As I started writing this two weeks ago, MPs were filing through the division lobbies not far from where I was sitting to cast their votes on the government’s doomed Brexit deal. After the worst ever parliamentary defeat for any government, it’s hard to understand why they are set to do exactly the same again very shortly on a deal that’s hardly changed.
It’s obviously been an extraordinary few months to be working in this place and yet in many ways there has still been a lot of ‘business as usual’. For instance, amidst all the drama on the day of the last vote, I was putting material together for our regular Environment Department questions session later that week. Questions to Ministers covered several issues of great concern, including air pollution, fly-tipping and recycling, and support for farmers.
Nevertheless, Brexit completely dominates our work, as it impacts virtually every corner of the Environment Department’s responsibilities. Labour’s shadow Environment team headed by my boss Sue Hayman (MP for Workington), includes David Drew (MP for Stroud) who I am working closely with on the Agriculture Bill, and Luke Pollard (MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport) who I support on the Fisheries Bill. These Bills set out how each of these sectors will operate after Brexit, when we are no longer part of the Common Agriculture Policy and Common Fisheries Policy.
The UK will be responsible for the first time in 40+ years for the financial support payments made to farmers, and for deciding who gets to fish in UK waters. We have pressed for greater support for sustainable food production, for animal welfare, and for fairer allocation of fishing rights to smaller operators. We are examining how the environmental protections which the EU has guaranteed for years can be preserved, what rights of legal challenge people should have, and how to make sure the government is held to account effectively.
We know that the Conservatives are failing on Brexit, but Labour has to keep highlighting all their other failures on the issues that matter most to constituents – the social care crisis, housing crisis, rough sleeping, and the disastrous roll out of Universal Credit. On action to reverse environmental degradation, Michael Gove’s record of actual delivery falls well short of all the promises and warm words.
Bit by bit, I have witnessed parliament wrest back control of the Brexit process in the face of the Prime Minister’s attempts to force her bad deal on the country. Since failing to win a majority in June 2017 there have been multiple parliamentary defeats, including on the Finance Bill and on a motion to find them in contempt of parliament. It seems that the only vote they can win is on a no confidence motion. Any other government suffering even one of these defeats would have taken the proper course of action and gone back to the country for voters to give their verdict. Yet the Prime Minister ploughs on regardless, with her party showing contempt not just for parliament, but for any sense of democratic decency.