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I hope you’re keeping safe and well. Please find my latest newsletter, with news of what’s been happening in Parliament and what’s coming up with Brexit. I’m also holding another zoom residents’ meeting, on Friday 27th November – please get in touch for the details if you would like to join.
Invitation to Zoom residents’ meeting – 7.30pm, Friday 27th November 2020:
Thank you to everyone who has joined my virtual residents’ meetings so far. My next residents’ meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Friday 27th November 2020, again via Zoom, to discuss the latest on Brexit and Covid-19 measures, and answer any questions you may have.
If you’re a constituent and would like to attend, please reply to this email or email email@example.com and I’ll send you the link to join the meeting.
As always, if you have a personal or specific issue you would like to raise with me, or for a virtual surgery appointment, do also continue to contact me by replying to this email or by ringing 01773 744341.
Time is now getting very tight for a future partnership with the EU to be negotiated, agreed, ratified and in place in time for the end of the Transition period on 31 December 2020. The expectation seems to be that a deal will be done in the next few days or not at all (or at least not until next year).
The issues seem to be much the same as in my last update, namely fishing, equivalence of regulatory standards between the UK and the EU (the so called level playing field) and state aid rules. I have set out a summary of the these issues and potential areas of compromise below.
I remain of the view that the best way forward for the UK would be to agree a good deal with the EU covering not just trade but also security, law and order, travel rights for citizens etc. That said, if we can’t agree a deal which respects our right to govern ourselves than we should walk away. I have seen no sign that the Government will give up this key red line but equally there will need to be some compromises to achieve a deal. Avoiding tariffs on imports and exports is a huge prize that will make the move out of the EU much smoother. As vice-chair of the Select Committee scrutinising the negotiations with the EU, I have been examining many of the key issues for the negotiations and our preparedness– you can see the details here – and I am looking forward to in depth scrutiny of any deal in the coming weeks.
Main outstanding issues:
- Fishing is a totemic Brexit issue, and out fishing industry has suffered especially badly over the last 40 years. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to rebuild our industry and catch a much higher proportion of the fish in our waters. Of course this means that EU fishing communities will lose out. The arguments are around how the quotas for each type of fish are calculated and how they are allocated between UK and EU fleets, with the UK wanting the default position under international maritime agreements of annual negotiations and the EU wanting to a long term agreement that retains most of their current access. The further challenge is that much of the fish caught in UK waters is exported to the EU. In reality it will take us many years to increase our fishing fleet and processing capacity so it would seem to me that a deal could be found based around gradual reductions in EU access to our waters via some form of transition.
- The EU’s original negotiation position on the level playing field demanded dynamic alignment ie the UK would have to follow not just current EU rules but whatever they changed them to in key areas like environment, workers rights, taxation etc. In their view this would prevent us competing unfairly with them. This demand was very different to the wording agreed in the Political Declaration agreed a year ago which envisaged a non-regression clause ie we would not reduce key regulatory standards below the levels as at 31 December 2020. We could clearly never agree to blindly follow future EU rules over which we had no say. The discussion appears to have reverted back to non-regression clauses but with issues over how either side could enforce action against any breaches. Given that we are strengthening environmental standards and already go further than the EU rules in many areas on workers rights, I would not be too concerned about agreeing not to reduce standards in these areas. It would then seem possible to agree that if either side did make fundamental changes, the other side could give notice to terminate the trade deal either entirely on in part if they considered the issue serious enough.
- State Aid rules restrict how much subsidy Governments can give to businesses. Currently if the UK government wishes to provide State Aid, we, like all EU members, need permission from the EU Commission. They also review whether policies like low tax rates or exemptions effectively represent State Aid. The UK has generally not been keen on State Aid in comparison to many other EU countries. Originally the EU seemed to want the UK to remain subject to the EU rules – clearly we could not as an independent country be in a position of following EU rules and especially not seeking permission from the EU. The talk seem to have progressed now to the UK being willing to set out rules which hare equivalent to EU ones on where State Aid can be used (indeed the WTO requires such rules anyway) but the dispute remains how these rules will be enforced so a UK government couldn’t just ignore them. The proposal seems to be for some sort of independent regulator but it strikes me that again, in extremis, giving notice to cancel the trade agreement would be an effective remedy.
Latest Covid-19 guidance:
You can find the current Covid-19 guidance here, along with the support available for residents (here) and businesses (here). The latest business grants for businesses affected by the recent restrictions are now available through the local Council, which you can find here. For constituents self-isolating who are struggling financially, there is also the £500 self-isolation NHS Test & Trace Support payment, which you can find further details on the eligibility criteria for here.
If you have any queries about the guidance or potential support available, as always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Defence Spending update:
Last week, the Prime Minister announced an additional £24.1 billion in funding for our country’s defence, to help safeguard our security and revitalise our shipbuilding industry. Over the next four years, this investment will create 10,000 extra jobs.
This is the largest investment in our defence industry in the last 30 years and will allow the Government to invest in cutting-edge technology – positioning the UK as a global leader in domains such as cyber and space and cementing the UK’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO.
I welcomed this update, and the increased investment, during the subsequent debate on it in the House. I also highlighted the need to spend this additional money wisely and efficiently, and buy from British suppliers wherever possible. You can find the debate in full here and read more about the investment here.
In Parliament I’ve continued my work on anti-corruption and pensions, with questions in the House on preventing economic crime to further reduce corruption. You can find my question to the Chancellor in full here.
With a local focus, I’ve also highlighted the importance of supporting the recovery of our high streets from the challenges caused by Covid-19, with one example being the recent announcement of the closure of many Argos stores, including the one in Alfreton. I know many independent retailers are also struggling (even though they’ve come up with many innovative ways to continue trading during this time), and so I will continue to raise this issue. You can find my most recent question in Parliament here.
Lastly, on a positive note, I welcomed the announcement of an additional bank holiday for the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and raised the issue of support or grants for community groups to hopefully be able to organise events to commemorate and celebrate this big event – you can find more on this debate here.
Pension Schemes Bill:
Earlier this month, I also contributed to a debate in Parliament on the new Pensions Schemes Bill, which continues to progress through the Houses (you can find out more about the bill here).
As a member of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, I’ve been working on this Bill, and I took the opportunity of the debate in the Commons on the latest stage to highlight various amendments I was supporting, including the importance of encouraging a greater take-up of independent free guidance to help people decide which pension option is best for them, scam prevention measures, improving pension dashboards and encouraging pension funds to support investment in climate goals and positive social activities.
I’m really keen for to make pensions guidance as close to mandatory as possible, for instance through auto-enrolment onto the pensions dashboard, as the current take-up of the free, good quality advice provided by Pensions Wise guidance service is very low. I will continue to push the Government to introduce measures to improve and promote usage of pensions advice services.
You can find my speeches in full, and the rest of the debate, here.
In other Work & Pensions Committee inquiries, we’re looking into Universal Credit and the wait for a first payment, the disability employment gap and DWP’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the use of foodbanks and support available for people experiencing food and fuel poverty (which you can find more on here). You can find more about all of these current inquiries and evidence sessions here.
You can also find full details of the evidence sessions recently held by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, as mentioned above, here.
As always, if there are any street repairs in your area, such as potholes, pavement repairs or broken street lights, you can report these issues and concerns to me quickly and easily here so I can ask for the repairs to be investigated and addressed.
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