Sunday 5th May

The British political system was once held in high esteem worldwide. Yet the established parties are now so broken and Brexit is such a mess it is hard to see us regaining that reputation for good governance any time soon. The revelation that the UK’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was sacked in relation to the leaking of national security information in respect of Chinese involvement in British infrastructure projects typifies the degraded state of our politics.

It now appears that neither Conservatives nor Labour can be trusted on national security matters. Both have moved to the ideological fringes, one obsessed with Europhobia and the other obsessed with command-and-control statism while failing to tackle its serious antisemitism problem. What’s worse is the sense that on Brexit they are about to do a backroom stitch-up and deprive the public of a final say People’s Vote. When there is no decent Brexit on offer and every option will leave the country poorer, a confirmatory referendum is clearly the best way forward.

Having left Labour in February, I am more certain than ever that we have to find a way to reboot our politics and completely change the choices that the public have. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for an evidence-led rather than ideology-led politics, where we have a well regulated market economy generating the money we need for decent public services and to support a compassionate society properly protecting the vulnerable. I will continue to try my best to build this – hence the creation of Change UK. Do please get in touch if you share this assessment and, like me, want to stand up now and play a part in doing something about it.

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National Grid Apprentices

On Friday I had a chance to visit the Nottinghamshire training facility for the apprentice engineers who work for the National Grid.

We take our electricity supply so much for granted, but it is a highly skilled industry and I had the chance to look around some of their very extensive training provision (pictured below in the non-live mock-up sub-station area). It was particularly interesting to hear how electricity demand is due to double as we shift our transport energy sources away from petrol and diesel and onto the mains power grid, which will involve significant changes in the way we consume and plug into the national grid.

The visit taught me how there are some significant practical infrastructure consequences to the much-needed environmental shift away from carbon emissions.

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Saturday 27th April

With Parliament returning after the Easter break this week it has become clear that the urgency to sort out the Brexit limbo into which the country has stagnated has also gone. Both the Prime Minister and Labour leader are going through the motions of pretending to ‘talk’, because neither particularly want to face up to the real choice that needs to be made.

In truth, we can all now see that the Brexit as promised in that referendum three years ago is undeliverable. It’s impossible to generate extra resources for the NHS, because under all forms of Brexit the economy will be poorer and tax revenues will fall, not rise. We also now know that our trading prospects and business success will be impeded by a further three (four or five?) years of tortuous negotiations on a ‘future relationship’ deal, even if the divorce terms are settled. Add to this the impossibility of a frictionless open border in Ireland if we are outside the single market but the Republic isn’t, and it’s quite clear that this whole project is in real need of reappraisal.

I can see this just drifting along again until the end of October, like an ‘essay crisis’ government deferring the work needed until the last minute. Meanwhile European elections look set to be held on 23rd May, and I’ve been working hard as the campaign coordinator for Britain’s newest political party – Change UK The Independent Group. We believe there should be a People’s Vote with the chance to Remain in the EU. A very simple proposition and the best way out of the Brexit mess.

It pains me to see the Labour Party still prevaricating on Brexit, and we’ve come to expect ever more Europhobia from the Tories. I’m sure Theresa May would like to call off the European elections if she can, because the Tories are not polling particularly well. But at least these elections offer an opportunity for the British people to express their view – and I hope that people will do just that.

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Friday 12th April

It was the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Belfast Agreement this week.

Twenty-one years of a fragile and hard-won process of peace and reconciliation. A settlement now sadly taken for granted by Brexiteer politicians pretending they can drag the UK out of the EU and magically keep all the benefits of an open Irish border. The risks to the Good Friday Agreement were overlooked in the 2016 referendum. As were the risks to frictionless free trade, to just-in-time manufacturing, to services maintained across the continent.

But now we know more. And we know – because the Government themselves have told us – that every form of Brexit will leave the country poorer.
Yet this week saw the British Government continue to take risks with jobs and livelihoods. After nearly three wasted years, Theresa May continues to prioritise the hardliners in the Conservative Party – without accepting that their ideological fanaticism can never be satisfied.

The Opposition are also preparing to facilitate their own form of Brexit. If you have a strong sense of foreboding that Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister are about to carve up a deal for their own mutual party advantage, then you’re right to be worried.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The EU Council decision on Wednesday night to extend the Article 50 deadline to 31st October means we can, if we want, take this window of opportunity to conduct a People’s Vote and let the British people bring this whole debacle to an end far sooner than the many years of drawn-out negotiations needed to strike a long-term trade relationship with Britain outside the EU.

That’s why I’m determined to fight for Britain’s voice in Europe – and if the European elections do take place, we must send this message loud and clear: we want a People’s Vote to give the public an option to ‘remain’ so we can champion the reforms needed in the EU.

Our country should be a rule maker, not a rule taker. Brexit shouldn’t proceed without the British people giving their consent. While Labour and the Tories prioritise their internal party management issues, it’s about time the best interests of the country came first. If we act now, we can all make the difference – and change politics so that those on the ideological fringe no longer call the shots.

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Nottingham City Transport Visit

I was very impressed with the performance statistics and plans set out by the team at Nottingham City Transport when I visited earlier today – they operate fifty routes across the city providing two thirds of our public transport journeys and have an impressive 95% customer satisfaction score.

Nottingham has one of the highest bus usage levels per head of population of anywhere in the country outside London, and they’re winning awards including ‘Driver of the Year’ on the 89 purple route via Mansfield Road!

I visited to see the roll-out of the new bio-gas bus fleet on the Brown line up to Bulwell (pictured below), a programme that will help tackle poor air quality and reduce carbon emissions as well. They are taking on 67 new gas buses of the highest efficiency in 2019, and it is a credit to this 82% council-owned company that they are prioritising environmental improvements so much.

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Friday 5th April

So much has happened in the House of Commons this week:

  • On Monday we voted on a second round of ‘indicative Brexit’ votes. Those proposing different forms of Brexit continued to resist agreeing to a People’s Vote. But despite this, the concept of a ‘confirmatory public vote’ achieved the highest number of votes, followed by a customs union-style Brexit. Because the evidence suggests that all forms of Brexit will leave the country poorer, I am not prepared to support anything as damaging without at the very least giving the British people a final say on whether to proceed. A People’s Vote nearly fell off the list of options when Labour MPs voted for a Customs Union Brexit. In our Independent Group we voted against it primarily because it will not on its own deliver the frictionless trade needed to avoid a hard Irish border and a ruinous hard Brexit. The Lib Dems split on the matter but the SNP and Green MP saw the trap that had been laid and joined us in the ‘no’ lobby. If we hadn’t, the Customs Union option would have won a majority and the People’s Vote campaign would have fallen to the way side. In the event PV topped the poll and we remain the only way out of the Brexit crisis.
     
  • On Tuesday the Prime Minister’s eight hour long Cabinet meeting resulted in her asking Jeremy Corbyn in to hatch a joint plan on proceeding with Brexit. This is concerning because Corbyn’s priorities didn’t include a People’s Vote, although other Labour MPs have asserted that this must be the case. The main parties carving up a deal between them would be concerning if they both agreed to supply votes for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement without any guarantee of a public vote with a remain option in exchange. Tonight the talks seem to have halted – bizarrely with the Government saying they are reluctant to make changes to the non-binding ‘Political Declaration’, when surely that was the whole point of No10’s talks! Difficult to tell at this stage whether this is a mutually agreed ‘pause’ or not.
     
  • On Wednesday MPs took control of the Commons order paper to secure time for debate on a ‘Business of the House Motion’ proposing that the ‘Article 50 extension’ Bill – as a safeguard against a crash-out no-deal Brexit – could be passed in that sitting. Hilary Benn’s amendment to have another round of indicative votes resulted in a 310-310 draw, with the Speaker using his casting vote for the first time in decades, which meant that amendment fell. This is a pity because I believe the next time we run indicative votes we can find a compromise ‘composite’ between, for instance, the Customs Union-plus-Confirmatory Public vote, for which a majority should be attainable. Fortunately the main motion did pass – and we proceeded with passing the extension Bill by the slimmest of margins: 312 votes to 311 near midnight that evening.
     
  • Working with other MPs from across parties I have been drafting different amendments, looking ahead at the protections necessary to prevent the UK falling over the cliff edge, and pressing Ministers to consider a longer extension as necessary so we can find a way through. The news today that next week’s EU Summit might be ready to grant a flexible extension suggests it is possible European Parliamentary elections could proceed on 23rd May. I hope that they do – because as long as we are in the room in Europe we ought to have Britain’s voice heard around the table, still deciding the key issues affecting our continent.

Oh, and this week we also had the Commons chamber shut down early yesterday because of a major water leak and a series of naked protestors in the public gallery. Which summed up what extraordinary times these are (and, to be fair to the protestors, I share their frustration that massive issues like the climate change crisis have been pushed off the agenda by this Brexit debacle!).

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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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