Sir: James Forsyth’s excellent analysis (‘To save the Union, negotiate independence’, 5 September) has one flaw: it is not quite correct to say that ‘there is no way a legal referendum can take place without Westminster’s consent’. That is true for a decisive referendum that would commit the UK to the outcome, but not necessarily true for an advisory one. The Commons Library briefing paper (29 May 2019) says that the devolution legislation is unclear and the matter ‘has not been resolved’. This view is supported by the Institute for Government. Nicola Sturgeon is likely to take the issue to the Supreme Court which, with its two Scottish judges, is quite likely to side with Edinburgh. The Brexit referendum was advisory but the conclusion was hard to resist. Downing Street seems to be oblivious of the risk. It would be easy enough to legislate it away.
On entry visas
Sir: Lionel Shriver is entirely right that ‘taking back control’ of our borders is almost impossible once immigrants have landed on our shores (‘The trouble with “taking back control”’, 5 September). But what the government can do something about are the entry clearance visas it grants each year, and there are far more of these. So far this year it is thought that 5,500 people have crossed the Channel, but in 2019 some 193,517 visas were granted to migrants coming to work in the UK from outside the EU, and a further 118,920 under the ‘family’ heading. This year the numbers will be down because of Covid, but next year they will rise again unless the government takes action. What it should do is look at the demographic trends in the UK, at joblessness, the pressure on housing and public resources, and its own promises in relation to public opinion, and decide on a figure which it can reasonably admit. It should then publish this figure and have it debated in parliament. This is what the Australians do and it seems very sensible.
Beacon of Britain
Sir: I was bemused by The Spectator’s own theatre critic questioning the value of state-funded theatre (‘National review’, 5 September). I’ll never forget the first time I saw War Horse at the National Theatre. I went with an American friend, who gasped as the mighty drum in the Olivier rose to reveal the war-torn landscape of northern France in 1918. The bamboo horses were workshopped thanks to state subsidy and have since been seen all around the world (including at the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee celebrations). When I visited this same friend at her home in New York, what did I see when we walked down Broadway? The History Boys, One Man, Two Guvnors, and a host of other British productions, their titles lit brightly right in the heart of America’s greatest city. When nations across the world were under lockdown, millions tuned into the National’s weekly YouTube broadcasts of past productions. Some £16.7 million in grant seems a small price to pay for this British domination of the theatrical world.
Watch your pear
Sir: Thank you for publishing Kate Rigby’s poem ‘How to Be a Pear’ (5 September), which made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of the chef Suzy Bowler’s advice on pears in her book Creative Ways to Use Up Leftovers: ‘If a pear is almost ripe, you should take the day off work and keep close by so as to eat it at the nanosecond of perfection.’ My holiday allowance is not adequate for this, but I recommend such vigilance to all retired Spectator readers.
Lib cons live on
Sir: I can reassure Matthew Parris that ‘liberal conservatives’ have not been consigned to history (5 September). There are plenty of us about. The mistake Mr Parris makes is to think that to qualify as a liberal conservative one must approve of the European Union and want Britain to be part of it.
Rights of way
Sir: I am puzzled by the continuous complaints Melissa Kite directs at her fellow Britons when they try and enjoy the same countryside she does (‘Real Life’). I am an active country sportsman from Welsh farming stock but, like my father, I am also a fervent supporter of access to the countryside. What right do we have to deny our compatriots their historic inheritance? Rights of way, many of them ancient, are one of our great national blessings; and never more so than when the response to Covid-19 has imprisoned us all for so long.
Having recently lived with my young family in rural North America, I was struck by the brutality of their inviolable property rights: even in rural districts one can often only walk along highways, or alternatively drive long distances to access national parks (often at a price). By contrast, here in the UK families can tumble out into nature across a web of paths and tracks, and thus can understand better how the countryside works, to everyone’s benefit. Let’s all be a little more welcoming, shall we?
Agas need love
Sir: I am very sorry Tanya Gold has trouble with her Aga (Food, 29 August). Our Aga is 90 years old and cooks the very best steaks with no problem at all. Agas require love and affection and thus a sympathetic service every six months. If Tanya does this, she will be rewarded by excellent steaks and the best of everything, along with a beautiful warm kitchen 24/7, 365 days a year.