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.