NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 3rd March 2018
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Theresa May’s speech on the ‘road to Brexit’ yesterday was the moment that the Government dropped the pretence we can have the “exact same benefits” as EU membership, a promise made last year by Brexit Secretary David Davis. Instead the Prime Minister admitted that “market access will be less”, which is her way of telling businesses, employees and you that we are not going to have the favourable trade links with our largest economic partners any more.
This is quite a startling admission from a British Prime Minister – we are basically giving up the opportunities for economic prosperity in exchange for some still unclear ‘benefit’ of life outside the EU. We are going to be paying £40billion in the divorce bill. Yet we will still need to fully align with EU rules if we want no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
When exporters can’t do as well, when our manufacturers can’t get the parts they need as quickly from the continent, and when services can no longer be sold to the 500million customers across Europe, the tax revenues we need from that economic activity will fall. In turn, we’ll have less money to go around to our schools and hospitals. This is like watching the car crash of austerity happen all over again in slow motion.
We need some real leadership in this country to give people the option to ‘kick the tyres’ on what is shaping up to be a terrible deal. If we regress from our current free access to a sub-optimal basic trade agreement, as though we are South Korea or Canada, then the public deserve the chance to have a final say.
I firmly believe this is the time for Parliament to get a grip on this question and – to use the phrase of the moment – ‘take back control’. We cannot leave this issue in the hands of Ministers alone and I believe there is a consensus for a less damaging outcome now visible across the backbenches in the Commons. That’s why I have joined with MPs from all parties to meet directly with European leaders to explain that Parliament will have its say on this. On Monday I met with the French Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseaux in Paris (pictured below) and also other senior French Ministers. This issue is too important to sit back and watch in the hope that someone else will sort it out.
- Council workers have been hard at work in the Arboretum area. They have recently improved the car parking area at Hovenden Gardens, Hyson Green, adding clearly marked out parking spaces. This also means that the area that was previously fly-tipped has been reduced in size.
- An extra £350,000 has been granted by the City Council to help remove asbestos from the former Elms Primary school, in Cranmer Street, St Ann’s. The school has been vacant since it closed in August 2008 as part of a shape-up in the organisation of schools in the St Ann’s area in an effort to reduce surplus spaces.
- The former Queen Adelaide pub in Windmill Lane in Sneinton is to be turned into a small apartment complex, under plans approved by Nottingham City Council earlier this week. Whilst the loss of this community facility is obviously not ideal, it is hoped the plans for 12 one- and two-bed flats in the building will increase the affordability of housing in the area.
- Congratulations to St Ann’s Well Academy on Hungerhill Road on their recent Ofsted report. The Report commended ‘a culture where all feel valued and are keen to succeed’. The inspectors also noted that ‘improvements in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment are beginning to reap benefits’. I was very pleased to hear this positive observations which reflect very well on the entire school community.
- I was pleased to see that Nottingham was well represented in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Both Elise Christie and Kathryn Thompson represented Team GB (and Nottingham) in speed skating. We as a city should be proud of our Olympians and the talent being brought forward, no doubt at least in part by the National Ice Centre.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Despite the delayed vote this week at the United Nations Security Council calling on a ceasefire to bring in humanitarian relief to the besieged Eastern Ghouta area in Syria, the forces of President Assad backed up by the Russians have continued to attack civilian areas. 14 hospitals and three health centres have been attacked since 22nd The procrastination by Putin, who could stop this situation if he really wanted to, is disgraceful. We cannot go on with the existing constitution of the United Nations in this way, especially as the Russians and Chinese are now so brazenly stepping away from basic democratic norms and back towards the dark days of dictatorship. This issue will sadly need to be confronted sooner or later.
- On Thursday a major survey of local government found local authorities across England are facing up to the steepest increases in council tax for 14 years as they face up to a black hole in funding forecast to widen to £5bn by 2020. Councils have borne the brunt of cuts in public spending, with their funding cut by 40 percent over the past six years – and this week’s survey finds them facing “crunch time” as they are forced to reconcile shrinking budgets and rising pressure on services, especially adult social care. The Local Government Association warned this week that even the maximum legal increase in council tax rates will not prevent significant cuts to budgets for essential services such as libraries and children’s centres.
The Government’s settlement for Nottingham City Council is extremely tight this year. Just as an illustration, whereas in 2014 the central government revenue support grant was about £100 million and more than then £80million raised from council tax, next year the grant will shrink to something like £35million whereas council tax will have to take up the strain raising something like £110 million. Everyone should be aware of what is going on here.
- Donald Trump unilaterally imposed a 25% tariff (a trade tax) on steel producers including British steel if they export products into the USA. This could really harm our steel industry, not just because of the blow to trade but if cheap Chinese steel can’t go to the States it could now flood into Britain and undercut our industry here. It’s clear that our trade policy will need to respond in kind to this unjustified move. But what’s more worrying is the reliance by Trade Secretary Liam Fox on Donald Trump as supposedly providing a ‘great’ UK-US trade deal to compensate for the trade we’ll lose after Brexit. I don’t think it’s wise banking on this after all!
- The week began with Jeremy Corbyn confirming that at long last the Labour frontbench will support a permanent, comprehensive customs union between the UK and the European Union. This is a welcome step in the right direction. Our prosperity depends on preserving the frictionless freedom to trade with our European neighbours from which we benefit at the moment. And this shift will be all the more important if it lays the groundwork for crystallising the cross-party consensus against a destructive hard Brexit – which I believe is a view held by a majority of MPs. I’ve been arguing for months that Parliament needs to take control of this process, and also want to pay tribute to my many Labour colleagues who’ve been so persistent in speaking their minds on the necessity of a customs union, despite how they were ‘whipped’ to the contrary. In truth, though, customs union membership should always have been the bare minimum for those of us who want to avoid years of Brexit-induced austerity and economic stagnation – the next, essential step must be for sensible MPs in all parties to insist that we participate as a full member of the Single Market. We have no time to waste.
- On Monday the Government unveiled further information on its plans to cap household energy bills in its draft ‘Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill’. As I argued before the 2015 General Election, this has the potential to make a genuine difference to consumers and represents a small step towards a more sensible energy market. Regulation is the smartest way to ensure that monopoly industries serve consumer interests and I will watch closely as this proposal is scrutinised in Parliament.
- On Wednesday morning we learned via a leaked memo that Boris Johnson no longer thinks the Government’s priority should be to avoid a border on the island of Ireland post-Brexit. As recently as last November, the Foreign Secretary described such a scenario as “unthinkable” – and publicly at least, Ministers continue to pretend there’s still no risk of a border – but Mr Johnson’s unguarded comments should alarm us all. I wrote about the liability that Boris Johnson is becoming in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post newspaper – see at the link here. On Wednesday afternoon, Boris tried to wriggle out of his promise to publish his letter to Theresa May which started this whole saga. So I wrote to her with three key questions:
- Will the Government agree to publish the letter from the Foreign Secretary, in full, so people can make up their own minds about the contents, as the Foreign Secretary himself has suggested would be appropriate?
- Does the Foreign Secretary’s reported suggestion in the letter that it shouldn’t be the Government’s job to ensure no border on the island of Ireland accurately reflect Government policy on the matter?
- Do you agree that the only way to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland is for the whole of the UK to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union, and will she consider reassessing her Brexit ‘red lines’ to reflect this reality?
Avoiding a hard border is vital if we are to maintain the fragile progress we’ve made in Northern Ireland since the darkest days of the troubles. I think it’s time for the Prime Minister to reconsider her ‘red lines’.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It’s certainly been a challenging week weather-wise! The adverse conditions disrupted a variety of bus routes across the city and also affected some waste collection rounds as well. On Thursday 58 schools were also closed across Nottingham. The city council gritters were out in force this week and hopefully good use has been made of the 200+ grit bins across the city for use on roads & footpaths. Our local NHS services have been urging people to check on elderly neighbours during the cold weather; it is at times like this everyone needs to keep an eye out for one another. In case it’s of use, there’s more information on changes to council services as a result of the weather here: https://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/snow
While clearly we should all be immensely grateful to the public service workforce keeping the wheels turning in such freezing temperatures, I’d be interested to know if you’ve found local services to be fairly resilient this week? Or have you been disappointed that some things tend to grind to a halt in the face of adverse weather? Should there have been more preparedness? It would be good to hear your experiences so I can feed these in to the city council and others.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East