NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 27th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Last Saturday’s march to Westminster saw an astonishing 700,000 people demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal the Government are planning to reach with the EU (see picture below). I fully support efforts by the growing cross-party group of MPs to make any future deal subject to the public’s consent, given the major ramifications of this decision (see today’s Guardian story about the People’s Vote amendment here https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/27/jeremy-corbyn-second-brexit-vote-commons-amendment ).
If the Prime Minister gets her way, our country could end up with a basic trade deal with the EU similar to that of Mexico, Canada or Colombia. In other words, a ‘free trade agreement’ but still requiring extensive inspections at the border because we’d be outside the Customs Union. Just two minutes of delay to trucks going through Dover could multiply into a twenty mile tailback up the M20 as far as Ashford. HMRC are clearly unprepared for the potentially hundreds of millions of additional customs declarations that may need processing (see my questioning to customs experts at this week’s Trade Committee hearing at the link here ). And business services from finance to legal advice could be forbidden from trading across the border entirely as our regulations fail to match. This FTA-type scenario could knock over 6% off our national wealth with £36billion less to spend on public services (equivalent to a third of the NHS budget).
This is why I believe the public should have a final say on whether we depart the EU on these inferior terms or whether we remain a member of the European Union. I sincerely hope that the Labour Party will back giving the public this say – which is why I have been fighting hard this week to ensure that the Government’s attempts to rig the ‘meaningful vote’ motion on any deal are rebutted. I gave evidence also this week to the Commons Procedure Committee explaining why it is vital MPs debate and decide the approval motion in the normal way, and not the way Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab wants where amendments are demoted to votes after the main motion is determined (which would in effect render those subsequent ‘amendments’ redundant). See my evidence at the link here.
This is a complex process – but I am determined to do everything I can to get this right – given that so many consequences will flow if it goes wrong. I am concerned that some MPs are (like the general public!) getting weary of the whole thing, but frankly we are facing maybe five to seven years of additional negotiations on our future trading relationship if Brexit proceeds in March, so perhaps a quicker way of finalising things would be to hold a People’s Vote!
- Last week I wrote about rumours that the post office planned to relocate Nottingham’s city centre main post office – currently at the branch on Queen Street into one of the WHSmith shops in town. The Post Office has now released its proposals and started a formal consultation, with the basic plan being to move Nottingham Post Office into the WHSmith in Victoria Shopping Centre where it would be run by WHSmith High Street Ltd. I know that several residents have raised concerns about this plan already and will be keen to have their voices heard. You can find further details of how to take part in the consultation here and materials should be available in branch and I would encourage you to write in. I think the existing Post Office is convenient and well-used so I am doubtful that the service could be improved inside the WHSmith.
- Nottingham City Council is taking action to bring some of the 742 unused private homes in Nottingham back into use. In the last two years it has brought 134 properties back into use with some providing accommodation for homeless people. Some of the actions being taken by the Council to address the issue include a buying back some ex-council built properties in order to bring them back into stock and a leasing scheme to be run by Nottingham City Homes. Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for Housing and Planning, said ‘We do all we can within our powers to bring private homes back into use that have been left empty and deteriorating by their owners.’ She also urged neighbours and owners of unused and deteriorating properties to get in touch with the council.
- Earlier this week a cross party group of Nottinghamshire MPs, of which I was part, wrote to the Home Secretary regarding the ’40 Days of Life’ protests which take place outside Nottingham’s main abortion clinic at QMC every year. The letter noted the importance of the right to protest but we argued that there are sufficient opportunities to do so without intimidating women and causing distress at what is often an incredibly difficult time. Our joint letter to the Home Secretary also noted that the failure of the Home Office to take action has put further pressure on the City Council and Hospital Trust, who despite taking all available actions have been unable to resolve this issue in the past. I hope the Home Secretary will look closely into this and consider taking appropriate action to stop constituents being intimidated when trying to access healthcare.
- There will be a jobs fair on Friday 16th November 2018 at the Motorpoint Arena from 10am to 2pm run by the National Jobs Fair Network and open to all sectors/industries. There are currently over 20 local businesses registered to attend looking for local jobseekers. You can find out further information about the event here.
- I had a useful catch-up meeting with the management at Intu shopping centres in Nottingham yesterday – they manage both the Victoria Centre and the redevelopment due in the Broadmarsh. It is long overdue, but I am told that works look set to commence on Broadmarsh around January time and will take two years, but the designs look as though they could make a significant improvement to the retail and leisure facilities available in the city centre. The ownership of Intu is potentially going to change shortly but it is not thought that the Nottingham plans will be adversely affected by this.
- Several local GPs have contacted me with concerns that stricter data control regulations are affecting their ability to work and costing local practices a lot more. In particular, insurance companies are asking patients to use ‘subject access request’ applications as a route to obtaining information, which soaks up a lot of GP Practice time and cost. I met with Nottinghamshire’s Local Medical Committee to discuss the situation on Friday and will be working with other MPs to see if the Department for Health can find a common sense solution.
- Thank you to the many local residents who came to talk with me yesterday in the city centre at the Nottinghamshire People’s Vote stall, where we were doing a survey about local attitudes towards Brexit, the impact on the NHS and jobs and what people want to see happen next (see picture below). I was struck by the strength of feeling expressed – especially among younger people – about the prospects for the future of the country, and I will continue to campaign as best I can on this issue.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday a short debate took place in Westminster Hall on the need for greater autism and learning disability training in the NHS. This was especially relevant to the circumstances surrounding the tragic death in 2014 of four-year-old Harry Procko from St Ann’s. Harry’s family have been actively campaigning for Emergency Departments to have greater awareness of the behaviours and characteristics of autism so that a more appropriate assessment of medical symptoms can take place, which can be communicated differently than for patients without the condition. I have pressed the Government to review autism awareness training in the past, and the fact that other MPs have voiced similar concerns means that Ministers are now more aware of changes that should be considered.
- On Wednesday, MPs voted convincingly in favour of an amendment tabled by my colleagues Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn, which takes a small but significant step towards equality on abortion and marriage rights in Northern Ireland. Their proposal gives the Northern Ireland Secretary additional responsibilities to address “the incompatibility [between] the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland” and current province-wide prohibitions on abortion and same-sex marriage. While the law on these issues remains a devolved matter, the amendment – which passed with the support of 45 Conservative MPs – is a symbolically important statement of intent on Parliament’s part. It follows a majority vote earlier this week in favour of a bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland altogether, although this will not take effect in the absence of Government support. I would like to see British citizens in Northern Ireland enjoy the same civil rights available in the rest of the UK, and it’s clear that a substantial majority of MPs take the same view. The absence of a functioning government at Stormont has left the ball in Parliament’s court for now, and this was a well-crafted amendment which I was happy to support. I have always made my support both for a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage clear. Whilst I accept that the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland is of vital importance to maintaining peace, Parliament also has a responsibility to legislate on behalf of the people there.
- This week a new report from the Committee on Climate Change – the Government’s official advisory body on climate science – offered stark warnings about the impact of rising seas on Britain’s coastline. Their key finding: it is now looking inevitable that sea levels around Britain will rise by at least one metre, and potentially reach this level by the year 2100. This will put more than 1.2 million homes at risk of severe damage or destruction, alongside a combined 2,200 kilometres of roads and railway lines and 92 train stations. This damage imposes a huge economic as well as human cost, with current coastal protection policies – described in the report as “not fit for purpose” – forecast to require up to £30 billion. These warnings are squarely in line with the scientific consensus, and time is running out to take action on reducing emissions.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
You’d be forgiven for not noticing it, but amidst the Brexit turbulence the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his Budget on Monday at 3:30pm. Normally this is a major political occasions, but with everything else going on (and the Government lacking a sturdy majority in the Commons) it is widely expected to be a ‘treading water’ event, with very little controversy or difficult decisions being taken.
The British economy is in a state of limbo because of Brexit, with business investment and even consumer spending in abeyance before Parliament decides on whatever ‘deal’ the Prime Minister and the EU reach, if indeed they do reach a deal. If we are out of the Single Market, then British trade prospects may be weaker in the medium term, certain industrial sectors more adversely affected than others and potentially the strength of sterling could affect inflation rates and real wages too.
Rumours are that the Chancellor will give some discount to small retailers on business rates to help the High Street economy, and that the Office for Budget Responsibility have become more optimistic about tax revenues giving the Treasury some breathing space so taxes may not need to rise to match the Government’s promises on NHS spending.
So it is likely to be a story of big issues kicked into the long grass – which is particularly worrying for long term problems such as elderly social care funding, UK productivity and pensions reforms.
I’d love to know what you think the Chancellor should prioritise? I’m hoping to speak in response to the Budget and if you’ve particular suggestions I will try to raise them. Universal Credit has been a major concern recently so I’d expect the Chancellor to ease that transition and scale back some of the unfair cuts involved. Personally I think we should prioritise education and training far more, so that future skills are developed for the longer term. Let me know what your thoughts are?
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East