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These choices all root back to the Labour leadership’s obsession with a narrow, outdated Marxist ideology.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

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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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