The great majority of French fishing boats who wanted a license to fish in UK waters have got one. But President Macron was quick off the blocks to do his usual - having a post Brexit pop at the UK. Part of it is playing to the gallery in advance of the Presidential elections in the spring. However, actions have consequences and sooner or later the grown ups in Paris will have to get a grip otherwise we’ll be heading for a trade war - that’s in nobody’s interests beyond that of French politicians seeking re-election.
A report from the Standards Committee to the House of Commons sounds techy and dull. But Wednesday’s debate on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards investigation into the conduct of my colleague Owen Paterson MP was, nevertheless, very important, far from just another Westminster bubble obsession without traction in the real world.
My colleague was found to have engaged in paid lobbying for two businesses, an activity that has been rightly proscribed in Parliament since the seventeenth century and especially since the ‘cash for questions’ scandals of the 1990s. The penalty awarded - 30 days suspension triggering in all probability a recall, a by-election and quite possibly the loss of his seat - was in my view severe given the mitigation and on compassionate grounds. You may recall Mrs Rose Paterson tragically committed suicide, probably influenced by the lengthy and complicated investigation into her husband’s conduct.
Another of my backbench colleagues tabled an amendment to the required motion that would have endorsed the verdict and sentence. It passed narrowly, eviscerating the motion. It aims to change the rules allowing, among other things, Mr Paterson a further hearing, different verdict or possible penalty.
That makes me very uncomfortable. Parliament set up the standards system in its current form very recently. It shouldn’t change it when it dislikes one of its outcomes. Where on earth does that lead us in terms of credibility at a time when parliament is hardly riding high in the public’s estimations?
We badly need an appellate system to improve the safety of the disciplinary mechanism for MPs, that’s for sure. Every other professional outfit you can name has one. Mine is the GMC, one of the most rigorous, an exemplar if you like. But you can’t just make these things up on the hoof. It should have been done quite separately from the Owen Paterson case, not in response to it.
So, I just could not support the amendment but I do feel Mr Paterson has been badly handled and has been managed in a less than compassionate way. That’s why after a lot of thought, having read the Commissioner’s report thoroughly and noting Mr Paterson’s lack of access to any recognisable appeal mechanism I decided to abstain. That’s a big deal for any loyal government backbencher. It’s a very big deal for me. Despite the Opposition voting against and large numbers of my side abstaining, the amendment passed.
It isn’t clear what will now happen. I suspect the Opposition will not engage with any alternative structure created by the amended motion passed today by the House for dealing with MP conduct matters. That means it will collapse. In short, a bit of a mess.
Disappointment mixed with some good news from COP26 and Glasgow. Positive on methane and forests. Not so clear as I write about some of the national targets - from an elusive carbon belching China especially - and climate finance aimed at weaning developing countries off carbon. Still, we live in hope.