The parties are drawing up their "red line" policies. Photo: Flickr/bixentro
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Forming alliances: a run-down of the parties’ red lines

Hung parliament preparations.

As the polls have narrowed and the smaller parties are bigger than ever, a hung parliament in May 2015 is looking increasingly likely. The parties have started laying out their red (and pink) lines for when it comes to forming alliances next year.

Here’s what we know so far:

The Conservatives

An in/out EU referendum in 2017

David Cameron has made this a “cast iron” guarantee, promising that he will not “stand as Prime Minister” unless he can secure a referendum on the European Union in 2017.

Having caved into pressure from backbenchers and Ukip tugging incessantly at his arm, he had little choice but to make an EU referendum a “red line” once he’d finally promised one.

What will be more difficult for Cameron is his long-anticipated renegotiation of Britain’s membership. The Lib Dems, still his most likely allies if there were to be another Tory-led coalition, have essentially agreed to allowing the Conservatives an EU referendum; Nick Clegg said in October he had been a major advocate throughout his “adult political life”.

However, the Lib Dems’ idea of what the renegotiation should look like could clash with the Tories’ intentions. Clegg has warned Cameron’s renegotiation would be “largely synthetic”, and is against the Tories wanting to “reinvent the wheel” with their 2017 referendum pledge.



Because the party refuses outwardly to contemplate a coalition or alliance following the election, it has not set out its red lines explicitly.

However, what it is likely to hold sacred in negotiations includes:

  • Repealing the bedroom tax. The party has been banging the drum on this for some time, and it would be a severe let-down to voters and economically rather pointless to U-turn on it.
  • The energy price freeze. Possibly the party's most distinctive policy proposal.
  • £8 minimum wage. Seeing as the party is encouraging the Living Wage and making plans for stopping the exploitation of migrant workers, we can probably take an increase in the minimum wage as a given.
  • Repealing the Health and Social Care Act. This ties into continuing to protect the NHS, which is the party’s rather unsurprising first election pledge.
  • Sticking to the McKay Commission’s answer to the West Lothian question as a response to English Votes for English Laws. As a government, it can’t afford the loss to its authority the latter would bring.


The Liberal Democrats

It’s easier for the Lib Dems to lay down their red lines, because they can be open about forming a coalition with either the Tories or Labour next year.

During their party conference in October, some of their non-negotiable priorities were revealed – notably Clegg’s hinted acceptance of the Tories’ promised referendum meant a vote on Britain’s EU membership wasn’t one of them.


Improving mental health services

This was the Lib Dems’ big promise during their conference: to guarantee treatment within six weeks, or 18 weeks at the “absolute maximum”, and spend £120m on improving mental health services.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said this would be “smack bang” on the front of their 2015 manifesto, making it a red line issue. However, it’s unlikely any party they could form a pact with would refuse – it’s not exactly politically contentious.

During their conference, it was also reported that keeping the European Human Rights Act in place, and disallowing another welfare crackdown are “non-negotiable” for the party.

Shortly after this, a photo of the party’s strategy chief, Ryan Coetzee, taking a draft of the manifesto revealed some other policies likely to be red lines. These include: balancing the budget by 2018, cutting income tax by £400 for low and middle earners, equal care and waiting times for mental as well as physical health, protecting education spending.

Also, the party's flexibility on the EU referendum may be used as a bargaining chip for, say, constitutional reforms.



An in/out EU referendum in July 2015

This is Nigel Farage’s “price” for propping up the Tories in a confidence-and-supply agreement after the general election. It is also thought that Ukip could demand a leader other than Cameron, although it’s rather unrealistic they would be in such a position to demand a different prime minister.


The SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens

Scrapping Trident

Although each of these parties have different priorities, they have all agreed that if they are to ally with Labour in Westminster, then their red line would be on Trident.

They gave a joint press conference on Monday, saying they would not enter government with Labour unless they secured a pledge from the party not to renew Trident. Labour has committed to replacing the nuclear fleet, in spite of the £80bn cost.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.