September 2019 E-Newsletter
Where now for Brexit, Parliament and the most dramatic period in politics I have lived through..?
I have never known a time like this in politics, and by the time you read this the story may have taken yet another twist, but as I write:
Parliament faces the longest suspension for 90 years – and suspension is quite different to the kind of break that happens for the summer or for the party conferences. In the latter cases Parliament can be recalled, and has been, and may well have been this September. The new Prime Minister has announced his ‘do or die’ intention to drive Brexit through on October 31st. MPs, myself included, this week voted through an emergency law: the EU Withdrawal (no6) Bill, also known as the Benn-Burt Bill, designed to block any possibility of a vastly damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit (but importantly does not prevent him negotiating a new deal with the EU in the meantime). He responds by trying to force a General Election, which now requires 2/3 of MPs to support under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. We say no, because of the real risk that an election date could be changed after we agreed to it. If this happened, we could crash out of the EU at a time when Parliament isn’t sitting and can do nothing to stop it.
By next week, Boris Johnson could be back with another attempt to get an election through another route and we will have to see what happens then.
So why not agree to an election? As a Labour MP I want to see a change of government for more reasons than I can easily list. However, with just a few weeks to go until the new deadline of Oct 31st, the absolute priority has to be to stop a ‘No deal’ Brexit which virtually everyone, from the Governor of the Bank of England to the previous Chancellor Philip Hammond, agreed would hit jobs and the economy to the tune of £90 billion, with the poorest communities worst affected. It would affect every facet of our national life and every region and nation of the UK. It would end, at a stroke, the whole body of legal arrangements that exist between the UK and the EU, plunging us into a legal and regulatory vacuum. It would damage our manufacturing base and decimate the British car industry. It would put the union of our United Kingdom at risk. It would threaten the complex law enforcement and judicial co-operation arrangements that keep Britain safe. And it would almost inevitably result in infrastructure being placed on the Irish border, place untold strain on the Good Friday agreement and Anglo-Irish relations more generally, and exacerbate the current political instability in Northern Ireland.
Can’t we trust Boris Johnson to give us an election on the 15th of October, so there is time to negotiate a new deal? Well, only last weekend he was promising not to suspend Parliament in case it blocked what he wanted to do, and that promise didn’t last even a few days. So…no, we can’t.
Some people argue that leaving without a deal would mean a ‘clean break’, after which we can start new trading relationships, but of course that is the point – we will have to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU in any event, but leaving with no deal would mean doing this from a position of weakness. After all, this stage was described by Conservative Brexiteers as being ‘the easiest deal in history’ and now look at it. And do we really expect trade deals with other countries, including the US, to be simple and not to involve concessions on our part too? Brexit will dominate our politics for many years whether we like it or not.
Isn’t Parliament only blocking the government and not coming up with anything positive? It is the government of the day that brings forward laws and negotiates international agreements, so our job as MPs is to scrutinise the government and make sure those laws and agreements are fit for purpose. As I have said before many times, I would (maybe reluctantly) support a soft form of Brexit at the start- one that reflected the fact that the referendum required us to leave, but a 52/48 split shows that the country was quite closely divided. That was never on offer.
Since then I have made clear that I would vote for an agreement- including Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement- on condition this was put back to the public for a final say, with an option to remain if that was rejected. Given how Parliament has struggled to find a way forward, I remain sure that only the British people can give any outcome the legitimacy it now needs.
So, where we are now…
An election may still happen, though in my view it shouldn’t happen until we are through the October 31st deadline.
A damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit has to be stopped, in line with the Bill which passed Parliament this week.
When there is a contest between Government and Parliament, Parliament must win. Undermining Parliament by unconstitutional tricks is dangerous and wrong and it risks setting a precedent, which we really need to avoid.
So we are in a struggle not just to protect our economy and our national interest, but to protect our democracy. I incline against using dramatic language like this most of the time but this week I believe it to be true.
Meanwhile, in some other local news:
£76 million blown on West London NHS management consultants, while local health cuts deepen
Earlier this year the government pulled the plug on the West London NHS strategy, Shaping a Healthier Future, after 7 years.
What we didn’t know at the time is that a staggering £76 million was blown on management consultants during all that planning- money that should have gone on patient care. During the same time this was happening the number of Accident and Emergency Attendances in North West London rose by almost quarter of a million and there has been a 40% rise in the number of people waiting for surgery.
For the in the last two weeks we have been told by our local NHS managers that their financial situation is dire. Now we are promised extra money for the NHS, given the fact that we have been gripped by the tightest spending squeeze since it was set up in the 1940s and that is welcome, but we actually need to see that money locally in order to believe it.
Some good pub news at last
Pubs can be an important and valued part of a neighbourhood, and although habits have changed and not every pub can (or should) be saved, they shouldn’t all just disappear because developers can make more money from converting them to luxury flats.
I was really pleased to join Councillor Tim Roca and campaigners in support of ‘The Squirrel’ (formerly the Skiddaw) in Elgin Avenue this summer because this was a pub with a long and interesting history. And we have had some good news. Westminster Council has decided that it could still be viable as a pub (an important test) so redevelopment hasn’t had the go ahead. Still a long way to go but all too often campaigns fall at this hurdle so it is very welcome.
After over a year of blight, we hope the Jubilee centre site is set for development
After a fierce campaign against closure was lost, Westminster Council shut down the Jubilee Sports Centre in Queen’s Park over a year ago. New housing was to be built to help finance the Moberly Centre, although we did manage to get the Council to agree to a community sports hall on the site. Then…nothing. The building sat empty, was squatted…
Finally, we hear that there will shortly be progress and the new housing and sports hall building should start in October.
Call for more police on the front line
Home office budget cuts mean we have 21,000 fewer police than ten years ago. West London has lost 1,000 officers and Westminster is down by over a third, despite Sadiq Khan raising the most he is allowed to from Council Tax to up the numbers. Obviously I welcome the government saying they will get us back to where we were over the next few years, but will all those extra police be on the frontline, as was promised? I asked the Prime Minister.
Of course, whilst restoring police numbers to 2010 levels is vital, so is tackling the growing crisis elsewhere in the criminal justice system- from courts to prisons- and investing in the services which we know can help support vulnerable young people and divert them away from crime. In August I backed the crowdfunder to support summer programmes at youth centres such as the Avenues, Queen’s Park Sports Hub and the Stowe, for although Westminster Council has agreed to restore *some* of the money taken away from youth services since 2015, there is still a desperate financial situation facing children’s and youth provision locally.
Westminster Council set to double rent for local nursery
The largest provider of childcare locally is the not-for-profit London Early Years Foundation (which used to be Westminster Children’s Association). In order to keep fees at a realistic level, they have to keep costs down as much as possible. Part of those costs are the rents they are charged on council buildings. Now Westminster wants to up the amount they charge in rent for nurseries offering childcare to local residents. It’s nuts. After complaints I took this up with the council, parents are organising a petition and we are still fighting…
Read the story here.
Somehow we can’t even afford to provide hot meals for our most vulnerable older residents
The number of older people getting social services like meals and home care has plunged in recent years as government funds for local councils has been cut by over half. Even so, it was a shock to find out that the last of those people are now told that no one will deliver the contract and in some cases they were even told to turn to Deliveroo or Uber eats! Working with local councillors, I took up the story, which you can read here.
Working with the Mayor of London on plans to make rents more affordable
Westminster has the largest share of its housing in the private rental sector in the country, and across London the number of people renting privately has doubled over recent years. Some people are quite happy with renting, but for hundreds of thousands of people it is insecure, expensive and too often poor quality housing. High rents trap people in poverty, make it hard for work to pay and make it hard to save for a deposit.
So Sadiq Khan has made this a priority for his Mayoralty, and he asked me to work with him in developing policies for London’s private tenants. Our report was published in July and you can read the BBC report and the actual policy document here.
Labour Animal Welfare Manifesto
Alongside Brexit and the climate emergency, animal welfare has been one of the issued I have heard about most throughout August – from animal sentience, the badger cull and stricter sentencing for animal cruelty.
This month there have been a number of key developments on the animal welfare front. First off I am incredibly pleased that my colleague, Kerry McCarthy MP, has introduced a Bill to Parliament that would require the Government to recognise the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. Given the failure of the Government to sure up these protections in the Animal Welfare Bill so far. I very much look forward to this Bill returning to the House of Commons – whenever that may be.
Labour has also just published its own Animal Welfare Manifesto which covers a whole range of areas from domestic pets and zoos to hunting and farming and which I believe reflects the growing public concern for animal welfare in Britain.
Labour has been consulting on the Animal Welfare Plan which received around 6000 responses and one of the key proposals is the appointment of an Animal Welfare Commissioner. The Commissioner would ensure that all government policy is continually informed and underpinned by the latest scientific evidence on animal sentience and best practice in animal welfare. The proposals also include the banning of fur and trophy hunting imports into the UK.
I believe this comes as good news, but don’t take my word for it – you can read Sue Hayman’s statement and the full Animal Welfare Manifesto here.
Maida Vale studios
Some time ago the BBC announced that they would be leaving Maida Vale studios and there will, in time, be development proposals brought forward. There is now a consultation on whether the studio buildings should be removed from the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. You can have your say on this by responding to Historic England- but hurry as you only have until the 17th of September
INVITATION TO COMMENT- by September 17th
I am writing to advise you that we have completed our initial assessment of the above building to consider whether it should be removed from the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.
Please click on the link below to download a copy of our consultation report, which sets out the factual information upon which we will base our recommendation to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:
If you have any further information or observations on the consultation report which you believe might be relevant to our assessment we would be pleased to hear your thoughts. You can send these to us by email or by post within 21 days from the date of this email. If you do not intend to send us any further comments we would be grateful if you could let us know so that we can proceed with the case. We will consider all representations made before finalising our assessment and making our decision. We will notify you of the Secretary of State’s decision in due course.
If you have any questions in the meantime please do not hesitate to contact me, quoting our reference 1458667. Further guidance on how to respond to this consultation and the type of information we are interested in can be found on our website at https://historicengland.org.uk.
Listing Team South
4th floor, Cannon Bridge House
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP