Bexit update – also a chance to have your say in my Bexit survey
I understand only too well why there is anger and frustration at the apparent inability to find a way through the Brexit crisis. We know we can’t go on like this, and we won’t. Events must come to a conclusion. Yet we can’t allow the pressure to drive us either over the cliff edge to a ‘no deal’ Brexit which would do yet more damage to our country and our economy (hitting those on lower incomes hardest), or to settle for a bad deal which simply pushes the problems a little into the future. Amongst much else, we have not been very good at explaining that the current difficulties relate merely to the terms on which we leave the EU – we haven’t yet begun to map out the arrangements on which we will trade and co-operate with Europe over the long term.
The next two weeks will be absolutely critical, since it is not clear that Boris Johnson has the basis of an acceptable deal, which avoids a return to a hard border in Ireland. ( As I write, news is coming through indicating some progress in respect of Ireland, but it is too early to know what the prospects of success are).
In September, Parliament passed into law a demand that the Government seek an extension rather than crash out without a deal at the end of October, but as Boris Johnson is saying he will not sign such a letter, we remain set for a confrontation. Our first task, therefore, is to be vigilant in case attempts are made to evade this legal duty. Now we understand Parliament is to sit on Saturday 19th – the same day as the planned ‘People’s Vote’ march – to consider what steps to take after the EU summit late next week, so next weekend will be absolutely crucial.
As I have said repeatedly, the only way I can see through this impasse is for the public to have a final say between a option for leave (at the moment, we only have Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement which has actually been negotiated with the EU, though this could now change), and remain. I see this as is the only feasible choice, as I can’t see how any government could put a leave option onto a ballot which would undermine peace in Ireland by cutting across the Good Friday agreement, for example.
I didn’t support Theresa May’s version of the deal earlier this year (neither, to be fair, did Boris Johnson on two occasions …for different reasons) because I believed it to be too ‘hard’ a version of Brexit. It was based on her negotiating red-lines which reflected the dominance of the hard-right European Research Group of Conservative MPs. The protection of the Good Friday agreement via the ‘backstop’ which avoids the reintroduction of a hard border in Ireland was never the sole concern – the Political Declaration setting out the future framework did not guarantee a close future relationship but instead held out the prospect of a “spectrum of different outcomes” including a hard Canadian-style free trade arrangement.
I would, therefore, not hesitate to campaign for ‘remain’ – there is no deal available which is better than the deal we have.
Yet the truth is there is still not a majority in Parliament for a second referendum, though this is changing, and may be tested again in the coming days.
A General Election is likely very soon, whatever happens, and naturally I welcome the opportunity to change the direction of the country by electing a different government. There are very many pressing issues facing the country, not only Brexit, and my emails and surgeries are dominated by concerns over housing, policing, schools and the NHS.
My own view is that we need to resolve this phase of Brexit first and separately if at all possible, but it may not be. If we end up fighting a general election this autumn the Conservatives look set to take us out immediately, which probably means no deal.
The Lib Dems say they will revoke Article 50, though with the significant caveat that they will revert to their previous policy of a People’s Vote if they don’t win an overall majority (something that last happened in 1906). Labour says it wants a referendum on any deal – and that if we are in government that will be a soft Brexit deal: staying in the customs union and single market with full rights for EU citizens and alignment on policies from employment and the environment to security.
I’ve said I would vote for revoke rather than risk the damage of ‘no deal’, but it is not my preferred option, given the importance of trying to heal the divisions in the country rather than intensify them.
On the other hand, I think a ‘final say’ second referendum – whilst certainly not an easy option- has the potential to settle the issue with the support of the majority of both remainers and leavers.
A Labour government would provide for this ‘final say’. I would prefer Labour to say now we will support Remain in a vote after a general election – and I am sure that in practice that we would as the vast majority of Labour MPs and members take this view. But as far as Westminster residents are concerned, they will definitely get the final say if Labour is in government and I will certainly be campaigning flat out for Remain.
Finally, I’ve asked local residents for your views on previous occasions – and many thousands of you have been in contact about Europe too.
However, it’s always helpful to know what people are thinking locally, so I’ve updated my own pro-active survey. If you haven’t already taken it (it takes less than two minutes) please do so now and ask your friends, family and neighbours to as well. Here’s the link – only one go per email address.
Extinction Rebellion Forest
Since Parliament voted to declare an Environment and Climate Emergency in May, we have still not seen enough direct action from the Government. On October 9, members of Extinction Rebellion placed 1,000 trees outside of Parliament in the shape of the British Isles, as a call for the Government and MPs to plant trees across the U.K whilst drawing attention to the major environmental issue of deforestation. The 1,000 trees had the name of a Minister or MP on them and I fully support this sort of undisruptive yet powerful demonstration on issues as important as this. I was happy to visit the forest and collect my tree – despite driving rain!- and look forward to planting it in my garden.
TV licences for over 75s:
3.7 million over-75s will potentially lose their free TV licences following the withdrawal of government funding which has forced the BBC to restrict it to those on pension credit in future. These changes are currently due to come into effect from 31 May 2020.
Labour colleagues and myself have opposed these actions being taken by the Government, and find it deeply disappointing that they are choosing to take away this service.
In the meantime, whilst the BBC continue to offer free TV License to those claiming Pension Credit, please remember to check if you or your relatives are eligible for this. It is currently estimated that two out of every five people eligible for pension credit do not claim it, whether due to being unaware they are eligible for the benefit, or unaware of the benefit altogether. As such, 1.3 million people are currently not claiming pension credit when they are able to and will also lose out on the free TV License as a result.
Please check if you are eligible here.
Airbnb Announce Consultation
Airbnb have announced a 6 month consultation on a mandatory registration system, which I believe comes as good news. The short-let housing sector has a lot to contribute but if left wholly unregulated there are potentially serious negative consequences. Part of the reason for setting up the APPG on Short-Lets earlier this year was to consider effective ways of preventing some of these unwanted impacts. As well as continuing to consider how best we can legislate for this new sector, I support efforts to self-regulate from within the Industry, whether that be AirBnB and other platforms’ previous decision to help enforce the 90-day limit in London or this new consultation on a registration system. I am pleased to see further recognition of the need to ensure the sector is properly managed and regulated, and will want to contribute to the consultation they are launching through the APPG.
Local round up
Paddington Rec Café
I couldn’t have been more shocked when I was contacted last month by the operators of the café in Paddington Rec, warning that they may have to pack up due to a potential rent hike. I’ve been a regular there for many, many years and can see for myself how Meti and Vicky watch out for the area, really care about the park and runs a real community operation. Like many other people, I would have been appalled to see yet this replaced by just yet another corporate chain. So along with ward councillors Nafsika, Geoff and Rita, I went to the Council to see what scope there was for getting a deal with Everyone Active to keep Meti and Vicky there. Happily everyone is now back in talks and it is all looking more positive. So fingers crossed…
Concerns about security, crime and policing remain high across the area. This week I am meeting senior police to press them on increasing capacity in Westminster as the first allocations of the government’s promised additional police are announced. Westminster has lost over a third of our police since 2010 as a result of government cuts to funding, which led to a fall of 20,000 police nationwide. It is time we reversed that trend. But we also desperately need more investment in prevention. I am glad the campaign to persuade Westminster Council to restore some of the 1005 cuts they made to the youth service paid off, and I have also been lobbying the Mayor for the next round of the Young Londoners Fund.
The local police are strongly focused on serious youth violence at the moment, and made a number of arrests quickly after the horrific murder of 17 year old Josiph Beker in Edgware Road on the 10th of September. However, and even whilst the whole community remains in shock, there have been further incidents since then in different parts of the borough, so the issue remains a major challenge. In fact, levels of serious violence are rising fastest outside London, so this is a national problem requiring a comprehensive, national action plan.
Church Street councillors Matt Noble, Aisha Less and Aziz Toki took the initiative in organising a community meeting to focus on youth violence last Saturday, and I was pleased to attend to hear the views of residents. Alongside the understandable concerns about policing and youth activities, it was particularly interesting to hear how strongly residents felt about the need to connect more as a neighbourhood, so everyone knows each other better and levels of fear are reduced. There is evidence that people do feel safer in places where they are more familiar with the people around them, so supporting community building really does pay off.
You can read more about ‘Only young once’- Labour’s plans to rebuild a comprehensive youth service here.
Over the last year or two, there have been stories about how the residents living in social housing in some new mixed developments have been barred from accessing what should be communal gardens and other areas. We didn’t expect to find this on our own doorstep but sadly an example emerged at Westbourne Place, part of the former Harrow Road police station site.
Despite paying £200 pm service charges, children of tenants of Octavia Housing Association have not been able to enjoy the gardens which are reserved for the private owners (through no fault of either group of residents). Councillor Adam Hug and I have been raising this with all the groups involved in building and managing the properties and support the Council in seeking to enforce against this shocking practice. Our aim should be to bring people together in the space we live in, not force them apart.
One of the problems at Westbourne Place has been the communication between Pinnacle, Octavia and Redrow so Cllr Adam Hug and I are meeting with representatives from these respective organisations this week to try and see how the access issues can be resolved. I will keep you posted!
Everyone should have a decent home to live in…
I’ve been putting pressure on Network Stadium to resolve issues in the Brindley Estate blocks, which have been plagued with design, repair and maintenance issues, causing huge issues for residents. Working with Westminster Environmental Health Officers:
The common parts of the blocks on the estate were inspected following reported ASB incidents in the car parks and communal stairwells. From those inspections new security measures across the estate were agreed including new carpark gates, security doors, CCTV systems and renewed lighting to the common car park areas.
The internal stairwells were also inspected and it was found that the windows in Brindley House had been vandalised in places, and were defective in that the external frames and brickwork surrounds allowed for rain water penetration.
Network Homes were requested to replace of all the defective windows, alongside repairs to the surrounding brickwork. Network Homes agreed to this plan of action and have liaised with the Planning Department for approval of the replacement scheme which was recently granted.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP