Articles about ‘News’
First of all, thank you to everyone who has sent such kind messages to me after last night’s result in Birmingham Northfield. Even though I never took this election – or any election – for granted, it is still a big blow to lose the seat I have represented for 27 years and which is my home. So all those messages mean a lot to me.
It has been an honour to serve the people of Birmingham Northfield for all those 27 years. It is an area that has been through a lot – not least with the loss of car production at the Longbridge plant that symbolised the identity of the area as well as providing the bedrock of its economy for more than a century. Neither I nor anyone else will forget those fateful days in the Spring of 2005 when MG Rover closed its doors. Building sustainable community resilience has always been important to me – both in response to the closure itself and to other changes that have been taking place in the area. It has been a real privilege to work with some amazing individuals and community groups in that mission.
No MP ever works alone and none of us can do our jobs without the support of the small staff teams we employ. I have been fortunate to have had the backing of brilliant staff over the years who have worked tirelessly to support me in Parliament and helping the many thousands of constituents who have turned to me each year. Dealing with the human consequences of government cuts and austerity has made the work of my staff team even more challenging over the past nine years and I am so proud of the dedication they have shown throughout. Thank you to all of them.
I also want to say a big thank you to everyone who organised and helped Labour’s election campaign in Northfield. I was blown away by the numbers of people who turned out to help. The fact we did not make it this time was nothing to do with their efforts. They were all brilliant and no candidate could ever ask for better than the support I received.
This was a dreadful night for Labour across the UK and there is much to reflect upon. This is not the place to do so other than to say this. In analysing what has happened and charting the big changes we will no doubt need to make to rebuild for the future, we must always remain true to our core values of solidarity and equality, and to our determination to create a fairer society. Everything I have learned in my 27 years as MP for Northfield reinforces my belief in those values. They are values that distinguish us from the Conservatives in a profound way and the election of another Conservative government mean they will be even more important to guide us in the years ahead.
Before closing now, I would like to say one more thing. Our democracy is precious. A healthy democracy can only be built when debate between different views can take place in an atmosphere of respect that is free from abuse and intimidation. Nowhere is that more important than on issues like the future of Brexit on which opinion up and down the country is so sharply divided. All too often in recent years though we have seen online and other debates on this and other issues disfigured by hate, vitriol and threats that are incompatible with democracy. In extreme cases we have already seen they can lead to violence and even murder.
Whatever political party we may support, all of us have a responsibility to protect our democracy from these existential threats. That means conducting ourselves in ways that show politics can be better than this. Rebuilding a healthy democracy is a cause bigger than any of us and something we owe to future generations.
Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter with a round-up of news from September. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
Space prevents the newsletter covering all of what I have been doing over the past month. However, hopefully it provides a flavour of some of the local issues I have taken up as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on the Climate Protests, Thomas Cook and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
Nobody has ever seen anything like this. We have a Prime Minster who has been found by the highest court in the land to have acted unlawfully in asking the Queen to shut down Parliament for five weeks. The Prime Minister seems to have been so sure that he would get his way that he did not even put in a witness statement to the Court. The judgement could not have been more damning. On the basis of the evidence they received the Court found “there was no reason, let alone a good reason” which justified what Boris Johnson had done.
You would think that something like this might have prompted a little humility on the part of the Prime Minister. Not a bit of it. When he appeared in Parliament last week Boris Johnson appeared to think he was above the law and insisted that the Judgement was wrong. Just as serious, he did so in a way that seemed deliberately designed to deepen the divisions in the country that are taking on an increasingly ugly character. When an MP from Yorkshire talked about the death threats she and others have received, the Prime Minister dismissed her words as “humbug”.
And he has continued to refuse to give a straight answer about whether he will carry out the mandate Parliament has given him over Brexit in a law passed just a few weeks ago.
I think we are entitled to expect better from a Prime Minister – particularly at a time when Britain faces decisions on the most profound issues affecting our country for generations.
After all this time and after all the arguments, people want Brexit sorted one way or the other – whether they voted Remain or Leave back in 2016. I get that and agree with it. The issue is how we achieve it in practice.
How did we get here?
First, though, here is a quick recap on the story so far. Sometimes you get the impression that MPs have spent the three years that have elapsed since the referendum refusing to agree on a deal to leave the EU. I can understand why it sometimes seems like that but that is not actually what has taken place.
For most of that time the then Prime Minister Theresa May either could not or would not say what deal she was seeking from the EU. If you check the entries on my website from 2016, 2017 and 2018 at www.richardburden.com/brexit you will see that for most of that time MPs like me were calling on her to produce a plan that could be tested to best protect jobs and living standards in the UK after Brexit.
If Theresa May had been willing to discuss the possibilities with MPs across the Commons at that time a lot could have been sorted out. But she did not do that and it was not until the end of last year that Theresa May finally told Parliament the details of the deal she had agreed with the EU. When she did so Labour set out why we could not support her plan and what needed to change in it. The fact that hardliners in her own party also opposed her scuppered her deal three times in the House of Commons. Their objections were different from those of Labour and most other opposition parties. The hardline Tory rebels focussed on the so called “Backstop”, which ironically was a necessary part of the deal to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and was key to maintaining the peace process that has achieved so much in the past two decades. If Theresa May’s deal had included some of the things Labour had recommended, the Backstop would not have been necessary. Without those things, something like the Backstop was inevitable.
Some of the Tory rebels against Theresa May were so hardline that it is doubtful they would have backed any realistic Brexit deal preferring to risk the UK crashing out of the EU without any deal at all. Other rebels seemed more motivated by personal ambition, hoping to profit politically if Theresa May was brought down as leader of the Conservative Party. The most prominent of those was Boris Johnson.
However we got here though, the fact that Brexit remains unresolved is a collective failure of government and Parliament as a whole. The most important thing for all of is to find a way of sorting out the issue of Brexit one way or another to enable the country to move on.
In my last Brexit update I explained why I believe a No Deal Brexit would be the worst deal of all. And it wouldn’t be the end of the story. None of the issues that a Brexit deal would have to cover would go away. They would still have to be sorted somehow and it would take years more negotiations to do so. The only difference would be that if we had already left the EU without a deal, food and medicine supplies would already have been disrupted, thousands of jobs would have been lost across the country, and peace in Northern Ireland would have been put at risk in the meantime.
In that update and in others over the past year I also said why I think the people, not just politicians, should be given the final choice on where we go from here. I will not go into detail about why I think that again here. However, I do just want to say three things.
First, I disagree with those who say a People’s Vote is simply a device to overrule the votes of those who voted Leave in 2016. It is not. I have no idea which side would win in another referendum. What I do know is that every vote would count the same – either for the deal finally on offer or against it. The UK would only stay in the EU if a majority voted that way.
Second, this is not a re-run of the first referendum. That was a vote on whether in principle the UK should leave the EU or remain in it. I along with other MPs voted to implement that decision when we voted to trigger Article 50 and open Brexit negotiations with the EU. Only after those negotiations are completed can any of us know the final terms of what is on offer. Before I was an MP, I worked for a trade union. Before we put in claims to employers, we would consult our members to make sure we were asking for was what they wanted. Often we would later ballot them once the terms of the employer’s offer in response to our claim were clear. It was about giving members the final say. I do not see why the British people should not have the same opportunity to express a view once the final terms of Brexit are known.
The third point I would emphasise here is that a People’s Vote is not about delaying a decision but about making one. Unlike last time, the legislation governing this referendum could specify that the result is automatically passed into law. No more arguments in Parliament, whichever side wins. Brexit has to be sorted one way or the other. A People’s Vote can achieve that.
Lastly, I want to say something about the way we talk to each other. Some of you will agree with what I have said in this update. Others will disagree. But we are never going to find a way forward unless we treat with respect those who may take a different view to our own. The vitriol and threats against people we are now seeing on social media and worse are incompatible with democracy. Only three years ago my friend Jo Cox MP was murdered by a Far Right extremist yelling “Britain First” as he killed her. All our futures depend on there being no place in our society for that kind of violent hate. That means rejecting the rhetoric that feeds the violence too – from whichever quarter it comes.
Today, Boris Johnson asked the Queen to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for the best part of a month from the week beginning 9th September.
The Prime Minister claims it is simply a pause in Parliamentary business ahead of his Government announcing its legislative programme in a Queen’s Speech he has scheduled for 14th October. The reality is very different. Describing the move as a “constitutional outrage” Commons Speaker, John Bercow said today:
“However it is dressed up it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”
Speaker Bercow is right. Up and down the country, opinion is sharply divided over Brexit and, in particular over the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 31st October. Elected by the people, it is Parliament’s job to agree a way forward, deciding whether to approve, reject or change proposals that Prime Minister and his Government put to us. The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and, in turn we, as MPs in Parliament, are accountable for our decisions to the people who elected us.
By his actions today, Boris Johnson has turned that principle on its head. At the very time it is most important Parliament is in session to allow decisions to be made, he wants us shut down, allowing him to do what he wants without being answerable to anyone. He is behaving like a tin pot despot and, by invoking the convention by which the monarch goes along with advice from the Prime Minister, he has used the Queen to enable him to do so. Many would say he has abused that convention.
Little wonder then that Boris Johnson’s actions are already provoking fury well beyond Westminster. Within a few hours, over 550,000 people up and down the country had signed a petition against the suspension of Parliament. You can join them here.
As I write this, more signatures were coming in at the rate of about 1,000 per minute. Along with other MPs, in the coming days I will be looking at how, even at this late stage, we can intervene to protect our democracy from a Prime Minister so hell-bent on undermining it.