Meeting with Host Nottingham

Today I had a chance to meet with the volunteers from Host Nottingham (pictured), a group of local residents providing accommodation in their homes for destitute asylum seekers and newly recognised refugees.

You can find more information about their efforts at www.hostnottingham.org.uk and they are holding an open evening on Thursday 9th May from 6pm at the Sycamore Centre 33a Hungerhill Road NG3 4NB where they are based. If you have a spare room or have questions about how you can help, do please drop by.

It was concerning to hear the harrowing experiences of those who came into the UK fleeing awful circumstances in Syria and beyond – yet facing a ‘hostile environment’ when they arrived in the UK. I will be taking forward a number of suggestions for reforms that I heard about today.

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Saturday 30th March

By now you will have seen the news that yesterday’s extraordinary Friday sitting in the Commons resulted in MPs rejecting the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposal for the third time – and again by a significant margin. This now means that a new European Summit will be convened on April 10th ahead of a potential exit day of 12th April. The stubbornness of the Government’s ‘red lines’ on Brexit mean that the ‘deal’ has been widely derided; it fails to secure or even adequately specify what our future relationship will be with the EU and now with the prospect of Boris Johnson or a more right-wing PM negotiating it, this appeals less than ever.

It matters because our entire economy and as a result society and public services will feel the ripples from a fundamental break with our nearest European allies, with at best uncertainty over the Irish border and our key services industries – 80% of our economy – left in limbo.

I supported the moves by Oliver Letwin and other backbenchers this week to take over a series of Commons days to conduct ‘indicative votes’ to work through the various options available, in view of the Government’s refusal to let this occur. On Wednesday I voted for a confirmatory public vote on Brexit so that the opportunity for people to stay in the EU if that is their choice remains an option. I am very wary of casting my vote for options that do not allow the final consent of the British people, even if the options are for a ‘softer Brexit’, because we know that all Brexit models will leave the country poorer. I am glad that – because of votes from the Independent Group of MPs – the People’s Vote option recorded more positive votes than any other option on Wednesday.

We will have further rounds of indicative votes on Monday and then again on Wednesday 3rd. I have been working hard behind the scenes in negotiation with the proponents of other Brexit options like a ‘customs union’ and EFTA / Norway model urging them to attach a confirmatory public vote, so that we can join forces on a way ahead. So far those MPs have not moved in that direction, but I will keep persisting.

It may well be that the Prime Minister tries to have another fourth go at pushing her deal in the week ahead, but even if the Speaker allows such a repetitious process (and I doubt that he will), I do not think MPs will be bullied into accepting this ‘blindfold Brexit’ option. The Prime Minister’s offer to resign to appease her right-wing ERG MPs makes me even less likely to trust the Government, because who on earth knows what we will end up with out of the frying pan and into the fire!

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Saturday 23rd March

The maddening failure of British politics to grapple in a sensible way with the consequences of the Brexit referendum nearly three years ago continues apace. The Prime Minister thought it would be clever to emulate the ‘red lines’ of the right-wing ERG MPs in her Party and developed a deal so bad that even they winced at it – twice.

Signing away £40billion in exchange for zero certainty on the future EU-UK relationship was a catastrophic error. But Theresa May’s stubborn streak means she thought that last-minute brinkmanship would force MPs to accept a lousy deal. She was wrong.

Despite the PM’s attempt to blame everyone else for this situation in her inflammatory address to the nation on Wednesday, Parliament has consistently reached decisions whenever asked by the Executive, it’s just that they were decisions the Government disagrees with. We have collectively rejected the PM’s flawed deal twice with massive majorities – albeit MPs voted against it for differing reasons. There was also a firm view expressed by MPs against crashing out with no-deal.

When MPs were chosen by voters in 2017 we knew our job would be to hold the Government’s Brexit proposal up to the light, to test whether it was decent or not, and to go through the detail rigorously. We’ve done that. For the Prime Minister to deny any fault in her own approach isn’t just irritating me; it’s severely irritated her own Conservative MPs and it feels to me now that her leadership is hanging by a thread.

So with Theresa May forced to ask for more time from the EU, but without even a basic reason to explain what a Plan B approach would look like, the 27 leaders assembled at the European Union Summit and agreed to delay Brexit in a two-stage process. If the PM can twist the arms of the DUP and her MPs to approve her deal before Friday then she can have until 22 May to enact the consequential legislation. But if Parliament rejects her identical plan for a third time (and this week Speaker John Bercow cast doubt on the Government’s ability to keep presenting the same plan) then we have until 12th April – three weeks – to come up with a way forward.

President Macron explained today that the additional time was granted to give space for the UK Parliament to make decisions in a more orderly manner, rather than in a rush before next Friday. It feels clear to me now that there is a mood among MPs to take control of the decision-making process out of the hands of Theresa May so that a series of indicative votes on each option of Brexit can take place (and potentially allowing the British people the chance to reverse the process).

Sadly there is still scope for muddled decisions and for Ministers to try and ‘game’ this by rigging the process in their favour. And there is still a reluctance for the Labour Party to get off the fence. We’ll see what is proposed when Parliament reassembles on Monday.

In the meantime the British public are expressing their frustration more assertively: a Commons petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked so Britain can remain in the UK has attracted nearly 4 million signatures in 48 hours (and I agree that if needs be we should revoke Article 50 to conduct a People’s Vote with the option to remain!).

Today I will be joining the #PutItToThePeople March in London for a People’s Vote and I know that many are travelling from Nottingham to do the same. I hope we can take this path to resolving this Brexit debacle. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty.

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Friday 15th March

Today’s atrocious attack in New Zealand where so many innocent people were killed in an act of pure evil is a terrible reminder of the need for all parts of our community to come together to confront hatred, racism and Islamophobia wherever it rears its head across the world. Nations and neighbourhoods worldwide are today expressing their solidarity with the people of Christchurch and the Muslim community about this completely horrific act of terror.

Across all corners of the political divide we should unite and offer not just condolences to those suffering loss and grief today but also express our renewed desire to stand with those who battle prejudice and bigotry every day. Even though this attack occurred on the other side of the world, there are many people here in Nottingham who are shocked by this and so on behalf of my constituents in Nottingham East I commit to speaking out against the intolerance which can trigger such appalling acts of hatred and violence. We will not be bystanders and we must and will always do more to fight for an open, tolerant and peaceful society and against such murderous extremism.

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Popping into Pelham Kitchen

We’ve got some great small businesses in Nottingham East and located equidistant between Sherwood Rise and Carrington on Pelham Road is the increasingly popular Pelham Kitchen, serving breakfasts and lunches to many of those working and living in that area daily.

I popped in today to speak with the team (pictured below with proprietor Rebecca England) and they are running a music quiz in support of charity ‘Water Aid’ this evening with tasty bites from 7:30pm if you’re passing by!

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Friday 8th March

There will be three days of crucial Commons decisions on Brexit in the week ahead. On Tuesday the Prime Minister has promised to bring her ‘deal’ for a further vote of MPs. For the past month Theresa May has been trying to persuade the EU and Irish Government to drop the so-called ‘backstop’ insurance policy that the open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will stay open, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. Unsurprisingly, the Irish Government and the EU are refusing to let go of this crucial principle. And I can’t really blame them. The relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a sensitive one where peace has been won and should not be jeopardised for the sake of the right-wing ERG demands on Theresa May’s backbenches. So with Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also failing to get any key concessions on this, it is highly likely that the Prime Minister will fail again to win support for her approach (although nothing is ever certain!).

If the PM fails on Tuesday, we then move on Wednesday to the second crucial day – where the PM has promised Parliament will get a chance to finally decide on whether we should exit on a ‘no-deal’ basis. Given MPs have already said once before that we don’t want a ‘no -deal’ crash-out scenario, I fully expect the same result. MPs will say ‘no’ to no-deal.

This means that on Thursday, the third big day of votes, we will be confronted with deciding how best to instruct the Prime Minister on a request for an extension to the exit day, currently due on 29th March, but now clearly not a feasible prospect. Personally I want to see an extension to the Article 50 period sufficient to allow a People’s Vote, so that the British public – in the full knowledge now of how disastrous Brexit is looking – can decide finally on whether we exit on terms agreed by Parliament or choose instead to stay in the EU and move on.

As you will know from my previous MP Updates, I am exasperated at the pathetic lack of leadership from both the Tories and Labour frontbench, who have dodged and hedged this issue rather than stand up for the jobs and livelihoods at stake. We still don’t really know what the PM will do, nor do we have a clear picture from the Labour Party – despite the warmer words since the creation of our Independent Group of MPs towards the notion of a People’s Vote.

It is high time that we got on with a decision and so I will be voting on the basis this is the time to decide. If we can extend for the public to make this decision then that should happen. If the EU don’t give a clear extension for this then we should be ready to suspend the Article 50 period so that the UK can hold its own public vote of our own volition in our own way. Having won the right to ‘stop the clock’ at the European Court back in December, I believe this option may well need to be considered shortly.

It matters because our public finances and public services face further cuts if Brexit drags our economy down. The complacency on show from both the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor about our public finances is breath-taking, and on Wednesday in the ‘Spring Statement’ we need an acknowledgement from both frontbenches about the damage Brexit will do to our NHS, schools, environmental and other key public services.

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Sutherland House School Visit

It was a pleasure to be shown around Sutherland House School – a specialist Autism East Midlands school – located on Bath Street opposite Victoria Park earlier today. I met with the senior team and was taken around the school by Deputy Head Kari Anson (pictured below with two pupils at lunchtime!).

The special school for up to 94 students with autism aged 3-19 years is located in purpose-developed facilities where the students attend from within a daily commutable distance covering the local authorities of Nottinghamshire, Nottingham City, Derbyshire, Derby City, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Leicester City, Rutland, Doncaster and even South Yorkshire. Their multi-disciplinary support teams include Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Psychologists, working closely with experienced teachers and teaching assistants to create a personalised pathway that caters for the needs of the individual student. In recent years the restricted funding for local authorities has seen pupils find it harder to obtain this specialist level of often one-to-one support – but the work they do is so important.

Autism Awareness Week is coming up in early April and hopefully there will be a strong level of participation across Nottingham.

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Friday 1st March

It is a national disgrace that – with just four weeks left to go – the Government and UK Parliament have still not agreed a settled approach to Brexit. The Conservative Party is still consumed with internal arguments about the desire of right-wing ERG MPs to time-limit the Good Friday Agreement. And the Labour Party has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to a position which perhaps involves supporting a public vote with the option to stay in the EU.

Everything that has happened in the past fortnight has reinforced my decision to join with other MPs in the centre ground of British politics and form the Independent Group. By doing so, we have forced the Labour Party to move towards a People’s Vote, although there are still too many caveats, terms and conditions to be totally sure that is how Labour MPs will vote. (We have also ensured that the issue of antisemitism inside the Labour Party could not be swept under the carpet any longer – and that Chris Williamson’s suspension from Labour was unavoidable). Similarly, the threat of moderate Tory MPs rebelling against a harsh ‘no deal’ Brexit has also forced the Prime Minister to offer MPs a vote on 14th March on potentially extending the Article 50 exit day, again something that would not have occurred had my new colleagues Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry left the Conservative Party.

When MPs take a stand on matters of principle, this can make a difference. So I respect the decision of Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa to resign as a Government aide and table his amendment protecting the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. It is a badge of shame that both of the main parties have waved through the ending of free movement across the EU through the Immigration Bill recently – something that will hit many generations to come.

I supported an amendment on Wednesday to make preparations for a public vote on Brexit, but sadly Labour wouldn’t get behind that despite support we gathered from members of five different parties. The Independent Group also managed to extract Government documents highlighting the massive costs and damage of a no-deal Brexit.

Today’s news about the £33m pointless ‘compensation’ for Eurotunnel from Chris Grayling’s botched emergency ferry provision shows how in three years we’ve got from fake promises of £millions for the NHS on the side of a bus, to the realities of a wasteful Brexit losing £millions down a tunnel.

The next three weeks will be intense and the fate of the country’s economy and place in the world is at stake. I am glad that as part of the new Independent Group I am part of a team able to put the national interest first and foremost, and not focused on internal party wrangling for political purposes.

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Saturday 23rd February

It is an understatement to say it has been a busy week in Westminster. Having reached the heart-breaking conclusion that the party I have been a member of for over 30 years can no longer be saved – hijacked by Momentum’s machine politics and agenda – I had no choice but to resign. The Labour party that I joined and fought so hard for is now Labour in name only.

Monday’s announcement that we were creating a new Independent Group of MPs was a big moment personally and politically — and in turn started conversations across the country about the choices we face. Many of my former Labour parliamentary colleagues are privately wrestling with two questions: can Labour be saved? And is Jeremy Corbyn really the right person to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

But the Independent Group is not just a reflection on the state of the Labour Party. The decision by Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston to quit the Conservatives in a historic break came after the prime minister’s relentless shift towards a right-wing Brexit agenda, which they felt betrayed the traditional “one nation” values they had signed up for when they joined. Both of Britain’s main political parties, having moved towards the ideological fringe, have lost the confidence of their moderate, mainstream representatives in the same week.

We have come together in the Independent Group of MPs around a set of values. To many, they may seem straightforward — but so many principles we have taken for granted now need not just re-stating, but championing afresh. We believe that Britain is a great country of which people are rightly proud; where the first duty of government is to defend its people and do what it takes to safeguard our national security.

We believe Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress and where government has the responsibility to ensure the sound stewardship of taxpayers’ money. From a strong economy we can invest in public services, collectively delivered through government action, widening opportunities and safeguarding the vulnerable.

We share the common view that individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered to them and that everyone can and should make a contribution to society — and have that contribution recognised fairly.

In a parliamentary democracy, representatives are not just the delegates of their party machines. MPs are individuals elected to exercise their judgment and show leadership. In our case, our values have remained constant but it is our parties than have moved away in recent times. It should not need saying, but we have to defend our free media, the rule of law and our open, tolerant and respectful democratic traditions. Internationally the multilateral rules-based order must be strengthened and reformed to meet contemporary challenges, including globalisation, technological advances and climate change.

And we believe passionately in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence and counter-terrorism. The Brexit disaster has already shaken the British economy and we will not stand by on the sidelines while the main parties put political calculations ahead of the national interest.
In short, we believe there are distinctive values at the centre ground, shared by millions of people, which must now be given voice. It would be terribly wrong if the British people had only Corbynism or Europhobia to choose between at the next general election.

It has been obvious in recent years that British politics is broken. The parties act like a cartel carving up political blocks of “votes” as if they own them. We are not yet a political party, but we feel strongly that votes should be earned and not taken for granted any longer.

Many people are enthused by the idea that some big changes are coming to British politics and the challenge will be to meet those expectations. But the path will not be smooth and we will make mistakes. These are early days and we will now want to listen and reflect on the public reaction. As a group of independents those searching for differing opinions will certainly find them.

But we have more in common between us and mainstream British public opinion than the parties we leave behind. We chose not to walk away from politics but stay and change our broken political system. We will try our best to build a better way forward in the weeks and months ahead.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds who have been in touch, expressing support and understanding for what is a difficult decision. At one point over 700,000 people tried to visit our website simultaneously www.theindependent.group

To have had such an overwhelming expression from local people is really heartening – and by a ratio of 3:1 pleased with the decision I made. This is mirrored very much in the fair editorial in the Nottingham Post this week (read below) who rightly reflect the level of interest in the idea of something new. You can read the full article of the interview I gave with the Nottingham Post here.

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QMC Microbiology Department Visit

Earlier today I had the chance to visit the Microbiology Department at Queen’s Medical Centre and talk to the team of scientists (pictured below) whose job it is to analyse the medical samples taken from patients across Nottingham – over a million of which are assessed at that site each year.

I walked through the end-to-end process of how they test for certain conditions and it is clear that antibiotic resistance is now the number one challenge facing those with a bacterial infection that has mutated and unresponsive to the medicines we’ve taken for granted for so long. Because bacteria reproduce every 20 minutes, the process of evolution is far swifter than for other organisms – which risks making obsolete the twenty or so different antibiotics we have in medical science at our disposal. And the big pharmaceutical firms have little incentive to research new antibiotics because they are often ‘one off’ drugs with a small stream of revenue for them as a result.

We therefore need to develop some serious interventions on this issue!

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