The Spectator

Letters | 3 January 2019

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Lords reform

Sir: How astonishing that the historian Robert Tombs (‘Beyond Brexit’,

15 December) should think that the Lords might ‘at last be seriously reformed’ after more than a century of schemes that foundered in the Commons. MPs have an unthreatening upper house; they will never agree on substantial changes that would increase its power. They will leave the Lords to implement its own sensible plans to cut its numbers to 600 by bringing party strengths into line with those in the Commons over the next few years.

Those interested in radical Lords reform should study the detailed proposals for a federal constitution drawn up by an all-party group chaired by the Marquess of Salisbury, the current custodian of a long family tradition of creative constitutional thinking. A member of the group, the distinguished former Clerk of the Commons Lord Lisvane, has introduced a Bill that would completely recast the role of the upper house. Those seriously interested in finding a constitution fit for the post-Brexit world should turn to the Lisvane Bill.

Alistair Lexden

House of Lords, London SW1

Aiding global Britain

Sir: In his article ‘Beyond Brexit’, Robert Tombs makes a number of unfounded allegations about the UK’s foreign aid budget. He says the money is ‘scattered’, following no plan. In fact, spending closely follows the DFID Department Plan that sets out key objectives covering (among other things) the promotion of global prosperity, tackling extreme poverty, supporting resilience and seeking to strengthen global peace, security and governance.

He also complains that foreign aid is ‘deliberately not aimed to further’ British foreign policy priorities. This will be news to the International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, who made a series of speeches this year outlining how her aim was exactly that, speaking at Chatham House of ‘global goals in the national interest’.

Tombs claims that money is ‘simply handed over to governments or NGOs while British officials exercise little or no effective control’. This is demonstrably untrue. Serious professional scrutiny is exercised over funds, both internally and by a number of outside bodies.

Perhaps Professor Tombs would like to spend a day with me at DFID? If he is concerned that Brexit Britain is to be global and successful, he might like to consider how our foreign aid already contributes to our reputation.

Alistair Burt MP

Minister of State for the Middle East,

FCO and DFID, London SW1

What were they thinking?

Sir: James Forsyth’s comment (Politics, 15 December) that most of the blame for the Brexit mess lies with Parliament for holding a referendum ‘without thinking through the consequences’ is an understatement. Only 53 MPs voted against the proposal and the decision of Conservative and Labour MPs to vote en masse in favour of it appears to have had nothing whatever to do with the long-term national interest. In the related Commons debate, little was said about what might happen in the inconceivable event of a vote to leave. If anything positive comes of such eye-watering incompetence, perhaps it will be constitutional reform. In the meantime, Leavers and Remainers alike have every right to feel betrayed.

Roger Burgess

Lodsworth, West Sussex

Hardline border

Sir: Adrian O’Neill, the Irish ambassador to the UK, states that there was no discontinuity in Brexit policy between the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and his predecessor Enda Kenny (Letters, 1 December). One wonders if Mr Varadkar agrees with him on this point. May I suggest that Mr O’Neill reads Leo Varadkar: A Very Modern Taoiseach by Philip Ryan and Niall O’Connor?

This biography, written with the full co-operation of its subject and many of his political associates, notes that in July 2017, Leo Varadkar, then newly elected, worked out his strategy on Brexit with Simon Coveney, his Foreign Affairs Minister. The authors write: ‘It was agreed that they would adopt the most hardline stance possible in relation to the border.’ Is any sense of discontinuity so false after all?

C.D.C. Armstrong


A kiss is not just a kiss

Sir: Misguided Parisian friends decided that an avuncular English presentation of a modernised version of Sleeping Beauty was just right for their four-year-old daughter before bed. It reminded me of the books Lara Prendergast referred to (‘Should we all write feminist stocking fillers?’, 15 December). All went well until our hero found her after a mere 40 days, without fighting his way through any darkly metaphorical hedge, and woke her with a kiss on the forehead. ‘What?’ squealed my young audience, sitting bolt upright and staring aghast at the book. ‘Et non pas sur ses lèvres?’ The only way to end the evening on a happy note was to agree that if he did not kiss her on the lips, he would not be worth waking up for. Edit the Brothers Grimm at your peril!

Jonathan Footerman

Via email

Gone with the wind

Sir: I sympathise with James Delingpole (‘Will no one ever take on the Green Blob?’, 1 December). With the advances in offshore windpower making it financially more attractive, there is no real need for any more of the onshore variety. Onshore windmills really are a blot on the landscape and their creation only benefits landowners.

Alan Waters

Sevenoaks, Kent