NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 27th January 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Politics is in a bit of a mess at the moment. And Brexit is creating heavy weather on all sides. Theresa May thought that by setting out firm ‘red lines’ last year – saying ‘no’ to a customs union with Europe and ‘no’ to a Single Market – that she’d bought off the right-wing Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith. But their ideological dream of casting Britain back to the deregulated Victorian era and see Britannia once again rule the waves has been interrupted by the cold realities of 21st century economics.
It turns out that our closest neighbours and major trading partners, who buy most of our goods and services, aren’t so keen to let Britain undercut their standards while still gaining the benefits of full access to their markets. So unsurprisingly the EU are telling Britain we can only trade on existing terms if we stick with existing regulations. Even Chancellor Philip Hammond this week said it would be best if Brexit saw the UK move only ‘very modestly’ apart from the EU. But this message of reality has sent Tory Brexiteers into apoplexy, threatening a leadership challenge to Theresa May and creating a rift even with the already right-wing David Davis, who was merely spelling out the truth that any transitional years will have to stick to current rules.
It’s on the Customs Union question where ideology is likely to meet reality soonest. Manufacturers are rightly demanding to know straight away:
- if they’re going to have to comply with new ‘rules of origin’ checks to verify that the majority of their products have UK content
- if their trade with the rest of the world will be covered by existing free trade deals or not
- if there are going to be tariffs as soon as next year on exports and imports
- if there will be checks at ports, ferry terminals, the Channel Tunnel etc
- if the emergency £250m lorry park in Kent, which still doesn’t have planning permission, will be available in time for next year or if hard shoulders on Kent motorways can cope with delays
We have the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill coming back on the floor of the Commons in late February. So I’d expect this to come to a head. Hopefully by then Labour’s frontbench will have realised that maintaining our participation in a customs union with the EU is the only viable option. Unless we build a coalition across the parties and draw together a sensible majority for maintaining these current arrangements – a coalition which I’m convinced does exist in Parliament between the ideological fringes – then politics is going to be very turbulent indeed.
- Nottingham University Hospitals Trust have issued a welcome statement regarding the planned ’40 Days for Life’ protests against terminations at the QMC Treatment Centre. In a statement Tracy Taylor, the Chief Executive of NUH NHS Trust, said ‘any protest that impacts adversely on our patients, visitors or staff will not be supported anywhere on our site’. She said ‘the Trust’s priority is protecting the health, safety and welfare of its patients, visitors and staff’ and raised concerns over previous protests of this nature. The trust will be working with the Police, the Treatment Centre and other partners to ensure that patients can access their services without intimidation.
- Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history. Earlier this week I signed the Book of Commemoration (pictured), pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring the victims of the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people today. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust does vital work teaching people both about the millions of Jews, Gypsies, disabled people and members of the LGBT community who were murdered in the Holocaust and abut subsequent acts of Genocide. The theme for this year’s commemorations is ‘The power of words’ and it was an honour to attended yesterday’s Holocaust Memorial Day event organised by the City Council and Nottingham interfaith Forum on this subject at the Council House.
- Statistics released this week by the Department for Housing Communities and Local Government show that rough sleeping has risen in Nottingham for the third year running. Nottingham City Council believes that this rise comes as a result of government welfare policies and have pointed to the £106,000 the council have spent from their already-restricted budget to go towards measures to address homelessness over the winter. In light of this I was pleased to see that on the 28th January, there will be an event across Nottingham to help support the work of Framework – a charity focussed on the homeless. ‘Beat the Streets’ will be a multi-venue event featuring over 80 artists across more than 10 stages, further details can be found here: http://www.beatthestreetsuk.com/
- Congratulations to Nottingham East resident Kathryn Thompson who has been selected to represent Team GB in Short-Track Speed Skating at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang this February. I wish her and the rest of Team GB all the best at the Games.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday MPs debated the creation of a ‘Financial Guidance Body’ for consumers, where I urged the new Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey to include a statutory duty to promote financial resilience in its founding mandates. This could make a real difference: two million people are forced to take prolonged sickness leave every year and too many people struggle to weather the drop in household income typical in these situations. A recent study found that eight out of ten families would be unable to pay an unexpected bill of £300 or more, and just 40 percent have savings adequate to cover three months of unpaid leave. That is why it is really important to have accurate, high-quality information available on how to prepare for shocks like this. A duty to promote financial resilience would, I think, be a hugely welcome step towards equipping more people to access the tools, services and financial products that can help in dealing with these situations. You can watch my remarks at the link here.
- We’re still waiting for our £350 million per week for the NHS… On Tuesday the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, chose to go public in calling for additional spending on the NHS, provoking a succession of slapdowns from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues and laying bare once again the chaos which seems to reign at the centre of Government. While I don’t disagree that more money for the health service is needed, I can’t help wondering why Mr Johnson didn’t make his demands in advance of last autumn’s Budget if he feels so strongly about it – as ever I suspect his calculations are driven by his ambition rather more than his public-mindedness. Rather than pay a dividend, Brexit is already resulting in a drag on our economy, according to Mark Carney the Bank of England Governor to the tune of £200million a week worse off because of weaker growth. Brexit’s bureaucracy is likely to lead to a wave of austerity – which will harm rather than help our NHS.
- On Wednesday at the International Trade Select Committee, I had another chance to quiz the Government about their increasingly exposed brag that all the countries with which we have EU trade deals have agreed to roll them into identical bilateral ones with Britain, no questions asked. This matters because these 40 FTAs with 70 countries currently govern nearly 15% of our country’s exports. The current Trade Minister, Greg Hands, was less than forthcoming on this point, as you can see here, but did admit that, if Lord Price’s optimism turns out not to be justified, the Government just wouldn’t have the capacity to reopen these agreements. This does not auger well for March 2019, when we face the prospect of seeing our existing trade deals expire without replacements ready to sign – with punishing tariffs potentially appearing overnight, pushing up prices for food, clothes and other household essentials. It is vital that we have continuity on our ability to trade freely.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
A new report from campaign group ‘End Child Poverty’ has shown that 41% of children living in the Nottingham East constituency, including over 50% of children in the Arboretum Ward, live in poverty – that is, living in a household with income below £248 per week after housing costs. This compares with constituencies such as Rushcliffe where the figure is 12.7%. Particularly concerning is that in areas with high levels of child poverty the issue seems to be getting worse, for example in Nottingham East this year’s figure represents almost a 2% increase from two years ago.
I’d be interested to know your thoughts about child poverty in our city. Does your work bring you into contact with disadvantaged families or children facing hardship? We know that foodbank usage remains significant, but with Nottingham not yet encountering the roll out of Universal Credit (which is due from October onwards) perhaps the situation could deteriorate further.
The long term solution to child poverty is, of course, ensuring that parents can find stable and decent employment opportunities, yet the erosion of long term career and permanent contract standards has created an insecurity affecting children in this way. Early intervention efforts to boost health and learning opportunities are also under attack, with budgets scaled back and under further threat.
I would be interested to know what other changes we need in public policy you think could address this scandal of child poverty, which is a badge of shame on our supposedly civilised society in the 21st century.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East