My regular update

I wrote before Christmas, a little ‘tongue in cheek’, a variety of news choices for you to select, as the week ahead looked so unknown. As I write this on Monday, a similar sense of uncertainty is in the air at the start of this Parliamentary week. Will a minority group of disgruntled remain supporting MPs be able to take control of the Brexit process, putting aside centuries of Parliamentary convention? Will the Speaker who has become increasingly erratic on issues of long-standing standing orders, allow his great office to be used to frustrate the will of the electorate? Thank heavens my article wasn’t penned at the beginning of last week. Whilst I might have foreseen an inevitable loss for the government on the draft Withdrawal Agreement (I voted against as it does not reflect any meaningful Brexit), I might not have guessed at the stupidity of the Leader of the Opposition in pushing a vote of no confidence in the government. The outcome of that particular waste of a Parliamentary day’s business was easily guessed at.

I am concerned that Parliament is so out of step with the electorate. I refer to the dramatic line in the Government’s pre-referendum leaflet sent to every household “This is your decision. the government will implement what you decide.” I remind the group of MP colleagues who now think they know best: 498 MPs voted to trigger Article 50 (the departure mechanism in the EU treaties); over 80% of votes cast at the unexpected General Election were for parties – predominantly the big two, who, within their manifestos, gave a promise to honour the June 2016 referendum. The current view of MPs is, in my view, an irrelevance; the decision on EU membership was given to the public, and on this binary issue, putting my own strong pro-Brexit feelings aside, I see myself as a mere agent for the 64% of South Thanet voters who voted to leave. They didn’t vote to leave just a bit, to remain half-in, half-out. If this means, due to intransigence by the EU Commission to offer anything acceptable, that we leave with ‘no deal’, better called a Global WTO Brexit, then so be it and we need to plan.

You will be aware, after being accused of being complicit in election overspending in the 2015 General Election (yes 2015, not 2017) that I was acquitted on all counts at Southwark Crown Court. It was a truly unpleasant experience that wore heavily on myself and family. Despite being formally charged on 2nd June 2017, just 6 days before the general election – I’ll leave you to consider the appropriateness of the Crown Prosecution Service making that call at the height of an election period, I was grateful that the constituents of South Thanet kept their faith and returned me to Parliament with the highest number of votes ever recorded for a Conservative in South Thanet, and 50.8% of the vote. I have been writing widely about it, particularly on the ambiguous nature of election law and how the Electoral Commission, the supposed guardians of all things relating to elections, are patently failing in their functions.

Back to normal? You bet!

Manston and Ramsgate Port's role in 'no deal' planning

I hope all readers had an enjoyable and restful Christmas season; the festive season now seems, for many, to be a full two week holiday period, but spare a thought for all those working across the emergency services, the NHS and in retail for whom there is little time off. January is enjoyed by some as a fresh beginning, and a further stepping stone to count out the Winter. It has always been my least favoured month: often the coldest, the nights still long and when I was working fully as an accountant in practice, the busiest month as laggardly clients finally bring in their records to meet the 31st January tax return deadline. If you’re one of those who have to submit a tax return – time is ticking by!

We start 2019 with Brexit still dominating the news and Thanet now receiving national media attention at the forefront of no-deal Brexit planning. We have the ‘dress rehearsal’ of lorry movements from Manston to Dover in case Operation Stack/Brock comes in to play if French customs play up after 29th March. All seems a little far-fetched to me as the Europe wide logistics industry would grind to a halt with losses experienced across much of the EU if German, Polish and Romanian lorries become stuck in the UK because of intransigent behaviour in Calais. This leads on conveniently to further no-deal planning with other cross-channel and cross North Sea routes being planned for. Ports in Belgium and Holland would welcome the opportunity to expand their operations at the expense of the all-powerful Calais access point for cross-border trade. The significance here is of course Ramsgate and Seaborne Freight. Much has been guessed at, speculated at and sneered at over the past weeks when the story emerged. I have not had sight of the detail of the contract the Department for Transport have negotiated with Seaborne, but do understand that it is a wholly ‘contingent’ contract. Simply, if there is no service there will be no money. In the meantime our port will be upgraded and the sea approaches, always subject to extreme silting will be dredged at somebody else’s expense. This has to be good news.

Whilst I have always had my doubts as to the long term viability, or desirability for Ramsgate Port to re-open to freight only ferry traffic when something new and dynamic could emerge from the long redundant port site, I’m comfortable with where we are and I wish Seaborne the best of luck in finding ships, crew and new business.

We hear much, often with a negative overtone, when ‘no-deal Brexit’ is discussed. Leaving cleanly and trading on WTO terms would have short-term lumps and bumps, but this type of arrangement is merely an international normality. It is a ‘deal’ and a well-recognised one. We’d be saving the £39Bn offered up as a divorce settlement, protecting the Union and put ourselves in the driving seat to conclude new international trade deals. A lively few days ahead in Parliament as the Withdrawal Agreement returns to the House of Commons for debate.

Reflecting on the last 12 months and looking forward to the year ahead...

As we approach the New Year, this is a fitting time to reflect on the last 12 months, and look forward to the challenges and opportunities we face in the coming year ahead.

While Brexit has taken up much of government’s time, no one can seriously question the exhaustive efforts of those – from the Prime Minister down – who have been engaged in this process. That’s why it’s so frustrating that much of that effort has been misplaced, not least because essential parts of the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement and non-binding Political Declaration are wholly unacceptable. For the UK to pay £39bn to continue to be subject to great swathes of EU law without being able to influence them and without any binding promises of a trade deal is ridiculous. Canada paid nothing to the EU for its CETA deal and nor should we. We’re the fifth largest economy and should not be afraid of being like most of the rest of the world working on World Trade Organisation rules.

‘Despite Brexit’, as the adage goes, the government has much good news to tell: unemployment at a record low; real wage growth the highest in a decade; and 1.9m more children now in good or outstanding schools. Great achievements that are improving the lives of families in Thanet and across our country.  The economy is in a good place.

Locally, I’m calling upon the NHS in Kent and Medway to look again at the proposal to improve stroke services in the county given that it’s a practical impossibility for Thanet residents to travel to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford within an hour. The only satisfactory outcome is a 4 centre option which upgrades QEQM to include a hyper acute stroke unit for Thanet. Dental provision in areas of the constituency remains a pressing issue for many. While the temporary reprieve I secured for New Street Dental Practice in Sandwich is welcome, my fight to reverse the lack of NHS dentistry locally continues. Like so many areas around the country, Thanet has suffered the loss of a number of bank premises in recent years so I was pleased to be able to officially open two Post Offices, one at Newington, the other in Broadstairs High Street. These new services have been warmly welcomed by residents.

Looking ahead, my main short-to-medium term aims for Ramsgate are to ensure that the town receives its fair share of government regeneration funding, combined with private, heritage-led regeneration. I am working hard to find a long term solution to Ramsgate Port that will create jobs, investment and tourism. Broadstairs is also a special place at the heart of the Thanet Riviera, and I intend to do all that I can to ensure that it remains so. Indeed, my constituency office and most Surgery appointments with constituents are held in Broadstairs. I have also seen a lot of private investment-led improvements in Cliftonville over the years, and I intend to focus on keeping those improvements rolling in, just as publicly-funded regeneration in Margate has delivered such a positive impact on the whole area.

So there’s lots to do. Do enjoy what’s left of 2018 and I’ll see you in 2019 for what will be a significant year.