Thanks so much to everyone who attended my Fairtrade coffee morning last Friday.
I want to say a special thank you to students from Manor Academy, who brought along Fairtrade chocolate brownies, and to Tom and Shirley who baked delicious Fairtrade cakes. Thank you to Vicar Karen and churchwarden Terry from Christ Church Davyhulme for making us so welcome in the church hall. And a special thank you to all who came along to the event, and helped us to raise £110 for charity Action Aid. Your generous support is very much appreciated.
I would also like to say a big thank you to Trafford College, who invited me to visit last Friday afternoon, during National Apprenticeship Week. It was inspiring to meet engineering apprentices, all of whom showed how seriously they take their studies, and have great ambitions for the future. We are lucky to have such talented and hardworking young people developing skills which are much needed in the economy.
There’s been an international flavour to my diary this week. On Monday, I travelled to Brussels with fellow members of the European Scrutiny Committee to meet EU officials, including top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. We also met representatives of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), which some have suggested the UK might join if we leave the EU. That would help the UK to protect trade with our European neighbours, though we wouldn’t enjoy all the advantages we have now in the EU. Later in the week, I met embassy staff from EFTA countries at a breakfast in London to explore this idea further. Obviously there is still great uncertainty about our future relationship with the EU, although the UK government is supposed to reach agreement with the remaining 27 EU countries about transition arrangements in the next few days. In the meantime, I continue to press for the closest possible continuing relationship.
Good relations with other countries have felt all the more important this week in the light of the shocking confirmation that investigations into the attempted murder of a Russian defector and his daughter in Salisbury have led the UK government to conclude that the Russian government is responsible for this appalling crime. This display of brute force and total disregard for human rights by Russia violates every rule of international law, and the use of nerve gas shows a complete indifference to human decency.
I support the Prime Minister’s determined action in response, and I am glad that our allies, including Germany, France, and - belatedly - President Trump have also given their support. This is a perilous moment for the world, and we must be firm and united in standing up for the rule of law against Russia’s aggression. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from recent history if ruthless and unscrupulous leaders are allowed to behave unchecked.
We also had a visit from a delegation of Kenyan MPs this week, which gave a different perspective on world affairs. Their visit on Tuesday coincided with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring financial statement to parliament - but if they found that interesting, they must have been the only people in Westminster who did so.
The statement was self-congratulatory, yet after 8 years of mismanagement of the economy, I don’t think the Chancellor has anything to boast of. Family incomes remain under huge pressure, our police, NHS and other local services are crumbling from the effect of cuts, and inflation means price rises are outstripping wages. It was a huge disappointment therefore that the Chancellor offered nothing in the way of additional resources for struggling families and communities. Instead, just a few hours later, Tory MPs trooped into the chamber to vote through changes to rules that will leave over 4,000 poor children in Trafford without a free school meal.
Away from these high profile issues, I’ve also been pursuing some of my own particular interests, chairing a seminar on migration policy post-Brexit, and sitting as a member of an inquiry panel looking at sentencing policy in relation to women offenders. These are two strands of work that I will be concentrating on in the coming months. There are many challenges, but also many sensible solutions to these challenges, so I hope the work I’m involved in can make a difference.
Meantime, and linked to my work on migration and integration, I am hosting a consultation event on community cohesion and tackling radicalisation and extremism, at Limelight in Old Trafford tomorrow. The output from the meeting will feed into work by Mayor Andy Burnham to develop a charter of shared values for all who live or work in Greater Manchester. More information about the event can be found on my Facebook page here. If you’re interested in participating, please let my office know.