Friday 15th February

Who should we hold responsible for the current Brexit debacle?

It’s not a secret that I believe Brexit presents serious risks to the jobs and livelihoods of people across Nottingham and the rest of the country. I hold this Prime Minister culpable for a catastrophic approach to negotiations – agreeing to defer the most important part regarding our ‘future relationship’ with the EU until after we leave; a recipe for a bad deal. If we want closure on this whole saga, we need to let the public have the opportunity to think again and stay in the EU if they wish. Otherwise we will be spending the next five years arguing over what sort of deal we want with Europe.

On Thursday the Commons debated this issue again – in which I spoke about the consequences for trade, public services, jobs and of time-limiting the Good Friday Agreement and open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic. If you have time, you can watch my full speech at the link here.

I voted for the SNP amendment to extend the Article 50 exit date for three months, as did 40 other Labour MPs, but the Labour frontbench – frustratingly – decided to officially abstain. The Government motion was then defeated because 60 ERG Tory right-wing MPs wanted to send a message to Theresa May. But we are no nearer sorting this mess out.

Ideally, we should have had action this week to snap out of the delusion that the Prime Minister can get the Irish Government to stand back on the Good Friday Agreement. I am worried we simply don’t have adequate time left to legislate to instruct the PM to request an extension of Article 50. But because the Labour numbers against this outrageous situation are too weak, our fate now rests in the hopes of getting Tory Government Ministers to resign and stop us crashing out. This illustrates perfectly the problem with Labour’s lack of leadership against a Brexit disaster. There should be no equivocation. But the leadership have turned a blind-eye to frontbench shadow Ministers abstaining and allowing the Government to win the day. That is not what the Labour Party should be about – and I find it heart-breaking we are in this situation.

I have received much criticism for raising the alarm about Labour’s fence-sitting stance on Brexit. But at this eleventh-hour I feel a duty to put what I believe are the country’s interests and Nottingham’s interests ahead of party political calculations. It’s just too important – and I hope that very soon Labour will back the conference policy for a People’s Vote before it is too late.

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Friday 8th February

With Theresa May still chasing unicorns across Europe, pretending that she can get the EU & Irish Government to agree a Brexit deal giving no guarantees about freedom of movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the threat of a Brexit cliff edge continues to loom closer – with now fewer than 50 days to go.

There is deep frustration in Westminster that the Government are delaying and preventing a firm decision on how to proceed. My hope is that when we vote again on Thursday 14th February the Commons can put a grown-up process in place to get to a decision. If Parliament is still in deadlock, then it’s obvious the whole question must go back to the public in a referendum giving them the final say.

I was disappointed when on Wednesday Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the Prime Minister offering to enable a Brexit deal without a public vote. A ‘customs union’ might offer some protections, in the same way as an airbag might lessen injuries in a car crash. But it doesn’t stop the car crash from happening – and my own view is that Labour should be keeping the option to stay in the EU firmly open.

There is absolutely no such thing as a ‘jobs first Brexit’. Those who facilitate a Brexit in this way will share responsibility for the lost jobs, harm to livelihoods and the consequential fall in tax revenues that will see cuts to our public services.

Labour’s conference policy said by now we’d be pursuing a public vote option, it said ‘full participation in the Single Market’ was a minimum requirement and that MPs should vote against a deal that didn’t secure the ‘exact same benefits’ test set out. Those commitments can’t just be airbrushed away.

I haven’t given up the fight to let the British people think again about Brexit. I hope that all MPs – whether Conservative or Labour or otherwise – will put the country’s best interests ahead of their party political considerations.

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Nottingham College Meeting

Together with the other Nottingham MPs, I met with Nottingham College chief executive John van de Laarschot and his management team today – to discuss the urgent need to boost training and further education participation across the city.

If we fail to invest in skills – both vocational and academic – then our prosperity will suffer in the long-run. We pressed the College on their plans for staffing and contract changes, urging them to recognise the low morale and frozen pay levels that have hit the workforce for too many years.

The merger between NCN and Central College has been challenging, as has the consolidation of their various buildings and estate. We discussed the plans for the new build ‘City Hub’ campus and were then shown some of the facilities at the Highfields Campus which specialises in engineering, science and technology (pictured below).

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Rosehill School Assembly

This morning I was delighted to attend a celebration assembly at Rosehill School in St Ann’s, and present certificates to the children to celebrate the good attendance of pupils and those achieving their ASDAN qualifcations (pictured below).

Rosehill is an all-age, 110-place, special school in St Ann’s for pupils aged 4 to 19 with autism.These pupils have a wide range of associated learning needs and physical, sensory, medical and behavioural needs.

I also enjoyed hearing the school choir’s performances of ‘Good to be Me’ and ‘Something inside so Strong’.

The school also raises money for lots of local charities – and needs support itself with their own charity fundraising for new sensory equipment – if you can help or know others who can, please email them at admin@rosehill.nottingham.sch.uk

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Friday 1st February

Tuesday’s knife-edge votes in the House of Commons have given the Prime Minister a two-week window to cajole the European Union into re-opening the Brexit withdrawal agreement – and ditch the ‘backstop’ guarantees of an open Irish border, that she had previously agreed, in favour of some (as yet unspecified) ‘alternative arrangements’. That’s why I fully expect this next period of time between now and 14th February will be one big wild goose-chase.  

While I was glad to have the Commons majority reaffirm that there is not an appetite for a ‘no deal’ Brexit (the amendment from Caroline Spelman on this was successful), the idea that the Prime Minister is now going to throw away a fortnight chasing unicorns instead of the ‘backstop’ is the very definition of time-wasting. Theresa May has opted to pander to her right-wing ERG anti-EU MPs instead recognising this impasse and putting this issue back to the public. 

Having this backstop mechanism to safeguard against a hard border on the island of Ireland is important and I can understand the anxieties of the Irish Government; we should all want to preserve the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago and installing customs and inspection checks along a defended border would be a massively retrograde step.  

My suspicion is that the EU27 governments and the Irish will not want to turn a blind eye to the risks of a hard border and they will be deeply reluctant to water-down the backstop. Consequently, we will all be back to square one on 14th February when the Commons will vote again. 

Really, at that point, it will be necessary for MPs to face reality rather than fantasy, and set up a proper process for us to make real decisions. If there is no majority for a viable, realistic Brexit, then surely we have to put the question back to the British people?  

While Westminster prevaricates, today’s Guardian newspaper reports that the fear of a hard Brexit is pushing one in three firms to plan moving abroad, according to an Institute of Directors’ survey. 

There are real lives, real jobs and real consequences of a damaging Brexit occurring. I will not support a decision that damages the livelihoods and incomes of the people of Nottingham.

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Fire Station Vsit

While we are all getting on with everyday life, our emergency services are always on duty – ready to respond and sometimes putting their own lives on the line.

Earlier today I had a chance to speak with firefighters and officers at the London Road Fire Station in Nottingham (pictured below with Chief Fire Officer John Buckley and Fire Authority Chair Cllr Brian Grocock) about some of the incidents they’ve had to respond to, like the recent fire at the Cattle Market site and of course the railway station fire this time last year. They come to our rescue, so it’s important we help them too – preventing incidents by installing smoke alarms properly. But chiefly by arguing for the resources they need. They’ve reached the point where any more cutbacks could make the service unsustainable and unsafe – especially because their cost pressures aren’t going away.

I’ll be pressing Ministers to protect our Fire Service budget next year. This isn’t just something nice to have; it’s an absolute necessity.

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