Radical Roundup: 10 stories that got buried

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed this week.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. There’s a ‘strong argument’ that the UK has already breached international law just by proposing the Internal Markets Bill – which will allow ministers to override parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – according to an independent expert.

Responding to a question from Left Foot Forward, Prof Catherine Barnard told the UK in a Changing Europe think tank’s seminar that Article 184 of Withdrawal Agreement requires the UK to negotiate a future trade agreement ‘in good faith’. The law-breaking Internal Markets bill provisions are widely seen as a poor-faith negotiation tactic designed to bolster Johnson’s hand.

Under EU law, even proposing to breach EU law in future is seen as a breach to the legal duty of acting in good faith.

The international Vienna Convention governing treaties also enshrines the principle of good faith, and demands that agreements must be respected (‘pacta sunt servanda‘).

9.  Half the public say the government is handling the coronavirus pandemic very or fairly badly – 50%, up 10 points from last month.

Polling by Ipsos Mori finds that just a third of voters say the government is handling it very or fairly well (32%, down 10 points). This is the lowest score seen since the polling series began in March. Back then, 49% thought the Government was handling the pandemic well, and just 35% badly.

The fieldwork was carried out before Tuesday’s latest announcements of new restrictions.

8. SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP has said Boris Johnson is facing a “winter of discontent” with 1 million jobs at risk if furlough ends early, a £30 billion a year bill to the taxpayer from a no-deal Brexit, and potentially 7,000 trucks queuing for days at Dover.  

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Blackford demanded an immediate extension of the furlough scheme: “no half-measures, no half-baked projects”.

The PM is under growing pressure to extent the furlough scheme, currently due to end in October. Johnson said Chancellor Sunak would propose a ‘creative’ solution to protect incomes.

7. The Affordable Housing Commission has called on the government to prepare a National Housing Conversion Fund for England to help struggling tenants and drive the economic recovery.

A ring-fenced fund would enable social landlords and community-led housing groups to buy up private rented housing as well as homes for sale on stalled sites. Authors say the approach has been used in past recessions, including in the early 1990s through the Conservative government’s Housing Market Package.

Lord Best, chair of the Commission, said the £1.3bn Fund for England would make grants available to housing providers to purchase existing private rented properties and convert them into new social homes – at genuinely affordable rents. The Fund would also be available for social landlords to acquire properties on stalled sites to kickstart development.

Converting private properties to social housing could help rebalance the housing system, which has become ever more reliant on private renting. The Fund would hope to deliver 42,500 new social and affordable homes with the majority at social rents, generating 9,300 additional jobs.

6. Unions have welcomed suggestions that the government is considering a new German-style wage subsidy plan.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The TUC stands ready to work with government and business to protect jobs. We have published detailed proposals for a new short-time working and upskilling scheme.

“With the right approach we can stop mass unemployment scarring millions. My message to ministers is clear: let’s get around the table and fast-track a new plan.”

The TUC’s Job Protection and Upskilling Deal proposes that workers under the scheme would receive 80% of their salary for the hours they are not in work, including when they are training.

The company would receive a 70% subsidy from the government, provided they bring back every worker on the scheme for a minimum proportion of their normal working hours. 

5. The co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, has been released after a month in ‘unsanitary prison conditions’, according to a statement from his ‘Burning Pink’ party.

Roger Hallam and fellow Burning Pink (formerly Beyond Politics) party member Diana Warner were charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage, following a series of controversial actions in August. Activists threw paint at environmental and human rights NGO buildings, and the Green Party HQ.

Burning Pink alleged that a Green Party member ‘infiltrated’ their meeting and passed party material to the police, leading to the arrests. However, leaked messages suggest similar claims have been withdrawn following ‘legal advice’.

The party, which launched in June, seeks to ‘bring down the government and replace it with Citizens’ Assemblies’.

4. Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts MP has accused Labour of being “hypocritical beyond belief” after abstaining on a vote that would have given the Welsh Parliament a say on the UK Internal Market Bill.

Critics say the UK Internal Market Bill changes key aspects of the Welsh devolution settlement, including giving spending powers to Westminster in devolved areas and by reserving new powers over state aid. Plaid Cymru’s amendment sought to protect the devolution settlement by preventing the Bill from coming into force unless the devolved legislatures gave their consent.

The Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford MS had previously called the UK Internal Market Bill “an enormous power grab – undermining powers that have belonged to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for over 20 years” and one that the Welsh Government would oppose “every step of the way”.

But Labour MPs in Westminster abstained on the amendment on Tuesday, while the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SDLP and Alliance all voted with Plaid Cymru in favour. Conservatives voted against leading to a final result of 63 in favour and 350 against.

3. The Scottish Greens have backed Caledonian Sleeper train staff who are set to strike.

Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson John Finnie MSP said: “The Caledonian Sleeper staff can count on the solidarity and support of the Scottish Greens in their current dispute. Serco is a disreputable outsourcing giant that should never have been awarded the Caledonian Sleeper contract, or indeed any public contract, as I’ve repeatedly reminded the Scottish Government.

“Serco’s refusal to adequately facilitate rest breaks is typical of its approach to industrial relations. It’s a company that doesn’t respect fair work practices and should be nowhere near Scotland’s public services.”

2. The CEO of a British tech company has warned the government of potential serious flaws in the security of personal information and data used in the new contact tracing app technology announced by Matt Hancock. 

Manchester-based tech inventor Louis-James Davis said the use of QR code scanning technology – which underpins the government contact tracing app – is flawed because its reliance and use of QR codes means it can be subject to a process called “Attagging” or cloning. 

“Attagging” is where a ‘genuine QR code’ is replaced by a ‘cloned QR code’ which then redirects the person scanning that code to a similar website where personal data can be intercepted and breached.

1. Millions of live wild animals are being legally imported into the UK from emerging disease hotspots to be sold as exotic pets – risking another public health crisis, according to a report from global animal welfare charity World Animal Protection.

Animals including African pygmy hedgehogs, snakes, lizards and tortoises are transported to the UK from Africa, Latin America and Asia to fuel this cruel trade.

The study, which used data obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), found that from 2014 to 2018, 2,492,156 amphibians, 578,772 reptiles, 150,638 mammals, and 99,111 birds were imported into the UK for commercial purposes including the exotic pet trade, from 90 countries including in regions identified as emerging disease hotspots. Countries such as Singapore, Ghana, Indonesia, El Salvador, Cameroon, Nicaragua and Madagascar, annually exported thousands of reptiles and amphibians to the UK over this five-year period.

Seventy percent of all zoonotic emerging infectious diseases are thought to originate from wild animals, and over 35 infectious diseases have emerged in humans since 1980, including Covid-19, SARS, Ebola and MERS.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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