Dial B for Brexit – The Government’s Conference Call with Big Business, and the Brexit Endgame

Shortly after Parliament voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a record margin, three Cabinet ministers spent about an hour on a conference call with executives from major UK businesses. The call was transcribed, and it offers a good insight into the relationship between business and government, and what this means for the Brexit endgame.

The House of Commons voted on the EU Withdrawal Agreement shortly after 7.30pm on the evening of 15 January. The government motion to approve the Agreement was defeated, as everyone knows, by the historically unprecedented margin of 230 votes.

After the vote, three senior Cabinet ministers went straight back to Whitehall where, at 9.30pm, they held a conference call with around 330 executives representing businesses with major operations in the UK.

Inevitably, given the number of people involved, someone recorded the call and leaked a transcript to the press – in this case to the Daily Telegraph, which promptly published the text on its website (here, sheltering behind its paywall).

Aside from the pleasure of feeling like an eavesdropper at the Davos conference, reading the transcript offers a genuine insight into the relationship between government and big business, and the likely next steps in the ongoing Brexit saga.

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What the Ed Stone Tells Us about the Regulation of Political Parties

Why does a regulator impose a financial penalty on a regulated body? To punish it? To discourage any repetition of the offending conduct? To deter others from doing the same thing?

The answer, clearly, is all of the above. However, two fines imposed by different regulators on consecutive days in October 2016 tell contrasting stories.

In one case, Ofcom fined Vodafone £4.6 million for failings related to its customer account and complaints handling systems. This is the largest fine it has ever imposed on a telecoms operator, and follows a recent pattern of sectoral regulators handing out record penalties. Some regulators may well be over-using their fining powers (a point to which I will return in a later post), but no-one can say that they are not treating them as a serious part of the regulatory toolkit. Even for a company as large as Vodafone, a fine of £4.6 million, straight off the bottom line, does not pass unnoticed.

By contrast, on the previous day, the UK Electoral Commission, in what, for it, was also the imposition of a record financial penalty, fined the Labour Party the somewhat less substantial sum of £20,000.

Why the disparity, and what does it tell us?

Continue reading What the Ed Stone Tells Us about the Regulation of Political Parties