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
Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health is urging the Prime Minister to rule out a disastrous ‘No-Deal’ Brexit scenario. As uncertainty around Brexit continues from day to day, it is more important now than ever that a viable solution is found to break the current impasse.
In recent weeks, Sharon has been contacted by local businesses who are growing increasingly concerned by the lack of certainty around Brexit, some of whom have already incurred significant financial costs through preparing for any eventuality.
This comes as a number of high profile trade bodies and businesses issue stark warnings about the reality of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit – details of which can be found at the bottom of this page.
Sharon Hodgson MP said:
‘There have been growing calls by some people in recent weeks and months for a ‘No-Deal’ or ‘Clean Break’ Brexit, in which we would leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement. This is being painted by some, as a harmless and convenient way in which to bring the current political crisis over Brexit to an end.
What these latest figures from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Government’s own financial analysis and the concerns I have heard from local businesses, the North East Chamber of Commerce show, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), and Trade Unions is that this could not be further from the truth.
When the automotive and manufacturing industries highlight the huge impacts that any disruption at the border could have, it’s important to listen. No politician should claim to know more about the intricate nature of industry, than those who actually work within it, and this is something I will never do.
It is all too easy for some to dismiss the concerns being raised as ‘Project Fear’, but the very real truth is that there is now the possibility of severe and long-term damage being done to our region due to the reckless approach to Brexit by this Tory Government. It won’t be the Boris Johnsons or the Jacob Rees-Moggs of the world who suffer, it will be working people in the North-East.
Our region has already suffered disproportionately under 9 years of punishing austerity, and as the proud Labour MP for my constituency I will never inflict more pain on those I represent.
That is why I will continue to back the Labour Party in calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing by dropping her red lines, ruling out ‘No-deal’ and allow Parliament to decide next steps.’
Sharon Hodgson MP has taken a number of steps in recent weeks to put pressure on the Government into ruling out a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit:
- Sharon joined over 200 MPs from across the political spectrum in signing a letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government to agree a mechanism that would ensure a ‘No Deal’ Brexit could not take place.
- Sharon attended a meeting that followed on from this letter, with the Prime Minister on Tuesday 8th January 2019 where concerns from MPs representing constituencies across the country were aired about the damaging impact that a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit could have on manufacturing and jobs.
- Sharon also supported an Amendment to the Finance Bill which would limit the scope for tax changes following a ‘No-Deal’ unless authorised by MPs. Although the specific effect of this measure may be limited, it signals that there is no majority in the House of Commons for ‘No-Deal’.
- Sharon intends to support amendments that seek to take ‘No-Deal’ off the table and allow Parliament to have a say on options to break the Brexit deadlock.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently released information on the impact of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit scenario on the North-East:
- If the UK fails to secure a deal, by 2034 real GVA – a measure of the value of goods and services produced in the region - could be 10.5% lower in the North East than under the UK’s current arrangements with the EU1. This could amount to an annual loss of output worth £7 billion by 2034 (in today’s prices), equivalent to twice the amount of public spending on schools and education in the region each year2.
- North East, and many of the region’s manufacturing businesses are particularly exposed to the risk of higher tariffs and other trade costs that would hit firms in a no deal scenario. The manufacturing sector accounts for 15% of the North East’s GVA and 10.4% of employment, making it the region’s largest sector3. With 89% of the North East’s exports being goods, and with 59% of these going to the EU4, a deal is really important for jobs and growth in the North East.
- The prospect of higher tariffs, border delays and administrative costs are a particular risk for the North East’s automotive sector – which spans small technology companies making steering systems to one of the largest car companies in the world. Transport equipment makes up the greatest share of manufacturing GVA in the North East (15.0%), and 94% of this comes from motor vehicles3. At a national level, the automotive sector is likely to be one of the most severely impacted sectors in a no deal scenario, with sectoral GVA projected to be around 23% lower by 2034 than it would be if today’s arrangements persisted1.That is because tariffs on cars could be up to 10% and every completed component in a car would have to be tested twice over before being sold, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds.
- The North East’s important chemicals, refined petroleum and coke sector, which accounts for 13.7% of the region’s manufacturing GVA3, is also highly exposed to no deal. The chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber & plastics sector is set to be one of the hardest hit sectors in a no deal, with sectoral GVA estimated to be around 22% lower by 2034 than if today’s arrangements with the EU continued1. That is because chemicals sold or traded to the EU are highly regulated and for safety reasons would have to be carefully tracked and traced through a complex system that UK firms would have to go through twice.
As reported in the Sunderland Echo, Assistant director of policy at North East Chamber of Commerce, Jonathan Walker recently warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could see “death by a thousand cuts” for Sunderland firms
- The result of a no deal or disruptive Brexit, he argued, could affect future investment, disrupt supply chains and even see some businesses relocate.
- “When we have surveyed businesses in the region, among exporting businesses, the overwhelming majority want an outcome that keeps us in the single market or customs union or both. “This is for the very simple reason that goods flow freely across borders into Sunderland. “Any disruption to that trade fall we believe really exposes us to short-term disruption and risk but in the long-term makes Sunderland and the North East a less attractive place to invest in. “We have a lot of companies based here where this is their European presence and they’re there to serve a European market.
- “The reason we’re concerned is because the manufacturing sector in Sunderland is part of the jewel in the crown of the North East, we’re a region that continues to punch above its weight when it comes to export, particularly value.
In a recent statement, Nissan said:
‘Since 1986, the UK has been a production base for Nissan in Europe. Our British-based R&D and design teams support the development of products made in Sunderland, specifically for the European market.
Frictionless trade has enabled the growth that has seen our Sunderland plant become the biggest factory in the history of the UK car industry, exporting more than half of its production to the EU.
Today we are among those companies with major investments in the UK who are still waiting for clarity on what the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU will look like.
As a sudden change from those rules to the rules of the WTO will have serious implications for British industry, we urge UK and EU negotiators to work collaboratively towards an orderly balanced Brexit that will continue to encourage mutually beneficial trade.’
Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said in a recent statement:
‘’Leaving the EU, our biggest and most important trading partner, without a deal and without a transition period to cushion the blow would put this sector and jobs at immediate risk. ‘No deal’ must be avoided at all costs. Business needs certainty so we now need politicians to do everything to prevent irreversible damage to this vital sector.”
On Wednesday 9th January 2019 Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington & Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health spoke in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 Debate and vowed to vote against the Prime Minister’s deal on Tuesday.
Sharon was due to speak in the debate before Christmas recess, but it was suspended due to the Prime Minister abandoning her vote on the Brexit deal.
During the speech Sharon spoke about the abuse that some MPs have been receiving, including some directed at her in recent days and set out her reasons for voting against the Prime Minister’s deal when it is brought before the House next week.
‘Although I campaigned and voted to Remain in the European Union in the referendum, I have set out to respect the result of that vote and taken great care to listen to the concerns of my constituents as the process unfolds.
I cannot in good conscience vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, which in my mind represents the failure of her Governments approach to the negotiations. It does not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards. It will not ensure frictionless trade for UK businesses and the lack of a clear future relationship also means the Northern Ireland backstop is highly likely to come into place, which would have significant implications across the UK.
Hundreds of my constituents have written to me in recent weeks urging me to vote against the deal, both those who voted to Leave the EU and those who voted to Remain.
Almost nothing of what was promised during the referendum campaign has been delivered and as such I will be voting against the Prime Minister’s Deal next week.’
You can read the full text of Sharon's contribution to the debate below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
"As we have a little more time than I thought we would, before I get into the substance of my speech tonight I just want to start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for your support with regard to the harassment and targeting of MPs on and around the estate. The abuse that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and others on both sides of this House and this issue are being subjected to is truly despicable and genuinely worrying for the stability of our democracy. My worry is that the genie may be out of the bottle and the country may not heal for decades, no matter what happens here. That is why, as others have said, this is probably the most important decision and vote that I will have made in my almost 14 years as an MP, and perhaps may ever make.
I say this as I have had brought to my attention details of a threat that I have just received, calling me
“a traitor who should be hung for treason”.
This threat was not even made anonymously. It was made very publicly and traceably, and the man—I believe it is a man because I have seen a photograph of him—who made this threat must know that it is public and easily traceable, which makes this change in our national and political discourse all the more worrying. My crime that precipitated this threat was to be one of the 213 MPs of all parties to have signed the letter against crashing out without a deal—which we now know, after the vote last night and today, is the will of the majority of Members in this House. I say all this to reinforce the point about the pressure of the political climate that we are all operating in and dealing with. I know that none of us is taking any of this lightly at the moment.
Two years ago, over 62% of people in Sunderland voted to leave the European Union. That is an average across the three Sunderland constituencies. My canvassing told me at the time that the vote in my constituency may have been more in the region of 65% to 67%. The fact that—as I am sure you know, Mr Speaker—Nissan, the most productive car plant in the whole of Europe, is in my constituency explains why that first result on results night had the impact that it did on all of us, not just the three Sunderland MPs. I campaigned and voted to remain in the European Union, and did so because I believed that it was the best decision for the security, social cohesion and economy of the north-east and the country as a whole. Despite this, I recognised that a majority of my constituents had voted to leave, and I set out to respect the result of the referendum.
In that vein, I have largely refrained from commenting publicly on Brexit or speaking about it here—check Hansard!—choosing instead to listen to my constituents to understand the result, the vote. So I ran two surveys on Brexit. I took great care to read all of the significant amount of correspondence I received on the topic. I held three large public meetings. I engaged regularly with major employers in my constituency, such as Nissan, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and others, to hear their concerns about the process as it has unfolded over the past two years. Many of these companies, in particular, have been unnecessarily placed in a position by this Government where they are already spending vast sums of money on preparations for a no-deal scenario—something that none of us here will ever allow to happen.
Voting, and how one votes, is an extremely personal decision, and it would be wrong of us to claim to know exactly what led people to vote in the way that they did. We do know, however, what issues come up on the doorstep, in emails and letters, and through polls and surveys. We also know what was promised to people. As part of the survey that I ran last year—I ran one straight after the referendum and then one again last year—I asked people who had voted to leave in 2016 to rate a number of factors involved in their decision from “very important” to “unimportant”. The three issues with the highest number of people ranking them “very important” were, first, the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK; secondly, concerns that remaining would mean little or no choice about how the EU expanded its membership or powers; and thirdly, the incentive of trade opportunities outside the EU. It will be noticed that in this sample, immigration did not make the top three of the “very important” issues. It was an issue that people could choose but was actually near the bottom of the list in the final analysis. Make of that what you will.
During the referendum, people were also promised that voting to leave would mean more money for the NHS, more controls on immigration, and significant trade opportunities around the world—and ultimately that it would mean “taking back control”.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend accept that they were also led to believe by the leave campaign that this would be a very simple process?
Absolutely. That would be one of the biggest ironies of any of our political careers, as we are all finding out that it is anything but simple. It has got to be the most complicated thing I have ever had to try to get my head around.
Can anyone in this place honestly say that the deal on offer delivers any of the things I have listed? Far from delivering back control, this deal means giving up our voice within the EU and becoming rule-takers until at least 2020, at which point the problematic backstop could come into place. The Government’s own analysis shows that the economic benefit of further trade deals around the world is minimal, will not come for a while and will be outweighed by GDP falling by around 3.9% under their deal.
With regard to immigration, the Government’s recent White Paper failed to provide overall clarity on the issue and included plans to disgracefully label workers on less than £30,000 a year as “low-skilled”. That policy will only contribute to existing staffing shortages in the NHS in particular, as it rules out nurses, care assistants and paramedics coming from abroad. As shadow Minister for Public Health, I am well placed to know that the much promised extra money for the NHS—remember the £350 million on the side of that big red bus?—could not be further from the truth.
It is no wonder that all this lack of clarity has left people on both sides of the debate hugely disappointed. Indeed, in recent weeks I have received hundreds of emails, letters and postcards regarding this deal, as I am sure every single Member of the House has. There are people who say that the Prime Minister’s deal fails to respect the result of the referendum and would like me to vote against it. There are people who would like me to vote against this deal and then push for a people’s vote. There are people who would like to bypass another vote altogether and for us to remain a member of the European Union. There are people who would like a Norway or Canada-style deal, and there are people who believe that we would now be better off leaving the EU without any deal at all.
However, it is astonishingly clear from the percentages of 87% to 13% that very few people would like me to vote for this deal. It is no wonder that almost 60% of those who took part in my survey now think that the electorate, as well as Parliament, should have to approve any deal agreed with the EU before it is ratified.
Almost nothing of what was promised and expected has been delivered. People who voted to leave the EU are not happy with this deal. People who voted to remain in the EU are not happy with this deal, and 87% of my constituents who contacted me about this deal are against it. As such, I will be voting against it when the question is put on Tuesday."
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Sharon Hodgson MP's report Nov-Dec 2018 number 110
Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Nov-Dec 2018 number 110