Chaired my first Ipswich Transport Taskforce meeting this morning where it was good to receive further reassurances from Highways England that the speed limit solution to the Bridge closures remains on track for this winter.
The exact wording they used was that work on the ground would start in ‘early 2021’, and I’m pushing for this to mean early January so the new speed limit is in place by the end of January. I stressed again to Highways England how this solution can’t come soon enough for Ipswich and drew their attention to my recent transport surveys where thousands of local residents highlighted the disruption as a major issue.
I said when this taskforce was set up it must be focused on delivering results for people in Ipswich and chairing today’s meeting was a good opportunity to hold Highways England to account. I’m making sure that the Orwell Bridge is on every Taskforce agenda going forwards so this scrutiny can continue and the Taskforce is put to good use.
Slightly concerned to learn the safety work in a wind tunnel has been delayed to the end of October after the Transport Secretary told me he was expecting it on his desk by the end of September and I actually helped get this wind tunnel open for the work after it was shut due to Covid-19. I was told today though that this wouldn’t delay the overall project. And I’ve got a further meeting today with Highways England where I’ll be raising all these issues in even more detail. This is a crucial few months for this project and at every stage I’ll be making sure Ipswich is represented.
Got an important question in virtually today about the return of Ipswich Town Fans to Portman Road. I visited the stadium last week where the club had been ready to welcome back 1,000 fans to a test event before the Government announced a nationwide postponement of fans returning.
I made the point to Jacob Rees-Mogg that this blanket decision is a disappointment for Ipswich when we have a relatively low rate of Covid-19 and our local club is confident it can welcome back a small number of fans safely. The club is an iconic feature in our town but it’s struggling and we need to get to a place where lockdown measures take local factors like this into account.
I’ll keep doing everything I can to support Ipswich Town through the challenges it’s facing
Made it very clear again in the House of Commons today that tackling illegal Channel crossings has to be a top priority. I’ve been making the case repeatedly at the highest levels over recent months how we must do everything we can to stop these crossings immediately. But we also need to have a further plan of action ready to go for when we are out of the EU transition period and we’re able to break with things like the EU’s Dublin Regulations which have restricted our ability to deal with this issue robustly.
Steps like a blockade in the Channel and the plans for an offshore processing centre which the Home Secretary has been considering this week have my full support. And we now need to deliver them as soon as possible. Once we’re out the transition period there can’t be any more excuses and any further delay to getting a grip of this issue would be completely unacceptable. No more time can be lost and I’ll put this point to the Government at every opportunity.
Our local pubs are at the centre of Ipswich’s economy and cultural life. Like many across our town I’ve had many great experiences in them and I feel personally connected to many of them. It was therefore very hard to hear from the landlord of the Belstead Arms in Chantry last weekend about how he had to watch his loyal customers leave the pub at the 10pm curfew and go and spend their money at the off licence across the road instead.
Ipswich has comparatively low levels of Covid-19 compared to the rest of the country and had the blanket national curfew come up for a vote in Parliament, I would have on balance likely voted against it. I support MPs taking more responsibility for these decisions which affect our constituencies and yesterday we secured a commitment from the Government to hold a vote on future measures wherever possible. The curfew won’t come into this though and that’s why I asked the Health Secretary today to keep it under continuous review with a view to lifting it as soon as possible.
Good to hear the Health Secretary commit to this today. Everything must be done to get the balance right between lives, livelihoods and liberties and I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure Ipswich’s local interests are heard loud and clear when these difficult decisions are made.
Like many in this country, I believe Winston Churchill was one of the greatest Britons ever to live. It was with great sadness that the National Trust placed his former home, Chartwell as one of 93 properties currently in the care of the National Trust with links to slavery and colonialism.
I asked the Leader of the House if he could find the time to debate Winston Churchill’s legacy, the man he was and how we should be concerned by actions of some on the left to tarnish his reputation as a great leader and hero to many of us.
I also asked the leader to take into account that many people are becoming increasingly concerned that a growing number of our national organisations are being infiltrated by wokist elements.
Brought up the excellent Combat2Coffee project in the Commons today which does vital charity and community work supporting local veterans in Ipswich. When I visited the new coffee shop on Princes Street in February, I was clear to the founder, Nigel Seaman, that the project and the people it helps have my full support in Parliament.
One of the things Nigel has raised with me since then is the bureaucratic health assessments veterans often have to go through to get the pensions and benefits they’re entitled to. This can be a distressing process for those who are living with physical and mental injuries they got serving on our behalf and it risks putting veterans off accessing the support they’re entitled to. I urged the Minister for Veterans today to ensure the process is streamlined to protect against this as much as possible, and I’ll be monitoring the roll out of the Government’s plans to move parts of the process online very closely.
UNCONCIOUS BIAS TRAINING FOR MPS: Was on Talk Radio today to set out why I won’t be taking unconscious bias training for MPs. I’m immensely proud to represent Ipswich and the diverse communities which make up our town. And I’m against prejudice in all its forms.
This “training” is deeply patronising to me and all other MPs who take this incredibly seriously. Sitting through a 2-hour session with a giant blue puppet talking about prejudice will have no effect whatsoever. My time is my constituent’s time and I think most of them would prefer it’s spent on making sure their priorities are addressed in Parliament as we deal with a number of hugely significant challenges. Many will also rightly have questions about why the parliamentary authorities are pandering to the woke agenda and using large amounts of tax payer money to do it. Driving this agenda has become an industry and we shouldn’t be fuelling it with public money.
Spoke again in the debate on Brexit to push back against those who have been cynically using it to disparage the union of the United Kingdom. I’m a staunch unionist and I love every part of this country. And while I respect those who hold a different view, there is a time and a place for this debate to be had properly. Denigrating remarks from one SNP MP in particular on Monday couldn’t be left unanswered when he deliberately tried to paint the history of this country in the worst possible light and suggest we’re a country that has always broken the rules.
I pointed out to the SNP benches that, in the week where we honour the English, Scottish, Welsh and Ulster airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain, they’d be much better off remembering the decisive intervention this country made to defend freedom and the rule of law from the most evil regime in modern history.
I also called out a Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister who used a radio interview on Sunday night to sneer at Conservative MPs for appearing in front of the Union Jack in public. Like many of my Conservative colleagues, I’m proud of our flag and what it represents. And just like when Emily Thornberry sent a tweet looking down her nose at someone for flying a St George’s Cross outside their home, too often this doesn’t appear to be the case with Labour.
This morning I asked the Transport Secretary to communicate very clearly to Highways England Ipswich’s expectation that a speed limit solution to the closures is in place before the next windy winter period. The closures of the Orwell Bridge grind our town to a halt and cause immense disruption to residents and businesses alike. And this was something that came across very clearly in the responses to my surveys in Ravenswood and Chantry recently. It was good that in response to my question the Transport Secretary did send the message very clearly to Highways England today that the timetable mustn’t slip.
He also mentioned the safety work being done by Highways England in a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel was closed due to Covid-19 but I was able to get the work prioritised after I sent a letter to the University in question. I’m glad the Transport Secretary is also expecting this on his desk by the end of this month. I’ve got another progress call with Highways England next month where I’ll be sure to raise the results of the wind tunnel work and the timetable. The pressure on Highways England to deliver must be kept up as we reach the crucial point in this campaign.
This evening I will be voting for the Internal Market Bill on its second reading. This includes the safety net the Prime Minister has set out which would give us the option to depart from the Withdrawal Agreement if the EU tries to go ahead with the most draconian possible interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Our widely-respected Chief Negotiator, David Frost, has said this is what the EU has threatened to do. And this would effectively create a trade blockade in the Irish Sea and annex part of this country, undermining the integrity of our Union in a completely unacceptable way.
This is not the sort of behaviour the EU committed to in the Withdrawal Agreement where it pledged to recognise “Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK’s internal market” and to use its “best endeavours to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and all other parts of the UK”. Crucially, the EU also committed to negotiate in good faith.
But so far, the EU has not negotiated in good faith and held up its end of the deal. Seemingly at every turn the EU has tried to frustrate our desire to become an independent country again, and it has sought to use things like the Northern Ireland Protocol to further its own ideological objectives and curtail this country’s sovereignty and decision making.
Ultimately I hope EU will realise that this Government is a new one and we will not be kowtowed by the EU’s intransigence. Because I believe a simple, mutually beneficial trade deal remains the best possible outcome for both sides.
But we can only go on what we have seen from the EU so far and we must be prepared to respond from a position of strength if necessary. If this means having the option to depart from a deal that the EU continues to breach, then this is what we must do.
I also intervened in the debate on the Bill today to point out how the Labour Party’s leadership has again gone to ground on the big issues. Over the weekend, Keir Starmer accused the Government of reigniting old rows and turning the clock back on Brexit. But it’s inevitable that as these hard-fought negotiations reach their crucial point, there will be Parliamentary time used to discuss them.
It may be politically inconvenient for us to be talking about Brexit for the Labour Party, particularly when it’s led by someone who was a staunch supporter of a second referendum and someone who continues to back Freedom of Movement.
But this Government’s job and this Prime Minister’s job is not to do what’s in the interests of the Labour Party but to do what’s in the interests of this country. This is what this Bill does and it’s why it has my full support. Sticking our head in the sand at this crucial stage will not benefit this country.