A hundred years ago a western statesman intervened in the cauldron of Middle East politics and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since. I fear Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with no simultaneous effort to broker a general settlement to the Palestinian issue, will lead to another century of conflict.

In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared that Great Britain would look favourably on the creation of a national home for the Jewish people providing nothing was done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish people. The declaration was made at a difficult time in the First World War when Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire which was allied with Germany. There were worries that the Germans were wooing the growing Zionist Movement.

The declaration begged many questions including did a “national home” mean a state? How would Arab and Christian interests be protected? What would the borders be and what would be the status of Jerusalem? 100 years, three wars and much violence later, many of these questions remain unresolved.

So why has Trump acted now? He rightly says it has been Congress policy since 1995 to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but without prejudicing final status. Previous Presidents have not enacted the resolution because they feared it would indeed prejudice final status talks and give no incentive to Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as their capital.

The other factor is Saudi Arabia. Although they have joined the rest of the Arab world, the EU and Britain in criticising the move, the Saudis have grown close to Trump. This is because of the President’s tough stand on Iran, Saudi Arabia’s enemy. Trump has calculated that the Saudis will make ritual noises but will not really back a backlash against America.

All that said I have an awful sense that within weeks we will see a terrorist outrage in Israel, Europe or America with the extremists citing this move as the reason for it. They will have no justification for violence. It solves nothing.

What needs to happen is a two-state solution. Jerusalem is the very difficult issue Could it be divided city again with West Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital with the Holy Places under United Nations control?


It is a difficult time for our universities. Vice Chancellor’s pay is under scrutiny and rightly so at a time when their students are racking up big debts.

Most of the coverage has centred on Bath University where the VC’s pay was ludicrous. Apart from Sheffield University’s Sir Keith Burnett £422,700, none of our northern universities VCs are in the top ten. This even though Janet Beer at Liverpool and Nancy Rothwell at Manchester are doing great jobs with huge responsibilities.

But they will be aware of the issues circling around this sector of higher education. With students paying big fees, the degree courses need to fit them for the modern world. The institutions need to be accountable to the communities they serve, and the campuses need to be centres of free speech. That is a challenge for student leaders as well as university staff. No platforms for Israeli politicians or people with differing views on transgender matters are a violation of everything a university should stand for.





Next week business and council chiefs from across the North will meet to demand a fair transport deal for our region. The summit, backed by Downtown in Business, comes in the wake of a watering down of government pledges on connectivity for the Northern Powerhouse (NP) and the simultaneous approval of Crossrail 2 for London.

We’ll see what the response is from ministers. They’ll need to bear in mind that the Conservative conference is in Manchester this autumn and the issue could be an embarrassing one, if not resolved.

But there is another decision to be taken shortly which will indicate whether the NP is still a priority for the government or if the Midlands Engine is to be favoured in the future. The question before ministers is whether to back Birmingham or Liverpool as the UK’s nominee to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The Liverpool bid has brought rivals together like never before. Everton’s proposed new ground at Bramley Moore Dock would host the athletics, Anfield would stage the rugby sevens. Manchester’s velodrome would be the venue for the cycling. Wayne Rooney, who has played in both cities, has just announced his support for the bid which it is hoped will accelerate a billion pounds of investment in the north docks area and 12,000 jobs.

Liverpool would be a great venue for the Games with other venues like St George’s Hall and the ACC Arena also being used. The North West has already staged one of the most successful Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and ministers should show confidence in our region again.

This is especially the case as bid chairman Brian Barwick and Mayor Joe Anderson have responded to a crisis following the withdrawal of Durban earlier this year. Liverpool originally intended to bid for 2026. Let’s hope doubts over the city’s ability to deliver to the shorter deadline won’t scupper the bid. Particular focus will be on the ability to deliver Everton’s new stadium. That saga has been dragging on for most of this century.

Birmingham already has a stadium which is the home of UK athletics and claims it is 95% ready to host the games although it does not have an Olympic size swimming pool.

Certainty about facilities being ready on time are important, but so are politics. Conservative Andy Street was recently elected as Mayor of the Birmingham City Region and will be expecting the backing of his government in this important decision.

But as the Liverpool Echo said recently “Birmingham? As the Capital of HS2 and so close to the gold-paved streets of London, they don’t need any further help.”


I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Trump family could rule America till 2033. Now I wonder if Donald Trump will last the year. The laughable clown has now become sinister. There is a difference between fully armed Nazis and Anti-Nazi protesters reacting unwisely to provocation. Trump either doesn’t understand this or regards the far right as part of his blue-collar coalition.

He is alienating the business community although the turmoil doesn’t seem to be affecting the markets. If it does, the cry for Vice President Pence to steady the ship will grow, although such a transition would be fraught with danger particularly after the scenes in Charlottesville.

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The Prime Minister has been called an appeaser for her closeness to Donald Trump. That is a result of this country’s desperate search for new friends now that we are shunning our 27 partners in Europe.

So, while Labour are hurling insults with 1930’s echoes in them at Mrs May, let’s see if the same cap fits on Kier Starmer. He’s the Brexit spokesman for Labour. They’ve been assuring us during the passage of the bill triggering our exit from the EU that, whilst respecting the vote to Leave, they would fight hard for concessions. One of these was to get the government to have a vote in parliament at the end of the negotiations with a view to sending Mrs May back to the negotiating table if MPs found the deal unsatisfactory.

What happened in the Commons on Tuesday was frankly an embarrassment and shows the poor quality of Labour’s front bench. As soon as the government announced there would be a vote, Starmer hailed it as a significant victory. All we needed was for him to hold a piece of paper above his head, Neville Chamberlain style, and the image would have been complete. This is because it rapidly became clear that all the government was offering was approval of the package or an exit from Europe with no deal which few would vote for.

A Labour MP last week, who’s a friend, was gently chiding me last week for my view that there should have been a united front by Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems behind a second referendum. Labour’s way was better I was told. Well it clearly isn’t. Labour are constantly being pushed aside and divided by a Tory government where Brexit extremists are making all the running.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes. She said in the debate that she felt she was sitting beside jihadists on the Tory benches for whom no Brexit is hard enough. Their view was “be gone you evil Europeans and don’t darken our doors again.”

One can trace the ascent of this extremism in the Tory Party by listening to Ken Clarke, the only Tory to vote against the bill in principal last week. When he entered parliament in 1970, such people were still clinging on to the British Empire and denounced one nation Conservatives like Iain Macleod for giving away the colonies.

For a while they became less significant as Ted Heath took us into the Common Market and then Margaret Thatcher signed up to the Single Market. Soon after that the tide turned with the very same Margaret Thatcher doing a U turn. They then harried John Major into the biggest defeat the Tories had suffered in decades. In opposition, the scepticism grew and back in government they forced a weak David Cameron to allow a referendum with a ludicrous in/out option. Even though it was narrowly carried, they show no respect for that and are now hell bent on a hard Brexit.

The only choice for Labour was to back the Lib Dems clear position of a second referendum but centre left sectarianism triumphed and there is total disarray in the face of a skilful Prime Minister leading her hard line Brexiteers.

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as like the old days in the House of Commons this week. I observed MPs debating till midnight, the corridors full of people, Whips working overtime. They need not have worried. The vote to take us out of the European Union was easily passed as we moved from being a representative democracy to a plebiscitary one. Perhaps next we could have a referendum on hanging. That could bring us into line with Donald Trump’s America and its position on capital punishment.

The Donald may soon be at Westminster on a State Visit if the government ignore the will of the people. Two million petition signatories oppose it, nearly the same as the margin that will take us out of the EU. But there are times to pray in aid the people’s view and times to ignore it.

There were some impressive speeches in the two-day debate that triggered article 50. The chamber was well attended hour after hour. But for me the most significant proceedings took place in a committee room on Wednesday. Sir Ivan Rogers was the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU until he resigned in January amid suggestions he was opposed to Brexit.

He faced the European Scrutiny Committee which was stuffed with arch Eurosceptic MPs waiting to get their teeth into this example of the smug European elite that have been ruling us for decades. Actually, by the end of proceedings even Sir Bill Cash, who’s devoted his life to achieve what happened in the Commons this week, had to thank Sir Ivan for what he had said.

Why was that? Well the former envoy gave a very skilful performance. He insisted he was the servant of his political masters but he also spelt out some hard truths that those who are caught up in the euphoria of triggering Article 50 need to think about.

Sir Ivan is steeped in the workings of the EU and pleaded with MPs to understand the mindset of the 27 countries as they approached these Brexit negotiations. They were alarmed, saddened and bewildered by the decision. The UK has put a bomb under the current 5 year carefully crafted EU budget. For instance, one Eastern European country would see 12% cut from its structural funding budget. Promises made to its people would be broken.

Although there was clamour to get on with it, Sir Ivan suggested talks might not get properly underway until after the French elections. Then there is the huge issue of whether the divorce talks can run in parallel with the discussions on future treaty arrangements.

There is a big agenda just separating from the EU, never mind the future. Among the issues, the status of EU nationals in Britain and Europe, the location of UK based EU institutions, the status of international treaties dependent on our EU membership and most contentious of all the financial settlement. There have been suggestions this is £30bn covering matters like our final budget settlement and pension payments.

Discussion of what comes after may have to wait till all that is settled. Then there will be the whole question of giving us a worse deal than a member of the EU to preserve its existence. This was all too much for Manchester Labour MP, the Eurosceptic Graham Stringer. He wanted to know what would happen if we quickly concluded that no deal was possible and we just walked away.

Sir Ivan said the consequences could be very serious. For instance, British medicines could not be sold in Europe because all the underpinning regulatory structures would no longer exist.

With Labour all over the place, it is only the Lib Dems offering a clear line that whatever comes out of these negotiations, must be put to the British people giving us a chance to think again.


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