What a week. I start by packing a complicated travel bag. Monday Spend the morning in Chelmsford, at County Hall where John Spence, the councillor for Chelmer Village and I have arranged to meet with First Bus Essex. I have had lots of emails from constituents with complaints about the bus service recently. The company apologise. They explain the hugely challenging period they have had over the summer when they reorganised rotas, shut a depot and moved their service centre. They take us through plans to improve the service and we discuss some ways to help improve the turn around. We do need reliable local busses and I hope this will make a difference.
In London I meet with “Bliss”. They are a charity that supports families with very premature babies. I have been supporting a campaign to give more maternity and paternity assistance to these families. It can be very hard especially for new mums if by the time their baby is well enough to leave the neo-natal ward they have already run out of parental leave and so have no time at home with their baby.
Half way through the afternoon I am told that the trip I was meant to be making tomorrow is cancelled. There is suddenly going to be a new important vote. Rapid rearrangement of my plans.
I meet with the Minister for Police to discuss next year’s funding. Last year Essex MPs fought successfully for an increase in the police precept. This has put 150 extra police officers in Essex and they are making a difference locally. I’m concerned that changes to funding of pensions could hit frontline officers, we discuss ways to prevent this happening.
I join colleagues for the debate on the Finance bill. This is the bill that makes the announcements in the budget happen. I want to support it. It gives a tax cut to low income earners and a rates cut for small businesses as well as a massive increase in investment in the NHS and infrastructure. We finally vote on it well after 10 pm. This is the “second reading”. MPs will now go through the 300 page document line by line in committee before it comes back for a final reading. I am asked to sit on the Bill committee. This will involve many long days but will be a good learning experience for me.
Tuesday Early at the statue of Suffragette Emmaline Pankhurst, we are recording a video of what women MPs have accomplished to celebrate 100 years of women having the right to stand in elections. Science and Tech committee discussing impact of Social Media on mental health with the digital minister and the health minister. I am impressed by their deep thoughts. Into Chamber for questions with the Justice Secretary. I ask for longer sentences for those who commit violent offenses whilst in prison. It is something the new Chelmsford Prison Governor has asked me to raise, and I’m pleased to support her.
Complicated debate on whether Government should publish all its legal advice on EU withdrawal negotiations. This would set a difficult precedent as it is important that advice given by lawyers is confidential to their clients – even if the client is the Cabinet! We agree that the government will give MPs information on the final legal situation after the negotiations, before we vote.
Late afternoon we hear that UK/EU negotiations are nearing conclusion. I am glad that after many months we will now have at a text to consider. Speak to BBC Essex, then rush to train. In Chelmsford, Shire Hall is shining in purple. Chelmsford resident and disability campaigner Mike Adams has lit up 700 high streets across the UK for “Purple Tuesday”. This is to give those with disabilities a special shopping day in the run up to Christmas and to make sure local businesses benefit too. He has been on TV stations and doing interviews all across the country since 7am this morning. It is wonderful to see him at the end of such as special day. Well done Mike.
Wednesday Join Women MPs for a special photo for the centenary before going to Women and Equalities Committee. The UK is soon to have the international inspectors in, looking at whether we comply with global standards on human rights and equalities. We learn how the assessment process works. I suspect it may be controversial. BBC Look East journalist asks me about the EU deal – its not public yet so I won’t prejudge it until we have copies. PMQs (noisy) and then nice motion to say Happy 70th Birthday to Prince Charles. The PM and Cabinet then leave to go and discuss the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. Essex’s new Police Chief Constable is in Westminster and I join Essex MPs for a helpful meeting. Into the Chamber with colleagues discussing what happens to EHIC cards after Brexit, this is good news as people will be able to keep using them. We wait for the Cabinet meeting to finish.
At around 7.30 pm I join government ministers, whips and the other parliamentary private secretaries. There are over 100 people in the room. The Prime Minister’s chief of staff gives us a long briefing on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying document which outlines the framework for the future relationship. He takes questions. It is not a perfect deal, but it is also clear that the negotiators think this is much better than leaving with no deal at all. I go to the library and print a copy of the 535 pages. The printer overheats and its past midnight when I head off to read it in bed.
Thursday Up early into the House of Commons for the Prime Minister’s Statement on the Withdrawal Agreement. Goodness she is tough, given that two cabinet members have resigned. She takes questions for nearly three hours. In the first hour I can see the Speaker calling people that he knows will ask the most controversial questions. Unsurprisingly, the press reports that it takes an hour before she gets an easier question! It is clear that lots of the questions are about what the long-term relationship between the UK and EU will look like. This is difficult because of course the Withdrawal Bill only covers the “divorce” part and the transition – the EU negotiators haven’t let us discuss the details for the long-term deal yet.
I’m asked to go and speak to press from other countries, especially encouraging more work on the long-term details. On College Green where there is a media scrum (very intimidating) I do interviews for TV in Germany, Austria and Ireland as well as ITV and BBC. Head back to Chelmsford for my constituency surgery, I’m late and very sorry. Over to BBC Essex to do an interview about a campaign I am supporting to make discarding needles a criminal offence. Yes, I am working on some things that are not Brexit!
Race to Stansted for a late flight to the continent. It is nearly 2am when I get to the hotel and to bed.
Friday and Saturday Totally different. I join politicians, economists, central bankers and trade experts from UK and Germany for a two-day conference on trade and macro-economic policy. I join a panel to discuss US/China trade wars and what it means for the UK. Even though we are discussing difficult issues it feels extraordinary good to step outside the Westminster bubble and think big picture, listen to others and share ideas.