Once again, the Prime Minister has lost a vote in parliament on her plans to reach a Brexit deal. MPs won’t accept her plan, but while she tries to run down the clock, the alternative can’t be to leave with no deal. This week, around 50 MPs met representatives from different sectors of British business, including farming, insurance, manufacturing and engineering, to hear how bad that would be. I hadn’t appreciated that in fact time has already run out: goods being shipped to the Far East after this week won’t arrive in their destination port in some cases until after Brexit day. Because this means exporters can’t be sure of the tariffs and regulations that will apply (because they’ve been negotiated with the whole EU, including the UK, so the arrangements will cease to apply to us immediately if we leave with no deal), some have stopped exporting altogether until the picture is clearer. But that’s so damaging for their business, as orders can’t be fulfilled.
Last month, MPs tried to force the Prime Minister at least to accept an extension to the Brexit process to give time to reach an agreement. We lost that vote, and we lost another vote attempting again to do so this week. MPs like me aren’t giving up however – prepare for a marathon voting session at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, the government has been slowly bringing forward legislation to replace EU law, covering subjects as diverse as financial services, plant welfare, fishing, agriculture and Immigration. I’ve been appointed to the Public Bill Committee which is scrutinising the Immigration Bill, and we began meeting this week. Already we’ve heard heart-breaking stories from EU nationals, some of whom have lived here for decades, paying taxes and raising a family, and who are very worried about their future in the UK. While the government has set up a registration scheme to enable all those who have been here for 5 years or more to register their right to stay, at a briefing in parliament this week, I heard about all sorts of problems with the application process. For many it’s simple, but around 10% of those who’ve tried it so far have had difficulties. With 3 million people eligible to apply, the vast majority of whom have not yet begun to do so, that’s a worry too.
It’s for all these reasons that I’m desperate to give the public a final say on whether the Prime Minister can do a deal that’s good enough for my constituents (something she has so far failed to do), or whether they think we would be better off remaining in the EU. I firmly believe that we would, and if we get a final People’s Vote, that’s what I’ll be campaigning for.
I’ve crammed in a number of other meetings this week too, on everything from caste discrimination, to a dinner with Intu (who own the Trafford Centre), to meeting Nisa Nashim, an organisation that brings Jewish and Muslim women together, to chairing the Standards Committee on MPs’ conduct. I was also very pleased to speak at an event organised by the Resolution Foundation on measuring people’s wellbeing. When it comes to satisfaction with life, it turns out that women score more highly than men, and those aged over 50, and especially retired people, score more highly than those of working age. While that’s nice for older women like me, it’s very troubling that so many young people experience anxiety and worry about the future. A big challenge to politicians and others to invest in the education, careers, mental health services, and affordable housing that will offer them the security they lack today.
Back in Manchester, I was also delighted to chair a fascinating meeting with voluntary and non-profit groups to discuss welfare reforms needed to give more support to those in low paid work, or who aren’t working because of illness or caring responsibilities. Much of the discussion centred on universal credit, a benefit that was supposed to make things simpler, but for many people really has not. We were lucky to be joined by Mayor Andy Burnham and heard many practical ideas about how we can fix things in Manchester, and what the government needs to do. I’ll be keeping up the pressure on ministers over the coming months.
Finally, l’d like to congratulate my fabulous Trafford Labour councillor colleagues, who this week agreed a balanced budget for 2019/20, with no job losses, no services discontinued, and an end to the hated Tory green bin charge from June. I couldn’t be prouder of our councillors. They’re really showing the difference a Labour council makes!