It seems there are no tranquil weeks in politics now. But after the drama of last week’s resignations, this week it was back to business as usual, as Brexit dominated proceedings in parliament.
Well, I say business as usual, but actually, there have been a couple of fairly significant moves in the past few days. As we approach frighteningly close to Brexit day of 29 March, with no sign the Prime Minister can agree a deal with the EU that commands the support of parliament, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that the party would back a public vote to confirm whether or not her deal should be approved. And if no deal is agreed by 14 March, a vote must take place in parliament on whether to seek an extension of the so-called Article 50 period, so that we don’t crash out of the EU at the end of March, with no deal in place at all.
These are sensible decisions by parliament, as was a vote on Wednesday night, which was passed with overwhelming cross-party support, to protect the rights of EU citizens who are living in the UK now, whatever the outcome of votes and negotiations. All this meant there was a sense of relief at the end of the evening that MPs wouldn’t allow the government to take us over a cliff. But the eventual outcome remains very uncertain, and nothing the Prime Minister has brought forward so far has reassured me she can negotiate a good deal. I am pleased therefore that Labour will back a confirmatory public vote – and as I’ve said before, if the deal on the table isn’t good enough, when that vote takes place, I’ll be campaigning for us to remain in the EU.
While the big debates were taking place on Brexit negotiating strategies, I’ve actually spent most of the week sat in a committee room on the first floor above the chamber, debating the intricate details of the Immigration and Social Security Coordination bill, which will be needed order to put in place new immigration rules if we leave the EU, and freedom of movement ends. I really enjoy the line by line scrutiny of bills that we undertake in committee – it’s highly technical but very interesting work, and we can really get stuck into the detail of legislation. We debated all sorts of aspects of the immigration system that will apply after Brexit, from whether you’ll still be able to use a European Health Insurance Card when travelling, to whether you’ll be able to access your UK pension if you retire to another EU country, to what kind of visas EU workers will need in future to work in the UK. Scrutinising bills is very time-consuming, so if you’ve been wondering why I’ve not been in the chamber much this week, that’s what’s been taking my time!
It meant, for example, that I missed an important debate on working towards net zero carbon emissions that took place in the chamber on Thursday afternoon. I knew I wouldn’t make the debate, so I was particularly pleased that I was able to get along to the launch of the #DrasticonPlastic campaign, which was launched by Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Institute in parliament on Monday, and which calls for much faster action to reduce our plastic consumption.
And I was also pleased that I was able to make it into the chamber to support my colleague Debbie Abrahams MP, who asked an urgency question of foreign office ministers about the dangerous conflict between India and Pakistan, who are once again in dispute over Kashmir. The people who are overlooked in this are the Kashmiri people themselves, who – as I pointed out to the minister- have waited many long decades for justice, freedom and peace.
Meanwhile, in another committee, the Home Affairs select committee, I questioned the Home Secretary about the Shamima Begum case. The committee met immediately after I’d been debating the issue with students at Lostock College, in a digital surgery organised by the Politics Project, and I was happy to be able to raise their concerns. From classroom to parliament in 20 minutes – I really love that politics can operate in that way! Watch the session with the Home Secretary here.
It’s been a busy few days in the constituency too. I had excellent, informative meetings with the Federation of Small Businesses, with Young Christian Workers, who came to tell me about their plans to open up their garden on Trafford Park as a tranquil green space for local workers and residents, and a surgery with councillors and local police about the recent spate of car crime in M41. We’ll be holding more of these surgeries with the police across the constituency in the coming weeks, so look out for details on my Facebook page. The police told us about some of the preventive actions they are taking – and also how we can help ourselves to avoid becoming victims of crime. Read the full update on my website here. It was also good to welcome Friends of Turn Moss to parliament after their day in London working on strategies with other Friends and community groups.
Finally, I want to say something about the latest reports of antisemitism in the Labour party, and the suspension from the party of Chris Williamson MP. I spoke personally to Jeremy Corbyn about this on Wednesday night, and he is in no doubt, and people in Stretford and Urmston will be in no doubt, of my view that antisemitism is utterly abhorrent, and has no place in the Labour movement. I was also one of a large group of Labour MPs who wrote to the General Secretary of the Labour party about the matter this week, and to insist that the strongest possible action is taken against antisemitism, anywhere in our party. For anybody who wants to tell me there is no antisemitism in Labour, or that it’s a confected plot, be assured that I will not give any succour to those who seek to deny it, or to make such claims – antisemitism is real, it is a cancer, and we must cut it out. This week, Momentum made an excellent video on the subject – I urge you to watch it here.