It’s been apparent for a long time that the obtaining of data, the use that can be made of it, for commercial or political purposes, is a goldmine for those who wish to breach the law and the sanctions that can be visited on those that do this are entirely inadequate. I’m perfectly aware that the government is amending the legislation, but I have to say I don’t think the laws that we are enacting in terms of the penalties on those who behave in this fashion are anything like draconian enough. The financial incentives are far too great to break the law, the penalties proportionally insufficient, and ultimately we are going to have to be much tougher if we are going to stop this sort of behaviour.
Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, said he had “some sympathy” for Grieve’s argument. He also said it was “outrageous” that Facebook responded to the complaints by suspending the Facebook account of the whistleblower who exposed what had happened.
That’s all from me for today.
Thanks for the comments.
Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, says Theresa May should resign in the light of today’s Brexit transition deal.
EFDD’s @Nigel_Farage –
Retweet if you agree with Nigel! pic.twitter.com/iG1dvHEVQJ
March 19, 2018
In the Commons Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Brexit committee, tabled an urgent question about customs. He asked the minister responding, Treasury minister Mel Stride, when Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, was planning to tell MPs about the plan he announced on Question Time last week to have no new checks on lorries arriving at Dover after Brexit. And how was this compatible with the government’s plan to leave the customs union, Benn asked.
Stride refused to repeat the assurances Grayling gave and instead pointed out that Grayling also said on Question Time that the government was opposed to having a hard border at Dover and that the the government would not be stopping every lorry at Dover. “This, of course, is absolutely right,” Stride said (implying that other parts of what Grayling said on Question Time were less reliable.)
As the Press Association reports, Downing Street has listed a number of improvements which the UK secured in today’s draft withdrawal treaty text, compared to the version put forward by the European commission last month. The list includes:
Explicit agreement that the UK can sign and ratify trade deals during the transition period, to be brought into force on January 1 2021;
The ability for the UK to act in international bodies in its own right during the transition period;
Freedom for the UK to move to future arrangements on foreign policy and defence collaboration as soon as they are ready and not to be bound to accept or apply EU decisions it does not agree with;
Creation of a joint committee to oversee the transition agreement, with a clear commitment on both sides to act in good faith;
Wording to make clear that Gibraltar is included in the agreement;
Safeguards to ensure that the UK is consulted on fishing quotas for 2019, with a commitment that Britain’s share of the total catch cannot change;
Agreement that UK citizens will be free to live and work in the EU during the transition period and a reduction from two years to six months in the proposed “grace period” for EU citizens to apply for immigration status in the UK.
Mike Hookem, the Ukip fisheries spokesman, has described today’s transition deal as a “total betrayal” of British fishermen. He said:
When the EU say they will allow consultation on fishing rules, we all know that means the UK will be totally ignored. It’s bad enough at the moment while we are still part of the EU.
The simple fact is, the Tories betrayed the fishing industry on the way into the EU, and totally shafted the same sector on the way on the way out.
Open Britain, which is campaigning for a soft Brexit, claims that the draft EU withdrawal agreement published today (pdf) contains provisions that would centralise powers in the hands of ministers.
Article 157 says the UK and the EU will set up a joint committee to resolve any disputes about the withdrawal agreement. And article 159 says the decisions of the joint committee shall be binding on both sides.
In the draft both articles are coloured green, meaning they are agreed items, not items still subject to negotiation.
Chris Leslie, a Labour MP and Open Britain supporter, said:
In the referendum campaign we were told leaving the EU would be about ‘taking back control’ but it is more and more apparent that UK Ministers see this about being centralising power in their hands.
Their EU withdrawal bill already gives them the power to rewrite laws without reference to parliament and now it appears they want to extend that power indefinitely through this draft treaty. Most ironically of all, they would be able to use this power if they secured the agreement of the EU for any law changes they proposed.
They have not even discussed this idea in parliament before they have agreed it with the European commission. They need to now immediately come to parliament and tell us what they think they are playing at.
The Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross has strongly criticising the fishing elements of the transition deal. In a statement he posted on Twitter, he said that the government had delivered “far less” than he hoped for and expected and that “it would be easier to get someone to drink a pint of cold sick than to sell this as a success”.
Douglas Ross MP(@Douglas4Moray)
My view on the agreement reached on fishing today is quite clear. Angry and disappointed for Moray fishermen. pic.twitter.com/VpBEenu8tM
March 19, 2018
Echoing language used by this Scottish Tory colleagues Ross Thomson, John Lamont and Ruth Davidson (see 2.08pm), he said he would not support any final deal that did not give the UK “full control” over fish stocks and vessel access.
In the Commons John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has tabled an urgent question asking what the government has done to address the problems of “dirty money” in the UK.
Ben Wallace, the security minister, responded on behalf of the government by trying to blitz McDonnell with an exhaustive list of measures. He said the government had made money laundering harder; reversed the burden of proof for people suspected of getting money from organised crime; allowed assets to be confiscated from people guilty of human rights abuse; backed a Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions bill going through parliament; made it easier for criminals’ money to be taken from bank accounts; introduced powers to allow terrorists’ assets to be frozen; made failing to prevent tax evasion a criminal offence; prosecuted people under the Bribery Act; introduced fair prosecution agreements to incentivise companies to face up up to fraud allegations; put one minister in charge of economic crime; beefed up the powers of the Serious Fraud Office; held an anti-corruption summit; estabished a joint financial analysis centre in the National Crime Agency; established a register of beneficial ownership of companies; and committed to establishing a public register of overseas owners of UK property.
McDonnell replied by saying that, for all this, “dirty money” was still a big problem. He said the National Crime Agency still estimates that £90bn of criminal money is laundered through the UK ever year.
A more measured attack came from the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, a former chair of the public accounts committee. She told Wallace:
I do acknowledge that the government has taken some steps. What I would put to the minister is that they have not taken enough steps.
She said she was particularly concerned about tier 1 investor visas, which allow foreigners to come to the UK if they are investing £2m. She said Russians were one of the main users of this scheme. What does the government do to ensure this money is clean, she asked.
Wallace said “not for the first time” Hodge was making a good suggestion. He said the government would be looking at this scheme to ensure it did better due diligence.
(If you are interested in this topic, Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reasons to be Cheerful podcast had a good discussion on this last week – not least because it included a contribution from my Guardian colleague Luke Harding.)
These are from Sky’s David Blevins.
Sinn Fein on today’s deal
Sinn Fein: “Despite denials from Theresa May there is now confirmation that the British government is accepting the agreements made, including the backstop option which would see the north remaining in the customs union and significant elements of the single market.” #Brexit
March 19, 2018
The DUP on today’s deal
DUP source: “The EU’s proposed draft legal text has been rejected by the PM in the House of Commons and we agree that it is totally unacceptable. Government hasn’t changed that position and the vital sections are not agreed much less any sense that NI would remain in CU and SM.”
March 19, 2018
And here is how Blevins sums it all up very crisply.
Barnier/Davis: “We have a deal.” Sinn Fein: “The British PM has buckled on the Irish border.” DUP: “Oh no she hasn’t.” Clear as mud. #Brexit
March 19, 2018
Leave Means Leave, a successor to the Ukip-linked Leave.EU campaign, has criticised today’s deal. In a statement it said:
While there has clearly been some commendable progress, we are very concerned over the Northern Ireland backstop proposal. This is a dreadful way of negotiating. Just weeks ago, the prime minister said ‘no UK prime minister could ever agree to this’. Once again we appear to have caved in.
This is totally unnecessary and UK negotiators must insist that this is removed from the text.
We also have serious concerns over the proposals for our fishing waters.
Under the current plans, we will not be taking back control of our fisheries when we leave the EU – something which the government had previously promised.
Mats Persson, who worked in Downing Street for David Cameron as a Europe adviser, says that, although a transition deal has been announced today, the fact that it is conditional on a final withdrawal agreement being reached in the autumn means businesses cannot be 100% sure it will happen. As a result, many will want to activate “no deal” contingency plans, he says.
Draft Brexit transition deal means business face a binary choice. Plan on basis of
1) Political deal = put contingency plans on hold
2) Legal certainty = make an irreversible decision to activate plans now as October too late
I’d say a 50-50 split amongst businesses I speak to
March 19, 2018
According to BrexitCentral’s David Scullion, the Scottish Conservative MP Ross Thomson has said the UK should set its own fishing policy during the transition.
Scots Tory @RossThomson_MP hits back on fishing: “Be clear that UK national fisheries resources are not negotiable and that we will therefore be setting our own fisheries policy from 29 March 2019. We cannot remain party to the CFP during the proposed transition period.”
March 19, 2018
The government claims that the UK will not be part of the commons fisheries policy during the transition because it will not be in the EU. This is technically correct, although for all practical purposes the UK will remain in the CFP during that period.
The European parliament has welcomed the draft withdrawal agreement. In a statement, it welcomes, among other things, the fact that “UK proposals advocating discrimination between EU citizens arrived before and after the start of the transition period have been rejected.”
Steve Peers, a professor of EU law, has written a long Twitter thread on what’s new in the draft withdrawal treaty published today. It’s thorough and authoritative, and well worth reading if you take a close interest in Brexitology.
1/x Here’s the colour-coded text of the Brexit withdrawal agreement
green = agreed in principle, maybe technical legal revision
yellow = policy agreed, drafting still an issue
white = not agreed yet
Some thoughts https://t.co/aeQiC8zLVU
March 19, 2018
This is from my colleague Dan Roberts.
Reading the transcript of David Davis remarks it strikes me that this another battle of the definite and indefinite articles. The UK is ready to sign up for ‘a’ backstop solution on Northern Ireland, but not necessarily ‘the’ backstop proposed in the EU’s recent draft legal text. pic.twitter.com/hJwkw5TSKt
March 19, 2018
Open Britain, which is campaigning for a soft Brexit, says today’s transition deal contradicts seven promises made by Brexiters in government. There is a briefing here with the detail. And here is the start of a Twitter thread setting out the “broken promises”.
Since the ref, the Gov have made at least 7 major promises about the transition period. Today’s draft agreement shows these promises have all now been broken, and that all transition does is move us from being a rule maker to a rule taker. 1/8 https://t.co/UrEx8OnxxD pic.twitter.com/btEiHoclY0
March 19, 2018
The CBI has described the transition deal as “a victory for common sense”. In a statement its director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, said:
This is what businesses have been calling for since last summer. It brings a welcome gift of time for firms on both sides. While some sectors may need more than 20 months to prepare for post-Brexit life, this is a victory for common sense that will help protect living standards, jobs and growth. It shows what can be achieved when people and prosperity are placed above politics and ideology.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has also welcomed the deal. He said:
This is a milestone that many businesses across the UK have been waiting for. The agreement of a status quo transition period is great news for trading firms on both sides of the channel, as it means that they will face little or no change in day-to-day business in the short term.
While some companies would have liked to see copper-bottomed legal guarantees around the transition, the political agreement reached in Brussels is sufficient for most businesses to plan ahead with a greater degree of confidence. Many companies will now have the clarity they require to proceed with investment and hiring strategies that would otherwise have remained in question.
His reference to the absence of “legal guarantees” refers to the fact that the transition deal is conditional upon there being a withdrawal agreement. As David Davis, the Brexit secretary, admitted recently, there is a possibility that the withdrawal agreement talks could collapse without a deal at the last moment. In those circumstances, there would be no transition and the UK would leave the EU abruptly at the end of March next year.
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, is also pleased. He said:
Finalising transition period terms will gift some certainty to the UK small business community and protect it from a damaging cliff-edge moment. Wherever possible, small firms want only one set of rule changes that take effect from the end of 2020. It’s good to see an agreement which will largely mean business owners can continue to operate broadly as they do now until 31 December 2020. Today’s announcement will make it that much easier for firms to plan, grow, trade, invest and hire.
Scotland’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, has lambasted the Tories after the UK government agreed to keep the common fisheries policy in place for the full two year Brexit transition period.
Ewing accused Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, and Michael Gove, the UK environment secretary, of breaking promises that the UK would immediately pull out of the CFP on the day of Brexit.
Remaining in the controversial policy, which gives EU fleets a large share of UK landings, has in fact emerged as one of the UK’s main concessions to win a deal on the two year transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Ewing said:
The Tories have sold out the Scottish fishing industry once again and Ruth Davidson should be shame-faced for her fastest broken Brexit promise yet. Just last week she said ‘Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019’.
Now we know not only will the UK have to abide by CFP rules during the transition period, it will lose the voting rights it has now. The Tories have delivered the worst possible outcome for Scotland’s fishing industry.
Davidson acknowledged on Monday the deal was not to her liking, describing it as an “undoubted disappointment.” She said:
Having spoken to fishing leaders today, I know they are deeply frustrated with this outcome. I’ve made clear to them that I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure their interests are protected during the implementation period and beyond.
The deal is uncomfortable puts both the Tories and the Scottish National party in difficult territory. The Tories won six prized SNP seats in north east Scotland, a stronghold for the British fishing industry, partly on promises of delivering Brexit.
The SNP, however, still insists that an independent Scotland would rejoin the EU, and with it the CFP. Ewing’s stress on Davidson’s broken promises works only so far.