A View From Westminster: A Difficult Month

It’s been a febrile time up here in Westminster. The allegations that have been reported concerning the conduct of politicians from different political parties has rocked everyone. As in any other workplace – and this problem is not unique to the House of Commons – everyone should have a right to feel at ease as they go about their work irrespective of position, age or seniority. Sexual harassment or bullying must not be tolerated. Having said that, I believe there has been too much trial by media on this issue, and no-one is guilty until they are proven to be.

We also had the Paradise Papers scandal. The latest here is that HMRC has asked to see the papers urgently so it can check for any wrongdoing. I want to absolutely dispel the myth put about by opponents nationally and locally that the Conservatives are not interested in taxing the rich. We want people to pay the tax that is due as much as anyone else. In fact, the Government has taken an extra £160 billion in additional tax revenue since 2010 and it has announced or implemented 75 measures to tackle tax avoidance. We have also invested some £1.8 billion in HMRC to help them in their work. As for the large corporations we must remember that tax transparency is a global issue and requires global action. One final point, if ever proof were needed: HMRC figures show that the UK tax gap – the difference between the amount due and the amount collected – fell to its lowest level EVER in 2015-2016.

The current stand off with Brexit is another of our current woes. This is based on the EU’s expectation that we should pay large sums in order to retain some of the privileges we had before. As a former Northern Ireland Minister I am particularly incensed by the EU pressing the Government to give Northern Ireland “Hong Kong-style” autonomy after Brexit. The move would bestow on the Northern Ireland a status distinct from the rest of Britain as a World Trade Organisation member in its own right. I am absolutely against this as it would damage the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Despite all this, A You Gov poll for the Times found 34% of voters want Theresa May to stay as Prime Minister, up one point from a month a go. It seems middle England, at least at the moment, cannot bear to contemplate the alternative!