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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Eric Pickles seems to be relishing his role as the axe man in chief of Town Hall spending. The Communities and Local Government Secretary was in typical form addressing the parliamentary press the other day, telling us that councils knew the cuts were coming and that they had the capacity to be “enormously adaptive.”


He left his most substantial jibe for northern councils complaining about the unfairness of the cuts. He said their leaders were like the characters in the famous Monty Python sketch where they compete in telling each other what a deprived background they had. You know the one. “You were lucky to live in a slum; we lived in a cardboard box!”


Mr Pickles referred in particular to the comments of the Mayor of Liverpool. Joe Anderson. He has led the charge against, what The Mayor sees, as the disproportionate impact the cuts are having on northern cities. The Minister said the problem with this approach was that having painted a picture of poverty and deprivation, the Mayor would then say what a great place Liverpool was to invest in. Pickles then made a similar criticism of the leadership of Bradford Council, an authority he once led.


So has he got a point? Well the Liverpool Mayor and the leaders of our great northern cities like Leeds and Manchester are in a bind. Politically they have to speak up for their communities. They also have to try and lure investors in. If too bleak a picture is painted of the impact the cuts are going to have, it could well put off some potential employers.


Meanwhile Mr Pickles continues to rough up the councils. He is after all one of the token northerners in a cabinet of posh boys. He is frustrated that some authorities like Manchester have managed to get around his 2% council tax limit because levies by police and fire authorities are not under Town Hall control. He is already threatening fire and brimstone for the rebels next year.


“Sooner or later councils are going to have to sit down with their electorates and decide what to spend” said Mr Pickles.


Then there is the Graph of Doom. That’s not something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Instead it is a forecast that at the current rate of cuts and the growing need for elderly care, it won’t be long before councils will only have sufficient funds to empty the bins and look after the old. They won’t be able to do anything else. What does Indiana Pickles say about this Graph of Doom?


“Share services, end duplication, adapt. You knew it was coming,” that’s his uncompromising message.


Added to all these challenges, councils are soon going to face the ending of restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain. How many school places and houses should Town Halls prepare for?


Eric Bloodaxe’s answer is honest if not helpful. “Nobody knows. All that government can do is be careful of the ‘pull factors’ like housing and health benefits.” He then added an awkward truth about the Eastern European immigrants: “very few carrots would be picked without them.”