This week Parliament was meant to be on a “recess” break. I had planned a trip to visit English language teaching projects in Spain with the British Council and go northwards to meet Scottish businesses as part of our work on economic policy. However, MPs were recalled back to Westminster to wait to find out what will happen at the emergency EU summit on Wednesday.
Monday 8 April Checking the Parliament agenda for the week ahead and suddenly this “quiet” week looks incredibly busy. Lots of debates have been called on foreign policy issues, and as one of the two “Parliamentary Private Secretary” MPs who support the Foreign Office Ministers I see that it going to be a packed week. Our role includes making sure that colleagues are aware of debates and briefed.
Before parliament starts I catch up with a local Chelmsford business that is converting diesel trucks to electric engines. It’s a novel concept and they need assistance with regulatory matters. I promise to help. I meet the #AskHerToStand campaigners who are encouraging more women to stand for Parliament.
In the Chamber, the weekly business starts with questions to the Secretary of State for Housing and Local Government. I ask about process for our infrastructure bid for Chelmsford’s second railway station and bypass. There is an urgent question to ministers about the situation in Libya, I rush to get briefings for colleagues. I hear there is to be a late debate on the UN work to end racial discrimination, again I provide briefings. It’s nearly 10pm when the House of Lords send back amendments to the “Cooper/Letwin Bill” (much red ribbon and bowing by ushers in wigs and stockings). These amendments give more flexibility to the government. We vote, they are accepted.
Tuesday 9 April Parliament starts with Treasury Questions – I ask the Chancellor about support for shops and high streets. It’s good news that he has cut business rates, many Chelmsford businesses asked for this. I support ministers for a debate about the dreadful Jallianwala Bagh massacre in India a century ago. Very moving. It’s a busy afternoon in the Chamber with lots of urgent questions and statements before it gets to the main business which is on overseas sanctions in Iran, Venezuela, Burma and other challenging countries. Time is shorter than planned and having asked colleagues to be ready to speak in the debate I then need to tell them they are not going to get time. Ouch… this is not popular. After votes I go into the City for a reunion with former colleagues. It’s lovely to see them. We reminisce about the work we used to do raising funding for infrastructure and to help businesses grow. Watch late TV reports of the PM’s visits to France and Germany, she is asking for an extension to the Brexit process.
Wednesday 10 April tart the day at HP’s London headquarters. Fascinating round table about women in the Tech Sector. Just 17 percent of those working in tech are female. Across the industry many employers are keen to change this and there are great opportunities. We discuss how to improve the teaching in schools, flexible working and reaching out to those who have taken career breaks and want to return to work.
In the Commons I have been picked to ask a question of the Northern Ireland team just before PMQs. It’s the 21st Anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, and I am reminded of how much things have changed for the better since my childhood in Omagh. I’m glad to be able to raise this important anniversary.
A friend has challenged me to write an A to Z of great things that are happening in Chelmsford, I spend the afternoon sorting through so many ideas and suggestions before going back to another Foreign Office debate. MPs of all parties join to condemn new anti LGBT laws in Brunei which call for death by stoning.
All eyes are on what is happening in Brussels – will the PM get her extension from EU leaders or are we going to be leaving the EU with no deal on Friday? Lots of gossip about leadership candidates. Late night chat with one of our British MEPs, they really don’t want to have to hold European elections. I agree.
Thursday 11 April Wake early to hear that we have been given an extension, until October. I go to BBC to discuss the situation on the Victoria Derbyshire programme. The PM comes to the Chamber to explain the position, I listen carefully. There is no majority amongst MPs to leave with no deal. She is trying to find a solution that means we Leave the EU but with a deal that can have most MPs supporting it. I urge her to try to reach a resolution before the European Elections are held. The UK will not leave this week with no deal. MPs vote to put Parliament in Recess until after Easter. Colleagues are exhausted, many have not seen their family properly for weeks. There is a sense of relief.
Friday 12 April Lovely, lovely day. I join police officers from all over the UK in Oaklands Park, Chelmsford, where a national memorial to police dogs is unveiled. Very moving stories from dog handlers about the bravery of the dogs who work with the police. We see exceptional displays of the dogs working. What an honour to have this in Chelmsford.
I join the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for the Mayor’s Community Evening at Hylands House. Volunteers from all over Chelmsford have been invited. They are given awards to thank them for the work they do for their communities. One man tells me how he drives through the night to deliver blood to hospitals and the air ambulance. I hear about the dance teaching in Galleywood, the lunch groups for the elderly and the kind woman who is trying to keep on top of the weeds in the garden at Springfield Parish Centre. She is desperate for volunteers to help; might you do this?
Saturday 13 April Great to be outside in Chelmsford, knocking on doors with Cllr Mike Holloway. Goodness our local councillors do work hard!