Ben Bradshaw

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Commons Interventions November 17

On Brexit Impact Assessments

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister says that there is nothing of significance in these documents and that they do not measure any impact. One might ask: what is the point of them, on the biggest single issue facing our country in our lifetimes? On the timing, Mr Speaker, you were very clear last week after the vote. You talked about days, not weeks, and there was also a discussion of Ministers being in contempt of Parliament. Perhaps you might like to remind the Minister what the potential sanctions are for a Minister who is found to be in contempt of Parliament.

Mr Baker

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put the words “nothing of significance” in my mouth. I do not think that I have ever said that. We are saying to the House that this sectoral analysis does not contain quantitative projections of impact. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s final question, I think that is a matter for you, Mr Speaker.

On Israel Meetings

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister read out an incredibly long list of meetings that the Secretary of State held in Israel on what I thought was supposed to be a family holiday. Did she have any meetings with the Palestinian side? The Minister will, as middle east Minister, appreciate the importance of a wholly balanced approach to the middle east peace process and not a one-sided one. If she is in the air now, she could have delayed her departure, couldn’t she, and shown some courtesy to this House. It is very difficult for us to know, Mr Speaker, whether the Secretary of State for International Development or the Foreign Secretary has the worse relationship with accuracy. If we had a Prime Minister who was not so weak, both would have been sacked.

Alistair Burt

The Secretary of State says, in her very full statement yesterday, that she was on a family holiday between 13 and 25 August, which is 12 days. She took two days out of that holiday to have a series of meetings with Israeli politicians and political people, and a number of different charities, including, as I said earlier, Save a Child’s Heart, which works with Palestinian children as well as Israeli children. The list of meetings has been published. I do not see that she specifically had a set of meetings with those representing Palestinian interests, but of course she has met those on other occasions. It is a full disclosure of work. She had two days off in the middle of a holiday. I suspect that is not particularly unusual for Ministers, who sometimes do other things. But you would, of course, let the Foreign Office know in advance, which my right hon. Friend did not, and that was the error for which she has apologised. The meetings were really pertinent to her work, to our work and to British interests.

On Russia

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

While the Secretary of State is correcting inaccurate statements he made to the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, would he care to correct the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) when he said he had seen no evidence of Russian meddling in the EU referendum?

Boris Johnson

The answer to that is no.

On Professor Mifsud

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

While the right hon. Gentleman is in the business of correcting the record, will he correct his statement from last week that he had never met Joseph Mifsud, the UK-based so-called academic at the centre of the Trump-Putin collusion allegations, given the publication in the newspapers yesterday of a photograph of just such a meeting?

​Mr Speaker

Order. There is all sorts of flailing and waving about. It is not statesmanlike and the source from which it emanates is a source from which I usually expect the most statesmanlike conduct. The right hon. Gentleman’s question suffers from the disadvantage that it is not even adjacent to—does not even hover over, does not buzz around—the urgent question that has been posed, so he will have to pursue other opportunities to favour the House with his thoughts, or to seek to extricate from the mind of the Foreign Secretary his own. On that point, we will leave it there for now.

On the NHS workforce crisis

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

All four witnesses who gave evidence to the Health Committee inquiry into the current workforce crisis last week described the current situation as “unprecedented”. Janet Davies, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, said that if Brexit happened, it would be devastating. Does the Secretary of State accept that if there is no deal next month on the rights of EU nationals, the current stream of EU workers leaving our NHS and social care system will become a flood?

Mr Hunt

With respect, I do not think it helps to reassure the brilliant NHS professionals from the EU who are working in the system when the right hon. Gentleman asks questions like that. The reality is that those people are staying in the NHS, and I take every opportunity to ensure that they feel welcome. I try to stress how important they are, and how the NHS would fall over without them. The Government continue to make every possible effort to secure a deal for their future, which we are very confident that we will achieve.

On the Intelligence and Security Committee

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I am delighted to welcome the long overdue reconstitution of this Committee and wish it well with its work. It is nice to see at least two of its members in the Chamber this evening.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)


Mr Bradshaw

I do beg my hon. Friend’s pardon.

I hope that one of the Committee’s early inquiries will be into Russian interference in the UK. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been raising questions about this for the past year, during which the evidence of Russian interference in the American presidential election became credible and compelling. Until recently, the UK Government gave every impression of not wanting to talk about it, but mounting evidence on both sides of the Atlantic of covert Russian propaganda and social media activity, and the role of dark money in our democracy, makes it imperative that the Intelligence and Security Committee looks at this as a matter of urgency. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has already launched an inquiry and the Electoral Commission is conducting investigations into Russian-backed interference in the referendum, including with regard to social media and the funding of the pro-Brexit campaign and its main financial backer, Arron Banks.

The American investigation into alleged collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, led by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, has also now reached Britain. The FBI has named Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, as a person of interest, and Mueller has indicted a former Trump campaign operative, George Papadopoulos, who had meetings in London with a UK-based academic, Josef Mifsud, to discuss the latter obtaining dirt on Hilary Clinton from the Kremlin. We know that Mr Papadopoulos has had access to British Ministers, and that Professor Mifsud has met the Foreign Secretary, although that was at first denied.

While it is imperative that the Government and its agencies give the fullest help and co-operation to the Culture Committee, the Electoral Commission and the Mueller investigations—although I know this is not his area of responsibility, I would be grateful if the Minister could assure the House that that will be the case, especially as I have been told that the Mueller team was ​in London recently and was not happy with the co-operation it was receiving from the UK authorities—it is the Intelligence and Security Committee that has much freer and direct access to our intelligence and security services and can question them directly. That is why its reconstitution is so important.

Despite the mounting evidence of recent months, the Foreign Secretary was still insisting last week that he had seen no evidence of Russian interference, but on Monday the Prime Minister said, or at least implied, something very different in her Mansion House speech. She excoriated the Putin regime for hacking, interfering in elections, and spreading fake news to sow discord in western democracies and threaten our international order.

It would be helpful to the Houses of Parliament and the country as a whole if the Government would end this confusion now. Is Britain among the countries that the Prime Minister had in mind when she made her speech? Indeed, it would be rather odd, given the uniquely disruptive impact of the Brexit vote and Putin’s well publicised desire for it, if Britain alone were immune from the Kremlin’s intentions. If the Government will not clear this up, I hope the ISC will. I hope that the ISC will also use its good offices to ensure that the Government and all their agencies give every assistance necessary to the other UK bodies investigating these matters and to Robert Mueller’s team.

Additionally, I urge the ISC to include the issue of dark money and the role of think-tanks in any of its deliberations on this matter. We know that more than £400,000 was donated during the EU referendum to the Democratic Unionist party by the Constitutional Research Council. The CRC has also given money to hard Brexit-supporting MPs, including the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). It was reported last week that the fine the Electoral Commission imposed as a result of the DUP donation resulted from a failure to disclose its source. That is not acceptable.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant and forensic speech, and he is to be commended by us all for pursuing this matter over the past year. Does he agree that a priority for the ISC should be to get to the bottom of whether foreign money was donated to the election campaigns and to the referendum campaign? A gap in the law means that the Electoral Commission is not empowered to investigate foreign actors and foreign money, and their influence on our democracy and this House.

Mr Bradshaw

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Our legal framework is completely outdated for meeting the challenges that we face.

There is a further issue that I hope the Government will address. They have promised to close the loophole in Northern Ireland, where political donations remain secret for historical reasons, but that is completely unacceptable. It is quite clear that Northern Ireland has recently been used as a channel for such donations. The Government, to their credit, have said that they will change the law. Every single party in Northern Ireland— ​except the DUP, I think—believes that such a change should be retrospective. That would allow us to go back to the time of the referendum so that we would know where the money came from, and we could have full confidence in the integrity of our political and democratic process.

I also urge the ISC to look at the Legatum Institute, its relationship with the Government, and the background of its founder and main funder, Christopher Chandler. It should also consider the activities and funding of political organisations such as Conservative Friends of Russia, now renamed as the Westminster Russia Forum.

I come now to my final and perhaps most important point: the relationship between our intelligence and security services and those of our closest ally, America; and the relationship of each with their respective Government. President Trump is at war with his intelligence community. He has made it abundantly clear that he would sooner believe Putin than his own intelligence and security professionals. That is shocking, but it would be even more worrying for us if that breakdown in relations were mirrored here and had a negative impact on the vital work of our agencies and the extent of their co-operation with their US counterparts.

When the news website BuzzFeed ran a series of articles recently about unexplained Russia-related deaths in Britain, its head of investigations, Heidi Blake, was inundated with American intelligence sources complaining that they did not think their British counterparts were taking these incidents seriously. If that is true, it is extremely worrying.

Until recently, British Ministers have gone out of their way to avoid talking about Russian interference. They might have been worried about doing anything that might cast doubt on the legitimacy of the EU referendum result or embarrass President Trump, from whom they hope to get a trade deal to save them from the Brexit disaster.

I hope the ISC, now that it will finally be reconstituted, will be able to reassure itself and this Parliament that our intelligence and security services continue to act freely within the law, unhampered by any narrow political concerns of Ministers, and that their vital co-operation with their US counterparts has not been affected by the breakdown between the latter and their President. This issue goes to the heart of the security and integrity of our democracy and political system, and I wish the members of the Committee well in their important work ahead.

On the Customs Union and Single Market

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The main issues dividing the House at this stage in the Brexit negotiations are our continued membership of the customs union and of the single market. Ministers say constantly that they do not want to reveal anything that could weaken their negotiating hand, but the Government have made their position clear and the European Union has accepted that the Government want a hard Brexit, so why would it damage the Government’s negotiating position to put that information out? Can the Minister confirm that the information in the edited documents will help Members to reach a view on whether we should stay in the customs union and the single market?

Mr Walker

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the information in the edited documents will be valuable to the House, but it is wrong to describe them as “edited documents”. I would describe them as comprehensive sectoral analyses that the Government have provided for the Select Committee and will be providing, on a confidential basis, to the House.

In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the customs union and the single market, I remind him that he, like I, stood on a manifesto that said that we will respect the referendum result and confirmed that the UK will be leaving the customs union and the single market.

On the Great Western franchise

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I echo the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) about the idea of breaking up the great western franchise because of the loss of ability to cross-subsidise from the more profit-making parts of the region to the more expensive parts in the far south-west. Exactly how much extra taxpayers’ money is he handing over to Stagecoach as a result of the Government’s botched and ideologically driven reprivatisation of what was a perfectly good and profitable publicly owned company?

Chris Grayling

The answer is that at this stage we have not yet reached final arrangements. My intention is not to hand over money, but to get the railway line in a preparation stage for the establishment of the east coast partnership. With regard to the great western franchise, this is genuinely a consultation. There are two options: we could continue with the great western franchise as it is, or we could create a second franchise that is focused on the south-west. I have heard both arguments. I am committed to having more accountability and better transport in and around the south-west, which is why we are finally dualling the A303, for example. This is a genuinely open consultation and I want to hear views about it.

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