I’m running out of words to describe the increasingly bizarre happenings in parliament. This week, we’ve had climate protestors stripping off in the public gallery, waste water pouring through the roof and into the press gallery, the first tied vote in more than a quarter of a century, a crucial bill to stop a No Deal Brexit get through the Commons by just ONE vote, a Tory MP (Nick Boles) defect from his party right in front of our eyes and walk across the chamber to the opposition benches, and the ‘admonishment’ of Mr Dominic Cummings (who ran the Vote Leave campaign) for a rare case of contempt of parliament (watch my speech about this in my capacity as chair of parliament’s Privileges Committee here). MPs’ nerves are becoming utterly shredded: none of this is normal.
Brexit is characterised by daily twists and turns, yet there’s no certainty about our final destination. We’ve had more indicative votes to try to establish MPs’ preferred deal, the bill to avoid a No Deal Brexit went through the Commons in a single day and is now being rushed through the Lords, and the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn are holding talks to see if a cross-party way ahead can be agreed between them. As I write, it hasn’t. I fear, as ever, the PM is refusing to budge on her refusal to be part of a customs union, or to contemplate a public vote to confirm any deal agreed by the politicians. It will be impossible to make any sort of progress if she remains so intransigent.
I’ve tried to use my votes in parliament this week to do everything possible to help get a deal that can be put back to the country for ratification. Many colleagues have done likewise, as we desperately try to find a compromise that might not meet all our own preferences, but we really believe it’s vital to reach a consensus in the best interests of the country. If the bill to prevent a No Deal Brexit survives the House of Lords, that should at least give us more time to seek a sensible solution. But with parliamentary business changing virtually hour by hour, it’s impossible to predict what will happen.
In between all the parliamentary drama and following the appalling attack in New Zealand last month, I’ve been pressing the Home Secretary to bring forward the funding he’s promised to improve security at mosques and other places of worship. I raised it with him in the chamber on Monday here, and subsequently organised a letter, signed by 91 politicians, seeking more details. It’s so important to keep all our communities safe, and I’m making this my top priority, with meetings arranged in the next few days with both Greater Manchester Police and members of the local community.
I was very pleased to co-chair an important and informative meeting with my colleague David Lammy MP this week about the so-called ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants. A climate of suspicion and restrictive checks on non-UK nationals means some don’t receive the healthcare they need, or their children miss out on school, or they can’t open bank accounts, or landlords refuse to rent to them. These are people who are often working, paying UK tax, contributing to our economy, providing the workforce we need in a whole range of sectors from health and social care to food processing to hospitality to construction. Yet too often, they’re treated disgracefully. But at last there has been some good news for the Windrush generation, who arrived here many decades ago from Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries, worked and settled here, and brought up their families – and were then told (completely wrongly) that they had no right to remain in this country. After many months, a compensation scheme has finally been announced, and I’ll be meeting constituents who may be able to benefit from the scheme shortly.