The Labour Party have launched a hostile and untruthful campaign attacking the Lib Dems.
Their amendment to the Queens Speech sought to promote their own damaging reorganisation of the NHS. The NHS itself has, after a long period of consultation with patient groups, the workforce, unions, Royal Colleges, the voluntary sector and academics from think tanks, launched a clear set of recommendations for future NHS legislation. As chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee I have also worked in tandem with the NHS throughout this period and my cross-party committee scrutinised their initial draft. The following are links to the NHS's own clear asks of Parliament and to my committee's report which preceded that final version.
The clearest ask of all from the NHS was not to subject the service to another major top down administrative reorganisation and I think politicians have a duty to listen. Labour's proposals however would create turmoil and are unwanted by the NHS.
The NHS's own proposals include a pragmatic way to ditch the competition rules and reduce the wasteful procurement and contracting rounds. This would be a better way forward and it is deeply disappointing that the Labour Party have chosen to launch this attack ad campaign which is misleading at every level.
You may be interested to see that Labour's claims have also been condemned by the independent fact checking site Full Fact https://fullfact.org/health/liberal-democrat-nhs-privatisation/
I am grateful to you for reading this and I want to assure you that Lib Dems will be listening to those who work in and alongside the NHS and those who lead it, not following a damaging political dogma.
Liberal Democrats believe that a People's Vote is the best way forward to stop Brexit. After 19 Labour MPs backed Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill last week and Jeremy Corbyn again refused to back our People's Vote amendment, we have reluctantly had to accept that we do not have the numbers in Parliament to make this happen. Wishful thinking is not going to break the current impasse in or stop the Prime Minister forcing through his bad deal, which will affect us all for generations, on a rushed timetable without proper scrutiny.
This week is likely to be the last chance to stop Brexit and we think that bringing forward a general election date is now the only realistic way to give people a final say before it is too late.
The Bill we are proposing would set the date for a General Election on December 9th, take No-Deal off the table, and prevent Boris Johnson from rushing through his own bad deal and controlling when the next General Election takes place..
There are millions of people across this country who are sick of Brexit, believe that we are better off inside the EU, and they deserve a better choice than two Brexiteers in Johnson and Corbyn.
We are ready to take our pro-European message to the country, where our policy will be that a Liberal Democrat majority government will revoke Article 50 to Stop Brexit. We do not want to trash our economy, put a border down the Irish Sea or sign away environmental and employment protections. Johnson's deal won't "get Brexit done" it will only get it started by kicking off years of further wrangling over our future relationship and trade negotiations in which we will be the junior partner. The only way to stop the division, cost and chaos of this whole miserable saga is to stop Brexit.
While the alternative route of a vote of no confidence would remove Boris Johnson, if an emergency Government could not be formed then it would be Boris Johnson who picked the date of the next election, and he could pick a date after any extension and crash us out with no deal. Boris Johnson has proved we cannot trust him, so we do not think it is right to give him any power to do that.
If Boris Johnson really wants a general election, which he repeatedly says he does, then he should be prepared to put his Tory government's record to the people on December 9th.
Whatever happens next, we are in dangerous and uncharted waters when a Prime Minister chooses to ignore the clear purpose of an Act of Parliament. Sending a photocopy and a side letter to the EU shows the Prime Minister has abandoned Statesmanship for cheap showmanship.
I joined the majority of MPs in voting to protect against No Deal in the immediate future. The debate on Saturday also made it clear that the Government's current proposals risk No Deal once the transition period comes to an end and I will continue to oppose this unless the people have given their consent to the actual Brexit deal as opposed to the false promises of the referendum campaign. The Deal will put a permanent border down the Irish Sea that will inevitably lead to the breakup of our United Kingdom starting with Northern Ireland and then Scotland. It will deliver an economic downturn of the same order as the banking crash and it will remove the protection of workers rights and environmental standards from the internationally binding treaty and switch these to the wish list of the non-binding political declaration. The Deal does not "get Brexit done", it is merely the start of long and acrimonious wrangling over the future of our relationship with Europe in which we will be the junior and relatively powerless partner.
At the weekend hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand the final say and I was delighted to meet so many of those who travelled from this constituency to join them. I will continue to press for everyone to have the opportunity to decide if the Deal delivers the kind of Brexit they want or to ditch Brexit for good.
Like so many people, I'm deeply worried about the violence of language and behaviour that has become so common in our politics. As this becomes ever more divisive and with both main parties drifting to their extremes, I'm very glad to have joined the growing band of Liberal Democrats in the moderate, progressive centre ground.
I gave a clear commitment at the time of joining the Lib Dems that I would vote for a general election so that you can decide if you would rather be represented by an MP from a different political party. I have kept that promise but the government did not reach the two thirds majority required to trigger an election. It is very likely that this will only mean a short delay as the PM has lost his majority and excluded 21 of his moderate Conservative colleagues.
Following the vote, the Prime Minister decided to shut down Parliament for five weeks, cutting off all the opportunities for MPs to hold him to account. I deeply regret the fact that he is running from scrutiny and we are even hearing that he may decide not to obey the law.
I have tried to do everything I can to flag up the serious risks of a No Deal Brexit. I think it is really important to make sure that everyone can have a say on the final arrangements. I think it would best for that to be through a People's Vote, but if that is ruled out by the PM and we have a general election, the Liberal Democrats will be campaigning unequivocally to stop Brexit.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has said that a No Deal Brexit is the worst possible deal for the farming industry.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has called it a "grisly prospect".
No Deal would lead to bankruptcies and shortages hitting local businesses and consumers alike. The UK has a trade deficit in food, drink and animal feed products with both the EU and with non-EU countries.
The UK imported £46 billion of food products in 2018, 70% of which were from the EU. These imports are necessary because we are not and have no prospect of being self-sufficient in feeding our nation. We are currently 61% self-sufficient in all foods and only 75% sufficient in foods that can be grown here. Whilst we can source food further afield than the EU, our rapid supply chains for fresh produce from our nearest and most important trading partners will inevitably face disruption, especially so if there is a bad tempered exit alongside threats to renege on international commitments.
As it stands, EU farm subsidies to the UK currently make up around 50-80% of farm income. The CAP currently provides nearly £4billion of support annually to farmers across the UK as well as providing a market safety net. There is a serious question mark over whether the Government will continue to offer this support in the long term after Brexit and, if our economy takes a hit even close to the levels predicted, we are unlikely to be able to afford these as well as the host of other commitments that the leadership candidates have signed up to. Something will have to give but these costs have not been properly set out by those claiming No Deal will be pain free.
The government has assured the industry that all rules and processes, regarding farm payments, will remain the same until the Agriculture Bill is introduced in to the UK Parliament but farmers are understandably anxious about the long term.
They are even more worried about the short-term impact of a No Deal scenario because WTO tariffs will immediately be applied for EU trade, as well as WTO rules for plant and animal health checks.
These will have major impacts on both import and export markets, consumer choice, the speed of supply chains, and prices.
Tariffs are usually higher for agricultural products than for other goods and services and perishable products such as fish and meat from local producers are very sensitive to delays at borders. Without an alternative arrangement, the EU will treat the UK as a third country and a range of tariffs as well as costly checks, registrations and certifications will start to apply for the first time and these costs will leave many local businesses unable to compete.
Agriculture is also impacted by the no deal effects of other policies e.g. immigration (for seasonal, agri-food workers and vets).
If the UK wishes to sign Free Trade Agreements with non-EU countries such as the USA, we may be required to alter standards and accept intensively reared animals which have been fed hormones or antibiotics as growth promoters or whose carcasses have been treated with products like chlorine.
I know there are some MPs who feel all this is a price worth paying for Brexit, but this is easier to insist on when their own livelihoods are not at stake. I won't be voting to put local farmers out of business, to risk lower food standards or to have completely avoidable shortages and higher prices.
I wish I could be responding with more positive news but the truth is that Brexit has left us deeply divided and that is reflected in our politics and Parliament. We have reached gridlock. The Prime Minister's deal failed to pass for the third time and none of the alternative options presented by backbench MPs reached a majority. The greatest number of votes was for a referendum on the final deal and the slimmest margin of defeat was for a customs union to be added to the deal.
The legal position is that, unless a deal is agreed by Parliament, we leave with No Deal in little over a week's time. This is I know the preferred option for many who have written to me but not for the majority. It would lead to such serious real-world harms both locally and nationally that I could never support it. It would mean knowingly and deliberately voting to make this community poorer and for many of my constituents to lose their jobs and livelihoods.
I won't don't that.
It could not be more obvious that the problem with the original referendum was that it never defined which of the many versions of Brexit was on offer. The risks, trade offs and benefits of No Deal, Canada Plus, Norway, Norway Plus and the Prime Minister's Deal are all very different but campaigners were able to talk up the benefits and downplay the risks. It turns out that we cannot have our cake and eat it and that countries are not queuing at our door to sign up to advantageous trade deals.
Our future prosperity is already taking a hammering with the steady drum beat of industries and agencies taking future investment and jobs elsewhere. The list is long and growing, from car manufacturers to pharmaceuticals and the European Medicines Agency and this will have a ripple effect far beyond their immediate home towns and cities. Many local businesses including farming would also be hit, particularly by No Deal.
The impasse in Parliament could be broken if the Prime Minister simply agreed to combine the support for her Deal from the government benches with the wide cross party support for putting the final deal back to the people to check it has their consent. It is a great shame that she has so rigidly refused to countenance this.
The PM has now announced that she wants to reach an alternative compromise with Jeremy Corbyn. Few expect this to work if the Prime Minister listens to compromise arguments and then presses on with her own plans. Her current position seems more like running down the clock to No Deal with the ultimatum of accepting her Deal or going over the edge.
Today, back bench MPs are trying to press through a bill to extend the date of that cliff edge. In my view any extension must be long enough to allow the government to put this decision back to the people for a final say either through a general election or a second referendum.
Ultimately, a compromise for a softer Brexit would be preferable to risking the known harms of No Deal but I still feel it would be wise to check that it represented the will of the people and to give everyone the opportunity to have their say, not just MPs.
Without that final say, any decision will continue to cause division and acrimony long into the future.
If confirmed, Parliament could rapidly implement the defined deal or revoke Article 50 depending on the outcome and we could finally move on together.
We all want to be able to focus on issues other than Brexit.
One of the few things that everyone agrees on when it comes to Brexit is that it is all a complete mess. No one voted for this divisive shambles undermining our economy and trashing our international reputation. But the undeliverable promises made during the campaign have collided with reality and a hung Parliament. It's like being locked in a car with a broken handbrake and an incompetent driver, rolling towards the edge of a cliff.
The Prime Minister has twice put her Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework, to a meaningful vote claiming it to be the 'will of the people'. It certainly isn't the will of Parliament which has rejected it on both occasions by historic margins.
Brexit reality turns out to please almost nobody, neither the 48% who voted remain nor the majority of Leave voters. The Deal is deeply flawed and looks nothing like the sunlit uplands promised during the 2016 referendum campaign. The problem is that the Prime Minister's alternative, to leave with No Deal, is even worse.
In a crowded field, one of the strangest moments of this past week was for the Chancellor and other cabinet ministers to be setting out the stark and grim reality of No Deal, only for the government, just a few hours later, to be effectively whipping their own MPs to vote for it. Many abstained rather than vote for catastrophe. Collective Cabinet responsibility and the Prime Minister's authority have evaporated but given the reality that we are just a fortnight from Brexit, the government limps on.
Thankfully Parliament has made it clear that it absolutely rejects No Deal because of the compelling evidence of the real world harm that would inflict.
The problem remains that MPs remain deeply divided and cannot agree what they do want. Parliament is completely gridlocked.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister continues to stick rigidly to her false binary choice between the Deal on the table and heading over the cliff and intends to bring the Deal back for the third time of asking. There are no changes to the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement and little prospect of a different answer.
At that point the PM has been instructed to return to the EU to ask for an extension to Article 50. A short extension would only help if the existing Deal was agreed and the time could then allow the backlog of legislation to be passed. Otherwise it would be like constructing a gangplank from the edge of the cliff to No Deal. A longer extension however would draw us into elections to the European Parliament.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework are flawed but this 'warts and all' Brexit is the best that could be negotiated. Whilst an alternative Norway style model with or without a customs union would be less economically damaging, the trade-offs would infuriate hard Brexiteers even more.
The divisive reality of Brexit leaves no one happy. It has already cost us billions and it has drained time and energy away from so many other pressing priorities. We should be striving to end austerity and getting to grips with issues like social care, education and police funding, housing and the environment but instead, two years on, we are still consumed by the hard choices underlying Brexit.
In my view, it is time to take the decision on Brexit reality back to voters. There is no consent to the deal on offer, no one voted for this mess and people should have the right to weigh up the risks and benefits of the actual Deal on the table, or a clearly defined alternative, and decide whether to go ahead or to stick with the deal we already have.
Parliament had the opportunity to show its opinion on this yesterday but for all their protestations to support a second referendum, the Labour leadership, decided to scupper the vote by heavily whipping its MPs to sit on their hands and abstain. The only leadership on offer this week from the Labour benches was from Select Committee chairs like Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn. More than ever, Jeremy Corbyn looked like an opposition leader in hiding rather a Prime Minister in waiting.
The grim news from Sunderland that Nissan have pulled out from a major future investment, should come as no surprise. Even Patrick Minford, one of the very few economists who Mr Rees Mogg and other hard Brexiteers can rely on to support their views, told a Parliamentary committee that WTO would all but destroy the UK car industry, but inferred this would be a price worth paying. Not for the tens of thousands of people and their families who depend on Nissan for their livelihoods across the North East.
It is not just the steady drum beat of warnings from firms like Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, Airbus and the pharmaceuticals sector that should worry us but the deep concerns of small and medium size companies the length and breadth of the UK about the consequences of No Deal.
It's easy to talk glibly about 'clean Brexit' but there is nothing clean or appealing about the reality of No Deal. I've seen the slogans 'Let's go WTO' outside Parliament, but there is a good reason why no country chooses to trade exclusively on those 4th division terms. All nations prefer trade deals but these are complex and time consuming to negotiate. At a stroke, if we exit with No Deal, we lose the trade deals we enjoy covering nearly 80 countries which extend to us because we are members of the EU. These deals cover around two thirds of all our goods exports and, as with the car industry, it is likely that other countries would prefer to import from nations with whom there are deals in place.
For our part, simply removing tariffs unilaterally on imports from one country, would oblige us under WTO rules to remove them from all which would mean kissing goodbye to major sectors of our own industries. How would our own farmers compete with a flood of cheap imports of lamb, beef and vegetables? The simple answer is that they would not cope with a rush to the bottom on pricing and the inevitable trade offs on welfare standards.
Far from being the 'easiest deal in human history', to quote the International Trade Secretary, Brexit reality does involve difficult trade offs and compromises. We were promised that scores of deals would be ready on the stroke of midnight as we left the EU, that 'Britain would hold all the cards' and that we would retain the 'exact same benefits'.
The reality is that the Prime Minister is presenting us with a choice between a bad deal that leaves us with no future certainty and No Deal.
It turns out that No Deal is worse than a bad deal - but I do not accept that this is a binary choice. I don't accept that either of these choices can be said to represent the 'will of the people'.
Having lost the vote to ratify the deal in Parliament by an historic margin of 230, the government then cobbled together an assortment of backbenchers to produce an amendment to try to paper over the cracks. The deliberate fiction underlying the so called Brady Amendment, was a mirage that the Prime Minister could unilaterally achieve a renegotiation of the Irish Backstop. That together with offers of constituency bungs for wavering Labour MPs was enough to scrape the amendment over the line last week but I suspect the divisions within both main parties run too deep for that alliance to hold when the Meaningful Vote to ratify the deal returns to Parliament..
There is no prospect that the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened and the Brady amendment will have achieved nothing but leave us rolling closer to the edge of the cliff edge of No Deal on March 29th.
We are woefully unprepared for that crash and it is worth looking at the report from the independent Institute for Government which sets out the sheer scale of the legislative and planning backlog https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/brexit-two-months-to-go-final-web.pdf
Despite the looming chaos, this week Parliament has no Brexit bills on the order paper. On Monday for example, government has scheduled a general debate on sport. I support the cancellation of the February recess but this must be used for serious action on the backlog, not left as window dressing with MPs free to continue any holiday plans they might find it inconvenient to rearrange. We do not have the luxury of time as there are fewer than thirty Parliamentary sitting days until the UK is set to leave an alliance of structures and interdependencies that have built up over more than four decades.
As the countdown to the meaningful vote on 14th February continues, many MPs will be weighing up whether they should knowingly vote for a bad deal in order to avoid the chaos of leaving with No Deal and no transition.
They should not accept that miserable binary choice but make it clear that no responsible government could inflict that kind of pain on the people. I could not remain in the Conservative Party if its policy objective was to deliver such a disaster or if that became its de facto policy after the Meaningful Vote by deliberately continuing to run down the clock.
The current deal is also problematic in that it pleases neither remainers nor the leavers who were lied to about the inevitable trade offs that would be necessary to at least partially protect jobs, livelihoods, supply chains and the wider economy, security and health.
Government could and should rule out No Deal and seek consent from the British People before an irreversible leap into economic decline which will set back our ability to reverse austerity. Checking consent through a People's Vote is the only way to be sure that this really is the will of the people.
It may be that people decide the benefits of Brexit outweigh the risks but this would be in the full knowledge of the version of Brexit involved.
Without this valid consent there is no consent and we face years of ongoing division, recrimination and resentment as the consequences unfold.
There is nothing anti democratic about pausing Article 50 for a further democratic process and I will continue to press for this. In the words of David Davis, one of the most vocal campaigners for Leave, "if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy".
I voted against the PM's Brexit deal on Tuesday not only because of concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement itself but because the accompanying political declaration on the Future Framework delivered nothing but uncertainty and the prospect of years of wrangling to come. The scale of the government defeat has made it absolutely clear that this deal cannot pass the House of Commons. It is not just a matter of a few tweaks, the Deal fundamentally pleased neither remainers nor the majority of those who had campaigned for leave.
Far from being the easiest deal in history, the reality was always going to be that compromises and trade offs would be necessary during negotiations. Brexit reality is very far from the sunlit uplands promised during the campaign.
Parliament has reached a complete impasse and I do not believe there will be a majority for any of the alternative proposals and least of all for leaving with no deal at all. In the meantime the days are counting down to March 29th and we risk falling into a chaotic No Deal Brexit unless an alternative is in place. No responsible government could knowingly and deliberately allow that to happen given the serious real world harm to individuals, communities and our economy. The term 'clean Brexit' is a misnomer, it would leave a great deal of avoidable misery for too many of our fellow citizens. No doubt the comfortably off leaders of the Leave campaign would be fine but the economic fallout would hit the poorest the hardest. It has taken a decade to recover from the effects of the 2008 crash and that involved many tough choices about government spending. I want to see an end to austerity, not see us deliberately crashing out with no deal and putting that recovery in jeopardy.
I believe that the only alternative way out of this mess will be to seek an extension of Article 50 and a People's Vote.
My feeling is that a People's Vote should at least include the only negotiated deal as well as an option to remain. I know many people would also like to see No Deal included. The Electoral Commission would advise and Parliament would debate and decide on the question if a decision was made to go ahead with a Referendum Bill. The following report from the Constitution Unit at University College London on the mechanics of a referendum sets out the mechanics of organising a referendum and how this could be achieved in far less than a year https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/sites/constitution-unit/files/the_mechanics_of_a_further_referendum_on_brexit_-_constitution_unit_report_183_revised.pdf
Due to a recent amendment which I supported, the PM must now announce her next steps on Monday, rather than having 21 days as she would otherwise have been able to do. Reports are that the government is now in listening mode but I struggle to see any changes to the Deal that would unite enough backbenchers and secondly be approved by the EU to see it succeed. Others a pushing for a Norway Style deal which would allow us to continue membership of the Single Market, alongside a customs arrangement. This would be the softest type of Brexit and whilst far less economically damaging than No Deal, would again run into the problem of pleasing neither remainers nor leavers. It is likely that many leave campaigners would find it even less acceptable than the PM's Deal given that so called 'Norway plus' would prevent an independent trade policy and see the continuation of free movement of people.
I think it is unlikely that the Commons will agree a compromise that the majority of MPs can support and I would only agree to back Norway Plus if the public were also given the opportunity to weigh up its risks and benefits and have the final say.
I am working with colleagues from Parties across both sides of the Commons to bring an amendment in support of a People's Vote.
I realise that Brexit remains a highly contentious issue and I hear passionate views from both sides of the argument.
I supported the government in the confidence vote on Wednesday and I do not think this lies in contradiction with my vote against the Brexit deal the day before. A general election will not resolve the single most contentious issue before us because these are never fought on a single issue.
I believe that a People's vote would allow us to move forward together with confidence that the nation had given its consent based on the facts and Brexit reality rather than unrealistic promises. It is now over two years since the original referendum, longer than the period between our two most recent general elections and it is nonsense fo some to suggest it is somehow anti democratic to allow people to change their minds and express a democratic opinion. I fully accept that the result could be the same but it would at least be a settled decision based on all the facts and we could finally move forward together rather than tearing ourselves apart.
Over the past couple of days I have supported a series of amendments to try to reduce the risk of the U.K. crashing out of the EU on March 29th with No Deal. The Government must stop introducing deliberate delays and instead make serious plans for what happens if the Prime Minister's Deal is rejected. As there have been no changes to the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, rejection looks to be near certain and we do not have the luxury of time on our side with just 79 days to go until Brexit.
Yesterday I voted for an amendment that will prevent the Government implementing the "no deal" provisions of The Withdrawal Act without the explicit consent of Parliament.
In essence, this was about Parliament making it clear to Government that there is no majority for No Deal. That message was highlighted further during a cross Party meeting between the Prime Minister and over 200 MPs after we had written to set out our deep concerns about the damaging effect of No Deal on individuals, businesses and communities.
Today I supported a further amendment in order to reduce the timeframe for Government to return with its proposals about what should happen next if the Deal is voted down next week. The Government will now have 3 days rather than 21 days to respond.
This matters because of the very serious consequences that would follow if we left the EU in a chaotic manner and the increasing risk of that happening as a result of running out of time for any alternatives.
A majority of MPs won't support No Deal because of both the immediate and longer term damage this would inflict on our economy. The government's own forecasts predict that growth over the next 15 years without a deal would be 9.3% lower than it would otherwise have been on current terms.
WTO rules are not the panacea that some claim, British exports to the EU would be hit by tariffs of around £6bn. The cost of Imports would also be affected, increasing the cost of living in the UK.
There would be serious disruption to complex supply chains hitting many of our key manufacturers and also creating delays to the supplies many products including diagnostic supplies and medicines which are crucial to patients who rely on NHS care. Stockpiling and other No Deal planning costs are already running into billions and the Government could and should prevent this waste by ruling out No Deal.
But the avoidable problems created by No Deal extend beyond this to the major disruption to networks of cooperation in vital areas such as policing, security, research and travel.
We would all be affected and whatever the rhetoric from those who argue for No Deal, Britain would be far poorer, weaker and more isolated. No responsible Government or MP could vote to knowingly and deliberately inflict this on the people they represent. I and many of my colleagues would resign the Conservative whip if it became the Party's stated policy objective.
It is also time for Government to stop presenting this as a simple binary choice between the Prime Minister's deal and No Deal. Parliament has shown and will continue to demonstrate that it is not prepared to accept that.