By general agreement, Theresa May is following a punishing schedule. This morning, I hear she’s on her way to the G20 summit in Argentina. This follows a week in which she has desperately been trying to sell the Brexit deal she brought back from the EU last weekend.
She gave a lengthy statement to parliament on Monday, in the hope of persuading MPs to back it. But only a minority were prepared to do so. I was one of dozens of colleagues to point out her deal would leave us worse off than before, with less say in the rules that will bind us than we have now, and that there appears to be little chance she can get it through parliament.
Our fears were borne out by the economic analysis of different possible Brexit models, which was published by the government on Wednesday. Although, bizarrely, the one option not modelled was the deal the Prime Minister has actually proposed to parliament, it’s really alarming to see the negative economic impact leaving the EU will have, especially on the North West.
Next week, we begin five days of debate, before we vote on the deal on 11 December. Before then, MPs are demanding fuller information. It’s not just the lack of economic information we’re complaining about. The government had undertaken to share the legal advice it has received on the deal, but it has now backtracked. That led to another angry exchange in parliament on Thursday.
Away from the chamber, the Home Affairs select committee, of which I’m a member, had an equally worrying time tying to extract reassurances from the Home Secretary about security and border arrangements after Brexit. As things stand, it looks like we will be out of the European Arrest Warrant, and outside of the so-called SIS2 system which enables us to access a Europe-wide database of criminal and security records, and details of wanted and missing persons. I first began to raise concerns about this way back in January, not least as it will hamper efforts to tackle child abduction. Meantime, the promised white paper on the immigration rules that will apply after Brexit still hasn’t been published, with days to go before we have to vote on post-Brexit arrangements. I raised this in the chamber on Wednesday, but received the vaguest of answers.
I can’t really describe the impact all this uncertainty is having on the mood in parliament. MPs are so conscious that we are about to take what will be the most important political decision most of us are ever likely to make, and the unease and anxiety we feel at being asked to do so with so little hard information are palpable. It’s impossible for me to back a deal on this basis, but leaving the EU with no deal would be catastrophic. That’s why I will support a cross-party amendment that says if the Prime Minister loses the vote on 11 December, that cannot mean we just crash out with no deal at all, and parliament will have to decide on the next steps. I’m also persuaded that eventually we may have to go back to the country, via a People’s Vote if necessary, to ascertain the wishes of the electorate.
This morning, it’s reported the government is threatening to cancel MPs’ Christmas break in order to deal with this mess. Certainly, I find it very hard to see how there can be sufficient time to pass all the necessary legislation that will need to be in place before exit day on 29 March without an extension to the so-called Article 50 withdrawal process.
For those of you who have heard enough of Brexit, I have been up to a few other things this week. I was very glad to meet campaigners from the MS Society, to hear about a new drug to deal with this degenerative disease. I promised to put pressure on NICE and the NHS to look at licensing it for use in the UK. I really enjoyed participating in two digital discussions with students from my constituency, as part of the fabulous Politics Project. I attended an informative but troubling briefing about the pressures being experienced by social workers, something I’m very conscious of from my casework in the constituency. And I was very glad to speak at an international event at the Canadian High Commission about refugee community sponsorship. I am so proud that St Monica’s church in Flixton welcomed the first Syrian family to come to the UK under the scheme in 2016, and we expect two more families to be hosted here soon by Our Lady’s and the English Martyrs and St Ann’s churches. I’ve seen for myself how community sponsorship changes lives. I pay tribute to the amazing Sean Ryan and the volunteers who’ve put this wonderful programme together.