Parliamentary pause, problematic ports: A tour update
This week - for school children and politicians alike - it is half term. Many MPs will be using the time away from Parliament to catch up on casework and spend time in their constituencies. Some will have seized the opportunity for an early summer holiday. Either way, what is not happening is Parliamentary business. No bills are being scrutinised or passed. No updates are being offered on Brexit. No debates are being had on the crucial and pressing issues facing our country.
A week off from the business of Government can - perhaps - be excused. But when the country is facing such extraordinary challenges - from Brexit to crisis in the NHS to our housing shortages and our crumbling educational infrastructure - the traditional six week break that Parliament will shortly be enjoying is outrageous. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures - even if that means Members of Parliament having to turn up to work over the summer!
If Mrs May had any real intention of fulfilling the promises that she made when she came to office - to tackle the inequality and injustice that plague our country - she would not be sending MPs on holiday. Instead she would be bringing wave after wave of legislation before the House - to build more houses, to fund the NHS, to tackle hunger and poverty in our forgotten towns and cities. But she is not doing this. Because Mrs May has no policy beyond Brexit and no real passion for social justice. She will not be disappointed that the long summer break means she cannot govern with imagination or ambition. She will be relieved that her troublesome backbenchers are out of her hair for six weeks.
To make good use of the break in Parliamentary activity, I traveled this week to Rotterdam to visit their thriving international port. I wanted to understand how Brexit will impact on our trade with - and through - our European partners. The truth is very frightening indeed. A senior Dutch official told me that, in preparation for Brexit, the Netherlands are in the process of recruiting an extra 900 customs officials to deal with the extra legal and administrative burdens created by our leaving the Single Market.
The best estimates of experts in the field are that the U.K. will need roughly 5,000 new staff at our end. We haven’t even begun to recruit these extra staff - let alone train them up! I despise Brexit and believe it to be a terrible mistake. But the fact that the leaders and proponents of this error refuse even to prepare the ground to make the best of this bad situation is more than a mistake, it is criminal.
Next week I will be in Birmingham and the West Midlands, finding out why this region contributed so many votes to Leave during the referendum. Half a million people from the West Midlands opted for Brexit. If we are to change minds in the People’s Vote that I hope we will secure on Mrs May’s final deal we will need to do so in the towns and cities of England’s heartland.