Politics update: UK leaving customs union, Freemasonry in Parliament
A Downing Street source has confirmed that the UK will be categorically leaving the EU customs union. The customs union allows the UK to trade freely with the EU without any barriers.
The statement provides some further clarity on the UK government’s official stance on negotiations with the EU. Since talks began in early 2017, Theresa May has been openly criticised by politicians on both sides for being vague on the desired outcomes of Brexit negotiations. David Davis is set to meet with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to discuss the transitional period before Britain officially leaves the European Union in March 2019.
Government “rewarding failure” of private health firms
The Department for Work and Pensions paid over £40m to private firms carrying out disability assessments, after a high court ruled the system used was “blatantly discriminator” against its claimants. Personal independence payment (PIP) assessments have been criticised widely since they began, the Independent reports.
One senior Labour politician has accused the government of “rewarding failure” by handing out extra payments to private firms.
NHS Crisis continues
Hospitals have reported cancellations of urgent operations for patients with life-threatening illnesses, despite orders from NHS bosses not to do so. Many hospitals have cited the limited supply of care equipment such as intensive care beds, as a reason for the lack of capacity. NHS England allowed hospitals to cancel thousands of operations in December in order to free up space for patients needed treatment but told hospitals that urgent surgery such as for cancer and heart disease were exempt from this.
Freemasons in Parliament
Freemansons’ lodges set up in Westminster are under fresh scrutiny, as the ‘secret society’ seeks to raise its public profile. Two Freemasons’ lodges are set up for MPs and journalists in Westminster, and Freemasonry records state that both are still active in recruiting in members. Critics of the Freemasons say the historically secretive organisation serves the interests of its members over the interests of the public.
Daving Staples, the chief executive of the United Grand Lodge of England, has defended the presence of Freemasonry claiming it benefits its members “in the broader sense” helping journalists, politicians, policemen and lawyers, to be “better in those jobs by encouraging them to act as better people themselves.”