NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 22nd December 2017
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If a week is a long time in politics, the past year feels like a lifetime. For Theresa May in particular, it hasn’t exactly turned out as expected. She entered into a general election expecting endorsement for her version of Brexit, but was returned to office without any clear mandate at all. In this final week before the Christmas recess period, we had a chance to debate her interpretation of Brexit – namely that the UK should also leave the Single Market and Customs Union – something that was not on the referendum ballot paper and which risk major economic harm and years of Brexit austerity if they occur.
I tabled an amendment which led the debate in the final day of committee stage this week, insisting that we should be allowed to stay in the Customs Union. Without this a hard border is likely between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; manufacturing industry in particular risks being turned upside down with job losses as a consequence; and clogged ports and queueing lorries would hit Treasury revenue, forcing further years of cuts for vital public services in the years ahead.
I pleaded with MPs of all parties, including with my frontbench, to take action now and avoid these risks and austerity – and am thankful at least that 63 of my Labour MP colleagues joined me in taking a clear stand. In my view, we are way past the point of legalistic obfuscation and partisan triangulation: there is too much at stake! You can watch my full speech setting out why this is so important at the link here.
I hope in 2018 to continue working across the political divide to build a majority in the House of Commons that will pull Britain back from the cliff edge, because if we fall over it will hit every aspect of our lives – education, hospitals, transport, the cost of living and employment prospects for generations to come. I am optimistic that we can choose a different path, as the parliamentary vote to gain a ‘meaningful vote’ proved last week.
Ø Ministers announced their grant settlement for Nottingham City Council and the Nottinghamshire Police this week. The level of spending reductions because of the sharp withdrawal of revenue support from Whitehall is forcing local authorities like Nottingham to make difficult cutbacks and even reduce job posts. I pressed the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Sajid Javid, this week to admit that until now they’ve used a distinctly dodgy process to distribute millions of taxpayers money – via something called the ‘transition grant scheme’ – which cynically dished out help to wealthier (Conservative!) local councils at the expense of places in the Midlands and the North (see my exchange with him at the link here). Councillors will now have to decide how high council tax rises to compensate for the lack of government funding. Central government support ought to be distributed according to need and evidence and I will continue to argue for a better deal for Nottingham from this Government.
Ø Wellspring GP Surgery update: Efforts are still ongoing to find a way through the financial impasse which has seen one arm of the NHS (the property management section) billing another arm (the local doctors in St Anns Valley Centre) with what appears to be unreasonably high service charges. I have spoken again directly with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday and also with several other MPs from different parts of the country who have encountered similar issues. I hope that a solution will be possible and I expect further news in the new year.
Ø As of last month, the Ecolink bus service from the Colwick Park & Ride to the city centre now serves what is currently known as the ‘Island site’, meaning that there are four new bus stops in place, two of which will be a short walk from the NHS Urgent Care Centre. This may help to provide an alternative to those otherwise going to the A & E at QMC and further details can be found here (my thanks to Janet Norris for campaigning for this change and to the team at the City Council Transport Team!).
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Ø The EU Withdrawal Bill dominated the Commons again this week. Other amendments I pushed included:
o The need to protect the rights for those with professional qualifications to have them recognised across Europe in case they are working or trading in the other 27 EU states
o The need for a transition period – as promised in the PM’s Florence Speech in September – to be enshrined into UK law. Ken Clarke MP and I tabled a joint amendment to press Ministers to fulfil this, but they declined to do so!
o Help for businesses, especially medical equipment and life science sector firms, who currently can sell their products abroad and prove they meet regulatory standards by having conformity assessment certification undertaken here. Without these hundreds of existing ‘mutual recognition agreements’ these products, and potentially public health and safety, could be no longer available or traded.
o I wrote about the Customs Union vote this week on the PoliticsHome blog site at the link here https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/foreign-affairs/brexit/opinion/house-commons/91599/chris-leslie-mp-mps-should-vote-stay
Ø Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green MP, was sacked from his role as First Secretary of State this week for failing to give a truthful account of the conversations he had with the police in relation to allegations of material found on his office computers. The whole saga has dredged up the history of ‘Plebgate’ when another Tory MP Andrew Mitchell was alleged to have made derogatory remarks to police officers at the gates of No10 – and some have suggested that the police and these MPs were involved in a long running vendetta. Whatever the truth, it is deeply unedifying and provides a real headache for Theresa May as she ends the year.
Ø The United Nations has backed a call for the USA to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, with more than 100 nations including the UK supporting a resolution in defiance of Donald Trump’s position. With this UN resolution saying that any change to the city’s status is ‘null and void’, it is clear that American policy here is out of step with the mainstream of diplomatic opinion across the globe.
Ø I share the concern of shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth who this week continued to voice he worries about plans to introduce ‘accountable care organisations’ without any Commons vote or debate. I am not against the sensible cooperation and partnership of organisations with a stake in public health policy, but with so many suspicions circulating about the motives of Government, they shouldn’t try to make these structural changes without clear transparency and explanation.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Latest indications are that house prices and rent levels are rising faster in the East Midlands and Nottingham than in many other places in the UK. The BBC reported that at 7% annual inflation in prices, properties in the East Mids were outpacing growth in house prices in London and most of the rest of the country. I’d be interested to know what you think lies behind these figures – is it because Brexit uncertainty is holding back the capital city more than other parts of England? Are there particular driving forces in our part of the country? Will this change in affordability make it harder for those looking for a foot on the property ladder?
Rents are also said to be up 2.7% in Nottingham this year, which makes the cost of living for tenants quite challenging given incomes are not typically rising by this same amount. If you or others have found a particularly difficult time recently in the rental market, I’d be interested to hear your views.
This will be my last MP Update email newsletter for 2017 and normal service will resume in January after Parliament has returned. In the meantime I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and happy and prosperous New Year!
Very best wishes
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East