I know it’s been a little while since my last blog so here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to over the past couple of weeks.
At one point, it seemed as though Brexit might not feature in my blog this week. But the past few days have seen a flurry of activity, with the European Union publishing its draft version of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK.
This document sparked off huge concern, once again, about the Irish border. An open border has been a vital element of the Good Friday Agreement, which has helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland over the past twenty years. But unless the UK remains in the customs union with the rest of the EU, an open Irish border won’t be possible in future. As an alternative, the EU has suggested Northern Ireland could remain in the customs union, but the rest of the UK wouldn’t - equally unacceptable, since it would imply a customs border in the middle of the Irish Sea.
Jeremy Corbyn ruthlessly exposed the government’s total inability to resolve this conundrum at Prime Minister’s Questions. He confirmed Labour’s support for remaining in a customs union, and attacked the disgraceful suggestion made by Boris Johnson that a new Irish border would be just like the border between Islington and Camden (or Trafford and Salford, if you want a more local metaphor), and nothing to worry about. Thanks to the government’s intransigence, we are now faced with the choice between having a hard border in the middle of the UK, or putting the hard-won Irish peace process at risk.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busy with another Brexit-related matter this week. A debate took place on Thursday about the loss of seasonal workers from the EU, who will no longer have the right to work in the UK. That will cause problems for many different industries, including farming, food processing, tourism and hospitality, aircon and heating businesses, and even the NHS. The debate was called by a Conservative MP, and colleagues from all parties queued up to speak (you can read my speech here or watch here). It’s another consequence of Brexit that the government has no plan for.
In fact, I’m doing an increasing amount of work now on migration issues. It is such a complex and important topic, and so I was very pleased to be part of a UK delegation to the United Nations in New York last week, to attend an interparliamentary meeting on a new Global Compact on Migration which the UN is negotiating now.
I am also very fortunate to have been offered the support of a new Policy Adviser on migration, funded by the Good Faith Partnership, who are also funding advisers in Lib Dem and Tory MPs’ offices, and in the office of the Bishop of Durham in the House of Lords. Heather will be working with my parliamentary researcher, Joe, and me in my Westminster office. You can expect to hear much more from us about migration policy over the coming year!
And also in parliament...
...I’ve had a busy few days, meeting the Law Society about early access to advice, attending a reception organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide to mark the publication of their new report ‘Faith and a Future’, at a reception to welcome Trafford’s commitment (along with all the Greater Manchester councils) to being a clean energy borough following a Labour motion to council last autumn, and attending roundtables on reuniting refugee families and on a new drug for treating cystic fibrosis. The variety of subjects I get involved with in parliament is a great reflection of what my constituents tell me they care about.
Closer to home
I’ve also been busy meeting local groups to hear about work they’re doing in my constituency. Thanks to Age UK Trafford for a very worthwhile discussion with carers about the challenges of caring for a friend or family member, and the need for more support. It was good to meet Martin from Chris Boardman’s office, to discuss opportunities for improving cycling and walking as part of the Stretford masterplan, and to have a catch up with Professor Simon Guy from Lancaster University about latest developments on UA92 (read my report of the meeting on my Facebook page here). A number of constituents have been in touch about the proposals for Turn Moss, and it’s quite clear the lack of local support means the council must think again. Meanwhile, I had useful meetings about developments in Partington and Carrington, and I am pleased funding has been secured for new investment in the roads there - I’m pressing Trafford Council to start the work at the earliest possible date.
It was also a huge pleasure to visit Manor Academy last Monday, to talk to senior students about the importance of registering to vote. The students showed great interest and enthusiasm, and asked some brilliant questions. They promised me they’d be going online to get on the electoral register (you can do this as soon as you’re aged 16). With local elections coming up in May, I’d encourage everyone to check you’re registered to vote and if not, to get online and register at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote!
PS: Don’t miss my Fairtrade coffee morning next Friday 9 March 10.00-11.30am at Christ Church Parish Hall, Davyhulme. Enjoy great Fairtrade coffee and cake, and a chat with your neighbours. All welcome: all proceeds go to charity Action Aid.