There was one piece of really good news this week, although you might have missed it in all the latest Brexit shenanigans.
How could anyone possibly think that it would be reasonable to suggest that, at 24 hours’ notice, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill1 , with 115 pages of dense legalese taking about 8 hours just to read, could be discussed, debated, amended and agreed in just 2 days? If I tell you that, this year, the government allocated 11 days for debate on the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, which ran to just 5 pages, you might realise the scale of the proposed democratic travesty.
This outrage was underlined when Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay demonstrated that he didn’t understand his own Brexit deal. Speaking to the House of Lords EU Committee yesterday, Barclay was asked whether businesses in Northern Ireland would have to complete export declarations when they trade with Great Britain, under the deal. Barclay answered: “No, because in terms of Northern Ireland to GB, we’ve said it will be frictionless.” However, after his civil servants told him of his monumental error, the hapless Barclay reversed his comment, saying “exit summary declarations will be required in terms of Northern Ireland to GB.”2 Is it any wonder that UK businesses are exasperated by the government’s performance?
Anyway, back to the good news.
Indian and British police co-operated in shutting down two “criminal call centres” in Kolkata (Calcutta) that were being used to defraud thousands of Britons every year. “And about blxxdy time too” I can hear you shout. I agree.
Like every MP, I have been told story after story of people being relentlessly called by these scammers who pose as Microsoft (or BT or Virgin Media or…) IT support staff and tell their intended victims that their computers have been hacked. Fortunately, most people recognise what is planned and just shout loudly down the phone before putting it down. Unfortunately, a few get duped into buying expensive bogus security software or into revealing their bank details. Although a minority, the scam has obviously been very profitable for the crooks.
The City of London police say that the raid and arrests were at the end of a four-year joint operation with the Indian police. Well, I hope that, rather like Brexit, this is the end of the beginning, not the end of the operation to shut down these criminal activities. Given the scale of the scams, it is clear that there is a long way to go.
Last year, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau received 23,500 complaints about this type of fraud. Yet we know from other studies that most cases of these actual and attempted frauds are not reported. I have already asked Ministers about the extent of these frauds which have been reported to Action Fraud but which have not even been reported as crimes. I’m waiting for the answers.
Reported financial losses, last year, from those recorded complaints were more than £9 million. The real total lost by British citizens to this type of scam was almost certainly many, many times more.