NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 29th January 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
The Supreme Court’s judgement this week means the Government cannot trigger Article 50 – to start the process of leaving the EU – without an Act of Parliament giving it authorisation to do so. In our system of representative democracy, elected MPs must deliberate and decide our laws. I agree with the Judges that the referendum is of great significance – but that it is for Parliament to now interpret and translate that popular vote, not simply for the Prime Minister to do so.
Following the judgement, Ministers published the ‘EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’ in response, and this now presents MPs with a chance to shape Theresa May’s approach.
Currently, the Government are on a path to a ‘hard Brexit’ which I believe will cause harm to our economy, place barriers for businesses who will find it harder to sell goods and services, and leave us with less growth and fewer decent job prospects than if we choose a different approach. MPs must take this chance to pull the Government away from such a destructive path.
So while I will respect the judgement of the public in the referendum and understand the case for not blocking the Bill, I’m afraid that I just cannot actively vote in favour of legislation that would effectively endorse the Government’s ‘hard Brexit’ strategy – even if this means me defying Jeremy Corbyn’s three line whip in favour of the Bill.
I disagree with the way the PM has already thrown in the towel on the Single Market, rather than trying to negotiate a better deal and the way the Government is opting for such a rushed timetable before the German elections in the autumn, ahead of which substantive negotiations are not likely to occur.
Instead of voting for the Bill, I am already working with MPs from across all parties to amend and significantly improve the Article 50 legislation, so that Parliament gives a steer to the Government to salvage our participation in the Single Market and avoid the UK economy falling off an economic cliff-edge in 2019. I’ve put some details about this in the Parliament section below in this email update.
Nottingham East constituents voted by 57% to remain in the European Union, but the result nationwide was different to this. Accordingly I will fight to preserve our alliances and cooperation with the other EU27 countries – and will try my best to pull the Government away from the dangerous road on which it has embarked.
I’ll also be posting regular updates on the Article 50 Bill issues on Facebook, so please ‘like’ https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp if you’re interested in staying ‘in the loop’!
- On Friday I visited Small Steps Big Changes, a Big Lottery funded programme aimed at improving outcomes for children aged 0-3 currently operating in Arboretum, Aspley, Bulwell and St Ann’s. I met with family mentors who are working with parents and children in Arboretum and St Ann’s to give early years support to parents who might otherwise struggle. This is a really interesting development, supplementing the Health Visitors and Family Nurse Partnership working with early and regular meetings of all new parents, helping with ideas and advice on healthy eating, childcare, parenting and networking. It’s early yet to evaluate the impact but I think it will make a considerable impact over the ten years the project is running for – see pictured below meeting the team on Friday.
- Friday marked Holocaust Memorial Day, and it was an honour to attend a joint commemoration hosted by Nottingham Trent University and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. It is incredible to believe that there are some people who would deny the painful, dark history of the Nazi genocide of the Jews and so it is vital we work to make sure younger people understand the build-up to the holocaust and the importance of ensuring such an atrocity never happens again.
- This week I visited Nottingham Castle and met with the chair of the redevelopment Trust, Ted Cantle, and trustee Richard Tresidder to find out more about the regeneration project. The project has recently been awarded a £13.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will help to fund improvements including a new visitor centre, increased access to the caves and new galleries celebrating Nottingham’s connections to Robin Hood and the city’s history of rebellion. It was really interesting to learn more about the project, which should bring a big boost to Nottingham’s tourism industry.
- Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and Derby City Council have won a joint bid from the Department for Transport to boost sustainable transport in the area. £1.5million of the £2.75million grant will be allocated to Nottingham to encourage cycling and walking as well as helping to invest in electric buses. Nottingham City Council will also work with local firms to get employees to commute in a cleaner, greener way.
- The People’s Postcode Lottery are looking for charities to apply for funding. £6 million will be available this year via three Trusts which support different categories of projects. The funding will be allocated through three Trusts, which support different categories of projects. There will be two opportunities for groups to apply in 2017 and £3 million will be available for each funding round. The first round of applications is open from 23 January until 10 February 2017 and starts with organisations being encouraged to submit an ‘expression of interest’ form. Charities will then be shortlisted to complete a full application for funding. For more information on how local charities can apply please visit the following websites: postcodetrust.org.uk, www.postcodelocaltrust.org.uk, www.postcodecommunitytrust.org.uk.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
This next fortnight will be dominated by the Brexit legislation, as was Parliament this week too. As soon as I saw the Government’s draft Bill I immediately tabled 22 amendments covering the serious issues I feel need to be addressed, including the following:
- aiming to stay in the Single Market;
- forcing Ministers to set out the true impact to the economy of the UK leaving the Single Market;
- aiming to maintain the same regulatory standards for goods and services as the EU;
- keeping the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland;
- to make sure we get a new deal and sign a new treaty with the EU, rather than fall back on WTO rules with our closest trading partner;
- to continue our participation in EU Common Foreign and Security Policy;
- to ‘grandfather’ EU trade agreements into UK law, so we don’t have to start from scratch with countries the EU already has trade agreements with;
- to agree a transitional agreement with the EU, so we don’t fall off an economic cliff-edge in 2019;
- to grant EU citizens in the UK the right to remain in the UK after we leave the EU;
- to maintain visa-free travel for citizens of the UK in the EU and citizens of the EU in the UK;
- to maintain the same employment rights for employees in the UK as we leave the EU;
- to publish an account of what the UK owes the EU and what the EU owes the UK;
- to ensure that future agreements made with the EU must be approved by parliament;
- to make sure that if Parliament votes against the agreement at the end of the Article 50 process, they should seek to extend negotiations rather than leave with no deal;
- publish regular reports to Parliament on the impact of leaving the EU on the UK financial services sector;
- protect trading rights for UK financial services in the EU;
- publish an annual report on the impact of leaving the EU on competition policy
If you want to keep up to date with the full list of amendments being tabled for debate on our withdrawal from the EU, the Parliamentary website here has all the details: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/europeanunionnotificationofwithdrawal/documents.html
- What shocks me also is that Ministers still seem determined to gag parliamentarians as much as possible in this Brexit scrutiny process. It is simply unacceptable for Ministers to try and railroad this incredibly important law through Parliament without sufficient time for proper debate. As I said in the Commons this week, it beggars belief that we will have far less time to debating the legislation that takes us out of the EU than we did previous European treaties. This is the most significant law we’ve ever debated on our relationship with Europe and yet the Government will only give it an eighth of the time that was spent on the Maastricht Treaty. That’s why I will vote against measures to curtail debate in the week ahead.
- On Monday, the Defence Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons in response to an Urgent Question about reports of a Trident missile test firing. The Defence Secretary confirmed that the Royal Navy conducted an operation in June last year designed to certify HMS Vengeance, a nuclear submarine, and her crew prior to the return to the operation cycle. This included a routine unarmed Trident missile test launch, which is reported to have gone off course. The Defence Secretary reiterated that the Government does not comment on the detail of submarine operations. However, he stated that the Government has absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent. While I do not expect the Government to disclose sensitive or inappropriate details, I believe transparency and clarity are important.
- On Monday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made a statement on the Government’s industrial strategy consultation. This came as the Government published a Green Paper, “Building Our Industrial Strategy.” The Secretary of State set out three challenges that the UK economy faces: building on our strengths and extending excellence into the future; closing the gap between the best-performing companies, industries, places and people and those that are less productive; and making the UK one of the most competitive places in the world to start or grow a business. To meet those challenges, the Government has identified ten areas of action, including investing in science, research and innovation; developing our skills; upgrading our infrastructure; and delivering affordable energy and clean growth. I welcome the Government’s talk of a “new, active” role in backing businesses. However, the question is whether the details of the Government’s industrial strategy will live up to its good intentions. For example, while action on skills – including £170 million of funding for new institutes of technology – will be welcomed, the Government has already cut adult education funding by over £1 billion since 2010. An industrial strategy will succeed only if the means match the ends.
- On Monday, the Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill took place. The Bill provides the framework for reforms to the local government finance system, which will move local councils away from a central government grant and towards much greater reliance on local taxes. This would include introducing the retention of 100% of business rates revenue by local government. While I welcome the move towards ‘localism’, genuine devolution should mean actual power for local councils, not just limited local decisions being made within a framework tightly defined by a very centralising Government. I also believe the Bill is more notable for what it lacks than what it contains. It provides no detail on what kind of redistribution mechanism will accompany the business rate retention scheme, nor on what extra responsibilities will be passed on to councils. Councils have already suffered severely as a result of significant cuts, and this is having a big impact on services. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2010 and 2020 councils will have had their direct funding cut by 79%. It is difficult to either support or oppose the Bill in its current form and I did not vote against it at Second Reading.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend the entire US refugee programme for 120 days and also ban travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for the next three months has, unsurprisingly, caused worldwide consternation and dismay.
Theresa May’s reaction – to basically say ‘it’s up to them and we wouldn’t do it’ – is deeply unsatisfactory. I’ve already expressed my disquiet publicly and urged the Prime Minister to follow the lead shown by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who right says that those fleeing persecution, terror and war should be welcomed, regardless of their faith.
I’d be interested in your opinion of this move by Trump, and any thoughts you have following Theresa May’s visit to Washington this week. Should the UK be making diplomatic protests and not engaging in this way? Or should the UK use our long-standing relationship with the US to urge a return to the values of freedom, liberty, diversity and sanctuary which are normally reflected in the better side of our alliance? In other words, how should the UK approach the Trump administration? Most American voters didn’t opt for Trump but he won in the electoral college – so is there a way to appeal to their better nature and support the growing chorus of pressure in that way? I’d be interested in your observations – though I suspect we’ll be discussing the actions of the Trump government on many, many more occasions.