NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 21st July 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
We won one, and narrowly lost one. That was the upshot of Tuesday’s crucial Brexit Trade Bill votes. And here’s how it happened:
Most MPs know that unless a safety net is put beneath Brexit, we’ll crash out and businesses won’t have the right to trade goods unhindered across borders or sell some services at all into Europe. That would mean devastating job losses. In her Chequers Plan the Prime Minister reluctantly accepted this – hence her new negotiating objective of a ‘free trade area for goods’ based on a common rule book with Europe. Not anywhere near as far as I’d like, but a step in the right direction.
But the ideological hard Brexiteers really hate this, so they threatened the PM to water it down on Monday in the Customs Bill, where she was forced to accept their wrecking amendments. So Chequers lasted barely a week.
With services abandoned, no chance of the Europeans agreeing and a barbed-wire border in Ireland back on the cards, sensible MPs from across the mainstream centre ground of Parliament decided something had to be done. That’s why I met with Phillip Lee MP and Stephen Hammond MP to help draft their two amendments; first to keep Britain in the Single Market for medicines regulation, and second to say that if the Chequers plan goes nowhere in 2018 then we need to have ‘a Customs Union’ as a backstop plan.
Sadly Labour’s frontbench hadn’t prepared any similar cross-party initiatives – which, with the parliamentary arithmetic as it is, should be the obvious route to winning. But with a bit of effort, backbench Labour MPs thankfully managed to persuade our frontbench to back these two ideas on Tuesday lunchtime.
With those dozen Tory rebels, we actually won the Phillip Lee amendment on medicines, by 305 votes to 302! But because four Brexiteer Labour MPs voted with the Government (and some dirty tricks from the Tory Chief Whip breaking ‘pairing’ agreements) we lost the second vote by 301 to 307. That was disappointing – but it gives me hope as sentiment on the Tory benches is slowly shifting.
The fate of the country rests on these knife edge votes and I have been developing ideas, amendments, and will work with any MPs regardless of party allegiance to get the right results. I’m frankly exasperated by what sometimes feels like indifference being shown by some in Labour’s leadership, who ought to be straining every sinew to crystallise the parliamentary majority for a Customs Union and EEA Single Market. I know such a majority exists, if only the imagination and effort were shown. Instead their focus seems elsewhere. We are trying our best from the Labour backbenches, but I’m afraid it’s party politics that’s getting in the way here.
It was great to nearly win the vote on the EEA medicines network, but we need 100% effort next time and proper leadership to save the country from the brink when all this returns after the summer recess.
- The Care Quality Commission’s rating of the Mapperley Park Medical Centre under Dr Stevens as ‘inadequate’ has provoked concern and attention in the past few weeks, as the CQC continue to express their views about problems at the practice while many other patients have been in touch to say how much they value the care given by Dr Stevens. While clearly the NHS has established the CQC to conduct audits and inspections in order to safeguard patient health, I have arranged to meet with the CQC to hear for myself the issues in question and I will put to them some of the points raised by patients who feel their judgement is excessive. Although it is not a decision in my hands, I will do my best to hold the CQC accountable and encourage them and the Medical Centre to take all steps necessary to protect the interests of local patients first and foremost.
- The first excavation of Brewhouse Yard since the 1970s as wells as excavations of other parts of the Nottingham Castle Site started earlier this week. The project involves three young winners of the national ‘Dig it! with YAC’ competition, 70 trainees, 10 volunteers, archaeologists from Trent & Peak Archaeology and specialists. In Brewhouse Yard the focus will be on investigating the remains of buildings that used to be on the site and on the southern end of the site which was at one point the bank of the River Leen.
- I was sorry to hear of another death at Nottingham prison earlier this week. A post-mortem is to be carried out to ascertain the cause of death and a 28-year-old man has been arrested in connection with it A recent report published by the Independent Monitoring Board about conditions in the prison has said that there are still issues with violence and drugs, whilst acknowledging the work being undertaken to address these issues. The report says ‘Illegal drugs continue to infiltrate the prison by a variety of means’ whilst stating ‘The Board acknowledges the efforts of both the prison and the police in their attempts to curb the problem’. In terms of the violence in the prison the report notes ‘Acts of violence continue to be a very significant problem at HMP Nottingham’ however ‘the numbers of certain types of incident have fallen in comparison with last year’. I am continuing to monitor the situation – and the MoJ response – closely.
- Nottingham City Council is looking into a plan to see the tram lines extending, with the potential for new lines to be added. Some of the potential extension routes being looked at are longer term “potential development sites in Greater Nottingham”. Other possibilities include an extension from Clifton to the new 3,000-home development land off the A453 in Rushcliffe (which will increase to 13,500 new homes) and an extension to the HS2 Hub at Toton. Rushcliffe Borough Council contributed £10,000 and Gedling Council contributed £50,000 to the cost of the feasibility study, with £200,000 coming from Nottingham City Council. It is suggested that the extensions could connect thousands more people to the city and create around 2,500 new jobs just from local businesses on the site alone. Personally I’d be interested to see an assessment of the possible benefits of extending the tram to the east of the city centre, perhaps connecting Sneinton, St Ann’s or Colwick? I’m not sure how feasible this would be, but I’d like to see a professional engineering assessment done.
- There has been sad news about the Malt Cross, a bar in the city centre based in a Victorian music hall. The limited company which ran the bar went into liquidation overnight leaving 25 staff members without jobs. However Canon Christina Baxter, chair of the board of trustees in charge of the building has said she’s ‘optimistic’ a solution can be fund and the bar may be reopened.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- The week began with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s hotly anticipated joint summit in Helsinki. In the press conference which followed their unprecedented one-on-one meeting (the mind boggles at what must have been discussed there!), I think the US President succeeded in delivering his most abject and disturbing performance yet; he dismissed the settled conclusion of every American intelligence agency and gave the Russian Government the benefit of the doubt over interference in the 2016 presidential election. But in what may ultimately prove even more damaging, he failed to challenge Putin over, or inch towards any agreement on, any of the challenges which would justify their summit – the occupation of Crimea and effective civil war in Ukraine; Russia’s sponsorship of President Assad in Syria; a fresh start in controlling nuclear weapons. Instead Trump issued vague, rambling platitudes about stability, security and peace – and let Putin completely off the hook. Trump’s ‘correction’ when he got back to the White House that he had actually meant to challenge Putin just added to the sense that something is clearly awry here.
- On Tuesday we learned that the Electoral Commission had opted to fine ‘Vote Leave’ for a serious breach of election law. The Commission determined after a thorough investigation that the official leave campaign deliberately exceeded legal spending limits during the 2016 referendum, funnelling over half a million pounds of illegal money through supposedly ‘grassroots’ groups such as ‘BeLeave’, aimed at targeting younger voters, and ‘Veterans for Britain’. This is a major breach and adds to a now-growing pile of serious irregularities around the activity of pro-leave campaign groups in the referendum. Frustratingly the Electoral Commission itself is statutorily limited in its response beyond issuing a fine (which totalled a measly £61,000). But this means the responsibility to act lies with politicians, and it was encouraging this week to even see a number of Conservative MPs adding their voices to the call for this question to be returned to the people. Predictably, though, the Government has continued to stonewall: when my colleague Chuka Umunna raised the matter in an Urgent Question in the Commons, I asked the Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith whether she could imagine any breach so serious that it would call a result into question – and as you can see here, she refused to answer altogether.
- On Thursday, new statistics recorded a deeply worrying surge in violent crime, with reported offences involving knives or sharp instruments rising by 16% to more than 40,000 – the highest level on record and the murder rate also increasing by 12%. Equally (and of course relatedly), detection rates and police numbers fell to an unprecedented low, with half of recorded cases closed without a suspect being identified and fewer than one in ten crimes resulting in a charge or court summons. In Nottinghamshire, recorded crime has risen by a third over the past four years, against an only slightly higher nationwide figure of 36%.
- On Friday EU27 Ministers met to discuss Brexit in Brussels, stepping up planning for a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit. The situation is now getting quite serious, with only a matter of weeks before a decision is supposed to be made. For instance, one plan considered by the Government is a 10 mile long queue on the M26 in Kent as a holding area for up to 1400 goods vehicles if customs checks cannot be completed as now. Pharmaceuticals companies say up to 4000 marketing authorisations for medicines need to move into Europe instead. With half of our food imported – 90% through the Dover corridor – plans are being put in place to change approaches. HMRC are even indicating waiving tax collection activities in order to help keep flow going. Seven million international driving licences for British tourists may be needed. All these and many more issues have yet to be prepared for – and many of the consequences have not even been realised yet.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Yesterday I took time to visit the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (pictured below) which is located near Ollerton in the north of Nottinghamshire. They are open every day except Saturdays and Bank Holidays from 10am and if you’re in the vicinity I strongly recommend a visit – you can find more details at their website link here https://www.holocaust.org.uk/
I wanted to visit because on Wednesday the courts convicted the person responsible for death threats against my good colleague Lucian Berger MP, who has shown real fortitude in the face of constant extremist antisemitism. We are sadly seeing a resurgence of antisemitism in the community and it is vital that young people in particular learn the history of the causes of the holocaust and I hope that the horrors of that genocide – which are still attested to today by those who lived through that era – are always remembered.
It is deeply concerning that what ought to be unanimity about the definition of antisemitism is still being contested in some quarters, as you may have seen in reports this week when sadly Labour’s leadership refused the plea from the Parliamentary Labour Party to adopt the full definition and examples set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (at the link here https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/news-archive/working-definition-antisemitism ). This definition has been widely accepted worldwide, including across the EU and 40 countries and many other public service institutions such as the Police and Crown Prosecution Service.
Yet it appears that Labour’s executive leadership committee wants to leave out some of the examples in the IHRA definition, leaving out how accusing Jews of being ‘more loyal to Israel’ than their own countries is antisemitic, and leaving out from the definition of antisemitism describing Israel as a ‘racist endeavour’. Moreover they appear to want to add in that ‘antisemitic intent’ needs to be proven.
I believe Labour’s NEC are wrong in this. In no way does the IHRA definition stifle legitimate criticism of the government of Israel. It is perfectly legitimate to criticise the right-wing government of Netanyahu, the crisis in Gaza, the use of unreasonable force at its border and the demolition of Palestinian homes and expansion of settlements. The IHRA definition does not prevent this. It is infuriating that Labour’s reputation is still brought into disrepute by such stubborn resistance and I hope that sense will prevail.
This issue is likely to return to the PLP meeting on Monday evening, and so I would welcome any thoughts you have on this issue.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East