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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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!

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

Resignation from the Labour Party

Today I’ve announced that I am leaving the Labour Party and will continue to sit in Parliament representing Nottingham East in a new independent group of MPs.

I wanted to send this MP Update newsletter today so that you could read my reasons directly.

I’ve been in the Labour Party for over 30 years. But the Labour Party I joined – the Party I have campaigned for and believed in – is no longer today’s Labour Party.

I tried my hardest to save it. I argued as strenuously as I could for my centre-left values within the Party for the past few years. But sadly it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left.

My values haven’t changed – I oppose this Conservative Government and desperately want a sensible alternative to pursue the fight against poverty and discrimination by extending opportunities for all.

But British politics is now broken and in all good conscience I can’t knock on doors and advocate supporting a Government led by Jeremy Corbyn or the team around him.

For me, the last straw has been Labour’s betrayal on Europe. The Labour frontbench have offered to enable Brexit. They have constantly held back from allowing you to have the final say on any deal.

Even the hopes many had put in last September’s Labour conference policy has been brushed aside: no ‘guaranteed full participation in the Single Market’; no ‘exact same benefits’; no movement towards a People’s Vote.

Choosing to stand back and observe from the sidelines, while your livelihood and future opportunities are hurt by Brexit, is a fundamental violation of Labour’s traditional values.

But my differences with the Labour Party leadership go far deeper than Brexit. The past three years have confirmed how irresponsible it would be to allow this Leader of the Opposition to take the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Very many people still in the Labour Party will privately admit this to be true – and I owe it to you now to say this publicly and honestly.

The Labour Party’s policy choices are now the wrong choices. The pursuit of an approach that would threaten our national security, including their hostility to NATO.

The refusal to act when needed to help those facing humanitarian distress.

Preferring to believe states hostile to our country, rather than believing our police and security services.

These choices all root back to the Labour leadership’s obsession with a narrow, outdated Marxist ideology.

They are hostile to businesses, large and small. They make impossible and dishonest promises which everyone knows, in their hearts, couldn’t be kept without putting our economy at risk.

They constantly pit one part of society against another – because to them the world divides between ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’, class enemies, when in truth the modern world is more complicated than this.

And then there is the appalling culture now riddled throughout the Labour Party nationally and locally. Intolerance. Closing down of debate. Abuse and hatred online and offline in Party meetings. Antisemitism.

So, together with other parliamentary colleagues, we have had to say collectively: enough is enough.

That is why we have come together to sit as a new Independent Group of MPs – and if you want to know more about the values we share and how we intend to go forward, please visit our website at www.theindependent.group

I believe our primary duty as Members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first.   Yet like so many others, those of us today forming the Independent Group believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country.  

Our aim will be to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests. 

As an Independent Group we aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems. 

Values

I believe –

  • Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud, where the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security
  • 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 taxpayer’s money and a stable, fair and balanced economy
  • A strong economy means we can invest in our public services. We believe the collective provision of public services and the NHS can be delivered through government action, improving health and educational life chances, protecting the public, safeguarding the vulnerable, ensuring dignity at every stage of life and placing individuals at the heart of decision-making
  • The people of this country have the ability to create fairer, more prosperous communities for present and future generations. We believe that this creativity is best realised in a society which fosters individual freedom and supports all families.
  • The barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination facing individuals should be removed and advancement occur on the basis of merit, with inequalities reduced through the extension of opportunity, givingindividuals the skills and means  to open new doors and fulfil their ambitions.
  • Individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered to them, everybody can and should make a contribution to society and that contribution should be recognised. Paid work should be secure and pay should be fair.                  
  • Our free media, the rule of law, and our open, tolerant and respectful democratic society should be cherished and renewed.
  • Our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people.
  • In order to face the challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation, migration and technological advances, we believe the multilateral, international rules-based order must be strengthened and reformed. We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism
  • As part of the global community we have a responsibility to future generations to protect our environment, safeguard the planet, plan development sustainably and to act on the urgency of climate change.
  • Power should be devolved to the most appropriate level, trusting and involving local communities. More powers and representation should be given to local government to act in the best interests of their communities.

My commitment to pursue these values in Parliament representing the people of Nottingham East continues as strongly as ever. Our city faces massive challenges in the years ahead and so I shall do my best to press for the investment and reforms we need. Whether it is the refurbishment of QMC Emergency Department, action to make Nottingham Prison safer, safeguards for those being transferred onto Universal Credit, a strategy to eradicate homelessness in the city centre, improvements in education standards in Nottingham, all require a voice to influence decision-makers locally and nationally. I will continue to remain in dialogue with you through these MP Update newsletters each week when Parliament is in session and if you need to contact me for help or assistance please get in touch at this email or telephone 0115 956 9429 or write to me at 12 Regent Street NG1 5BQ.

Regards

Chris Leslie

Independent Group MP for Nottingham East

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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).

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

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

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn