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A week of dramatic Brexit events

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I've had an early start today to catch the train home to Manchester after a week of dramatic Brexit events. Monday saw a marathon 9 hour session in parliament culminate in a series of votes stretching till nearly 1a.m.

But the real drama was happening outside parliament as Theresa May's attempt to reach agreement with the EU on key elements of the divorce settlement fell spectacularly apart. The Democratic Unionist Party (who prop up the Tories in parliament) weren't happy with special arrangements to allow goods, services and people to move freely across the Irish border which wouldn't apparently apply to the rest of the UK.

This morning, the Prime Minister is back in Brussels, having agreed that there will be no 'hard' Irish border, and that the same rules will apply across all of the UK. These rules could be in a new, and yet to be negotiated, specific deal between the EU and the UK, but if that isn't possible, then we will continue to align with existing EU single market and customs union rules. As far as I am concerned, that must mean we remain permanently in the single market and customs union, in form if not in name. It's the only sensible, practical way forward, and I am pleased and relieved we have reached this point, but businesses will still want certainty about the detail to come.

The nerve shredding events of the past few days show just how complex and difficult it is to get these details right. It has taken 18 months just to get this far, and so far, all we have done is agree key elements of the divorce arrangements (there is also agreement on calculating the UK's financial obligations, at a cost of £50 billion - no Leave campaigner ever told us that would be price of leaving during the referendum campaign. And agreement has also been reached to protect the status of EU citizens already in the UK and UK citizens in the EU). But there are many more long and difficult negotiations to come about our future trading and other relationships. I hope the government has learned the lesson that none of this can be done by the UK shouting its demands and expecting it can just get its own way after the events of the last few days.

There's also been a parallel row rumbling this week about the assessments the government has - or hasn't - carried out into the impact Brexit will have on different sectors of the UK economy. For months, parliament has been given the impression that 58 detailed - or not detailed - assessments exist (Ministers' story about the level of detail changed from one week to the next). Now it turns out the documents are not really impact assessments at all. Whether or not MPs have been misled by ministers (which would be very serious, and the Speaker has been asked to consider the matter), what is absolutely shocking to me is that ministers haven't even bothered to do the detailed work to assess the economic consequences of Brexit and how we deal with them. These are the people we are trusting to negotiate the UK's future. Frankly, I wouldn't trust them with their own pocket money after all of this.

Meanwhile, away from the emotional rollercoaster of Brexit, it has been great to welcome some fabulous constituents to parliament this week. Sean from Flixton is the national coordinator for the Syrian community refugee sponsorship scheme run by Catholic charity Caritas. He has done brilliant work helping to settle the first Syrian family to come to the UK under this scheme, who are now living locally with the sponsorship and support of St Monica's church. He was in parliament with representatives of other charities to launch an exhibition about the project. I am so impressed by what he and parishioners at St Monica's are doing. Congratulations to you all.

And it was lovely to present an award to students from Stretford High and Stretford Grammar schools at an event in parliament on Tuesday, in recognition of their efforts to support children in a Dunkirk refugee camp. The students spent time there last summer, teaching and playing with the children, and I was very proud to nominate them for a national Kids Count award. Afterwards, we went off on a tour of parliament, including into the famous cupboard where suffragette Emily Davison locked herself in for the night. The students eventually left to catch the last, and very late, train back to Manchester - I'm not the only one who's had a 1 a.m. finish this week. 

 

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