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How Parliament WorksQ&A session with Dr Sarah Wollaston                                   


Wed 10 March, 18:30-20:30, Boston Tea Party, Exeter.

First in a series – “Politics, Democracy and Everything”,  organised by Devon for Europe.


Sarah Wollaston opened the session with a brief overview and some suggestions, before inviting questions, which were free flowing and answered fully and frankly.


Here’s a summary of her short introduction:


 Parliament has some systemic undemocratic processes, e.g.

—Less than 1.5% increase in votes for Tories translates into huge majority

—‘Strong leadership’ demanded by public, can sidestep scrutiny.  There’s a Trumpification of avoidance of scrutiny by the media. This led to political journalists boycotting a Downing Street briefing (3rd Feb 2020), after one of Boris Johnson’s aides banned selected reporters from attending.


So what can citizens do?


  1. Have face-to-face engagement with your MP. Invite them to your workplace / group meeting. Hold the government to account .e.g. promises on Fishing
  2. Make Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests
  3. Use Select Committees:
  4. Look at the Parliament website for Select Committees, esp to see what’s relevant to SouthWest.
  5. Propose an enquiry for that Committee. Email clerk with your insight or evidence. Give reasons clearly, on A4 paper
  6. Write in with suggested questions to upcoming speaker (e.g., Simon Stephens going to appear soon) . Some members don’t read brief in advance!!
  7. Chair and Clerk consider the flow and content of questions. But also good to make a pitch to all SC Members, as they vote for which questions are chosen.
  8. Anyone can turn up to Select Committee meetings.

N.B. Petitions using pro forma emails, and Early Day Motions, are a waste of time! 


In the course of the informal discussion that ensued, Sarah offered the following reflections:

  • Government in ‘honeymoon period’ right now. But we have a dysfunctional Chamber. Takes 900,000 votes to get 1 Green MP.; 25,000 to get 1 for SNP.  Keep writing and campaigning for electoral reform
  • Beware All-Party Groups. Check Secretariat. Sometimes funded by big lobby group.
  • Progressive Alliance could only work if Labour participates.
  • Lib Dems made mistakes in Jo Swinson-led campaign. “I’m next Prime Minister” lost voters and media support.
  • Could be better co-ordination for Brexit-related topics. Splintered into different committees at present.
  • MPs penalised for speaking too often in the House. Name is moved down the list of those requesting to speak in future.
  • MPs can’t be in two places at once. Sometimes miss a debate whilst e.g. attending committee.
  • As former Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, SW asks why on earth UK government wants to pull out of EU early warning system.
  • Purity of Brexit argument again overtaking common sense, she says.


Most of the evening was devoted to questions from the audience of around sixty people. (One hundred had been expected, but coronavirus considerations are likely to have kept many away). Here’s a flavour of the questions:


  1. Value of Select Committees if e.g. Russia Report can be buried?
  2. There is no mechanism for enforcing publishing.
  3. How are Select Committee members chosen?
  4. Chair voted in by whole House of Commons. Allocated by Party. Can’t be removed in government reshuffle.
  5. What if email to MP doesnt get response?
  6. No sanction for MP who doesn’t reply to you. So options are as follows:
  7. a) Make appointment to meet, stating “specific questions I want to ask you about” . (Allotted surgery time is usually 15-20 mins).
  8. b) Send your unanswered letters to the press/ or use radio phone-in, etc.
  9. c) Delegations to MP work well. Good publicity for a follow-up press article.

Q.Are Westminster MPs influenced by local elections?

  1. So much is devolved to local government. Local councillors make extraordinary differences to their constituents.
  2. If parliament shut down because of coronavirus, what would happen?
  3. Electronic voting could be used. About time current arcane voting system was reformed! Whipping is brazen, obvious, as MP’s ushered in to voting divisions. Often don’t know what they’re voting on. Change resisted. (Essentially boring) Procedure Committee has dinosaurs!!

Q.How to defend BBC?

  1. Take part in a big campaign. People do value the BBC. Essential not to lose this public broadcasting voice not directed by a lobby group.
  2. How seriously does Parliament take petitions?
  3. Depends on issue. Useful to target a matter from different standpoints, so helps to connect with other groups, including those from other constituencies where appropriate.
  4. What checks and balances are there on Johnson and on Cummings?
  5. Cummings in position of patronage. Cabinet Secretary in theory has power to check DC , but won’ Role of ‘Special Advisers’ is concerning. Also, Government intends to look at Judiciary , especially the Supreme Court (This was in Conservative manifesto). Judicial Reviews could be eroded. There is extreme tension between government departments and the civil service, as the recent three cases of trashing reputations has shown.

Some hope that The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) will be strengthened with new powers, to hold BJ and DC to account. But choice of Chair will be crucial.  [BAD NEWS: BERNARD JENKIN!!]

  1. People get the government they deserve, so what did we get wrong?
  2. Bad behaviour is being normalised.

Thank you to Jackie Green for this summary.


A thought-provoking piece from Roger Porkess

Posted on 8th October, 2019

Why I believe we should stay in the EU


In October last year, I had the privilege to be a contributor to an EU statistics conference, held in Bamberg in Germany. The overall theme was the importance of official data and the focus of our strand was encouraging the use of such sources in schools. I spoke about the recent move in England to ensure that students have the experience and excitement of working with large sets of real data. The other presenters in our session were from Sweden and Holland and our chair was a Portugese professor; our audience was from across Europe. We all really enjoyed working together and felt that each of us added to what the others were saying. There were no national barriers between us; we were all EU citizens working to a common purpose.


The timing worked well for me as the next day was a big People’s Vote march in London attracting about ¾ of a million people. That too was very inspiring. But then I went home to Totnes where UKIP were actively infiltrating the local Conservative party in order to deselect Sarah Wollaston as our MP. It was an awful shock to return to the ignorance and small-mindedness of a group of people who obviously do not understand what the EU is all about. Fortunately most people in Totnes, and indeed the rest of Devon, are not like that.


I did not need a statistics conference or a march in London to convince me that we should be staying in the EU. I have always believed that as a country we should be outward looking, seeing ourselves as part of a community of nations, rather than little Englanders. When the referendum came, I would have liked to contribute to the debate but it all seemed to be about personal finance, whether you were a few pounds better off in or out, and not about the deeper issues that mattered to me. During the march in October I met like-minded people, and made contact with Devon for Europe.


I don’t think anyone had expected the level of hate that would be whipped up by the referendum. All our traditional British values are being eroded by some of those who want us to leave the EU at any cost. Who would have expected one of the country's most famous authors to be spat at in Devon, minority groups to feel under threat, MPs to receive death threats or in one dreadful case actually murdered? I have a haiku on my desk which genuinely helps me to deal with the emotions involved.

To save our country

From intolerance and hate

We must stop Brexit.


Those pushing for us to leave the EU are led and financed by a small group of very rich people, hoping to turn our country into a tax haven for themselves. They have used their money to fund a cynical campaign to convince ordinary people that the EU is responsible for problems that were actually caused by our government's austerity programme. In a further step in non-logic, they linked this to patriotism. I do wish that those who chant slogans like "Leave means leave" would pause and ask whether they are letting themselves be used as puppets and who are pulling the strings.


Sometimes the referendum is described as a great act of democracy but it was just the opposite. People were not told that it was advisory and not binding so they did not know what they were voting for, and there was serious overspending from the leave campaign. It really should have been annulled. With such misconduct it was certainly no exercise in democracy.


True democracy is a way of thinking in which you respect other people's views and try to come to a consensus. It is much deeper than "winner takes all". The referendum fell far short of that.



It would be wrong to see events in the UK in isolation. Many countries now have extremist leaders. Such unscrupulous people, with their own agendas, are not only an immediate threat to international stability but put the very future of our planet in danger.  Donald Trump has reneged on international agreements like the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Iran nuclear deal; in Brazil, Jair Bolsanaro is allowing the Amazon rain forest to be felled and burned; and so on.


The whole world is watching the UK. If we walk away from Brexit, we will send out a clear message to everyone that, having looked at the associated bigotry and petty nationalism, we have decided that this is not the future we want for our country. That will be a great example for others to follow.



Roger Porkess

October 2019


In this febrile atmosphere came the referendum. I was sure the people would vote to stay in because I thought British people valued peace above all else, and the prosperity most had enjoyed for so long. Yes, there was plenty we did not like about Europe, but we would stay and put that right.

I was wrong. But I am sure, too, that the country was wrong, deluded by lies and statistics, by absurd promises. I feel we are now travelling down a path that takes us away from our friends and neighbours. We have told them we don’t like them, that we wish to divorce them. They are hurt, upset, angry. Why wouldn’t they be?


My uncles’ lives taught me that peace must come first, before prosperity. They helped make Europe a place of peace at last, of free peoples. That’s the Europe, with all its faults, I believe we belong to. That Channel of ours has saved us in the past, often. Now it threatens to separate us. Holding hands across the sea is the only way. It always was. My uncles knew that.


Michael Morpurgo - 7 May 2018 - full article in The Guardian

End Game?

Posted on 6th March, 2019

Steve Bray of SODEM outside No.10 (copyright Christine Chittock)




















1) Labour official policy is to propose/support a second referendum on the Brexit deal with an option to remain, now that their alternative proposals (a sort of Norway/Unicorn mash-up) have been rejected by Parliament. Is everyone singing off the same hymn sheet? We shall see.

2) Theresa May, with her now almost unfailing ability to see off a rebellion in the making, promised on Tuesday to hold another meaningful vote on her Brexit deal on 12 March. If that fails to pass, MPs will be given a vote on leaving with no deal and, if that also fails, on extending article 50 beyond the 29 March departure deadline. It is also possible/probable (?) that the Meaningful Vote will be amended so that it gets passed only subject to ratification in a Public Vote with the option to remain.  There could be quite a scrap to get Remain on the ballot paper. May will wheel out the Will of the People rot again and say her deal or no's dangerous, but we hope Parliament will see through her games.

3) Yvette Cooper was, understandably, unwilling to take Theresa May's promised sequece of votes on trust. Her amendment, holding May to her promise re the extension, passed with a thumping majority. Anne-Marie Morris MP (Newton Abbot) was one of 20 ERG MPs to vote against. She, it seems, would relish no deal and the pain it would cause.

4) We now know for sure that, whatever May says, we are in now way prepared for a No-Deal crash out. The summary document Anna Soubry managed to secure seeks to blame business for failing to spend a small fortune on preparations for a self-inflicted catastrophe. Only 40,000 of 240.000 businesses who deal extensively with the EU have registered for customs formalities. Who can blame them? May's blackmail Brexit needs to be seen clearly for what it is. We remain outraged by the refusal to take it off the table. Regarding the extension, the EU have always made it clear that there would have to be a very good reason - another vote or a GE - for an extension to be granted. Macron has stressed that again today. No more can-kicking.

5) There was one ray of sunshine that actually reached the House: Alberto Costa's amendment went through 'on the nod.  It calls on the government toimplement the part of the withdrawal agreement that includes citizens’ rights at “the earliest opportunity” regardless of the outcome of negotiations. 

So what happens next? There are rumours that her deal will come back to Parliament next week and that the ERG will back it, thus removing the obligation for votes on No Deal and extension. We are not out of the woods, yet, and must keep up the pressure. May's Withdrawal Agreement is, effectively, a blind Brexit and if the ERG got their hands on it, could turn very nasty indeedAND the possibility of crashing out 'by accident' remains. That must not be allowed to happen. Fortunately, there are 'woke' MPs who can see the traps and will take steps to avoid them. 

We have to keep up the pressure on MPs for a public ratification vote and that means they must support any amendment to make acceptance of May's deal conditional on the public giving their informed consent. Keep writing. It works! 

Letter to Hugo Swire

Posted on 28th January, 2019

This East Devon resident is so furious over how this government is handling Brexit that he sent a copy of his letter to Sir Hugo to me for anonymous publication.

I think it is probably the most well informed, well written and eloquent letter on Brexit I have read yet!

I am writing on behalf of myself, my wife and our two young sons, aged 3 and 8. We are constituents of yours. To that end, you represent us in Parliament, and on that basis alone I respectfully request a response to this email.

My wife and I look on in horror daily at what is happening to our country courtesy of the Brexit to whose mast you’ve tied your colours. Every day, every headline, every radio news bulletin brings more appalling updates. Our eldest son asks what’s going on and we do our best to explain while avoiding any apparent apportionment of blame, but even he’s bewildered, after all, we’ve brought him up to be comfortable and confident travelling in Europe, be it a road trip to Germany or one of our many trips every month or so to visit our family living in Dublin; try telling him that the Europeans are our friends but we don’t want to be close to them any more.

I understood the initial response from Remain-voting MPs like yourself that “we’re all Leavers now” (even though I will never be), or, “The will of The People must be respected”, but as time has gone on, and more and more facts come to light, be it the negotiations with Brussels, or the proven illegal activity by the Leave campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, it has become absolutely clear that this line has subtly morphed into “we’re all doing our best to hold the Conservative Party together now.”

What we are now seeing is a world away from the politicians’ claims made in 2016. The easiest deals in history? Where? We’ll have exactly the same benefits as before? I don’t think so - see EHIC, etc. £350m for the NHS? Perhaps, but only by political and accounting sleight of hand. Cake and eat it? I see no cake. Not even crumbs.

Instead I see the Home Secretary preparing for martial law. The Health Secretary wildly buying fridges to keep what medicines are still available at the temperature they require. The military preparing a range of contingencies. The Prime Minister preparing for another vote that she’s unlikely to win, based on a promise of getting rid of a backstop that Europe will not relinquish. THIS IS NOT IN ANY WAY NORMAL. In fact it’s a complete calamity. A calamity of finance. A calamity of trade. A calamity of world reputation. But above all, a calamity of common sense.

We elect our politicians to be the grown ups in the room, to make our difficult decisions for us, to put the Union’s interests first, even when unpopular. What you are doing, explicitly, is putting the hopes of saving the Tory party first. You are actively ignoring the facts that clearly show our position as one of the 28 countries in Europe make us stronger in terms of trade and influence. And you are hiding behind the most pathetic excuse of all: that to change our minds would risk enraging the far right. You, a military man, bowing to Tommy Robinson and his ilk; stand back and ask yourself how that looks, then perhaps you’ll ask yourself if you truly are doing the right thing by allowing this madness to continue.

And then there is Northern Ireland. I visited Counties Down, Antrim and Armagh this Christmas with my family before heading down into the Republic. We stayed not 500m across the water from Warrenpoint and most of our shopping was done by crossing the border to Newry, often daily. I grew up listening to the bleak news reports from Ulster but the border country I saw a month ago was a world away from this horror. I cannot even countenance any scenario where one would wish to jeopardise this peace, but it seems that Mrs May, and therefore by association you, are prepared to do so. For what? Yes, the Conservative Party. In the past couple of weeks, a man was shot dead in Warrenpoint, not a kilometre from where we were staying; the thought that this could again become the new normal makes me weep.

I understand that there is still considerable (though almost certainly no longer majority) public support for Brexit, even though it is clear that this is self harm on a massive scale. So this is what I respectfully suggest you have to do: First, you have a duty to vote Mrs May’s re-presentation of her original deal down; it is no better than it ever way, and the backstop - a perfectly reasonable piece of legislation if you see it from the Republic of Ireland and Europe’s point of view - will not be renegotiated (to even suggest that they would is naive, but you already know that).

Second, you have to make sure that Mr Rees-Mogg and his ERG colleagues are put firmly back in their box by supporting any amendment which puts no-deal off the table - they represent a tiny proportion of the Electorate so do not deserve to bully their way forward on this one. Sure, that could weaken our negotiating position, but in truth I don’t think so; they don’t need us as much as we need them and they have shown that effortlessly by simply being the better and stronger negotiators. If I were a German car maker (and I live in a house where we drive exclusively German cars), I know that sheer vanity would keep the Brits buying Audis and BMWs, irrespective of the tariffs, so why bother bowing to our little toddler tantrums?

Third, you need to actively back an extension of Article 50. If you wanted to demonstrate true backbone then you would seek to revoke it altogether and embark on a solid campaign of proving why remaining in the EU is in the interests of trading future and our younger generations. Sadly I doubt you will, for fear of upsetting the Party.

Finally, you must support the call for a People’s Vote. Any suggestions that it’s undemocratic are ridiculous once you consider the illegal activity associated with the first one, and the lack of definition of Brexit in the 2016 binary vote. Putting this back to the public is truly democratic as everyone will have an opportunity to cast their vote based on the facts as we now know them, not the fairytale fantasies peddled by Messrs Johnson, Gove, Farage et al.

If a strong mandate for Remain is declared then it’ll be the eleventh-hour saving of our country. The right wing lunatics may take to the street, but they probably won’t, and certainly not for very long. If Leave wins again, based on the knowledge we now have, then so be it. We Leave. At least we’ve all been asked rather than standing here ignored hopelessly as sacrifices on Mrs May’s intractable altar.

We stand at the greatest crossroads of our lives politically and internationally. Your constituency is heavily biased towards an older demographic, but this can’t be solely about them. It has to be about those who will live with the consequences of this for many, many years to come (after all, Mr Rees-Mogg has conceded that it may be many decades before we truly benefit from any of this debacle). If you really wanted to demonstrate your respect for the younger generations then you’d seek for all 16+ year olds to vote in a second referendum (it would never be supported by the House as a whole, but you could still claim the kudos that went with proposing it to the youth of East Devon).

You, Sir Hugo, have to do what is right for our country right now. If you allow us to slip into this abyss of your Party’s making then you have not done so in my name, nor that of my family.

I appreciate that you must be a busy man at the moment, but I’d welcome a telephone call to allow you to justify (or simply clarify) your position.

In the meantime, I trust that you’ll give my thoughts some serious consideration.

I look forward to hearing from you. Written by an anonymous East Devon constituent

Mid Devon State of the District Report

Posted on 27th January, 2019

Mid Devon District Council – Annual State of the District Debate 24 January 2019

Linda Middleton Jones , Secretary to Business Forum Mid Devon

Most people don’t know trade agreements need an increase in paperwork. Need to prove origin, for everything included in the end product. So Brexit will lead to more bureaucracy.

Two camps in industry: prevaricators and hedgers. Prevaricators – waiting;  Hedgers – relocating to EU

Reduction in Moody’s status, so already more expensive to borrow money. IMF have issued a warning about this. No deal – money more expensive to acquire. Unrest. Stockpiling means that companies will be low on working capital. How long will supplies last if there is a siege. In Europe there is some sentiment of xenophobia towards the British.

In future all goods leaving and entering will need paperwork, customs checks and clearance. For people in Devon this means price increases across the board: oranges, olive oil, sherry. Tourism could be affected. Hospitality. Jobs on Farms. Manufacturers will find price increases and delays. EU customers may choose a different supplier. Price increases means increased costs and reduced demand for companies. This will result in job losses. There will be no .eu emails for UK companies, so will have to start SEO from scratch. International driving licenses if we want to go to Europe.

SWOT – what can we do?

Peripherality – we are a long way from London, a lovely area to live. This is a USP, not a barrier. We can make something of it. Tourism – can be at the forefront. Reduction in migrant workers, opportunity for locals, including older person re-engagement. Message to locals is – local companies affects how we live our lives. Talk to supply chain. Make EU customers feel valued. Invest in technology, teaching skills in export. Only 150,000 companies have ever sold to the EU.

Charles Baughan – Westerways Sausages

Pork sausage manufacturer. Modbury in the South Hams. Uniform has union jack. Wants to tell us about his concerns about Brexit. Is food and drink important to the West Country? – yes it is. It’s about 17% of all employment. There are about 2,500 small companies like Westerways with an average of about 30 employees, and about £2.5-3 million annual turnover.

Here in the UK we import about 55% of the pork we consume. Westerways only uses fresh British pork. Farmers are the custodians of the area we live, our USP, our community. Is Westerways affected by Brexit? Yes – because about 80,000 tonnes of pork comes into the UK every month, predominantly from Denmark, Holland, Spain. There will be issues with Brexit with time sensitive delays. 4,000 lorries per month bring pork into the UK. 43% are time-sensitive, which is fresh, not frozen. The market is going to experience extreme fluctuations if we have an issue on 29th March. Westerways is an experienced exporter, has supply certificates, traceability to the farms, NFU ensures one of the best systemised approach to agriculture in the world. But price is a factor of supply and demand. Hypothetically a pack of sausages in Mole Valley Farmers might go from £2.50 to £5.00. Might be an issue for UK consumers. Westway might have to sit on his hands and wait for it to settle down, concentrate on business in China, or Europe or elsewhere. They are doing their diligence, and are not unduly worried, but they are concerned there aren’t many experts discussing this. Let down by parliament who should have been thinking about this, rather than kicking the can down the road and worrying about what the public thinks of them.

Andrew Butler, Devon Advisor for the NFU

From a farmer’s point of view. NFU represents farms across the Mid Devon and rest of England and Wales. Farmers make up 1.5% of population. Why should general public be worried about the impact of Brexit on farming. Might be vegetarian but still eat. Price we pay is important to us. Outside towns landscape is almost entirely looked after by farmers. If farming is in the doldrums, our landscape changes, changing our leisure and tourism opportunities. 8-900 farms in Devon spend money, Crediton Milling, Mole Valley in Cullompton and the local vets. Money stays in the local economy gets spent on shops and pubs. We can argue what a good Brexit means, but we need to see something that works for industry, because otherwise consumers won’t see that in local market, economy, landscape. Since the referendum NFU and business have been looking for clarity. We don’t have it. There’s no short-term expectation of clarity politically. That’s not good for business, including farming. Needs to plan, change and adapt. Farming economy is entwined in the EU more than any other. We have had the CAP for 40 years, regulation that comes out of that. We have to disentangle ourselves, and we don’t know what that’s going to look like. 62% self sufficient in food. 70% of our agriculture exports go to the EU. Free and frictionless trade with the EU is a pre-requisite, from day one. Labour is key for the sector, not just on the farm but more so in the supply chain. Abattoir 80-90% non UK labour. Vets are 70% non-UK. Anything that puts that at risk threatens our food chain. Impact of disruption would be seen at Morrisons, Tesco etc. NFU has been very public about catastrophic impact of no-deal Brexit. Could put us into a trade embargo. WTO terms with EU would put tariffs on our imports, e.g. pork and dairy. Tariffs would be 25-75%. About 1/3 of our lamb goes to EU. Prices would rise in the retail sector. You might think that farmers would be better off with higher prices, but this would lead to inflation, which would cause the government to unilaterally lower our tariffs. Imports would reduce the prices and would cruxify the farming sector. Farms losing income, going out of business. Work continues unabated with politicians to avoid a no deal Brexit. NFU is optimistic sector can flourish into the future: good products, high levels of welfare, traceability, environmental protection. Good basis for UK consumers and export. The agricultural bill going through parliament affects agriculture for the next generation- not only impacting farmers, but also consumers of food, and the landscape. Really key we avoid a no deal situation. Neil Parish is being helpful. If we get a good deal farmer can continue to push out a high-quality product, employ people and contribute strongly to the local economy.

Darren Bevan, Gregory Distribution

Darren is a business unit director. Devon / SW business with a network that covers the whole of the UK, with 26 key sites, established 1919, centenary year. Started by Archibald Gregory hauling coal from haulage station in North Devon to the wool factory. They have the first truck Archibald bought, the first one his son bought in the 1950s, and the first one John (3rd generation) bought in the 1990s.  Joint venture with Hayton Coulthard (racing driver’s family business) in Scotland and acquired Craibs in Aberdeen. Today as a business, when John took over the were £2m / year business and now £250m. 2,600 employees 1000 vehicle, 1400 trailers. Diverse business: milk collection, south west water. Brexit issues: they don’t cover the continent, Europe. They are pleased they’re not involved in that. However most of their trucks costing £22m per year, are manufactured in the continent. Their costs have gone up in the past 3 years. 13% movement in exchange rate has meant a 13% increase in vehicles and parts. Also if fuel goes up 1p that’s £6,000 per week increase in costs. If there’s a hard Brexit, 11-16% additional cost of vehicles and parts. There’s a driver shortage for LGV and they have a lot of European drivers. The average age is 53, and they are doing a lot to counter it with training of “white van man and woman”, apprentice scheme. Their own average is age 47. Risk to supply chains at borders. Customers’ supply chains e.g. fruit juice would have an impact on their business. They are already seeing stockpiling. Lots of enquiries about warehousing for stockpiling for Brexit. They have done well out of it in the past 2 years, but it’s not sustainable growth. Workers from EU countries – Gregory don’t want them to go back. One warehouse in the sW is 70% east European. They are building an action plan to retain their workforce. They know EU citizens have to register, and they are supporting them as they are worried. Temperament and morale is not a great situation. They are working hard with their HR team on how ot manage that because they are proud of their multicultural sites. They had 52 different languages spoken in one depot. 622 drivers employed. Only 3.25% are female, and they are working on that. Concerned about affect on costs as a business.


Q1 – Just over 51.4% voted for Brexit. We are only 60 odd days away from it. Is there even one good thing that’s going to happen on 29 March.

Chair : Mid Devon 51.3% of those who voted were Leave.
Linda: certainty is the only thing she’s looking for. Applauds that we are talking about facts rather than emotions. There will be tough times, and we are a resilient nation, opportunities (unspecified). She cannot say that things are going to be rosy. She is concerned.

Charles can only think of one benefit. The Belgians have African swine flu, and we are on an island so we have an advantage in pork export

Darren; is certain they will still be in business and people will still be going to work and there will be some opportunities and also some negatives, that’s life, we are where we are, and the sooner we get used to it, change is good, and not you go first, follow us.

Andrew – we don’t know what March 29 is going to look like, so we don’t know. Once we have clarity business can move on. Common Agricultural Policy has had to fit all the member states, agriculture bills is just for the UK and in some respects just England so that could give us some positives, but we won’t know what that looks like for another year now.

Q2 – has anyone on the panel thought through the longer term implications of staying in the EU and Euro that’s going over a precipice

Q3 – Lloyd Maunders used to export 5,000 lambs per week, do we see the benefits of tourism since they will charge us but we won’t charge, 100 mile limit back for fisheries, improvement with obesity with less food available

Andrew – all uncertain. All suppositions. Without clarity businesses and consumers can’t plan. Most business know the answer they would like, once we have an answer we will hopefully see a bounce. NFU wants to see a deal that allow us to continue free trade and free movement. Once the situation is clarified we can start to negotiate, which is the hard bit.

Linda – no other country has ever tried to withdraw from a customs union as we are doing. So that point underlines the complexity of what’s going on. No other border has attempted a technological entry and departure point. The aim is to start trade deals on our own account, we’ve heard about chickens in hydrochloric acid. But goes back to our resilience, and that the electorate chose to leave.

Q4 – has employed two Polish builders this week 27-35, both are going back before 29th because of fall in pound, uncertainty, children’s schooling. Any indication in the panel’s business of how many are going to be leaving before the deadline?

Darren – it’s a concern and they are looking to avoid. Have not seen a lot, but it’s a worry if clarity remains evasive. Colleagues in Northern Ireland have lost a lot of workers to Southern Ireland where they are paid in Euros. It’s about doing right by their people, because they are great people and we don’t want to lose them.

Andrew is going to interview staff and ask about circumstances and see what they can do to help them. 9 am Friday – cooks breakfast for the staff. To show the MD cares. Whether from Eastern Europe doing a damned good job, look bac to Polish fighter pilots in WW2 and nothing has changed.

Q4 – is there a plan for reintroduction of the agricultural marketing board, which was a farmers’ cooperative which took products to the consumer. Disbanded because it was considered a monopoly e.g. 13m litres of milk delivered at its peak. Milk is difficult to take to market.

Andrew: None of the political parties of fans of the prospects. Thatcher did for the milk marketing board back in the day. Competitions and mergers department sees monopolies as bad for the consumer. It would need to be done as a farm cooperatives model, and it would depend what our relationship with Europe was and whether aligned on a regulatory basis.

Darren: 70% of their business was with the milk marketing board in the 1970s, but thinks very unlikely it will start again.

Q5 – at June 2016, were staff aware of likely impact, and subsequently anecdotally does panel think that staff may have changed their mind?

Linda – staff have international expertise. They had a what if discussion. Have not been surprised, other than by the longevity of the negotiation. She also informed other businesses she deals with at the time. People made emotional choices.

Andrew – as a trade organisation, they were one of the few to do independent impact studies. They published to all of the members. Democratic decision was to recommend remain, but they didn’t campaign. Anecdotally not many have changed their minds. Some made decisions based on the recommendations, others in spite of them.

Charles – was worried about Brexit, didn’t share worries with staff, not sure if should have done

Darren – didn’t and doesn’t think it would have been right to do so. Some have changed their minds and some haven’t. Speaks to a lot of MDs and discusses Brexit at every meeting. Nobody knows. Just uncertaintly. It’s about being positive and looking for the opportunities and we will be OK.

Q6 – Andrew mentioned “a good deal” what is that? Presumably not Theresa May’s since they want freedom of labour and customs union. What about subsidies.

Withdrawal agreement is the short term fix, and then we can plan for long term. In the short-term freedom of movement and customs union is retained. In the long-term immigration bill is going through, visas etc. They can work with that if they can get access to the staff they need from wherever, that suits the sector. What language they speak or how far they come is not a concern. It won’t be as free as it is now, but as free as possible is what they are looking for.

300m Euros subsidy, government has committed spend for the life of this parliament. Beyond that all bets are off. It’s not about pounds from government, it’s about how the sector is supported. If it can be supported, increase import substitution, every opportunity to increase productivity. Some stability except under a no-deal.

Q7 – public services?

Andrew : We have aligned ourselves with trade associations, sees it as simple as possible, will be able to continue as they are potentially with some added costs.

Linda – for government to continue spending money in public services must have healthy economy, cannot be done witout people in jobs which then flow through to local authorities. That will ensure Cannot see an increase in NHS funds when we are in disarray as a country economically.

Stephen (Mid Devon) – no different from panellists, directly employs over 500 people as MDDC. No social care as district council but as senior officers across the geography working through the Brexit opportunities group – strategic opportunities. Leave policy decisions to politicians. Fight what’s in front of them. Duty has drifted towards resilience aspect. Local authorities simply don’t have the resource capacity they used to and could have mobilised troops all hands to pump. Now if redirects resources, will have to turn off parts of the business. It’s no different from any other business, same with social care, it’s about people and making sure prepared for the very short term.

Q8 – how widely is keeping morale with EU employees being done?

Darren – working up a plan as we speak. Will start asking other businesses. A lot of people have roots here, so at a time when they may be feeling unwanted it’s a matter of making people feel wanted.

Linda – institutes and chambers can play a big part in getting this data. If companies are doing best practice and pass to local networks, rotary etc. it behoves all of us to pass the information around

Q9 Anthea: Given we now know overspending, advertising corrupted outcome of referendum, and since the outcome is clearly not what people voted for, should we be given the opportunity for a people’s vote?

Andrew: NFU has office in Brussels, member of Copa Cogeca (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations) – pressure being put on – yes! Key market. Is that pressure enough to override other considerations, probably not. Brexit is a political situation, not an economic one. Re. people’s vote they would have a view on what was in it. At present they only have a view on the deal vs no deal.

Charles : Pressure on EU to give us a better deal – like herding cats. Can’t see they would give us any attention.

Linda – why would they? Poland is biggest net recipient, recognises value of us belonging. Why as a block would they want to make it easy for us? Terrorism, security, aviation – things they want to keep talking to us about. Respectable, reliable, quality nation – being a bit ornery in their eyes. Was in Geneva, without exception all ministers and people there talking about policy etc.  All see that Britain would have a dip, but would rebound and take place on world stage.
Darren – Would Scania etc. pressuring to get a deal with Britain? Probably. NZ has lots of referendums, majority was to change flag. Next one was here are 4 choices for new flag,

No deal should not be on the ballot- ¼ of people thing it means stay as we are. Q should be The Deal, vs Remain. That’s democratic, go with the result as long as the Russians haven’t paid for it. A lot of people here are thinking as Europeans rather than as Britons.

Audience vote:
May’s deal – 3?
No deal – none?
Renegotiation – 3?
Majority of hands for remain

Q10 did the panel think we ever we ever stand a good chance of getting a good deal

Darren – you always have a chance, but anyone is business knows negotiation is hard and that was a hard negotiation, so tough to do

Linda – would like to think that a UK is a match for 27 countries

Charles – difficult situation, complications of NI border, Scotland and Wales, nightmare, agrees with Darren

Andrew – nobody ever expected to have all the benefits of being in and being out. Spoke to EU minister for agriculture before referendum EU didn’t want us to go, and if we wanted to go we would bear the consequences.

Q11 – much was made about immigration in referendum, have panellists given up on recruiting British born staff

Charles – has taken very active steps, business in centre of Newton Abbott. Has been around schools, talks to them at 16 after GCSEs, got people in on work experience, 2 days ago group from NACC. Has brought some results 3 lads 18 have joined, natural English speaking, get on well with other members of staff. Important to cherish staff, important to learn those skills, look under lots of different stones bring into our organisations and put ladders in front of them that allow them to make progress professionally and financially.

Darren – have not given up, 80-100 apprenticeships per year. Trying to get into younger ages, dying industry if don’t have the people to load the trucks. A lot of senior management have come through that route.

Andrew – seasonal workers, shortage of 20,000 was pre-Brexit, because UK at full employment combined with jobs people don’t like to do that much. If businesses can’t get workers product will rot in the field or won’t be planted. Stuff about mechanisation and robots, but there’s no robot designed yet that can pick strawberries. Lucky as sector as have pilot for replacement of seasonal workers. 2,600 companies have tender from Home Office for migrant workers that hope will be rolled out.

Q12 – Switzerland trades frictionlessly, can’t we?

Charles – no it doesn’t. He exports to Switzerland, it is problematic. Switzerland have been negotiating for 14 years and have no deal.

Q13 – a lot of people voted because of lack of infrastructure in roads promise

Andrew – Cornwall funded roads, still voted out

Q14 – some people voted because they wanted to see less regulation, bonfire of the red tape. Is less regulation going to help?

Linda – choices are keep standards so we can trade with the EU, or drop standards so we can compete with the rest of the world. Government is compiling a list of what we can do. The risk if we drop standards is that we become uncompetitive in Europe. However, Brexit does give us choice.

Q15 – how much as planning for Brexit cost MDDC?

Stephen – when normally asked this by members, budget wise it’s just officer time which does carry a cost. Probably have diverted what would be normal continuity, so tough to say, but undoubtedly have sat in Brexit focussed issue.

Leader – has to decide on what subject of the state of the district debate would be. Little did we know we would still not know. Good panellists. Comments have been made about would people have voted one way or another had they known the facts. The facts or propaganda put out by both sides was incorrect. 1) we have not been able to verify that the money saved is going to the promised services 2) we didn’t have Armageddon. Negotiations have not gone as expected. Majority of public would have expected us to know, and uncertainty is disappointed. Politicians have to decide quickly, decision has to be made in the best interests of the country.

Written by DfE supporter: Elizabeth Pole

Stop Brexit March and Rally - Brighton

Posted on 4th November, 2017

A day by the sea, in Brighton

On Sunday 24 September 12 of us got up at 4 am or thereabouts, and drove in a minibus from Newton Abbot and Exeter to Brighton and back, arriving home in shortly before 10 pm: a long day!

Information on this rally – timed to coincide with the Labour Party Conference - had been posted on the Devon for Europe website about 4 weeks earlier.


We had a great day for a great cause! It’s often the case that the nearer you live the later you arrive, and it was certainly true this time. When we arrived at The Level in Brighton around midday there were no other marchers there, but they trickled in soon after us: from Oxford and Canterbury and many other places up to that sort of distance, and when the folk from Brighton and Hove for EU (who organised it) arrived, there really were a lot of us. When we marched, as in London, I couldn’t see either the beginning or the end of the procession. The weather was very kind to us, and it only started to drizzle as we were getting into the minibus for the homeward journey.

A short comment on the day on the Brighton and Hove for EU website reads:

“Amazing day yesterday! Great to see so many lovely friends, and flags as far as the eye could see. We even had a 2min slot on the news. Thank you to everyone who came and supported the March! See you in Manchester! We can #StopBrexit”

The march stopped for a while outside the Brighton Centre, an unappealing grey building well shielded from the public, with frosted windows, but the delegates were returning from lunch and there was a long queue of them outside the building, so a lot of them saw us, stretching out along the seafront.

Many marchers were angry about Labour’s present inability to make a firm promise to at least stay in the single market permanently if not in the EU, and one chant was “Do your job” (to oppose the government), but some remain MPs including Chuka Umunna came across the road to talk with marchers, and an important aim of the rally was to make it easier for remain MPs to speak for Remain inside the building.


The march eventually moved on, and ended with excellent short speeches from Caroline Lucas, Alistair Campbell (who played Ode to Joy on the bagpipes), and other excellent speakers..


Alan Ray-Jones - September 2017

The Great British Con

Posted on 4th November, 2017

Since the 23rd June 2016, we are being constantly reminded that our government is merely executing the democratic ‘will of the people’. Brexit is marketed to us and the rest of the world as a simple celebration of British democracy and newly-found national self-confidence. Our government is intent on progressing Brexit at a dangerous speed, making headlines that cause us to focus on mitigating the effects of individual events and allowing them to normalise Brexit by ignoring the truth of the events that preceded the EU referendum. Lest we forget.



On the 5th June 1975, the UK electorate chose to join what was then known as the “Common Market”. This decisive referendum result showed that 67% of British voters were in favour of joining the most ambitious political project in the world.


Their choice payed off. As the EU grew to become the biggest trading block in the world, the UK climbed to the position of 4th largest economy. The result of this economic success was felt across the UK and the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation became the most prosperous alive.


Prosperity and economic growth in the UK were a direct result of UK accession to the EU.



An enabler of this prosperity was the west’s decision to embrace under-regulated capitalism and tertiary sector industry. Whilst it worked, governments were given loans for public spending, businesses were given loans to expand and people were given loans to buy houses. When this unsustainable model hit its limit in 2008, and as the global financial markets crashed, the political landscape started to change.


As favour swung to opposition parties across the globe, David Cameron became prime minister of the coalition government in 2010 with a mandate to fix the now broken British economy, and set about enforcing austerity. The education system, NHS and every other publicly funded entity started to suffer the consequences. Equally, the businesses that had previously flourished thanks to loans were forced to reduce their workforce and/or close. Those who were told they could afford a house were told they no longer could.


People were not left behind by globalisation as much as they were forced to the back by austerity.



As spending cuts grew deeper, the anguish felt by the British people grew stronger and the need for alternatives became more urgent. UKIP seized the opportunity to remodel itself: from a racist fringe party to a 21st century populist alternative to the ‘establishment’, albeit being lead and funded by prominent ‘establishment’ figures. By providing comforting lies to the suffering of the British people, UKIP’s message started to gain popularity with parts of England and Wales in which austerity was most noticeable. Critically, it was used as validation by the far right of the Conservative Party.


Thinking ahead to the 2015 general election, moderate conservatives were faced with two options: risk a revolt on the far right of their own political party which would jeopardise their image of unity, or placate them. David Cameron also saw opportunity in the latter option, and chose to pedal Euroscepticism and the demonization of EU nationals living in the UK to increase his chances of winning in 2015. His renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU was little more than a stunt to claw back votes from UKIP whilst at the same time using the 2013 referendum pledge as a means to force the EU to cower to his perceived political prowess, or else he would campaign to leave the EU.


By this point, David Cameron had already decided that his political career was more important than our future.



In 2015 the British people granted the Conservatives an absolute majority in the belief that Labour could not be trusted with fixing the economy and that the EU and EU nationals were responsible for most shortcomings in public services.


In their pursuit for re-election, government had successfully convinced Britons that EU citizens were to blame for health tourism, benefit tourism, putting pressure on public services, driving wages down, stealing British jobs, British homes, and places in British schools – a gross misrepresentation of their contribution to our society for short-term political gain.


Throughout this process, opposition parties failed to assert that health and benefit tourism was a targeted lie, designed to mask the neglect of the NHS and the welfare system as a result of austerity. British jobs had been lost to the mechanisation of production lines and the banks’ reticence to lend, new homes and schools hadn’t been built in order to pursue the unrealistic ‘budget surplus’.


We were at the height of a financial depression and the EU and its nationals were used as scapegoats to avoid accountability.



For the duration of the referendum campaign, chaos reigned in British politics. What was intended to be a mere tick-in-the-box exercise for the PM to silence the far-right of his party and undermine UKIP for good, descended into a nationalist, racist and narcissistic free-for-all.


The right-wing conservatives sought their opportunity to overrun the party that had for years tamed them, ambitious conservative MPs jumped at the opportunity to undermine their party leader in an overt leadership contest and UKIP and Leave.EU embarked on a campaign that was so racist that they were excluded from joining the official Vote Leave campaign.


The only thing that united, and still unites, leave campaigners is their implementation of meaningless nationalist slogans and lies that defy common sense and political decency.



The remnants of the vote leave campaign, now embodied by Theresa May’s government, continue to attempt to silence and marginalise us into submission. Their favourite weapon is to call us ‘undemocratic’, because we oppose ‘the will of the people’.


Let’s be clear then, Brexit isn’t ‘the will of the people’: it is the failed attempt to resolve an internal party-political dispute, compounded by a failed austerity policy.


In other words, Brexit is the biggest con of the British people in the history of the United Kingdom – and it started in 2010.


Tom Brufatto - 26 Februry 2017

Since attending the talk by Professor Michael Dougan last Wednesday there is something that I have been thinking about a lot.


He reminded us that the signing of Article 50 and the two-year negotiation period that follows this deals ONLY with our terms of exit of the EU. There is NO provision for discussion or agreement on our future trading arrangements, our membership or not of the single market, whether we wish to be a Norway, a Switzerland, a Canada (or most likely a Total Disaster). These secondary discussions can and will only start after we have exited the EU.


This is a terrifying reality. It means we will be leaving the EU (our current membership of which is of course the very best deal we could ever hope to get) without any guarantee of what our final position will be. We may of course have an idea of what our desires are for the outcome, but if we look at the hopeless team of ideologues in charge of Brexit, these will be delusional and totally unachievable and of course kept secret.


Alex Pilkington - November 2016


Therefore, when we call for parliamentary approval, all that can possibly approved is whether Article 50 should be signed or not, or if it is signed, then approval of our exit terms. By the time parliament would be in the position to debate or vote on our final deal with the EU we will already be out! We will therefore be leaving the EU completely blind to our future.


There seems to be very little discussion on this, and I fear many people (including some politicians who really should know the full implications) are often combining these two completely separate aspects of our leaving into one.


There is a huge desire amongst those of us who would like to remain in the EU for parliamentary discussion and approval of the Brexit deal before it’s too late. This desire is often mentioned in our groups, by some politicians and commentators in the media.


But there is a point that Michael Dougan made that really struck home to me, and it appears that many of us haven’t yet appreciated the full consequences of, and that is if we leave, it is highly unlikely we will ever re-join, or at least not for a very long time. This is because we would never have a chance to renegotiate a deal as sweet as the one we have now, as on applying for membership we would be considered a new member, and therefore would have no opt outs, no chance to keep the £ and we would be part of the Schengen zone. This would be unpalatable to many in this country, even some of those that voted remain.


It is therefore imperative that we do not leave the EU, our current deal is the very best there is, and cannot be beaten by any other possible deal or combination of deals.


Posted on 4th November, 2017

Remain campaigners are often accused in newspapers, on forums or in discussion of being undemocratic in not accepting the result of the referendum. In answer to that accusation I would argue the following.

  1. We have every right to fight for what we believe in; why should we just give up? Politics is an ongoing process, after a general election the losing party doesn’t just go home and wait for five years, they continue to campaign on what they hold dear. When we lost the referendum, why should we just sit back for eternity!
  2. The actual referendum was not legally binding; it was purely an advisory referendum. If it was legally binding then there should have been a much larger threshold for change to happen (say 60% of all voters in favour of leaving).
  3. UKIP and Eurosceptic’s from other parties have spent decades campaigning to leave the EU, so why shouldn’t we have the right to campaign to remain (or if the worst happens) to re-join.
  4. The Leave side in particular based much of their campaign material on complete and utter lies. They were fully aware of this throughout, and were very quick to wash their hands of the great majority of their promises in the aftermath.
  5. Perhaps we should also remember that what is going on in government right now is totally undemocratic – talk of triggering article 50 without parliamentary discussion or agreement, and without parliamentary approval of exactly what this country is aiming for – a total disgrace! Especially from those who claimed they wanted to reclaim our democratic sovereignty.
  6. We are also accused of being unpatriotic, how can this be when we are doing our best to keep this country in one piece, and to ensure its economic and social integrity.

So it is far from undemocratic for us to fight and campaign to stay in the EU. In fact, it is our democratic duty to do so. It may seem daunting and even impossible at times, but with joint effort anything is possible. Remember that what we do is in the very best interests of our country.


Alex Pilkington - October 2016