Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week brought a welcome change of tone there are still many questions to be answered regarding what the ‘Implementation’ period will include never mind what the final deal will look like. This all means that businesses and citizens are unable to effectively plan for the future, despite being 15 months after the referendum and 6 months after the Government triggered the Article 50 process with no plan in place.
I’ve written a couple of articles this month on Brexit, follow the links below to read them:
Labour Party Conference
I’ve just returned from a great few days in Brighton at Labour’s Annual Conference. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to close the Conference on Wednesday demonstrated that Labour is a government in waiting, with the right solutions for the country on vital issues like housing, inequality and the NHS. Whenever the next General Election is called, we will be ready.
Unsurprisingly, most conversations revolved around Brexit but I was heartened by the swell of support for the good work done in the EU, and the pitfalls of leaving the European Union. I want to make special mention of Thomas Haynes, youth delegate for Stroud CLP who delivered a storming speech from the Conference floor on how being European is an integral part of identity for many of us, young and old. He was a strong voice among many at Conference recognising that we need to take a strong line on our future in the EU.
I spoke at several different events, including the South West Reception that kicked off the week on Saturday night - it’s always a great chance to see friends old and new from across the region, as well as so many first time delegates and particularly the huge number of young members. I also spoke at the Gibraltar Reception and a LabourList fringe on the first 100 days of the next Labour government where I talked about the need for greater investment in science and research. It was also fascinating to tour the exhibition stalls meeting the various charities and other organisations doing so much good work around the country, such as Cancer Research UK, friends in the trade unions, and the White Ribbon campaign which encourages men to condemn violence against women.
Out and about in the constituency
Forest Green Rovers
I had the opportunity to visit Forest Green Rovers FC in Nailsworth near Stroud at the start of the month. As well as being recently promoted into the Football League for the first time in their history, the club are regarded as the greenest in the world with an organic pitch, solar panel powered stadium, and being the world’s first ever vegan football club. I met with their new CEO, Helen Taylor, a real inspiration particularly as one of the few women in such a significant role in what is a male-dominated industry. We were also joined by newly re-elected local MP David Drew, who also serves as the Labour Shadow Minister for Food, Waste and Farming.
As well as gaining an understanding into the way the club works, I wanted to discuss a zero-plastics strategy with the club. There is over a tonne of plastic for every person on the planet and although small steps (such as the ban on microbeads) are to be welcomed. We all need to go much further in order to halt the damage plastics do to our environment. Although there are thousands of types of plastics, 90% of plastics are derived from virgin fossil fuels. About 6% of global oil consumption is used to produce plastics; by 2050, this share could reach 20%.
The European Union is developing a plastics strategy as part of its Circular Economy programme of work, and I look forward to contributing to this as well as arguing for the UK to continue working within EU Regulations and working with our EU partners on this vital work once we have left the union. It was a very encouraging meeting and I look forward to working with the Club and others in making our region and our planet a more sustainable place to live and work.
Gibraltar National Day
It was a great joy to be in Gibraltar for its National Day celebrations, particularly as this year marked 50 years since the 1967 referendum where 99.6% of Gibraltarians voted to remain British, only slightly more than the 96% that voted to Remain in the EU. The Government must not forget its obligations to Gibraltar as the Brexit process continues - the Rock relies on the freedom of movement for its workforce, with over 13,000 cross-frontier (Gibraltar-Spain) workers helping people and the economy on both sides of the border.
Salisbury for Europe
It was a pleasure to speak at an event on Brexit: Where are we now? organised by Salisbury for Europe. I was in conversation with Dominic Grieve QC MP. There was a lot of agreement between us about the deep complexities that need to be dealt with and the frankly disingenuous, misleading and unrealistic statements that are being repeated by senior politicians.
It was good to see so many people interested in the views from Brussels and Westminster about the state of the negotiations and to have the opportunity to discuss this most important of all issues without political point scoring and meaningless soundbites.
Strasbourg September Session
The first Strasbourg session following the summer took place in early September and dived straight back into current issues. The Parliament highlighted the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar demanding that Aung San Suu Kyi in particular to do more to protect them from what the UN has called a ‘textbook ethnic cleansing’, with the Parliament threatening sanctions if the violence continues.
The Parliament also called for the EU’s rules on arms exports to be strengthened to stop countries exporting arms to countries that go on to break international law, yet the Tories voted against this report.
However, what grabbed the headlines in Strasbourg was Jean Claude Juncker’s annual State of the Union speech where he laid out his vision for the future of the European Union. In terms of tone it could not have been any more different from last year’s, whereas before the EU felt buffeted by joblessness, the rise of populism and Brexit, Juncker now believes that the wind is in Europe’s sails with rising employment, economic growth and populists on the back foot. Brexit barely featured in his speech in a sobering reminder that the EU has many challenges and opportunities to work on which are more important than the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Much touted rules on preventing foreign takeovers of European companies in strategic industries are set to follow and the EU is planning on boosting its cybersecurity capabilities, providing much needed money and support for the EU’s cybersecurity agency, ENISA.
Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) and Security and Defence Sub-Committee (SEDE)
I was honoured to be elected this month to the position Vice-Chair of the Security and Defence Sub-Committee. This is a committee of growing importance, and I am honoured to be taking on the role and working with colleagues across the Parliament in order to strengthen international security. The Committee also heard about security developments, particularly in Ukraine and Belarus. I will be following this situation with interest over the coming months.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM)
This month the FEMM Committee has been focussing on Disability Strategy in Europe, and in particular the difficulties faced by women with disabilities in areas such as transportation, education, and employment opportunities. It is incredibly important that we ensure our disability policies work for all genders, and I am pleased that this issue is being looked at. We also spent time discussing increasing female participation in the labour market and ways to address the work-life balance challenges faced by working parents and carers.
Furthermore, I am delighted that the European Parliament voted to adopt the Istanbul Convention by 489 votes to 114. This is such an important step forward in preventing and combating violence against women and gender-based violence.
Industry, Energy and Research Committee (ITRE)
I was proud to join Theresa Griffin, the Labour MEP for the North West, in calling for changes to the Market Design Regulation. The proposed regulation could have had costly consequences for the UK, however with the changes tabled by Labour MEPs, this can be averted. Furthermore, we have placed the focus more on long-term investment in low-carbon technology, and promoting the use of energy from renewable sources.
I am very pleased to be working with the GMB on the 'Dying to Work' campaign, which seeks greater security for terminally ill workers. This is an incredibly important campaign, which works with employers to encourage them to adopt the Dying to Work voluntary charter, which includes a ‘protected period’ where terminally ill employees cannot be dismissed as a result of their condition. I look forward to working more on this in the future, and you can find out more about the campaign here: http://www.dyingtowork.co.uk/