Meeting with Alex Chalk

26 July 2016

Cheltenham Green Party meeting Alex Chalk

Minutes of meeting with Alex Chalk at 5.15pm on Friday 15th July 2016.

Present:    Alex Chalk, Georgie, Adrian, Ann, Heather, Ian, Laura, Sharon (Minutes).

  1.  1. Adrian explained that he was concerned about how significant the referendum outcome is and that MP decisions in its wake are of utmost importance.  What does Brexit actually mean?  It would appear it is definitely going ahead but does Alex want to know more about it in order to make decisions 

Alex stated that many of the things he had predicted had happened in the aftermath of the referendum. With regard to Article 50, he is not sure at this stage how it will be invoked since it has not been clarified whether it would be an executive order, or if MPs will be called upon to make a decision.  He reasoned that it could put MPs in a difficult situation, regardless of their party, on the basis their opinion may be at odds with the majority of their constituents and thus lead to misrepresentation.  He feared a perceived betrayal of democracy may result in unrest and needed to be handled very carefully whichever method results from deliberation.  For his own part, it is telling that Alex identifies himself with the ‘Ken Clarke wing’ of the Tory Party.

  1.  2.Ian stated that a divisive campaign had already led to an increase in xenophobia and hate crime – that unrest was already happening.  Furthermore, he said, Professor Dougan described the Leave campaign as industrial scale dishonesty and criminally irresponsible.  Ian later mentioned that MPs were accountable for offenses of misconduct in public office.

Alex suggested that ‘misrepresentation’ is a feature of democracy and that when it is exposed, it discredits the perpetrator.  He cited the ‘£350m to the NHS’ promise and suggested that democracy is necessarily flawed in this way.  He did not address the allegation of criminality.  With regard to the unrest, he asked, “how does one practically deal with it?”  He stated that is important in his opinion to achieve stability for EU nationals to remain, adding that there should not be a commitment to Brexit at any price: there are many issues associated with it.  He wants to move forward whilst hitting targets and maintaining the closest possible trading relationships.  Holding off invoking Article 50 is not a bad thing whilst we maintain relations.

  1.  3.Georgie said she was shocked by the result and was concerned for her freedom of movement to work and study abroad, plus the financial impact of decreased spending power owing to the weak pound.

Alex recognises that there are issues for our citizens abroad, as well as for EU nationals here.  He feels it is important to keep the economy buoyant in order to maintain financial ‘power’.  In exit negotiations, he would be happy to maintain a level of free movement if that is the price of a trade deal.  He also said that clarifying the future status of EU citizens within the UK was a top priority and he had already made representations to this effect.

  1.  4.Ian pointed out that EU law states a requirement to use constitution but is doing so recognisable as democracy, given that legal advice says the PM may not trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament?

Alex said that the courts would be making the “greatest judicial review case in history,” and will look at sovereignty of the people.  This could lead to a constitutional crisis if the law intrudes upon procedure.  He was clear that Article 50 is not repealing an act of Parliament.

Ian responded that UK Constitutional Law Association says that, in fact, Royal Prerogative would be a recipe for constitutional crisis and would not comply with European Law.

  1.  5.Heather asked what EU based UK legislation Alex would not want to see scrapped.

Alex asserted that we would need to hold on to much of it in order to trade with the EU.  He maintained that he hopes to hold on to the environmental and employment rights legislation specifically.

Heather asked about rights in work, referring to suggestions that entitlement to paid holidays and maternity pay could be scrapped for very small businesses, along with EU benefits such as working time directive.

Alex explained that he does not detect a sense that we are overburdened by employment legislation. Conservatives are keen to ban exclusivity since rampant and unconstrained capitalism leads to problems. He stated very definitely that he would not support any repeal of employment legislation.  He recognises there is a fear of rights being eroded and does not feel that to do so would benefit the party.

  1.  6.Anne asked if EU citizens may be used as a ‘bargaining chip’.

Alex is wary of reputational and financial damage.  He feels the hostile message of Brexit alone may be enough to put off EU nationals who are currently supporting our economy from within the UK.  He sees no alternative than to allow people the right to remain here without seriously destabilising the economy.

  1.  7.Finally, some general questions were asked with discussion around the table.

Alex felt we would continue with the Convention of Human Rights.

Action: Alex undertook to find out why no new EU Commissioner had been appointed.

When asked about EDM269, Alex explained that he is unwilling to sign Early Day Motions in general, likening them to ‘parliamentary graffiti’, due to the cost to the tax payer and the fact that he does not feel they achieve anything.  He is prepared to submit questions instead.

With regard to proportional representation, he felt this should be kept under constant review and that, eventually, the democratic imperative may become compelling.  He quoted figures of how few seats were won in 2015 for minor parties with a relatively larger proportion of the vote and recognised the unfairness of this. He also postulated there are some difficulties regarding this, in practice, using the analogy of ‘the tail wagging the dog’ to illustrate how minor parties can gain disproportionate control as coalitions are formed.

Alex stated a strong commitment to climate change, which he sees on a level with terrorism and antibiotics.  He recognises that it is important for the UK to have statutory obligations regarding climate change.  He said he thought we were going to hit targets but, when pressed, he conceded that this may not be the case with transport.  He does not think that membership of the EU is a critical factor in this respect but does think the targets are important.  Folding the green issues into industry may help focus attention on meeting the targets.

Action: Ian undertook to supply Alex with the recent Committee on Climate Change Report.

Alex complimented us on our professionalism and we thanked him for his time.

It was remarked afterwards that Alex had clearly researched our Party concerns beforehand and addressed them as part of his responses.  He appears to pay close attention to correspondence from constituents.  He was willing to listen to the points we raised and, in the main, it was felt he addressed them directly, though it was noted that he downplayed the allegation of offenses of misconduct on the part of the Leave campaign, as well as being a little ‘hazy’ on whether we would fulfil obligations regarding climate change.