Monday 25th March Crucial week as it is vital MPs find a way to unlock the Brexit deadlock. There is a motion tonight about whether MPs should have “indicative votes”. Before the House of Commons meets I have a long phone call with head of CHP, Chelmsford’s largest social landlord. They are usually an outstanding landlord, but I have concerns about a particular group of vulnerable tenants. It is good to talk the through the issues.
Prime Minister comes to Chamber to answer questions about last week’s meeting with EU leaders. We have been given an extension to try to find an agreement about the way forward. But we only have a week. PM also explains a new concern that Northern Ireland is simply not ready for a “no deal” because with no devolved Parliament the civil servants aren’t able to take decisions.
Debate starts on the indicative votes. I ask David Liddington (effectively the Deputy Prime Minister) what will happen if the amendments from Oliver Letwin for backbench MPs to run the indicative votes falls. He replies that the Government will then also arrange indicative votes this week anyway. This makes more sense to me as I am told that where backbench MPs have tried this sort of process before it has ended in confusion.
Helpful meeting about policies affecting women. I raise the issue of maternity/paternity leave for parents of very premature babies and the need for more support for mums and other carers who want to return to work. Private meeting with the PM, nearly an hour long. Very detailed, she is clearly very concerned. Interesting dinner with MPs.
We vote on the plans for indicative votes. I support the Government approach, but it falls. Three excellent ministers resign. Very sad. Steps: 8,985
Tuesday 26th Early breakfast in the MP’s tea room. It’s clear that last night’s votes shocked people. Many of those who voted against the PMs deal are now reconsidering. At Science and Tech Select Committee we discuss plans for an inquiry on drones and question the Science Minister on priorities for research funding. I help the Foreign Office ministers in a debate on Chinese organ harvesting (MPs tell harrowing stories), and for another set of urgent questions on the situation in Yemen, which is the worst ever humanitarian crisis. Meet team from Dutch Embassy.
In the Chamber we debate final amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, this will ban so-called “zombie” knives, stop online sales of knives to children and give police the powers to act against knife crime. I’m very glad to vote it through. I join MPs for yet another “statutory instrument” committee making changes to UK law because of Brexit; this time to do with agricultural products.
Good news - letter from Secretary of State for Housing, there is to be more funding for local Councils (including Chelmsford) to help support projects to end rough sleeping.
I meet with Education Secretary to discuss school funding. More money is going into Essex schools, but many Chelmsford schools are having to cope with increased pupil numbers and more special educational needs pupils. The Minister promises to look again at these issues. Day finishes with lots of votes, lots of discussion on best way to support tomorrow … Delays on tube. Very late train back to Chelmsford. Steps: 11,740
Wednesday 27th Indicative votes day one starts with our weekly Foreign Office team meeting. All the discussion is on Brexit and we are missing our colleague Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East, who resigned on Monday. Noon brings Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May is feisty but it’s clear that Labour Front Bench are not minded to support any deal. MPs are all gossiping about which of the 16 proposals they want to vote for. At 4 pm the Speaker announces a shortlist of 8, these are the ones we will actually have a vote on. I do TV interviews on Sky and CNN to try to explain process.
Rush back to hear PM address the famous “1922” Committee. I’m very sad to hear her say she is stepping down. I do loathe it when politicians circle around to take down their leader. We have the indicative votes. After much thought I vote on the various amendments. I’ve had thousands of emails from constituents. Many want no-Brexit, many want a no-deal Brexit. It seems to me that the PM’s deal is still the most workable compromise. Very difficult. Late, late evening talking to colleagues and encouraging them to back the deal. Steps: 9,690
Thursday 28th Early morning talking to BBC Essex, then into House of Commons where MPs have been called back to discuss Brexit. Yet again I have to cancel my appointments in Chelmsford. We hear that it’s likely we will be recalled on Friday in order to vote again on the Withdrawal Agreement - but the Speaker is having a big row about not allowing MPs to vote on the same matter twice.
Spend day waiting to hear if the Speaker has agreed a motion for us to vote on - this needs to be agreed by 5pm. Catch up on emails, pleased to get a message from Rail Minister about more investment in railways. Ask question of ministers on funding for those with disabilities (funding has been increased). Finally, at 4.50pm we hear there’s been a break through with Fridays’s motion. It separates off the Withdrawal Agreement which is the immediate decision on exit and gives a transition period of two years to sort out the long-term relationship. Even though Labour don’t have any problems with the Withdrawal Agreement they won’t support it. Much shouting. Steps: 9,945
Friday 29th Depressing day. This was almost certainly the last chance to try to deliver the referendum result but in a stable manner. All day people are trying to encourage colleagues to support the deal. But the motion is defeated. Not sure what happens next. There are very noisy protests outside the House of Commons and staff are asked to vacate the premises. Very difficult times. It’s Mothering Sunday this weekend, I catch a train westward to visit my mum whom I haven’t seen for months. We are to spend the weekend visiting care homes together for my aged stepfather. Family is important too. Steps: 9,341