Monday Strange week as Parliament was meant to be having its traditional February “recess”. I was supposed to be in a mission to Hong Kong and China to discuss our relationship post leaving the EU, but the trip as been cancelled and parliament has been recalled. We have a wave of Brexit related legislation to debate and vote on.
Listen to the press conference from the 7 Labour MPs leaving their party to stand as independents. It’s clear that they don’t trust Corbyn and have awful stories of anti-Semitism.
The Home Secretary answers questions about what will happen to those British citizens who travelled to Syria to fight with Isis. It is a controversial issue and I have had lots of emails from constituents. We vote on changes to UK laws affecting financial services and cross border mediation. There are hundreds of changes that are needed to different laws because of leaving the EU and there is a concern that some may not be agreed on time. I join colleagues for a very late debate on serious violence. I explain the good work that has been happening in Chelmsford to disrupt criminal gangs and target drug crime.
Tuesday In the House of Commons, the health ministers are answering questions from MPs. I ask about “no deal” planning for insulin, a vital drug for those with diabetes. Many Chelmsford diabetics have written to me about this and I am reassured to hear there is a 12-week supply. There are urgent questions to ministers about the state of play on EU negotiations regarding the Northern Ireland backstop. The ministers are not disclosing new details though!
I join MPs to question ministers on the very sad news about Honda closing its major factory in Swindon. Many thousands of jobs are on the line. The tax minister takes questions about the new policy to “Make Tax Digital”, this is welcome but some smaller businesses have found it challenging. I ask him to look at some of the technical issues that Chelmsford constituents have raised.
I go to a private meeting for MPs and members of the House of Lords with the Indian High Commissioner. There has been a terrible terrorist atrocity, it is clear that the Indian authorities have been very grateful to the UK for support.
MPs debate the long-term plan for the NHS. This includes the largest ever increase in investment for the NHS. I’m very glad to be able to mention our wonderful new medical school in Chelmsford which is already training new GPs and other doctors. The minister promises to look at some of the details on nurse training. Helpful.
Wednesday Very sad to hear that three of my Conservative colleagues have decided to leave the party because of Brexit and sit as independents. It is especially sad as they are three women colleagues and I have worked for many years to support and encourage more women in politics. I am asked to do some TV interviews and stress how important it is that mainstream parties remain in the centre of politics, and do not get pulled to the far left of far right. Many, many conversations with colleagues – on the more positive side I’m delighted to hear that the employment numbers are still at record highs and that the Chancellor has announced plans for a new plastics tax which will mean those companies who produce vast amounts of plastic packaging will need to pay for it to be cleaned up and recycled. Worrying debate in the House of Commons about Anti-Semitism.
I’m asked to go on BBC news, Sky, Newsnight and LBC but I decide to take a kind offer to go and watch the BRIT awards. The music and entertainment industry is a huge part of British life and a vibrant part of our economy. It is good to support them for an evening. At the event there are lots of MPs from different parties including one who has been receiving terrible threats. It is the first time we have been able to get out of the House of Commons for a while, so it is helpful to talk about what has been happening and try to find some common ground.
Thursday I spend some time looking at the Brexit related amendments we will face next week. It’s clear that many of the ministers who have been working on “no deal” planning are concerned. I work on plans for a new Lent campaign to help keep the focus on the environment and join a debate on trade policy for the UK. I have had a big bunch of emails about this from constituents and am pleased to get reassurances from the ministers on some of their concerns. I rush back to Chelmsford and to the Cricket Club, where Cricketing legend Sir Alistair Cook is back. There is a celebration of a well-respected construction business, Wilmott Dixon, opening a new office in Chelmsford and we are raising money for the Little Havens Hospice too. It is interesting hearing Cook telling his stories about captaining the England team through some tricky times – lots of parallels with politics there!
Friday Day off – special half term treat as the family all meet together for our six monthly dentist appointment!