Tuesday 25th October

Despite passing his Brexit Bill at second reading, Boris Johnson was strangely reluctant to allow longer scrutiny of the detailed 110 pages of his legislation and over 300 pages of his withdrawal agreement and protocols this week. So much so that he deliberately ‘paused’ his own legislation on Tuesday, refused to let MPs work on it this week, and is now demanding a general election rather than getting on with the line-by-line debates.

Could it be that Boris Johnson doesn’t actually want anyone to discover the consequences of what he is proposing, preferring instead for those who are bored, impatient and frustrated to just wave anything through?

The reason the Prime Minister has failed to meet his own 31st October ‘do-or-die’ deadline is the arrogant and dismissive way he has approached getting the issue dealt with in Parliament. First he tried to shut the place down for five weeks in September – a move deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Then he unilaterally insisted on a very ‘hard Brexit’ deal, ignoring his own DUP allies in Northern Ireland and proposing a new border in the Irish Sea, so any goods coming from Northern Ireland into England, Wales or Scotland will need export declaration paperwork. Unsurprisingly, the DUP have decided that this jeopardises the future of the United Kingdom and won’t support him!

Johnson’s plan to try and rush through the rest of the Bill committee stage through the Commons and Lords and demand a general election thereafter isn’t going to work, and nor should it. There is a growing consensus that a Brexit Bill which includes a confirmatory public vote is probably the last remaining option out of this quagmire. And when the political game-playing by Johnson is over on Monday, I hope that a cross-party backbench alliance will come together and get on with this.

Ministers are the architects of their own misfortune and could never have expected Parliament to merely rubber-stamp their damaging Brexit plan. I’ve been pressing Ministers all week to tell the country what the economic impact assessment is, but they point-blank refuse. Earlier Treasury analysis suggests it’s barely a step up from a no-deal Brexit. And the Johnson deal keeps open the risk of no-deal if a trade agreement can’t be reached in 2020.

MPs shouldn’t be bullied by the Prime Minister and his advisers. We have a duty to pay close attention to the consequences of what this particular version of Brexit will do to businesses, jobs and public services – and not to jump to artificial party political deadlines. Johnson knew very well he couldn’t fulfil a “promise” of 31st October and the bluster and threats feel very much like a smokescreen to distract the public from seeing how his word now means very little.

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Sunday 20th October

Many people may not have expected that, by opening the Brexit box in the 2016 referendum, we would still be working through the consequences. But separating the UK from the European Union is probably the biggest constitutional, economic and societal change of the past fifty years – so it was never going to be straightforward. Those who promised it would be the “easiest thing” in history were deliberately misleading people into voting ‘leave’. In our modern global economy, there are millions of jobs and livelihoods bound up into this.

Lots has happened this week. Boris Johnson struck a draft withdrawal agreement and ‘political declaration on the future relationship’ on Thursday with the other leaders of the EU27 states. This Johnson deal is considerably more harmful for the UK’s prospects than even Theresa May’s deal. This is because:

  • the future plans would herald widespread divergence from higher EU standards and deregulation within the UK
  • the notion of a ‘level playing field’ on social, environmental and employment standards in Theresa May’s deal has been downgraded from the enforceable Withdrawal Agreement instead to the unenforceable political declaration
  • the Johnson plan involves treacle-like border checks and customs administration for Britain
  • the plan leaves in limbo the questions of security arrangements, and also for the services industries
  • he is proposing a new border in the Irish sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who will remain in the EU customs union and single market whereas the rest of us will have to enduring customs checks and costs. Unsurprisingly many in Northern Ireland dislike that they are both leaving the EU and becoming rule-takers, but also being placed in a separate effective jurisdiction than Britain. The Government have thrown their long-standing allies the DUP under the bus on this, and the DUP voted against the Government as a result

I was in Parliament all day on Saturday, the first such sitting since the Falklands war, to vote on the Johnson plan. I urged the Prime Minister to reveal the economic impact assessment of his deal, but he refused to do so. Sir Oliver Letwin proposed an amendment as an ‘insurance policy’ against a no-deal crash-out (because if Johnson got his motion through, the safeguarding Benn Act would be disposed of and hard Brexiteer Tories could then resume pursuit of their no deal preferred route).

Letwin’s amendment won by 322 to 306 votes. So the Commons resolved that it had considered the Johnson plan, but withheld approval unless and until full legislation to ratify the withdrawal agreement is passed. As a result, Johnson was forced to send the letter requesting an extension beyond October 31st to the EU Council – and quite right too.

This is such a serious issue, it’s too momentous to be rubber-stamped out of impatience or frustration. We are far more likely to bring this whole issue to a conclusion sooner with a final say for the public in a People’s Vote – for which a million people came to London to march for yesterday.

This coming week will be equally busy. Tomorrow Ministers will attempt to re-run the Saturday vote, and I hope the Speaker will rule this out of order. We will then start debating the Government’s full Bill on withdrawal, which will be published tomorrow. This shouldn’t be rushed just for the sake of Johnson’s political deadline. There is too much at stake. And I will do what I can to scrutinise this closely, and support a confirmatory public vote with ‘remain’ as an option on the ballot paper.

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Citizens Advice Nottingham

Each week, Citizens Advice Nottingham help hundreds of local residents with advice and support, advising on how to cope with heavy debts, navigate welfare benefits, immigration and many other legal and official issues that can create real stress for many people.

They are the largest provider of ‘help-to-claim’ services working alongside the Department for Work & Pensions to assist people with Universal Credit matters. And they are commissioned by the City Council and other councils across the county alongside other advice agencies to provide advice services, with many able to walk-in and ask for help.

I had a chance to meet the team at their new accessible premises at 16-18 Maid Marian Way earlier today (see pictured) and it was brilliant to see the great new facilities in action. In support of their ‘help-to-claim’ work, I’ll be pressing the new Work & Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey to clarify that there will be grant funding for that work beyond 2020.

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Friday 11th October

What exactly is going on in the final week of Brexit ‘negotiations’? The European Union and Irish Government have set out their view that no hard border in Ireland is acceptable – and that the integrity of the EU Single Market cannot be compromised. Boris Johnson, in hock to the DUP and right-wing ERG MPs, says that all of the UK including Northern Ireland must leave the customs union.

After Johnson’s initial proposal for customs checks ‘away from the border’ didn’t fly, a further proposal – as yet unpublished – has been put to the EU and after meeting Johnson the Irish Teo said that it might be a basis for further discussion.

That discussion better conclude soon, because Ministers from across Europe start to assemble this Tuesday ahead of the full Council summit in Brussels on Thursday. We will know then whether Boris Johnson has reached provisional agreement with the EU on an exit plan – which in turn would need parliamentary approval starting with the Commons session planned extraordinarily for Saturday 19th October.

I am afraid that the Boris Johnson plan, far from improving the situation, looks as though it could be as unworkable as the ‘Chequers’ fudge on customs administration over which he resigned as Foreign Secretary back in the summer of 2018.

What’s worse, the signs are that UK Government are opting for a really ‘hard Brexit’ option for the rest of Britain. Taking a look at the Government’s own analysis from last November, this shows the Johnson Brexit hitting our economy far harder than the Theresa May Brexit (see graphs below).

Under that scenario, real wages would be reduced by 6.4%, significantly worsening public finances and higher borrowing (and austerity), with very high bureaucratic costs facing business for all the customs admin form-filling dragging on our exports and imports. I raised the alarm about this £15billion of costs in the Commons this week. A basic ‘free trade agreement’ (FTA) Brexit will largely exclude our services industries (currently 80% of the economy).

I am firmly of the view that – deal or no-deal – the way to finally resolve Brexit is to legislate for a confirmatory referendum with ‘remaining in the EU’ on the ballot paper. I hope we as MPs will get a chance to vote on that shortly, as my sense is there is now nearly a majority for this. And a growing view that a general election, muddled up with wider questions about who should form a government, will only make the situation far worse. The Brexit mess needs sorting out specifically with a Brexit question put back to the British people.

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Friday 4th October

Boris Johnson’s proposed ‘solution’ on Brexit has caused many to wonder if he is deliberately tabling a proposal worse than Theresa May, in order to justify then pressing ahead with ‘no-deal’ on 31st October. As well as moving further from the Single Market by downgrading to a free trade agreement type relationship for the UK and EU, his proposals for Ireland have completely departed from the Government’s previous guarantees.

It used to be that Theresa May’s government was intent on frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Free movement is integral to the peace and stability that has been enjoyed over the past twenty years. But in order to placate the DUP and right-wing Conservative Brexiteer MPs, Johnson is now proposing that Northern Ireland departs entirely from the customs union and imposes a tariffs frontier with inspections and checks – albeit he claims will magically happen ‘away from the border’ by as-yet unspecified technologies. I am staggered that he thinks the government of Ireland let alone the EU will not question how this can sit with previous commitments (also enshrined in UK law!) to respect the settlement of the Good Friday Agreement.

By proposing a customs frontier and hard border in this way, the Prime Minister is clearly less bothered about getting a deal agreed with the EU and more bothered about appealing to his own Tory MPs and the DUP. Whereas Theresa May got agreement with the EU, she lost her majority on her own benches. But equally there’s no point Boris Johnson getting agreement on his own benches if he can’t reach agreement with the EU.

My suspicion is that Boris Johnson’s top priority is shoring up divisions in the Conservative Party and weakening Brexit Party support, so he can head towards a general election – and brush aside the risks of endangering the Good Friday Agreement and a Brexit deal in the process. He seems content to head towards crashing out with no-deal, regardless of the consequences for jobs and livelihoods in Nottingham or elsewhere. This is not a good state of affairs.

Fortunately the Safeguard Bill – now the Benn Act – requires the PM to request an extension to Article 50. Johnson pretends he won’t abide by that law, but he has no choice in the matter. This will be several weeks of high drama politics ahead. But we cannot allow Johnson to put his party political priorities ahead of doing the right thing for the country on Brexit. And I still believe that a final say referendum represents to best way to resolve Brexit, once and for all.

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Friday 27th September

The judgment of the Supreme Court, delivered by Lady Hale on Tuesday with such meticulous force and clarity, made me very proud to be British.
We have long taken the ‘rule of law’ for granted, but the decision by Boris Johnson to shut down Parliament for five weeks at a time of national crisis for his own political reasons, was clearly a step too far.

The Supreme Court agreed this was an unlawful act. They upheld the supremacy of our parliamentary democracy and rebuked Johnson for his abuse of executive power. Yet the Prime Minister has refused to apologise or show any contrition.

So Parliament resumed business on Wednesday – there are hundreds of pressing issues where we demand answers from the Government – especially on their lack of progress negotiating a Brexit outcome.

When questioned, Boris Johnson doubled-down with inflammatory and populist rhetoric, using dog-whistle phrases implying MPs were “surrendering” and questioning our patriotism. I challenged Boris Johnson on this, appealing to him to desist in mining the seam of populism and extremism himself.

I also asked Ministers about the progress needed on key legislation ahead of Brexit, especially the Trade Bill without which we can’t adequately scrutinise Johnson’s priorities for the trade deal he is apparently seeking with Trump and the US.

Politics has sadly descended into a place where the main parties have shifted to the ideological fringes. A clear compromise exists if Boris Johnson does get a ‘deal’ with the EU, to then put this back to the public in a confirmatory referendum. I will still argue that the best deal is remaining in the EU and that should be the public’s choice – not a decision solely for MPs.

We should be making decisions based on what is best for jobs and livelihoods and the future of the country, weighing up the evidence and listening to the arguments carefully. I will keep trying my best to prevent politics decaying into a fight between extremes, but this is a very difficult state of affairs at present. I will try, as always, to keep you updated with developments.

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Local Pharmacists

We take then for granted far too often, but our local pharmacists play a crucial role in maintaining good health in the community.

Earlier today I was asked by the officers of Nottinghamshire’s Local Pharmaceutical Committees to visit one of our local chemists – so it was a pleasure to have the chance to see the team at work at Boots in Sherwood on Mansfield Road. As well as dispensing medicines and medical devices to hundreds of local residents (see picture below in the Boots pharmacy), they also have operational responsibility at that site for sorting and despatching medicines for dozens of local elderly care homes across the county. Behind the scenes the pharmacists have to manage a complex supply chain potentially life-saving medicines accurately, checked and double-checked, and at the right time. Their national NHS subsidy has remained flat this year despite demand soaring.

As an increasingly important part of the frontline of our NHS I will do what I can to ensure public policy assists our pharmacists, especially if Brexit threatens to induce shortages because of disruptions at the border.

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Friday 20th September

Parliament is still shut down, despite the Brexit crisis looming. The Supreme Court have heard arguments this week for reopening the House of Commons so MPs can find out more from Ministers and Boris Johnson about what exactly will be the fate of our country in just six weeks’ time.

I hope that the Supreme Court will confirm the view of the Scottish Courts that ‘prorogation’ was unlawful and improper, and that Boris Johnson shouldn’t be able to make the Queen sign an order to close the place down in this way. It’s not just Brexit – there have been several important Bills also lost because of this peremptory action: no Trade Bill, no Agriculture Bill, no Domestic Violence or Divorce Reform Bill.

We learn from the media – rather than in Parliament – that Johnson has presented some technical “non-papers” (whatever they are) about the supposed ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop safeguarding a border-free Ireland. Irish Deputy PM Simon Coveney said today that while they are hoping for new proposals from the British Government that they have not yet seen anything to justify reopening the Withdrawal Agreement. This afternoon the EU appeared to have assessed these proposals as still requiring a regulatory and customs border.

When Parliament is allowed to return, I do now hope we can opt to resolve this whole dilemma with a final referendum on whether to proceed with whatever Boris Johnson has (or has not) devised, versus remaining in the EU. I will campaign unequivocally for ‘Remain’. It is maddening that today Jeremy Corbyn refused to say he would do so as well. While I understand the LibDem desire for ‘revoke’, I cannot agree that this should just be imposed without a fresh referendum so that this British people can have the final say. ‘Revoke’ should only be used in extremis in order to create space and time for a final referendum to take place. A general election covers too many issues to provide that clear decision. So my efforts will be to achieve a People’s Vote as soon as possible, so we can decide and then move on.

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Friday 13th September

Parliament was only sitting for one day this week – an appalling situation at this time of national crisis – and yet so much has happened since I emailed last Friday.

On Sunday Amber Rudd resigned from the Cabinet, voicing her disagreements with Boris Johnson on Brexit and the expulsion of 21 moderate Conservative MPs.

On Monday, the final day that Parliament was allowed to sit by the Government, we managed to secure two emergency debates; one on reasserting the rule of law in the United Kingdom (which is an astonishing thing to have to do, given Boris Johnson’s threat to ignore the law preventing no-deal), and the other resolving that Ministers must publish their internal ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ document detailing the scenarios that could occur in a no-deal Brexit. Only six pages were published by the Government in response to this – but they reveal scenarios that could include:

  • Up to three months of lorry delays at the ports blocking flow with waits of up to two days
  • Potential delays to short shelf-life medicines and veterinary medicines
  • Reductions in supplies of certain types of fresh foods and packaging
  • Low income groups disproportionately affected by fuel and food price rises
  • Public order concerns in the event of protests and counter-protests
  • Business relocations to avoid tariffs

On Wednesday the Scottish Courts ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen on proroguing Parliament was “improper” and that the shutting down of Parliament was invalid. The Supreme Court will hear the Government’s appeal against that on Tuesday next week and it is in my view essential that Parliament is recalled and lets us get back to the business of interrogating Ministers about their plans (and lack of them).

It is now achingly obvious that sorting out Brexit means we must have a final confirmatory referendum as soon as possible, and not a ‘general’ election which by its nature mixes up a whole load of other issues. It’s no surprise Boris Johnson thinks that will be to his advantage. He wants to force the country to accept his version of Brexit by juxtaposing it against the prospect of Corbyn in Number 10, which many people find equally unpalatable because of Labour’s descent into antisemitism, Marxism and threats to national security. Boris mustn’t get away with blackmailing the country in this way.

I am glad to say that MPs from across the Commons are now realising that we must resolve Brexit once and for all with a People’s Vote. And I expect that will be the primary focus of debate when the Commons is allowed to reconvene in mid-October.

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