There’s really been only one story in Westminster this week, and that’s been Brexit.
We spent two days debating amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill which the House of Lords had proposed, all of them very significant for the future of our country. You can read my post about some of the issues we debated, and voted on here.
The votes were heavy going. We voted on well over a dozen amendments (and amendments to amendments), with each vote taking around 15 minutes, to allow time for MPs to join the queues in the voting lobbies and be counted out the other side. Even my most tradition-minded colleagues were beginning to see the advantages of electronic voting by the time we reached the last vote.
The EU also caused excitement at Prime Minister’s questions this week, when, dissatisfied that the Prime Minister was ignoring the need for consent from the Scottish parliament to the legislation, SNP MPs marched out of the chamber en masse. It might have looked dramatic on the telly, but it also meant the SNP were one vote down, as their leader’s behaviour in provoking these antics led to his being suspended from parliament for the rest of the day. Given how tight some of the votes were that night, and how likely it is that we will have some even tighter votes next week, you’d have thought he’d be more careful not to get thrown out.
Away from Brexit, I was very pleased to participate in two important debates on immigration and asylum matters. The first celebrated the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in 1948, bringing Commonwealth citizens from the Caribbean to work and live in the UK. The Windrush generation have been much in the news recently because of the scandalous way they have been treated by the government – told they’ve no right to be here even though they have lived and worked here for decades, charged for treatment on the NHS (particularly ironic since many came to work in the NHS in response to the shortage of nurses and doctors here), sometimes even threatened with deportation though they have every right to live in the UK. But this week’s debate also struck a happier note, celebrating the huge contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made to the prosperity, culture and diversity of this country – including here in Old Trafford, where many made their home.
I was sorry not to be able to stay for the whole debate, however, as down the corridor in our second chamber, a much less happy debate was taking place, on immigration detention. People who have committed no crime, who may have suffered torture and fled to this country in fear of their lives, are being locked up with no idea when they’ll be released – this happens to nearly 30,000 people in the UK every year. I went in to speak up on behalf of some of the people I met at St Bride’s in Old Trafford, which runs a service for those who are seeking asylum, and have been left literally destitute while their case proceeds. I also reflected the experiences of some of the women I’ve met through the wonderful Women Asylum Seekers Together in Manchester and Women 4 Refugee Women. You can read this powerful debate here or watch here.
Back here in Manchester, I was absolutely delighted to visit The Brilliant Club at Wellacre College, and meet the boys who are participating in a programme that offers them university-standard teaching from a PhD student, and significantly increases their chances of going to a top university. And I was proud to join trade union Unite and workers from TGiFriday’s Trafford Centre branch, who are on strike because bosses are trying to deduct money from their tips to give to kitchen staff. It’s disgraceful that one set of low-paid workers are expected to take a cut to pay the wages of their colleagues, when it’s the company’s responsibility to pay all their workers fairly. I stand in solidarity with the TGiF workers, and I’ll be writing to company bosses to demand justice and support their campaign.
Finally, may I take the opportunity to wish Eid Mubarak to all my constituents who are celebrating this special and happy time. I hope you enjoy a wonderful Eid with your families and friends.