Parliament has been tense this week with resignations and rumours as the Commons voted on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which came back from the Lords with their amendments.
Over two days there were around 20 votes. A busy time for MPs and for the media who were frantically trying to catch up, predict who was up or who was down or in some instances who was out! Not so veiled threats were made about Theresa May barely lasting the week - and these were from her own side. Whilst across the party divide 90 Labour MPs defied voting instructions from Jeremy Corbyn’s whips and six of his shadow front-bench resigned. What subject could possibly cause so much heat if not quite so much light you may ask? Brexit of course. That seismic referendum result we are all, in our different ways, trying to manage and comprehend. From my perspective as I am sure many of you know, I made a promise during the referendum and the snap general election, that whatever my personal views (I argued to Remain) I would support the result of the referendum whichever way it went, and not back calls for a second. I have kept to my word this week as I always do because if make a promise to Eastbourne I keep it, just as I did with university tuition fees. There were a whole series of amendments including calls for Parliament to have a meaningful vote, fixing the date of leaving the EU and joining the EEA (single market). I did not support these as they could have either stopped us leaving the EU, delayed it ad-infinitum or kept us within the rules but with no oversight or input. Each would have broken my promise to the town. However I did back calls for us to remain in a customs union. Something which the Conservative government is clearly heading toward with their own “customs arrangement” line. Why? Three key reasons. Because they realise it’s patently absurd to walk away from the richest trade market in the world, it also makes a hard border in Norther Ireland inevitable with worrying security implications and, last but not least, there are a number of countries who are already members of a customs union but not members of the EU. Thus not crossing my red line. Coincidently, I had a meeting with the national Fishing Trade Body in Westminster as well this week, and they were insisting we retain a ‘frictionless’ trade arrangement with the EU as so much of their catch (90 per cent of scallops for instance) goes to European markets. The last thing they want are either tariffs or customs barriers to their produce. The irony of this lobbying was not lost on me as, broadly speaking, fisherman tend to be virulently anti the EU but as they’re discovering, votes have consequences. However, we are where we are so I agreed that I would lobby the government on their behalf. My take of the week is that the odds of a cliff edge, hard Brexit have dwindled and the government is inching toward some sort of arrangement where we retain a form of customs agreement. And that the Prime Minister has survived another rocky period by kicking the final decisions on a number of key issues further down the road. Unlike the Wizard of Oz’s yellow brick road though, this one has an end date and it’s coming up fast. Interesting times!
Meanwhile on a more cheerful note, it was lovely to welcome West Rise Junior School up to Parliament this week. It’s an absolutely fantastic local school in Langney. Their Head, Mike Fairclough, won a community award at a dinner only a couple of weeks ago: Educator of the Year; and very well deserved it was. Mike, along with the brilliant team across the piece at West Rise, has made it one of the best junior schools in the country. And that’s one heck of an achievement. It was good to meet the youngsters; their School Council, sharp and bright as a tack they all were.
I was up in London last Sunday with Cherine, watching an absolutely fantastic procession of thousands of women, of all ages , celebrating women getting the vote. And then, to our surprise, proceeded to be greeted by some Eastbourne constituents, a group of WASPi women from the capital who had seen me argue their case at Westminster, and some deaf women from a creative group in Brighton, who knew of my work in Parliament on deafness and disability. A pleasure to meet them all.
One of the many local organisations I and my casework team liaise closely with is Eastbourne Citizens Advice Bureau. It’s pretty tough out there at the moment for a lot of people - I’ve received over 4,000 individual cases since my re-election for example - but one of the things that’s working well locally is the different advice and support groups are supporting each other as we try to help residents who are struggling. And our CAB is doing a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances, so I want to publicly pay tribute to the staff and their excellent volunteer advisors. This coming Monday they’re holding the annual sponsored “Legal” walk to raise funds for the charity. If you can, please join me in sponsoring them at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CAEastbourne Or call them on: 03444 111 444.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.