This week the curtain finally came down on the EU Withdrawal Bill. For those of you who are tired of hearing about Brexit, this may come as a relief – I’ll be able to concentrate on other matters in these blogs in future (though it’s only a temporary break – we still have numerous Brexit-related bills in the pipeline over coming months, including on trade, customs arrangements and immigration).
The final day of debate on Wednesday saw Tory ‘rebel’ Dominic Grieve once again propose the government should give parliament a meaningful say on the EU exit deal the government negotiates. Labour was all set to support this, and with rumours of well over a dozen other Tories who agreed, the vote looked to be on a knife-edge. But then Dominic bottled it, voting with the government – and against his own amendment! He was joined by a number of other Tories who had previously been expected to vote with Labour, though a handful still joined us in our voting lobby. But in the end, Dominic handed victory to the government, who secured a majority of 12. Now the fight is on to see what other parliamentary devices might allow parliament to have a say – look out for developments in the autumn. Meantime, the government has finally announced arrangements to allow EU nationals who’ve lived five or more years in the UK the right to remain here.
Away from Brexit, I’ve been busy marking World Refugee Week, attending a series of events and debates, including a debate on reuniting refugee families on Thursday, and a very moving and beautiful performance of poetry, music and short dramas in Speaker’s House, jointly organised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the National Theatre. I attend a fair number of events in Speaker’s House, but it’s not every day I get to see world-class performers there, and rub shoulders with Colin Firth and Cate Blanchett!
The appalling irony of hearing in Refugee Week that Donald Trump has been separating children from their parents at the Mexican border wasn’t lost on parliament. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about this, and my colleague Gavin Shuker MP asked a blistering question of Theresa May about why on earth we are inviting this man to visit the UK at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday. I’m glad this vicious policy has been abandoned going forward, but what about those families who have already been separated? It’s totally sickening, not worthy of the USA, and MPs will continue to press the matter.
I am very privileged to work with some fabulous refugee groups in the constituency – you can watch my tribute to them here. I was especially delighted to spend last Friday morning with pupils from Moss Park Infants and St Matthews Primary Schools at their conference on children’s rights, as part of their rights-respecting schools programme. The children have paid particular attention to the rights of refugee children, visiting my office to raise their concerns, and I must say their conference was just amazing, and very professional. Thank you for inviting me. I’ve also written a piece about why we should afford aslyum-seekers the right to work, which you can read here.
My work on Brexit and on refugees has prompted some comments this week on social media that I should stop spending my time on foreign affairs, and concentrate on what’s happening locally. Well, really, where to begin? For a start, in a globally connected world, international and domestic matters are intimately connected – migration, climate change, conflict and trade all affect us locally. I feel that especially acutely in my diverse, ethnically mixed and culturally rich constituency, where many people have longstanding family connections to other countries. Second, surely we have a moral obligation to look out for one another – something that’s certainly understood by the children at Moss Park and St Matthews. And third, as it happens, I tend to concentrate most of my time on domestic policy, not international affairs, and to work on local issues with our excellent Trafford Labour councillors. Which is why this week, I have been busy in our two debating chambers asking questions about universal credit, forced marriage (yes, shockingly, it does happen in the UK, and people with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable), and participating in a packed debate about the debilitating disease ME, the cause of which still isn’t understood, and for which there’s no effective treatment. Thanks to those constituents who contacted me ahead of the debate to share your experiences, and I am very glad to report that the government minister confirmed that he takes the matter very seriously.