Parliament starts its summer break today – after an abortive attempt last week by the Prime Minister to end the term early to avoid the risk of losing votes, or getting into another row with her own backbenchers. Labour MPs certainly weren’t having that – we have plenty of issues we wanted to raise on behalf of our constituents, and we didn’t see why we should lose time to do so just to help the Prime Minister out of the hole she’s dug herself into.
So I was in Westminster right up to the bitter end last night, speaking in the final debate of the summer session, to raise concerns about shoddy building work and appalling customer services experienced by constituents who’ve bought new Persimmon homes in Woodsend, about pressure on the police and ambulance services, and to present a petition on behalf of Refugee and Asylum Seeker Voice, calling for decisions on applications for asylum to be made more swiftly. It’s in no one’s interest for these decisions to take so long – it leaves individuals in an unbearable limbo, unable to find a job, settle into a new home and begin to rebuild their lives – points I raised in a debate I led on refuges and homelessness last week. But it’s also in everyone’s interest that if someone is not entitled to remain in the country, we should be removing them as quickly as possible.
Regular readers of my blogs will know that this parliamentary session has been dominated by Brexit-related issues, and last week was no exception. For the past two years, I’ve been a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, so Brexit has taken a lot of my time in parliament. In September, I am switching over to join the Home Affairs committee, but I certainly made the most of my last European Scrutiny meeting – grilling Michael Gove on Brexit, President Trump, and chlorinated chicken.
Meanwhile, a series of very tight Commons votes showed just how much pressure the government is under on Brexit. There’s no majority among MPs for its cobbled together Chequers deal, which tries to maintain a half-baked customs arrangement with the EU after exit day, but the problem in parliament is that there’s no majority for any other sort of arrangement that’s been proposed so far either. We did win a vote to remain in the European Medicines Agency, which is very good news for UK residents who rely on access to the best modern drugs to treat complex illnesses, but votes on different forms of customs duties which were proposed to try to soften the impact of Brexit were lost by a handful of votes, not least because the Prime Minister disgracefully caved in to the hard-line Brexiteers in her own party. This was a shameful display of self-serving political cowardice, more about her own survival and keeping her party together than what’s in the best interests of the country. The Customs and Trade bills now head off the House of Lords, who will have another chance to make amendments to them.
Away from debates and commitments, it was great to meet Jennie, Jackie and Clare, who run nurseries in my constituency. They’d come to parliament to talk to me about some of the complexities of the government’s so-called ’30 hours free’ childcare for working parents, and I was very pleased to pledge to support their call for affordable, sustainable, high-quality early education.
And back in the constituency, my diary has been filled with end of term engagements at, and visits to, local schools – including Manor Academy’s awards ceremony (it was great to catch up with students there who’ve done work experience in my office), the Dean Trust summer fair held at Broadoak school, a visit to Trafford High School, and a meeting with students from Urmston Grammar, who’ve been working on a project on brain injury. Well done to all students for your hard work over the past year, and I hope you all enjoy a lovely summer holiday!
Thanks also to all the ladies at As Salaam Islamic centre in Stretford who put on a wonderful Eid celebration last Sunday – it was great to see so many women from our diverse communities attending, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality. Ove the summer break, I’ll be making more visits to great constituency groups, and I hope to see many of you as I’m out and about in the next few weeks! I’ll be posting on Facebook about the visits I make – and restarting my blog when parliament returns in the autumn.