Parliament is being shut down at the end of this week because the Government is prepared to crash out of the EU without a deal but doesn’t have a majority to do so.
In political, democratic and constitutional terms it doesn’t get much heavier.
The consequences of a no deal Brexit are disastrous in the short and long-term. Anyone prepared to risk this doesn’t deserve to be in office.
But many of those now in the Cabinet appear to welcome it, while their former colleagues face expulsion from the Conservative Party for acting responsibly.
The shutdown – proroguing – does not just add a few days to an existing adjournment as the Government claims: it prevents Parliament debating and deciding on Brexit from the end of this week until 23 October, a week before Brexit day.
This Government is an unholy alliance of extremists and rogues. On the one hand there are the zealots – Rees-Mogg, Raab, Patel – supported by the like of Duncan Smith and the ERG. They want a complete break from Europe which they regard as too socially liberal, economically respectable and environmentally responsible. Their hard line on immigration will now extend to the 3.5 million EU27 citizens who give so much to this country. 1.5 million UK citizens in Europe will be collateral damage.
They are facilitated by charlatans like Johnson and Gove who seem to regard this as a game and a route to personal power, and who have an extraordinary gift for deceit and dissembling. In their wake are the placeholders who change their position from week to week – Javid, Hancock, Morgan, Rudd. They are so discredited that they are reduced to being acts in the Johnson circus.
But it isn’t a game either for the country or for the constitution. In a contest between Government and Parliament, Parliament must win. It is, as Brexiters used to remind us, sovereign. To subvert Parliament by unconstitutional tricks is both wrong and dangerous. Done once, it can be done again.
So, this week will be a struggle not just for responsible government and avoiding economic chaos but upholding our democracy. It is a pity this has come down to legal cat-and-mouse tactics, but that is where we are and we must do our best to avert no deal by building a cross-party coalition and exercising Parliament’s rights.
Let’s see how we get on.
I think most people know my view on Brexit by now: I campaigned to remain, voted against triggering Article 50 and want whatever deal is negotiated to be confirmed by a further referendum with remain as an option. I think this is the only way out of the current crisis that has a hope of reuniting the country and allowing us to tackle the many other issues we face from the collapse of public services to climate change. If you agree, make sure you have signed this petition.
But I also need to know what everyone in Hammersmith is thinking on this issue if I am to represent the constituency in the next crucial few weeks. Please take two minutes to complete this short survey of your views on Brexit.
A 5-fold attack on the survival of the NHS
Having barely drawn breath after the marathon and victorious campaign to save Charing Cross Hospital from demolition, we find ourselves in what may turn out to be an even worse crisis for our NHS. This time the attack is on five fronts.
Major cuts to clinical services. Last week I received an extraordinary letter from the NHS in north-west London. An already dire financial situation has become much, much worse. The deficit for this year has increased from £51m to £112m and will mean brutal cuts in patient care.
They propose to: limit GPs referring cases to consultants, and – if they do – insisting they send patients only to local hospitals. This will mean a lack of choice and longer waiting times. If you finally get to see a consultant, they will be restricted from referring you on to another specialist.
These will be additional and immediate cuts. We have already been told that the urgent care centres at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals are closing overnight, only five years after the A&Es at both hospitals closed.
This is what the NHS in crisis looks like. A deficit more than doubling in the course of one year leading to swingeing cuts in basic clinical services. It is a return to the desperate and callous rationing of diagnosis and treatment we saw under the Thatcher and Major Governments.
I am having urgent meetings with the management of the NHS and Imperial which runs our local hospitals, but this is catastrophic news. It gives the lie to everything that the Government is saying about investment in and support of the NHS.
Crumbling hospitals. Imperial will need to spend £1.3 billion to bring its five hospitals up to standard. Yes, that’s billion not million. Charing Cross and St Mary’s, Paddington are the most dilapidated having had little or no investment for the past nine years while the now-abandoned plans to demolish Charing Cross and rebuild St Mary’s were entertained.
Over £4 billion has been taken from NHS capital budgets nationally to disguise the funding crisis in day to day spending. The bill for our hospitals alone is more than the total ‘new’ money the Government has promised the NHS.
Waste and incompetence. The deficit is principally caused by a rise in demand – of 25% in unplanned hospital attendances since 2015. You may ask why it has taken four years and more to spot this trend, but what is truly shocking is that the Shaping a Healthier Future programme, designed among other stupidities to reduce acute beds at Charing Cross by 95% and close its A&E, continued throughout this period. We now know the total cost of management consultants for this aborted programme was at least £76 million.
Just to spell this out – as demand was accelerating, they did little to address this but instead spent tens of millions of pounds planning to cut the very services that were under pressure. I have just been sent a recent study that suggest management consultants make the NHS less efficient. Yet they continue to use these while rationing clinical care.
Privatising primary care. I have written again to the Heath Select Committee to ask them to investigate Babylon GPatHand, the digital service that is based in Fulham but has poached over 50,000 patients from all over London and beyond. Last month they attracted $550 million from US private healthcare and Saudi Government funds to allow them to expand further – something they can do within the NHS thanks to the patronage of Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health.
This is not just an issue for H&F. If this model – taking younger, fitter and therefore more profitable patients away from existing GPs to inflate the profits of overseas investors – continues, it attacks the viability of primary care or at least leaves it a second-class underfunded service.
Brexit. To finish where we started. In the short term a no deal Brexit may mean medicines running out and an exodus of staff, from doctors and nurses to support staff. 11% of NHS staff in north-west London are from EU27 countries.
In the longer term relative economic decline will mean fewer resources for the NHS, traditionally the priority for public spending. And the greatest fear is that Trump will extract US access to the NHS as the price of a trade deal, undermining its very existence. You can sign the petition against that HERE.