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European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

 
I want to set out my thoughts about the Deal and explain my reasons for reluctantly voting in favour of it.
 
It is clear for all to see that the deal has serious flaws:
 

  • UK firms will lose automatic access to EU financial services markets, which form a significant and vitally important component of the UK economy. We have already seen jobs moving out of the City and into Europe – the deal as it stands will do nothing to protect those jobs and may even turn a trickle of job losses into a flood.
     
  • This deal adds new burdens and red tape onto British business, with some businesses facing new customs checks on their products in order to prove their point of origin. In practice, UK firms will now need to get two sets of approval certification if they want to sell their products in both the UK and Europe. This is especially galling, given that during the referendum campaign businesses were sold the lie that Brexit would mean freedom from EU regulation.
     
  • The Government seem to have completely forgotten about the Arts and Creative Sectors when negotiating this deal. In practice, this will mean that actors and musicians will now face country-to-country restrictions, meaning multiple Visa applications and logistical red tape. This is both needless and unacceptable – this issue was specifically raised by Sir Keir Starmer in his formal response to Boris Johnson at the start of the Parliamentary debate today. Labour also proposed an amendment that would require urgent action from the Secretary of State to negotiate a specific agreement to rectify these problems.
     
  • Boris Johnson has negotiated for a divergence of employment and environmental rights legislation. Clearly, he has not done so because he wants to strengthen your rights at work or to improve environmental protection standards. I have deep concerns that the government has a desire for a race to the bottom that may impact both your rights at work – such as health and sickness protections, maternity and paternity rights – but also vitally important standards, such as the use of pesticides, the need for clean air and of course practices such as fracking.
     

These are by no means all of the problems with the Government’s Deal, but they do give a flavour of the mess that Boris Johnson has made of his negotiation.
 
The idea that this deal settles the issue of our relationship with the EU is deeply flawed. As laws change within the EU, we will have to either align our standards to match these changes, or risk a financial penalty, most likely in the form of new tariffs on trade. Rather than free our businesses of what some saw as the burden of EU rules and regulations, we have simply given up our influence over the making of those rules. Something that in the long run I believe we will come to regret.
 
Despite the deep flaws with this deal, it is my view that I have no choice but to vote in favour of it. At this stage of the process, this is not about whether or not Brexit can be stopped, or whether or not we can add more time for a new negotiation – the chance for either of those outcomes ended with the result of the last General Election. The only choice at this stage is between this bad deal, or a no deal exit.
 
Exiting on January 1st without a deal would mean chaos, with the potential of food and medicine shortages as well as substantial regulatory barriers and tariffs placed on trade. I do not believe it is morally right for me to vote against a deal – which at this very late stage would be to effectively vote for a no deal exit – unless I am prepared for that eventually to occur. Therefore, I feel that I had no choice but to support this Bill.
 
This is by no means the end of the Brexit process. The deal that the Government has negotiated must be the minimum agreement that we reach, not the final agreement. As we move into the New Year, the Government must urgently look to plug the gaping holes in the agreement it has negotiated before too much economic damage is done. Needless to say, I will be pushing the government hard on our future relationship and holding them to account to do all that can to ensure this deal is significantly improved.
 
I campaigned hard for Remain during the referendum and I stood on a manifesto that would have given the British people a confirmatory referendum. I spoke to many people during the General Election who were furious at what they saw as their vote during the Referendum being ignored. Whether we agree with their view of Brexit or not, I believe that we must acknowledge the deeply felt anger that people feel over the way that Parliament has handled the issue of Brexit since the referendum.
 
This is not the outcome that I pounded the streets and spoke at meetings for, nor is it one that I know many of you will have hoped for. I know that some constituents will not agree with my decision to vote for this deal, but I have done so in good faith and for the reasons set out above.
 
I hope that you have a healthy and happy New Year.

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Small Business Saturday Constituency Tour

Usually Small Business Saturday would be a day of celebration of the our great high streets and community businesses. This year has been tremendously difficult for businesses and my whistle stop tour of the constituency highlighted just how difficult this year has been.

Small Business Saturday occurs every year on the first Saturday in December. This year on Saturday 5 December shops, restaurants, bars and gyms were able to open for the first Saturday after the second UK wide lockdown during November. I visited 6 local businesses as part of Small Business Saturday to show my support and also hear first hand what help is needed from the Government.

The first stop on my tour was to see Charlie and Kim who run ‘CrossFit Against the Fire’. New Government restrictions have allowed gyms to remain open but for much of the year this important part of people’s daily physical and mental health routine has been cut off. Charlie told me that it was her gym members who have kept the business afloat this year. Over 50% of CrossFit Against the Fire members, were able to continue to pay their membership fees even when the gym was forced to close. This generosity, compassion and commitment by members of our community, is something that the Government should mirror nationally to ensure that gyms like CrossFit Against the Fire can survive.

Crossfit Against the Fire Visit on Small Business Saturday

From the gym, I went to meet another couple working together, Claire and Laurence, the owners of the Theatre Street Dance Company at The Link. Claire is a Chorographer and Laurence is a composer. Working in the arts has enabled them both to tour the world and for the last 20 years, they have been broadening the horizons of Erith and Thamesmead’s young people by supporting them into careers in the arts. Thanks to the Theatre Street Performing Arts, you’ve seen our young people on TV in shows such as Tracy Beaker and on stage, in the West End.

Theatre Street Dance Company Visit Small Business Saturday

Next up I visited Phoenix Tours – a local, multi-generational family run business owned by the lovely Patel family. They have been transporting our children to school, taking community groups for day trips to the beach and providing touring holidays to the Highlands and Europe on their luxury coaches, for over a decade.

Phoenix Tours are a creative and resilient business, but they need support. They need the Government to step in and ask the finance companies and insurance companies to go-easy. They need Local Government to be efficient and proactive with business rates relief. They need a responsive testing system that allows employees to feel safe and secure – because people want to work, but inefficient test and tracing is preventing them from doing so. Following this visit I spoke in a Parliamentary debate to urge the Government to unveil a plan to support coach companies.

Visit to Phoenix Tours Coach Company Small Business Saturday

I then went to the wonderful Abbey Wood Christmas Market where I enjoyed browsing the great variety of local vendors. I also met with the organisers of the market Chris and Catherine, who recently won a local business award for services to the community. I stopped to talk to Dean from Tree Wise Men who was selling Christmas Tree’s outside the Abbey Arms who told me about his plans to build his business for next year.

Tree Wise Men Small Business Saturday visit

I then went in to the Abbey Arms to discuss their challenges during COVID-19. Pubs are at the heart of our communities and are places where we connect but many are struggling after being closed for months.

It was great fun to be able to visit so many amazing businesses as part of Small Business Saturday and get into the festive spirit. However, it is really concerning to hear first-hand how much businesses are struggling. Business owners have been severely impacted by gaps in Government support, rising business costs during the pandemic, a lack of communication from the Chancellor and the inability to trade for many months of the year.

My biggest concern is that after Christmas we will see lots more members of staff laid off and huge numbers of local businesses forced to close. People in Erith and Thamesmead benefit from great local traders who are the heart and soul of our community. This pandemic must not mean the end of the local high street and I will be ensuring that the Chancellor realises just how bleak the future looks for local businesses if more support is not offered.

Newcomer MP of the Year Award

On Wednesday 2nd December I was awarded the Newcomer MP of the Year Award by the Patchwork Foundation. 

MP of the Year Awards seek to celebrate and recognise those MPs that uphold the ethos and values of the Patchwork Foundation; to champion underrepresented, minority or disadvantaged communities in the UK.

The awards are adjudicated on by an independent panel who choose a winner from the public nominees, taking into consideration the work and accolades of the selected MPs. They are traditionally presented at Speakers House in the Palace of Westminster however this year I took part in the virtual presentation.

Patchwork Foundation awarded me the Newcomer MP of the Year award for “successfully campaigning this year on discriminatory attitudes in the media and society.”

Image from award ceremony

This year has been an extraordinary time to enter Parliament but I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to represent Erith and Thamesmead during these unprecedented times. The hardship people have faced during COVID-19 has been evident and the work to represent my constituents who are being left behind will continue far into the future.

However, I have not represented my constituents alone – I have done so alongside my fantastic team, community organisations, faith groups, teachers, NHS and care workers and many passionate and caring individuals. There are many obstacles we must tackle as a community and as a country and I am confident that over the next few years I will be able to work alongside my fantastic colleagues and constituents to create positive changes.

Imran Sanaullah, CEO, Patchwork Foundation said “I am grateful to all of our winners for taking the time to be a part of tonight’s ceremony. Now more than ever these awards are an important reminder that our democracy relies on diversity of thought and ensuring Parliament and civil society evolves to be more inclusive. We’re proud of the work we do at the Patchwork Foundation to educate young people in how their democracy works and we look forward to help continue to provide the tools and skills.”