It has been yet another challenging and fast-moving week when it comes to Brexit. I know that many of my constituents are hugely frustrated by the ongoing deadlock in Parliament, and the way in which this process has been handled by the Conservative Government over the past few years.
I have received a significant amount of correspondence over the past few weeks and as such there is currently a short delay in responses to queries regarding Brexit. I hope this update provides some information in the meantime, but please note all constituents will receive a full reply.
At the bottom of this post you will find a breakdown of my voting record for the recent indicative Brexit votes that took place in Parliament. I approached the indicative votes process in the spirit of compromise and therefore supported all options that were in line with Labour Party Policy, even if they did not fully align with our position.
It is no exaggeration to say that we are now in the middle of a full-blown political crisis, with time running out. I am therefore open to supporting a range of options that would break the deadlock and allow us to move forward as a country.
As many people will know, I have consistently opposed the idea of leaving the EU without a deal as I believe it would be a disastrous outcome for our country, and particularly the manufacturing industry in our region of the North East.
With that in mind I supported Yvette Cooper MP & Sir Oliver Letwin MP’s Bill this week, which aims to avoid a No Deal Brexit on the 12th April 2019. It is now being considered by the Lords and this process will continue Monday of next week.
The Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit has been chaotic. She has stuck to unnecessary red lines and refused to pursue a cross-party approach until such a time when she had no other options left. This process is now, finally, taking place with talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn (and their teams).
Jeremy and his negotiating team have discussed customs arrangements, single market alignment including rights and protections, agencies and programmes, internal security, legal underpinning to any agreements and a confirmatory vote. They are now expecting to hear more from the Government, who have also requested a further extension of Article 50 from the EU.
It is more important now than ever that we work together in order to find a path through this complicated period for our country that works for everyone and brings people together. I will continue to update constituents as this process moves forward.
Due to the Government’s failure to secure a Brexit deal that could secure a majority, MPs took control of the order paper and organised two rounds of indicative votes to see if there were any options that could find majority support.
First Round – 27th March 2019
Motion D - Common Market 2.0
Proposed membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA). It allows for continued participation in the single market and a ‘comprehensive customs arrangement’.
Motion J – Customs Union
Required a commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide Customs Union with the EU in any Brexit deal.
Motion K – Labour Plan
Our plan for a close economic relationship with the EU including a comprehensive customs union and close alignment with the single market in order to secure rights and protections.
Motion M – Confirmatory Public Vote
Would require a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification.
Motion B – Leaving the EU without a deal
Proposed leaving the EU without a deal on the 12th April 2019.
Motion H – EEA / EFTA without a Customs Unions
Proposed remaining within the EEA and re-joining EFTA, but remaining outside a customs union with the European Union (EU).
Motion O – Contingent preferential arrangements
Called on the Government to try and secure preferential trade arrangements with the EU in case we are unable to implement a withdrawal agreement.
Motion L – Revoke article 50
Proposal in which if the Government failed to pass its Withdrawal agreement it would have to then hold a vote on No Deal, two sitting days before the date of departure. If No Deal was voted down by MPs, the Prime Minister would need to revoking article 50.
Second Round – 1st April 2019
Motion C – Customs Union
Required any Brexit deal to include a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU”. No major change from the first round (Motion J).
Motion D – Common Market 2.0 / Norway
Very similar to the Motion tabled previously (Motion D) with some minor changes relating to the UK having a say on future EU trade deals and protocols relating to frictionless agri-food trade.
Motion E – Confirmatory Public Vote
Same as in first round (Motion M).
Motion G – Parliamentary Supremacy
Very similar to Motion tabled in the first round (Motion L) with some changes. Namely that if Article 50 was revoked as a result, a public inquiry would then be set up to find a Brexit option that could secure public support.
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Mar-Apr 2019 number 116 Brexit update
Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Mar-Apr 2019 number 116 Brexit update
Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website.
On Wednesday last week, the Prime Minister addressed the nation about Brexit.
After two years, the Prime Minister has failed to negotiate a deal with the EU that protects workers’ rights, environmental regulations or our economy.
The Prime Minister’s deal has been overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament more than once.
During her Downing Street Statement, the Prime Minister tried to place the blame for this on MPs.
But it is not MPs who are to blame. She is.
The national debate on Brexit at the moment is very tense.
My colleagues and I have received many abusive and threatening messages, just for doing our job.
That the Prime Minister should fan the flames of this hatred against elected politicians is extremely dangerous, and demeans the office of the Prime Minister.
Following the speech, the Government then spent tens of thousands of pounds promoting clips of the Prime Minister’s speech on Facebook, alongside the caption “I am on your side”.
If the Prime Minister was on your side, her Government wouldn’t have cut funding for our schools so much that teachers have to use their own money to pay for essentials such as books and pencils; our NHS wouldn’t be in crisis, with 2.8 million people waiting for 4 hours or longer in A&E in 2017/18, compared to just over 350,000 in 2009/10; and our country wouldn’t be facing a knife crime crisis, with police numbers slashed by 21,000.
Instead of attempting to bully and blackmail MPs, the Prime Minister should listen to the thoughts, opinions and concerns of MPs, so that we can effectively represent our constituents.
The North East is my home, I was born here, I brought my children up here, I lived through the dark days of Thatcherism and its impact on our region, and I consider myself lucky every day to represent such a fantastic constituency and people.
I respect the result of the referendum, and welcome hearing from all of my constituents on this.
However, I do not accept that anyone has the right to be abusive or threatening to my parliamentary colleagues and I.
Whatever you think about what is going on in Westminster, I would ask you to appreciate that I only ever do what I think is in the best interests of my constituents on this and all matters.
Whilst the Brexit debate rages on, we must all respect one another and ensure the tone is kept amicable.
The Prime Minister would do well to remember that in the days and weeks to come.
Sharon recently secured a one hour Westminster Hall debate on the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering. This followed concerns raised by the sector.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP:
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking all the public sector catering providers, users and campaigners who have been in touch with me over the past week to raise their concerns about this issue. I can see a number of them in the Public Gallery today. I am extremely grateful and pleased that they have made the journey here today.
Although a no-deal Brexit in general is deeply concerning to me and many others up and down the country, I tabled this debate because the quality, quantity and safety of the food provided to some of the most vulnerable in our society is often overlooked in the debates around a no-deal Brexit. I therefore wanted to speak up today for the estimated 10.5 million people in the UK who rely on public sector institutions for at least some of their food. Some are completely reliant on such institutions for all their meals. I want to say clearly to the Government that no deal should not mean no meal.
The Soil Association brief sent to me yesterday reads clearly:
“It is very likely that a No deal Brexit would be disastrous for public sector catering.”
Institutions including schools, universities, hospitals, care homes, meals on wheels and prisons will be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit. They feed some of the most vulnerable in our society. Without those services, many would simply not eat. High quality public sector catering is so important to the health and wellbeing of millions of people across the country. A drop in standards or the availability of nutritious food because of a no-deal Brexit would be extremely detrimental to service users.
I want to focus on three main concerns today, which I will address in turn: the cost and availability of meals; the quality, quantity and safety of food available to public sector providers; and, finally, workforce retention.
At the end of last year, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, told the Treasury Committee that in the most “extreme” no-deal Brexit, food prices would rise by 10%, but that in a less severe scenario, the increase would be about 6%. Either scenario is concerning to suppliers of public sector catering, which are already struggling to cover the cost of nutritious meals.
For example, the allowance for universal infant free school meals is £2.30. That goes directly to schools and is not ring-fenced. It has not been increased since the start of universal infant free school meals in September 2014. In many cases, the caterers do not receive the full amount. Bidfood has calculated that with 13% inflationary costs and the potential increase in costs following no deal, the meal allowance would need to be increased by 69p to bring the allowance back to where we are now. There are serious concerns about the impact Brexit could have on the provision of school meals in some schools, particularly small rural schools, that no longer receive the small school allowance of £2,000, which ceased about two years ago.
Due to Brexit uncertainty, caterers have reported an overall increase in costs of up to 20% for some ingredients over the past 12 months, with the cost of eggs reported to be up by 14%.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and making the case about food price rises. Is she not also concerned that a no-deal Brexit might lead to trade deals that lower standards, particularly with the US? The National Farmers Union has said that it is concerned about US practices and that trade deals should
“not allow imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers”,
such as chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef. We might be pushed to lower standards for cheaper food. That is a huge health and safety issue for our children.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and I will touch on the issue he raises later in my contribution. This morning, I sat on a no-deal Delegated Legislation Committee with my shadow Public Health Minister hat on. In that Committee Room, we were talking about the very issues my hon. Friend raises in respect of a no-deal Brexit. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), assured me that our chicken will still be washed in drinking water and not in any form of chlorine. However, my hon. Friend’s worry is very much taken on board, given that the money will not be there and costs will be cut to the bone—no pun intended.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the prices of raw materials and commodities will go up, but who will absorb the price increases? Social care providers, particularly those with a majority of local authority-funded residents, will not have the capability to accept increased catering costs. Will the Government therefore increase the budgets for public sector catering to cover the shortfall?
Diana Johnson (Kingston Upon Hull North) (Lab)
I apologise for being slightly late for the beginning of the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing it. In my city of Hull, there has been an attempt to keep school meal prices as low as possible—50p, rather than the normal £2-odd. What concerns me is that there is already pressure on that budget. It has already gone up to £1 because of school budget pressures. What does she think about the fact that there is a public health initiative to try to ensure that children are eating healthily and well, yet the cost may go up even more due to what she has described in her contribution?
That is the worry. As Bidfood worked out, the cost will have to go up by 69p a child just to stand still. In areas that are trying to keep the price as low as possible, that initiative disappears, but in other areas that are already paying £2.30 or £2.40, what will happen? Parents cannot afford to pay much more than that, so the quality of the food, children’s health and the health of the 10.5 million people who rely on this food every day will suffer as a consequence.
If the Government do not cover the shortfall, menus may have to be reduced so that providers do not overspend. As my hon. Friend has just said, that will compromise the nutritional value of the meals given to service users. An increase in the costs of public sector meals could therefore see an increase in poverty, childhood obesity and malnutrition in hospitals and care homes, which could have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of service users.
The affordability of food post Brexit, especially in the event of no deal, is an incredibly alarming issue. That is the case for all our constituents, but even more so for those who rely on public sector catering for their food. General food shortages due to panic buying or an impact on deliveries due to fuel shortages are of particular concern, especially for public sector catering in hospitals and care homes. The Government should communicate openly and factually about the food challenges ahead and encourage the food industry, caterers, institutions and organisations to do so too.
One person wrote to me to say that the Government had given them
“no real guidance, other than to stockpile food”.
One local authority caterer told Food for Life that it had invested more than £1 million in stockpiling ingredients, including 250 tonnes of meat. However, the caterer is concerned, as that food will only last for a short period. Not every caterer has the capacity to stockpile food. What advice have the Government given to suppliers and caterers? Is advice being updated clearly and regularly?
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has expressed concern about the continuity of food supplies to schools and hospitals in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It has suggested that food supplies should be triaged and prioritised for those most in need, but that could happen only with Government intervention. Is that something the Minister has considered? Concerns have also been raised with me about products being diverted to more lucrative customers, rather than being prioritised for vulnerable people. Will the Minister address that point too?
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 does not deal directly with food—probably nobody ever thought that we would be in this position—nor does it identify responsible agencies with a food remit. Has the Minister had any conversations with his Government colleagues about including food in the 2004 Act, particularly for vulnerable people?
The meals distributed in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons each day are crucial to those who eat them. Caterers are already beginning to remove higher quality produce from menus, with some school caterers considering a move from hot food to cold meals. That could result in a reduction in the nutritional value of meals, which would be detrimental to children or to service users in the case of the other provisions.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
My hon. Friend does amazing work on schools through the all-party parliamentary group, and through the children’s future food inquiry, which I am pleased to be involved in. She will know that there is real concern about children living in food poverty. Indeed, the Food Foundation assessed towards the end of last year that around 3.7 million children are living in households that would have to spend 42% of their annual income to meet the guidance of the “eatwell plate”. That is simply unaffordable and if food prices rocket because of Brexit, it will become even more so. Does she share my concern that we are reaching crisis point?
I am really grateful that my hon. Friend has made that point. The average person spends 17% to 18% of their income on food, but people living on benefits and in poverty spend around 42% of their money on food, and that is at today’s prices. We do not need a mathematician to work out what a vulnerable position people will be in if food prices go up. Even the 6% increase would have a detrimental effect.
Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there must also be a concern about food banks, and especially about schemes such as FareShare and organisations such as the Pickle Palace in my constituency that provide low-cost meals and “pay-what-you-can” food for people on low incomes.
That is another very good point. Often, those who supply local authority caterers are some of the best for supplying food banks and FareShare. When they have to trim and trim again, that will be one of the charitable aspects of their operations that will sadly have to go. Again, that will have a knock-on effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
My hon. Friend is being very generous. I am involved in something called Feeding Bristol, which is an offshoot of Feeding Britain—an organisation that aims to eradicate food poverty. We were discussing this matter at a meeting last week. Food prices going up will create an affordability issue, and if people stockpile and panic-buy food and the supermarkets run dry, donated food to hostels and food banks will dry up completely. Not only will people be more likely to have to go to food banks because they will be unable to afford food—and they might not be getting such good quality food through public sector catering—but food banks will run out as well.
I hope that the Minister acknowledges the picture being painted of the potential knock-on effects. I appreciate that this is the worst case scenario—a no-deal, catastrophe scenario—but, given that there is no deal on the table that the majority of the House can vote for, a responsible Parliament has to prepare for it. These doomsday scenarios could become the reality for many people’s lives, despite none of us in this room wanting that to happen.
Does the Minister share my concern about a reduction in the safety and nutritional quality of food served to those using public sector catering, especially given that those meals are, as we have heard, the main source of nutrition for millions of people—10.5 million people, day in and day out, up and down the country? Equally, public sector caterers must provide food that meets specific health or cultural needs, such as kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian or allergy-specific food. There are many other examples. For some, it could be a matter of life or death. For others, a failure to provide nutritionally complete meals would slow down their recovery and increase the risk of malnutrition, or result in a deficiency in other nutritional values.
I received a message from the National Association of Care Catering that reads:
“We have 60 plus residents in our home, so have to provide 60 meals three times a day, with the average age of 86, how do we ensure regular supply?”
That is of great concern across the industry. Even where contingencies can be made, it may involve people eating very bland or repetitive menus, which I know goes against the entire ethos of public sector catering.
Finally, the workforce are crucial to public sector catering. Have the Government engaged with the catering sector to understand the challenges that a disorderly Brexit might pose to its workforce and services? The public sector employs a considerable number of EU nationals, and I am told that some are already returning home. The threat of a no-deal Brexit will only make the situation worse, thereby posing a threat to the services that the sector provides, and having an impact on safety.
Although new members of staff can, of course, be recruited, it takes time and money to train them. A workforce gap in the event of a no-deal Brexit would limit the effectiveness of public sector catering, which is already facing all the challenges that I have highlighted. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the public sector catering workforce are trained, equipped and funded to provide vital services in the event of no deal?
Public sector catering is fundamental to the care provided in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons. A delay in food deliveries, an increase in the cost of food and a decrease in nutritional standards or safety could be detrimental to service users and, in some cases, a matter of life or death. When we talk about the impact of no deal on our health and wellbeing, we must also consider the availability of food to the most vulnerable in our society, which a number of my hon. Friends have spoken about.
What about those who cannot afford to stockpile or lack the capacity to do so? What about those who are in hospitals, care homes or prisons? They cannot stockpile food in their little bedside cabinet. I do not have time to discuss this issue fully now—thankfully others have mentioned it—but we must remember that a surge in food prices could mean a reduction in donations to food banks from public sector caterers, some of whom are very generous to not only food banks but to holiday provision. I know that Bidfood supports holiday clubs. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spoke in glowing terms about Bidfood’s support for her holiday clubs at the last APPG meeting. All of that will have implications for families already living in poverty.
Brexit should not be the reason that millions of people go hungry, and I hope that after the debate the Minister will have considered another aspect of a no-deal Brexit that perhaps the Government had not already considered. I hope that he will urgently relay what I have said back to his Government colleagues. In closing, I reiterate that no deal should not mean no meal. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114
Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Feb-Mar 2019 number 114
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has finally received a response to her letter to the Prime Minister, sent 6th February 2019.
Richard Harrington MP, Minister for Business and Industry, replied on 22nd February 2019. A copy of that letter can be viewed here:
Click on the image above to download the letter.
Unfortunately the Minister is unable to provide any further information regarding what our trading arrangements will be when we leave the European Union (EU) and refused to rule out a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit, which would be hugely damaging.
There are just 29 days until we are due to leave the EU, and businesses such as Nissan still have no clarity about what customs arrangements will be in place the day after.
In the letter, the Minister urges Sharon to vote for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, but we still don’t know what exactly that will be when it comes back to Parliament. It’s been 95 days – more than three months – since the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration were agreed and thus far no changes have been agreed with the EU.
‘’It is hugely concerning that a Government Minister is unable to provide any more clarity on what our trading arrangements will be once we have left the EU in just 29 days’ time.
Businesses such as Nissan are absolute desperate for some certainty over Brexit, and the Government’s ongoing inability to provide it is hugely damaging.
Although there is also no confirmation that ‘No-Deal’ will be taken off the table in this letter, I am glad that Parliament will now have the chance to vote against it. The Government should urgently confirm that when that vote happens, they will be voting against leaving the EU without a deal, which would be disastrous for the country and our region.’’
Click on image above to download letter.
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health has today written to the Prime Minister in order to outline key concerns around Nissan’s decision to build the new X-Trail Model in Japan rather than in Washington as originally planned.
After considerable speculation over the weekend, this decision was confirmed by Nissan, and has undoubtedly caused much concern for the near 40,000 people who either work at the plant in Washington, or its supply chain.
During a statement on Nissan by Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on Monday 4th February 2019, Sharon asked him what immediate steps the Government would be taking to reassure the UK Automotive Industry.
A clip of Sharon’s question can be viewed on Twitter here:
No such assurances were provided during that statement. Sharon has therefore written directly to the Prime Minister asking her to; confirm that any new application by Nissan for Government funding will be considered fairly, and independently, rule out a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit and confirm when MPs will next get to vote on a re-negotiated deal, and reconsider the option of a negotiating a new customs union with the EU.
A copy of the letter can be found here
‘Many of my constituents will be hugely worried by this decision. Although no immediate jobs are at risk, it is a great shame that the 740 future positions that would have been brought to the plant in Washington have been lost.
There were undoubtedly a number of factors that led to Nissan taking this decision including concerns around the transition away from diesel and falling sales of diesel vehicles.
However, it is also clear that the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit had a role to play, and this was confirmed by Nissan in their initial statement. There are just 51 days to go until we are due to leave the EU, and businesses in this country are still no clearer on what trading arrangements we will have at that point.
I’ve written to the Prime Minister in order to address some key concerns that I have around this decision and I look forward to them being answered as soon as possible.’
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health, has today raised concerns with the Secretary of State about the recent decision by Nissan to build the new X-Trail model in Japan, rather than in Washington, Sunderland as originally planned.
The Plant has been a great source of employment for Sunderland and the wider North East area, hiring around 7,300 members of staff directly, and around 32,000 in the supply chain. This means that Nissan provides almost 40,000 jobs in the UK, the majority of which are in the North East.
On Monday 4th February 2019, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, made a statement in the House of Commons regarding Nissan’s decision.
This came after speculations over the weekend that Nissan would announce that the new X-Trail model would be built in Japan, rather than in Washington, resulting in the loss of 740 future jobs. Nissan confirmed this on Sunday 3rd February 2019.
On Monday, a letter written in 2016 to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan at the time, by the Secretary of State, was published. The letter included references to up to £80m funding assurances by the UK Government, including:
“It is contingent too on a positive decision by the Nissan Board to allocate production of the Qashqai and X-Trail models to the Sunderland Plant.”
Significant questions around this funding must now be answered.
During the Secretary of State’s statement, Sharon asked:
“Nissan in my constituency, together with the supply chain, employs around 40,000 people, many of whom will be extremely worried by this decision.
This Government’s chaotic approach to the Brexit negotiations, concerns around diesel, and a new Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Japan have all created a perfect storm of conditions.
With just 53 days until we are due to leave the EU, no Brexit Parliamentary business scheduled for two weeks, the Prime Minister currently engaged in fantasy politics over the backstop, and the sweetheart deal on the rocks, what immediate steps is the Secretary of State taking to re-assure the whole UK automotive industry?”
In response, the Secretary of State said:
"One of the pleasures of dealing with the automotive industry in the UK is that it is one of the most advanced and most capable, in terms of innovation, in the world.
The work that we are doing, through our Industrial Strategy with the sector, in terms of being the leading place in the world, not just for the discovery of battery technologies, but for manufacturing them; the test beds that we have put in place for connected and autonomous vehicles, make Britain the place in the world that people come to for innovation.
We back that in this Government, and it enjoys support, I know, across the House. It is a source of confidence around the world. But it is true that the international business such as the automotive industry is wants to know reasonably what its trading relationships will be with the rest of the European Union in the years ahead.
That is why they’ve been so clear that this House should come together and back the deal. I hope that the Hon. Lady, with the care for her constituents that I know she always has in mind will during the weeks and months ahead do so too.”
After the statement, Sharon said:
“I am disappointed that the Secretary of State has failed to give assurances to the UK automotive industry during these uncertain times.
“Those employed directly or indirectly in the automotive industry will rightfully be concerned by this news, which is why I called on the Government to provide assurances. However, they have failed to do so.
“The Secretary of State spoke about unity over Brexit, but it is down to his own Government’s failings that we are now in uncertain times; just 53 days away from Brexit day, without a deal.
“In light of specific assurances made in 2016 to Nissan, the Government must now be clear about what implications this now has on the future of the automotive industry in the UK, and the funding promised to Nissan’’
Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Feb 2019 number 113 Brexit update