NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 3rd July 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
In the aftermath of the referendum decision to leave the European Union, there are now a series of crucial decisions to be made by Parliament and the Government. I believe that Britain should aim to retain access for our business and trade to the single market of 500million people across the 27 other EU nations. Those other EU countries will of course be wary, but we need to approach the negotiation of a new deal with Europe very carefully.
On Monday in the Commons I urged the Prime Minister to avoid triggering the immediate ‘Article 50’ negotiation on exiting until at least the new year, to give us time as a country to settle on the right plan and to stabilise our economy ahead of an orderly transition.
I fully understand that there are many people aghast at the outcome of the referendum and some are petitioning and emailing urging re-entry into the EU. The democratic decision on our membership of the EU club has now been made and we cannot overrule that view. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t try to salvage as much as possible from the existing good relationships and benefits of our engagement and alliances – and I will continue to fight in Parliament for that approach. I also think all parties need to address some of the most immediate anxieties in our communities, such as the worries of EU citizens already working here in the UK; I think that the Government should say now that they should continue to have permission to remain here, not least to put an end to the dreadful ‘go home’ insults that are starting in some quarters.
If you have particular issues either at work, in your business or in your neighbourhood that will be affected by the decision to end our EU membership please do let me know – I am interested in pulling together all the policy consequences and making sure I feed these in to the decision-making process as best I can. This is going to be a vast and complex task but the next phase is now extremely important.
- Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. One million men were killed and injured on all sides during the five month battle in 1916, the deadliest of the First World War. Events took place across the country this week to remember the many people who lost their lives, including an event at Nottingham High School on Friday to re-dedicate their war memorial to former pupils who lost their lives during the war. During these challenging times, it is important to stop and reflect on the sacrifices made just a few generations ago, and be grateful that Europe has now been at peace for over 70 years.
- Last week, one of our schools hosted the Paralympic torch as part of its farewell tour ahead of the Rio Paralympic Games this summer. Rosehill School in St Ann’s provides education for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. Headteacher Fenella Dowler said “to be part of the Paralympics torch tour is very important to us as we instil a sense of aspiration within our children. Here, it’s not about what they can’t do, it’s about what they can do and we hope this visit will inspire people to have positive outcomes in their future.” It was great to see the pupils getting into the Paralympic spirit, and hopefully they will all enjoy following the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in September.
- Feedback from the consultation on the proposed merger of Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham has been published. The feedback document notes that the majority of responses to the consultation were positive about the merger, and the two colleges have reaffirmed their desire to move ahead with the merger on 1st Anyone wishing to view the feedback document can do so on the Central College website here. I’m pleased that a proper consultation has been held, and I will continue to follow the outcomes of the merger closely.
- The Nottingham Night Market is being held in the Lace Market on Thursday 7th July from 5pm. The market will feature stalls from local artists and traders, and will include food, crafts and arts. The market will thread through the streets and historic buildings of the Lace Market area. If you’d like to find out more about the event, you can visit the Facebook page here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday the Prime Minister made his first statement to Parliament following the result of the EU Referendum. The Prime Minister outlined in his statement the Government’s preparatory work for the negotiation to leave the EU, its plans for engaging the devolved administrations, and the next steps for Tuesday’s European Council meeting. He also confirmed that a new EU unit in Whitehall would be created. The Prime Minister’s statement followed a speech from the Chancellor which aimed to reassure the financial markets before they opened on Monday. Due to the market turbulence that followed the referendum I believe the immediate priority is to seek stability. It was also notable that the Chancellor also announced this week that it will be unrealistic to aim for an absolute surplus in the public finances by 2020, which is clearly the case. A more flexible approach on the fiscal deficit, while still aiming for a balance in the current budget, is needed. Now that Britain’s AAA credit rating is being affected by the referendum consequences I will be watching this approach to the public finances very carefully indeed. The PM also made a Statement on Wednesday following his attendance at the EU Summit
- On Monday and Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Finance Bill. The Bill needs significant change now, especially following ‘Brexit’. There are other issues that were debated including amendments which would have made a small but important step towards tackling poor air quality and the law affecting workers engaged through an employment intermediary and their employers who cannot claim tax relief for home-to-work travel. Another amendment sought a review of the impact of the Climate Change Levy in reducing carbon emissions, and my colleague Caroline Flint lead amendments that aimed to increase tax transparency to require large multinational enterprises to publish a country-by-country report on their activities within their published tax strategy and registers of beneficial ownership for all the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. Following the debate on Monday and Tuesday the Bill continued its Committee Stage.
- On Wednesday the Government made a statement in the House of Commons on hate crime. Any referendum has the potential to create division in society and the EU referendum was no different. I am concerned by the rising tension across the country in recent weeks. Following the result, it is important that work is done to heal the divisions the campaign has created and directly deal with the small minority of people who seek to use these moments to peddle hatred and violence. Since the EU referendum last Thursday, there have been reports of a fivefold increase in race hate comment on social media channels. There has also been a 57% increase in reported hate crimes via the Police’s online portal, True Vision. This comes on top of an already rising tide of hate crime in England and Wales. Last year, the police recorded over 50,000 individual hate crimes, most of them racially motivated, which was an 18% rise on the previous year. I am concerned that perhaps the most disturbing reports are those of attacks on individuals and specific communities in recent days, including against non-British nationals and Muslim women. Hate crime is a rejection of the British values that have always bound us together and I hope that the Government will continue to reassure non-British nationals living in Britain who are worried about their safety. It is welcome that the Government has committed to bring forward a new hate crime action plan and I hope the details are published urgently. It is important that people know how to report hate crimes and have confidence that they will be taken seriously.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
One of the consequences of the referendum campaign has been the loss of confidence by 80% of Labour MPs in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead Labour into a potentially much earlier general election. The vote of no confidence was clear and it is now impossible to see how he can continue. Not only has he lost his shadow cabinet and dozens of frontbenchers, who are the people who have worked most closely with and know Jeremy Corbyn the best. Even those he has replaced them with are resigning because they realise how untenable the situation is – and they are from all corners of the Labour family.
At the end of the day, we have to have an Opposition with a basic level of credibility, able to reach out and convince a majority of the country that we can form a functioning alternative government. Governments are formed from within Parliament – hence the requirement for a basic threshold of Parliamentary support behind whoever becomes the Leader of the Opposition. A challenge to his leadership now looks unavoidable, although obviously it would be better for the Party if Jeremy Corbyn stepped aside.
I have received emails on both sides of this question, including a great number of people who have voiced their desperation for Labour to find a leader able to unite the Party again into a ‘broad church’ via the website https://www.savinglabour.com/ . We cannot head into a general election with a leadership struggling to understand the concerns being voiced by the country at large, let alone leaders who cannot unify the party around sensible solutions with broad-based appeal.
These are really hard decisions and there are passions on both sides, which need listening to with respect. My overriding priority is to see a change of government, taking power away from right-wing Tories who are in the ascendency now in the Conservative leadership contest. Unless we can win a general election, we are unable to exert direct influence to create a fairer society which believes in social justice and engaging with our neighbours and allies worldwide.