Monday brought the excellent news that the Prime Minister has come to agreement with the EU on a new set of arrangements for Northern Ireland, the so called “Windsor Framework”.
I was born and raised in Omagh, Co Tyrone and much of my childhood was extremely happy. It was a very loving community. However, I also remember the impact of living there during the troubles, once having to duck under my school desk when a bomb went off across the street, another time when one of my best friends at school had all the windows of her home blown out by a nearby bomb.
The Belfast Good Friday Agreement has brought peace to Northern Ireland for the past 25 years, and I think it is extremely important that it is respected by all parties.
The Northern Ireland Protocol which set up the initial post-Brexit trade agreements says in its opening statements that it will uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. But the way in which it has been implemented has caused huge problems for trade across the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as a result Unionist politicians have refused to take up their seats in the Stormont Assembly.
The new Windsor Framework will introduce a new and bespoke system of Green and Red Lanes for goods crossing the Irish Sea, this will hugely simplify the processes for moving goods within the UK. It has been made possible due to new technology which enables the sharing of data on goods movements. It also contains a “Stormont Break” which will enable Northern Irish elected representatives to call for a veto on new or amended EU laws applying in the province.
It is important that Northern Irish MPs have time to read through the detail, but I do hope that this agreement will be supported and that we can move forward not only on resolving issues for Northern Ireland but also for other issues with our UK/EU relationship.
In Westminster, I met with the Chancellor and asked for his support with the funding for the Army and Navy Sustainable Transport Package, a crucial bit of investment in Chelmsford’s infrastructure which will help unlock growth in our local economy.
I hosted an event to raise awareness of the desperate situation in the Horn of Africa, where rains have now failed for the fifth consecutive rainy season. Millions of people are facing acute food insecurity. The event was sponsored by the One Campaign which brings together many different charities and volunteers from across the country. Thank you to Chelmsford resident, Florence, for attending.
I am also working with a group of colleagues on a project to look at how regulators could be better scrutinised and held to account. Regulators in sectors like energy, medicine and financial services have huge power over decisions which affect key parts of the economy and our international competitiveness. It is crucial for our country’s economic growth and future jobs that there is proper oversight of regulators. I spent part of this week meeting business organisations to discuss this work.
In Chelmsford I attended a meeting with Police, Fire, Health leads and representatives from the voluntary sector and Chelmsford City Council. Much progress has been made on improving safety in Chelmsford, largely due to the leadership of our Police Fire and Crime Commissioner in recruiting over 700 more police in Essex and the £550,000 grant that he and I helped to secure for Chelmsford under the government’s Safer Streets initiative. It is good news that our city centre has again been awarded Purple Flag status for safety in the night time economy.
However, there is more that I think we could do. At the meeting I pressed Chelmsford City Council to look again at better safety measures in the Waterson Vale green space, especially clearing back undergrowth, CCTV and lighting along the path. I am also trying to encourage them to run an awareness campaign to tackle spiking, it is extremely important that victims come forward promptly if they have been spiked. This enables urine samples to be taken which can be vital evidence to help catch and prosecute perpetrators.
Finally, I closed the week by joining members of the Chelmsford and Maldon District Community Policing Team on patrol. I was very pleased to hear about work they are doing to try to improve safety near the bus and rail stations. During our patrol we also visited a number of vape shops in Chelmsford as there is growing concern from schools about children using vape. It is not legal to sell or supply a vape to under 18 year olds and the nicotine content in disposable vapes can be very high.