Byelection likely after Labour suspends MacShane over false invoices

Labour acts after Commons standards and privileges committee calls for MacShane to be suspended from Commons for 12 months.

It didn't take Labour long to act after the Commons standards and privileges committee recommended that Denis MacShane be suspended as an MP for 12 months for submitting 19 false expenses invoices totalling £12,900. The party has immediately suspended the former Europe minister and has signalled that his "career as a Labour MP" is over. A party spokesman said:

These are very serious findings concerning Denis MacShane and we accept his statement this morning that his career as a Labour MP is effectively over. In the light of the report’s recommendations to the House, the Labour party has suspended Denis MacShane with immediate effect, pending a full NEC enquiry. We will be talking to Denis MacShane about his future and the best course of action for him and for his constituency.

MacShane previously had the Labour whip withdrawn after a police investigation into his claims was launched, but had it reinstated when Scotland Yard announced in July that it would be taking no further action.

The MP has so far refused to say whether he will step down, stating that he is "consulting family and friends" as he reflects on his future. Here's the statement published on his website:

I am shocked and saddened that the BNP has won its 3 year campaign to destroy my political career as a Labour MP despite a full police investigation which decided not to proceed after investigations and interviews. I am glad the Committee notes that there is no question of personal gain.

Clearly I deeply regret that the way I chose to be reimbursed for costs related to my work in Europe and in combating anti-semitism, including being the Prime Minister’s personal envoy, has been judged so harshly.

I remain committed to work for progressive values, for Britain playing a full part in Europe, and for combating anti-semitism even though I can no longer undertake this work as a Labour MP. I am consulting family and friends as I consider my position and study the full implications of the report. I am obviously desperately sorry for any embarrassment I have caused my beloved Labour Party and its leader Ed Miliband whom I greatly admire.

MacShane will surely conclude that he has to resign, rather than leave Rotherham without representation in parliament for a year. Equally, the verdict of the committee, which said this was "the gravest case which has come to us for adjudication, rather than being dealt with under the criminal law", is so damning that he can no longer reasonably remain an MP. It said:

We accept that Mr MacShane is widely acknowledged for his interest in European affairs, and the funds he claimed could be said to have been used in supporting that interest. Those activities may have contributed to his Parliamentary work, albeit indirectly. He has expressed his regret, and repaid the money wrongly claimed. But this does not excuse his behaviour in knowingly submitting nineteen false invoices over a period of four financial years which were plainly intended to deceive the Parliamentary expenses authorities. This is so far from what would be acceptable in any walk of life that we recommend that Mr MacShane be suspended from the service of the House for twelve months. This would mean he lost his salary and pension contributions for this period.

MacShane would be wise to announce his resignation today, rather than cling onto an office he can no longer credibly hold.

UPDATE 2/11/2012 16.35

MacShane has announced that he will be resigning as an MP. The BBC's James Vincent reports on Twitter that MacShane made the following statement:

"I hope by resigning I can serve by showing that MPs must take responsibility for their mistakes"

Denis MacShane, pictured whilst Europe minister in 2005. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”