed to be serving. Only the Conservatives can be relied on to deliver strong majority government.
  • Thank you to everyone who has campaigned so hard for our party at these by-elections – we are determined to hear the message voters sent yesterday, unite and focus on delivering for people across the UK. 

Fighting the war on hunger

This week the UK government committed £372 million of support for countries on the food security frontline, helping those countries hit hardest by rising global food costs including many Commonwealth states.

  • The government has put in place an unprecedented package of support to help the most vulnerable households in our own country with the rising cost of living, but it is also right that we step up to support countries hit the hardest by rising global food costs, including many Commonwealth states.
  • That is why Britain is committing £372 million of support for those countries hit hardest by rising global prices, including funding for the World Food Programme and the UN’s global emergency response fund. We are also working with allies to end Russia’s weaponising of hunger - by breaking their blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
  • This vital funding will provide humanitarian aid to increase access to food across the worst hit countries, helping to protect millions of people at risk from a growing global food disaster.

Helping child refugees from Ukraine

The government is now allowing the Homes for Ukraine scheme to begin processing existing applications from unaccompanied children with strict safeguards, helping the most vulnerable get to safety in the UK.

  • Some Ukrainian families have made the incredibly difficult decision that they want their children to travel to safety in the UK, even if their parents cannot travel with them.
  • So the British government has worked with the Ukrainian Government to allow children to travel to the UK without a parent or parental guardian – subject to the strictest safeguarding measures, with all applications requiring notarised parental consent and children staying with someone personally known to their parents, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • These changes will ensure children who have been forced from their homes by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can come to the UK safely and do not have their life chances spoiled as a result.

Saturday music spot - "Summer" (3rd Movement) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by Nigel Kennedy

Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is a wonderful piece of music, and the performance in Paris in 2005 by Nigel Kennedy from which this rendition of the third movement of "Summer" was a masterpiece.

Don't just listen, watch: I just love the energy, the enthusiasm, the way the soloist and orchestra are not just performing this piece but bringing it to life.

By all accounts the composer himself was superb at performing his own music (and whipping up his musicians into a frenzy of enthusiasm.) As recording devices sadly did not exist in the Baroque era we have to rely on the comments made by contemporaries who heard his performances, which we will never be able to do: but 20th century performers like Yehudi Menuin and current ones like Nigel Kennedy have brought their own interpretations which are just as magical.

Quote of the day 25th June 2022


Friday, June 24, 2022

Music to start the weekend: Gioachino Rossini, Overture from "The Barber of Seville"

Helping people deal with the cost of living crisis

Global events are leading to inflation and cost of living pressures for many households – we are supporting the lowest income families in our society with £37 billion in support in the face of these pressures. 

  • Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine and global challenges are causing cost of living pressures around the world, and people are worried about the rising cost of living.
  • That is why we committed £37 billion of cost of living support to combat global cost of living pressures – including one off cash Cost of Living Payments of at least £1,200 for over 8 million of the most vulnerable households.
  • The first initial automatic instalment of the £650 payment will be £326, paid on 14 July, with the rest of the payment to follow in the Autumn. Pensioners will receive an extra £300 while disabled households will get a £150 payment – on top of the £150 council tax rebate paid in April and the £400 cash discount on energy bills this Autumn. 
  • We are using all the tools at our disposal to bring inflation down and combat rising prices – we can build a stronger economy through independent monetary policy, responsible fiscal policy which does not add to inflationary pressures, and by boosting our long-term productivity and growth.

Quote of the day 24th June 2022


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Trade with the Gulf nations

This week the UK government launched negotiations for a free trade deal with the Gulf nations worth over £33 billion in trade, helping to grow Britain's economy and create jobs across the country.

  • Our current trade with the Gulf is worth over £33 billion and Gulf investments supported over 25,000 UK jobs in 2019 – triple what it was 10 years ago.
  • That is why we have launched trade negotiations today with the Gulf, the UK’s seventh largest export market, which will benefit British farmers and producers, as they are dependent on imported food. The East Midlands, West Midlands, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber will be in line for the greatest gains and the deal would boost Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s economies by almost £500 million.
  • This trade deal has the potential to support jobs from Dover to Doha, growing our economy at home, building vital green industries and supplying innovative services to the Gulf.

Quote of the day 23rd June 2022


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

New action with Moderna to make sure Britain is ready for any future pandemic

Today the government announced that Moderna are set to build a state-of-the-art vaccine research and manufacturing centre in the UK, future-proofing the UK against emerging health threats, creating highly skilled jobs and boosting our status as a science superpower.

  • Following the world leading success of Britain's Covid vaccination programme, it is essential to boost our ability to respond to the next pandemic by making sure we are able to produce vaccines rapidly on our own shores.
  • That is why the UK government is entering into a strategic partnership with Moderna to build a global clinical trials base here in the UK – the large manufacturing site will give NHS patients guaranteed access to Covid jabs and next generation of mRNA vaccines and treatments, future-proofing the UK against emerging health threats.
  • This will bring supercharged, home-grown vaccines right to our shores, making the UK the brightest and best in research and technology, creating more jobs and securing our economic future.

Midweek music spot: Rossini's William Tell Overture finale

The British Bill of Rights

Today the government announced a new Bill of Rights to strengthen freedom of speech and curb bogus human rights claims, bringing an end to claims wasting taxpayers’ money and court time.

  • Our human rights laws need reform – under the current system those convicted of hurting their own partners and children have evaded deportation by claiming it would breach their right to family life.
  • That is why our new Bill will reinforce freedom of speech, while making sure that courts cannot interpret laws in ways that were never intended by Parliament. It will also introduce a new permission stage in court to prevent trivial legal claims wasting taxpayers’ money.
  • These reforms will strengthen freedom of speech and the role of UK courts, while helping us to deport more foreign offenders and better protect the public from dangerous criminals.

Quote of the day 22nd June 2022


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Support for student mental health servies

 Yesterday the government announced up to £3 million of investment to close gaps in student mental health services, making sure students are supported and can fulfil their potential. 

  • Moving to a new place is one of the most exciting parts of going to university but can create barriers for students in accessing mental health services.
  • That is why the government is bringing together university, NHS and mental health services to create regional partnerships that could include physical hubs for students to visit in-person, closing any gaps between universities and NHS services – and backed by up to £3 million.
  • By making sure students have good mental health and feel supported, this will boost attainment and outcomes, helping them towards their bright futures.

Time for a sensible compromise on rail services

Today, the RMT strike action, which some Labour frontbenchers backed while others stayed silent, shut down much of the UK’s transport network – disrupting the lives of millions of passengers. The Government is calling for a sensible compromise to end the dispute for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.

  • The unions are harming the very people they claim to be helping. By going ahead with these rail strikes, they are driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers, whilst also impacting businesses and communities across the country.
  • Too high demands on pay will also make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with the rising cost of living. Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.
  • We will not however load higher fares on passengers to carry on paying for working practices that date in some cases to the 19th century – this Conservative Government will always stand up for rail users and the British public.
  • Meanwhile, while Labour have chosen to side with their Union paymasters over the British people – supporting the RMT in private, but refusing to come clean to the public about their support for this reckless action.

Support for Ukraine

This week Defence Secretary Ben Wallace praised industry leaders for their vital role in helping provide weapons, ammunition and logistical support to Ukraine, as we stand shoulder to should with our ally in their hour of need. 

  • As this unprovoked attack continues and Russia’s tactics change, the UK government is working closely with industry partners to provide innovative solutions that will bolster the heroic Ukrainian efforts.
  • That is why the Defence Secretary convened a roundtable at Downing Street with industry leaders yesterdays, as organisations came forward with proposals to accelerate the development of equipment for Ukraine’s armed forces. Their creativity and commitment to this complex and demanding problem has been invaluable to helping resist the Russian invasion.
  • Backed by our formidable Defence industry, the UK has been one of the global leaders in providing military assistance to support Ukraine’s armed forces to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensure Putin's illegal war fails. 

Rail strikes

Britain's railways are a proud part of our history, but they are struggling to keep pace with the needs of passengers post-pandemic – and are too often hamstrung by the antiquated and outdated work practices enforced by the trade unions. 

During the pandemic alone the government delivered £16 billion of emergency funding to keep the railways running – equivalent to £600 for every family in the UK or £160,000 for every rail worker. This level of subsidy is unsustainable, and shows why reform is needed now. 

But instead of working with the government to reform our railways to make them fit for the future – Labour have chosen to side with their trade union paymasters by refusing to condemn their reckless strike action which starts today.

These strikes will hit millions of families in the pocket, costing them more to get to work. They will harm the economy, costing British businesses millions of pounds. And they will disrupt vital services like operations on the NHS and GCSE exams.

This Conservative Government is standing up for rail users and are on the side of the travelling public. Labour must stop playing political games, condemn these strikes now, and get behind our efforts to make our railways fit for the future.

Quote of the day 21st June 2022

The above statements are often ascribed to President Lincoln: in quoting them for their own merit, I ought however to point out that most scholars who have looked into the origin of these words ascribe them not to Lincoln, but to William J. H. Boetcker.  

They are taken from a list called "The Industrial Decalogue: Ten Don'ts," which Boetcker published in 1917.

Monday, June 20, 2022

A new deal for private renters

The government has announced a new deal for private renters, ending the injustice of unfit homes and protecting renters from the rising cost of living.

There are many decent landlords who treat their tenants properly and we need a fair balance between the rights of tenants and landlords

  • But not all landlords are like that, and for too long many private renters have been at the mercy of the less scrupulous landlords who fail to repair homes and let families live in damp, unsafe and cold properties, with the threat of unfair ‘no fault’ evictions orders hanging over them.
  • So the government has announced a new deal for renters – that will ban section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector, end arbitrary rent review clauses, outlaw blanket bans on renting to families on benefits or with children, and making it easier for tenants to share homes with pets.
  • These new measures will improve the rights and conditions for millions of renters, help to save renters money and make the private rented sector fit for the 21st century with safer, more secure and higher quality homes.

Grant Shapps on the future of the railways

As the RMT try to drag the railways into the past, and Labour fail to condemn the strikes which will make it difficult for Britain's workers to get to work, students to get to school, and patients to get to hospital,  Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set out a better, more positive vision for a future for Britain's railways. This is what he had to say.

"Good morning everyone and welcome to the Siemens maintenance plant here in Hornsey, North London.

The train you see behind me is a Desiro Class 700, one of the most advanced, digitally-enabled trains in the world. The passenger benefits, including live travel information, intelligent air conditioning and as much capacity as 21 double-decker buses, have already transformed journeys on the Thameslink line.

But the cleverest technology is invisible to passengers. Because this is the first mainline train that can drive itself across central London, under the watchful eye of the driver and detect faults before they need fixing by constantly sending live data to the Siemens control centre.

Armed with this knowledge about how each train performs, the ultimate aim is to make a fault-free fleet, completely reliable, easy to maintain and with unprecedented control for the operator to meet the needs of passengers.

So it’s a fitting backdrop for our discussion today about how this industry needs to move with the times.

In a speech to launch our overhaul of the railways 12 months ago, which followed the publication of the Williams-Shapps plan, I reflected on historic events that have shaped our railway.

How, under state control, the railway shrunk by half. How after privatisation in the 1990s, despite passenger miles doubling, the industry had become more fragmented, complex and unaccountable. And how these problems culminated in the disastrous timetable introduction of May 2018. The signs were there for all to see. Spiralling costs and delays to upgrades, collapsing franchises, poor customer service and late, overcrowded trains.

Despite the clear need for new solutions to take the railway forward, it was obvious to me when I became Transport Secretary the following year that much of the debate about the industry’s future was rooted in tired and outdated notions of ownership. Not only was the railway stuck in the past, the conversation about how to fix it was too.

That’s why, after the exhaustive and meticulous review led by Keith Williams, during which he closely engaged with rail unions, our reform plans presented a fresh vision.

Creating a new body, Great British Railways, to put passengers and punctuality first, by bringing disparate parts of the industry together, using common-sense reforms to untangle the complexities and build a modern, resilient railway in tune with a changing market.

Above all, the plans demonstrated our profound belief in the railway’s future, as the backbone of Britain’s transport system. They were a vote of confidence in the industry and its workforce.

Yet, here we are today, the railway just beginning to recover from the pandemic and we’re on the verge of a national strike.

These strikes are not only a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time, they are also an incredible act of self-harm by the union leadership.

Make no mistake, unlike the past 25 years, when rising passenger demand, year after year, was taken for granted by the industry, today the railway is in a fight.

It’s not only competing against other forms of public and private transport, it’s in a battle with Zoom, Teams and remote working. In case the unions haven’t noticed, the world has changed.

Many commuters, who 3 years ago had no alternative to taking the train, today have the option of not travelling at all. Wave them goodbye and it will endanger the jobs of thousands of rail workers.

The last thing the railway should be doing right now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike.

Unions claim these strikes are about a pay freeze. This is wrong, we are not imposing a pay freeze now COVID is in the past.

So, I say to the workforce, your union bosses have driven you to the verge of a national strike under false pretences. And rather than protect your jobs, they are actually threatening your jobs.

COVID has left the railway in a critical financial situation. Rail has lost a fifth of its passengers, lost a fifth of its income. Often the highest-paying passengers, at that.

The RMT leader, Mick Lynch, said recently on Sky News that “the railways made £500 million profit last year”. That’s a denial of reality.

In fact, the railways cost over £20 billion a year to run and, in the year to April 2021, they raised just £4 billion from fares and other revenue.

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has committed £16 billion of emergency taxpayer support for rail, £16 billion to keep trains running and ensure that no one at Network Rail or DfT-contracted Train Operating Companies (TOCs) was furloughed.

To be clear, £16 billion is almost as much as our annual police budget for England and Wales, just to support the railway through COVID. No rail worker lost their job. Not a single person. In fact, the taxpayer could not have done more to support rail workers.

Now, as we recover and people start travelling again, the industry needs to grow revenues, attract passengers back and make the reforms necessary to compete.

For example, leisure travel at weekends is a huge growth area right now. But on most of the railway, under an agreement dating back to 1919, Sunday working is voluntary.

In 2018, England played a World Cup match on a Sunday. That day, because we couldn’t get enough people to work, there were 170 cancellations on one operator alone.

And here’s another example. Nowadays, just 1 in 8 tickets is sold over the counter, yet we still have roughly the same number of ticket offices as in the days when we all queued up at stations to buy our tickets. The quietest office sold just 17 tickets in 3 months. That’s one ticket every 5 and a half days.

Any sensible plan would move staff away from where they are not needed, like ticket offices, and increase shifts where they are needed, like weekends.

But then, any sensible plan wouldn’t involve striking at the specific moment when your customers are returning after a national crisis. Other industries move with the times. So why can’t rail?

I want put on record that we want a fair deal that includes increasing pay for rail staff. The whole point of these reforms is to build a sustainable, growing railway where every rail worker receives a decent annual pay rise. But right now, pay needs to be in step with the wider public sector.

Let me put it another way. The median wage for rail workers is £44,000 and the median salary for train drivers is £59,000, with a fifth of drivers earning more than £70,000. But the average nurse earns around £31,000.

So rail pay rises can only be afforded in the long term alongside reform. That’s only fair as we navigate our way out of the pandemic. Fair for taxpayers and fair for other public servants.

We’re not asking railway workers to shoulder all the responsibility. We’re reducing the number of senior managers, and their pay.

In fact, I’ve constantly challenged high senior salaries across the rail network and they have fallen by 10 per cent in absolute terms over the past 10 years. The chief executive of Network Rail is paid more than a quarter less than his predecessor.

I cannot stress enough, we passionately believe a reformed railway has a bright future. We want rail to remain the natural choice for people who want fast, reliable journeys between our main towns and cities. To do that, however, we need to reduce costs.

We are working with the industry, for example, with rolling stock companies, to make efficiencies. This includes maintenance practices that need modernising, and to make better use of technology.

But the whole railway must play its part. Even before the pandemic, everyone could see the railway’s finances were untenable. COVID has only made the case for reform more urgent. A matter of survival. But I don’t just want the railway to survive, we want it to thrive.

That’s why over the next 3 years, we want to spend £35 billion maintaining and growing the network. We want to expand the rail map, with trains returning to places axed from the timetable after the Beeching cuts, with new stations from Northumberland to Devon, with electrification to get rid of slow and dirty diesels.

And we’re making good progress, with more than 1200 miles electrified so far under this government, compared with just 63 miles electrified under 13 years of the Blair/Brown government. And with HS2, Europe’s largest construction project, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the wonderful new Elizabeth Line.

In fact, we’re spending a total of £96 billion overhauling the railway across the North and Midlands.

Great British Railways will provide strong, unified leadership for the industry, bringing ownership of infrastructure, fares, timetables and network together under one roof. The broken franchising system is being replaced with new Passenger Service Contracts to reinvigorate the competitive market and boost services.

And we’re continuing to modernise fares and ticketing, introducing flexible tickets for hybrid working and rolling out contactless, pay-as-you-go nationwide to around 900 more stations.

New technology is replacing old, in some cases, centuries old. For example, we’re replacing Victorian signalling with digital systems which means we can fit more trains on the line. As tracks get used more intensively, maintenance becomes even more critical.

And new technology is helping here, too. The best way of checking track for defects is to fit sensors on trains. Each takes 70,000 pictures a minute, finding tiny flaws in the track that no human eye can see.

But the unions still want this job to be done today as it was done in the steam age, by sending people out to walk along the track, looking at the rails. That is not only less likely to pick up faults before they become dangerous, but it’s also more dangerous for staff. And sadly there have been a number of fatalities on the line in recent years. We must modernise.

Without reform, all this investment and more is at risk. Many rail staff did a magnificent job during COVID. Now they are being used by the unions for political ends.

That is why, if this dispute cannot be resolved, the government will look at a full range of options to stop the unions hurting the general public, including repealing the ban on transferable staff filling in for striking workers.

And passengers will be compensated for the disruption. In addition to existing refund agreements, we will ensure season ticket holders will be able to claim full compensation for strike days.

So let me close by assuring the unions, we will not be diverted from rail reform, from building a more agile and flexible workforce and from putting rail passengers first.

Just as we cannot modernise the railway with obsolete technology, we cannot do it by clinging on to obsolete working practices from the past either. We have a rare opportunity here, to fix the issues that have long plagued the railway.

But with strikes, all we’re going to do is lose even more passengers, lose even more revenue, make further investment in the railway uneconomical and potentially lose thousands of railway jobs.

Not only is there no justification for this action, it’s going to cause misery. Misery to people looking forward to their first Glastonbury for three years. Misery to workers who can’t get to their jobs. Misery to students, who can’t take their GCSEs and A-levels. And misery to people waiting for hospital treatment, who may now miss their operation.

And there’s another group of people I’m worried about. Rail workers themselves and their families. They will be damaged by this strike. It’s not like the old days, when the RMT could shut down the nation’s economy.

Now, many rail users can work from home. For millions of passengers, rail is now a choice, not a necessity. Anything that stops people choosing rail, anything that drives away even more passengers than we’ve already lost has to be bad news for jobs and services.

So today, I appeal directly to rail workers, who I think are less militant than their union leaders. Don’t risk striking your industry out of a future. Don’t risk striking yourselves out of a job. Don’t pitch yourselves against the public.

Let’s fix this situation and get back to building a better railway."

Grant Shapps