Good to be back in Westminster, ready and eager to get stuck in to another parliamentary term. It began with a visit to Brussels with the Brexit committee where we heard evidence from Michael Barnier. This was a very informative session during which we discussed a variety of issues including the negotiation timetable, Irish border backstop, citizen’s rights, and no deal planning.
On Tuesday morning, there was another session of the Brexit committee, this time in Westminster. Today the permanent Secretary at the Brexit department was giving evidence about the running of his department. I asked him a variety of questions. These along with the responses are given below:
- ‘How effective has your department been in engaging with stakeholders such as businesses, EU member states and civic society?’
He replied, ‘We are managing one of the biggest what is probably the biggest engagement exercise any government has attempted. It’s hugely important that others understand why it is in their interests to do a good deal with the UK…as well as to understand where their concerns lie.’
- ‘Regarding business, could you give an example of how you have engaged with businesses and got feedback, especially on the Chequers deal?’
I was recently in Leeds talking to Asda, to understand where their concern lay in the Brexit process.
- ‘How have you been engaging with SMEs?’
‘The main way is through trade associations, who we have regular interactions with’.
- Do you believe your department is ready and fully geared up to leave on the 29th of March?
- ‘Are you aware of any conversations regarding extending the transition period?’
He replied with a very straightforward answer, confirming that an extension was ‘not government policy and he was not aware of any conversations’. For me, this is hugely reassuring. I believe there must be no delay in untangling ourselves from the EU. This is the will of the British people in the referendum and any unnecessary delay will be a betrayal of this will.
After the Brexit committee, there was time to catch up with a number of colleagues before I attended a meeting of the ERG in the evening.
On Wednesday morning, I was in the chamber for Northern Ireland questions where I asked the Minister the following question:
‘Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in her discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic she has emphasised that Irish insistence on a backstop that would force Northern Ireland, or indeed the whole of the UK, to remain in parts of the EU or its customs union are unacceptable and the surest way to deliver a no deal?’
Her reply was very reassuring- ‘I can assure my hon. Friend that in my discussions with all parties and Governments in the European Union, I am very clear that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom must be respected, and that means no border down the Irish sea and that all businesses in Northern Ireland must have unfettered access to UK markets, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) indicated earlier.’
On Wednesday, during PMQs, I asked the Prime Minister to join me in condemning the intimidation of elected officials by hard left momentum activists. This was in relation to the recent experiences of a local councillor in our constituency. I was shocked and saddened to hear of people waiting outside Nic’s house and trolling her on social media. The Prime Minister was clear in her condemnation of this behaviour and I will not shy away from taking all action necessary in future to ensure Nic is fully supported in her duties.
Directly after PMQs, the Prime Minister made a statement on the Salisbury Novichok attack. She updated the house with the findings of the police investigation into this attack and concluded that it was carried out by Russian intelligence operatives with authorisation from the Russian Government. This is an extremely serious development and I hope that the UK Government will now unite with our allies in Europe and across the world, to put pressure on Russia so that it receives a clear message that actions like these are not acceptable.
Much of the rest of my time in Westminster was spent planning a parliamentary reception I will host next week. This month is childhood cancer awareness months and on behalf of the charity, Candlelighters, I will host a drop in session for MPs to come and learn more about this cruel disease. Keep an eye out on social media for more details of this next week.