From Brexit to prison reform

30 November 2016

Reform‘s programme of policy events is in high gear. The post-referendum pause in politics is long behind us.

Part of that programme is a series of dinners on Brexit. Reform is not going to become a 100 per cent Brexit organisation (and we were neutral in the referendum). We do however want to keep abreast of the referendum debate, for ourselves and our supporters, since it is one of the key issues of the moment.

The first in that series took place last week, under the Chatham House Rule. It was introduced by Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and a “leave” supporter. The key ideas raised were:

  • The UK may well try to “have its cake and eat it”, at least as an opening negotiating position i.e. seek full access to the Single Market; end free movement of people; all without making any payments to the EU institutions. ‎This is not to say that the Government will achieve these aims (and in fact the point of opening positions is that people do not expect them to be achieved).
  • In the short term, the timetable matters just as much as the eventual deal. There is great uncertainty about the timetable. Theoretically the deal needs to be done by Spring 2019 i.e. two years after the triggering of Article 50. That may not happen. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has already called for written evidence on the consequences if no deal is agreed in that time. Others, reportedly including the Governor of the Bank of England, are suggesting that the two year period should be extended and made more realistic. Still others, such as Peter Lilley MP (£), disagree. For some businesses trading with the EU, this uncertainty compounds the overall uncertainty about the eventual deal.
  • An end to free movement will change the UK labour market, in particular for lower skilled work. This will ask new questions of skills, education and welfare policy.

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On Monday, Sam Gyimah MP, Prisons and Probation Minister, led a seminar on the common themes of reform across prisons, probation and courts, again under the Chatham House Rule. As in other areas of policy, one of the goals is to organise services around the needs of users (in this case prisoners), rather than the other way around. In the longer term, that will likely lead Ministers towards the idea of different commissioning arrangements on which Reform has published on a number of occasions, most recently here.

Andrew Haldenby, Director, Reform

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