Part two of a special BBC South East Today report which follows Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, to Bucharest on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s fact finding visit to Romania to assess the potential impact of open migration to the UK once EU restrictions on free movement are removed this coming January.
BBC South East Today follows Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, to Bucharest to report on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s fact finding visit to Romania to assess the potential impact of open migration to the UK once EU restrictions on free movement are removed this coming January.
Today I am travelling to Romania to see what we can do to limit the flow of immigrants from Romania to the UK once EU restrictions on free movement are removed this coming January.
The Romanian Ambassador recently told us at the Home Affairs Select Committee that he expected 15-20 thousand Romanians to move to the UK annually once restrictions were removed. His Bulgarian counterpart estimated that the annual movement from Bulgaria would be 8-10 thousand. Others such as the respected think tank Migration Watch have estimated higher.
Along with Keith Vaz MP, our Chairman, and fellow Conservative James Clappison MP I will, over the next couple of days, be seeking to understand the extent of poverty and unemployment and other factors which might ‘push’ people to leave Romania, and see what can be done in the UK to discourage substantial immigration from Romania and Bulgaria.
The government is bringing in a new Immigration Bill which may help in some areas, although I wish some actions had been taken earlier – and suspect these were previously vetoed by the Liberal Democrats.
One key problem we have in the UK is the interaction between immigration and our welfare system. Unlike other EU countries, except Ireland and Denmark, we have a means tested rather than contributory system which pays over quite substantial tax credits to people with low and some middling incomes who have children. This may be quite a draw to Romanians and Bulgarians even when they want to work.
Of course my preferred solution is to leave the EU as soon as possible and take back control of our own borders to decide ourselves whom we allow into our country.
Watch Mark Reckless debate the European Union with Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder and Labour peer Lord Bassam on BBC’s Sunday Politics South East:
Article originally featured in Kent on Sunday – Click Here To Download
The Mayor of London and Foster & Partners are not the first to suggest building an airport in the Thames Estuary. The last government did that with Cliffe airport. That was ruled out, not least on grounds of cost, and these latest reheated proposals lack feasibility just as their predecessors did.
Despite Boris’ gung-ho attitude, support for a Thames Estuary airport remains extremely limited. The substantive report by the Transport Select Committee, published on Friday, which drives a coach and horses through the proposals, follows hot on the heels of the London Assembly’s findings that a Thames Estuary airport is not a viable option.
By advocating the Thames Estuary airport, Boris wanted to take the focus off Heathrow expansion, but by backing such an ill-advised, economically and environmentally unfeasible scheme he only succeeded in putting the focus back on Heathrow, although other options may make more sense.
I welcome the decision by the Transport Select Committee to reject a new hub airport in or around the Thames Estuary. It is a huge boost for the thousands of residents across Medway, particularly those living on the Hoo Peninsula, who are opposed to such proposals. However, it is important that we stay focused on our ultimate goal of seeing off these pie in the sky plans once and for all.
With cost estimates ranging widely from £70-100 billion, this scheme would not only have added at least £50 to each plane ticket but would also require huge swathes of public subsidy, money which we simply do not have. Not only would the estuary airport impose a massive financial cost to the nation as a whole, it would devastate Medway and subject many across Kent to constant aircraft noise.
Moreover, Heathrow could not continue to operate alongside a Thames Estuary airport, or airlines would not relocate from Heathrow to a much more expensive and less commercially attractive new airport. Airlines themselves have indicated that they are not prepared to move to an estuary airport from Heathrow – and are even less willing to pay for such a scheme.
Therefore, for an estuary hub to work, Heathrow would have to be forcibly closed. How this would happen in practice is a question which remains unanswered and it has been suggested taxpayers would have to pay £20bn to compensate Heathrow and associated businesses. The closure of Heathrow would necessitate a shift of at least 75,000 directly employed staff to a Thames Estuary airport. No council in peacetime has ever been asked to re-home so many people and the implications of such a task would be almost unimaginable for our area.
The site of the proposed airport is home to many internationally protected wildlife and environmental sites as well RSPB bird and nature sanctuaries. The likelihood of bird strikes on planes would be far higher than at other airports. The location chosen for the estuary airport would not only be environmentally devastating, but on the wrong side of London for access from most of the UK, as well as being technically unfeasible in key respects.
Richard Deakin, chief executive of air traffic management association, NATS, pointed out that four runways in the estuary would mean some approaches and departures being over London, compounding noise problems and conflicting with the flight paths of other airports, including Schipol.
There are other far more realistic solutions for increasing airport capacity. If £5 billion were spent on a Crossrail spur from Stansted to Stratford this would link Stansted to the City in 25 minutes and to the West End or Ebbsfleet in 35 minutes, with Heathrow less than an hour away. Stansted is currently operating at only half its potential capacity and therefore could greatly increase its number of flights without even needing a new runway in the short-term. Gatwick is now pushing for a second runway once its planning agreement which prevents this expires in 2019. Expansion at Gatwick and/or Stansted with one becoming a hub which competes with Heathrow would benefit Kent with better connections.
Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, has welcomed the decision by the Transport Select Committee to reject proposals to build a new hub airport in or around the Thames Estuary.
Responding to the news, Mark Reckless said:
“The Mayor of London and Foster & Partners are not the first the first to suggest building an airport in the Thames Estuary. The last Government did that with Cliffe airport. That was ruled out, not least on grounds of cost, and these latest reheated proposals lack feasibility just as their predecessors did.
Despite Boris’s gung-ho attitude, support for a Thames Estuary airport remains extremely limited. This substantive report by the Transport Select Committee, which drives a coach and horses through the proposals, follows hot on the heels of the London Assembly’s findings that a Thames Estuary airport is not a viable option.
By advocating the Thames Estuary airport Boris wanted to take the focus off Heathrow expansion, but by backing such an ill-advised, economically and environmentally unfeasible scheme he only succeeded in putting the focus back on Heathrow, although other options may make more sense.
I welcome the decision by the Transport Select Committee to reject a new hub airport in or around the Thames Estuary. It is a huge boost for the thousands of residents across Medway, particularly those living on the Hoo Peninsula, who are opposed to such proposals. However, it is important that we stay focused on our ultimate goal of seeing off these pie in the sky plans once and for all.”
Cllr Rodney Chambers, Leader of Medway Council, added:
“We welcome the news that, after months of detailed and rigorous study – which included commissioning research from independent aviation experts – the House of Commons Transport Select Committee has firmly rejected plans for a Thames Estuary airport.
This confirms what we’ve always known, and have campaigned loudly about – that the Thames Estuary airport is a non-starter.
The committee’s report says a Thames Estuary airport wouldn’t work because of the phenomenal cost to the public purse of building the transport infrastructure needed to get to it, as well as the devastating effect it would have on wildlife in the estuary – an area of international importance used by more than 300,000 migrating birds annually.
Medway Council, and its campaign partners have been saying exactly this as well as a number of other reasons why there should not be a Thames Estuary airport since the pie in the sky scheme was first put forward by the Mayor of London in 2008.”
Launching the report of an inquiry which examined the UK Government’s Aviation Strategy, Louise Ellman, Chair of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee said:
“We looked closely at the three main options by which the UK could increase its hub airport capacity. Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure. Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames estuary.
The viability of an estuary hub airport would also require the closure of Heathrow – a course of action that would have unacceptable consequences for individuals, businesses in the vicinity of the existing airport and the local economy.”
Download the full report – Click Here
Mark Reckless MP is considering extending his ‘No Estuary Airport’ campaign to the whole of the Rochester and Strood constituency following an overwhelming response from residents on the Hoo Peninsula.
Over 3,700 residents have so far returned their ballot out of around 10,000 that were initially sent out. The online petition on Mark’s website has also garnered significant outside support, ranging geographically from Rainham to Twickenham to Surrey.
Over 95% of those who have responded so far oppose the proposals for an airport in or around the Thames Estuary.
Mark will now be leading teams of volunteers going door to door with a petition across much of the Hoo Peninsula calling on households who have yet to return their ballot.
Speaking of the campaign success, Mark Reckless MP said:
“I have been overwhelmed by the response to my ‘No Estuary Airport’ ballot. Local councillors, activists and residents have been working their socks off to get the ballot paper to every household on the Hoo Peninsula and the interim result speaks for itself – with over 95% of Hoo Peninsula residents clearly saying that they oppose these pie in the sky proposals.
Estimates of the cost of building a new airport in the Thames Estuary range from £70-100 billion, which could add £50 to the cost of every plane ticket sold. The airlines don’t want it, residents in West London who would lose their jobs don’t want it, and now we can conclusively say that residents on the Hoo Peninsula, those who would be most impacted, don’t want it.
I am grateful to everyone who has given their time to deliver the ballots, and I would like to thank all of the residents who have responded to date. I am hopeful that we can now expand my No Estuary Airport campaign to the rest of the Rochester and Strood constituency. If anyone would like to make a donation to help me do so, please get in touch.”
Cllr Chris Buckwell, Chairman of St James Isle of Grain Parish Council, added:
‘The number of people who have completed and returned the voting forms about the airport consultation exceeds the number of people who went in person to vote in the Police & Crime Commissioner elections last November.
I think that’s a very significant achievement and all credit to Mark Reckless and all in the team who have helped. It has been a great exercise and the most responsive that I think has been had across the Medway towns, other than an ordinary election, for many, many years’
Cllr Chris Irvine, Medway Councillor for Peninsula Ward, said:
‘The response which we’ve received to Mark’s ‘No Estuary Airport’ campaign has been quite staggering, far exceeding the turnout in last Novembers PCC elections. I’d like to thank everybody who has helped with the campaign to date. It is vital that we keep saying it loud and clear – No Estuary Airport!’
Theresa May’s comic career may have begun this week. Unfortunately for me, I was the butt of her joke – a pun on my name. Answering my question in the Commons last week about whether the Government should ask the Supreme Court to rule on a key development in the legal wrangle over terror suspect Abu Qatada, the Home Secretary concluded her reply by saying: ‘Dare I describe urging the Government to break the law as a rather reckless step?’
Of course, I am used to puns on my name, or worse. Indeed, I probably have it easy compared to my family, who are doctors, and particularly my father, who graduated from medical school with a Dr Butcher, a Dr Carver, a Dr Coffin and a Dr De’Ath.
However, I am a lawyer, so was less amused by Mrs May’s suggestion that I was inciting law-breaking.
This was not my first altercation with her. It is my job, as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, to hold the Home Secretary to account and scrutinise her department’s work. Even under the omnipresent chairmanship of Keith Vaz, this is not always an easy task.
The first challenge is to get the Home Secretary to appear. Mrs May last offered us a date several weeks ahead, saying it was the first she could possibly accommodate. We only persuaded her to bring it forward to last week when we explained that the later date would mean a joint appearance with London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Select committees are not easy for all Ministers as, unlike in the chamber, MPs can pursue follow-up questions. Members are now elected, so we can hold our ground with Ministers. Under the old system insufficiently deferential MPs could be booted off committees by the Whips.
MPs and Ministers are also face-to-face and pretty much around a table. Some commentators suggest that the Home Secretary has a particular Select Committee style, and will sometimes ‘adopt a Medusa-like countenance’ or, worse, deploy her ‘death stare’.
The second challenge is getting information out of her, as her stratagems for withholding it are legion. The staple stand-by, of course, is ‘security’.
However, another technique of the Home Secretary is to promise information but not provide it, as she did with me regarding reports written by Brodie Clark, the Head of the UK Border Force, on a crucial and hotly disputed pilot programme to relax immigration controls.
Mrs May lost Nick Herbert, her high-profile Policing Minister, shortly before the first Police and Crime Commissioner elections, and her Permanent Secretary shortly afterwards. At the beginning of her tenure there were reports that an official was suspended after allegedly criticising her in private.
However, the fall-out over Mr Clark has probably been her highest-profile personal spat, although Brian Moore, whom she had hailed as his successor, was also quickly out the door, just after telling the Select Committee that he wanted to stay.
The Home Secretary’s allegation against Mr Clark was that he relaxed border controls on an unauthorised and clandestine basis. Having identified him, she assured the Commons that officials responsible would be ‘punished’.
Unfortunately for Mrs May, an investigation later found that Mr Clark had referred to his relaxation of controls, both in a presentation to the UK Border Agency board, and in a number of reports written for her and others. It was in this context that I received perhaps the most tetchy response from the Home Secretary – although there have been quite a few – when I asked her if she could confirm whether Mr Clark’s ‘punishment’ had stretched to six figures.
Here she fell back on her least reliable defence – legal advice – and simply refused to answer my question, saying that her lawyers had advised it would be unlawful to give the information. Given that her lawyers in another context were unable to count up a number of days correctly, it will not surprise readers to learn that the law actually required her to provide the information.
So Mrs May later let it slip out, as a footnote to a table of accounts in a rather dense annual report, that Mr Clark received a £225,000 pay-off.
Overall I believe that the Home Secretary is doing a good job. Crime is down and, with the support of able Immigration Ministers, she is delivering on our promise to cut net immigration from hundreds of thousands to just tens of thousands a year. However, on the issue of Abu Qatada I believe that she has got the law wrong.
Some MPs and many more voters support the ‘just put him on a plane to Jordan’ option. I don’t. I believe that if we cannot do what we want within the law, then we always have the option of changing the law.
However, neither do I support the Home Secretary’s approach, which I have termed ‘a craven surrender to Strasbourg’ and which has left us looking impotent and unable to protect our citizens.
Instead, I support ‘the Judge approach’. Our top judge, the Lord Chief Justice, like me, has a fantastic name for his role – his being Lord Judge.
He has said: ‘The decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg do not bind our courts. The statutory obligation is to take account of the decisions of the court in Strasbourg . . . the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court.’
So, instead of just complaining about Strasbourg moving the goalposts, the Home Secretary should follow the Judge approach and do something about it.
She should ask our courts, and ultimately now the Supreme Court, to move the goalposts back to where they should be, and where they were when our own highest court last considered the matter, and said Qatada could be deported.
Extraordinarily, the Home Secretary has stubbornly set her face against this approach, writing to me on December 3, 2012, to say that ‘the strategy in the case has been carefully considered at every stage by Government lawyers and leading counsel’. Given their record, that does not inspire confidence.
Mrs May continued: ‘A decision was taken to adopt the test laid down in January by the Strasbourg court because we considered the domestic courts were bound to follow it.’
So, the Home Secretary has decided to ignore our Lord Chief Justice and instead submit to Strasbourg.
Not only does this mean that Abu Qatada is still here, to our peril and at our expense, but a precedent is set for yet another area of national life. We appear yet again to have conceded sovereignty to Europe.
The Home Secretary has one last chance to put that right with her appeal to the Supreme Court. I hope the Prime Minister will ensure she takes it.
I have one last piece of friendly advice to Mrs May: in future I suggest she leaves the jokes to Boris Johnson, who does them so much better.
Original article – click here
Yesterday I suggested to the Home Secretary that she might ask the Supreme Court if it, or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, has the final word on interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights. She concluded her reply by saying:
“I fully understand the frustration felt by my hon. Friend and others who share his views, but our options involve operating within the law, and I believe that we should operate within the law or change the law. Dare I describe urging the Government to break the law as a rather reckless step?”
I am well used to puns on my name – if not to apparent jokes from the Home Secretary – and I probably have it easy compared to family who are doctors, particularly my father who went to medical school with a Dr Butcher, a Dr Carver, a Dr Coffin and a Dr De’Ath.
However, as a lawyer I have never urged the government, or anyone else, to break the law. What makes me angry is that we appear to be accepting, without even testing the matter in court, that it is Strasbourg, and not our Supreme Court, which is supreme in human rights matters.
The Home Secretary complains that Strasbourg has shifted the goalposts, but it is she who decided to accept the new test invented by Strasbourg. She has repeatedly stated in court documents and through her QCs that our courts should apply the new Strasbourg test, rather than the previous test under which the House of Lords ruled Qatada could be deported.
So, not only is Abu Qatada still here, but we risk this key constitutional question – does Strasbourg or our Supreme Court decide – being settled by default, and by the executive, in favour of Europe.
All I have urged is that the Government ask the UK judiciary if they will uphold the prior law as determined by Parliament, rather than judicial legislation from Strasbourg. How can that be “urging the government to break the law”?