Monday, 14 October We know the week will begin with the Queen’s Speech and end with an EU Council meeting, but we do not know what will be agreed.
When I arrive in Westminster, Parliament is glistening. Everyone is dressed in their best with medals galore waiting for the Queen. In a courtyard, I pass the Yeoman of the Guard in their scarlet and gold tunics. They ceremonially search the cellars before the State Opening to check that there is no modern day Guy Fawkes hidden below. MPs gather in the Commons to be summoned by Black Rod to the House of Lords where we can stand under the galleries to hear the speech. The Queen’s voice is loud, clear and so dignified. As she rises to leave, I catch a glimpse of the twinkles from her diadem sparkling across the chamber.
I am delighted that the speech focuses on the NHS, Schools, Police and Infrastructure as well as lots of work that will be done to protect the environment. It also brings forward more investment in science and technology. These are all priorities for us in Chelmsford. I stay late in the Commons to speak in the debate. STEPS 10,589
Tuesday, 15 October Breakfast with campaigners focusing on online safety and then a fascinating meeting with the Science and Technology Select Committee. We are looking at genetic testing and especially the counselling that is offered before people take these tests. Improvements need to be made, sometimes the tests can be truly helpful, and the results can help save lives, but often individuals are left with even greater uncertainty and unsure what to do after a test result.
I’ve had a flurry of emails from parents and young people frustrated about the decision to restrict evening access to Riverside Gym for unaccompanied 14 and 15 year olds. Some teenagers have worked hard taking on paper rounds and other jobs to pay for their membership and will not be able to attend the gym now. I write to the City Council Leader with my concerns.
I host a meeting of the Conservative Environment Network. We set this up last year and it has gone from strength to strength, with a detailed manifesto on the environment. The new Environment Bill has been published, which will protect water and air quality, establish the road map to becoming carbon neutral, help preserve and increase habitat for wildlife and has a raft of measures to tackle plastic pollution.
Long day in the House of Commons Chamber as MPs continue to debate the Queen’s Speech - but actually all the focus is on whether there is news from Brussels about the negotiations. STEPS 11,994
Wednesday, 16 October We’ve been told that today is the day, unless an agreement is reached with the EU there will be no deal on Brexit. MPs on tenterhooks all day as we wait and wait to hear news from Brussels.
This November it will be two years since the “Me Too” movement started. In the Women and Equalities Select Committee we discuss plans for a conference to look at what has been achieved to protect people from harassment and what more needs to be done. I meet campaigners from Parkinson’s UK and “Menopause Matters’, both of whom have excellent suggestions for improvements to our NHS.
At 4.30 pm colleagues are called to an emergency meeting of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs. It is held in the largest committee room in the Palace of Westminster, but it is packed. The PM comes to speak. He is serious and says agreement has not yet been reached. He suggests it’s close and describes the negotiations as being like climbing Everest. “We have reached the Hillary Step” he says, “but the summit is still in cloud”.
Before heading back to Chelmsford I join the head teachers from Chelmsford County High School for Girls and King Edward VI Grammar School who are in Westminster meeting other Grammar School heads. It’s great to hear that the girls’ school is going to be able to upgrade their facilities and expand the school.
The whips hold us late for a vote - as there is more business yet to be agreed, this time on urgent matters for Northern Ireland as the Stormont Assembly is still not sitting so no local decisions are being made there. The vote passes. Late train back to Chelmsford. In Brussels our negotiators are working through the night. STEPS 9,866
Thursday, 17 October 11.53 am - we hear that a deal has been agreed between the EU negotiators and the UK. Huge relief all across Westminster - but will the leaders of the EU 27 countries agree to it tomorrow? And will it get voted through?
We vote on whether Parliament can meet on Saturday to vote on the EU deal. This will be the first time MPs have met on a Saturday since the Falklands War. The vote passes. Michael Gove briefs MPs on the details of the deal. I speak to local BBC and ITV programmes about the deal and why I will be supporting it. We do need to get Brexit done and move on to all the other issues affecting people. Before leaving Westminster I write updates for my monthly newsletters and to constituents about the Environment Bill. It’s good to have space to think without worrying about the negotiations. STEPS 11,522
Friday, 18 October As the PM heads to Brussels to meet the 27 EU leaders I am in Chelmsford. I meet students taking part in a Democracy Day debate in County Hall and then go to Westlands Primary School to hear from the pupils who are concerned about the environment. We discuss the work the UK is leading to protect a third of the world’s oceans, plans to tackle plastic waste and protect endangered species. They are a great bunch. I meet parents and pupils from Maltese Road Primary School who are worried about road safety and a dangerous crossing. At Chelmsford Community Radio I am interviewed with by a super team of Girl Guides as part of the Parliament Week campaign. In the evening I enjoy an hour of beautiful phone free calm listening to the outstanding Chelmsford Male Voice Choir singing with school pupils. Thank you! STEPS 11,782
Saturday, 19 October Up early for the big day in Westminster. I catch the 7.21 am train as I don’t want to risk delay. I arrive to find MPs already gathering. The mood is serious, we know the vote is going to be close. Colleagues gathering in corners and corridors trying to persuade others how important it is that the vote goes through. But one group of MPs have tabled an amendment which, if passed, will prevent us having the meaningful vote today on the Prime Minister’s deal. The House of Commons Chamber is absolutely packed, so are the press and public galleries.
MPs listen intently, hanging on to each word as the PM speaks. He takes questions for nearly two hours. I point out that it is not only people in the UK who want to end this uncertainty but people across Europe too. An extension will not end this uncertainty. The debate on the motion is fiery and colleagues are urged to respect the democratic decision of the referendum. If this deal is not passed, no deal becomes even more likely. People speak with great passion, especially Theresa May who urges people to get behind Boris’s deal.
Front Bench opposition MPs speak against the deal, but we know there is a clutch of their backbenchers who want to support the deal, but only if they know their votes will ensure it passes. When we vote, they decide to hold off their support until next week. The amendment passes by 16 votes. The meaningful vote on the deal will have to wait for another day, but support for the deal is getting closer. Everyone appears exhausted. STEPS 9,015