NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 1st April 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
If the referendum was ‘Act One’ of the Brexit drama, the ‘Act Two’ phoney period has just concluded with the Prime Minister’s submission of the Article 50 letter, and ‘Act Three’ – negotiations proper – has just begun. This will be where reality bites. The British Government has set out its stall in recent months, listing all the things it wants to achieve. Sadly, in my view, Theresa May chose not to explore the option of staying a member of a reformed Single Market, but ruled that out. So in response, it’s not surprising that the European Council have said they will not allow a new trade deal with Britain that undercuts their regulations or creates a competitive disadvantage for them.
I have been imploring Theresa May right from the summer of last year to secure the right for ‘parallel’ discussions on our future relationship at the same time as we discuss the Brexit ‘divorce’ bill. I think she should and could have extracted this commitment as a condition for settling the timing of Article 50 – but she gave that card away for free. So now the UK is under a countdown deadline of two years, with the other side saying they won’t talk about a trade deal until they judge ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the payments they want for the separation. It was obvious from the beginning this would create an unlevel playing field and I worry that the EU27 will just play for more time.
Meanwhile what about all those promises from the ‘leave’ campaigners that we could secure a ‘cost-free’ trade option, with £350m a week savings for the NHS and a ‘stronger’ United Kingdom with Scotland and no border issues from Northern Ireland? Many people looking at those promises now are beginning to feel duped. And for those in Gibraltar, who now see that they will be locked out of an EU trade deal unless Spain gives permission, they must feel very agitated about what Brexit means.
What really matters, of course, will be ‘Act Four’ in this saga – the process of transition to whatever comes next – and then the final ‘Act Five’ deal we achieve. If the story is to end well, Theresa May will need to negotiate far more cleverly and preserve goodwill on both sides.
- Last week, along with other Nottinghamshire MPs, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust about the ’40 Days for Life’ protest taking place outside the QMC Treatment Centre during Lent. 40 Days for Life are a ‘pro-life’ campaign group, whose ‘prayer vigil’ outside the Treatment Centre in our view aims to intimidate women attending the clinic, as well as members of staff. We have requested that NUH acts to end such protests on NHS land in this way. On Friday I raised the issue again with the Trust and hope that they will reflect on the psychological impact such protests can have on their patients – and that if we need to look at policy change nationally with NHS England then this should be explored.
- You may have heard recently that Nottingham-based City council initiative Robin Hood Energy are due to increase their prices in April – by as much as 17% for dual fuel credit customers. The company has stated that it always aims to keep its prices as low as possible for customers, but that wholesale energy price rises have forced the increase. The company still aims to keep prices low, and remains a not-for-profit energy company. If you’re a customer and want to find out more, you can visit the website here.
- On Friday I met with Emma Foody from the National Housing Federation to hear about their future plans in the region. The National Housing Federation represents housing associations across the country and campaign for better housing. Their members provide two and a half million homes for five million people. In Nottingham East we have a number of ‘supported’ housing sites for the most vulnerable people, run by Framework and others, but Government changes are going to restrict the resources for the running of these homes. I will be working with them to persuade Ministers to treat ‘supported’ and sheltered housing schemes differently, to reflect the different pressures on costs they face.
- The Post Office are holding a public consultation on whether to reduce the opening hours at their Sherwood branch on Mansfield Road. They propose to close the branch at 6pm rather than 8pm Monday to Saturday, and to cease Sunday opening altogether. The services offered at the branch will remain unchanged. The consultation runs until 11th May – if you would like to comment on the proposals, you can do so online here.
- The news that Sherwood local councillor Alex Ball has been appointed to a new job up in Leeds will sadly mean that he is standing down from the city council, and a by-election will be held to fill that vacancy on Thursday 4th Alex has been a diligent and strong representative for Sherwood and Carrington and I wish him really well in his future career.
- Last week I appeared on the Sunday Politics East Midlands programme alongside Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin. We discussed a range of issues, including the Westminster attack, Brexit and online ticket selling. If you missed the episode and would like to catch up, you can do so here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday I asked the Pensions Minister for an update on when the Government will crack down on pension scams, as you can see here. (I’m pleased he answered “very soon.”) This is an increasingly worrying issue which needs greater public attention – if you’ve got a company or private pension, especially if it’s a ‘defined contribution’ scheme, then you may be tempted to withdraw the lump of money at retirement rather than purchase an annuity, as allowed by recent Government reforms. But please beware the large number of scams that are around, with dodgy ‘companies’ now cold-calling in an effort to hook unsuspecting retirees to cash-in and shift their pensions savings into an ‘investment’ that could easily be a dud. Apparently there have been millions of dodgy sales phone calls made in the past year. I think it’s essential that the Government takes action to ban these cold callers, because those approaching retirement need extra protections given the life-changing decisions at stake.
- Brexit soaked up most of the Parliamentary time this week. The Article 50 letter itself was largely unremarkable, but it did contain what many saw as a threat from Theresa May to limit cooperation on security and counter-terrorism in order to force a trade agreement from our European partners. Intelligence sharing and joint efforts to combat terrorism and other threats make us all safer, so I hope and believe she won’t follow through on these tactics. But playing such a game (and on day one!) makes it less likely – not more – that we’ll get a good deal, as I told the Brexit Secretary David Davis on Thursday.
- On Thursday the Government unveiled a white paper containing the first details of its ‘Great Repeal Bill.’ They’d like us to believe this is just a formality, to transfer the body of laws which currently apply to us as an EU member into our domestic legal system. But as I argued on Sky News, we have to realise what’s really going on here. The Bill gives Theresa May sweeping power to change EU laws before they land on the statute book, and my big worry is that the moment we’re out, there’s nothing to stop the Tories doing with them exactly what they’ve always wanted to. Many of them have been desperate for years to get rid of the guarantees which come with EU membership – on workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections and so on – and that’s a huge part of why they spent so long campaigning for us to leave.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
With so much of the news dominated by Brexit, otherwise massive stories are getting lost or downgraded.
The news that NHS England are going to abandon the much cherished 18 week waiting time target for elective treatment is a massive blow. Having a promise that you can get treatment in just over four months from your GP referral is a big reassurance for patients and has kept confidence in our NHS high. Remember when we had 18 MONTHS of waiting times, or even two years, for hip operations, knees, heart transplants and other vital conditions, in the 1990s? Such massive waiting lists tended to encourage the better off to take out private health insurance, which meant that those with money didn’t have to wait, leaving the poorest the least able to get the care they need. This isn’t the sort of country I believe people want to see – which is why I will do everything I can to challenge the Government on this downgrading of our NHS.
I’d be interested in your observations about waiting times and what your experience is of the NHS locally. On Friday I had a thorough briefing from the NHS Trust about their plans, the decision to take back the cleaning services that had been outsourced to Carillion, and on the significant budget pressures they face in matching their £940million of spending needs to only £900million of income.
Will you be affected if the 18 week waiting time target is ‘relaxed’ in this way?
Parliament is now in recess for the Easter period – and I look forward to resuming these MP Update emails after we’ve returned. In the meantime, have a pleasant Easter.