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Boris Johnson’s proposed ‘solution’ on Brexit has caused many to wonder if he is deliberately tabling a proposal worse than Theresa May, in order to justify then pressing ahead with ‘no-deal’ on 31st October. As well as moving further from the Single Market by downgrading to a free trade agreement type relationship for the UK and EU, his proposals for Ireland have completely departed from the Government’s previous guarantees.
It used to be that Theresa May’s government was intent on frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Free movement is integral to the peace and stability that has been enjoyed over the past twenty years. But in order to placate the DUP and right-wing Conservative Brexiteer MPs, Johnson is now proposing that Northern Ireland departs entirely from the customs union and imposes a tariffs frontier with inspections and checks – albeit he claims will magically happen ‘away from the border’ by as-yet unspecified technologies. I am staggered that he thinks the government of Ireland let alone the EU will not question how this can sit with previous commitments (also enshrined in UK law!) to respect the settlement of the Good Friday Agreement.
By proposing a customs frontier and hard border in this way, the Prime Minister is clearly less bothered about getting a deal agreed with the EU and more bothered about appealing to his own Tory MPs and the DUP. Whereas Theresa May got agreement with the EU, she lost her majority on her own benches. But equally there’s no point Boris Johnson getting agreement on his own benches if he can’t reach agreement with the EU.
My suspicion is that Boris Johnson’s top priority is shoring up divisions in the Conservative Party and weakening Brexit Party support, so he can head towards a general election – and brush aside the risks of endangering the Good Friday Agreement and a Brexit deal in the process. He seems content to head towards crashing out with no-deal, regardless of the consequences for jobs and livelihoods in Nottingham or elsewhere. This is not a good state of affairs.
Fortunately the Safeguard Bill – now the Benn Act – requires the PM to request an extension to Article 50. Johnson pretends he won’t abide by that law, but he has no choice in the matter. This will be several weeks of high drama politics ahead. But we cannot allow Johnson to put his party political priorities ahead of doing the right thing for the country on Brexit. And I still believe that a final say referendum represents to best way to resolve Brexit, once and for all.
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.
NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 19th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
With hundreds of thousands expected to march on Parliament tomorrow for a ‘People’s Vote’, the Government’s mishandling of Brexit negotiations is clearly making more and more people want to reverse out of the cul-de-sac altogether.
Even if Theresa May returns to Parliament with a second-rate trade agreement that downgrades our relationship with Europe to the status of Mexico, Colombia or Canada, the costs to our economy will be enormous. Outside the single market we can expect GDP growth to shrink by 4.8 per cent over the next 15 years, on the Treasury’s own estimates. That leaves a £50 billion-plus hole in tax revenue, meaning cuts to our NHS, schools, police.
The PM’s strategy to get such an agreement through the House of Commons is now coming into focus – convince enough MPs that we are forced to make a choice between her sub-standard ‘bad deal’, and the outright catastrophe of no deal at all, and thereby browbeat my colleagues into ushering in another decade of austerity. ‘Take it or leave it’ will be the Government’s strategy – and they are even trying to rig the parliamentary procedure and backtrack on their pledge to allow amendments from MPs as we debate what happens next.
But as I argued in the Evening Standard on Monday, that false choice is entirely a fabrication by the Prime Minister and does not need to be the choice MPs make. If the Government’s deal fails to deliver on Leave campaigners’ promises, we will have the right to send Ministers back to do better with an extended Article 50 period – or better still, give the public a final say on whether to ‘leave’ with her deal or remain in the European Union. That is the real alternative, and we mustn’t fall for Theresa May’s fake brinkmanship. It’s time for Parliament to do its jobs and protect the livelihoods and interests of the communities we represent.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Regional migrations to Universal Credit, which replaces six targeted benefits, have reportedly seen claimants wait several weeks for payments to resume, leading to localised spikes in food bank use, and also receive a smaller overall sum. Even a number of backbench Conservative MPs are now calling on the DWP to delay nationwide implementation, reflecting an increasingly widespread recognition that the system is incapable of delivering it. The Government’s handling of welfare changes are marred by mistakes. Only this week, the Government was forced to pay out nearly £1.7 billion in arrears to disabled ESA claimants whose allowances had been wrongly calculated in cases dating back to 2011. Some of these issues were reported as early as 2013, but an unwillingness to address problems has left vulnerable people waiting years to receive the support they need. Unless such mistakes are acknowledged and lessons demonstrably learned, few will have faith in this Government to manage such a sweeping change with either the competence or humanity required.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Earlier today I visited the Citizens Advice Bureau office and met with representatives from Nottingham’s advice and advocacy agencies who together – as ‘Advice Nottingham’ – help hundreds of residents each week with their problems especially in relation to welfare benefit entitlements.
Together with the other MPs from the city (pictured below), we discussed not just specific case studies where the Department for Work & Pensions has failed – but also the need for fundamental reforms, so that people are treated like real human beings rather than treated like numbers in a system.
Obviously there are many constituents who contact me regularly for help with social security issues and so it was useful to share experiences and recognise that there are some reforms we should urge the Government to pursue. For instance, the medical assessors sent to examine claimants often don’t have the specialism to match the medical nature of the claimant. Also the very high number of claimants who lose their benefits unfairly – go without money for a long period – but then win that entitlement back at appeal is very high, perhaps as high as 70% of the time. Forcing claimants to go through a costly and stressful appeal process rather than spending adequate quality time at the outset assessing an application correctly is such a waste of money. If the Government are looking for savings, far better to get these by reforming this wasteful administrative process rather than unfairly taking money from those in need who desperately need financial support. Another ridiculous problem is the reluctance on some occasions of GPs or consultants to write letters of medical testimony to the welfare assessment teams, which means that professional judgements are not being shared as well as they could be.
I would be interested if you have suggestions for reforming the welfare benefit and claims system, not just for Nottingham but for the country at large. Universal Credit will, of course, mean further changes locally, as discussed earlier. Today at our Citizens Advice Bureau meeting all the city MPs committed to taking up ideas with Ministers and I’m convinced that we should modernise the welfare system so it is fairer and more effective at helping those in greatest need.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East
NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 12th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Parliament is back after the Party conference season this week. Among many other news items, you’ll have seen that the media spotlight has begun to focus on the impact of ‘Universal Credit’, which is due to be rolled out at Nottingham Central Jobcentre from 17th October next week. It is a much-delayed initiative of the current Conservative Government whose aim was to replace the six separate welfare benefits (Income related Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income Support; Income related Employment and Support Allowance; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credits; Housing Benefit) and instead make a combined single monthly payment covering all these elements.
While most people would agree the old system was complex and disjointed, there have been a series of unacceptable implementation flaws with Universal Credit in the areas where it has been piloted so far.
Two problems stand out. First, the shift to paying monthly in arrears (the theory being that operating like a monthly pay packet aligns better with the world of work) is a difficult transition for many who are not used to this, leaving a gap for some with very little money. There are reports that foodbank usage grew in the trial areas partly because individuals found this change difficult.
Second, if this was a straight aggregation of multiple benefits then it would just be an administrative headache – but it’s been made worse because George Osborne years ago decided to salami-slice funding from different elements of Universal Credit, meaning that new applications will be comparatively worse off than on the existing array of benefits. Some estimates say that very many claimants could be as much as £180 per month worse off – something the former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and John Major have warned about this week. Concerns have been raised, not least by the Child Poverty Action Group about the lack of transitional funds and support and the disastrous effect this can have.
I will be closely monitoring the effects of the roll-out in Nottingham, so if you or someone you know is being adversely affected by the implementation of this new system please do let me know – and it may also be worth getting in touch with the Welfare Right Service at Nottingham City Council (details here) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (details here) as they can give immediate advice and support.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
In my case, the censure motion criticised me for disagreeing with Jeremy Corbyn. It is true I do disagree with him on several issues, such as the importance of a responsible economic policy, on national security, and on Europe. I gave a fuller response in the Guardian article which you can read at the link here. It has become sadly apparent that differing views are not tolerated by some parts of the Party and every opinion is judged on whether it is acceptable to the leadership. It’s not a good thing to have such internal party intolerance, especially given how many other more important issues there are to focus on in the world right now. I have had lots of advice over the past two years urging me to keep my head down, not to be so vocal and then I would “be all right”. But that is not what I came into politics to do.
I have been overwhelmed by the positive messages of support from many local residents since this happened. While Momentum activists may disagree with me, I have one message for all my constituents, whether Labour members or not: I am proud to serve you and I promise that no amount of deselection threats or political expediency will deter me from acting in what I believe are the best interests of you all.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It was a fantastic turnout at the Nottingham European Movement event to discuss Brexit and the People’s Vote a couple of weeks ago (pictured below) and it was an honour to be asked to speak on the cross-party panel alongside LibDem Tom Brake, Green Natalie Bennett and Conservative Ken Clarke. Many local residents have urged me to speak out about the threat to jobs, trade, tax revenues and shared alliances we have with Europe if we end up with a bad Brexit deal.
I’d be interested in your views on the latest developments. Theresa May is dancing to the tune of her hard Brexiteer right-wing MPs, refusing to commit to a Customs Union or the Single Market for the UK even though these are the only way we could possibly proceed with Brexit and keep some of the more harmful effects to a minimum. Why does Theresa May think she can keep a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland while simultaneously pretending we can have separate trade policies than the rest of the EU? Will we see further Cabinet resignations in the coming days?
Just yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility published their assessment saying: “under any Brexit scenario, the UK will face greater non-tariff barriers on its trade with the EU”. We look set then for slower and inhibited trade if Brexit continues. That’s why like a growing number of people I am calling for the public to have a final say on any deal reached in a People’s Vote.
What are your thoughts on how this situation is developing? If you’re not sure about whether a ‘deal’ will work, shouldn’t we let the public resolve this and give their final consent?
There will be a march in London next weekend on Sunday 20th October and hundreds of thousands are expected. Will you be there? Get more details at the link here https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East
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