Brexit and constituency update
A new year often brings a fresh look at life and work. When the result of the referendum was announced, I took it upon myself to go around the South West to see how we can make the best of the outcome that we now face. In the time since, I’ve met with hundreds of people and businesses from all around the region, trying to find ways to make the best of Brexit. This period of reflection has left me with one conclusion: any Brexit harms our region and our country, and as an elected representative for millions of people, I cannot support something that I know will be detrimental, disadvantageous and downright damaging to the people as a Labour politician I came into politics to represent.
To that end, my team and I have been doing meetings around the region talking about stopping Brexit. We’ve received a great reception from Labour parties who know that the solutions our party offers are the only way of reversing the Government’s damaging policies, particularly for our NHS, housing and schools. They also know that leaving the European Union - particularly with the Tories at the helm - will diminish the ability of any future government of dealing with these crises. Put simply, we need a Labour Government and we need to remain in the EU, for the prosperity of all.
Sadly, it’s not Labour that is running the country at this critical time in our history. The current Government should be governing in the interest of the country and to that end it should be using an evidence base to make its decisions. In the last month, I joined forces with Bristol’s Labour MPs, David Drew MP and two of our Prospective Parliamentary candidates to call on the Government to commission and release an assessment on the impact of Brexit on Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire and North Somerset: recent research by the University of Birmingham revealed that this part of our region is one of the most exposed to Brexit in the whole country. The leaked Government analysis have sadly confirmed this to be true - not one region of the UK will be better off if we leave the European Union, regardless of which path - hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no deal - Theresa May chooses to take. You can read about this here.
We’ve also seen the Government continue to take credit for work that has been initiated by the EU, whether it is charges for plastic bags or the abolition of credit card charges. It is no surprise that the reputation of the EU is not higher given the Government’s gall in claiming the actions of the EU as their own.
Away from Brexit, I’ve been able to meet with several groups of school and university students over the past month across the region. Our young people’s thirst for knowledge is always so impressive, as well as the questions they have for politicians like me - these are often better-worded and more informed than those we get from journalists or other politicians!
I also attended a very moving and poignant Holocaust Memorial Day event in Salisbury’s parish church. We should never forget the horrors of the Holocaust: the solemn event allowed us to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the millions more killed by Nazi persecution. Holocaust Memorial Day is not just about the important act of remembering, it is about making sure we honour the memory by preventing such acts from happening again. An important message at the event is that the Holocaust did not happen overnight, individual citizens have a responsibility to ensure that bigotry and hatred are not allowed to take root in our society. Events like this honour the survivors of regimes of hatred, and we must challenge ourselves to use the lessons of the the past to inform our lives today.
February marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. This legislation was the first time women were given the vote, albeit women over the age of 30, and significantly, it paved the way for universal women’s suffrage 10 years later. The 2018 Act was also the first time there was universal suffrage for men. Throughout the month and into 2018 we will be marking this important milestone and honouring those who fought hard for universal suffrage with numerous events and exhibitions here in Brussels and back in Westminster and the South West. A century later and we know the work to deliver equality is a long way from finished but the momentum of campaigns that started in 2017 could result in tangible wins for gender equality this year.
Industry, Technology and Research Committee
January was a busy month for the Industry, Technology and Research committee as three significant reports were voted on during the month’s plenary session, leading the way towards a clean and sustainable economic and social model in which energy and, importantly, energy efficiency plays a central role.
I was also delighted to take part in the 10th Annual Space Conference where I was joined by experts from the space and scientific communities and key policy makers. We discussed the expansion of European space policy to ensure the greatest benefits to society and the economy and how Europe can strengthen its position on the global space market. As a British MEP I recognise and cherish our ability to work together and I was joined on a panel by British astronaut Tim Peake whose Principa mission inspired so many and demonstrated how much we can achieve together.
Foreign Affairs + Security and Defence Committee
Over the past few weeks, there have been several committee meetings of both the foreign affairs and security and defence committees. The meetings ranged from voting on completed committee reports to be sent to the Plenary meeting in February through to wider discussions of current foreign affairs challenges such as the EU's response to the escalation of violence in Syria and how the EU can better defend itself in today´s more unpredictable world.
One of the more important reports that the foreign affairs committee voted on was the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, a fund that is expected to improve coordination between Europe's defence industries to help save defence budgets money across the EU.
Looking ahead, the Committees will be discussing the consequences and humanitarian impact of Turkey's incursion into Syria against Kurdish forces. The EU's position has long been to support the Kurds in their fight against Da'aesh and I will be pushing for the EU to make clear it continues to support the Kurds in this most recent escalation in violence.